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Friday, August 24, 2007

Redd Hot: Michael Redd, Carmelo Anthony Each Score 22 Points as Team USA Routs U.S. Virgin Islands, 123-59

Team USA led 42-13 after the first quarter and was never seriously threatened in a 123-59 win over the U.S. Virgin Islands in their second game of the FIBA Americas tournament. Team USA again went with a starting lineup of Jason Kidd, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard. Anthony and Michael Redd shared game-high scoring honors for the second game in a row, this time with 22 points apiece. Tayshaun Prince led both teams with 12 rebounds, making up for his lack of offensive production (two points on 1-7 shooting). James and Kidd each had a game-high five assists, while Anthony, Bryant and Deron Williams each had four assists.

Team USA did not initially match the defensive intensity that it displayed at the start of the Venezuela game and the U.S. Virgin Islands briefly enjoyed a 4-2 lead. Team USA promptly went on a 15-5 run, as Bryant--who set the defensive tone in the previous game--contributed a steal, two assists and a three pointer. Bryant picked up his second foul at the 6:14 mark and sat out the rest of the first quarter. Against Venezuela, Team USA looked sluggish without Bryant but this time around Team USA did not miss a beat, scoring 17 straight points. Redd, who came into the game for Bryant, scored 15 points in the first quarter, with nine of them coming on three pointers. Team USA shot 8-10 from three point range, with Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Bryant, Mike Miller and Redd each making at least one shot from beyond the arc.

Team USA went into a bit of a lull in the second quarter and actually lost ground slightly in the first 3:27 as Bryant continued to remain on the bench. Even his return at the 6:33 mark did not provide much of a boost, as Team USA only outscored the U.S. Virgin Islands 14-13 before Bryant picked up his third foul with 2:13 left in the half. Bryant went back to the bench and Team USA finished the half with a 66-39 lead, despite being outscored 26-24 in the quarter. Team USA stepped on the gas pedal right from the start of the third quarter and led 90-46 with 2:20 left when Bryant sat down and applied ice to his knees, this squad's version of Red Auerbach's fabled victory cigar. Bryant finished with nine points, four assists and one steal. Team USA played well when he was on the court, with a scoring differential of 60-35, but also played well when he was out of the game, posting a scoring differential of 63-24. One cause for concern is that Bryant has picked up two quick fouls in both games and has had three fouls by halftime in each contest. This did not matter much against inferior teams but could be a problem against the better FIBA teams, if not in this event then in the 2008 Olympics. This is Bryant's first time playing in a FIBA competition, where the officiating is quirky to say the least. Tim Duncan was in constant foul trouble in the 2004 Olympics and vowed to never again play FIBA basketball. Bryant must adjust quickly to the officiating so that he can remain on the court in games when Team USA is more seriously challenged.

The 64 point margin of victory is the second best for Team USA in FIBA Americas tournament play, eclipsing a 60 point win by the 1992 Dream Team over Panama and a 58 point blowout of the U.S. Virgin Islands in 2003. Obviously, the U.S. Virgin Islands team is one of the weaker squads in this event, so we cannot draw any sweeping conclusions from this game. Team USA held the U.S. Virgin Islands to 17-65 shooting (.262), including 4-23 from three point range. That in turn led to many open court scoring opportunities, as Team USA shot 43-72 (.597), including a blistering 15-30 from three point range (.500). Note, though, that even if Team USA had missed every single three pointer they still would have won by 19; Team USA can win FIBA games whether or not they shoot the three pointer well, because the key is shutting down the other team's three point attack without falling prey to an endless parade of layups off of the pick and roll play. Of course, we will have to see this version of Team USA play against some stronger competition before we know whether or not they are up to that task. Team USA gets Friday off and then will conclude Group B play with games against Canada on Saturday and Brazil on Sunday.

With two games in the books, here is a brief look at how each Team USA player has performed (listed in order of minutes played, with ties broken by points scored):

Tayshaun Prince (43 minutes, six points, 17 rebounds, six assists): He has shot just 3-13 from the field (.231) but, as always, his floor game and defense are excellent. He has received "extensive gar-bage time" minutes in the two blowouts.

Michael Redd (39 minutes, 39 points, three rebounds, six assists): He has shot 14-26 from the field (.538), including 7-14 from three point range. His main job is to put the ball in the basket and he has done just that.

LeBron James (38 minutes, 19 points, four rebounds, eight assists): He has shot 9-11 from the field (.818), wisely eschewing three point attempts (0-0) for driving dunks.

Amare Stoudemire (35 minutes, 29 points, eight rebounds, two assists): He has shot 10-11 from the field (.909), mostly on rim bending dunks.

Mike Miller (35 minutes, 23 points, six rebounds, one assist): He has shot 9-22 from the field (.409), including 5-15 from three point range (.333). Either his shooting percentage needs to increase or his minutes and shot attempts need to decrease.

Deron Williams (35 minutes, 16 points, one rebound, five assists): He has shot 6-10 from the field (.600) and has been solid, if not spectacular, though most of his playing time has come with Team USA way in front.

Carmelo Anthony (33 minutes, 39 points, 10 rebounds, four assists): He has shot 12-22 from the field (.545), including 3-7 from three point range (.429). Anthony is a pure scorer who can get his points from anywhere on the court. His rebounding and passing have been good but the big question with him will be how well he plays defense against the better teams.

Kobe Bryant (32 minutes, 23 points, five rebounds, nine assists): He has shot 7-12 from the field (.583), including 3-4 from three point range (.750). Surprising his naysayers, Bryant is tied with Kidd for the team lead in assists, is nowhere close to the team lead in shot attempts and has spearheaded the team's defensive attack. He and Kidd are without question the team's leaders. The only blemish for Bryant so far is that he has been in early foul trouble in both games.

Jason Kidd (32 minutes, three points, five rebounds, nine assists): He has shot 1-1 from the field but his defense, ballhandling (just two turnovers) and leadership make him one of the most valuable members of the team. Kidd epitomizes why the worth of some players simply cannot be appreciated just by looking at the boxscore.

Chauncey Billups (30 minutes, 11 points, two rebounds, five assists): He has shot 4-9 from the field (.444), including 3-7 from three point range (.429). Like Williams, Billups has been solid while getting most of his playing time with Team USA enjoying commanding leads.

Dwight Howard (29 minutes, 21 points, 12 rebounds, 0 assists): He has shot 6-9 from the field (.667) but has struggled at the free throw line (9-16; .563). Howard's minutes will increase against the stronger teams and he is almost certain to lead Team USA in rebounding by the end of the tournament.

Tyson Chandler (26 minutes, six points, nine rebounds, 0 assists): He has shot 3-3 from the field. Chandler is an offensively limited player whose job is to rebound and block shots. His minutes and production do not figure to increase.

Anthony and Redd are the scoring leaders (19.5 ppg), Prince is the surprise rebounding leader (8.5 rpg) and Bryant and Kidd are the co-leaders in assists (4.5 apg). Bryant and Kidd have been the best perimeter defenders and have set the tone for the entire team at that end of the court. Howard is the leading shot blocker (2.5 bpg) but Stoudemire and Chandler have also done a good job of protecting the paint. The blowout wins have enabled Coach Krzyzewski to distribute the minutes very evenly but as the competition becomes tougher look for Bryant, Anthony, James, Kidd, Howard, Stoudemire and Redd to get the bulk of the playing time. Redd's shooting has been a nice bonus in the first two games against overmatched opponents but the key to victory against the best FIBA teams will be good, solid defense; that will enable Team USA to get plenty of open court scoring opportunities either in the form of uncontested three pointers in transition or soaring dunks by the squad's numerous great finishers.

posted by David Friedman @ 3:18 AM

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