Thursday, August 03, 2006

We're gonna come at you like a spider-monkey!

In between long bouts of jobless boredom and short periods of furious writing, I've been trying to stay on top of this year's USA basketball team, because, let's face it, any team with D. Wade, Carmelo and LeBron on the same roster just begs to be noticed. They're playing their first exhibition game right now in Vegas against Team Puerto Rico, running away with a 38-point lead. But before we get our hopes up (or brush aside a game that doesn't really matter), we would do well to remember a few things.

Most prominently, we handed Puerto Rico their asses in a 2004 exhibition game, only to have our asses handed to us later that year when we opened up against team PR in our first Olympic game. Team USA ended up going 5-3 in Olympic play, barely holding on for a bronze medal finish.

This time around, the US has gone for a more symmetrical approach in constructing their roster. This team has more balance, fewer holes, and is quicker and younger than the last squad. And new US coach Mike Krzyzewski has been emphasizing to his players the importance of their playing as a team -- in fact, THE team -- representing their country.

Out of the gate tonight we saw a team USA struggling to apply full-court pressure to a very quick Puerto Rican team. One advantage of having a coach like Coach K running this team is the respect he affords. If he wants them to play the game with a more international flavor, that's exactly what they'll do -- going back to college play with the full court press and strict zone defense. After a shaky first quarter, team USA pulled it together to take a permanent lead; and as the take-aways and fast court breaks started piling up, so did the point spread.

That trio of Wade, Anthony and James really is something to write home about, but the most important thing we saw tonight is the willingness of every man on the court to find the open shooter, whether in the lane or on the perimeter. Chris Paul's passing game is flawless. Kirk Hinrich and Gilbert Arenas bring an outside game that the 2004 Olympic team was sorely lacking. And with youth comes a hunger that might have been missing from that team as well.

This was the first in a series of games leading up to their first prelim on August 19th in the 2006 FIBA World Championship. Their next exhibition games come on the 7th and 8th in China against the Chinese and Brazilian national teams, followed by a five team, international mini-tournament in South Korea. And after that, the games start counting. Only time will tell if team USA decides to bring their A-game this time around.

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