The first day of the 2014 FIBA World Cup largely went as expected. The United States and Spain flexed their muscles against undermanned competition, NBA players looked leagues above their competition and we all learned about the existence of a few countries not heard of since eighth-grade geography class.
Great fun was had by one and all. So, of course, the folks running the World Cup have decided to double down by having all the teams in action again on Sunday.
The games get underway well before anyone is even in their Sunday's best, with the Dominican Republic and New Zealand tipping off at 6:30 a.m. ET. That doesn't sound like an ideal time to wake up on a holiday weekend, sure. But George Washington wasn't worried about what time he woke up when he led those folks across that river thing, was he (I'm bad at history)?
So get yourself out of bed, make yourself a bowl of Cheetos (I'm bad at breakfast too), crack open a nice glass of milk or entire bottle of Ciroc, ignore your family and watch the games unfold—all of which are streaming on the World Wide Web, and some of which are being televised on NBATV and ESPN.
Also continue reading because I'm going to preview some of these games now.
|Dominican Republic at New Zealand||6:30 a.m.||Watch ESPN|
|Argentina at Croatia||7:30 a.m.||NBATV||Watch ESPN|
|South Korea at Australia||7:30 a.m.||Watch ESPN|
|Serbia at France||9:30 a.m.||NBATV||Watch ESPN|
|Finland at Ukraine||10:00 a.m.||Watch ESPN|
|Senegal at Puerto Rico||11:30 a.m.||Watch ESPN|
|Slovenia at Mexico||11:30 a.m.||Watch ESPN|
|Brazil at Iran||12:00 p.m.||NBATV||Watch ESPN|
|Philippines at Greece||2:00 p.m.||Watch ESPN|
|Lithuania at Angola||2:00 p.m.||Watch ESPN|
|United States at Turkey||3:30 p.m.||ESPN||Watch ESPN|
|Spain at Egypt||4:00 p.m.||Watch ESPN|
Televised Game Guide
Argentina vs. Croatia
Those wondering whether Manu Ginobili's absence would rob Argentina of its cohesiveness and chemistry got their answer Saturday: nope. The Argentines ran out to a massive lead early against Puerto Rico and did not look back, eventually capping off a 98-75 win with authority.
Andres Nocioni, looking nothing like the shrug-worthy player he was during his NBA days, had 18 points and 11 rebounds. Selem Safar drained four three-pointers en route to an 18-point performance. Add a typically sterling international game from Luis Scola and some all-around excellent passing, and Argentina looked like the team to beat in Group B.
Meanwhile, Croatia did itself a huge favor by getting an early win over Philippines. Bojan Bogdanovic encouraged Nets fans by scoring a team-high 26 points, while former Net Andray Blatche nearly led Philippines to an upset win with his game-high 28. Jayson Williams' missed three-pointer as the clock was expiring gave Croatia an 81-78 victory.
Those good feelings will very likely be short-lived. Argentina is the third-best team in the world, and its dominance without Ginobili was an encouraging sign for a squad that may be in its last real run on the international stage. Croatia struggled to get past a Philippines team that's ranked 34th in the world.
Based on the talent and longevity of the two rosters, this shouldn't be particularly close. Look for Argentina to move through here without much of a problem.
Serbia vs. France
Talk about two teams with wildly different internal evaluations after one game. Serbia heads into Sunday's contest with the Serbians feeling confident after an 85-64 win over Egypt. France doesn't have much positive to say after an ugly loss to Brazil.
Serbia turned in an excellent team-wide effort, with four players scoring in double figures and the team as a whole making more than half of their shots. Milos Teodosic led the way with 15 points, while Stefan Bircevic came off the bench to score 11 points and grab nine rebounds.
The French were halted by a dreadful offensive effort. With Brazil's bigs protecting the rim and Spurs star Tony Parker deciding to follow Ginobili's lead by sitting out the trip to Spain, France found itself floundering in a series of broken sets. Boris Diaw and Nicolas Batum were forced into pseudo-point-forward roles, with Batum in particular looking out of sorts.
Diaw scored 15 points while adding six rebounds and five assists, but he was at times the only player who looked engaged offensively. Magic guard Evan Fournier went scoreless in eight minutes off the bench. Thomas Heurtel had more fouls than field goals. The only salvo for France was its defensive effort, which forced Brazil into its own bouts of offensive incompetence.
Despite boasting a frontcourt on par with any team this side of Spain, the Brazilians could not get anything going. Nene, Anderson Varejao and Tiago Splitter went a combined 6-of-19 from the floor and needed an excellent night from Marcelinho Huertas to squeak by with a win. If France is encouraged by anything, it's their ability to contend with size despite Diaw being the biggest player in their starting lineup.
The Serbs have talented offensive bigs in Miroslav Raduljica and Nenad Krstic, both of whom should have the length to score over Diaw. France can go to Rudy Gobert if Serbia starts scoring too much underneath, but the foul-prone 7-footer nearly fouled out despite only playing 19 minutes against Brazil. Different league, same Rudy.
France has more talent, but I'm going to ride with Serbia here based on the mess the French looked like Saturday.
Brazil vs. Iran
This game should not be close. The Iranians were taken to the woodshed in a 90-60 loss to Spain on Saturday, allowing Pau Gasol to turn back the clock to 2007. Gasol scored 33 points, grabbed eight rebounds, blocked three shots and I think at one point did the Shmoney Dance mid-possession. And just because he could, Marc Gasol went for 15 points and 10 rebounds as well.
Put another way: Spain won despite Sergio Llull and Ricky Rubio combining for three points on 1-of-8 shooting. That's how thoroughly dominant the Gasol brothers were against a hapless interior defense for Iran.
Hamed Haddadi, whose 16-point, 15-rebound line looks awfully nice until you see the seven turnovers, was thoroughly outclassed. Same goes for Samad Nikkhah Bahrami, who somehow had twice as many turnovers as baskets, despite shooting the ball 17 times. It was a performance as ugly for Iran as it was brilliant for Spain, the co-favorites with the United States.
While Brazil does not have anyone on the level of either Gasol, their aforementioned trio of bigs have a great opportunity to atone for their disappointment against France. Nene and Splitter in particular need to get into a rhythm if Brazil hopes to avoid an early matchup with either Greece or Argentina. They'll also be looking for a better night from Leandro Barbosa, who shot 2-of-9 off the bench.
Iran isn't entirely a pushover—it's No. 20 in the FIBA rankings and Haddadi is typically much better on the international stage—but it's a team Brazil should defeat handily. Most penciled the Brazilians as the second-best team in their group when Parker decided to not play for France. They'll etch that standing in pen with a statement win over Iran on Sunday.
Turkey vs. United States
Here comes some hot-as-hell analysis: Turkey isn't bad! In fact, they are quite good. The Turkish national team is ranked seventh in the world, won the silver medal at the 2010 World Championships and features Pelicans center Omer Asik.
More analysis: The United States is better. In fact, they're way better. The U.S. was on the other end of that gold medal game in 2010, earning a 17-point victory that had a wider chasm than the final score indicates. While most would acknowledge the United States is worse in 2014 than it was in 2010, the same can be said about Turkey.
The Turks needed two New Zealand three-pointers to bounce off the rim in the waning seconds to win on Saturday. The United States needed mere seconds to make everyone on the planet realize its game against Finland was decided before the opening tip. The United States' margin of victory was nearly 20 times that of Turkey's, with the latter's competition being only slightly stiffer.
Point being, Turkey has around a 0.001 percent chance of winning Sunday. You have only a slightly worse chance of being struck by lightning while cashing in your winning Powerball ticket than Turkey does of defeating the Group C favorite. We all know this, yet we will all watch—mostly because the World Cup is the last salvo before basketball gives way to football, football and more football.
So watch to see Anthony Davis continuing his ascent into full-fledged superstardom. Watch to see how Derrick Rose's knees hold up while playing on back-to-back nights. Watch to see Stephen Curry knock down ridiculous step-back jumpers, James Harden draw fouls in the most artfully annoying way in history and DeMarcus Cousins continue to prove everyone wrong.
Just don't watch expecting to see a good basketball game—you'll be disappointed.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter