As Spurs know, int’l play­ers can im­pact play­offs

The China Post - - SPORTS - BY BRIAN MA­HONEY

Kawhi Leonard was the MVP of last year’s NBA Fi­nals, though the San An­to­nio Spurs wouldn’t have won with­out their in­cred­i­ble in­ter­na­tional pres­ence. The victory cel­e­bra­tion was a flag-wav­ing party for play­ers who came to San An­to­nio from around the globe. They had nine play­ers born out­side the U.S., all of whom are back this sea­son as the Spurs try to win back-to-back ti­tles for the first time.

Tony Parker (France) and Manu Gi­no­bili ( Ar­gentina) are stars, but key con­tri­bu­tions from play- ers such as Boris Diaw (France), Ti­ago Split­ter (Brazil), Marco Be­linelli (Italy) and Patty Mills (Australia) made it easy for the Spurs to dom­i­nate Miami in five games.

Split­ter missed the fi­nal six games of the regular sea­son with a right calf in­jury and the Spurs hope he can play in their se­ries against the Clip­pers and big men Blake Grif­fin and De­An­dre Jor­dan.

The NBA says there are a record 58 play­ers from out­side the U.S. on the rosters of the 16 teams who will begin the play­offs Satur­day. While Dirk Now­itzki and Pau and Marc Ga­sol are All­Stars, many of the in­ter­na­tional play­ers are lesser known but still crit­i­cal to their teams’ suc­cess.

With that in mind, a look at some un­der the radar in­ter­na­tional play­ers to watch in the play­offs:

NIKOLA MIROTIC, BULLS: The Ser­bian by way of the Span­ish league was one of the top rook­ies in the NBA this sea­son, av­er­ag­ing 20.8 points in March, when he led the league in fourth-quar­ter scor­ing. That helped Chicago over­come a se­ries of in­juries, and the Bulls need the 6-foot-10 for­ward to con­tinue mak­ing an im­pact now that they’re healthy.

TI­MOFEY MOZ­GOV, CAVA­LIERS: LeBron James, Kyrie Irv­ing and Kevin Love will do most of the scor­ing, but the Cava­liers will need their big Rus­sian cen­ter to do some stop­ping, par­tic­u­larly if they face the Bulls and their col­lec­tion of post play­ers in the sec­ond round.

BO­JAN BOG­DANOVIC, NETS: The rookie from Croa­tia av­er­aged 17.4 points and made 51 per­cent of his 3-point shots in the fi­nal seven games, in­clud­ing a ca­reerbest 28 in the sea­son- end­ing victory over Or­lando that helped Brook­lyn earn the fi­nal play­off spot. He was voted the Eastern Con­fer­ence rookie of the month for April.

JONAS VALAN­CI­U­NAS, RAP­TORS, AND MARCIN GOR­TAT, WIZ­ARDS: Sure, the ob­vi­ous at­ten­tion on the Wash­ing­tonToronto se­ries is on the out­stand- ing back­courts, the Rap­tors’ Kyle Lowry and De­Mar DeRozan against John Wall and Bradley Beal of the Wiz­ards. So a se­ries that’s ex­pected to be close could be determined by the men in the mid­dle, the mus­cu­lar Valan­ci­u­nas (Lithua­nia) and Gor­tat (Poland).

BENO UDRIH, GRIZZLIES: Miami’s Go­ran Dragic may be the best Slove­nian point guard in the NBA, but he’s not in the play­offs. Udrih is and could have an im­por­tant role for Mem­phis with start­ing point guard Mike Con­ley bat­tling a foot in­jury. He av­er­aged 11.4 points in the fi­nal five games, start­ing four, in­clud­ing a sea­son-high 20 on April 10 at Utah.

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