ÉNE•BÉ•A at UnivisionDeportes.com

ÉNE•BÉ•A is here: www.nba.com/enebea

We love the NBA because they constantly push the envelope with their international reach. They have partnered with UnivisionDeportes.com on a new site that’s a great source of basketball news, stats and players’ blogs all in Spanish.

Maybe Arnau, our Spanish-speaking hoops guru/co-founder here at Fan Scribe, can be brought on as a writer/consultant for their site.

Support/Apoye,
Chris Queso

Fan Scribe Radio Episode 14: 2010 NBA Eastern Conference Preview

Recorded some time before the season started: Chris Queso and Arnau are back after a long summer break to bring you their patented brand of NBA talk. In this episode we break down each division of the Eastern Conference. Predictions and a gang of jokes… Enjoy.

Warning: We have potty mouths.

 

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Gregg Doyel: I f***ing hope you’re joking.

Mister Gregg Doyel, a polemic entrepreneur over at CBSSports dot com, is hardly known for his unbiased writing. In fact, the main reason he makes his salary from Fox is the fact that he creates biased arguments which lead to high traffic. That’s really about it, given that half his writing is of the “I’m drunk and want to argue” variety. The other half doesn’t even qualify for the ethylic excuse. In other words, spewing BS and making reasonable folk flock to his website in order to argue his often ridiculous points is the reason of his publishing existence. In his latest pseudo-article, however, he crossed the line of reason.

“LeBron James has to average a triple-double. Something along the lines of a 25-10-10 season. I don’t much care what the exact numbers are, as long they produce a triple-double. James has to do that this season, or he’s an underachiever.” Oooooooh-weee! So, unless LeBron produces the finest statistical season in NBA history (adjust Oscar Robertson’s numbers to today’s pace and see if James’ hypothetical line wouldn’t be more impressive), he’s an underachiever. That’s some reasonable expectation, alright…

“LeBron James was given Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Not to mention Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem. LeBron James was given more than any great player has ever been given.” Scottie Pippen was better than D-Wade. Dennis Rodman was better than Chris Bosh. 1996 Toni Kukoc on a bad day was 2010 Mike Miller. And let’s not even talk about the off-the-bench spark that Ron Harper provided, even if he didn’t play the same position as Udonis Haslem. And I won’t even bring up Dennis Johnson, Kevin McHale, Danny Ainge and Bill Walton as a supporting cast. Or Kareem, Byron Scott, James Worthy and Michael Cooper. I won’t talk about Bob Cousy, John Havlicek, Tom Heinsohn and Sam and KC Jones, either. Charles Barkley, Clyde Drexler and Pip again won’t cut it, either. Neither of those sets of players can compare to what LeBron James has in Miami right now, according to Doyel. Maybe I suffer from realititis, but I can’t see more than one Hall of Fame-caliber player in Miami’s roster other than the gentleman sporting the  #6 jersey, and that’s Dwyane Wade. However, I’m certain you can spot at least two enshrined players in each of the teams I mentioned up there(and if you can’t find two in the ’96 Bulls, blame the Naismith Memorial’s anti-Euro bias. Toni Kukoc was kicking ass and taking names from 1988 and 1998). What can a writer do without a little exaggeration, anyway?

“But to whom much is given, much is expected. And LeBron James, with his career scoring average of 27.8 ppg and a single-season high of 31.4 ppg in 2005-06, was given — or gave himself — a perimeter running mate not seen in the NBA since, well, ever. Don’t tell me Jordan and Pippen, because Wade is better than Scottie Pippen. Only four times in his career did Pippen average 20 ppg, and his best season was 22 ppg. Wade has exceeded that six years in a row, with  30.2 ppg in 2009. Pippen rebounded better, but Wade creates better. And Wade scores a lot more.” Pippen was also the most versatile defender in basketball history, an underrated passer (5.2 apg, despite spending the bulk of his career playing with the most ball-dominant player ever) and the real MVP of the 1994 season. Wade has never come close to being the most important player in the League over the course of 82 games. Pip led an awful Bulls team to the brink of the 1994 Finals in an exceptionally tough league, whereas Wade and his loaded 2007 squad were swept out of the playoffs by a listless Bulls team. Other than that, Wade is head and shoulders above Scottie Pippen.

“Already, James is the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double, doing it 20 days after he turned 20 in 2005. Already, James is seventh in career triple-doubles with 34, and he’s only 25 years old. Already, James has averaged 7.9 rebounds in a season, and he has averaged 8.6 assists in a season, and he put up those numbers when the best perimeter teammate he had was Mo Williams (career-best with LeBron: 17.8 ppg in 2009) and the best big man he had was Zydrunas Ilgauskas (career-best with LeBron: 16.9 ppg in 2005).” Let’s just forget that LeBron came into the league straight out of high school, so his precociousness feels more impressive than it really is. Let’s also forget that Michael Jordan put up a 33-8-8 with Bill Cartwright and a 14ppg-scoring Scottie Pippen as his top sidekicks in 1989, and the Bulls didn’t make it past the Eastern Conference Finals. Unless LeBron does what nobody has ever done before, he’s a megabust.

“So what does LeBron do now that he plays alongside Dwyane Wade (30.2 ppg in 2009) and Chris Bosh (24 ppg in 2010), and also plays alongside Mike Miller (18.5 ppg in 2007, 48 percent on 3-pointers in 2010) and Udonis Haslem (12 ppg in 2008)?

He wins an NBA title, for one thing. That’s easy.

And he averages a triple-double. That’s hard, sure, but then again, this is LeBron James we’re talking about. And to whom much is given, well, we expect a whole lot.”

I guess we shouldn’t expect a lot from Mr. Doyel, then…

Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Greatness.

How good was Michael Jordan? He played his home games in an arena featuring a statue of Michael Jordan.

We pay to watch what we ourselves can only dream of doing. We fill arenas to witness the extraordinary become the average, the impossible become routine and the inconceivable become reality. We are glued to the television hoping to catch a glimpse of greatness, be it singular or collective. Good does not cut it anymore, and has it ever?

 When Arian Foster rushed for 231 yards in Week 1, his face was all over the news. Read a recap of the Texans’ Week 3 loss at Dallas and you’re only likely to be informed of Foster being stuffed twice at the goal line. It’s alright to believe that most of the media coverage should go to players on the winning side, but it’s not as if Foster had an anonymous performance: his 106 yards made him the first player to hit triple digits against the Cowboys’ run defense in 20 games.

It is often that we hear or read about watching this or that athlete perform in person and being taken aback by the aura he exudes, the je ne sais quoi that makes being in his presence feel like a mystical experience. We didn’t watch Michael Jordan, the man, play. What we were wowed by was Michael Jordan, the all-encompassing basketball machine.

Take a look at a picture of his title-winning jumper at Utah back in Game 6 of the 1998 Finals. There’s MJ, holding his follow-through in perfect form, providing the most aesthetically pleasing punctuation before fading away. There’s Bryon Russell attempting not to let his behind hit the floor, the image of defeat, the personification of the inadequacy of a mere mortal. There’s Dennis Rodman, Jeff Hornacek and Karl Malone watching the ball as it nears the peak of its parabola, and Olden Polynice attempting to locate the opponent he is supposed to box out, presumably a charging Toni Kukoc. None of these characters, however, define the general sentiment that overtook the arena.

If you look carefully, you’ll see a young woman standing right behind the baseline photographers in the bottom left corner of the picture. She’s wearing a dark blue get-up and a belt that would make the Mailman very happy. Her hands are fruitlessly attempting to cover the expression of utter horror that her face depicts. She knows.

In the gap between Bryon Russell and Karl Malone, right on the first row behind the basket, you’ll find a lady in an orange sweater and black top and a gentleman wearing a short-sleeved shirt and beige khakis. She’s screaming in frustration, he is yelling in fear. They know.

Look four rows of people behind Jeff Hornacek and you’ll see a middle-aged woman in a tank top standing beside a tall middle-aged man wearing a grey polo shirt. Their stances mimic each other, elbows pointing upwards while holding their heads in anticipation of failure. They know.

Take a long look at the 15 or so rows of fans standing behind the basket, and you’ll realize that those people know what’s coming. Michael Jordan is about to end their team’s season and go back home with yet another ring. It had been this way for almost a decade, and why would it change now? Mike already had 43 points to his name, and a few seconds earlier had stripped Karl Malone in the low post before the local hero could make the game-icing play. This is what Michael did, and he was about to do it again. Great players make great plays, and there wasn’t a greater player than Air Jordan.

Let’s touch on Kobe Bryant for a second. He’s led the league in scoring, won regular season and Finals MVP awards, had streaks of 40-point games, streaks of 50-point games, won five titles overall and gone from adored to despised to mostly beloved again. Some want to compare him to Mike while others are focused on destroying his candidacy. I find myself between both waters.

Nobody has come as close to playing the way Mike played as Kobe has, and nobody will for a simple reason: just like KB patterned his game after MJ, the kids who follow the game today pattern their games on the guys such as LeBron, Wade and Melo. Mike’s appeal will swallow up several generations, but Flashy Mike was outlived by Crafty Mike. In the fireworks-obsessed culture of today, Kobe’s impossible fadeaways are a sight to see, but a 14-year old would rather work on a killer crossover with almost-immediate rewards than spend countless hours developing a shot that will be a 50-50 proposition at best. The sizzle to Kobe’s game is then very close to Mike’s, but the steak is nowhere near.

Mike had to wait for the Bulls to put a decent roster around him while Kobe came into the League on a loaded squad. Mike dragged a bunch of sorry rosters farther than they should have gone, and when he flamed out it was against teams that could have challenged GOAT status: the early 80’s Celtics and the Bad Boy Pistons. Even in defeat, Mike had performances such as his 63-point game at the Boston Garden that will outlast the results of those games. Kobe failed miserably after pushing Shaquille O’Neal out of LA, and what we remember is his pouting, his deliberate decision not to shoot in an elimination game against a good but wholly unremarkable Suns team. We remember Mike dying on his feet against probably the toughest roster ever assembled. Kobe? He signed an armistice and bowed out against a good, but not great, opponent.

When the lights shone brighter, in the Finals, Mike never disappointed. His shooting in the last 3 games of the 1996 Finals was poor, but he had pretty much clinched the series by himself in the first 3 meetings (not to mention he was guarded by the greatest backcourt defender to ever lace them up, who happened to be in his absolute prime). Mike took 35 shots to get his 45 points in the Bryon Russell game, but he dominated the fourth quarter. Kobe flopped in his first Finals as The Man, played a good series against an Orlando squad devoid of perimeter defenders (and refereeing neutrality…) in his second go-round and was absolutely putrid when the lights shone brighter in 2010. I’m not saying Mike dropped 40 points every time he played a Finals game, but his imprint was unequivocally on each and every single championship’s deciding moment.

It’s not just the timely nature of Michael Jordan’s superhuman performances that set him apart. Kobe, like Reggie Miller or Chauncey Billups, has been clutch in countless occasions. It’s not the fact that Jordan dropped buckets in grandiose fashion, because Mr. Bryant is no slouch himself. It’s not even about titles, given that Kobe is within one ring of MJ’s six (disclaimer: here’s where I tell you “albeit Mike’s top dog status wasn’t arguable at any point, unlike Kobe’s”). It’s about the buzz, the chills, that tingling feeling that took over all of us who were watching Mike perform. We didn’t know how or when it was going to happen. It could be a first-half three-point barrage against Portland, a 55-point performance against the Suns or the aforementioned shot against Utah, but Mike always came through, always left the court after becoming more than a winner. Every time, he was the hero. And every time, we knew he would be. In the unpredictable world of sports, there aren’t many things as enjoyable as watching an athlete consistently and methodically dominate to the point of predictability. And in that aspect, nobody has ever replicated what Michael Jeffrey Jordan gave us from 1990 to 1998, and I don’t anticipate seeing it again either.

Mike made us stop craving for good, very good or great. After him, only the greatest is enough.

30 Teams, 30 Questions

Will the Celtics substract by addition?

With NBA teams engulfed in training camp, there are more questions than answers as the first week progresses. With this in mind, here are the questions I feel will have a deeper impact in each team’s season.

Atlanta Hawks

 Can Jamal Crawford go back to being a happy camper, or will he sulk and blow up any remnants of team chemistry?

Boston Celtics

Will the collection of current and former All-Stars turn into a team in time to face the other Beasts of the East, or will they coast through a hapless season?

Charlotte Bobcats

The surprise factor gone, can their defense make up for the predictable drop in offensive efficiency now that Ray Felton has moved on?

Chicago Bulls

Can they make The Leap after Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah’s star turn in the playoffs and, in the former’s case, the Worlds?

Cleveland Cavaliers

Can they be relegated to the NBDL?

Just kidding. Can Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison buckle up and lead this team to the postseason the way they led their mediocre Bucks and Wizards squads?

Dallas Mavericks

Will their defensive efficiency go down with the departure of Erick Dampier, and can they make up for it with increased sharpness on offense?

Denver Nuggets

Is Chauncey Billups strong and respected enough to lead this team through the turmoil of the post-Melo era while George Karl struggles with health issues?

Detroit Pistons

They have the personnel to try and emulate the Warriors of 2007: will they have the coaching as well?

Golden State Warriors

Will their run-and-gun roster be able to play a headier game?

Houston Rockets

How will Kevin Martin deal with having a superstar teammate for the first time since his rookie year?

Indiana Pacers

How good can Danny Granger be now that he’s paired with a real NBA point guard?

Los Angeles Clippers

If they don’t get off to a fast start, how long will the current roster stay together?

Los Angeles Lakers

Kobe and Pau rested this summer: can they be even better than last year?

Memphis Grizzlies

Will the volatile Zach Randolph remain on his best behavior?

Miami Heat

Will Chris Bosh adapt to being the third banana?

Milwaukee Bucks

They’re not sneaking up on anyone this year, but can they keep making progress with the addition of Corey Maggette to avoid offensive stagnation?

Minnesota Timberwolves

Is this the year Michael Beasley gets it?

New Jersey Nets

Can the Little General keep the youngsters on his side long enough to make Jersey into a respectable entity?

New Orleans Hornets

How will the franchise deal with the upcoming rumor mill surrounding Chris Paul?

New York Knicks

Can Raymond Felton be half as good as Steve Nash with Amar’e Stoudemire and Mike d’Antoni by his side?

Oklahoma City Thunder

They’re young, fun to watch and everyone’s sleeper: will they keep their composure if things don’t go as planned early on?

Orlando Magic

Can they channel their rivalry with the Heat into positive energy, or will they be swallowed up by the hype?

Philadelphia 76ers

Can Evan Turner free up Andre Iguodala to be the best role player in the League?

Phoenix Suns

Can Steve Nash do for Hakim Warrick in 2011 what he did for Channing Frye in 2010?

Portland Trail Blazers

Is Brandon Roy really healthy, and can he stay that way?

Sacramento Kings

Will DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans keep their acts together long enough to have an impact?

San Antonio Spurs

How quickly can Tiago Splitter adapt to the NBA?

Toronto Raptors

Can they get Jose Calderon to buy back into the team after his failed trade to Charlotte?

Utah Jazz

Can Paul Millsap co-exist with Al Jefferson?

Washington Wizards

Will Gilbert Arenas be able to take the lead without stunting John Wall’s development?

We reminisce: Kenyon Martin and a January night.

Note: back in early 2008, I was writing at a small-time blog and watching too much basketball for my own grades’ good. I came across a Lakers-Nuggets game, and I was instantly glued. It’s no secret that I am a huge Kenyon Martin fan, and given that he was just getting out of his streak of injuries, I was very curious to watch him play. He did not disappoint. This entry was originally published on January 21st 2008 at www.hoopsnake.blogspot.com. Enjoy.

I have been one of Kenyon Martin’s biggest fans for a while. Back in 2001, he was a young, exciting player who tried to dunk any ball he caught within 12ft of the basket, who hustled his backside off and who was becoming an improving outside shooter. In the 2002 Finals, he was the only Net with a pulse besides Jason Kidd, and the unnoficial 2002 regular season MVP’s pulse must have been quite accelerated, because he could not hit water from a boat for most of the series.

 

During the offseason after being swept from the Finals, K-Mart was one of the most intriguing players in the league. In his 35-point Game 4 performance, he displayed a shooting touch that most hadn’t seen, or even expected from him. He repeatedly blew past Robert Horry and finished at the rim, either with a ferocious throwdown or with a little finesse half-hook. When his man backed off, Martin dropped 17-footers like his name was Rip Hamilton.

 

That summer, I thought we were about to see Martin become Rasheed Wallace 3000; a deadly outside shot, a tenacity rivaled by very few, the most athleticism in a big man since Shawn Kemp’s prime and the conviction that any shots thrown around his basket should be sent back to the seventh row. In 2002-03, his numbers didn’t change much, but he and JKidd confirmed that they had become the best alley-oop duo since The Glove and The Reignman, and the Nets showed they were for real by tearing through the Eastern Conference again.

 

In the process of reaching the Finals for the second consecutive year, Martin used the series against Boston to not only take a giant step toward superstardom, but also take away Antoine Walker’s star status forever. If K-Mart could put up a similar showing against Tim Duncan in the Finals, he would become a household name. Things didn’t go quite as planned, and what seemed like a poorly-timed case of the flu that sabotaged Martin’s Finals performance was, unbeknownst to all of us, the beginning of the end.

 

Sure, the 2003-04 season gave us Martin’s finest statistic output, saw him become an All-Star and sign a huge deal with Denver in the offseason. It would all go downhill from there. During his first year in Denver, Martin couldn’t justify the big money that went his way, as his averages dropped in pretty much every category. Things would improve next season, I thought. It’s not easy adjusting to an anarchic team when you’ve spent the last three years playing alongside the greatest point guard of your generation. The altitude must have been a factor early in the season, and his conditioning suffered accordingly throughout the year. This was Melo’s team anyway, and all Martin had to do was be an energy guy, albeit a great one at that. All of the above could have been reasonable explanations to excuse K-Mart’s poor production, as well as give hope that he’d get back on track the following year.

 

All the “following year” was good for was confirming that Martin was declining, his numbers closer to his injury-riddled rookie year than to his All-Star season. Even more worrysome, Martin missed 26 games with an injury and picked a fight with George Karl in the Playoffs, leading to a suspension.

 

At the outset of the 2005-06 season, I had started to hope Martin had morphed from an offensive force who occasionally rebounded with gusto into a full-time enforcer. His scoring numbers were smaller than ever, but he was crashing the boards like a middle-class man’s Charles Oakley. That lasted for all of two games, and then his season was over, with many thinking the two words that put a premature end to his campaign would be forever engraved in his career’s epitaph: microfracture surgery. When one surgery turned into two, I admittedly gave up, thinking there was no way a player who relied so much on supernatural physical abilities could come back from not one, not two, not three, but four severe injuries (don’t forget he broke his leg twice in a one-year span between his senior year at Cincinatti and his rookie year with the Nets).
Early this season, I saw glimpses of the vintage K-Mart, but I didn’t want to buy in only to be disappointed again. Little by little, I was being drawn into watching Martin again. Maybe I wasn’t getting many 17-10-4-2-2 performances, but I’m pretty sure both of us would sign for a guaranteed, healthy 12 and 7 every night. Then tonight happened.

 

As I watched him against the Lakers, I was having flashbacks to June 2002. His 14 first-half points were more about finesse than brute force, perfectly exemplified by a smooth jumper from the elbow towards the end of the second quarter.

By halfway through the third, he had a double-double. His only points after halftime came on a ferocious jam after putting Kwame Brown out of his misery by pretending to use a subtle fake right when all Martin used was his sheer willpower. For some reason Kobe ended up iso’d on the right wing against Martin, and what would have seemed like an easy drive for Mamba turned into a jumpball-forcing block by K-Mart. As if to remind us all of what used to be, Martin won the tip, and gave us yet another glimpse into the past by blocking Ronny Turiaf a couple of plays later.

In between all these plays that get box score attention, we witnessed as Martin set some of the most ill-intentioned screens the Lakers have seen this season. In the fourth, Martin kept funneling Lamar Odom into uncomfortable shots with Marcus Camby protecting the basket. In one play, he chased down a loose ball and started the fastbreak, something that seemed imposible just 6 months ago. He picked up a couple fouls, but they were good, hard fouls, negating the possibility of an and-1.

We even saw some retro attitude from Martin, staring Vujacic down after the Lakers’ guard blatantly flopped and Dick Bavetta bought the act. Of course, where the K-Mart of old would have been T’d up, today’s version diplomatically pleaded with good ol’ Knick. AI is certainly not JKidd when it comes to passing, but that didn’t deter Martin from rolling hard to the hoop after several screens, even if he wasn’t rewarded with the alley that could have allowed him to produce an emphatic oop.

In the end, things were a bit too much like they were in 2002. Martin tried, but his team didn’t follow. Martin hustled, but his teammates didn’t want it bad enough. Martin scored early, but he couldn’t sustain his production. Martin, again, left it all on the hardwood, mentally and physically, but it didn’t suffice. I just hope the basketball gods are kind enough to let this warrior write the final page of his own book.

Worlds’ Title Game: Immediate Reactions.

-         Turkey lost because it was not only unable, but apparently also unwilling to capitalize on their significant size advantage. With Coach K repeatedly sending very small lineups out there, Turkey’s enormous frontline insisted on trying to drive the lane instead of posting up hard and either drawing fouls or scoring underneath.

-         Team USA didn’t play a good game either, but Kevin Durant’s performance lived up to his now customary stellar billing. The flow of the offense was often chaotic and Team USA’s scoring relied more on Turkey’s mistakes than on the Americans’ own proficiency. I know most of this team won’t be making the trip to London, but USA basketball needs to find an efficient way to attack the zone unless they want to see a consistent diet of tall lineups and spread-out zones.

-         I cannot commend Russell Westbrook and Lamar Odom enough for their role in Team USA’s title run. Westbrook’s energy disrupted the tidy flow of many FIBA gameplans and his athleticism led to several game-turning plays. Mr. Khloe Kardashian was also excellent in his role as a workhorse, pulling down rebounds and holding down the paint while also providing timely scoring.

-         It saddens me to see another FIBA title game marred by a star player going through a mental breakdown. After Linas Kleiza went nuts in the Euroleague Finals, today Hedo Turkoglu blew up on Coach Tanjevic and was sent to the end of the bench for the entire 3rd quarter during which Team USA made its definitive run.

-         After a fantastic Tournament, Ersan Ilyasova pulled a disappearing act in the Final Four. Coach Tanjevic’s failure to get the Bucks’ forward involved may have been his most crucial mistake.

-         If you want to see what a good basketball crowd is, go right ahead and watch the entire arena on its feet for the last three minutes of the game despite their team being down by double digits. This is what national team basketball is all about.

Queso covers Jeremy Williams’ first win of the season.

I covered Coach Jeremy Williams’ first win of the season for Greenville High (Ga.) for Columbus’ Ledger-Enquirer. They beat Chattahoochee County soundly by a score of 35 to 8.

I was so happy to meet him last night. Most might remember his family’s tear-jerking appearance on ABC’s Extreme Home Makeover.

Williams suffers from ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease and manages to successfully lead his football team and act as the school’s athletic director. He’s living proof that with enough heart and faith, you can achieve your goals despite the bumps life puts in your path. Very inspiring.

Game recap here: http://bit.ly/ay4SJL

What we’ve learned from the Worlds so far.

Ersan Ilyasova is my Worlds MVP at this point.

Half of the first knockout stage is in the books, and many players have made their presence felt for the good and the bad. Here’s my take on who’s made the best and worst impressions at this point.

- Nicolas Batum does not look like he can ever be a Top-3 guy in any team. His defense is superb, but he just does not appear to have the will to take control on the offensive end. Nic has shown flashes of scoring ability and has displayed very good ball skills, but at no point has he taken over. This was particularly obvious during France’s loss against Turkey, where he didn’t show any signs of life until Turkey was up 20+ and had noticeably turned the intensity down a notch. Much like a lot of high school prodigies of this past decade, Batum has all the tools but clearly lacks the mental makeup to put them to good use.

- Nando de Colo had a pretty awful showing during the qualifying round, but came alive in the Round of 16 after Coach Collet stopped jerking his playing time around. De Colo’s game is predicated upon anarchy, which may seem like a contradiction in the San Antonio organization. However, Gregg Popovich already turned Manu Ginobili from a wild card to an offensive dynamo, and De Colo’s size, ballhandling skills and range can very well turn him into a paler version of Ben Gordon circa 2009.

- I’ll stop mentioning French players, I promise. I just want to say that as soon as Boris Diaw goes on the Larry-Brown-Practice-Your-Butt-To-Death diet he will give the Bobcats the most versatile set of forwards of any NBA team. Diaw’s jumper seems to be better than ever, his passing is as sharp as it’s always been and his post moves are now complimented with a will to plant his wide behind down low and abuse smaller forwards.

- I am very down on Croatian center Ante Tomic. The Balkanic Gasol, as the Spanish media stubbornly calls him, is closer to the Balkanic Dwayne Schintzius. Tomic is undeniably skilled but extremely soft, regularly getting bodied up by the smaller Serbs during Croatia’s Round of 16 loss and not taking advantage of his speed advantage against the equally huge Kosta Perovic. When things didn’t go his way in the paint, Tomic consistently drifted away towards the perimeter instead of fighting through  adversity. I thought it was a steal when Utah snatched Tomic in the 2nd round in 2008, but right now I just don’t see it. For every step forward he’s taken, such as his MVP performance in the Adriatic League, he’s taken two back: he didn’t live up to expectations in his ACB debut, and he failed miserably at the Worlds.

- Mark my words: Ersan Ilyasova will have a breakout season. His three-point touch has been spectacular, hitting at a 60% clip thus far, and some of them have come while being guarded by specialists such as Nic Batum or Sergei Monya. His rebounding has consistently been in or near double figures, and his facial injury hasn’t kept the Bucks forward from attacking the rim at every chance he gets. The Bucks will get the player they envisioned when they drafted Joe Alexander, but it will have come in a very different package.

- Hedo Turkoglu is back. After a sluggish start to the Worlds, Hedo has found the joy that his game noticeably lacked in Toronto. Putting him around Steve Nash will send him back to the level that made him the best player in Orlando’s 2009 Finals run. Phoenix brass must be smiling after watching Hedo break France’s back with a series of step-back threes and crafty drives that put an end to Les Bleus’ attempt at a comeback. On this note, I would like to go back on my pre-Worlds prediction that Spain and Team USA were the clear-cut favorites: Turkey, with its powerful inside game and evident homecourt advantage, has now joined the conversation.

- Speaking of Phoenix, their PG position will be in very good hands if and when Nash decides to leave thanks to Goran Dragic. His coming of age during the Worlds has been startling to watch. I was anxious to watch Dragic as The Man for Slovenia, and he hasn’t disappointed thus far. His speed is complimented very nicely with his agression, and he has shown some finishing moves that I hadn’t seen before. As soon as his jumper becomes a little bit more established, we’re looking at a fine NBA starting point guard. Dragic also shows promise as a passer, with two 8-assist games already to his credit. Blazers PG Patty Mills (6-for-16 from the field, only 3 assists) and new Raptors PG Leandro Barbosa (6-for-18, 1 assist, 4 TO’s) can probably tell you a lot of nice things about Dragic’s defense, too.

- For all of its current or future NBA players, Spain still beats to JC Navarro’s drum. His gutsy performance in Spain’s victory against Greece in the Round of 16 (22 points, 10 of them off layups, while injured) rallied the team around him, and the 4th quarter of that game was the first time the defending World Champs have played to their potential during the entire competition. It’s taken a while, but Spain is again firing on all cylinders.

- I don’t like Team USA’s Round of 16 matchup with Angola in the least bit. Yes, Angola will get their butts handed to them by an outrageous margin, but the rap against the US has been its lack of focus. I don’t think that such an easy game will help the Reserve Team’s sharpness at all, and sloppy play can become extremely costly when facing a compact squad such as Turkey, Russia or Spain.

Live Blogging FIBA – USA vs. Iran

Derrick Rose just can’t be stopped.

Hammed Haddadi seems like he’s having fun out there.

I like this Kazemi kid. He’s athletic. He needs to work on his shooting stroke though.

Iguodala looks befuddled about that call on him. It happened Baby ‘Bron… move on.

Haddadi checking Odom isn’t fair.

Wow that story is crazy about Kazemi and him being interrogated in Atlanta for 6 hours when he was en route to Houston for school (Rice).

Haddadi has to travel through Dubai in order to obtain a work visa to play for the Griz in the States. It’s interesting how politics effects sports.

What is Russ Westbrook doing? That pass was to no one. This play is too sloppy (end of 3rd quarter).

Nice jumper by Tyson Chandler to start the 4th. Will there be a position battle in Dallas?

Russell Westbrook with another turnover.

Haddadi yelling in his teammate Rudy Gay’s face after an And-1. Classic. Rudy wasn’t too amused.

Rudy Gay deserves the money he got this summer. Yep.

Eric Gordon with an And-1… draws the fourth foul on Haddadi.

KAZEMI with the flush! I love this kid.

Tyson Chandler could dominate in this tournament with the right point guard on the court. He’s more athletic than most of the big men in this tournament.

Russ doesn’t look too happy on the bench. He just needs to slow down a bit. He’ll be fine.

Danny Granger just blends in. I always forget he’s on the roster.

A traveling call on Iran in FIBA? What did the guy do? Take 10 steps?

Way to run the court Mr. Love. Would have loved to see you dunk it though.

Yeah, my boy Kazemi needs to work on that J. Ugh. Still exciting player to watch. He’ll make Rice vs. U of H fun to watch.

LMAO at Haddadi running point. You GO boy.

Heh Haddadi hacked Gordon on the baseline dunk attempt. No call. I love FIBA. You can clothesline folks at the end of FIBA games with no call. Haddadi’s smile was priceless.

It’s a nail-biter. 85-51 with 1:25 left.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOH. Love to Russ. What a pass and dunk.

It’s over. 88-51. USA. My MVP – Haddadi …  because he’s goofy and funny.

Peace.