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NBA BOOTLEG: Yugos have a lot to lose

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'Slavs seek to shake slump, smoking, shaving
(New York Times) A case can be made that nobody wanted it more.

A case can be made that the Yugoslavian team wanted to set itself apart from the pack for the very first time, acting as if their impending silver medal was as big a foregone conclusion as the USA team's gold.

Sure, threw in those words a week ago about how anyone could take down the Yugoslavian team before they get to the finals, but did anyone believe him? Nope. We were too busy paying attention to the fact that he thought his team could take down the B-NBA All-Stars.

And they probably could have. They still could, but they have some work to do.

To begin, the team boasts five NBA players. Vlade, All-Star , Peja Drobnjak, , and Vladimir Radomanovic. Solid players, all, four of which could be starting for their respective teams on opening night.

The team has been together longer than the American squad, working out over the summer and playing together. This sets them apart from the Yanks, but they haven't had as much time to work out the chemistry as some of the other, less-heralded squads in this tournament. If Yugoslavia is just a baby-USA team, this is another reason why. Talent like the US, but unfamiliarity just like the US. Look out.

And this is a bummer for a number of reasons, I mean, the basketball gods are weeping. After years of strife and turmoil, this is the best team that region has seen in over a decade, and they can't pull in a defensive rebound off a missed free throw. In two games.

They've lost twice, to Puerto Rico and Spain. They've won three times, including a turnaround match yesterday against a hot Brazilian team. Turkey is next, today, and the game will be rough. A win means the Yugoslavian team will have a chance to play the US squad in either the quarter or semifinals this weekend, but Turkey is a dangerous group of guys.

To top it, thousands of Turkish fans have either flown over or congregated from their American homes to Indianapolis; cheering their team on and putting on a good face in order to try and wrest an Olympiad from the IOC in the near future.

Stojakovic and Divac did not start in the win over Brazil, which makes sense. Peja is not a 22-point scorer in European play, and Vlade's deft passing from the post doesn't fool any of the international teams. They have a leg up on the NBA because they play the game the correct way, but in international hoops, that's the only way. There's a reason didn't crack double-figures the year before he was drafted by the .

So, Vlade quit smoking, for the rest of the week at least, and the Yugoslavians have to try and salvage something from this tournament. We Americans will never understand, we can't be bothered with our own team (you know is the leading scorer, do you know the second?), and we couldn't possibly comprehend what a .500 run through the Worlds would mean to our national psyche.

To some, in America, it would be embarrassing.

To the vast majority, over there, it would be devastating.

THE DISTILLERY

Fran Blinebury on Yaomania ... It's Paul McCartney, and not David Stern, that is keeping the out of New Orleans ... Another good signing for the , as it appears that Pepe Sanchez is on board.

Tagged: Pelicans, Kings

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