The 6-foot-5 Hart fit like a glove with Team USA’s starting unit as he led them again in rebounding en route to a 110-62 rout of Jordan to sweep Group C in the 2023 FIBA World Cup.
Hart replaced his former teammate at New Orleans, Pelicans star Brandon Ingram.
“They thought it was a better fit for me playing with Tyrese and playing with some guys that are a little less ball-dominant than Jalen and Ant,” Ingram told Yahoo Sports. “They just talked about it being a better fit, and I agreed with them.”
According to the Yahoo Sports report, Ingram was informed about his demotion to the second unit Wednesday morning ahead of the match.
“I was able to get prepared for it,” Ingram added. “It was just a different lineup, and I was excited about the opportunity.”
Ingram benefited from the lineup change as he matched his scoring total over Team USA’s first two games with seven points on 3-of-7 shooting. He looked more comfortable playing with a pass-first point guard in Tyrese Haliburton.
On the other hand, Hart grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds on top of two points, three assists and one steal. His defensive hustle and instant chemistry with Brunson and Bridges served as the connector in the starting unit that jumped into a 7-0 start and a 20-4 lead in the first five minutes of the game.
His Knicks teammate Brunson had 10 points, four assists, one rebound and a steal while shooting 5-of-8 from the floor.
In the second round, Hart and Brunson will meet Montenegro, featuring Chicago Bulls’ All-Star center Nikola Vucevic, and Lithuania, led by Knicks’ 2021 second-round pick Rokas Jokubaitis.
Evan Fournier Cracks Top 6 World Cup Leading Scorers
Knicks disgruntled guard Evan Fournier showcased he’s still a formidable scoring option, leading France in scoring with 21.7 points per game, which is good for sixth in the tournament.
Fournier is only trailing Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic of Slovenia (30.0), former first-round pick Rondae Hollis Jefferson, naturalized player for Jordan (27.7), Utah Jazz’s Filipino-American guard Jordan Clarkson of the Philippines (24.0), Japan’s naturalized player Joshua Hawkinson (23.3) and Oklahoma City Thunder’s All-NBA guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of Canada (22.0).
Fournier is shooting 48% overall and 37% from long distance, relishing his opportunity to play big minutes after getting buried on the Knicks bench last season.
But despite his scoring exploits, France was eliminated from medal contention after its disappointing 1-2 record in Group H, including an embarrassing 30-point loss to Canada in the opener.
RJ Barrett Rues Missed Free Throws
Knicks starter RJ Barrett had an efficient shooting night on the floor for the second straight game to help Canada recover from a slow start in a 101-75 victory over Latvia on Tuesday.
While he was 9-of-14 from the field and 4-of-6 from the 3-point distance, he rued his poor free throw shooting.
“The last couple of games were a lot better for me. So, I’m just trying to continue to do that. I got to make some free throws, though,” Barrett told Sportsnet Canada after sweeping Group H.
Barrett is averaging 14.7 points on 47.2% overall and 42.1% from behind the arc but only shooting 25% from the stripes in the tournament.
Alder Almo is a basketball journalist covering the New York Knicks and Golden State Warirors for Heavy. He has more than 15 years of experience in local and international media, including broadcast, print and digital. He previously covered the Knicks for Empire Sports Media and the NBA for Off the Glass. Alder is from the Philippines and is now based in Jersey City, New Jersey. More about Alder Almo
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