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FIBA hopes to lure NBA stars to WCup qualifiers

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FIBA hopes to lure NBA stars to WCup qualifiers

GENEVA (AP) Basketball's governing body will try to lure NBA stars to play in some World Cup qualifiers after creating a new format with more matches in their home countries.

The path to the revamped 2019 World Cup includes round-robin qualifying groups played in six separate fixture windows over a 14-month span starting November 2017.

``Having the home and away games brings basketball back to the countries themselves,'' FIBA secretary general Patrick Baumann told The Associated Press in an interview. ``Eventually this will benefit the whole sport around the world.''

The U.S., which has not played competitively at home since the 2002 worlds hosted in Indianapolis, will be guaranteed six home qualifiers in each World Cup cycle.

Baumann acknowledged that having NBA stars regularly on national team duty was ``something we would love,'' but that players will decide how much time to commit.

World Cup qualifiers in June and September 2018 would be most attractive to top players, he said. FIBA aims to schedule matches in late-June to avoid clashing with NBA playoffs.

Baumann said the governing body has good relations with the NBA, and kept the league and franchise owners informed ``since day 1'' of a two-year project to improve the existing calendar.

FIBA agreed a new competition schedule at the weekend that removed some continental events from a packed four-year tournament cycle.

``NBA owners were making it relatively clear that it was not a situation they would continue to support,'' Baumann said by telephone from Shanghai. ``We were really filling the calendar so much that we felt players were either not at the top (of their form) or had to choose which summer to play.''

During Spain's rise as top challenger to the United States, Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol was selected to an Olympic Games, world or European championship every NBA offseason since 2006.

Spain will host the next worlds in 2014 as a 24-team event, before the rebranded World Cup is introduced with 32 countries in September 2019.

Baumann said skipping a year meant ``getting out of the shadow'' of soccer, which will host the World Cup in June-July of 2018.

``Countries like Greece and Russia have never seen their national team play in the last decade at home,'' Baumann said.

FIBA hopes increased exposure will help countries develop more players rather than relying on its one or two with NBA experience to carry the load.

``It is about growing new talent, which is as good as the NBA talent,'' said Baumann who is an International Olympic Committee member. The new World Cup will be the main route to the 2020 Summer Games, sending seven of the likely 12-team Olympic lineup.

Baumann also believes that the World Cup can create new rivals to test the U.S., as Spain has pushed the ``Dream Team'' at the Beijing and London Games.

``For FIBA, the best way to make sure that the best players play in our competitions is to ensure that the rest of the world can measure against them (the U.S.), `` he said: ``And hopefully improve and at some point beat them.''

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Bradley Beal makes most of his opportunity in first All-Star Game

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Associated Press

Bradley Beal makes most of his opportunity in first All-Star Game

Bradley Beal may have had a slow start in the three-point contest on Saturday night, but in Sunday's All-Star Game he worked quickly to make the most of his relatively small window of playing time.

Beal checked in for the first time with 5:45 left in the first quarter and less than 25 seconds later had his first points on a two-handed dunk assisted by LeBron James.

In his All-Star debut, Beal helped lead Team LeBron to a 148-145 victory over Team Stephen as the league utilizied a new format for the annual showcase.

RELATED: BEAL BOUNCED EARLY IN THREE-POINT CONTEST

Beal finished with 14 points and a steal in a productive night. He shot 5-for-10 from the field and an impressive 4-for-8 from long range. 

Beal also tried to get a travelling call from the refs on Karl-Anthony Towns. Yeah, that's not likely to happen in an All-Star Game:

Beal more than held his own and only played 16 minutes, which was good considering he has logged the fifth-most minutes of any player so far this season. A realistic best-case scenario was a strong showing and a short night and that's exactly what he got.

Not only does Beal play a lot of minutes, the Wizards need him now more than ever with John Wall's injury. He needs whatever rest he can get during this All-Star break.

Speaking of Wall, he was in the house despite being in the middle of his rehab from left knee surgery. Per usual, Wall was shining bright:

RELATED: BEST WIZARDS/BULLETS MOMENTS ON ALL-STAR SATURDAY NIGHT

The All-Star Game wasn't all about Beal, of course. Here are some other things that stood out...

*The new format and increased financial incentive were intended to make the game more competitive and that's what happened late in the fourth quarter. Usually, that's how these things go where the players will start trying at the end. But this time it seemed to be up a few levels and it was fun to watch. 

Both teams scored in the 140s, so it wasn't exactly a defensive battle. No matter what the league does, the players will only try so hard for so long. The main goal of everyone's is to not get injured in a game that ultimately doesn't count for anything. Still, this was different and appears to have been a success.

*While everyone was focusing on the reunion of LeBron and Kyrie Irving the best beef was Joel Embiid vs. Russell Westbrook. Those two have traded waves to taunt each other at the end of wins in head-to-head matchups and it was clear on Sunday they still don't like each other. Westbrook tried to dunk all over Embiid in the first half, only to get blocked at the rim.

Westbrook's determination to dunk on Embiid was out of the ordinary for an All-Star Game. It was obvious what was on his mind:

*Irving's handles are simply ridiculous. Check out this fake behind-the-back move he pulled with Giannis Antetkounmpo guarding him. Yes, it didn't fool the defender but it was impressive nonetheless:

*LeBron is 33 years old, yet he was still running up and down the court faster than anyone and leaping above the rim to thrown down alley-oop after alley-oop. It is truly amazing and everyone should enjoy watching him while they can, regardless of whether they like the guy or not.

This was one of his dunks:

LeBron took home MVP with a game-high 29 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists and a steal.

*The pregame show was quite bad. It was anchored by comedians Kevin Hart and Rob Riggle and, though they had some funny jokes, it lasted nearly 30 minutes. The whole thing was pretty much universally panned on social media. Fergie's national anthem was also roasted by the masses.

*The halftime show was much better. It began with N.E.R.D taking it back to their older days with 'Lapdance,' went to Migos performing 'Stir Fry' and swung back to N.E.R.D. who did their latest hit 'Lemon.' 

RELATED: LATEST 2018 NBA MOCK DRAFT

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The NBA All-Star pregame introductions were, uh, something

The NBA All-Star pregame introductions were, uh, something

Whoever put together the NBA All-Star Game player introductions has some 'splainin to do. 

The NBA introduced a kinda-full Staples Center to their 2018 All-Stars about an hour ago, and boy was it weird. There were a lot of dancers in different themed costumes. Kevin Hart was screaming. Rob Riggle was screaming. Ludacris showed up? Hey! Did you know that the Barenaked Ladies are still a band? The NBA would like you to know they're still around.  The whole thing was like when you're at an art museum and you're told that abstract piece in the corner is actually really meaningful but you gotta be honest, you don't get it. 

Anyways, the internet hated it. Here are some highlights from the internet hating it:

The lesson here is that you never need Kevin Hart and Rob Riggle. One will do.