World Championships update

Only a couple of months ago, it looked as if the Lakers could be well represented at the FIBA World Championship running from now through Sept. 3 in Japan. (If you’re up at 3:30 a.m. Tuesday, check out the USA/Slovenia game on ESPN2.)

Then Lamar Odom had to withdraw from USA Basketball training camp after the death of his infant son and Kobe Bryant followed suit after undergoing knee surgery. Sasha Vujacic and Vladimir Radmanovic both declined to play for their national teams. That left only second-year forward Ronny Turiaf, who is playing for the France.

So far, Turiaf hasn’t gotten a lot of minutes playing behind Frederic Weis and Boris Diaw. France is 2-1 in Group A, having beaten Serbia and Nigeria and lost to Argentina. Turiaf played nine minutes against Argentina, six minutes against Serbia and none against Nigeria. His combined numbers: Three points and seven rebounds.

But Turiaf has a chance to get a medal out of his summer. France figures to finish second in Group A behind Argentina and advance to the Round of 16. They could see Angola to open the single-elimination phase, then Greece or Puerto Rico in the quarterfinals and either the U.S. or Germany in the semifinals.

* * *

I’m always intrigued to see what Darko Milicic can do with minutes, and he’s gotten his share in the World Championships. Milicic went just 2 of 11 from the field and scored 5 points against Nigeria in Serbia’s opener. But he bounced back with 14 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocks against France and with 18 points in 24 minutes against Lebanon.

This will be an interesting season for Milicic in Orlando. The Pistons exercised the fourth-year option in his contract last October, leaving Milicic a restricted free agent come next summer. Milicic, who turned 21 only this June, played more minutes in 30 games with the Magic last season than in 2 1/2 seasons in Detroit before that.

* * *

The importance of the World Championships can’t be overstated for the U.S. team. Either they win the gold and automatically qualify for the 2008 Olympics or they have to head to Venezuela – – not exactly an American ally – – next summer for the FIBA Tournament of the Americas.