Stein's FIBA World Cup All-Tourney Team

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
3:33
PM ET
Faried/DavisGarrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe frontcourt work of Kenneth Faried and Anthony Davis earned them a gold medal and a spot here.
MADRID -- After more than three weeks in Spain, it's time to start relocating this operation back to the Power Rankings Dungeon in Dallas.

After all: Did you know that next season -- and thus the season's first batch of new rankings -- is a mere 10 days away?

While you process that, here's something else to digest and discuss: Stein Line Live's 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup All-Tournament Team.

Except that this one features six players instead of the FIBA standard of five because, well, just because. I wasn't extended a ballot to vote for the official squad FIBA named, so why not invent my own format?


Forwards: Nicolas Batum (France) and Kenneth Faried (USA)


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Faried
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Batum
I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that the Blazers probably would have preferred that Batum take the summer off from national-team duty. Especially when they saw Tony Parker and Joakim Noah sitting out for France. But Batum wound up playing two of the best games of his life in the semis and the third-place game, leaving us all with a much more favorable impression than he did in London two summers ago with that infamous crotch punch on Spain's Juan Carlos Navarro.

Faried's inclusion here, meanwhile, surely can't be a surprise. You know by now that the World Cup media couldn't get enough of his outspoken nature ... even if he did claim to be "massively disrespected" probably more than he needed to. You also presumably know that, more important, Team USA relied hugely on the energy and edge Faried brought to proceedings, especially early in the tournament when his offensive rebounding frequently bailed out a team struggling to flow in the half court.


Center: Anthony Davis (USA)


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Davis
Can't let one foul-plagued night on Championship Sunday diminish Davis' presence for Team USA. As promised, Davis was a force for much of the tournament. And with apologies to the princely Pau Gasol -- who snagged the center spot on the official All-Tourney squad ahead of Davis -- there are a couple more 5s I'd have to put ahead of him because Spain's quarterfinal exit was legitimately that disappointing. Serbia's Miroslav Raduljica helped his nation to a silver-medal finish even the biggest dreamers back in Belgrade couldn't have fathomed, while Jonas Valanciunas had a similar effect in leading stubborn Lithuania to the final four without injured point guard Mantas Kalnietis.


Guards: James Harden (USA) and Milos Teodosic (Serbia)


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Harden
I realize Kyrie Irving was named FIBA's tournament MVP. I'm also well aware that Harden's defense, even against this lower level of competition, turned folks off back home much the way his Houston D does. I'd still argue that Harden's offense was telling for Team USA more often than Irving's or anyone else's. Harden's 16-point third quarter in the semifinals against Lithuania was just one example. (P.S. I'd say, after getting a look in person, that Harden's beard does trump Raduljica's too.)

Teodosic, meanwhile, narrowly edges out Irving too because (A) there are too many Americans on this team already and (B) Serbia has to have a representative here after somehow surviving the far tougher side of the draw to make it all the way to the title game. You saw enough in Sunday's championship mismatch -- when Teodosic had a hand in every point of Serbia's fast start -- to know why the 27-year-old is seen as NBA material if he ever decides he wants to make the leap. He went anywhere he wanted on the court early on ... but predictably couldn't keep up that pace without more help.


Sixth Man: Klay Thompson (USA)


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Thompson
He guarded players at three different positions. He was Team USA's most consistent outside shooter. He also came off the bench in real life for his team. Thompson, then, was the natural choice here. You heard it here first: Thompson is so beloved by Mike Krzyzewski and the rest of the Team USA coaches for his two-way tenacity and effectiveness that he's a lock to be on the 2016 Olympic team. Doesn't matter who from the supposed first string does or doesn't come back.

Team USA wins (and celebrates) big

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
12:18
AM ET
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MADRID -- Mike Krzyzewski knew exactly how he wanted to celebrate. As soon as he made it back to Team USA's locker room, Coach K reached for his phone. To call Paul George.

Krzyzewski's players, meanwhile, could be seen hugging, strutting and dancing incessantly in various corners of the building Sunday night, savoring every second of a gold-medal ride that, judging by the pride and joy they displayed, wasn't nearly the cakewalk that the Americans' stack of nine lopsided box scores would suggest.

"PG, this is for you," Team USA forward Rudy Gay told the ESPN camera, joining in the tributes to the fallen George as he cradled the championship trophy from the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

Those were among the enriching scenes late Sunday at the Palacio de Deportes, where the Americans overcame their usual slow start to utterly steamroll Serbia 129-92 in the World Cup title game and set themselves up to party deep into the Madrid night.

You could lament the lack of competition Team USA faced here. You could question how many people back home were really going to tune into another Team USA rout on the NFL's day. Yet you had to be moved, if you were really watching those in the USA Basketball traveling party, to see how much it meant to these supposed second-stringers to win this tournament so convincingly, with such flair, in becoming the first nation in FIBA history to win four successive major international titles.

That said ...

You also unavoidably came away from this demolition asking yourself: Can a solitary evening of basketball be dazzling, inspiring and yet somehow a touch demoralizing, too?

If so, this was the one.

The Americans legitimately did dazzle in their farewell to Espana. Kyrie Irving and James Harden channeled their best Kevin Durant to combine for 49 points and rained 3-pointers all over the helpless Serbs, ultimately supplementing DeMarcus Cousins' momentum-changing presence inside to finally take over a game with outside shooting and turn Team USA's biggest deficit of the tournament -- eight points -- into an eventual 31-point lead before the first half was over.

The inspiration, again, stems from seeing how much this group cared on top of the flair. How this group came together to such a degree in a span of six weeks to become something resembling a true team, after all that fretting and skepticism about what might have happened in Sunday's final had they been forced to play ultra-seasoned Spain on Spanish hardwood with so many key names missing.

"We didn't care who we didn't have," Cousins told ESPN. "We went with the guys we did have and came out champions."

Said Irving: "It's the greatest feeling in the world right now, [winning] with a group of guys that are my brothers."

It was nonetheless unavoidable for the basketball neutral, as introduced in this cyberspace a few days back, to come away from this tournament feeling as though the gap between the United States and the rest of the world is actually widening when it should be shrinking.

No one out there seems capable of even pushing the Americans at the moment, which is obviously the disheartening part for a sport we hoped had at least a hint of parity by now.

Especially when another 10 or so top Americans either stayed home or, like the luckless George, were forced to.

This was the youngest and purportedly most vulnerable squad USA Basketball had assembled in the Dream Team era. Krzyzewski himself admitted that, until Irving and Harden went off in the title game, this edition of Team USA "had to invent new ways to score" after Durant removed himself from the roster and took much of the intended offense with him. Ball pressure to create turnovers and offensive rebounds to generate extra possessions became the go-to sources of point production for this group, which didn't have anyone scoring better than Harden's 13.1 points per game -- and thus no clear-cut MVP candidate -- until Irving did what he did in the title game.

Yet there was no foe in the 24-team field that could come close to taking advantage. Team USA's early 15-7 deficit to Serbia was its biggest deficit of the tournament and obviously didn't last long. The Yanks' average margin of victory wound up at a robust 33.0 points per game. A 21-point win over Turkey, in which they trailed by five points at halftime, was the Americans' smallest W here.

"It was not easy," Krzyzewski insisted afterward in a chat with ESPN.

He went on to say at his postgame news conference: "I think the results [look] dominant, but we had [only] spurts of dominance in a lot of games. And we had tough games and then all of a sudden we'd have a spurt and it looked like we dominated."

It's not Krzyzewski's responsibility, mind you, to worry about the rest of the world keeping up. As covered here Saturday, he's expected to win every single game he coaches at the national-team level no matter who is in uniform, whether or not that's realistic. And that's enough to focus on. With this team, specifically, it was his job to absorb as much of that win-'em-all pressure as he could and offset the utter lack of experience for key figures like Cousins and Irving, who had combined to appear in zero NBA playoff games leading into Sunday's starring roles.

It would appear he achieved all of the above.

Apart from one technical foul and rush of blood against Lithuania in the semis, Cousins never came close to the international incident skeptics were sure would ensnare him. There were no Derrick Rose catastrophes for the rehabbing MVP, either, nor did Team USA suffer from the fact it lacked a clear-cut No. 1 option to go to until Irving's well-timed eruption to deliver 26 against the Serbs to go with Captain Harden's 23.

"It was not like there was one star," Krzyzewski said. "[But] they were a championship team and it was kind of cool. In 2010, Durant just kind of took us. He had an amazing performance. Teamwise this is a heck of a team. This was a really good team."

Too good to be stopped by the competition here. Nothing slowed the Americans down until it was over, when, in the midst of all the celebrating, famed NBA superfan Jimmy Goldstein managed to make his way through the security maze -- as if he were wearing his all-access pass from the States -- to get all the way to the Team USA door.

Which prompted several giddy Team USAers to bring an immediate halt to what they were doing to ask Goldstein to take pictures with them.

See? They're a playful bunch unless you're playing against them.

"With all the interruptions that we've had, who you think you're gonna be and who you're gonna have and all of a sudden you don't have 'em ... these guys ran a steady race the whole time," Krzyzewski said. "I'm so happy for these players."

Said USAB chairman Jerry Colangelo: "I said previously [that] if we were to have won this year, with all of the adversity that we went through, [that] this would be the sweetest of all of the [major] championships. And I [still] feel that way.

"The amazing thing about all that has happened is that we have used so many different players to win these championships, which is a testament to the game in our country and the depth of talent that we have. ... Tonight's performance was like a culmination of all of that development, because we have been waiting for a game where we just blow it out. And that's exactly what happened."

A finale against the Spaniards, in front of a raucous full house, surely would have been a more memorable happening. But the least we can do is let these Team USA guys enjoy their moment.

Since you know we'd be tripping over each other to let them have it if it didn't play out as smoothly as it did.
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Team USA

Margin of victory among USA's best

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
7:50
PM ET
MADRID -- The competition at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup certainly could have been tougher.

Tough to dispute that claim when Team USA had each of its nine wins in this tournament wrapped up before the fourth quarter.

Yet it should also be noted that this collection of American players -- only half of them NBA All-Stars -- will return home with an average margin of victory that more than lived up to the usual standards of USA Basketball.

The following list shows the average margin of victory for each of the 16 USAB squads to participate in various FIBA and Olympic events since pros were ushered into international basketball starting in 1992.

Team USA's all-time record in the NBA era is up to 126-7 and 46-1 in exhibitions.
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Team USA

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MADRID -- Some at-the-buzzer instant analysis from press row at the Palacio de Deportes after Team USA completed a nine-game sweep at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup with a 129-92 demolition of Serbia in Sunday night's final:

How it happened: Anthony Davis picked up two fouls in the first two-plus minutes. Serbia, fueled by the backcourt guile of Milos Teodosic, made its first seven shots and surged to an early eight-point lead. For an instant, Team USA looked like it might have a problem against the tournament's Cinderella.

For an instant or two, tops.

DeMarcus Cousins entered the game for Davis and instantly changed it with his rebounding, rim protection and outlet passing, illustrating precisely why Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski has maintained for weeks that the mercurial Sacramento Kings big man had to be on this team.

Cousins' contributions coincided with eventual tournament MVP Kyrie Irving getting seriously hot, ringing up 15 of his game-high 26 points in that first quarter to spark a stunning 28-6 run to end the period and effectively end this as a contest as quickly as Serbia manufactured that initial hint of hope.

Neither Irving nor Cousins has ever played in an NBA playoff game, but they were the undeniable keys to a turnaround that was highlighted by a run of 15 consecutive Team USA points from that 15-7 deficit. By halftime, Irving (18) and James Harden (17) had combined for 35 points, nearly outscoring the Serbs by themselves.

"I think we're doing a helluva job on both ends of the floor," Irving told ESPN between halves.

Because Davis quickly picked up his third foul, Cousins started the second half opposite Serbia's Miroslav Raduljica and his Harden-esque beard. Cousins not only continued to help Team USA control the boards but also resisted any Serbian attempts to get under his skin, ranking as important in this one as anyone in red, white and blue.

The second half was the expected cruise from there, with the Americans' lead rising as high as 40 and Irving and Harden (23 points) finally busting out with the sort of Kevin Durant-style shooting seen four years ago at the Worlds in Turkey that just demoralizes teams. Smothering defense has been this team's go-to guy until the final, but Irving and Harden finally mustered some gaudy scoring totals (in a 40-minute game) for a team that showed up with no one averaging better than Harden's 13.1 points per game.

So they made history in style, taking the 3-pointer away from the Serbs (5-for-25 from deep) like they did to so many teams before them and finishing the tournament with an average margin of victory of 33.0.

Better yet: Team USA became the first country in the annals of FIBA basketball to win four consecutive major titles. Add this World Cup to Olympic golds in 2008 and 2012 and a FIBA World Championship in 2010, all of them under Krzyzewski.

No country, including the United States, had ever won more than three in a row.

The Streak: Team USA won't play another competitive game until the 2016 Olympics in Brazil and will tote an unbeaten run of 63 games into its first exhibition game that summer. The streak includes 45 consecutive victories in Olympic and FIBA tournaments to go with another 18 wins in exhibition games. The Americans haven't tasted defeat since losing in the semifinals of the 2006 FIBA World Championship against Greece and launched this streak on Sept. 2, 2006, with a 96-81 victory over Argentina in the bronze-medal game in Japan. With the results of the 2006 Worlds dropping off the computer in the next batch of FIBA rankings, to be replaced by this tournament, Team USA's hold on the top spot will be cemented further.

Play of the game: After a wild scramble at midcourt when Kenneth Faried ill-advisedly tried to run the fast break instead of getting the ball to Derrick Rose, Klay Thompson came up with the loose ball near the sideline furthest from the American bench and flung a quick two-handed lead pass to Rose under the hoop.

Rose, spotting Faried's dart to the rim, punched the ball right into Faried's path with a heady touch pass that Faried collected and hammered home for a dunk and a 45-26 lead.

The lead would rise as high as 31 points in the first half before Team USA settled for a 67-41 edge at intermission, which proved plenty.

Numbers game: Team USA made its first five 3-pointers and finished a crucial 15-for-30 from long range.


The early 15-7 hole that the United States found itself in was its biggest deficit of the tournament.


Team USA accounted for 40 percent of the All-Tournament Team, with Irving and Kenneth Faried claiming two of the five spots along with Spain's Pau Gasol, France's Nicolas Batum and Teodosic.


Rose entered the final averaging just 5.4 points per game in the tournament on 27.3 percent shooting, including a lowly 1-for-17 on 3-pointers. He signed off with zero points and six assists against the Serbs, but there's another stat of note: Rose's nine tournament games over the past three weeks are just one shy of the 10 games he played in over the last two seasons with the Bulls.


Team USA came into the title game leading the tournament in points per game (101.5), field goal percentage (.516), rebounds per game (44.9), assists per game (21.0) and steals per game (13.1). And then proceeded to fatten most of those numbers.


By winning its fourth successive major title, Team USA set a new standard for itself. The program's previous best was three consecutive titles from 1992 to 1996 (Olympics, Worlds, Olympics) and 1952 to 1956 (also Olympics, Worlds, Olympics). Sunday's title
established the Americans as just the third nation in World Cup history to repeat as champion, joining Brazil (1959, 1963) and the former Yugoslavia (1998, 2002).


Sunday's title established the Americans as just the third nation in World Cup history to repeat as champion, joining Brazil (1959, 1963) and the former Yugoslavia (1998, 2002).

What's next: The 2014-15 NBA season, believe it or not, starts Sept. 29 for most teams and on Sept. 26 for the handful that will play exhibition games abroad in October.

Either way that's less than two weeks away for all these guys.

But now for the good news: By winning this World Cup, Team USA clinched a summer off in 2015. Only the World Cup champion can claim an automatic spot in the 2016 Olympics, though host Brazil is expected to be granted entry from FIBA as well.

So thanks to this win, Team USA won't have to play another meaningful game until its preparations for the Rio Games. It will happily avoid the 2015 FIBA Americas tournament in Mexico and focus instead for the usual minicamp Krzyzewski and Jerry Colangelo will convene in Las Vegas in July in an off summer just to bring the group together for a weeklong reunion.

The one who came back for Team USA

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13
6:00
PM ET
MADRID, Spain -- Kevin Durant. Kevin Love. Blake Griffin. LaMarcus Aldridge. Russell Westbrook. Kawhi Leonard.

And, of course, poor Paul George.

We've spent so much time over these past few months fixated on every name we thought we'd see in Spain -- and didn't -- that the masses can presumably recite them all by now without even needing to reread the list.

Yet so little is ever said, strangely, about the guy who came back to this team when he wasn't supposed to.

What about Mike Krzyzewski?

I know, I know. Any coach could win international tournaments with these guys, right? That's what lots of you are bound to say if Team USA makes it to 9-0 at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup with the expected victory over the Cinderellas from Serbia in Sunday night's title game at the Palacio de los Deportes.

How soon we forget that, as recently as Wednesday morning, plenty of folks throughout the world of international basketball, when pressed, would have picked Spain over the weakened squad Krzyzewski has here.

You know.

Back when Spain was still in the tournament.

But that's the way it is with this job, which we habitually refer to in this cyberspace as the only gig Krzyzewski could have found on Planet Roundball that makes life on the Duke campus seem pressure-free.

When it comes to legacy and reputation, Krzyzewski seemingly had little to gain and much to lose when USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo successfully persuaded him to stay on for four more years after Krzyzewski vowed that the London Olympics in 2012 would be his international farewell.

He couldn't have been faulted for second-guessing his return, either, once Team USA was hit with that steady stream of defections -- along with George's horrific leg injury -- to give Spain's deepest squad ever what seemed like legitimate hope of finally toppling the mighty Americans.

But Krzyzewski hasn't flinched all summer. He knows he's got the youngest group of players USA Basketball has assembled since it started using pros instead of collegians in 1992, but Coach K has eagerly supplied the needed calm and experience to help the supposed second-stringers cope with the unique expectations that only Team USA shoulders.

Example: At more than one halftime so far, with Team USA holding a mere single-digit lead, Krzyzewski has surprised his own players with a restrained approach, convinced that "you can't be ranting and raving" if it takes awhile to stretch the lead.

He's also convinced that the know-how to handle that sort of scrutiny and don't-ever-lose expectations, after nine years in charge, is one of the strongest attributes he brings to the job.

"We know," Krzyzewski says, "that we're watched closer than anybody. And I'm the most prepared [coach] to do that, because we've been closely scrutinized for at least 25 years in college basketball. Actually it helps that I'm coming from that environment.

"Another thing I think that helps when we're in these competitions is that one-and-done is what we live all the time, whether it's an ACC tournament or an NCAA tournament. I've been in 150 to 200 one-and-done games."

The next one, incidentally, figures to be trickier than it sounds after a run of games that has been undeniably favorable for the Yanks until now. It's believed to be a tournament first that Serbia has managed to make it all the way to the title game after losing three times in pool play, but don't forget those losses were to three perennial powers: Spain, France and Brazil. The Serbs, furthermore, are clearly a different team now than they were in Group A play, clicking to a degree that they routed both Greece and Brazil in the knockout phase before taking an 18-point lead over France in the semifinals and then hanging on to oust Spain's quarterfinals conquerors.

"The hottest team in the tournament besides us," Team USA swingman Klay Thompson called them.

Big men Miroslav Raduljica and Nenad Krstic, as well as recent Phoenix Suns draftee Bogdan Bogdanovic, are essentially the only names familiar to NBA audiences, but it's a tough, veteran team with real chemistry. The presence of the ultraconfident Milos Teodosic, meanwhile, means that Team USA has to deal with a modern-day Dejan Bodiroga … in that the dangerous Teodosic, like the legendary Bodiroga before him, is good enough to play in the NBA but simply chooses not to.

Teodosic, 27, resisted serious overtures from the Memphis Grizzlies as recently as summer 2013 because, according to industry sources, he wants at least $3 million annually to make the jump to the NBA. And now his stock has never been higher after leading Serbia -- which barely qualified for this World Cup as the seventh-place finisher at EuroBasket 2013 -- to its first major final since becoming an independent nation in 2006.

"They're strong," Krzyzewski said. "They can hurt you from many different positions. Actually it's beautiful to see. I [just] hope I don't see that beauty tomorrow night. They've been playing lights-out basketball."

Strong enough to beat the NBAers in red, white and blue?

Strong enough to put a halt to Krzyzewski's 62-game win streak?

Highly doubtful no matter how cushy it's been for Team USA to this point with that average margin of victory of (yikes) 32.5 points.

With all those star names missing, USAB wound up assembling a roster somewhat Duke-like in nature, going 12 deep and built very pragmatically to give Krzyzewski numerous options and combinations to counter any issues that arose. Credit Coach K for getting this group to buy into a defense-first mentality and a spread-the-wealth offense that features no one scoring more than 13 points per game.

"If we just keep wearing on teams," Thompson said of Team USA's trusty defensive pressure, "I think we're almost unbeatable."

Said reserve forward Rudy Gay: "That’s the only way we are going to win. We have to swarm teams, make it seem like we have 10 players out there instead of five."

Hearing sentiments like that naturally has Krzyzewski beaming.

"I think our country should be proud of this team," he said. "They've represented our country really well. In everything. How they've handled themselves. How they've played. Just everything.

"I haven't had even remotely a problem with these guys … and I bet a number of them never felt they would be on the team."

This time two years ago, Krzyzewski didn't think he'd be here, either. Yet he couldn't resist Colangelo's lobbying, since both men have invested so much to drag the program away from the horrors of 2002 (sixth at the Worlds in Indianapolis) and 2004 (bronze at the Athens Olympics).

Krzyzewski is committed now to stay on through the 2016 Olympics and can clinch a summer off in 2015 by winning Sunday to secure automatic qualification for Rio.

"I like my team a lot," Krzyzewski said. "I trust my team. … We've had a lot of interruptions and [these players have] never made any excuses. They should be in this position to play for a world championship."

Q&A with Kenneth Faried

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
12:53
PM ET
Kenneth Faried QUIQUE GARCIA/AFP/Getty Images
BARCELONA, Spain -- If they chose an All-Interview Team here at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, Kenneth Faried would undoubtedly be the first name submitted.

Put him down as a strong contender for the All-Tournament, too.

In our quadrennial quest between Olympic tournaments to pinpoint a Team USA breakout star or two whose impactful play for the national team sets him up to raise his NBA stature in the coming season, Faried and Klay Thompson are the two prime candidates from the youngest squad USA Basketball has fielded since it started using NBA players in place of collegians in 1992.

Four years ago in Turkey, it was Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and eventual 2011 MVP Derrick Rose who used a title run at the 2010 FIBA World Championship as a springboard for the best NBA ball of their careers to that stage. In Espana, while Thompson is increasingly providing a crucial source of perimeter punch off the bench, Faried has been a start-to-finish spark for Team USA with his relentless energy, ferocity around the rim and the unmistakable chip on his shoulder that he refuses to surrender.

His jumper and face-up game still clearly need work, but Team USA wasn't even halfway through its World Cup schedule when Mike Krzyzewski was moved to proclaim the Denver Nuggets' power forward to be his "biggest and best surprise."

Faried's unfiltered give-and-take with the media, furthermore, has likewise made him a go-to guy for World Cup reporters. An example is the line that has become Faried's mantra for the week, as he continues to hit back at suggestions that his success here couldn't be replicated against bigger teams or better athletes as "massively disrespectful."

It hasn't been easy to get him alone, because of his unexpectedly prominent role and that willingness to speak so openly -- as evidenced again Thursday night when Faried talked about Spain's demise -- but ESPN.com managed to corner him a couple times on the trip for some one-on-one discussion.

The highlights:

Q: Starting power forward for the United States of America. What goes through your mind when you hear that?

A: I don't know. I'm speechless. It's just all a dream come true for me, and I don't want this dream to end. I don't want to let go.

Q: So it hasn't sunk in by now?

A: It really hasn't. And I hope it never sinks in 'til after we win the gold. I'm still thinking I'm playing like I'm trying to get a position [on this team].

Q: Back in Vegas when this team got together, what were your expectations?

A: My expectation was probably to make the team, maybe make it as one of the 12th men, and hopefully win the gold, cheer my teammates on. I was excited about that. But everything seemed to fall into place. I exceeded those expectations. And I'm ecstatic about it.

Q: Obviously you don't play the same kind of game as Kevin Durant, but technically you are the Durant replacement in the starting lineup. What kind of extra burden does that put on you?

A: It's not a big burden to me. Honestly it's just, he was tired, which we understood. He played the most minutes in the [league last] year. I was more thinking of it as: "Hey, it's an opportunity more than a burden. It's an opportunity for me to show the world that, hey, I'm Kenneth Faried. And they don't call me The Manimal for nothing."

Q: So guys were really weren't mad or disappointed when Durant removed himself from the roster?

A: No. We all understood. We respected his decision. We said: "Get your rest and we'll see you in the regular season. But we still want to go after this gold right here and get this World Cup."

Q: When Coach K laid out the role he had in mind for you, what were his instructions?

A: His message was they need me. They need me to step up and be a leader and vocal and be one of the loudest people on the court. He wants me to be the loudest and make sure everybody [does] what they're supposed to do. In the press to make sure I'm up and make sure the guards are up. Make sure we get up into people and wreak havoc basically.

Q: How does that job description compare to what you do for the Nuggets?

A: This is different right now. In Denver I'm not really as vocal. I'm kind of vocal, but I didn't think my voice really mattered in Denver. For us to be at this level, playing for the United States and the coach says your voice matters and we need you to be loud and we need you to be who you are, it's just an honor.

Q: I would have thought your voice would have mattered even more in Denver as one of the stars of the team ...

A: In Denver, I would be considered one of the top players on our team, but we have older vets on our team, guys who've been through it. ... So I more take the back seat and watch them guys and try to learn off of them. But for Coach [K] to say that to me on the USA team, I'm gonna take that back to Denver and now try to be more of the vocal leader.

Q: The other big concern about Team USA coming into this tournament, besides matching up with Spain, was its relative lack of international experience ...

A: I don't think it's a concern at all. We all know how to play basketball. We're all great at our craft, One through five, it doesn't matter if it's international or in the NBA. We're going to be fine.

Q: A lot of people are wondering how your success with the national team this summer will impact your contract talks with the Nuggets. How do you see it?

A: I'm starting to gain respect. People are starting to respect me more. And I'm excited about that. But I'm more focused right now on just trying to get the gold. I want to win that gold medal so I can hang it with the rest of the accolades I've gotten that people thought I couldn't get. My mom will be ecstatic about that and my dad will be, too.

Q: How can you really resist thinking about the contract stuff?

A: I'm not worried about [the Oct. 31 deadline for a contract extension] right now. After this is over with, then I'll focus on what's going on outside of just stepping on the court and moneywise and things like that. [But] I do feel as though I've opened eyes, and people are starting to show respect now. So that's a great honor to have and recognize who you are.
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BARCELONA, Spain -- Some at-the-buzzer instant analysis from press row at the Palau Sant Jordi after Team USA improved to 8-0 in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup with Thursday's 96-68 semifinal steamrolling of Lithuania:

How it Happened: On the first day of this World Cup that no longer included the co-favorites from Spain, Team USA busted out what has to rank as its most impressive performance of the tournament, especially once you factor in how difficult Lithuania has been to put away over the years.

An 18-2 blitz to start the second half -- capped by a gorgeous fast-break lob from Kyrie Irving to Anthony Davis after Davis started the break at midcourt -- set in motion what became a rare rout of Lithuania after a tight first half dominated by the refs' whistles.

You presumably heard the stat coming in about how the Lithuanians, dating all the way back to two nailbiters at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, had faced Team USA six times in the new millennium and managed to keep the game within single digits in five of them ... including one win at the 2004 Summer Games in Athens.

Yet there would be no keeping this one close once Team USA started forcing turnovers (seven alone in quick succession after intermission) to get out in the open floor. Lithuania needed a whopping 42 trips to the line to stay as close as it did.

With Irving (18 points), James Harden (16) and Klay Thompson off the bench (14 of his 16 points in the first half) supplying a good chunk of the offense, Team USA gradually pulled away from a squad that didn't have its usual firepower to go with its trademark scrappiness. In a lopsided third quarter, Team USA rung up 33 of the 47 points produced, with Harden getting all 16 of his in the period to personally outscore Lithuania by two.

Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas was an undeniable presence down low -- more on that later -- but this edition of Lithuania simply wasn't equipped to cause problems for Team USA like it has in the past. Valanciunas (15 points and seven boards) and his countrymen did incredibly well to win Group D and advance all the way to the Final Four, with injured point guard Mantas Kalnietis watching from his all-too-familiar baseline seat with his right arm in a sling ... and longtime Team USA slayer Linas Kleiza taking the summer off from national team duty.

The Streak: Make it 62 wins in a row and counting for Mike Krzyzewski. That's 44 consecutive victories in Olympic and FIBA tournaments to go with another 18 wins in exhibition games. The Americans have dodged defeat since losing in the semifinals of the 2006 FIBA World Championship against Greece and launched this streak on Sept. 2, 2006, with a 96-81 victory over Argentina in the bronze-medal game in Japan.

Play of the Game: It took seven games and two quarters -- which equates to 83 percent of the tournament -- before we saw DeMarcus Cousins' first real run-in with the FIBA referees that so many said would be a big problem for him.

Late in the first half, Cousins took an elbow to the throat from Valanciunas on a box out, then charged at him with some, well, angry intent.

Cousins didn't throw a punch, but clearly convinced the refs that he had one in mind, earning a technical foul.

It should be noted, though, that frustration with the officiating was team-wide on this occasion, thanks to the steady stream of whistles on both sides. When Steph Curry picked up his fourth foul with just two minutes gone in the second half, he retreated to the bench and kicked over his chair as diplomatically as you can, clearly not wanting to make a scene while wearing his country's colors but also just as thoroughly exasperated by the tight whistles.

And when Anthony Davis got a technical foul early in the fourth quarter, Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski could be loudly heard courtside during the ensuing timeout imploring his players to keep calm amid the predictable chippiness.

"Will everybody just settle down," Krzyzewski bellowed.

Because technicals count as personal fouls in FIBA play, Davis fouled out on his T, which was recorded as his fifth personal.

Numbers Game: One more win. One more win and Team USA will have won four consecutive major titles in international basketball, starting with its gold-medal runs at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics and first place at the 2010 FIBA World Championship in Turkey.




The eyebrow-raiser for Team USA, besides all the early whistles that had starters Curry and James Harden in early foul trouble, was Lithuania's Mindaugas Kuzminskas, who mustered a wholly unexpected 15 points off the bench, including 12 in the first half.

How unexpected? Kuzminskas averaged 2.4 points in his first five appearances in the tournament for Lithuania while averaging a team-low 9.0 minutes per game.




The drought continues for host countries in FIBA's flagship event after Spain's stunning demise in the quarterfinals. No host country has won the World Cup or its equivalent since the former Yugoslavia ... way back in 1970.

It's a drought, of course, which includes the United States, which finished a humbling sixth in 2002 at the FIBA World Championship in Indianapolis in what is widely regarded as the low point in the history of USA Basketball.

What's Next: After stops in Gran Canaria, Bilbao and Barcelona, Team USA moves to the fourth city of its three-plus weeks in Spain when it relocates Friday to Madrid for Sunday night's title game.

The Americans will practice Saturday and then, coming off just their second two-day rest of the tournament, will face the France-Serbia winner in a bid to become just the third country in the history of this event to repeat as champions. Brazil (1959 and 1963) and the former Yugoslavia (1998 and 2002) are the only other two.

By avenging a 24-point loss to Spain in pool play and advancing to the semis, France has cemented itself as the new top team in Europe once you factor in its EuroBasket title in 2013. That breakthrough, though, was achieved with Tony Parker at the controls. France has neither Parker nor Joakim Noah in Spain, setting up Boris Diaw as the elder statesman and youngsters like Rudy Gobert and Thomas Heurtel as key contributors under the guidance of Vincent Collet, one of the top coaches in the international game.

The Serbs, though, can't be discounted. Not after they just mowed through 5-0 Greece and 5-1 Brazil by 18 and 28 points, respectively. Playing in Group A, where Serbia could only manage a fourth-place finish after losses in pool play to Spain, France and Brazil, clearly toughened up a squad featuring Milos Teodosic, former Milwaukee Bucks center Miroslav Raduljica and Phoenix Suns draftee Bogdan Bogdanovic.

In the teams' Group A meeting, France prevailed by a solitary point, squeezing out a 74-73 victory.

With Spain gone, who can stop Team USA?

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
9:59
PM ET
Rudy GayAP Photo/Alvaro BarrientosWith Spain now out of the picture, will Team USA coast to the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup title?
BARCELONA, Spain -- I wanted it.

You wanted it.

On a lot of levels, I suspect even Team USA wanted it.

So many of us dribbleheads, after weeks of hype and promises and what can now only be labeled as foolishly premature assumptions, were hoping to see Spain versus Team USA in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup championship game.

For at least two good reasons.

1. To see how vulnerable this American roster weakened by numerous high-profile absentees really is.

2. To see whether the two best teams in the world could produce a spectacle good enough to siphon some of the oxygen away from an NFL Sunday back home.

So now what? How do we properly mourn?

More importantly: Who's next?

From where on the map will a new, sustained threat to the United States' hoop supremacy come after this?

Answers were scarce late Wednesday night after the Spaniards -- who have served as the lone, lasting rival for USA Basketball since Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski showed up to revamp the program in 2005 -- bowed out of the tournament in stunningly limp fashion. To cap a thoroughly depressing summer for World Cup host countries, Spain suffered a 65-52 quarterfinal defeat to a Tony Parker-less France, despite having throttled Boris Diaw & Co. by 24 points in pool play.

With its strongest roster ever, as well as home-court advantage and the prospect of squaring off in the final with the youngest team of American pros to wear the red, white and blue in the Dream Team era, Spain had an undeniably healthy opportunity to finally avenge its narrow losses to Team USA in the Olympic finals of 2008 and 2012.

As one NBA general manager put it this week, neatly summing up sentiments I've heard from folks with various teams in the weeks building up to Sunday's title game in Madrid: "LeBron and Carmelo and those guys barely beat Spain last time, and they didn't have to play 'em in Spain. With the [Americans'] current roster, if they played 10 times, I think it would be 5-5. Or if it was a seven-game series, I think it would have gone seven. But Game 7's at their place."

None of that is a worry any longer for Jerry and Coach K. They'll surely have to guard against their young squad getting complacent heading into Thursday's semifinal against Lithuania (3 p.m. ET, ESPN), but Spain's wholly unexpected exit makes winning this World Cup considerably easier for the Yanks.

It also turns this inaugural World Cup -- sporting that new name FIBA hopes will lend the event more stature -- into a tournament that will likely be remembered as the end of an era for not one but two international powers: Argentina and those very same Spaniards.

It's hard to imagine Pau Gasol, Jose Calderon and Juan Carlos Navarro coming back to the national team for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil ... especially after the hell they'll catch for failing to deliver this time when hopes were so high. It's also fair to wonder how much they'd be able to offer at that point even if they did return. It thus seems safe to suggest that Spain, even if it can still field Marc Gasol, Rudy Fernandez and Ricky Rubio in Rio, will no longer be the same force Team USA has come to expect (and respect) since Spain won the 2006 World Championship in Japan.

The future in Argentina, meanwhile, is far bleaker, with an even older squad than Spain's and, sadly, virtually nothing in the pipeline to succeed Manu Ginobili's generation. All those great Argentinean players, born in the late '70s and early '80s, have curiously spawned no heirs of any note.

Who, then?

Who is going to stand up to the United States to generate some intrigue in international roundball?

France has firmly established itself as Europe's new powerhouse by breaking through to win the EuroBasket tournament in 2013 and then humbling the Spaniards in this manner with no Parker or Joakim Noah. The trouble is Parker and Diaw will both be 34 at the Rio Olympics in two years. The end is near for both of France's most influential players even if they reunite for one last samba in Brazil as expected.

It's fun to fantasize about Canada's ceiling, too, should Andrew Wiggins prove to be the real deal and if all of his promising young countrymen develop as they should. But you can see we're already reaching. Traditional powers like France and Spain appear headed for an unavoidable dip, Argentina is bound for a full-fledged nosedive ... and it figures to take our neighbors to the north until the 2020 Olympics at the earliest to emerge as a real factor.

Spain's demise, then, is an undeniable disappointment, both for Americans who were eager to see the toughest possible test for this fledgling squad and for everyone else hoping to see the game continue to grow internationally. The sudden exit of the team that, as recently as a week ago, fully deserved its promotion to the top of ESPN.com's FIBA Power Rankings, after its brilliant play in Group A, certainly gift wraps this World Cup for what is bound to be labeled as Team USA's third-string squad.

Which only figures to discourage the rest of the world further.

You actually start to fear, after studying what we've seen in Espana, that the gap between the United States and the chasing masses is actually widening as opposed to shrinking.

Don't think anyone here wanted to see that.

Team USA-Lithuania semifinal preview

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
1:52
PM ET
BARCELONA, Spain -- The team with the highest average victory margin at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup strangely keeps finding itself playing a lot of defense when the games are over.

Maybe that'll change now that host Spain has been stunningly eliminated by France in the quarterfinals after rolling in its first six games, but Mike Krzyzewski is a bit mystified by the lukewarm reviews Team USA has been getting despite going 7-0 so far by an average of 33.1 points.

"I think we've played well," Krzyzewski said Wednesday, hours before the 6-0 Spaniards were unexpectedly smothered and eliminated by France's unforgiving D.

"I don't know what everybody's been watching."

"Sometimes when people see you miss shots," Krzyzewski continued, "they say 'sloppy.' And I don't understand that, to be quite frank with you."

Team USA can clinch a spot in Sunday's title game in Madrid with a semifinal win Thursday night at Barcelona's Palau Sant Jordi over Lithuania. The opponent, assuming the Yanks get there, will be Friday night's France-Serbia winner.

Journalists and fans worldwide, of course, had been predicting a Team USA-Spain final for weeks. Months, even.

But Slovenia coach Jude Zdovc actually pinpointed the Americans as the party most vulnerable for an upset en route to the title game, insisting earlier this week that Lithuania's rugged front line can give Krzyzewski's team major problems.

And that drew an angry reaction from Kenneth Faried when he was apprised of the suggestion in circulation that a good bit of the success he and Anthony Davis have enjoyed in this World Cup can be attributed to the fact that they haven't faced a lot of imposing size.

But Faried insists that he, Davis and DeMarcus Cousins will continue to have an impact with their offensive rebounding to nurse Team USA through any further dry spells from outside. The Americans missed 14 of their first 16 shots from the field Tuesday night against Slovenia and didn't start wearing down Goran Dragic's squad with their athleticism, depth and smothering defensive pressure until the third quarter.

"We do that against any team," Faried said of the matchup inside with the Valanciunas-led Lithuanians. "I'm not worried about that. I've been doing that my whole life. I don't care how tall, how strong, how big [they are]. I'm gonna find a way."

Lithuania has been one of the best stories of the tournament, overcoming the loss of starting point guard Mantas Kalnietis just days before the World Cup began to a broken collarbone and advancing to the semifinals anyway despite the fact it lacks an established backup at the point.

Veteran swingman Renaldas Seibutis, who was selected by the Dallas Mavericks late in the second round of the 2007 draft but has never played in the NBA, has emerged as one of Lithuania's leaders alongside Valanciunas and Houston Rockets big man Donatas Motiejunas.

Lithuania has likewise proved to be a pesky foe for the United States dating all the way back to the 2000 Sydney Olympics in Australia. The nations have played six times in that span in major competitions, with Team USA winning five of those games ... but only one by double figures.

"Trying to outrebound them will be a challenge for our team," Krzyzewski said.

Yet when it was suggested that Kalnietis' absence hands a big advantage to Team USA, Krzyzewski countered by saying: "But they've been missing their No. 1 point guard the whole tournament. We've been missing [Kevin] Durant the whole tournament and Blake Griffin. I don't want to talk about people missing people because we've missed more people than anyone. The guy they're missing is a great guard … but they’ve had many, many games to adjust now. And they've adjusted very well."

In terms of health, Team USA starting point guard Kyrie Irving has acknowledged that he continues to feel the aftereffects of his hard fall last week against Ukraine, but as Irving said after the Slovenia game: "I’m all right. I’m as good as I’m going to get right now."

Said Krzyzewski about this young team's hopes of overcoming its lack of collective and big-game experience compared to Spain as it tries to repeat its 2010 run to the world championship crown in Turkey: "If we don't win [it all], it won't be because we haven't put the effort [in] and developed a camaraderie and all that stuff.

"We're proving worthy of winning. Now whether we do or not …"

USA unbeatable? 'No way,' says Coach K

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
10:44
PM ET
videoBARCELONA, Spain -- Mike Krzyzewski let out an audible snort in disbelief almost as soon he heard the question.

Do you think, Coach, that this USA team is unbeatable?

"Oh, no," Krzyzewski said. "No. No.

"We're beatable. There's no question about it."

Krzyzewski's shock was understandable. That had to be one of the last things he ever expected to be asked at this 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, where almost all of the big-picture chatter surrounding Team USA has been centered on how beatable/vulnerable/susceptible this weakened roster will be when it's Spain, not Slovenia, on the other side of the floor.

It happened again Tuesday night, when Team USA inflicted a 119-76 quarterfinal hammering on Goran Dragic and the rest of the poor Slovenians, who trailed by a mere seven points at intermission until the youngest squad USA Basketball has fielded in a major tournament since pros were ushered into the world of international basketball in 1992 unleashed a 70-34 second half on them.

Yet the reviews, even after this 43-point triumph, were mostly unkind, thanks to the first-half offensive struggles and the need for amped-up defensive pressure to bail them out.

Dragic, when pressed to choose a favorite for Sunday's title game in Madrid that's widely expected to feature the host country and the NBA stars in red, white and blue, said: "So far, Spain."

Slovenia coach Jure Zdovc, within seconds of lauding the "power" on Krzyzewski's roster, then made the claim that Lithuania has the requisite size and skill to give Team USA serious trouble here in Thursday night's semifinals.

"They are a good team but not unbeatable," Zdovc said of the Americans. "It will be interesting to see this [semifinal] game."

Even USA's own Anthony Davis, unimpressed by his team's second-half eruption, told ESPN in a postgame interview that he couldn't give his squad more than a "B" when asked to grade the Yanks' first seven games in Spain.

"I think we're playing in spurts right now," Davis said.

They're certainly not inspiring the sort of fear factor you'd expect for a team sporting an average margin of victory in this tournament of 33.1 points. And that's because, for all of the unrivaled athleticism and depth that can ultimately wear down and pulverize thinner foes like Slovenia, hope is growing by the day in Spain that the host country isn't going to fall victim to the areas of American expertise.

Team USA's typically killer offensive rebounding, which in Tuesday's case created so many extra opportunities and negated so many of the good things Slovenia was doing in the first half, could well be neutralized by Spain's celebrated front line. And if it happens that way in the title game -- if Davis and Kenneth Faried can't be as effective offensively against Pau and Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka as they've been against everyone else -- Team USA's uneven guard play might finally be exposed.

Of course, if you believe Zdovc, even Lithuania has the size to counter Davis and Faried and ramp up the pressure on Team USA's backcourt, which certainly contributes plenty to the Americans' defensive swarms but hasn't flowed offensively like many expected.

I personally can't picture this version of Lithuania possessing enough firepower to mount a credible upset bid with no Linas Kleiza and point guard Mantas Kalnietis out injured. But I was also convinced that at least a couple of the guards by now -- among Kyrie Irving, Steph Curry, James Harden and Derrick Rose -- would really be clicking by this point. Klay Thompson, instead, might be the most reliable backcourt player on Team USA's roster thus far. There's also more one pass-and-shot stuff than you'd hope to see.

"They're good, very good," Dragic said. "The big guys under the basket ... [shooters] don't have pressure when they shoot because they know they will get second chances. But I think it's going to be hard against Spain.

"I'm not saying that [the] USA is not as good a team [as] Spain is. It's probably gonna be who has the best day."

It's probably going to take a lot more, against all of Spain's talent and collective experience -- on Spanish soil to boot -- than the defensive smothering that brought an end to the Dragic brothers' summer fairy tale with their national team.

Yet that's one premise Krzyzewski accepted long ago.

"We're a young team and that's why I was very pleased with how we handled things today," Krzyzewski said. "Because usually a young team would get really frustrated with the ball not going in [early] and it turned pretty physically. I asked them at halftime, I said I need you to be a mature team. And they were.

"We're not this powerhouse or anything. We have good athletic ability. We play hard defensively. But we're young. And I know internationally especially, it's tough to win young.

"I know that from 2006. That's a lesson we learned that the Greek team taught us how to play internationally. And a part of it was to play together, play with veterans and play with poise. And we're trying to get this with a young team."
videoSome at-the-buzzer instant analysis from press row at the Palau Sant Jordi after Team USA clinched a spot in the semifinals of the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup with Tuesday's 119-76 trouncing of Slovenia:

How It Happened: You would never know, looking at the final score of 119-76, how much trouble Team USA had for a half.

Against a team it comfortably manhandled in an exhibition game in Gran Canaria exactly two weeks earlier, Team USA missed nine of its first 10 shots from the field, watched captain James Harden miss his first nine shots overall and was ahead by a mere seven points at intermission.

Eventually, though, Team USA's athleticism and depth did its damage and erupted for a 70-point second half that delivered the quarterfinal rout.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski came in touting the Slovenians as an "unusual team" to defend and lauded them for having "the most experienced perimeter [rotation] in the tournament outside of Spain."

And Phoenix Suns star Goran Dragic was not limited to less than 25 minutes of court time, like he was before the tournament began, as had been stipulated by an agreement struck between the Slovenian federation and the Suns.

So ...

With Slovenia converting on 70 percent of its 2-point attempts in the first two quarters and Team USA shooting so woefully that Harden and Steph Curry were a combined 0-for-12, it was a game for a half. But the final box score showed six Americans in double figures, led by Klay Thompson (20 points).

Harden managed to chip in 14 points despite missing those first nine shots, while Derrick Rose -- if not quite delivering the breakout game that both he and Krzyzewski were hoping for -- tossed in 12 points in 18 minutes and had the pleasure of seeing 6 of 10 field-goal attempts go down after shooting 8-for-37 in his first six games of the tournament.

"They punish every mistake," Slovenia coach Jure Zdovc said.

Zdovc pinpointed Team USA's massive rebounding edge as the difference. The Americans had 23 offensive rebounds, 53 overall, in their highest offensive output in the tournament, besting their 114 points against Finland in their Group C opener.

The Streak: That's now 61 wins in a row and counting for Krzyzewski; 43 consecutive victories in Olympic and FIBA tournaments and another 18 wins in exhibition games. The Americans previously tasted defeat in the semifinals of the 2006 FIBA World Championship against Greece and launched this streak on Sept. 2, 2006, with a 96-81 victory over Argentina in the bronze-medal game in Japan.

Play of the Game: Rose had a nice coast-to-coast drive and lefty finish in the first half. Kenneth Faried's first-quarter follow dunk was memorable, too:

video

The standout on this scorecard, though, was DeMarcus Cousins' impressive rumble all the way in from halfcourt for an uncontested dunk early on.

Not for its impact on the score, obviously. The Americans couldn't shake the pesky Slovenians until the third quarter, when the Slovenian turnovers and Team USA dunks started to flow, highlighted by a Harden-to-Faried lob that hiked the lead to 72-54 and got Harden especially hyped up.

But consider what Cousins did. He poked the ball loose well shy of the midcourt stripe, gathered it under control right around the center circle, took one dribble and two long steps and eventually slammed the ball through.

It was an end-to-end solo sortie -- which you can watch here -- that not many big men can make.

Numbers Game: When the Slovenia game tipped off, Team USA didn't have a single player averaging so much as 14 points per game. Anthony Davis entered as its top scorer, at 13.8 PPG, and totaled 13 points to go with his 11 rebounds and three blocks.



Leading the tournament with a success rate of 78.4 percent from the field coming in, Faried got sucked into Team USA's early shooting struggles. Even he missed four of his first six shots. He wound up 5-for-9 from the field in scoring 12 points, taking his shooting percentage down to 71.7 percent.


USA Basketball national teams featuring NBA players are now 11-0 in Barcelona heading into Thursday's semifinals.

The original Dream Team cruised to an 8-0 record at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. Team USA returned to Barcelona in 2012 as part of its preparation for the London Olympics and posted victories over Argentina and Spain.

Tuesday's 43-point triumph over the Slovenians sets up the Americans' third and last possible game at the Palau Sant Jordi in this tournament before the championship game and third-place match take place this weekend in Madrid.

What's Next: Team USA returns to the practice floor Wednesday, then meets its old friends from Lithuania in Thursday night's semifinals at 9 p.m. local time.

Turkey's loquacious Ergin Ataman had been openly hopeful of getting another shot at the Americans after his slowdown tactics caused such problems for the tournament favorites for 2½ quarters.

But Ataman's team never found that same level of execution against any of its other six opponents in this tournament to match what it threw against Team USA. And that proved fatal against stubborn Lithuania, which has shrugged off the loss of influential point guard Mantas Kalnietis to not only win Group D but now force its way into the final four of the 24-team field.

The Lithuanians, of course, have a long history of making the Americans miserable, dating to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. They also happened to give Team USA its toughest test outside of Spain at the London Olympics in 2012 -- maybe even including Spain -- but won't have Linas Kleiza this time, either.

Kleiza memorably rung up 25 points in the teams' 99-94 scrap two summers ago, but he's taking a break from the national team this summer, leaving Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas (12 points and 13 boards against Omer Asik and Turkey), Houston Rockets forward Donatas Motiejunas and former Dallas Mavericks draftee Renaldas Seibutis (who had a team-high 19 points Tuesday) to do the heavy lifting.

Coming Attractions: Goran & Zoran Show

September, 7, 2014
Sep 7
11:58
PM ET
DragicGetty ImagesWill Goran Dragic be welcoming brother Zoran into the NBA fold this season?
BARCELONA, Spain -- American viewers will be getting another up-close look at the Goran & Zoran Show in Tuesday's quarterfinals of the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

Even better news: It might not be the last time we see them together this year.

Sources here in Spain told ESPN.com this weekend that the Phoenix Suns are indeed among the three NBA teams expressing the most serious interest in signing Goran Dragic's younger brother Zoran.

The identity of the other two suitors hasn't been fully confirmed, but this much is clear: Zoran's new contract in Spain with Unicaja Malaga, sources say, does still allow for an escape to the NBA this season as long as A) the 25-year-old makes the move before the start of the new league season in Spain and B) he pays a higher-buyout fee than specified later in the contract. If Zoran Dragic ends up playing out the coming season with Malaga and thus delays his jump to the NBA until the summer of 2015, his buyout then would be 750,000 Euros (about $971,000).

And signing Zoran after this World Cup, sources say, is indeed an option Phoenix is pursuing, which would be a move that offers potential short- and long-term benefits for the Suns in their fight to hold onto Goran Dragic with unrestricted free agency looming for The Dragon in July 2015.

European media reports have pegged the Indiana Pacers as another suitor for Zoran Dragic. The Suns, meanwhile, still have roster room for a new addition and, as covered in this cyberspace earlier this week, face the prospect in July of both Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe becoming unrestricted free agents.

So it surely couldn't hurt, in the quest to hang on to the point guard who earned All-NBA Third Team honors last season, to try to sign his little bro first.

Projected to play shooting guard in the NBA with a shot that's still developing but with toughness and a motor that are unmistakably Dragic-y, Zoran has solidified his status as an NBA prospect with his play in this tournament, helping Slovenia make a real run at winning Group D before pumping in a team-high 18 points Saturday in the win over the Dominican Republic to set up Tuesday's rematch with Team USA at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN.

On Aug. 26 in Gran Canaria, in Team USA's first game on Spanish soil, Zoran Dragic scored a team-best 16 points in the Slovenians' 101-71 defeat.

"He was awesome," Goran Dragic told ESPN.com that night. "He was our best player on the court. It means a lot to play with him. We don't see each other so often. OK, on Skype, but it's not the same. Now it's a perfect situation for us to play together with the national team.

"We can share the court and maybe do some damage [with the national team]. And hopefully someday we can play each other in the NBA."

Or maybe even play together at the highest level.

Cousins helping U.S. defend post game

September, 6, 2014
Sep 6
5:54
PM ET
videoBARCELONA, Spain -- United States versus Mexico basketball in 2014 looks a lot like Mexico versus United States soccer did throughout the '70s and '80s and, realistically, decades before that.

Hombres contra niņos.

On hardwood, as it used to be for the Americans on grass for so long until they finally started kicking back in the '90s, Mexico is a neighboring country only because it says so on the map. Saturday's showdown at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup that brought together North America's two largest populations made it look as though the gap between the NBA stars in red, white and blue, and their foes from south of the border is still an ocean or three.

Give Mexico this much, though:

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Cousins
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty ImagesDeMarcus Cousins showed the kind of strong big-man play Team USA would need if it faces Spain.
Through the crafty work inside of star center Gustavo Ayon, who was Dream Shaking on a few possessions like a vintage Hakeem Olajuwon, Team USA saw that its frontcourt defense definitely has some vulnerabilities to address over the next week as the prospect of that widely anticipated championship game against Spain draws ever closer.

The Mexicans also hit back just hard enough, in an 86-63 triumph for Team USA more lopsided than the scoreboard suggests, to get Steph Curry revved up.

In the Americans' sixth game in eight days, Curry drained six 3-pointers to finish with a team-high 20 points. He also launched the most demonstrative celebratory fist pump ever seen from anyone on this particular Team USA after sinking three of those 3s in a bust-out third quarter. Curry then insisted he senses momentum and confidence building game by game within the squad, reminiscent of the 2010 FIBA World Championship team in Turkey that showed up in Istanbul with even less top-flight experience than this group has and beat the host Turks to win it all.

"In 2010 we did that," Curry said.

"Now [that] we're here in Barcelona and got our first [elimination] game under our belt, we got the wheels going."

They've indeed got Curry firing at last after his slow start to this tournament. And with an assist to Ayon, they've also apparently got a new impact player in DeMarcus Cousins.

It remains to be seen how much Boogie we'll be treated to in Tuesday night's quarterfinals, because Team USA will be facing the small-ballers from Slovenia after brothers Goran and Zoran Dragic led the Group D runners-up to a 71-61 triumph over the Dominican Republic in Saturday's second game.

Yet you can otherwise count on some steady doses of Cousins for the rest of the way whenever Team USA needs more of a bulky presence.

One of the few holes in Anthony Davis' wonderfully blossoming game is dealing with bigger bodies in the post -- hence New Orleans' recent acquisition of Omer Asik -- or dealing with crafty big men who can fool you with their good fakes.

Like Luis Scola. Or Spain's Gasol Brothers. Or, yes, Ayon.

The Americans are betraying no real concern about Ayon's 25 points in 37 minutes, since they largely single-covered the still-unsigned former Atlanta Hawk to make sure that none of Mexico's shooters got off. That said ...

If Ayon can hurt the American bigs in single coverage, you can be sure Pau and Marc Gasol possess the same capability in everyone's hypothetical USA-Spain final Sept. 14. And that's why Cousins is gradually starting to get more playing time.

Cousins' interest in defense has always been questioned (loudly) in Sacramento, but put him on the same list with James Harden and Kyrie Irving when it comes to players who appear to be digging in harder on D for their country than we're accustomed to seeing when they're at their NBA day jobs.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski, for one, had nothing but raves for Cousins' 11 points, seven boards and game efforts to bang with Ayon in 14 minutes of work.

"We have believed in DeMarcus right from training camp," Krzyzewski said. "All the reports about him not making the team and all that were all not right. We felt he would be the perfect guy with or in place of Anthony at times, but more in the place of Anthony.

"I think his defense has really improved. He tried to take three charges today. He played Ayon pretty well without getting help.

"I thought he played ... he’d get an A-plus from me today. Let’s just put it that way."

Krzyzewski quickly followed up with the announcement that he'd be declining to grade anyone else on the squad publicly, but he ultimately did share the one thing USA Basketball officials think about more than any other of the more commonly suggested reasons to go looking for the panic button, such as coping with the Spanish big men, trying to beat Spain on Spanish soil, or the dangers of playing eight games as easy as the Mexico game as a prelude to the title game.

Continuity.

The lack thereof, specifically.

That's pretty much the only thing you'll ever hear USAB folks openly envy.

Curry, Cousins and the rest of Team USA's chosen dozen have been together for a total of 25 consecutive days since reconvening in Chicago last month in the wake of the stomach-turning Paul George injury. It's not a lot of time to become a team.

Rest assured that the Spaniards have their own list of internal concerns when it comes to coping with the Americans' speed, athleticism and potential to smother them defensively, that no one seems interested in discussing much. Yet you can also rest assured that Spain is a team in the truest sense.

Speaking about his guys, Krzyzewski admitted: "I wish they knew each other better."

But ...

"You can’t force that maturation process," Coack K added. "It's just got to happen."

For the big, bad Yanquis -- who just halted Mexico's year-long Cinderella ride back to the highest level of international hoops for the first time in 40 years -- it has to happen in the space of a week.

Rapid Reaction: U.S. eliminates Mexico

September, 6, 2014
Sep 6
12:31
PM ET
BARCELONA, Spain -- Some at-the-buzzer instant analysis from press row at the Palau Sant Jordi after Team USA opened the single-elimination phase of the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup with a 86-63 trouncing of Mexico in the Round of 16:

How It Happened: Team USA finally managed the fast and aggressive start it failed to muster in multiple group games, scoring 13 of the game's first 15 points and ultimately cruising to the expected hammering of Mexico in the teams' first meeting in a game of World Cup or Olympic magnitude in nearly 50 years, dating all the way back to 1967.

Maintaining intensity for the full 40 minutes was naturally going to be a challenge for the Americans against a thoroughly overmatched foe that clearly couldn't hurt them, but the blips never lasted too long or threatened to cause any significant worry.

The only semblance of a disappointment would be the fact that the one player on the other side Team USA was most aware of -- Mexico center Gustavo Ayon -- still managed to shake loose for an impressive 25 points and seven rebounds in the free-agent big man's last widely televised audition of the summer for a new contract.

Star guard Steph Curry, who sank six 3-pointers and finished with a team-best 20 points, asserted in a halftime interview with ESPN that Team USA could live with Ayon's production since its "defense on everybody else is pretty solid."

As Curry also rightly noted: "He’s getting a lot of touches, so he’s going to have some points."

However ...

Ayon's success against the Americans' frontline does have to be noted, since they'll eventually have to try to contain two higher-caliber bigs in the same game in that expected championship showdown with Spain's Gasol Brothers on Sept. 14 in Madrid.

The good news: Curry appears to have shaken free from his early tournament slump, busting out for those 20 points inside three quarters while the other half of Golden State's Splash Brothers -- Klay Thompson -- added 15.

The Streak: Make it an even 60 wins in a row and counting for Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski. That includes 42 consecutive victories in Olympic and FIBA tournaments and another 18 wins in exhibition games. The Americans last tasted defeat in the semifinals of the 2006 FIBA World Championship against Greece in Japan and launched this streak on Sept. 2, 2006, with a 96-81 triumph over Argentina in the bronze-medal game.

And, as a bonus, Kyrie Irving started at point guard as promised after his hard fall Thursday against Ukraine and logged 24 incident-free minutes, though he was spotted holding his back on a couple occasions during rest spells on the bench.

Play of the Game: He didn't get the foul, but Curry did come away with a memorable rainbow 3 right in front of the Team USA bench that swished through for a 50-27 lead even as he was landing on his back at the feet of his coaches.

He drained two triples early on to get Team USA going, then threw in three more in that third quarter to snuff out any hope of a competitive second half. Team USA's lead rose as high as 37 points before Mexico closed the gap in garbage time.

So, yes, it would appear Curry's slow start in this tournament -- during which he missed 13 of his first 17 shots from the floor in the Yanks' first two games -- is indeed a memory. He doesn't deny that it's been an adjustment getting reacquainted with the lighter Molten ball which FIBA employs.

"It’s definitely different," Curry said. "It gets slippery out there sometimes when it touches a jersey or whatnot. [But] at this point, everybody is playing with the same basketball, so you got to be ready.

"It’s different for sure, but we’ve been playing with it for almost a month and a half now –- most guys a little bit longer getting ready for World Cup -- so we’re used to it. But it’s still different."

Numbers Game: The game was played in a tidy one hour and 29 minutes, which didn't officially set a record but sure felt like one.


The shooting struggles continue for Derrick Rose. He went 0-for-5 from the field against Mexico to drop to 8-for-37 and a success rate of 21.6 percent for the tournament.

"The goal is to win gold," Rose said in the mixed zone afterward, insisting yet again that he's content to be a role player who focuses on pushing the ball or pressuring it defensively in this early stage of his comeback from two lost seasons.

"People forget about the stats when you win."

But the constant energy and relentless athleticism supplied by Kenneth Faried resulted in another eight-point, eight-rebound performance that has become the norm from the Denver Nuggets' big man.


It was indeed the first meeting between the North American neighbors at the Olympic or World Cup level since 1967, but it was also the fifth overall. The previous four were Team USA wins (at right).

What's Next: For the first time since the tournament began last weekend, Team USA is looking at a 48-hour break before its next game, which comes Tuesday here in the quarterfinals against the Slovenia-Dominican Republic winner.

It'll be a welcome rest, too, after six games in eight days.

The Americans, don't forget, have already beaten both of those teams handily this summer. As part of its four exhibition games to prepare for this World Cup, Team USA posted a 43-point win over the Dominican Republic at Madison Square Garden on Aug. 20 and a 30-point win over Slovenia in its first game on Spanish soil on Aug. 26.
BARCELONA, Spain -- What began as a 24-team field is down to 16. So it's time for the internationally known Power Rankings committee (of one) to weigh in with one more FIBA Basketball World Cup edition as the single-elimination portion of the tournament begins this weekend.

One week removed from our pre-tournament FIBA World Cup rankings, here's how they stack up now from No. 1 to No. 24 ...


1. SPAIN (Last Ranking: 2)

I'm still picking the United States to beat the Spaniards in the Sept. 14 title game in Madrid. But if we're doing Power Rankings based on what we saw in pool play, Spain has played better basketball than anyone through five games -- including the Yanks. The hosts have size, shooting, playmaking, better perimeter defending than you think (with Ricky Rubio and Sergio Llull) and, yes, a legit home-court advantage. They also went 5-0 in Group A by their own gaudy 25.2-point average margin of victory, which includes spankings of Brazil (by 19) and France (24). The Gasol Brothers and their pals rightfully deserve the top spot as we move into the one-and-done phase.

2. UNITED STATES (LR: 1)

Have to be objective here. Team USA is not quite a team yet. This group has played only eight games together, counting exhibitions, with that championship game looming against a team in the truest sense. I repeat: I still think Team USA, as Ukraine coach Mike Fratello suggested Thursday, is going to come at Spain with a level of defensive ferocity and hunger that the Kings of Europe won't see anywhere else. I assure you there will be no flat start in that one from the Americans. Yet the fact remains that, in spite of that healthy average margin of victory (33.2 PPG) through its first five games, Team USA's guard play has been spotty and a leader hasn't really emerged for this group. There is work to be done before the final.

3. BRAZIL (LR: 3)

Don't think there's any question, based purely on talent, that Brazil is the third-best team here. But to finally reach the semifinals of a major competition for the first time in the Nene/Varejao/Barbosa Era, they'll have to beat their old enemies from Argentina in a Round of 16 steel-cager, and then the Greece-Serbia winner in the quarters. It's certainly doable, but it'll also be highly emotional no matter who Argentina has missing. It's the matchup of the round ... by several kilometers.

4. GREECE (LR: 5)

I was higher than most on the Greeks, as evidenced by the fact they snuck into a top-five slot in the pre-tournament rankings, but the big names France and Argentina are both missing was as much a factor for the high placement as anything. To its credit, though, Greece capitalized on Argentina's weakened roster and the overall welcoming nature of Group B to join Spain and the United States on the short list of teams that went unbeaten in pool play. Don't get carried away, though: Greece would have to beat Serbia and then the Brazil-Argentina winner to get to Spain in the semifinals. P.S. Everyone's favorite Greek Freak -- Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo -- has been forced to settle for backup minutes behind new Houston Rockets signee Kostas Papanikolaou.

5. FRANCE (LR: 4)

I'm afraid nothing has changed since our pre-tournament musings. As I watched Boris Diaw and Nicolas Batum and coach Vincent Collet scuffle to a 3-2 mark in the Group of Death with Spain and Brazil, all I could think was What if? How much tastier would the later rounds of this tournament have been if Tony Parker and Joakim Noah were still playing for Les Bleus after France's breakthrough last summer to win EuroBasket 2013?

6. LITHUANIA (LR: 8)

Quite an effort from Lithuania to win Group D after losing the one guy they seemingly couldn't afford to lose in Mantas Kalnietis. The Lithuanians overcame the emotional hit of seeing their point guard go down just days before the tournament started by smothering Slovenia in the fourth quarter Thursday night to leapfrog Goran Dragic and Co. and finish first in the pool. And just as Australia took the controversial way by essentially surrendering its final group game to Angola, Lithuania has thus delayed its earliest meeting with Team USA until the semis. Turkey or those aforementioned Aussies await in the quarterfinals if the squad led by Jonas Valanciunas can beat New Zealand on Sunday.

7. TURKEY (LR: 13)

The truth? Outside of those brilliant three quarters against Team USA -- which were worth several bonus points with the committee -- Turkey was also underwhelming for long spells in its first five games. The Turks lost to Ukraine and were fortunate to eke out wins over New Zealand and Finland when you'd have expected them to comfortably go 4-1 considering how they looked against the Americans. Yet it also wouldn't surprise me a bit to see them in the semis next Thursday in a rematch with Team USA, which would put Ergin Ataman and his box-office coaching style back in the American hoops spotlight one more time. With Omer Asik looking as good as he has in ages, ranking the Turks this high in essence is a show of faith that they'll find some consistency in Barcelona.

8. ARGENTINA (LR: 9)

I thought they had enough to win Group B even without Manu Ginobili and Carlos Delfino. I'm even more confident that the Argentineans' Round of 16 battle Sunday with Brazil will be a nasty slugfest, because that's the only possible outcome when those nations meet. Brazil, at full strength, will be narrowly favored to avenge its loss to Manu & Co. in the quarterfinals of the 2012 London Olympics, but you can rest assured Luis Scola will do everything in his power to hold the Brazilians off one last time after averaging 21.6 points (second in the tournament to date) and 8.8 boards (sixth) in Argentina's five group games. (I'm also, for the record, irrationally excited about the Facundo Campazzo versus Marcelinho Huertas skirmishes.)

9. SERBIA (LR: 6)

Landing in the toughest of the four groups actually worked out OK for Serbia, which was always destined to finish no higher than fourth in Group A, but will profit now from the softness of Group B. It was by far the weakest pool of the four, but you won't hear Serbia complaining that much about a Round of 16 match with Group B winner Greece. Guard Milos Teodosic and big man Miroslav Raduljica -- who has played well enough, I'm told, to force NBA teams to start tracking him again -- are the names to watch.

10. SLOVENIA (LR: 7)

Slovenia was a quarter away from going 5-0 in Group D before a total offensive meltdown handed first place in the pool to Lithuania. Can the Dragic Brothers and their teammates rebound mentally from that disappointment to beat the plucky Dominicans in Saturday night's Round of 16? The problem, even if they do, is that they'd now have to face Team USA in the quarterfinals -- one round shy of the medal round -- after already losing to the Yanks by 30 in the teams' exhibition game 11 days ago in Gran Canaria.

11. AUSTRALIA (LR: 11)

The hysteria that followed Australia's decision to essentially tank its way to third place in Group D and thus dodge Team USA until the semifinals at the earliest is actually mild compared to what we saw at the London Olympics. Or have you already forgotten France's Nicolas Batum lashing out and punching Juan Carlos Navarro in the groin after Spain was perceived to have lost a group game to Brazil on purpose so it could avoid Team USA until the gold-medal game? The point: Strategic tanking happens in FIBA and has happened for years. Of greater concern to folks back home and specifically Jazz fans: Dante Exum is indeed playing only sparingly with the Aussies -- despite the injury absences of Andrew Bogut and Patty Mills -- in win-now mode. At least most of the time.

12. NEW ZEALAND (LR: 17)

Who wants to see the Kiwis unleash their most spirited Haka of the tournament with Australia on the other side of the court? It is possible now after New Zealand hauled itself off the canvas in Group C, recovering from the big blown lead over Turkey in its opener and an 0-3 start overall to narrowly snag fourth place in the group and the last spot in the next round over Ukraine. New Zealand would have to beat Lithuania on Sunday to make the spicy Oceanic showdown happen -- and Australia would have to follow with an upset of Turkey -- but you suspect Kirk Penney has to heat up after some uncharacteristic struggles from outside in pool play for the Kiwis to have a real shot.

13. CROATIA (LR: 10)

The committee (of one) took a fair bit of heat from a variety of in-the-know folks around the league who blasted us for having the Croatians down at No. 10 in the first edition of the FIBA Rankings. The Croats then proceeded to uncork a vintage weeklong unraveling that included losses to Senegal and Greece and a near-loss to the Philippines, prompting a few players to push for coach Jasmin Repesa to step down immediately. As in during the tournament. Tenth, in other words, looks like it might have been too high.

14. DOMINICAN REPUBLIC (LR: 21)

I was guilty of putting too much stock in the Dominicans' limp showing at Madison Square Garden in an Aug. 20 exhibition game against Team USA when I made my initial pre-tournament projections. Turns out the Dominicans, even without the injured Al Horford, had more moxie than some of us know-it-alls realized, starting with Francisco Garcia. The Houston Rockets' veteran swingman enters the second round as the tournament's No. 5 scorer at 20.3 points per game -- on 56.5 percent shooting from the floor and 65.4 percent shooting on 3s -- under coach Orlando Antigua of South Florida and two assistants from the NBA in Bill Bayno and Pat Zipfel.

15. SENEGAL (LR: 23)

Wolves fans frustrated that Rick Adelman didn't give Gorgui Dieng more of a chance last season next to Kevin Love have presumably been muttering told-you-sos all week after watching the young big man lead Senegal to a win over Croatia and the most unexpected Round of 16 berth on the board. Dieng even leads the tournament in FIBA's answer to PER with a "Valuation" of 22.8. Pau Gasol and Kenneth Faried, by comparison, are fourth and fifth in the same category at 22.2 and 21.6, respectively.

16. MEXICO (LR: 16)

I fully admit it. Ever since I wrote a piece on Mexico's Cinderella run to the FIBA Americas title last summer in Venezuela, I've had a soft spot for these guys. So I was indeed quietly rooting for Gustavo Ayon, Jorge Gutierrez and the rest of the #12guerreros to finish fourth in Group D, thereby forcing an elimination-game showdown with their neighbors to the north, because it's simply been too long since the United States and Mexico played a basketball game at this level. The last such instance was 1967, but the drought is over at last after Mexico's wins over Angola and South Korea by a combined 40 points.

17. UKRAINE (LR: 12)

Mike Fratello was incredibly calm and gallant as he broke the news, to a gathering of reporters who had no idea what was coming, that Ukraine had missed out on a spot in the Round of 16 and a Sunday meeting with Lithuania by a solitary point. It was a very cruel way to go out, especially for a country participating in its first World Cup, but Fratello absorbed the bad news in the most sporting manner possible. The tiebreaker to separate the three teams in Group C with 2-3 records was to add up the scores in the games between them. The Dominicans were a plus-3 in those two games. New Zealand was a minus-1. And Ukraine was a minus-2. The reality, though, is that losses to Finland and New Zealand were the bigger culprits; Ukraine should have won at least one of those games based on how it played against Turkey and the United States.

18. ANGOLA (LR: 22)

Don't care how hard Australia was trying to give away Thursday's Group D finale. SMU senior Yanick Moreira totaling 38 points and 15 rebounds for Angola, under any circumstances, jumps off the page. And not just because he plays his college ball for Larry Brown in the same zip code, relatively speaking, as the Power Rankings Dungeon. Two wins and Moreira's bust-out performance … impressive.

19. FINLAND (LR: 15)

I miss their inimitable fans already. Finland's loud and loyal hordes of supporters thoroughly livened up Group C and were openly devastated by those three successive losses by six points or less -- to the Dominican Republic, Turkey and New Zealand -- that followed a stirring upset of Ukraine. Point guard Petteri Koponen played well enough to suggest that he does have an NBA future, but he'll undoubtedly need some time to mourn this week's disappointments, since it looked at the end of the New Zealand game as though Koponen took the string of narrow defeats harder than anyone.

20. PHILIPPINES (LR: 20)

Andray Blatche doesn't have an NBA contract for next season yet, but he's secured full-fledged hero status in the Philippines after the Great Blatche Experiment saw the much-maligned big man average 21.2 points and a tournament-best 13.8 rebounds in pool play. Blatche led the success-starved Gilas to a near-upset of Croatia and a win over Senegal in the Group B finale to ensure they came away with something in the basketball-mad Philippines' first appearance on the world basketball stage in 36 years.

21. PUERTO RICO (LR: 14)

The tournament's leading scorer is already back home. Gritty, gutty J.J. Barea averaged 22 points per game and was his typical stubborn little self, but Puerto Rico couldn't afford to lose Carlos Arroyo to an ankle injury when Renaldo Balkman was already playing hurt. The Group B loss to Senegal -- the game in which the team lost Arroyo -- was the difference. Perhaps the likes of Ricky Ledo, Moe Harkless and Shabazz Napier will join this team in the future for a fresh infusion of NBA talent.

22. IRAN (LR: 19)

Hamed Haddadi fans couldn't have asked for much more. Iran predictably struggled to keep up with the rest of Group A apart from the automatic win over Egypt, but Haddadi put up numbers many Grizz-watchers are bound to have trouble believing, ranking No. 7 in pool play in scoring at 18.8 points per game and tying Senegal's Dieng for second in rebounding at 11.4 RPG.

23. SOUTH KOREA (LR: 18)

Ranking South Korea ahead of the Philippines a week ago -- when the Filipinos had finished higher than the Koreans in qualifying for the World Cup -- will not go down as one of the committee's finest moments. My reasoning was that I thought the South Koreans, unlike the Gilas, actually had a chance to advance out of their group. They wound up suffering losses of 34 and 30 points to Australia and Lithuania, respectively, and were really only competitive in an 11-point defeat to Angola.

24. EGYPT (LR: 24)

Angola, Finland and the Philippines all had their moments in pool play despite failing to advance to the knockout phase. Can't even pretend to make a similar claim about Egypt, which got progressively less competitive as Group A unfolded, finally bowing out with a humbling 63-point loss Thursday in Granada to Brazil.

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