Los Angeles Clippers Season Preview: ‘Ceiling Is to Get There and Win It All’

The Los Angeles Clippers will hope to end the upcoming NBA season in more harmonious fashion than last year, when they made their exit from the playoffs under a cloud of off-the-court drama. Is it finally time for Chris Paul and the Clippers to capture an NBA title?

Howard Beck and Ric Bucher break down the Clippers chances when they join Adam Lefkoe in the video above. 

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Chicago Bulls Season Preview: ‘This Is a Team That Could Go All the Way’

Derrick Rose is finally back and ready to lead the Chicago Bulls into the new NBA season, where expectations will be high for a reloaded squad. Will the additions of big-name players like Pau Gasol be enough to bring the Bulls a title?

Howard Beck and Ric Bucher preview the Bulls’ upcoming season when they join Adam Lefkoe in the video above.

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USA vs. Serbia: TV Info, Live Stream and Preview for 2014 FIBA Championship

One game remains in the 2014 FIBA World Cup, as the United States and Serbia will battle for a gold medal.

Team USA has dominated the competition to this point, winning all eight of its games by at least 20 points. With a roster full of NBA All-Stars and other top players in the league, there is no questioning the talent on the squad.

On the other hand, Serbia had a much tougher path to the final. The team went just 2-3 in the group stage to barely earn a spot in the knockout round. Things turned around from there, though, as wins over Greece, Brazil and France show the team just keeps getting better.

While defeating the U.S. will be a tough task, we should have learned by now not to count out this quality group. This is certain to be an exciting matchup, so take a look at this guide to keep you informed with everything you need to know. 

 

When: Sunday, Sept. 14

Time: 3 p.m. ET

Where: Madrid, Spain

Watch: ESPN2

Live Stream: ESPN3

 

Key Player for Serbia: Miroslav Raduljica

While Miroslav Raduljica is not the team’s leading scorer, he might be the most important player on the floor in this game.

The U.S. has gotten by with its size and athleticism in the low post, getting plenty of second-chance points and other easy buckets in the paint. The 7-foot Serbian star has to be able to keep the ball away from Anthony Davis, Kenneth Faried and others.

Raduljica spent last season with the Milwaukee Bucks, averaging 3.8 points in 9.7 minutes per game. He has fared much better in this tournament, averaging 13.5 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. He has reached double figures each time out as a quality inside presence for Serbia.

The key for him is to use his size to contribute more on the boards. He has to not only score but also give his team second opportunities on offense, as well as limiting opposing possessions to one shot.

If he can pick up his defensive efforts, Serbia will be in good shape.

 

Key Player for USA: Kyrie Irving

On a team full of talented players, you need someone who can help get the most out of everyone. 

Kyrie Irving has done a good job at point guard, making plays for himself while also spreading the ball around to everyone on the floor.

He spoke earlier in the tournament about becoming something of a leader on the court, via ESPN.com’s Marc Stein:

There’s no one main leader on this team.

I just try to bring the confidence that I have in myself to this team that we’re the best in the world. We have respect for all the other countries and what they do, but…we have the best players in the world playing for our team [and now] we just have to go out and prove it every night.

Irving is averaging 10.8 points and 3.5 assists per game and is coming off arguably his best performance with 18 points against Lithuania.

Still, it is not the points that the U.S. needs. Irving has to figure out ways to create ball movement in the offense and make sure the squad can keep scoring as well as it has to this point.

 

Prediction

Serbia has showcased a lot of balance offensively with Milos Teodosic doing a great job creating plays at point guard. With Raduljica and Nemanja Bjelica scoring down low and Bogdan Bogdanovic shooting well from the outside, this team can score with anyone.

John Schuhmann of NBA.com notes how well the offense has played in recent games:

However, the U.S. is simply too good to beat. Every player who comes on the floor is an elite talent who can create his own shot and score with incredible efficiency.

Davis and Faried have also been forces down low and should be able to keep dominating the boards.

Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press even provided his own recap before the Sunday tipoff:

Expect the contest to be close in the early going as both teams bring their best effort. The problem is Team USA plays too fast and has too much depth for Serbia to stick around in the game. 

The Americans should be able to pull away late in this one and secure the gold medal.

Predicted Score: USA 91, Serbia 72

 

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FIBA World Cup 2014: Latest Results and Championship Game Preview

With the 2014 FIBA World Cup having its share of surprises, fans should be ready for anything in the championship game.

France earned third place in the tournament thanks to a narrow win over Lithuania in the consolation game. All that is left is to decide which team takes home the gold and which will get silver in the final competition between the United States and Serbia.

Although most expect an easy American win, there have already been plenty of upsets at this event, with top squads like Spain and Brazil going down early. Based on what Serbia has done to this stage, it is hard to count the squad out now.

This final game is certain to be an entertaining one, so make sure you do not miss a second of the action. Here is a recap of the knockout stage plus a look ahead to the final matchup. 

 

Championship Game

Who: United States vs. Serbia

When: Sunday, September 14

Where: Madrid, Spain

Time: 3 p.m. ET

Watch: ESPN2

Live Stream: ESPN3

 

The United States roster is full of recognizable names for basketball fans, as players like Kyrie Irving, Derrick Rose and James Harden patrol the backcourt, while Anthony Davis, Kenneth Faried and others have impressed down low.

After winning each of its first eight games in this tournament by at least 20 points, it would certainly be surprising to see the squad finish with anything besides a gold medal.

However, Serbia is not going to give up without a fight. Center Nenad Krstic told NBA analyst Chris Sheridan, “We’re not going to be scared, for sure. Some players never get this chance—the chance to do something great in our lives.”

“If they beat us, when it is over I will shake their hands. But we are going to play our game,” head coach Sasha Djordjevic explained.

The squad is led by point guard Milos Teodosic, who is averaging a team-high 14 points and 4.1 assists in this tournament. Zach Harper of CBS Sports gave this short analysis:

While he does not play in the NBA, it is not because of lack of talent, as ESPN’s Marc Stein notes:

He is an excellent shooter while also doing a great job of creating for others. Nemanja Bjelica and Miroslav Raduljica are quality inside scorers, while Bogdan Bogdanovic can rack up points from the perimeter.

Still, they have not faced a defense as good as the United States in this tournament. John Shuhmann of NBA.com noted this has been the best unit in Spain:

Davis and Faried are excellent interior defenders and should be able to limit the points in the paint. Their rebounding ability will also limit most possessions to just one attempt. While Teodosic could have a good game individually, he will not be able to do too much himself.

On the other end of the court, the Americans will simply use their athleticism to get easy baskets and outscore their opponent.

This will be a close game early, but the United States should be able to utilize its depth to pull away and earn a championship.

 

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USA Basketball vs. Serbia: 2014 FIBA World Cup Final Preview

Heading into the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain, Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski—without LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George or Chris Paul at his disposal—was seen as marshaling perhaps his weakest team in over a decade.

Eight games and a 32.5-point-average margin of victory later, the Americans enter Sunday’s gold-medal game against Serbia with a chance to close out one of the most dominant performances in the history of international basketball.

By comparison, the 1992 and 1996 Dream Teams registered an average deficit of 43.8 and 31.8 points, respectively.

How’s that for exceeding expectations?

For its part, Serbia—fresh off a nerve-wracking 90-85 win over France Friday night—has some golden designs of its own, ones that go well beyond shaving a few measly points off Team USA’s statistical supremacy.

Following a disappointing 2-3 record in the tournament’s group stage, Serbia has since taken its play to another level, culminating in a 84-56 thrashing of Brazil in the quarterfinals.

As far as momentum goes, the Serbs have it in spades.

In Milos Teodosic, Serbia boasts the perfect foil for Team USA’s somewhat lackluster perimeter defense—a hardwood wizard capable of poking, prodding and passing his way out of almost any jam. His 49 percent tournament three-point clip doesn’t hurt, either.

Serbia didn’t make it this far to sheepishly accept the silver. To pull off the impossible, however, will demand head coach Sasha Djordjevic and company keep cool, calm and collected in the face of what’s been by far Team USA’s biggest boon: turning defense into instant offense.

 

Organized Chaos

To date, Team USA has forced a tournament-best 188 turnovers or one every 1.7 minutes.

And while FIBA doesn’t tabulate subsequent points scored, this is one case where the eye test tells you everything you need to know: It’s a lot.

What Krzyzewski lacks in top-flight perimeter defenders (James Harden, Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving are all subpar in this respect), he more than makes up for with uncannily disruptive length and athleticism in the frontcourt.

Anthony Davis, Kenneth Faried, Rudy Gay, Klay Thompson—these guys have wreaked wingspan havoc all over the floor, shooting gaps from the weak side and disrupting entry passes with pernicious aplomb.

The result: easy points aplenty at the other end, helping Team USA make up for what has been an intermittently anemic half-court offense.

To have any chance of keeping things close, Teodosic and his Serbian sidekicks have to protect the ball as if it’s the gold medal itself. That might sound like “Basketball Coaching 101,” but against a team this uncannily anticipatory, it’s the hardwood equivalent of a high-level doctoral course.

 

Turning the U.S. Inside Out

Team USA has faced its fair share of formidable guards (Goran Dragic, the legendary Eugene “Pooh” Jeter). And they’ve handled some burdensome bigs (Jonas Valanciunas, Gustavo Ayon).

But not since their 2012 gold-medal win over Spain have Krzyzewski and company faced quite the one-two punch of Teodosic and Miroslav Raduljica, the burly 7-footer most recently employed (and recently let go) by the Los Angeles Clippers.

Between the two, Serbia will have ample opportunity to put Davis and Faried into early foul trouble—if not disastrous, certainly an unwelcome development for Team USA.

For all his one-on-one defensive abilities, DeMarcus Cousins simply doesn’t boast the same range of defensive motion as his frontcourt counterparts. What’s more, Raduljica is just the kind of player—rough, tough and talkative—capable of getting under Cousins’ notoriously thin skin.

Meanwhile, Teodosic’s savvy playmaking has meant three-pointers galore for Serbia, which enters Sunday’s gold-medal game ranked third in the tournament in overall percentage.

Add it all up and you have the makings for an offense custom-built to give Krzyzewski fits.

 

Recipe for [Upset] Success?

“I’m not surprised about anything in international competition,” Krzyzewski told ESPN.com’s Marc Stein following Thursday’s dismantling of Lithuania. “If we feel we can lose, we know anybody else can lose.”

If anyone knows the disappointment of unmet expectations, it’s Krzyzewski, who had to settle for bronze in his first Team USA go-round at the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Japan.

Eight years and three-straight gold medals later, it’s easy to believe the Americans have somehow recaptured for good their place atop the world’s hardwood hierarchy.

However, as The Cauldron’s Kevin McElroy recently wrote, there is a blueprint, however seemingly ethereal, to beat Team USA. What’s more, it was one of its group-stage opponents—the always feisty Turkey—that may have laid it out:

There are a lot of different ways to skin a cat there, but the common theme is confusion on the perimeter leading to open looks and a ton of fouls. Therein lies Part 1 of the offensive blueprint teams need to institute against the Americans: attack the guards off the dribble in the hope that the resulting chaos will open up the corner three and/or put Davis and the American shooters in foul trouble.

The second thing opponents should look to do against Team USA has only been executed semi-successfully once to this point in the tournament. In the Round of 16, Mexico was able to run its offense through Gustavo Ayon in the post. Ayon’s ability to play with his back to the basket and to face up when necessary affected the game in three ways…

In Teodosic, Serbia has the perfect piece to orchestrate McElroy’s first directive: namely, break down Team USA’s porous perimeter defense to create open looks for both his teammates and himself.

Another player to keep an eye on: Bogdan Bogdanovic, whose offensive versatility—he’s a sniper and slasher in equal measure—was enticing enough to attract the attention of the Phoenix Suns, who nabbed the 6’5” guard with the No. 27 pick in June’s draft.

Raduljica, meanwhile, possesses a skill set similar to that of Ayon, making Serbia’s bearded big man an equally difficult cover and a linchpin of Djordjevic’s master strategy.

With just hours remaining before the two teams take the floor at the Palacio de los Deportes in Madrid, expect Serbia to spearhead the equivalent of an exam cram session of what makes Team USA tick—to further cleave the cracks and fissures exposed by previous foes.

Whether such studies can yield a passing grade, however, remains a dubious prospect.

 

U.S.A—OK

The last time the United States and Serbia met on the international stage was at the 2002 FIBA World Championship, where the Serbs—then playing under the Yugoslavian flag—registered a shocking 81-78 upset en route to a gold-medal showing in Indianapolis.

Team USA never recovered, finishing fifth in what would become the program’s most infamous showing to date.

Don’t expect a repeat performance this time around.

As it’s proven throughout the tournament, the U.S. is simply too big, too fast and too deep for any team—no matter the poise or pedigree—to author anything more than a noble effort.

Make no mistake: Serbia has the weapons and wherewithal to make Team USA earn its spot atop the ceremonial podium. Unfortunately, it all adds up to so many knives in a nuclear fight.

 

All stats and figures courtesy of FIBA.com.

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Lithuania vs. France: 2014 FIBA 3rd Place Game Live Stream and Preview

For Lithuania and France, the journey is far from over at the 2014 FIBA World Cup after losses in the semifinals.

Saturday, the two sides will meet in the 3rd Place Game for one final fleeting shot at glory on the international stage before the United States takes on Serbia in the final.

Lithuania encountered Team USA at precisely the wrong time as Mike Krzyzewski’s team seemed to hit full stride, while France rallied and lost a heartbreaker at the hands of Serbia late.

Below, let’s profile the two teams and everything else there is to know about Saturday’s showdown.

 

When: Saturday, September 13 at 12 p.m. ET 

Where: Palacio de Los Deportes, Madrid, Spain

Live Stream: ESPN3

 

The Road for Lithuania

After a somewhat mediocre performance in Group play, Jonas Valanciunas of the NBA‘s Toronto Raptors got off to a hot start in the knockout stages and never looked back.

In fact, Valanciunas had a coming out party of sorts in the team’s first knockout game against New Zealand. En route to the 76-71 triumph, he did much to counteract 26 points from Corey Webster by posting 22 of his own to go with 13 rebound and three blocks.

Valanciunas then took a back seat to Renaldas Seibutis in the next round, despite what was supposed to be an epic matchup beneath the rim between he and Omer Asik.

It wound up being a 73-61 victory over Turkey. Seibutis scored 19 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field, including a perfect mark on all three of his attempts from deep and four attempts at the foul line.

As hinted, though, the streak of good fortune for the Lithuanians came to a screeching halt in the semifinals against Team USA. Valanciunas poured in 15 points, as did Mindaugas Kuzminskas, but the impressive dominance the team had displayed beneath the rim to that point was nullified by a ridiculous shooting night from the Americans.

Led by Kyrie Irving‘s 18 points, Team USA shot 47.5 percent from the field while Lithuania mostly relied on trips to the foul line for production, attempting 42 shots. It obviously was not the desired end result, but Valanciunas and Co. can take solace in the fact that if they connect on more than just 17 field goals, the will stand a great chance in Saturday’s game.

 

The Road for France

Led by NBA players such as Nicolas Batum (Portland Trail Blazers), Evan Fournier (Orlando Magic), Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz), and Boris Diaw (Spurs), France followed a somewhat similar path through the knockout portion of the bracket after a showing that can only be described as lackluster in the Group stage.

Thanks to a consistent second half in which the French side scored 46 if its 69 points, the team scored a five-point win over Croatia to advance. Batum led the way with 14 points despite missing on all six of his attempts from deep.

Still, Batum’s performance was a sign of much bigger things to come.

France then did the unthinkable by taking down Spain and an elite front line consisting of Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka. That trio was limited to just 22 points in the 65-52 upset, 17 of which came from Pau.

Diaw led the way for France there, scoring 15 points while Gobert controlled the glass with 13 boards. He said after the fact that his team rallied around his efforts in the paint.

“I knew everybody was expecting me to help the team,” said Gobert, per ESPN.com’s Mark Woods. “Everybody knew I could stop them. That was just my mission. Everyone else played great offensively. I just had to stop Pau. He’s one of the best players in the world and if you stop him, they’re not as strong.”

Like Lithuania, though, the French appeared gassed Friday in the semifinals against Serbia in the 90-85 loss. Even a ridiculous 35 points from Batum was not enough to stop the Serbian side, which shot 57.1 percent from the field.

As Sportando documents, though, Batum’s recent momentum seems to bode well for Saturday’s contest:

Indeed, the game that takes a back seat to the final seems sure to entertain with plenty of offense.

 

3rd Place Game Preview and Prediction

As one can glean from their respective paths, this one has the making of an inside-out battle of epic proportions.

Valanciunas and Lithuania can rather easily take over a game in the paint, control the tempo via the glass and steal a win, especially with France coming off less recovery time after a loss. As Adam Papageorgiou of Magicbasketballonline.com muses, the team might be too gassed to give 100 percent:

Then again, that same time gap could mean Batum and the French side come out red hot, continue their superb shooting ways and run the Lithuanians out of the gym. 

Expect that to happen Saturday. France is on fire at the moment, and not only is it impressive the team shut down the likes of Spain in the paint, players such as Diaw (13 points and 10 rebounds in Friday’s loss) put things over the top as he can once again help turn the tide beneath the rim.

Regardless of the winner, kudos goes to both sides for making it this far. Lithuania managed to do it without Mantas Kalnietis, while France made a deep run sans Tony Parker and Joakim Noah.

Still, it is difficult to get past the spotty shooting from Lithuania at times, and although both teams lost in the semifinals, France has a ton of positive momentum in comparison to Lithuania.

Prediction: France 88, Lithuania 84

 

Full updated tournament bracket can be viewed at FIBA.com. Stats and info via ESPN and FIBA.com unless otherwise specified.

 

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FIBA World Cup Schedule 2014: Complete Preview Heading into Semifinals

There have been a number of surprises throughout the FIBA World Cup, but we are now down to four teams all fighting for a gold medal.

While Spain was considered a top contender as the host nation with a number of NBA stars on the roster, the squad was eliminated by France in the quarterfinals. This makes the United States the overwhelming favorite to win its next two games, but it is clear anything can happen in this competitive tournament.

All four remaining teams have a chance to take home gold with two wins, while one more win will at least secure a medal. Here is a look at what each team has to do to reach that goal.

 

United States vs. Lithuania

When: Thursday, September 11

Time: 3 p.m. ET

Where: Barcelona, Spain

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream: ESPN3

 

The United States has not faced incredibly difficult competition in this tournament so far, winning all six of its games by at least 20 points. 

Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried have been almost unstoppable in the low post, averaging a combined 26.7 points and 15.1 rebounds per game. Their pure athleticism, combined with incredible work ethic, has helped them lead become leaders of this young squad.

Arash Markazi of ESPN explains that Spain’s loss in the quarterfinals makes an American title much more likely:

Still, head coach Mike Krzyzewski knows what he is up against in Lithuania. Team USA barely escaped with a win against this opponent at the 2012 Olympics, while Jonas Valanciunas is playing as well as ever as a leader for this squad.

“He gets a piece of the paint in numerous ways, and then he is a great offensive rebounder,” Krzyzewski said of the Toronto Raptors star, via Chris Kudialas of the Detroit Free Press. “Not a good one, but a great one.”

Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated sees the center as a threat for the United States big men:

Just as importantly, Lithuania has hit 40 percent of its three-point shots in this tournament and can find ways to score against a more athletic opponent. This will help ensure this game remains close throughout.

That being said, Team USA is simply too good to stop and should come through with a tough win.

Prediction: USA 88, Lithuania 80

 

France vs. Serbia

When: Friday, September 12

Time: 4 p.m. ET

Where: Madrid, Spain

Watch: ESPN2

Live Stream: ESPN3

 

Few expected either France or Serbia to make it to this point in the tournament. France and Serbia finished third and fourth in Group A, respectively, and had subpar performances against the top teams in the group.

However, the quarterfinals featured major upsets for both teams, as each squad was able to avenge a loss from earlier in the tournament.

France had an impressive showing in a 65-52 win over Spain, utilizing its size inside to get the advantage over the elite frontcourt of Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. Rudy Gobert especially stood out in the victory, as John Schuhmann of NBA.com pointed out:

Rob Mahoney of Sports Illustrated joked about how good the center was in the defensive battle:

With Boris Diaw and Thomas Heurtel also coming through with big performances, the French were able to pull off the massive upset over the host nation and biggest rival.

While you would think France could keep this momentum to possibly move into the finals, it is important not to count out Serbia, which had a dominant victory over Brazil in the quarterfinals.

Like Spain, Brazil was expected to advance thanks to its NBA talent. As HoopsHype noted, this did not go as planned:

Milos Teodosic led the way with a game-high 23 points, including 10-of-10 shooting from the free-throw line, as he was clearly unafraid of contact. The entire squad has continually improved throughout the tournament and is now playing as well as ever.

When these two teams face off in the semifinals, expect the competition to be a lot like the first time they played when France edged out a 74-73 victory. Boris Diaw hit a game-tying shot with 18 seconds left before Joffrey Lauvergne put his team ahead for good with a made free throw in the final seconds.

France has the size inside to make a difference in this game while still waiting for the outside shooting of Nicolas Batum and Evan Fournier to come around. Although this matchup should be close, the French should be able to pull off the narrow win.

Prediction: France 67, Serbia 63

 

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2014 FIBA World Cup Semifinal Preview: USA vs. Lithuania

Team USA is one win away from reaching the final of the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain after soundly defeating Slovenia to continue their dominance. How much of a threat will Lithuania pose the Americans in the semifinal?

Sekou Smith of NBA.com joins Stephen Nelson to break down the matchup in the video above.

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France vs. Spain: TV Info, Live Stream and Preview for FIBA World Cup 2014

Two of the most talented basketball teams in the world will face off with a spot in the FIBA World Cup semifinals on the line as Spain battles France.

Spain earned an 88-64 win when the two competed during the group stage, but this does not matter as the two sides head into the single-elimination match. All it takes is one upset for Spain to turn from one of the favorites to win a gold to being off the medal stand.

With plenty of NBA talent on both ends of the court, this is certain to be an exciting game with both teams giving it all they have to win. Here is a guide to help you follow all the action.

 

Date: Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Time: 4 p.m. ET

Location: Palacio de los Deportes de la Comunidad, Madrid, Spain

TV: ESPN2

Live Stream: ESPN3

 

Before this tournament began, most expected Spain and the United States to compete in the finals. ESPN’s Marc Stein discussed why Team USA would have problems in a potential matchup:

After the group stage, this thought process has not changed, according to Turner Sports’ Matt Winer:

However, it is important not to look ahead in any sport, especially with a team like France waiting to pull off an upset.

Even without Tony Parker, the French are loaded with big-time players like Boris Diaw, Nicolas Batum and Evan Fournier. The problem is none of these players have been hitting their shots from the outside as well as they have shown in the past.

If the squad can pick up the three-point shooting from the 32.8 percent it has been to this point in the tournament, it will have much more success.

Meanwhile, the team does not need to add any motivation. Forward Mickael Gelabale explained after the last match, “Once again Spain, and once again it will be a fight. We have three days to prepare for this game. France and Spain is like a classico game and everybody is waiting for it,” via FIBA.com.

France will certainly come through with its full effort to stay alive in this tournament and earn a spot in the semifinals.

Unfortunately, this still will likely not be enough against the host nation. Spain has been scary good in this tournament, even when facing top competition in Group A.

Ricky Rubio has done a great job spreading the ball around as Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Juan Carlos Navarro have been excellent. Still, the top performer has been Pau Gasol, who is averaging 20.5 points and 5.5 rebounds so far. 

Although Gasol has seemingly struggled over the past two seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, he is looking good at the World Cup, as Zach Harper of CBS Sports noted:

The front line helped Spain outscore France 42-28 in the paint last game, and the difference should be even bigger this time around. There is simply too much talent on this roster to stop before the finals.

Prediction: Spain 91, France 78

 

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2014 FIBA World Cup Quarterfinal Preview: USA vs. Slovenia

Team USA takes on Slovenia on Tuesday in the quarterfinal round at the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain.

Will the Americans be able to carry over their dominant play after their blowout win against Mexico?

Sekou Smith of NBA.com joins Stephen Nelson to break it all down in the video above.

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