Worn out from the NBA season, some star players might prefer a summer off instead of playing for their national team.
That’s common for the U.S. team, but it could pose a big problem for Argentina.
The reigning Olympic champion might be without some its mainstays when the team heads to Las Vegas this summer for 2008 Olympic qualifying.
“I’m not sure right now,” Spurs center Fabricio Oberto said. “I don’t know if I’m going to be on the team. … maybe take this summer off. I haven’t made the decision yet.”
He’s not the only one. Spurs teammate Manu Ginobili, Argentina’s biggest star, also is undecided, as is another starter, Chicago Bulls forward Andres Nocioni, who has missed almost the entire second half of the season with plantar fasciitis.
the semifinals and falling to the Americans in the bronze-medal game.
All that play has them thinking it might be time for a rest.
“I still don’t know. It’s not an easy question right now,” Ginobili said. “But we’re talking about it. At this point, I’m closer to saying no and skip the summer rather than to say yes.”
Argentina must finish in the top two at the FIBA Americas tournament from Aug. 22-Sept. 2 to participate in the Beijing Games and defend its Olympic gold. A finish between third and fifth earns a spot in another qualifying tournament in July 2008.
Although the Americans likely will be without Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul, they still have a talented pool of players. Argentina’s team isn’t nearly as deep after its stars, and that has Ginobili concerned.
“Yes, I am worried,” he said. “Because it’s probably not going to be only me, but Nocioni is hurt, Fabri is not sure, either. So we’re probably not going to send our best team possible, so yes, I am worried.”
BE THE THREE: After losing in Miami on Tuesday, the Toronto Raptors knew they couldn’t let their game in Orlando the next night get away.
That’s how important the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference is shaping up to be.
“It is in the back of our minds, but at the end of the day we want to win the game,” forward Joey Graham said. “It is always on our minds, and that is what we are playing for.”
The Raptors erased a 15-point deficit and beat the Magic 111-108, and took a one-game lead over Miami heading into Friday’s games.
The difference between the No. 3 and No. 4 spots in the East this year will be huge. The No. 6 seed now looks as if it will be Washington, which is a shell of the team that led the Southeast Division for most of the season. With All-Stars Gilbert Arenas (knee) and Caron Butler (hand) unlikely to play again until next season, the Wizards will be hard-pressed to find enough offense to beat a top team four times.
Not only that, but falling to fourth likely means losing the home-court advantage. Both Cleveland and Chicago have better records than Toronto and Miami, so whichever ends up as the No. 5 seed will open the series at home.
“We are very aware that we are in the race for third place right now,” Raptors All-Star Chris Bosh said. “Every game means something. You can’t take a day off. Home court is very important, so we are going to keep playing.”
ADVICE FOR LEBRON: LeBron James’ knee is aching at the worst possible time for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
After Tuesday’s victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves, James said he was playing at about “80-85 percent” as the playoffs approach. He still managed 31 points, 12 rebounds and six assists, but if the Cavs are going to get past Detroit in the East, they’re going to need King James at top form.
Many wonder if a summer spent playing for the United States in the world championships is starting to catch up with him.
To play all summer, then a full season is a grueling task, Minnesota star and former Olympian Kevin Garnett said.
“It’s just too hard. Physically, it’s just too hard to obviously play exhibition games, 82-game season plus playoffs and then play summer basketball or USA basketball,” Garnett said. “It’s a very difficult thing to do. It’s easy to sit in the back and critique others and people and why they don’t do certain things, but it’s probably one of the hardest things to do in our league.”
If James wants to ease the wear and tear on his body, Garnett has a simple piece of advice: “Just Say No.”
The former MVP knows there is plenty of pressure on James, as one of the league’s most marketable players, to suit up in international competition and sell the game to the world. Garnett has succumbed to similar pressures in the past and raved about the experience.
But there comes a point, Garnett said, when enough is enough.
“LB’s going to step up. He’s not going to let the pressure dictate what he’s doing,” Garnett said. “I think USA basketball, they’re trying to throw it on him. He’s human.
“Either (say no) or he’s going to break down, and we all don’t want to see that. At one point he’ll step up and he’ll speak up and it’s OK to do that. You’re body’s talking to you, you have to listen to it.”
NO STARS NECESSARY: Coaches who prefer team basketball to the star system must love the Philadelphia 76ers.
The 76ers traded their biggest name, waived the other one and have since turned into a respectable team that somehow brought slim playoff hopes into April.
With a victory in New York on Wednesday night, Philadelphia improved to .500 (22-22) in 2007. The 76ers played .267 ball before that – and few expected them to get much better after sending Allen Iverson to Denver in the middle of December.
“Our guys are just going on the court and doing the things that we’ve asked them to do,” Philadelphia coach Maurice Cheeks said. “And the best part is that they’ve got some success out of it, and obviously people have noticed that.”
Knicks coach Isiah Thomas is one of those people, saying the remaining Sixers players seemed to like being coached. They had little choice but to listen to Cheeks, realizing it would take a team effort to replace Iverson and Chris Webber, whose contract was bought out in early January.
Even though those two were good for about 50 points per game last season, Philadelphia has been better off without them. The 76ers were 25-26 since trading Iverson after Wednesday’s victory, including 21-18 since waiving Webber on Jan. 11.
Andre Iguodala has flourished as the top scorer, Andre Miller has run the team capably since coming over in the Iverson deal, and Philadelphia has become a solid defensive club. The 76ers are allowing fewer than 95 points per game in their last 30 games after yielding an average of 100.1 in their first 44.
To Cheeks, it’s been nothing more than his players seeing the results of their hard work – and now others have, too.
“I think when things like that happen and you have some success, they continue trying to do it,” he said. “I think that’s what happens when you implement things, you put it out on the floor, you have guys going out on the floor trying to do those things.
“Also, when people notice that, obviously coaches, opposing coaches and people watching the game, those things have an affect.”
AP Sports Writer Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis and Associated Press Writer Elizabeth White in San Antonio contributed to this report.
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