Please excuse my sideways video, I am not a YouTube expert.
Please excuse my sideways video, I am not a YouTube expert.
At this time we have no idea what kind of rotations that coach Mike Krzyzewski will use for Team USA. He has a roster loaded with talent especially in the fields of athleticism and speed. Therefore, fans of basketball should be in for a treat once Olympic basketball tips off in London.
The roster has been set. Lineups, however, are a whole other animal. With a team so repeat with talent, finding the right combination of efficient chemistry could take time, yet, with the summer games set to begin in a few short weeks, time is of the essence.
One thing we do know is that Coach K plans to have LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Kevin Durant on the court at the same time for heavy minutes. These players can be cycled through any position that a given lineup has to offer from one through five. They will likely be paired with Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant giving Team USA a college feel with a two guards and three forwards set, forgoing the traditional center.
Team USA does have one center on its roster in Tyson Chandler. Honestly, if Chandler does start a game it will be for appearances only or to compete with the bigs of Spain. Other than that, his role should be limited in London. This is a hybrid team with players who can play multiple positions. Why bow to archaic positional traps? That is not what Team USA is about anymore. 2010 solidified that when the team that won gold at the World Championships started Lamar Odom at center.
Traditionalists may warn that smaller lineups will pose defensive shortcomings in the half court but that is if we assume that opposing teams have fluid, unchallenged ball movement and can work the ball into the post or lane. Reports coming out of Las Vegas, where Team USA was holding practice and scrimmages with the Team USA Select team, noted that the Select backcourt of John Wall, Kyrie Irving, and Jrue Holiday were harried from the moment the ball was inbounded and they were tasked with bringing it up court.
This stifling full court defense will be a staple of Team USA. It allows the team to play smaller, more versatile lineups and prevent opponents from easily setting up their offense potentially forcing plenty of turnovers in the process. Smothering the ball as they will could draw comparisons to when Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen traded off guarding Toni Kukoc in the 1992 Olympics. Take the ball out of the hands of the playmaker or the opponent’s best player and that team stands little chance.
The key defenders that will be tasked with harassing the ball will be Bryant, though the oldest player on the team he can still muster good defensive possessions, Paul, Deron Williams, James Harden, and most importantly James and Andre Iguodala, whose admission to the final roster was likely based on his defense. Aside from Paul, each of these players can defend multiple positions with James and Iguodala being able to guard anything from a point guard to a power forward. James could also be asked to defend centers. He has that ability.
In fact, that defensive versatility is what makes this team so astounding. Referring back to the lineup of Paul, Bryant, Durant, Anthony, and James, these players can guard almost anyone, towering centers aside. Both James and Anthony proved they could defend power forwards during the NBA regular season and playoffs while Bryant and Durant are suited to guard wings. If their pressure defense works as well as it can, opposing centers could be taken out of the equation all together with ball denial.
However, where versatility is the biggest asset is on offense. Team USA should blaze up and down the court. Key to this will be rebounding. Since the team is relatively undersized it would make sense that Kevin Love should see more playing time on this squad than he did in Turkey, where he was an unbelievably efficient player. His knack for rebounding in volume and his ability to pass into the break plays into the speed that this team possesses. A scenario where Love gets a rebound, hits Westbrook/Paul/Williams with the outlet pass, and the play finishes with a layup, lob, or dunk is very real.
Imagine the above scenario and picture Blake Griffin as the one scoring at the end of the break. Enough said. That is what makes this team so dangerous and why the anticipation for the games to begin that much greater.
Even if a team slows down Team USA, they have a savvy floor general in Paul who can dissect a defense with his passing, and Westbrook to run a pick and roll or find and open shooter. There is no shortage of premier shooters on this roster.
The hardest part, right now, is building a cohesive unit, with interchangeable parts, capable of adapting and excelling in every situation. With a roster as loaded as this one and with the general camaraderie amongst players in the league, not to mention many of these players having played together before, everything should fall into place nicely.
Before Olympic play begins, Team USA will play in several “friendlies” just to wet out appetite.
July 12 vs. the Dominican Republic
July 16 vs. Brazil
July 22 vs. Argentina
July 24 vs. Spain
The final roster that will represent the United States in Olympic men’s basketball has been set and is comprised of players who have almost all played for Team USA before.
LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Tyson Chandler, Blake Griffin, Andre Iguodala, and James Harden are headed to London later this month to compete for the gold medal. They are the favorites to win.
Griffin and Harden are the only players on the roster to have not played on Team USA in international competition before. They, along with Iguodala, were the final three players to be added to the roster. They beat out the likes of Eric Gordon and Rudy Gay, who played on the FIBA World Championship team in 2010, and Anthony Davis, the first overall selection in the 2012 NBA Draft.
Team USA was plagued with former members withdrawing from eligibility throughout the month of June. Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Derrick Rose, all who were locks to play in London, opted out of play, mostly due to injuries.
The omission of such All Stars led some to be concerned about the United States’ chances at defending the gold. However, with the roster they have assembled for London, those doubts should vanish.
The final three players selected are essentially no brainers. Harden, who had a rather rough time in the NBA Finals, is a good scorer with size who should do well in international competition coming off the bench. He an Gordon are almost interchangeable in terms of scoring ability but Harden is lengthier and has a knack for long range shots.
Iguodala played a crucial role on the “B-Team” during the Worlds in Turkey in 2010. He was the premier perimeter defender on the squad with his defense leading to plenty of transition opportunities for a team that was lightning fast.
As for Griffin making the roster over Davis, well, yeah, of course. If Davis and his propensity to groom himself as an homage to Frida Kahlo had made the roster he would be relegated to the role of Christian Laettner. Griffin is there because he can do this and this and this. Frederick Weis should be glad he doesn’t play anymore.
Though Chandler is the only legitimate center on the team, Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski has shown a willingness, especially with the 2010 team, to employ an unconventional or hybrid lineup. This incarnation of Team USA presents matchup options across the board with James’ ability to post up, Durant’s length and shooting ability, and Love’s ability to stretch the floor, opening up lanes for the likes of Westbrook, Williams, and virtually every player on the roster. And as Marc Stein points out, this team has some pretty good jump shooters as well.
Starting lineups have yet to be set but it would not be surprising if Chandler came off the bench depending on the matchups. This is the best team heading into the Olympics. Spain is a close second but they do not have the shear determination to win that Bryant brings to the table. That and the bonuses from all the endorsements.
Doyle Rader: With the Miami Heat one win away from their second ever NBA title, now is as good a time as any for us to talk about the Finals. Last night, the Thunder, namely Russell Westbrook, threw everything they had at the Heat in an attempt to tie the series but came up just short as they have in every game since Game 1. Plenty of people are singling out Westbrook for the foul he committed on Mario Chalmers with 15 seconds left in the game as the moment the Thunder lost the game. (They were down three points at that time.) Yet, this is a complete overreaction to the play in my opinion. If it wasn’t for Westbrook in the first place the Thunder would have likely not even been in this game. He poured in 43 points on 20 made field goals. Everything was falling for him last night. It was a performance on par with what Rajon Rondo did against the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. During the presser LeBron James even likened those two performances to each other. It seems to me that a new narrative (it isn’t that new actually) is forming around Westbrook, scapegoating him, doubting him, much in the same ilk that James has dealt with throughout his career. However, James is on the cusp of shattering his previous narrative and the baggage that came with it.
Travis Huse: If we’re looking at problems here, it’s not Westy. Harden went
2-10 last night and finished with 8 points, and here’s the part where I tell
you that he was still third in the Thunder’s point totals. They managed to
beat the Spurs with an effective team play atmosphere, and they’ve lost the
contributions from Harden and Serge Ibaka. Smart team play can defeat Miami, but pitting a “Big 2” against a “Big 3” is suicide.
Casual basketball fans tend to place much more emphasis on offense than
defense, and that’s the population most affected by Anti-Westbrook Fever.
But you can’t overlook how the Heat have been able to control the tempo of
the game, and Harden looks thrown off. He was 2-10 on Sunday, as well, held
to only 9 points. If he wants the label of next-generation Manu Ginobili, he
needs to step up better now, where it really matters.
DR: You’re right, Harden has been bad, but it isn’t just his shooting. For
some reason, and there has been much to talk about concerning Scott Brooks’
rotations, Brooks insists on having Harden defend James for extended periods
of time. I know that James is a player that is difficult to defend on every
level but this simply is not where Harden should be utilized on the
defensive end. Time and again, James will just post him up since he is
bigger and stronger and the results have been devastating.
Zach Lowe over at SI.com touched on that today. By his tally, Miami scored 24 point on James post-ups. The points did not all come from LeBron as he was able to hit open teammates when double teams came his way. He finished the game with 12 assists. How can anyone stop him at this point, let alone an undersized player known more for his offense?
It’s not just Harden, though, you are correct in pointing out Ibaka’s
dramatic fall-off but Kendrick Perkins has been equally awful. He is the
wrench in the gears. Nick Collison showed flashes of brilliance against the
Heat in Game 4 but then vanished. Poof! Scott Brooks is showing us his
inexperience with these stubborn, and at times haphazard, lineups that he
has been throwing out there.
Last year Rick Carlisle showed his flexibility by inserting J.J. Barea into
the starting lineup to wondrous results for Dallas as they went on to win
the championship. Erik Spoelstra was left in the dust scratching his head as
he stuck with Mike Bibby in the starting lineup for too long. Now, Spoelstra
is in command and his small center-less lineups are rendering OKC’s bigs
TH: To be very honest, one of the biggest hindrances in Lebron’s career has
been his unwillingness to post up. He used to be very prone to jacking Josh
Smith-type 3s, so much so that every time I play against him (Miami or
Cleveland) on the 2K games, I will sag off him and make him shoot it. I
might have to change my approach with the next one. And it makes sense that
their success has revolved around his post play, because the dude is the
biggest, strongest, most athletic person that might have ever existed. The
Thunder don’t have anyone who’s going to be able to defend him without
leaving a glaring mismatch. I’m not sure anyone in the league does, and
that’s why the Heat are one win away from the championship.
They’re a stronger team than last year, and they’ve found a way for both
Lebron and Dwyane Wade to play together. Right now their bench is outplaying the Thunder bench. I don’t see any way the Thunder make it as champs, and you’re right, Spo is out-coaching Brooks. Unless something drastic changes, the Heat seem to be poised to close this one out sooner rather than later.
DR: After the body language that Durant showed last night in the post game
presser this series could wrap up Thursday night. During that presser we
witnessed the return of Durant’s backpack, which had been MIA all
postseason. It too was just as sad an dejected as Durant as he let it fall
to the floor, shoulders slumped. It reminded me of the Western Conference
Finals last year. There were many a sad backpacks to be found in that
Here’s the thing though, as I am not a true fan of either of the teams in the Finals, just a fan of the game, I have slowly come to view the post game presser as must-see throughout these playoffs. Sure, the questions are generally fluff, verging on inane at times, but I find them to be truly interesting.
Chris Bosh, who has been great this series, gives one of the best presser
interviews there are. Honestly, if more people heard him speak, instead of
instantly buying into the “Like a Bosh” or “Bosh Face” trope, they would see
just how smart, composed, and well spoken he is.
But of course the presser is all about the clothes. Man, these players
(Westbrook) wear some silly expensive shit. That said, Wade won the presser
clothes game last night when he came out wearing glasses that were straight
off the face of Dwayne Wayne from Different World.
TH: I’ve never really understood why Bosh gets so much shit. He’s a consistent 20-10 player, a perennial all star, who stretches the floor very well. His outside touch does wonders for the sometimes-anemic Heat offense, exposing the rim for the slashing of the other two stars.
It has become so commonplace to make fun of the Heat, that the worst thing I could think of has happened. I have moved past resenting them, past feeling sorry for them, into rooting for them as an underdog. Obviously, they are not the underdog, but I now feel that I have to throw stats in the faces of anyone who harps in on how much they hate the Heat.
DR: I found myself in the same place as the Finals started this year. For various and extremely biased reasons I cannot bring myself to root for the Thunder organization so that left me with only one choice. I have James many times on this blog, taking both a negative and positive view of him and his game. Seeing all the backlash towards one of the greatest players the league has ever seen has continually shocked me, though. Sure he, and the Heat have made some questionable choices in the past but does that really outweigh what goes on in a game? Miami is the most scrutinized team in sports and it is simply ludicrous to hear some of the things said about them.
The Heat deserve to win the championship this year, if for no other reason that silence the doubters who continually lob volley after volley of asinine rhetoric interspersed with buzz words at them all the while refusing to make sound judgments and arguments. At this point, if winning a championship is the only way to get it through the thick skull of some people that James is good and so are the Heat then so be it. They shall be vindicated.
There wasn’t much to cheer about in Miami (of course cheering loudly just doesn’t seem to be a thing at Heat games, but that is another issue) as the Heat fell to the Boston Celtics in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals 94-90. Both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade had good games, James scoring 30 points and pulling down 13 rebounds with Wade chipping in 27 points. But at times, the effort just didn’t seem to be there.
The Heat were sluggish in transition defense and didn’t hustle after the 50/50 balls with the energy of a team playing to go up a game in a series that had become a best of three. Obviously, these are the plays the national media will pick up on which will fuel the choke meme’s that are already rampant across the internet and social media. Yet, all of that might not hit home as hard as what one fan had to say to the Heat as they sullenly retreated down the tunnel to the locker room after the final buzzer had sounded.
Many people who played sports as children remember shaking the other team’s hands after every game, win or lose, and issuing platitudes to the opposing players. Since what was said was generally insincere, it was especially biting to hear after a loss. One young Miami Heat fan must have either felt the scorn of a recent loss or just has an impeccable sense of irony.
While the Heat walked off the court, the kid can be heard yelling, “Good job. Good effort!” That is cold-blooded. Perhaps, though, he was being sincere. After all he is just a kid and couldn’t possibly be as jaded as an adult, right? Whatever his intentions (I imagine some media outlet will track him down sooner or later) he has quickly become a meme. Since the internet travels at the speed of cynicism a Twitter account, @goodjobkid, has cropped up as well as merchandise with his now infamous quotes.
Well done, kid. You have trolled us all.
Doyle Rader: We finally know who will compete in the Eastern Conference Finals, however, when Derrick Rose went down in the first round this match up was all but inevitable. The Boston Celtics finally defeated a Sixers team that Doc Rivers described as “a pain in the ass.” Now they will face the Miami Heat who, despite the loss of Chris Bosh in their series against the Indiana Pacers, look every bit as dominant as the team that moved on to the Finals last season. When it comes to this series, the regular season meetings mean nothing. Boston owned the regular season series between the two clubs for the last two years but has only mustered one win against the Heat in the playoffs during that time. What are the keys for both teams in this series?
Travis Huse: The absence of Chris Bosh. The Heat is left with only two big names on their roster, and they need another offensive threat. Bosh’s outside game also would help to bring Kevin Garnett out of the middle, freeing up space for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. For Boston, they need some monster performances from Ray Allen, as LeBron’s defense can be otherworldly on Paul Pierce. Rajon Rondo‘s consistent ability to have triple-doubles in playoff games will be tested here, as well. I think it’s interesting that we have the two scariest defensive teams vying for the East, while in the West it’s a shoot-out.
DR: Missing Bosh could pose a problem but at the same time it could open up an emphasis on the transition game for Miami. When this team gets out running it the open court it is game over: Flying Death Machine.
As for Garnett, his defense will of course be a factor but his offense is what could hurt his team. He is a spot up midrange jump shooter off the pick and is effective at little else, especially if he has to put the ball on the floor. Yes, Garnett can still post up but is so predictable in the post, Matt Moore of Hardwood Paroxysm pointed out that he posts up on the left block 60 percent of the time, goes to his right shoulder 40 percent of the time, and shoots a jumper 86 percent of the time from the block. That is the definition of predictability. However, it will be interesting to see who guards him. I imagine that the Heat will throw Udonis Haslem, Ronny Turiaf, Joel Anthony, and even Shane Battier, who could draw the bulk of the defensive assignment.
I’m just not sure that Jesus Shuttlesworth has anything left in the tank. He has looked terrible during playoffs and he has to still be hurt. If he can shake off the rust and put it together offensively he will have to contend with Dwyane Wade. Wade has been phenomenal on defense, as per usual, and will harass Allen all over the court.
In the postgame show after the Heat knocked out the Pacers, Jeff Van Gundy, who saved the program from its usual absurdist rhetoric, stated that this series will hinge on the play of Rondo and his ability to shutdown or limit Mario Chalmers and pace the Celtics. I have felt for two years now that this is Rondo’s team and this series will further fuel this idea. For the Celtics to find success if will be on the back of Rondo and let’s hope he keeps rocking those Nike Huarache Basketball 2012’s in the Volt colorway.
TH: This is definitely Rondo’s team, which makes the rest of the Celtics his weapons. His lack of a jump shot is rendered useless when he is able to work Brandon Bass into the equation. As a Mavs fan, you can’t look at Bass this postseason and grimace.
DR: Bass is playing strong and has played the fourth most minutes for the Celtics in the postseason thus far and is totaling 11.7 points per game. On a team that struggles to rebound the ball, Bass collects 5.1 boards. He is the fourth best player on the Celtics. If the Heat can neutralize him the Celtics will be in trouble.
What really hurts the Celtics is the loss of Avery Bradley. When he and Rondo were paired in the backcourt together their defensive numbers were amazing. In terms of slowing Wade, missing Bradley is huge. Keyon Dooling and Mickael Pietrus have their work cut out for them. Oh, or maybe they’ll make me happy and we’ll get to see a little Marquis Daniels on the floor.
TH: Well, as of now, they’re real thin at SG. That lends itself to more minutes for Daniels, so we’re probably in luck. He’s going to be stretched to the hilt against Wade, but we already know Doc Rivers has groomed him for this situation all year. That’s the kind of thing he does, socking away money in Staples Center. This team is so well coached that they can weather these injuries as well as any other NBA team. There are just so many variables on this Celtics team, and the outcome of each game defined by so many questionable players, it’s very hard to predict. The Heat is full of shaky players, as well, but the strength of Wade and James makes them so much more stable.
DR: Daniels usually plays the three, unless Don Nelson appears and tries to make him run point (ahh, the memories), but if Doc gets desperate Daniels could definitely get spot minutes against Wade. Indiana was a better team than the Celtics and they could not slow down the Wade and James tandem. Frank Vogel said it best, “Chris Bosh is a fantastic player, but when he goes down, that means more touches for LeBron and Wade.” Those touches ignited the Heat and propelled them to three consecutive wins. The Death Machine found its wings. However, we must wait to see if those wings are fashioned by Daedalus and whether the Heat chooses to fly too close to the sun.
That said, the Heat will win this series 4-2. Hopefully, they won’t imitate last season’s celebration when they win.
TH: After what I saw in the Heat-Pacers series, I’m going to go Celtics in 7. It goes against my head, but let me explain. The best way to beat Miami is to get them rattled, and if the Celtics manage to rattle one of the Heat’s two stars for three games, they have a chance. If there’s any team that hypes its strangeness, it’s Boston. These guys are WEIRDOS. I’m thinking the Eastern Conference Finals might strongly resemble when Will Smith smacked the reporter for kissing him. KG should probably kiss LeBron right before tip-off in game 1. I wouldn’t put it past him.
But in all seriousness, with a long series, Doc could seriously dismantle this squad. I’m probably going to lose this one, but that’s what I’m sticking with. Celtics in 7.
If there wasn’t some drama hog who lived in Orlando, this season’s headlines would have focused squarely on the tumultuous, and miraculous, year that the Knicks have had. They signed Tyson Chandler, they have been good, then bad, then terrible, then Linsanity struck, then Mike D’Antoni stepped down as the head coach before he could be fired, then Mike Woodson took over as head coach, then they signed J.R. Smith, then Jeremy Lin got hurt, then Carmelo Anthony played is ass off (he still is), then Amare Stoudemire came back from injury and that brings us to the present. Phew!
Now, the Knicks enter the playoffs as the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference and are playing some of their best ball of the season thanks in large part to Anthony’s incredible play over the last couple of weeks. With the injury to Stoudemire, Anthony shifted to power forward and has excelled. His shooting range has drawn larger defenders away from the paint, freeing up passing and cutting lanes. When he has a smaller defender on him he has the ability to post them up or shoot over them. On the defensive end of the floor he is actually trying, and not just sort of trying, trying as hard as he can fronting larger players, swiping at the ball and hounding players of comparable size. This is a Melo we have never seen. This is the Melo that the Knicks traded half of their roster for.
Yes, the Knicks are back in a big way, so much so that Steve Novak celebrating with his discount double check move does not seem ludicrous. This is a team, that despite their myriad of injuries has persevered and one courageous storyline has superseded the previous one has it fell by the wayside. These Knicks just won’t die. Now they will face their next daunting challenge, only this one does not come from within the organization.
The Miami Heat are title favorites. They lost in the Finals last season and still carry that burden and bitter taste with them. Yet, they enter the postseason seeming uninterested. Miami sleepwalked through the second half of the season, resting various parts of their big three. During that span they rarely beat a team with a record over .500. It was as if they were just biding their time, knowing that they were assured of a playoff berth.
Despite their lackadaisical attitude after they All Star break, the Heat enter the playoffs as a second seed and are still one of the most feared teams in all of basketball because of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh. They have some tertiary players as well, Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers, and Udonis Haslem lead that bunch, but when it comes to the Heat, it is about their big three. It will be curious to see if they do have that switch that they can turn on to return to their demonstrative, Flying Death Machine form. They act as though they are about to flip that switch, but is it that easy?
Miami will challenge the Knicks’ defense at the rim, namely Chandler, with their athleticism and slashing. It will behoove them to get Chandler into foul trouble early because not only is he the anchor of New York’s defense, but he is also a superb rebounder and the Heat are terribly undersized. If Chandler does get onto early foul trouble often it will allow Miami to open up their spacing on the offensive end where they can effectively use Bosh in the high post and elbow to set screens and pick and roll or pop opportunities.
Frankly, Chandler will be in foul trouble, that’s just what he does. However, the Knicks work better with a smaller lineup. It allows them to get their 3-point shooter on the floor creating isolation situations for Anthony and Stoudemire. If a double comes, they can kick the ball out and their teammates can swing it around the perimeter for an open look. There will be several moments during this series where Novak is left open, though he should never be, and he will drain an important three.
As much as they would like to, the Knicks’ starters do not match up well with those of the Heat. Their bench will be the key to keeping the games close. Miami’s ball movement stagnates when their bench is on the floor which is why Erick Spolstra likes to keep one or two of his stars on the floor with his bench unit. The bench is the advantage for the Knicks, however it would be disastrous to rely on them for significant periods of time against the fourth best defense in the NBA.
It may take a game or two, depending on Wade’s injured finger, but the Flying Death Machine should return to form and terrorize the league once more. New York will try and run but the Heat, despite their sixteenth rank pace of 91.2 are some of the best in the open floor.
It was fun, New York.
Doyle Rader predicts: Heat defeat the Knicks 4-1
Travis Huse predicts: Heat defeat the Knicks 4-2