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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Team USA Narrowly Beats Brazil, 90-86

Brazil pounded the U.S. on the boards 41-25 and used a 16-0 run at the start of the second half to take a 54-52 lead, but the U.S. held on for a 90-86 victory in their third exhibition game. Brazil's dominance inside versus the U.S. is even more impressive considering that Nene, who just re-signed with the Denver Nuggets, did not play because of his knee injury. Dwight Howard led Team USA in rebounding with just five.

Anderson Varejao led the charge inside for Brazil with 11 points and 16 rebounds, but fouled out when he got a technical foul for complaining about a double dribble call against Wellington Dos Santos. Leandro Barbosa and Alex Garcia led Brazil in scoring with 14 points each. Carmelo Anthony had a game-high 16 points despite hyperextending his knee late in the first half. He did not return to action but initial reports are that the injury is not believed to be serious.

LeBron James had an off game, shooting just 3-8 from the field and finishing with only 11 points, but he did make a key basket on a baseline drive with 34 seconds left, giving the U.S. a three point lead. Kirk Hinrich scored 14 points and made all eight of his free throws. Dwyane Wade committed five fouls in only 10 minutes of playing time, contributing just four points and three assists. Like Varejao, he fouled out as a result of a technical foul, which he got for arguing about his fourth foul with 8:50 remaining in the third quarter.

This game shows why the U.S. is now requiring a three year commitment from team members and why a lot of practice is necessary for the U.S. to be successful in FIBA play. It is no longer possible for America to just throw a team together and defeat national teams that have played together for years under international rules.

posted by David Friedman @ 6:30 PM


Monday, August 07, 2006

Team USA Wins Second Exhibition Game, Trouncing China 119-73

They have only played two exhibition games so far, but Team USA has won both games by margins that are reminiscent of the original (and only) Dream Team. The latest victim was China, which committed 34 turnovers and lost 119-73. Yao Ming and Wang Zhizhi did not play for China, but the big story is how successfully the U.S. is employing pressure defense to force turnovers and create easy scoring opportunities. It remains to be seen if the U.S. will be able to perform this well against the best international teams when the games count but the good news is that Coach Mike Krzyzewski and his staff have this team playing the right way, to use the slogan of the team's previous coach, Larry Brown--who was unable to get his charges to do that in the brief preparation time before the 2004 Olympics.

The U.S. started LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Gilbert Arenas, Joe Johnson and Shane Battier, but the minutes were very evenly distributed: no one played more than 19 minutes or less than 11. James led all scorers with 22 points in only 18 minutes. Five other U.S. players scored in double figures--Carmelo Anthony (18), Brad Miller (14), Elton Brand (13), Dwyane Wade (13) and Chris Bosh (10). Wade led the U.S. in assists (six) and steals (five) and tied for the team lead with six rebounds.

Team USA only led 24-19 after the first quarter but had a commanding 60-37 halftime advantage. The U.S. also got off to a slow start versus Puerto Rico a few days ago. This could just be the result of jitters or a consequence of the various lineups getting used to playing with each other. It is important to remember that other countries' national teams practice together much longer than Team USA does, so sometimes the U.S. has players on the court who have only played together in All-Star games, if at all.

The U.S. shot 13-28 from three point range, with eight players nailing at least one trey. Contrary to the laments of Steven A. Smith and others, shooting will not be a problem for this team--nor was it even the biggest issue for recent U.S. teams that failed to meet expectations. The key for the U.S. is to limit their opponents' three point shooting, force turnovers and create high percentage scoring opportunities. Previous U.S. teams shot poorly because of poor shot selection, poor floor balance and because they felt added pressure because they were playing from behind so often. Remember, the FIBA three point shot is more than three feet closer than the NBA trey--it is just a tad further out than the midrange jumpers that Wade drains regularly and that several other team members also have in their repertoire. 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.

posted by David Friedman @ 11:51 PM