Team USA wrapped up their five-game exhibition tour against Spain on Tuesday with a 100-78 runaway victory. With the Olympic games getting underway with the opening ceremonies taking place on Friday, the USA men’s basketball team will begin their play in Pool A against France on Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
Argentina, Lithuania, Nigeria and Tunisia accompany France and the United States in Pool A while Australia, Brazil, China, Great Britain, Russia and Spain form Pool B. The four highest-ranked teams in each group after the round robin preliminary games are finished on Monday, August 6 will then advance to the Quarterfinals.
Team USA created a lot of buzz when Kobe Bryant proclaimed that this year’s Olympic team could upend the 1992 Dream Team that won their game by an average of more than 40 points per contest. After those remarks the Americans struggled to get by Brazil in their second exhibition game and even staved off a loss from Argentina before their matchup against Spain. Bryant has never been one to renege his comments, but after an average showing before the games in London the five-time champion may have to rethink what he said about a team without stars such as Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard and Dwyane Wade.
There are a lot of interesting story lines heading into the summer games this year, but here are five things that I took away from watching the United States in their exhibition games.
1. What the U.S. lacks in height they make up for with speed
Team USA has one traditional rim protector in the 7′ 1″ Tyson Chandler, but will that be enough if by chance they happen to meet up with Brazil or Spain again? The New York Knick center will need all the help he can get from Kevin Love and Anthony Davis, who is taking the spot of injured USA teammate Blake Griffin. I’m not too concerned about the evident height problem that they have because of the speed that head coach Mike Krzyzewski can put on the floor at any time.
Take a lineup of Chris Paul at point guard, Kobe Bryant at the two guard, Kevin Durant and LeBron James at the forwards and Carmelo Anthony at the five (James can also play this position, along with any other) and you have a team that can bury any opponent within the span of the first quarter. In the five-game exhibition series Coach K used Chandler, Paul, Bryant, Durant, Anthony, James and Deron Williams as starters, most of the time in different position sets. So anything is possible.
2. Kobe Bryant may have a loud mouth, but he can still back it up
Kobe Bryant made some highly-debated comments about how the Olympic team he is on this year could take on the 1992 Dream Team in their prime and win. A 13-year-old Bryant grew up watching every game that the so-called “best team ever assembled,” but that hardly brings validation to anything Kobe has said in the past few weeks.
Bryant, who averaged 8.2 points in the exhibition games leading up to the Olympics in London, came into the training sessions 16 pounds lighter. For a 33-year-old veteran that is pretty impressive and shows that he is determined to win another gold medal. Playing with young and talented players such as James, Durant and Anthony means that Kobe won’t be taking as many shots as he’s used to, but the usually-selfish guard is ready to contribute in any way he can to achieve the goal they have all set out to reach.
3. LeBron James needs to be the new leader of Team USA now and looking into the future
The 27-year-old James has become the face of USA basketball. Since winning his first championship the Miami Heat forward has been talked about as the best basketball player in the world and is one of the most polarizing faces in American sports. He can play any position on the court, making him one of the most valuable assets to the U.S. Olympic squad.
What I’m looking for in James these coming weeks will not be found on the stat sheet. I’m looking for an on-court leader, someone who won’t give up on a play, smart shot selection, a full-court assault on offense and for him to make the extra pass instead of forcing a tough shot. If LeBron can do that, I think he will be the voice of Team USA in 2016. By then he will be 31 years old.
4. Carmelo Anthony’s big game against Spain is only a preview of what we will see
Anthony exploded off the bench in Team USA’s final exhibition game against Spain, scoring 27 and making 10 of 15 shots from the field. With elite forwards such as James and Durant getting the most attention, the Knicks star played great off the bench whenever he wasn’t starting and shot 52.2 percent from the field.
With that said, it’s not surprise that the bench players received the bulk of the minutes in the games prior to the Olympics. Anthony, whether he is starting or coming off the bench, will see an increase in minutes anywhere from five to 10 minutes. The U.S. shouldn’t play many close games in the 2012 games, but whenever coach Krzyzewski needs someone to close out a game, Anthony will get the call.
5. Don’t be fooled by Team USA’s blowout of Spain, as they were without Marc Gasol and gave the U.S. problems in the 2008 gold medal game
In the 2008 summer games Team USA met up with Spain in the Second Round and won by a margin of 37 points. Then Spain came back in the gold medal game, losing by 11 points after fighting close with the Americans in the final three quarters of play. Although Spain had Ricky Rubio by their side in Beijing, they have a new secret weapon in store for Coach K and the United States with Serge Ibaka.
The Oklahoma City Thunder shot blocker registered 16 points, scoring early and often in the first quarter. Pau Gasol of the Los Angeles Lakers netted six shots and also made six from the line, totaling 19 points. With Marc Gasol added to the mix, the Spaniards have a huge height advantage against the Americans. I’m not taking the United States’ victory against Spain very seriously because Marc was missing. Look for a much closer game and a much tougher matchup if these two teams meet again.
July 12 — USA 113, Dominican Republic 59
July 16 — USA 80, Brazil 69
July 19 — USA 118, Great Britain 78
July 22 — USA 86, Argentina 80
July 24 — USA 100, Spain 78
July 29, 2:30 p.m. — USA vs. France
July 31, 10:15 p.m. — USA vs. Tunisia
August 2, 10:15 p.m. — USA vs. Nigeria
August 4, 2:30 p.m. — USA vs. Lithuania
August 6, 10:15 p.m. — USA vs. Argentina