Need your basketball fix? The NBA season won't reignite for another two months, but the FIBA Americas tournament can help mask that emptiness.
Teams squaring off in Caracas, Venezuela may not offer the same vibe as watching LeBron James or Kevin Durant, but many squads are laded with NBA talent. Although the United States' gold medal victory in the 2012 Olympics excuses them from competing, 10 nations are vying for four spots in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
While the FIBA Americas won't serve as a platform for All-Stars to show off, quality veterans such as J.J. Barea, Luis Scola and Renaldo Balkman (in all seriousness, he's cleaning up) are tuning up for the upcoming NBA season while playing for national pride.
For those unsure of where to turn their attention, here are a few noteworthy teams to monitor during the tournament.
If you can't wait for the NBA to return, the games are available for streaming at LiveBasketball.tv, for a fee.
Armed with a tournament-high four NBA players, Canada could eventually become a major threat to their neighbors south of the border.
Recent first-round draftees Andrew Bennett and Kelly Olynyk are not participating due to injuries, but that didn't stop from laying a 21-point whooping on Jamaica to kick off the festivities.
Cory Joseph, who has received the fortune of learning from Gregg Popovich, almost posted a triple-double in a 17-point, nine-assist, eight-rebound outing. Cleveland Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson will provide a calming inside presence for a team lacking a major playmaker.
Baylor's Brady Heslip demonstrated his marksmanship from long range, and while Andy Rautins never made the NBA cut, the New York Knicks drafted him alongside Landry Fields for his shooting acumen.
Just imagine what Canada can accomplish once Andrew Wiggins is old enough to represent his native land.
Dont lie, you laughed when you read "Renaldo Balkman" and "quality" in the same sentence. Well, the joke is on you; he scored 24 points, snagged eight boards and blocked in four shots in Puerto Rico's 72-65 victory over Brazil.
The former Denver Nugget widened the gap with five straight points late in the fourth quarter. His big game helped them fend off Group A foe Brazil, who are playing without Leandro Barbosa, Tiago Splitter, Anderson Varejao and Nene.
Aside from Balkman, who, all kidding aside, offers great energy and athleticism for Puerto Rico, they are led by veteran floor generals Barea and Carlos Arroyo. The experienced point guards can both distribute the ball while Barea has shown a knack for offering lightning shooting in spurts.
And in ESPN.com's preview, Jeff Haubner labels 36-year-old wingman Larry Ayuso an a "Puerto Rican J.R. Smith." You decide whether that's a compliment or an insult.
Andres Nocioni won't offer up his smooth shooting touch, Pablo Prigioni's video-game-style tenacity won't be on display and Manu Ginobli is still lamenting an NBA Finals gone wrong.
At least Luis Scola showed up, and at least the other guys aren't all that bad. Argentina stampeded Paraguay by 35 points, and Scola only logged 10 minutes in the contest.
Facundo Campazzo, 22, will run the show along with Juan Fernandez, who played college ball for Temple. Marcos Delia never made the pros, but the big man has a chance to play meaningful minutes down low.
Their pristine style of play, highlighted by fluid ball movement, makes Argentina a delight to watch. Just like how the San Antonio Spurs remain competitive even when Ginobli, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan get a night off, nobody should write Argentina off.
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