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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Team USA Clinches Berth in Round of 16 With 114-95 Win Over Slovenia

Team USA overcame what Carmelo Anthony described as a "sluggish" start to post a 114-95 win over Slovenia and thus earn a berth in the round of 16 at the FIBA World Championships. The top four finishers in each six team preliminary group advance to the next round. The only question now is what seed Team USA will earn. Team USA's next game will be against Italy, the only other Group D squad with a 3-0 record.

Slovenia led 21-16 with 2:45 remaining in the first quarter but Team USA forced several turnovers and went on a 14-6 run to go ahead 30-27 by the end of the period. Keeping track of the exact score again proved to be an adventure; ESPN2's graphic going into the commercial break after the first quarter said that the score was 30-28 but when the second quarter began ESPN2 changed the score to 30-27 without explanation.

Even more inexplicable than that was the sight of the slow-footed Slovenian team trying to play an uptempo game against Team USA, leading to numerous Slovenian turnovers that were converted into U.S. transition baskets. A beautiful lob to Dwyane Wade after a back screen by Chris Bosh put the U.S. up 64-46 late in the second quarter and Team USA led 66-49 at halftime. Slovenia committed 16 first half turnovers. Team USA pushed the margin to 91-70 by the end of the third quarter and started the fourth quarter with a 7-0 run in the first 1:23. After that, Team USA became a little lackadaisical and Slovenia managed to get within 105-94 at the 2:28 mark. Wade's putback with 2:03 remaining made the score 107-94 and squashed any notion that Slovenia might use a flurry of three pointers to come all the way back. Wade led Team USA with 20 points and four steals. LeBron James (19), Elton Brand (16) and Carmelo Anthony (14) also scored in double figures. Sani Becirovic, a 6-5 guard, led Slovenia with 18 points, while Primoz Brezec had 15 points and 12 rebounds.

Wade is Team USA's scoring leader so far (19.7 ppg), followed by Anthony (17.0 ppg) and James (15.0 ppg). Wade is fourth in scoring overall, trailing China's Yao Ming (26.7 ppg) and the Puerto Rican backcourt duo of Carlos Arroyo (25.7 ppg) and Elias Ayuso (20.3 ppg). Dwight Howard is Team USA's top rebounder (6.7 rpg), while Chris Paul has the most assists (8.7 apg) and steals (3.5 spg). Paul ranks first in the tournament in assists per game and assist to turnover ratio (26 assists against only three turnovers) and is tied for second in steals.

Team USA ranks first in scoring offense (115.3 ppg) by a wide margin but is 22nd out of 24 teams in scoring defense (95.0 ppg). As Hubie Brown would surely mention, the most telling statistic regarding team defense is point differential and the U.S. is third in that category (20.3) behind Argentina (29.0) and Spain (27.0), who not coincidentally are considered two of the top contenders to win the gold medal. The story is similar when you look at field goal percentages--the U.S. is shooting the ball well, but so are their opponents. Ominously, Team USA ranks dead last in defensive three point field goal percentage (.468). France (.246), Argentina (.246) and Spain (.286) are the three best teams at guarding the three point line. While Steven A. Smith and others have bemoaned the supposed lack of shooters on the U.S. team, that has not been a problem either during the exhibition tour or the prelminary games--fueled by a robust transition game, Team USA ranks first in field goal percentage (.526) and is even shooting an adequate .373 on three pointers (10th best). However, as I wrote on August 7, "The ease of making that FIBA three is why so many international teams shoot it so much and why it is of paramount importance that Team USA actively and aggressively defends against the motion offenses and multiple screens that those teams use to create open threes. The U.S. can win either by making a lot of threes or very few--but if the U.S. opponents are draining a lot of threes and shooting a good percentage that will be a recipe for trouble." The U.S. will have to do a better job of defending the three point line to beat teams like Argentina, Spain and France; the only alternative will be to force an incredible amount of turnovers, but it will be much more difficult to do that against those teams than it has been versus what ESPN2's Fran Fraschilla calls the "non-conference" portion of the schedule.

posted by David Friedman @ 3:51 AM

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