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Valanciunas and Baynes

No Show By Jonas Valanciunas Costs Lithuania Vs. Australia

Lithuania lost their first game at the 2014 FIBA World Cup to Australia 82-75 as their star center Jonas Valanciunas was a no show in the first half and barely impacted the game after that. Australia ran up a nine point lead in Valanciunas’ first four minutes before Head Coach Jonas Kazlauskas sat him down and it only made things worse when he brought him back in later in the half.

It was the Spurs free agent big man Aron Baynes that dominated early on with 10 first quarter points as the Aussies ran up a 30-20 advantage. With the Raptors Valanciunas on the bench in the second quarter, the bleeding stopped for Lithuania, but they weren’t able to score either. However, after Valanciunas was subbed back in midway through, Australia went on a 10-2 run to close out the half up 47-28. Valanciunas had 0 points, 3 rebounds and 3 turnovers at half, Baynes had 14 points and Joe Ingles found the range to net 14 points as well. The Rockets Donatas Motiejunas was equally ineffective for Lithuania and they were in trouble.

Kazlauskas went to the veteran twin brothers Darjus and Ksistof Lavrinovic to start the second half at power forward and center with great effect. Lithuania came out with a previously unseen intensity and went on a 10-0 run before Australia responded. The older big men showed the young guys how it’s done, stifling Baynes and proving hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work as hard. Cutting the 19-point deficit to 8 before Kazlauskas went back to Valanciunas after 6.7 minutes and Lithuania maintained the momentum to close the gap to 62-56 after three quarters.

Lithuania had their chances to tie the game, getting to within three points twice in the fourth quarter, however, Martynas Pocius missed two layups in the final minute for Lithuania and a game they never deserved to win went to the Aussies. Appropriately, Valanciunas was watching from the bench when Darjus Lavrinovic hit the three-pointer that closed the gap to 69-66 with 4.5 minutes left.

Veteran guard Renaldas Seibutis led Lithuania with 21 points. The Lavrinovic brothers had 22 points between them. Valanciunas finished with 4 points, 6 rebounds and 5 turnovers.

Ingles led Australia with 18 points as they improved their record to 2-1 and moved into a tie with Lithuania in Group D.



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.



Pau Gasol and Dieng

FIBA World Cup Studs From Day 3 Pau Gasol And Gorgui Dieng

It was a short schedule of games at the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain on the Labor Day holiday Monday, however, Bulls Pau Gasol and Timberwolves Gorgui Dieng put up some huge numbers in big wins for Spain and Senegal.

The Bulls Pau Gasol used his second dominate performance of the tournament to help Spain lay an 82-63 beating on Brazil. Gasol had 26 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. Spain has won their first three games by an average of 28.7 points.

Senegal knocked off previously unbeaten Croatia 77-75 using a monster 27 point, 8 rebound, 3 assist, 1 steal and 2 block effort from the Timberwolves 24-year-old center Gorgui Dieng. In three games, Dieng has averaged 22 points and 11.7 rebounds. Behind the efforts of their young star, Senegal has their first two wins at this event since 1998. Croatia was led by the 76ers first round draft pick Dario Saric with 15 points, 4 assists and 6 rebounds and the Nets Bojan Bogdanovic with 15 points and 3 rebounds.

The Phoenix Suns free agent center Hamed Haddadi scored a tournament high for the day of 29 points in Iran’s 83-70 loss to Serbia. Haddadi has interest from the Knicks and the Pelicans in the NBA for the upcoming season. Nemanja Bjelica of Fenerbehce Ulker had an 18 point 10 rebound double-double for Serbia.

Pacers forward Luis Scola scored 19 points to lead Argentina in scoring for the third day in a row as his team knocked off the Philippines 85-81. The Nets free agent Andray Blatche recorded his third double-double in 3 days with 14 points, 15 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks in the loss.

Nikos Zisis got hot from outside hitting on 4-5 three-point attempts to score 19 points and lead unbeaten Greece past Puerto Rico 90-79. The former New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets forward Renaldo Balkman had 23 points, 5 rebounds and 4 steals and Timberwolves Jose Juan Barea had 21 points in the loss.

France beat up on Egypt 94-55. Egypt is 0-3 and has lost by an average of 32.3 points per game. No studs here.

Check out all of the leading scorers at the FIBA World Cup here.


Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.



Faried and Ibaka

FIBA World Cup Studs From Day 2 Faried And Ibaka

Both Spain and the USA have begun to open a wide lead over the field as they have won their first 2 games by big margins and the Nuggets Kenneth Faried and Thunder Serge Ibaka were the studs that led those teams to FIBA World Cup victories on Sunday.

The 2-0 unbeaten teams are as follows:

USA           +80 points
Spain        +67 points
Greece      +35 points
Brazil        +31 points
Slovenia   +31 points
Lithuania +26 points
Croatia     +8 points

Team USA was saved by Kenneth Faried vs. Turkey as his energy and 22 points, 8 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocked shots turned the tide in the 98-77 come from behind win.

Spain crushed Egypt 91-54 as everyone on the roster except the 0-4 Jose Calderon scored, but it Serge Ibaka’s turn for a big game as he put up a game-high 18 points and 8 rebounds.

The high score of the day belonged to Luis Scola who once again led Argentina, his 30 points gives him a 25 point average and is tops among all players. However, Argentina lost to Croatia 90-85 as the 76ers first round draft pick Dario Saric had 16 points and 9 rebounds while the Nets Bojan Bogdanovic had 16 points and 7 rebounds.

Houston Rockets veteran Francisco Garcia put up 29 points for the Dominican Republic in a big 76-63 win over the New Zealand Tall Blacks. Thomas Abercrombie who plays for the NZ Breakers had 22 points.

Georgios Printezis had 25 points and 8 rebounds in Greece’s 82-70 win over the Philippines. Printezis turned down an offer to play for the Knicks in 2012 and his NBA rights have been held by the Spurs, Raptors, Mavericks, Knicks, Trail Blazers, Thunder and presently by the Hawks. The Nets free agent Andray Blatche recorded his second double-double in 2 days with 21 points on 6-18 shooting and 14 rebounds for the Philippines. Blatche is currently second in scoring at 24.5 points per game and second in rebounds at 13 per game.

Eugene “Pooh” Jeter scored 24 points for the Ukraine in an 81-76 loss to Finland. Jeter, a one-time King, played in Spain last season and has signed with the Shandong Bulls in China. Shawn Huff, who plays in Germany, scored 23 points for Finland.

Atlanta Hawks unrestricted free agent Gustavo Ayon scored 23 points for Mexico in an 89-68 loss to Slovenia where the Suns Goran Dragic had 18 points and 6 assists and his very noticeable brother Zoran Dragic scored 22 points.


The Timberwolves center Gorgui Dieng is averaging 19.5 points and a tournament best 13.5 rebounds for Senegal.

Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas finally missed a shot in the second quarter of his second game and had 11 points and 13 rebounds in Lithuania’s 75-62 win over Angola to become just one of ten players to record a double-double thus far.

Check out all of the leading scorers at the FIBA World Cup here.


Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.



Denver Nuggets Media Day

Team USA Was Saved By Kenneth Faried Vs. Turkey

In a game that didn’t go according to script, Team USA was held to 35 first half points and trailed by 5 points heading into the break vs. Turkey.  Without the energy from the Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried, this game might not have turned around midway through the third quarter to end in a 98-77 USA victory.

Faried dominated play at both ends of the court with hustle on route to a game-high 22 points on 11-14 shooting, 8 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocked shots and was cheered for his efforts both times he came off the court in the second half by an appreciative crowd.

Anthony Davis also got things going using his impressive reach and athleticism to grab rebounds and finish some improbable plays around the rim.  Davis contributed 19 points on 8-11 from the field, 6 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks.

Team USA looked out-of-sorts through two-and-a-half quarters as Turkey showed no fear inside and was out-working the US for loose balls and on the boards. Turkey won the rebounding battle 34-32.  They also started out hot from range and ended up hitting 9-24 three-point attempts.

With Stephen Curry (3-11), Klay Thompson (2-7) and Derrick Rose (0-4) having off shooting days in the face of some very physical defense, it took a while for Team USA to adjust, but once they got back on track offensively, their was little Turkey could do to stop the 63 point second half onslaught and more often than not it was the US failing to finish than anything their opponent was able to do.

This rough start was probably just what USA Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski needed to wake up a team that had yet to be challenged up until this point.  The other teams are here to win and Krzyzewski knows from experience that if his players don’t come ready they could leave disappointed.


Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.


Valanciunas and Pau Gasol

FIBA World Cup Studs From Aug 30 Pau Gasol And Valanciunas

The 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain kicked off on Saturday August 30 and the NBA was well represented. Almost every team in contention has multiple NBA players if not All-Stars or future stars in addition to some of the best overseas talent. However, the studs were not limited to the NBA and neither were the duds on the first day of action.

The Raptors young center Jonas Valanciunas was hit with two early personal fouls and Lithuania had to overcome a rough start, but Valanciunas shot a perfect 8-8 from the field for 17 points as Lithuania blew out Mexico 87-74 with stifling defense in the second and third quarters.

The Bulls newest All-Star Pau Gasol led all-scorers on day-one with 33 points on 12-20 shooting, 8 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 blocked shots as Spain dismantled Iran 90-60. Hamed Haddadi had 16 points and 15 boards in a losing effort.

A pair of scoring studs did their best to give the game away when Croatia overcame the Philippines 81-78. The Nets free agent Andray Blatche filled up the boxscore as a ringer with the Philippines netting 28 points and grabbing 12 boards, but he did on 10-24 from the field and turned the ball over 7 times. New Nets forward Bojan Bogdanovic shot better scoring 26 points on 9-18 shooting, but he turned the ball over 6 times. Someone had to win.

The Timberwolves Jose Juan Barea scored 24 points for Puerto Rico in a 98-75 losing cause against powerful Argentina as the FIBA veteran and current Pacers power forward Luis Scola had 20 points and 9 boards.

Suns starting point guard Goran Dragic had 21 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists to lead Slovenia past Australia 90-80. Spurs free agent Aron Baynes had 21 points and 7 boards for the Aussies. Jazz rookie Dante Exum was a disappointing 0-2 from the field for 0 points and 2 rebounds.

Other studs from Day One include:

New Zealand: Cory Webster 22 points
Mexico: Francisco Cruz 21 points
Senegal: Timberwolves Gorgui Dieng 21 points, 14 rebounds

As expected, the USA ran roughshod over Finland 114-55, but only two US players went over 20 minutes in the game. Warriors Klay Thompson led the US in scoring with 18 points. Pelicans Anthony Davis had 17 points in 14.3 minutes.

Check out all of the leading scorers at the FIBA World Cup here.


Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.



Brady Heslip by MoVernie (edited)

Can Canadian Brady Heslip Make The Timberwolves?

Canadian guard Brady Heslip isn’t the typical college player expected to make an NBA roster. He wasn’t drafted, he wasn’t even ranked in the top 100 by most mock draft boards. However, he earned a shot at making the Minnesota Timberwolves roster this summer at NBA Summer League and while playing for Team Canada.


He’s old for a rookie at 24 and he’s undersized for a shooting guard at 6’2, however, Heslip brings more to the NBA than the typical immature early entry candidate teams usually take out of the draft. Heslip can score and he’s proven it against some of the best playing for Team Canada over the past two summers. Seeing Heslip tryout for Team Canada for the FIBA Americas tournament last summer, it would have been easy to assume he’d be cut. There were bigger guards available to play, but he earned a spot on the roster and he wasn’t just a twelve man. Heslip was often a surprising impact player.

In in final year at Baylor, Heslip made 3.1 three-pointers a game shooting 46 percent from deep and Minnesota decided to give him a look at Summer League.



Heslip wasn’t about to waste this opportunity and in his final two games he averaged 15.5 points and made 7-10 three-points attempts.


After getting noticed in Las Vegas, Heslip brought that shooting with him to Team Canada for the summer where the undersized guard led his team in scoring on 4 occasions. 14 points against Georgia, 16 points versus Croatia, 18 points on Serbia and a 22 point effort in the final game against Angola. He also scored 11 points against Spain. Heslip was Team Canada’s floor spreader and the opposition left him at their own peril.



“Hopefully we can show off some of those guys while we are on that (11 game European) tour and get them employed,” Canadian Head Coach Jay Triano told Pro Bball Report. “It’s happened in the past. I think back to the 2000 Olympics and guys that played in the Olympics got jobs because of how well we did in the Olympics and they got better contracts.”

“(The players) get to be seen. If it opens up opportunities for our players to keep playing and become employed as basketball players then it’s a great trip.”

Currently there isn’t a spot for Heslip on the Timberwolves 15-man roster, however, with all the moves that the team has made recently, it isn’t hard to imagine how an opportunity to make the roster could happen. It will be an uphill battle to go from not being drafted to making an NBA team, but Heslip has been able to impress coaches before and earn himself a chance to play. He just might be able to do it again.


Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.




Lithuania Loses Mantas Kalneitis In Friendly With Croatia

In the final friendly match before the 2014 World Cup in Spain Lithuania lost their second game in a row, but far more devastating was the loss of starting point guard Mantas Kalnietis.

After only 2 minutes and 14 seconds, Kalnietis left the game with a suspected shoulder injury.




Lithuania lost all focus after seeing Kalnietis depart and the first quarter turned into a rout that ended with Croatia in the lead 25-12 on the strength of numerous sloppy plays and turnovers by Lithuania.  



After the game, the worst fears of the Lithuanian team were confirmed, Kalnietis is expected to miss the World Cup.



Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas had a strong game in the post for Lithuania scoring 16 points on 5-8 from the field to go with 4 rebounds and 2 assists and Jonas Maciulis came through with a 20 point effort as they came back to within 7 points a couple of times in the fourth quarter before Croatia put the game away 94-80.

For Croatia, the Brooklyn Nets Bojan Bogdanovic had a monster game with 24 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals. The Philadelphia 76ers 2014 12th overall draft pick Dario Saric took advantage of Lithuania’s first quarter funk to score 10 quick points on his way to a 16 point, 2 rebound, 4 assist game.

The loss of Kalnietis was a shock to Lithuania and a huge blow to their chances of picking up a medal at the World Cup this summer.

Lithuana isn’t known for depth at guard and they will miss Kalnietis at both ends of the court. Without him on the floor versus Croatia, easy passes into the post went astray and Lithuania’s ability to take advantage of their size inside has been put in some doubt. This loss is significant.




Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.


Phoenix Suns Media Day

Suns Goran Dragic Leads Slovenia Past Unbeaten Lithuania

The Phoenix Suns starting point guard Goran Dragic led Slovenia past this summer’s unbeaten Lithuania 74-72 in a game that came down to big plays and mistakes at the end. This was the second meeting of these two teams in a week and in Lithuania’s 80-76 win on Monday, Slovenia gave Goran Dragic the day off to rest and this time, the Raptors starting center Jonas Valanciunas didn’t play for Lithuania.

On Monday, Slovenia got off to 44-36 halftime lead, but Valanciunas and the FIBA veteran Paulius Jankunas wrested control back in the second half to steal the victory. Dragic wasn’t missed as much as might have been expected as everyone on Slovenia shared the ball and they had 5 more assists than Lithuania. The veteran Miha Zupan led Slovenia with 18 points on 4-5 shooting from three-point range. Valanciunas and Jankunas had 14 points each.

On Saturday, Lithuania got off to another slow start, trailing 42-35 at the half, however, this time they didn’t have the firepower to get all the way back. Veteran wing Domen Lorbek led Slovenia with 18 points and Dragic and 10 points and 4 assists. Mantas Kalnietis, Darjušas Lavrinovičius, and the Rockets Donatas Motiejunas had 15 points each for Lithuania.

Playing catch-up all day, Kalnietis scored a layup with 2.5 minutes left to pull Lithuania to within three points and on the next play, he drilled the three-pointer to tie the game at 71. Lithuania had their chances to take the lead, but Dragic picked off a bad pass from Motiejunas and fed Klobucar for the game-winning three-point basket with 55 seconds left.

With 40 seconds to go, Kalnietis went to line for two shots on what would have been an and-one opportunity in the NBA and split a pair and then Motiejunas missed the potential game-tying layup with 6 seconds remaining to end the game.

Slovenia and Lithuania will meet again in Group D at the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain. If you suspect their respective head coaches have held something back during the past two meetings, you would be on solid ground.
Lithuania v Slovenia 08-23-14

Lithuania plays in their final friendly match on Tuesday against Croatia.


Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.




DeMar DeRozan Makes The Cut For Team USA

USA Basketball National Team Managing Director Jerry Colangelo announced Friday night the 12 players who will represent the United States at the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain. They are:

DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings)
Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors)
Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans)
DeMar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors)
Andre Drummond (Detroit Pistons)
Kenneth Faried (Denver Nuggets)
Rudy Gay (Sacramento Kings)
James Harden (Houston Rockets)
Kyrie Irving (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Mason Plumlee (Brooklyn Nets)
Derrick Rose (Chicago Bulls)
Klay Thompson (Golden State Warriors)

Kyle Korver, Chandler Parsons, Gordon Hayward and Damian Lillard will not be joining their National teammates in Spain.

The only slight surprise was Colangelo decided to keep all three young centers, Cousins, Plumlee and Drummond and let the stretch four Parsons go, but this was really a decision about which 11th and 12th man to bring along rather than deciding about rotation players.


Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.



DeRozan and Hayward

DeRozan, Drummond, Hayward, Lillard Sit As USA Decides Cuts

Team USA got their act together in the second half and rolled over Puerto Rico 112-86 at Madison Square Garden, however, the bigger story is who USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo will decide to keep from the remaining 16 players to get down to the FIBA mandated 12 man roster. It had to be tough for Raptors DeMar DeRozan, Pistons Andre Drummond, Jazz Gordon Hayward and Trail Blazers Damian Lillard to sit out knowing the preference has always been to leave for Spain on Saturday with the roster decisions already made.


Team USA started out this game flat and let guards Jose Juan Barea and Carlos Arroyo take it to them. Tied at the end of the first quarter and up by five at the half only because of a long range buzzer-beating three-pointer from Klay Thompson, Team USA didn’t look very much like the team from their first two exhibition games.



James Harden still looks decidedly uncomfortable as a starting small forward playing with two point guards. He might be the guy Coach Krzyzewski is hoping will become a leader, but Harden still hasn’t figured out how to lead without the ball in his hands. How he’s played thus far doesn’t really change much, however, Harden is a lock to be in the rotation for Team USA at the World Cup.

Kyle Korver still gets called a lock by a lot of media, but tonight’s game typifies what to expect from a specialist three-point shooter on a team loaded with more talented players. Korver was 0-0 shooting with a personal foul in just over 3 minutes in the first half and 0-1 shooting with a personal foul in just under 3 minutes in the second half. As talented a long range threat as Korver is, he doesn’t have a role on this team. The Splash Brothers have the deep threat needs covered.

Cousins may have played himself off the roster. About the only things Colangelo is going to learn about his players from these exhibition games is which ones can handle the pressure of playing for their national team and can accept the role required of them. Cousins looked decidedly flustered against Puerto Rico.



The decisions Colangelo has in front of him are not easy and the players he selects as the 11th and 12th players will not be expected to play much – if at all, but who gets those spots still sends a strong message. Those are the players Colangelo wants to get some international exposure for future Olympics and World Cups, so it matters.

Mason Plumlee and Chandler Parsons got their chance to play against Puerto Rico and join the games four DNP-CDs in a group waiting to hear who’ll be on the plane to Spain and who’ll be left behind. If they take the news the right way, it’ll be a win either way.



What applies to the Raptors DeRozan applies equally to any player invited to workout with Team USA. It’s a great experience and should make one a better player down the road no matter what Colangelo decides to do on Friday night.


Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.


Note: Team USA outscored Puerto Rico 60-39 in the second half led by Stephen Curry who added 15 points after the break for a game-high 20 points in 18.4 minutes on 6-7 shooting – best player on the court. Derrick Rose played 13.5 minutes and unless he bows out on his own, he’s on the team.

Team USA exhibition game stats can be found here.



Valanciunas and Haddadi

Hamed Haddadi Tries Hard As Iran Loses To Lithuania 80-67

Former Memphis Grizzlies, Toronto Raptors and Phoenix Suns center 7’2 Hamed Haddadi tried as hard as he could to keep Iran from outright embarrassment as they were losing 80-67 to the far superior team from Lithuania, but this game was never as close as the final score would indicate.

Head Coach Jonas Kazlauskas didn’t even start his two NBA players, Raptors Jonas Valanciunas and Rockets Donatas Motiejunas, and four minutes in, all five of his starters had scored and run up a 10-3 lead. By the time Valanciunas and Motiejunas were subbed in, the game had taken on a practice scrimmage feel. Lithuania shot 10/18 in the first quarter as they ran up a 21-11 advantage and Iran’s defense largely consisted of hoping Lithuania would miss.

Midway through the second quarter Iran’s coach was looking blankly at the court and could be heard saying things like: “Simple sets”, “Try to play defense” and “Stay man-to-man” and his admonishments must have had some impact or maybe the Lithuanian players were just having trouble staying focused, but Iran went on a 9-0 run to get back to within 4 points. The push was short-lived, however, Lithuania could score and defend any time they put their minds to it.

Throughout this game there were periods where Haddadi showed why NBA teams were reluctant to give up on the very big center. He has soft hands and can catch and finish at the rim. He had his moments as he drove into Valanciunas a forced a shot over the big Lithuanian center and later faked him out with a nice up-and-under move. Haddadi worked hard at both ends of the court using his size effectively and he picked up the 12 point 10 rebound double-double in 27.5 minutes.

In under 18 minutes, both Valanciunas and Motiejunas scored 8 points. Martynas Pocius led Lithuania with 12 points.

Nikkhah led Iran with 15 points on 5-14 shooting and Iran’s performance could be summed by the team’s final two shots of the game. Kazemi Naeini (8 points, 6 rebounds) missed the uncontested dunk after a nice move to get open and Jamshidi (12 points) missed the three on no one fast break layup attempt in the final 10 seconds.

Lithuania v Iran 8-22-2014

After a hard fought battle against Brazil on Thursday, this must have felt like a day off for the Lithuanians.

Lithuania plays Slovenia on Saturday.


Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.




Valanciunas and Splitter

NBA Big Men Battle As Lithuania Defeats Brazil 64-61

NBA big men Raptors Jonas Valanciunas and the Rockets Donatas Motiejunas with Lithuania would battle Cavaliers Anderson Varejao, Wizards Nene Hilario and the NBA Champion Spurs Tiago Splitter representing Brazil in a friendly exhibition tune-up on Thursday with significant implications for the FIBA World Cup in Spain at the end of the month. This game could have gone either way, but it was Lithuania that took control in the second half to pull out the difficult 64-61 victory.

In what has become a disturbing pattern, Lithuania started off slow and put out a less than an acceptable effort in the first half. It was almost like playing all those relatively easy friendly games before Brazil had left them unprepared for what they were about to face. Valanciunas in particular got off to a slow start and Head Coach Jonas Kazlauskas subbed out his starting center early on with Lithuania trailing 11-7.

Lithuania escaped the first quarter behind 22-18, but immediately gave up a 10-0 run to get themselves into a deep hole. As has been the case in previous contests, it was their inability to defend the three-point line that was the biggest problem compounded by 11 first half turnovers on 5 steals by Brazil. Rafael Hettsheimeir had 9 points on 3-3 three-pointers and Nene was 3-4 from the field for 9 points. Valanciunas was kept under wraps going 0-1 shooting for 1 point and 2 rebounds in 9.5 minutes. In a matter of just a few seconds during the second quarter, the big man was rejected by Nene at one end and then scored over by Varejao at the other to sum up how his first half of play had gone. With a 38-25 lead at the half, it looked like Brazil was going to win in a rout.

Someone must have sent the Lithuanians a wakeup call during the halftime as they came out after the break like a completely different team. Tired of being pushed around, Valanciunas aggressively backed two dribbles into Splitter before turning into his body and forcing the ball up through Splitter’s arms to draw the two-shot foul. On the next play Valanciunas hit the short turnaround jumper over Nene to cut the deficit to less than 10 points for good. Lithuania outscored Brazil 21-14 in the quarter to pull to within 6 points. Big men Valanciunas, Motiejunas and Krzysztof Lavrinovičius had 4 points each to take back some measure of control in this game.

Despite the exhibition status of this contest, Brazil wasn’t about to surrender the win easily. Valanciunas finished two pretty plays at the rim to close the gap to 57-54 with 5:19 left in the game, but couldn’t finish the running hook shot that would have pulled Lithuania to within 1 point on the next play. With 2:47 left, Valanciunas missed the layup and then got flat out beat by Nene on a baseline move that put Brazil up 59-54. A three-pointer brought Lithuania back to within two points and an undeterred Valanciunas got into a wrestling match with Splitter on the next play that earned him a trip to the free throw line where he went 2-2 to tie the game at 59-all.

After Nene failed to re-take the lead going 0-2 from the free throw line, Mantas Kalnietis hit his second shot of the game to put Lithuania ahead to stay 62-59. Nene and Motiejunas traded baskets to make the score 64-61. To make things interesting with 5.5 seconds left, Motiejunas bricked 2 free throws, but stole the ball back on a bad pass to end the game.

Valanciunas and Jonas Maciulis led Lithuania with 11 points each and Motiejunas had 10 points and a game-high 8 rebounds. Brazil was led by Hettsheimeir with 14 points on 4-7 from three-point range. Nene had 13 points, Splitter had 11 points and Varejao ended up with just 2 points.

Lithuania turned the ball over 22 times on 9 Brazilian steals, but out-rebounded Brazil 37-28. In a game with two completely different, but equal and opposite halves, it came down to Lithuania hitting on 14-17 free throw attempts to 10-17 for Brazil.

Lithuania v Brazil 8-21-2014

Lithuania plays again on Friday against Iran.


Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Valanciunas and Motiejunas

Valanciunas And Lithuania Face Off Vs. Brazil Today

Lithuania has had their way through 10 friendly exhibition games and no one has been able to stop the Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas, but today the big man and his team face off against a group of players from Brazil expecting to be in the Final Four of the World Cup that starts in just over a week.

Valanciunas and Donatas Motiejunas will be tested by the likes of Nene, Anderson Varejao and Tiago Splitter and Leandro Barbosa will be more than a handful for the Lithuanian guards.  While their respective head coaches may hold something back, this game will hold meaning later in September.

Catch all the action on Sportotv starting now!

DeMar DeRozan interview by Paul Saini ( cropped

DeMar DeRozan 13/5/6 Leads USA To Easy Win Over Dominican

DeMar DeRozan came off the bench for Team USA to lead the second unit and his team with a team-high 13 points, 5 rebounds and a game-high 6 assists in an embarrassingly easy 105-62 win over a grossly overmatched Dominican Republic team. Rudy Gay also scored 13 points off the bench.

With cuts on the immediate horizon for Team USA, there is a temptation to try and read something into tonight’s individual performances, but that would be a huge mistake. Team USA wasn’t challenged at any point during this game and the hardest part for their players was to remain disciplined and continue to play team basketball rather than merely showing off against a group of players that had no chance of stopping whatever Team USA chose to do. USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo and Coach Krzyzewski didn’t learn anything about their players that they didn’t already know.

Derrick Rose sat out Wednesday’s game and the continuing knee soreness has to be raising concerns – not for Team USA, but rather for the Chicago Bulls. Rose can help Team USA, but Kyrie Irving got the start in his place, shot 5-5 for 12 points, and the Team didn’t really look any different. Damian Lillard can easily fill in as the third point guard, so the decision about whether Rose goes to Spain or stays home is really between him, his coach and his doctors.

Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kenneth Faried and Anthony Davis remained in the starting unit and Klay Thompson stayed in the sixth man role so these decisions appeared to have been confirmed.

DeRozan reaffirmed his usefulness to Team USA off the bench as both a facilitator and a scorer and the longer he was in the game, the more the second unit’s offense seemed to flow through him. His 6 assists was a team high.

While the Dominican Republic didn’t provide much – if any – resistance, their lack of size without Al Horford made assessing Team USA’s big men even more difficult. The 7’ Karl-Anthony Towns is only 18-years-old (Kentucky), but he got a chance to try and guard the Team USA centers for 10 minutes, so take what was witnessed in this game with a huge grain of salt. The Dominican’s only NBA player is the 32-year-old Francisco Garcia and this team just split a pair of games with the University of Kentucky. Kentucky vs Dominican Boxscore (Game 2, 63-62).

Garcia scored 14 points for the Dominican Republic on Wednesday.

Next up for Team USA is Puerto Rico and they recently lost to the Dominican, so get ready for another meaningless contest that will provide no useful information to Colangelo and Krzyzewski. Team USA might not want to announce any decisions on cuts before they have to, but they already have all the useful information available.

A boxscore for this game is available from the Team USA website.

Anyone who suggests Colangelo and Krzyzewski are making decisions based on either of these two games in New York is blowing smoke.

Chandler Parsons, Kyle Korver and Mason Plumlee were DNP-CD – read into that what you will.


Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.



Will DeMar DeRozan Make Team USA? Who Gets Cut?
The Toronto Raptors All-Star wing DeMar DeRozan survived the first round of cuts for Team USA, however, the final roster is limited to 12 men and those cuts are expected to be made before the Team leaves after Friday night’s game in New York to play their final friendly exhibition contest against Slovenia in Spain just ahead of the World Cup on August 30. So the question becomes, who gets cut?

photo credit Paul Saini


DeMar DeRozan 1

Will DeMar DeRozan Make Team USA? Who Gets Cut?

The Toronto Raptors All-Star wing DeMar DeRozan survived the first round of cuts for Team USA when USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo, Coach Krzyzewski and their staff took the roster down to 16 players at the beginning of August. However, the final roster is limited to 12 men and those cuts are expected to be made before the Team leaves after Friday night’s game in New York to play their final friendly exhibition contest against Slovenia in Spain just ahead of the World Cup on August 30. So the question becomes, who gets cut?

On August 4, the Team USA roster looked like:

Guards: Damian Lillard, Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving.

Wings: Klay Thompson, DeMar DeRozan, James Harden, Gordon Hayward and Kyle Korver,

Bigs: Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Chandler Parsons, Kenneth Faried, DeMarcus Cousins, Mason Plumlee and Andre Drummond.

Since then Kevin Durant bowed out and was replaced by Rudy Gay.

There is a developing consensus that the starters against Brazil: Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kenneth Faried and Anthony Davis have made the team and the sixth man Klay Thompson will get the nod because of his chemistry with Curry, however, the other six spots on the roster remain up for grabs.

Everyone has been promised to play in at least one exhibition game and if Saturday’s DNP-CD players DeRozan, Drummond, Hayward and Cousins play against the Dominican Republic on Wednesday and Lillard and Korver get another chance after very short minutes against Brazil, Team USA could be ready to pare down the roster to 12 or 13 in time for Thursday’s practice.

It is assumed Lillard will be the odd man out among the point guards, however, that shouldn’t be considered as carved in stone before Wednesday’s game and if Rose’s knees are still sore, Lillard could tag along as a 13th man right up until Team USA has to submit their final roster on August 29.

There is an obvious competition between Cousins, Drummond and Plumlee to fill a big man role in the middle of the court to provide some size if needed against the biggest threat to Team USA’s pursuit of Gold. Spain will throw out Pau and Marc Gasol in the starting lineup with Serge Ibaka coming off the bench and that represents a lot of very good and very experienced FIBA-comfortable bulk under the basket. There is no possible way Krzyzewski would want to be relying on the very young and inexperienced Drummond or Plumlee to check either Gasol brother. Team USA has to be seriously hoping Cousins can bounce-back from his minor knee injury quickly – Wednesday would be nice.

Plumlee played reasonably well in 15 minutes against Brazil and Drummond would have to at least match that to stay in contention, but it’s hard to see how Team USA would bring over either player to Spain except as a 12th man.

The only reason for bringing Korver along is if the Team brass believes they have a shortage of legitimate three-point threats, but they really don’t. This team has plenty of shooters and good ones at that. The Splash Brothers got this covered.

DeRozan, Hayward and Parsons were lumped together earlier by Colangelo and at least one of them should be concerned about not joining this group in Spain. Gay should be placed in here as well.

As the standout player from the Blue and White scrimmage, DeRozan should have the edge if he can maintain that level of play in an exhibition game. DeRozan isn’t known as a three-point shooter, but in the packed-paint of FIBA basketball, Team USA could use his ability to get open and make shots in the midrange. On a team with limited international experience, bringing back former Team USA member Gay just makes sense and if one was forced to choose between Hayward and Parsons, the more versatile Parsons is also the better shooter.

It is possible all four players from this group make the roster as this scenario would provide the most flexibility for Coach Krzyzewski against international rosters that can create matchup issues for anyone. It could come down to which player Colangelo wants to bring over as a 12th man for exposure to the international game.

If Lillard and Korver are out, the real decision should come down to which one of Drummond, Plumlee or Hayward makes the team to bring the final tally to 12 players.

Two games in New York over three days should be more than enough for Colangelo and company to decide who gets cut from Team USA, however, except for the players waiting the hear, the pressure really isn’t on and it’s likely the decisions have already been made. This team has more than enough talent to legitimately believe that Gold in Spain is theirs to lose no matter which 12 players make the trip.


Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.


Check out:

Eurobasket Predicts Spain To Defeat Team USA At World Cup
Spain features 6 NBA players: Ricky Rubio, Jose Calderon, Victor Claver, Serge Ibaka, Pau Gasol and Marc Gasol. They also carry 4 teammates from Real Madrid: Sergio Rodriguez, Sergio Llull, Rudy Fernandez and Felipe Reyes. Plus teammates Juan Carlos Navarro and Alejandro Abrines from FCB Regal. Both home court and team chemistry will be with the Spanish side.


Jonas Valanciunas 2 by Paul Saini  (

Valanciunas And Jankunas Lead Lithuania Past Slovenia 80-76

Even without the Phoenix Suns starting point guard Goran Dragic, Slovenia appeared to have the answer to solve unbeaten Lithuania, but eventually the Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas and the FIBA veteran Paulius Jankunas with 14 points each managed to lead their team to the 80-76 victory.

This would be Lithuania Head Coach Jonas Kazlauskas’ 100th victory since taking over the National team.

Lithuania started out this game ice-cold from the field, playing subpar defense and only a pair of and-one plays and a couple of free throws by Valanciunas for 8 relatively easy points kept them in this contest early on. The Lithuanians shot 33.3 percent from the field in the opening quarter while Slovenia scored easily at a 66.7 percent clip to take a 22-17 lead.

Things only improved slightly from a scoring standpoint for Lithuania in the second quarter as Kazlauskas kept Valanciunas on the bench and his team managed to score 19 points on 5-11 shooting from the field. Slovenia remained in control, adding 20 points and still shooting over 51 percent for the half.

Slovenia had been able to neutralize some of Lithuania’s advantage on the inside by stretching the floor and firing long range three-point shots with the 6’9 31-year-old veteran Miha Zupan doing much of the damage. Valanciunas struggled constantly covering the Slovenian three-point threats on the perimeter at least as much as Slovenia did trying to cover him in the post.

Where Lithuania could only manage to create assisted field goals twice in each of the first two quarters and could neither find the open man nor even simply make the easy play, everyone on Slovenia was sharing the ball. Not having their star point guard wasn’t a problem as Slovenia racked up 10 first half assists and was obviously the better team up to this point in the game.

Valanciunas came out to start the second half and made his impact felt in the paint once again. An emphatic slam brought Lithuania back to within 4 points a couple of minutes in and the pairing of Jankunas and Valanciunas led Lithuania to a 21-12 quarter that gave their side the lead and broke the momentum of their opponent.

Lithuania shot 60.8 percent from the field and held Slovenia to just over 41 percent in the second half to reverse their first half fortunes, however, Slovenia refused to go quietly and with the game winding down Edo Muric made back-to-back three-pointers to close to within 2 points twice in the dying seconds. Down the stretch, it was Lithuania’s point guard Mantas Kalneitis who finally came through with 13 second half points.

Slovenia hoisted 32 three-point attempts and moved the ball well, racking up 17 assists and exposing the weakness of Lithuania’s perimeter defense. Lithuania shot the ball poorly from deep, connecting on just 4-15 long range attempts, but made up for it at the free throw line going 30-35.

The veteran Zupan, who was deaf at birth, led Slovenia with 18 points on 4-5 shooting from three-point range. However, it was their 21-year-old shooting guard Klemen Prepelic that stood out with 17 points and 8 fouls drawn on Lithuania and the 22-year-old forward Muric’s heroic shots at the end.

Former Raptors big man Uros Slokar scored 4 points in just under 9 minutes before fouling out.

It wasn’t a pretty victory for Coach Kazlauskas’ milestone, however, his team did up their intensity in the second half just enough to get the job done.


Lithuania v Slovenia 08-18-2014

Lithuania plays again on Thursday against a much tougher opponent – Brazil.


Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.




NZ Tall Blacks Overwhelmed By Jonas Valanciunas

New Zealand Tall Blacks had unbeaten Lithuania on the ropes through three-quarters of Sunday’s friendly exhibition game, taking a 23-18 first quarter lead and milking it for a 58-55 advantage going into the final period. However, the fourth quarter belonged to the Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas who took control of the game and overwhelmed a very effective Tall Blacks defense to help Lithuania escape with the 85-79 victory.

Head Coach Jonas Kazlauskas had given his leading scorer, Donatas Motiejunas, from Saurday’s win over Greece the game off and was relying on significant minutes from the veteran twin brothers Darjušas and Krzysztof Lavrinovičius.

While at 34-years-old Darjušas is still an effective stretch four and scored 12 points even though he shot just 1-5 from three-point range, Krzysztof’s offense is suspect (3 points) and between them they only managed to grab 1 rebound over 33 minutes combined. Not surprisingly, Lithuania was getting hammered on the boards.

Only a huge 15 point fourth quarter from Valanciunas that included 11 points in a row gave Lithuania the lead. The young center shot 6-6 from the field and 7-10 from the free throw line.

New Zealand was led by 33-year-old forward Kirk Penny with 26 points and 7 boards.

Still unbeaten in friendly competitions this summer, Lithuania plays Slovenia on Monday.

Game stats


Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.




DeRozan, Drummond, Hayward, Cousins All Sit in Team USA Win Over Brazil

Team USA pulled out the 95-78 friendly exhibition game win over Brazil at the United Center in Chicago 95-78 by winning the first quarter 29-15 and the fourth quarter 27-15, but for many people watching on ESPN or catching the game on-line, the bigger story was who wasn’t playing.

DeMar DeRozan, Andre Drummond, Gordon Hayward and DeMarcus Cousins didn’t see a second of court time as DNP-CD. Except for Cousins who was resting a (hopefully) minor injury, not playing in these friendly exhibition games leading up to the tournament in Spain does not bode well for making the team.

Damian Lillard only played 1:47 and Kyle Korver was inserted for just 3:18 as the starters Stephen Curry, Derrick Rose, James Harden, Kenneth Faried, Anthony Davis and sixth man Klay Thompson received the bulk of the minutes.



View the complete boxscore here.

Team USA plays at Madison Square Garden on August 20 against Dominican Republic and on August 22 versus Puerto Rico before heading overseas for their final friendly exhibition game before the tournament against Slovenia in Gran Canaria, Spain on August 26.

The DNP-CD players from Saturday against Brazil will need to see some court time in these friendlies to have a chance of making the final Team USA roster for the World Cup.


Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.



Valanciunas and Motiejunas

Motiejunas And Valanciunas Pace Lithuania To Win Over Greece

The Houston Rockets stretch power forward Donatas Motiejunas and Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas provided the inside out offense and twin towers defense that held Greece at bay in the first half as Lithuania cruised to an easy 86-67 victory in what looked like a high intensity friendly exhibition game early on.

Valanciunas opened the scoring at the rim on a nice feed from Mantas Kalnietis and with Lithuania’s big center controlling the paint, Motiejunas was free to roam for open jumpers. The Greeks did find something of an answer for Valanciunas in their 32-year-old 7’1 280 lb center Andreas Glyniadakis who was physically strong enough and experienced enough to box out Valanciunas, however, Lithuania was in complete control with their two young big men on the court and took a 39-35 lead into the half. Motiejunas had 12 points at the break and Valanciunas had 8 points.

Lithuania’s veteran stretch center Darjušas Lavrinovičius was quietly having an impact as well with 6 points in limited minutes and Head Coach Jonas Kazlauskas must have noticed something about the Greek defense (or he just wanted to experiment) as he sat both his young bigs to start the second half to play his version of small ball with Lavrinovičius manning the middle. The ploy worked better than anyone could have anticipated from watching the first half as the faster paced Lithuanian lineup demolished the Greek defense running up a 20-6 advantage before Kazlauskas went back to his starting big men. Lavrinovičius scored 8 more points to finish with 14 points in 12.5 minutes in a change of pace role that should prove difficult to adjust to when the World Cup starts in a couple of weeks.

The two teams essentially traded baskets the rest of the way.

Prior to the game Coach Kazlauskas had mentioned Valanciunas was playing on a sore heel, however, there were no adverse effects noticeable as the big man set screens and showed out to the three-point line on defense with his usually efficiency. Valanciunas was restricted to just over 21 minutes in this game and there really wasn’t any need for him to have played even that long. The Raptors center had 14 points and 6 boards and made a pretty high-low play in the second half feeding an open Motiejunas as he arrived at the rim.

Where Motiejunas was having a great night playing off of Valanciunas and finished with a game-high 18 points and 7 rebounds on 6-10 shooting from the field, it wasn’t nearly as easy for him once the Greek defenders did not have to worry about guarding Valanciunas inside. The style of play Motiejunas has been thriving in with Lithuania should put him in very good stead when he gets back to Houston and can play off the All-Star Dwight Howard’s dominance in the post.

Greece was led by the one-time Raptors draft asset Giorgos Printezis. The 29-year-old 6’9 stretch power forward had 14 points and was 2-3 from three-point range. Printezis draft rights were recently acquired by the Atlanta Hawks from the Thunder.

 Lithuania v Greece 08-16-2014


Lithuania plays again on Sunday versus New Zealand.  The World Cup opens in Spain on August 30.


Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.



Jonas Valanciunas by Robertas Dačkus with permission (2)

Raptors Jonas Valanciunas Hurts His Foot

The Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas has joined his National team in Lithuania as they prepare for the upcoming 2014 World Cup in Spain that starts at the end of the month.  It represents a chance for the big man to work on his game in a competitive atmosphere, but as the devastating injury to the Pacers Paul George reminds everyone, playing in competitive games comes with risks.

Apparently Valanciunas has been playing on a sore foot according to Lithuanian Head Coach Jonas Kazlauskas: “Valanciunas sore heel, but the problem is not serious”

Valanciunas is working with his doctors and the team doesn’t anticipate any problems, however, those assurances are not going to carry a lot of weight with Raptors fans who remember former Raptors player and Lithuanian National team star Linas Kleiza.


It might behoove the Raptors to have some of their medical staff pay a visit to Lithuania if for nothing more than to assure themselves their star center really is okay to play.


Unlike the US where the National team can find adequate replacements in the event of an injury, other National programs do not have the depth to make up for the loss of a player like Valanciunas. There can be tremendous pressure felt by young stars to play for their National team even when they might be better off resting.

The standard when playing for one’s National team shouldn’t be whether or not one would play through the injury with your club team in the NBA or elsewhere. The standard should be whether or not one would rest the injury until it felt 100 percent better while training in the summer or continue to work through it.

Hopefully Valanciunas’ sore heel really is a minor issue, but if the the Raptors want to protect their investment, they should go see for themselves.


Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.