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Down and out Down Under, US seem vulnerable for World Cup

Sat Aug 24 9:37am ET
By TIM REYNOLDS
AP Basketball Writer

Players: Andrew Bogut, Patty Mills, Harrison Barnes

The U.S. men's basketball team had never lost to Australia. It had gone nearly 13 years without losing a game with an NBA-stocked roster. It was in the midst of the longest winning streak in team history.

Until Saturday.

The Americans went Down Under, and went down.

Australia beat the U.S. 98-94 before a crowd of more than 52,000 in Melbourne, an outcome that ended the Americans' 78-game winning streak and cast major doubt on the team's ability to capture a third consecutive World Cup in China.

''Nobody wins forever,'' USA Basketball coach Gregg Popovich said.

The last time the Americans - counting major international tournaments and exhibitions with NBA players on the floor - lost a game was the semifinals of the 2006 world championships. The program has won gold in every competition since, including three straight in the Olympics and two consecutive World Cup titles.

But now, the gold standard of international basketball looks unusually vulnerable.

''It's a friendly so we want to keep it in context,'' Australia center Andrew Bogut said. ''But we did make history tonight, the first senior men's Australian team to beat an American team.''

Popovich said all the right things after the game. He lauded the Australian players and those tasked with putting their team together. He raved about Patty Mills, who scored 30 points to lead the Boomers to their biggest win. He good-naturedly vowed that when he and Mills get back to San Antonio, where they've been together as coach and guard for the last eight years, he will find a way to exact revenge.

More seriously, though, he sounded an alarm for the Americans.

''The loss means that we need to play better,'' Popovich said. ''It's a measure of who you are.''

And who they are is still to be determined.

The U.S. has played three exhibitions on their pre-World Cup tour, and Popovich has used three different starting lineups. The rotation is not clear, not even to the coaches. Players - most never having been teammates until this month - are figuring out their individual roles and the broader scheme.

''I think when you look at international play, every team, they kind of have their calling card of what they fall back into, their system, their sets,'' U.S. forward Harrison Barnes of the Sacramento Kings said. ''For us, we're still getting to that point.''

There's time for that. A little time, anyway.

The final exhibition for the Americans is Monday against Canada in Sydney. Once the U.S. gets to Shanghai, its first three World Cup games shouldn't be overly taxing - the Americans are ranked No. 1 in the world while group opponents Turkey, the Czech Republic and Japan are ranked 17th, 24th and 48th, respectively.

From there, the tests figure to ramp up quickly. Serbia, France, Greece, Spain and now the Australians all arrive in China as legitimate title hopefuls. With most of the top U.S. stars from the NBA like LeBron James, James Harden, Paul George and Stephen Curry sitting out this summer, the rest of the world clearly isn't stuck playing for second place.

''You can learn as much or more from losing as winning,'' Popovich said. ''We're all used to winning and losing. The USA has been a little bit different over the last 12 years - they're only used to winning. So hopefully we can get back on that track.''

Since training camp started three weeks ago in Las Vegas, Popovich has expressed concern about the task of molding individuals into not just a cohesive unit but one good enough to win the World Cup.

He warned it wouldn't be easy.

Saturday's outcome proved him right.

''This is a group of guys that's worked very hard to get to know each other and get to know a system,'' Popovich said. ''And whatever comes, we can handle. Our job is to try to get better every day and we learned some things tonight. We're actually a better team now than at the start of the game because of the knowledge that we gained. So you move on.''

Player Notes
Davis Bertans Sep 16 4:30pm ET

Washington Wizards forward Davis Bertans decided to sit out the Orlando bubble in order to preserve his health for free agency. Bertans is an upcoming free agent and the Wizards had a slim chance of making the playoffs. He didn't believe it was worth the risk after not playing basketball for almost two months. Bertans sitting out shouldn't hinder his value whatsoever on the free agent market. He'll be a highly coveted player, but the Wizards are likely going to be aggressive to keep him in Washington.

Giannis Antetokounmpo Sep 15 5:40pm ET

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo had a three-hour meeting with co-owner Marc Lasry on Saturday. They reportedly discussed the season and how the Bucks can improve their roster. Lasry confirmed that he is willing to go over the luxury tax this offseason. It sounds like the Bucks are trying everything to keep Antetokounmpo happy in Milwaukee. We'll see what happens during the offseason.

Gordon Hayward Sep 15 5:40pm ET

Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward (ankle) has been ruled out for Tuesday's Game 1 against the Miami Heat. He was listed as doubtful, but it appears Hayward will remain sidelined for this one. Hayward is likely going to need to go through a full practice before being allowed back on the court. The team is hopeful that Hayward will be able to play at some point during this series. It's unclear whether or not he'll be limited when he does return. Fantasy owners should keep an eye out for updates. In the meantime, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart will benefit with increased playing time.

Javonte Green Sep 15 5:30pm ET

Boston Celtics guard Javonte Green (knee) is listed as doubtful for Game 1 against the Miami Heat on Tuesday. He left the bubble in August to undergo an arthroscopic procedure to repair a small meniscal tear in his right knee. Green hasn't been able to play since then, but is surprisingly not listed as out here. Listing him as doubtful is actually an upgrade for Green. Regardless, Green won't have a big enough role in the rotation to do any damage in DFS lineups.

Danuel House Jr. Sep 11 3:30pm ET

Houston Rockets forward Danuel House (personal) could miss the rest of the playoff series against the Los Angeles Lakers. The NBA is currently doing an investigation on House allegedly sneaking a female into the bubble. It doesn't sound like he'll get back on the court until the NBA makes their decision. That means, Jeff Green, Austin Rivers, and Ben McLemore will see more playing time coming their way.

Gordon Hayward Sep 11 3:20pm ET

Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward (ankle) is back in the bubble and expected to clear quarantine on Friday. However, he is still not close to getting back on the court after suffering a Grade 3 ankle sprain in mid-August. The hope is that Hayward could return at some point next series, assuming the Celtics advance. Until then, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown will continue to have increased value.

Clint Capela Sep 9 2:50pm ET

Atlanta Hawks center Clint Capela (foot) has been cleared to begin doing 5-on-5 workouts. The Hawks are expected to begin group workouts in the end of September, so Capela should be taking part in that. He was traded to Atlanta mid-season, but has not played a game for them yet due to a plantar fasciitis issue. He is fully expected to be ready for the 2020-2021 season. It'll be interesting to see what kind of fantasy value he produces alongside John Collins.

Nicolas Batum Sep 9 2:40pm ET

Charlotte Hornets forward Nicolas Batum is expected to pick up his $27 million player option for next season. It is far more than he'd get in free agency, so there's no reason for him not to accept the deal. It's the final year of his contract, so the Hornets are likely going to attempt to move Batum. Sadly, it's going to be difficult to find a trade partner when he's owed that much money. The Hornets are likely going to be stuck with Batum for at least one more season.

Danuel House Jr. Sep 9 2:40pm ET

Houston Rockets forward Danuel House (personal) was unable to suit up for Tuesday's Game 3 against the Los Angeles Lakers. He is dealing with a personal issue, so it's unclear if he'll suit up next game. Robert Covington (face), Jeff Green, Austin Rivers, and Ben McLemore would benefit if House is out. Covington is the best fantasy option out of the bunch.

Marvin Williams Sep 9 2:30pm ET

Milwaukee Bucks forward Marvin Williams has decided to retire from the NBA. The 34-year-old is walking away from the game after 15 productive seasons in the league. "I've been very blessed. God has been very, very good to me," Williams said. He was unable to win a championship before retiring, but put up fairly solid career numbers. Williams averaged 10.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.3 assists during his NBA career. He won't make the Hall of Fame, but he had a productive career nonetheless.

Robert Covington Sep 9 2:20pm ET

Houston Rockets forward Robert Covington (face) is expected to be available for Game 4 against the Los Angeles Lakers. It doesn't sound like his nose is broken and Covington was able to pass the concussion protocol. Danuel House (personal) is questionable for Game 4, which could mean big minutes for Covington. Fantasy owners should check back for another update.

Dion Waiters Sep 8 4:50pm ET

Los Angeles Lakers guard Dion Waiters (groin) is listed as doubtful for Tuesday's Game 3 matchup versus the Houston Rockets. He has played a total of eight minutes in this series, so losing Waiters won't hurt too much. Rajon Rondo looked fantastic last game and would probably take most of his minutes anyway. Rondo could be a sneaky DFS option for Tuesday's slate.

Tyler Herro Sep 8 4:50pm ET

Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro (hip) has been downgraded to questionable for Tuesday's Game 5 against the Milwaukee Bucks. He was listed as probable, but it appears he has a slight downgrade now. It doesn't sound like anything serious, but fantasy owners should check back closer to tip-off just in case. Andre Iguodala and Kendrick Nunn would benefit if Herro is unable to suit up.

Kelly Olynyk Sep 8 4:40pm ET

Miami Heat forward Kelly Olynyk (knee) is listed as questionable for Tuesday's Game 5 against the Milwaukee Bucks. He was listed as questionable last game and only ended up playing 10 minutes. It sounds like Olynyk is a risky DFS option even if he does suit up for this one. Andre Iguodala would likely benefit the most if Olynyk is unable to play. Fantasy owners should check back closer to tip-off.

Jae Crowder Sep 8 4:40pm ET

Miami Heat forward Jae Crowder (ankle) is listed as questionable for Tuesday's Game 5 against the Milwaukee Bucks. The Heat are a little banged up right now, so losing Crowder would hurt. Andre Iguodala would likely benefit the most if Crowder is out, but Kendrick Nunn and Derrick Jones could see more chances as well. Iguodala would be the best fantasy option there if Crowder sits out.

Serge Ibaka Sep 8 4:40pm ET

Toronto Raptors center Serge Ibaka (ankle) was seen wearing a walking boot during the media session on Tuesday. He tweaked his left ankle during Game 5 and it's unclear if he'll be available for Wednesday's contest. Ibaka was able to play through the issue, but it appears to be worse now. Chris Boucher and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson would split up the minutes if Ibaka is unable to play. Fantasy owners should check back on Wednesday for more information.

Giannis Antetokounmpo Sep 8 4:30pm ET

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (ankle) was seen wearing a walking boot while arriving to the arena for Tuesday's Game 5 against the Miami Heat. He is currently listed as questionable, so there probably won't be a better update until closer to tip-off. Khris Middleton would see his usage skyrocket if Antetokounmpo is unable to suit up. Donte Divincenzo would likely enter the starting five and could be a nice DFS option. Fantasy owners should check back closer to tip-off.

Nikola Jokic Sep 7 9:00pm ET

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (wrist) will start in Monday's Game 3 matchup against the Los Angeles Clippers. He played well during Game 2, but suffered a right wrist sprain along the way. Jokic was a game-time decision heading into this one, but it appears that he's good to play. It doesn't sound like the Nuggets have any plans to limit him, so DFS players can plug him into their lineups for Monday.

Nikola Jokic Sep 7 3:50pm ET

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (wrist) is listed as questionable for Monday's Game 3 matchup versus the Los Angeles Clippers. Jokic played fantastic during Game 2, but sprained his wrist in the process. It doesn't sound like something that is going to sideline him, but fantasy owners should check back just in case. Mason Plumlee and Bol Bol would be asked to play more if Jokic sits out. Plumlee would probably be the safer fantasy option between the two.

Dion Waiters Sep 7 3:40pm ET

Los Angeles Lakers guard Dion Waiters (groin) only played for three minutes during Sunday's Game 2 matchup due to injury. He pulled his left groin and was unable to return to the contest. Sadly, groin injuries have a tendency to linger, so it's unclear if Waiters will be able to suit up for Game 3. Alex Caruso and Rajon Rondo would see more playing time if Waiters is unable to play. Rondo played very well on Sunday, so he could be worth a look as a DFS option with extended minutes.