Everybody had the day off at the World Championship, as pool play is wrapped and we move to the knockout round. Today it’ll be Serbia vs. Croatia, and Spain vs. Greece in a matchup that is happening way earlier than anyone expected. After losing two games in pool play (to France and Lithuania), Spain can’t pretend like they haven’t gotten their wake-up call. Marc Gasol put up 25 points and 8 boards in what was basically a must-win against Lebanon, and is averaging 15.4 points and 7.2 boards in the tournament. Rudy Fernandez (shooting), J.C. Navarro (scoring) and Ricky Rubio (dishing) are doing their thing, and even Fran Vazquez showed up the other day (more than can be said about his Orlando Magic career). But Spain could really use Pau Gasol right now. There’s no more room for them to come out flat, or to overlook any opponent … Not that anybody would overlook Greece. Since Linas Kleiza just signed with the Raptors, Greece has to be the best team in the world that doesn’t have a current NBA player on its roster. Vassilis Spanoulis (14 ppg) is shooting at a Steve Nash-like clip, hitting 52% from the field, 46% from three and 84% at the line, and now that Baby Shaq (11.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg) is back in the fold, they’ve added a stronger inside presence. This game really could go either way, but we’ll take Spain in a close one … Meanwhile, how often does an NBA guy develop a reputation as a goon during the offseason? Nenad Krstic (16 ppg, 9 rpg) seems to have a little extra goonishness about him ever since the brawl, and Serbia is looking real good after beating Argentina the other day. Plus, you know the results of today’s games could lead to a Greece/Serbia rematch. Extra security, please … As for team USA, they play Angola on Monday for the right to play the winner of Russia/New Zealand. There was a lot of talk about how Brazil would give the U.S. problems with their big men, but Russia has a decent crop of bigs, too. Timofey Mozgov (7-1) should get significant playing time for the Knicks next season, and Sasha Kaun (6-11), who was part of the ’08 NCAA championship team at Kansas, is one of the better centers in Russia’s pro league … If NZ survives, American fans will get a look at Kirk Penney. Remember how guys like Sarunas Jasikevicius and Oscar Schmidt used to give Team USA ruthless buckets? Expect the same from Penney. The 6-5 guard is dropping 25 ppg in the WC so far, including a 37 against Lithuania. He might shoot the chinstrap off Eric Gordon‘s face … On the same day we learned Lance Stephenson — who’s very likely looking at an NBA suspension — has been barred from working out at the Pacers’ facility while his assault case goes through the legal process, we learned NFL commissioner Roger Goodell dropped Ben Roethlisberger‘s suspension from six to four games. Has David Stern ever gone back and reduced a suspension that significant? Like if we’d found out the guy who provoked Ron Artest had pissed in that cup, would Stern have given Ron a lighter sentence? … Byron Scott is shaking things up in Cleveland. According to Scott, every starting spot on the Cavs is wide open going into training camp — which could be cliche, but may actually be true for everybody Mo Williams. During summer league, Scott said he would consider starting J.J. Hickson at the four and bringing Antawn Jamison off the bench, so not even a 20-and-10 guy is secure. If you’re in Scott’s shoes, who do you start? … If you’re in the L.A. area today, stop by the famous Venice Beach courts, where the semifinals of the VBL summer tournament tip-off at 1 p.m. You probably remember the Venice courts as those from the first basketball scenes in White Men Can’t Jump (“I took ‘Air’ Michael Jordan to the hole!”), but it’s not all Hollywood out there. The best players in L.A. go there to be tested. Check the video below for the Top 10 Venice Basketball League plays of the week … We’re out like Jasikevicius …
Gasol, Rubio face elimination at Worlds; Who starts for the Cavs?
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