Tag Archives: Mike Krzyzewski

Conceptualizing Team USA

Hybrid

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

Enjoy.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Team USA

Team USA Finalists Announced

Repeat?

Earlier today the 20 finalists for Team USA were announced. These players will compete for a chance to represent the United States at the Summer Olympics in London. Here is the list:

Guards:

Deron Williams

Chris Paul

Russell Westbrook

Chauncey Billups

Derrick Rose

Kobe Bryant

Eric Gordon

Dwyane Wade

Forwards:

LeBron James

Andre Iguodala

Rudy Gay

Kevin Durant

Carmelo Anthony

Kevin Love

Blake Griffin

Lamar Odom

LaMarcus Aldridge

Chris Bosh

Centers:

Tyson Chandler

Dwight Howard

The vast majority of these players have played for Team USA before. Only Griffin and Aldridge have not suited up in the red, white, and blue.  What will be interesting to see is how these players fare after a brutally compacted season. If anything, the final 12 players selected to play in the Olympics might come down to a matter of health above all else.

From this list of 20 there are clear shoe-ins, most of whom played on the Redeem Team in Beijing. Paul, Rose, Bryant, and Wade are the top guards in the group. Bryant expressed his interest in returning to play for Team USA long ago and Wade has stated that this will be his last run as member of the squad. However, Wade’s future with the national team is up in the air presently as he is out indefinitely with an ankle injury.

As for the forwards, where Team USA is loaded, James, Anthony, Durant, and potentially Love or Bosh will be the main candidates to make the final roster. Bosh is playing exceptionally well this season but his ability to be multidimensional will come into question if he is to make the cut. If head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s philosophy remains the same, Howard will be the only center who makes the final cut. Under Coach K, the national team has become a model of hybridization. 2010’s gold metal team at the FIBA World Championships in Turkey was a pure experiment and subsequently a benchmark for teams composed of hybrid, multi-positional players. That team started Odom at center over Chandler and it worked.

With that in mind, and assuming that none of the “shoe-in” players listed above have health setbacks, there are still three positions left to make the full 12-man roster. Williams, Iguodala, and Aldridge would be, in my opinion, the best choices to round out the squad. Aldridge, because of his size and shooting ability, would serve the team nicely as a power forward/center. Iguodala, who shined in Turkey, should be included for his defense which will lead to transition offense for the team. Williams is easily the most replaceable player that I have mentioned who has a chance at making the roster. It might be wise to go with another rangy, multi-positional forward instead like Gay or even Odom, who can play three positions on the team not including point forward.

Whatever the final makeup of the roster, health allowing, Team USA will be heavy favorites this summer in London. Hopefully, they have another catchy nickname and congeal as a team. I wonder if Bryant will be spotted in the stands at the beach volleyball tournament this time. Let’s hope so.

Leave a comment

Filed under Team USA

Team USA continues Despite the Lockout

 

What the future may hold

LeBron James is in, Kobe Bryant is a go, and Kevin Durant will likely suit up. After that the state of USA Basketball for the 2012 Olympics in London is up in the air, especially with the possibility of losing the entire 2011-12 NBA season.

Monday looks like the day that could make or break any possibility of an NBA season. This has been stated many times over during the course of the lockout but with the players union preparing to rejected the latest offer from the league, this is quite possibly the last grasp at a 72 game season before talks completely break down with the owners reverting to their hardline 53/47 percentage split of basketball-related income and the decertification of the NBPA. With that possibility looming, where does Team USA stand?

USA Basketball are not conjoined at the hip, though they are virtually inseparable. The national team, since FIBA altered their rules in 1989, has been comprised entirely of NBA players. This will not change even with a lockout. It would be foolish to send a team of college players to the Olympics and expect to compete with the likes of Spain, Argentina, and Lithuania. Yet, there can be no denying that the lockout could strain the eventual formation of Team USA.

Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski has no NBA affiliation as he coaches the men’s team at Duke University. There should be no complication with him returning to coach the program. However, aside from Jim Boeheim who coaches at Syracuse, the assistant coaches coach in the NBA. Mike D’Antoni is the current head coach of the New York Knicks and Nate McMillan coaches the Portland Trail Blazers. As per the rules of the lockout, neither D’Antoni nor McMillan is allowed to have any contact or communication with the lockout players.

Herein lies the first hurdle for Team USA. They will be without two of their assistant coaches if the lockout persists. With Krzyzewski, D’Antoni and McMillan have successfully orchestrated the present liquidity that embodies Team USA. The Redeem Team that won gold in 2008 at the Beijing Olympics was completely dismantled two years later, partly do to lack of interest and previous engagements by the players who were a part of that team, and transformed into a lengthy and quick, uptempo and undersized bunch who won gold at the World Championships in Turkey in 2010. D’Antoni is fluent in the rules and style of the international game having coached for years in Italy which has helped NBA players transition to FIBA rules and style. Losing both coaches will be a hit for Team USA but not one that will completely derail the coaching staff.

The coaches can be easily replaced. Though this means that the staff may not have the same continuity with the pool of players eligible to fill out the fifteen man roster. However, other college coaches such as John Calipari, who is always looking to increase his recruiting pool, Tom Izzo, and perhaps even Roy Williams could be considered to fill the roles of the assistant coaches. Other names may also be included if D’Antoni and McMillan cannot return to the bench. Larry Brown jumps out as a possible candidate having been head coach of Team USA before. Yet, this is all just speculation at this point and is predicated on the length of the lockout.

Team USA could also be without their trainers Casey Smith and Keith Jones, who work for the Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets respectively. If the NBA season is lost, not only will Jerry Colangelo have to recruit players to join the 2012 incarnation of the national team but he may also have to rebuild his coaching and support staff.

Colangelo is still a minority owner of the Phoenix Suns. His position as managing director of USA Basketball, however, has allowed him to remain apprised of players’ interest in joining Team USA, though he cannot discuss the lockout in any terms. Colangelo believes that despite the lockout, a team can be assembled with players from both the 2008 and 2010 squads.

According to the official team roster at USABasketball.com, the pool of players available is much greater than just those who have played on the national team before. Other than Bryant, James, who have both committed, and Durant, how the roster will fill out is anyone’s guess. It is likely that Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony will return, and Chris Sheridan has speculated that Blake Griffin is a “shoo-in.” Chris Bosh will probably return, as will Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul. After that it becomes dicey (as if speculation was not already). There are still six spots open on the roster if these players to indeed return.

To fill the remaining vacancies will require coach Krzyzewski to determine the style of play that his team will execute in London. As stated above, the 2010 national team was swift and agile relying more on their athleticism than on physical size.

The candidates that are left are Lamar Odom, Tyson Chandler, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Deron Williams, possibly Kendrick Perkins, and perhaps Eric Gordon. None of those players are slouches and if Team USA prefers to reincarnate the 2010 team then Andre Iguodala should also be considered.

At this point, nothing is certain. The Olympics are where players build their brand. It is not completely about national pride, do not delude yourself. This is a stage on the global market. In most countries outside of the U.S. everything stops so that they can watch their nation compete. NBA players fortunate enough to be selected to the national team know that and so do their agents and sponsors. The Olympics are a big deal and London has been a world city since the middle ages. That is not lost on the players.

With the season in flux and headed towards what might be complete and utter fail (pardon the meme), the Olympic games in the summer of 2012 are the last remaining legitimate basketball that NBA players could see for some time. As of now, Team USA is keeping their summer schedule conservative, understandably. Official rosters must be submitted in June. On the slate for Team USA is two exhibition gamed against Spain in July 2012 as well as a friendly against Great Britain. France will also likely get a friendly in too before the start of the summer games. However, a quick resolve to the lockout could change everything.

The lockout threatens only the NBA at this point. Team USA is still in good hands.  No matter what happens to the 2011-12 NBA season, there will be a formidable team fielded by the United States. They will be the favorites to win it all. Haters will pick Spain with their frontcourt of Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka. Honestly though, a team representing a country in as many financial hardships as Italy cannot be taken too seriously. There is a reason all their players moved to the U.S. (financial aside). The United States has reestablished itself as the dominant force in international basketball. Do not for one second, or one lockout, that players do not want to maintain that supremacy. A gold medal might not be the Larry O’Brien Trophy but it still speaks wonders unto itself.

Leave a comment

Filed under NBA Lockout, Team USA

NBA Lockout Day 14: USA, Colangelo Gearing Up for London 2012

Colangelo would like to see the U.S. win a third consecutive gold

There are currently 34 players listed on the United States Men’s National Team roster. That is 22 more than will make the trip, reserves excluded, to London next summer to compete in the Olympics. With the NBA lockout now two weeks old, Jerry Colangelo must start considering who will make the final cut as training camp will begin early next July. Final roster selections have to be submitted by June 18, 2012.

One year is not a lot of time to assemble a national team especially with a lockout going on. Since Team USA won the gold at the FIBA World Championships last summer in Turkey they received an automatic bid for the Olympics. That means that they will not have to compete in the FIBA Americas Championship which begins August 30 and runs through September 11. However, it also means that Colangelo will not have an opportunity to see the players compete as a cohesive unit this summer and with a protracted lockout it may be some time before he can see them in game situations.

With the breadth of talent that Colangelo has to draw from it should not be a major concern when whittling down the roster. Most of the players already on the national team’s roster already have a well established pedigree of competing internationally and are household names in the NBA. Due to this, Colangelo has stated that there are really closer to 18 players who are under consideration to compete in London. He will begin contacting players in a month or so to gauge their interest in being a member of the national team.

Currently, each member of the Redeem Team that won gold in Beijing in 2008 is committed to returning to the program in 2012. This includes Kobe Bryant who stated his interest in returning to the Olympics last year. Other members of the Redeem Team including LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard, Deron Williams, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, Carlos Boozer, and Tayshaun Prince have yet to make a public statement of interest in returning to the team. Wad has said that he is on the fence about whether he should return but Chris Paul has stated that he will play.

Two players from the 2008 gold metal team, Jason Kidd and Michael Redd, are no longer with USA basketball which leaves at least two roster spots open but Colangelo has said that “three or four of those spots are vulnerable.” These spots will likely be filled by members of the 2010 FIBA World Championship team. That team was led by Kevin Durant and also featured Chauncey Billups, Tyson Chandler, Stephen Curry, Rudy Gay, Eric Gordon, Danny Granger, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Love, Lamar Odom, Derrick Rose, and Russell Westbrook. A name that has also been mentioned as a possible candidate, though he is currently not on Team USA’s standing roster, is Blake Griffin.

These two pools of players present Colangelo with a combination of skilled veterans, players in their prime, and explosive young talent. What will play into the final roster decision is how Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski want to shape the team. Both the Beijing and Turkey teams are very different. In Turkey, Krzyzewski chose to stray away from the traditional five-man lineups that have been a cornerstone in basketball since its inception which was more indicative of how the Redeem Team played. Instead he went with players who were versatile and could play multiple positions on the floor. These players also used their length and quickness to their advantage which played into the stifling defense that the team showed during the World Championships. The team also went small. Chandler was the only true center on the roster and Odom started at the position during the tournament.

Based on the success that the smaller, speedier lineup had it would not be surprising if Team USA maintained this model for the Olympics in 2012. The team has a bevy of speedy guards to choose from who can either create for themselves, like Rose and Westbrook, or distribute, like Paul. However, position versatility will likely remain the most important factor when selecting players to fill the roster.

This is beneficial for players like James, Durant, Love, and Amar’e Stoudemire who can alternate around the wing and in the frontcourt. Though any incarnation of the 2012 team will likely feature Howard as the anchor in the middle, depending on his entry into free agency next summer, he would likely be one of only a couple of players on the team that played a fixed position. Paul would be another such player.

As Colangelo begins to contact players he must also weigh the present state of the NBA and what may or may not happen between now and next July. How will the lockout, and potentially newly structured collective bargaining agreement, play into the player’s decisions? If players continue to sign overseas, how will those contracts be structured in terms of eligibility to play on a national team? If the NBA season is canceled should he hold a minicamp for tryouts? How will Bryant’s knee hold up for another year? How will free agency play into the minds of Howard, Paul, and Williams? How much will each player require in terms of insurance if they get injured while playing for Team USA? If the lockout is protracted, what shape will the players be in? Phew! And those are only some of the questions that Colangelo must consider. At least the lockout does not prevent Colangelo from speaking with the players.

No matter the make-up of the future roster, the United States will be heavy favorites to repeat as gold medalists. Tough all of the players from 2008 opted out of playing in 2010, the Olympics are too big of a stage to ignore. Colangelo knows this as it creates even more “value to them in terms of their own brands.” These days, for many players, it is all about marketing themselves and what better place to do it than in front of the eyes of the world? James, for one, could certainly use some good press and another Olympic gold would go a long way. It looks to be a long year with many uncertainties for the players and Colangelo but the outlook is optimistic. “The one thing I do know,” Colangelo said. “We have an outstanding pool of players. Whoever the 12 turn out to be, they will represent our country very well.”

Leave a comment

Filed under NBA Lockout, Team USA

Kobe Bryant offers to play in London Olympics

Redeem-peat?

Team USA has at least one player interested in joining their efforts to repeat as Olympic gold medal champions. Kobe Bryant told Mike Krzyzewski that he is willing to play for the team once again in the 2012 Olympics which will be held in London.

“You guys want me there, I am there and I’m ready to defend,” Bryant said. “And then when you guys need me to put some points on the board I’ll do that, too.”

Bryant made these comments while he was on Krzyzewski’s satellite radio program on Tuesday.

Jerry Colangelo can sleep a little bit easier now after his gaffe this summer in preparation for the world championships stating that players who did not participate in the worlds may not receive an invite to the Olympic team. He now has at least one member of the Redeem Team returning to Team USA.

The Olympics are still quite some time off but one has to wonder who from this summer’s gold medal team, other than Kevin Durant, might be invited to camp if more Redeemers offer to play for Team USA as Bryant has done? Whatever transpires, this is certainly a step in the right direction on the path for the United States to defend their gold medal.

2 Comments

Filed under Team USA

Team USA sets a Gold Standard

The King Midas touch

Team USA walked into a cauldron of 15,000 ravenous, screaming Turks on Sunday. For many of the young players who comprise the United State’s national team, they have never experienced anything like it. Only Chauncey Billups and Lamar Odom have played before crowds like these when everything is on the line. However, a NBA crowd cannot compare to the scene in Istanbul. Not since Gallipoli has Turkey been such a hostile environment for outsiders. Many who have witnessed the scene have referred to it as complete bedlam. The FIBA World Championship took on a whole new meaning for the host country as their national team was able to scrap their way into the championship game with a thrilling, albeit lacking any semblance of an effort to play defense, come from behind win over Serbia in the semifinals.

Turkey, throughout the tournament, had been led by their two NBA players, Ersan Ilyasova and Hedo Turkoglu. Ilyasova has led the Turks in scoring averaging 14.3 points per game while shooting 46 percent on field goals and pulling down 7.1 rebounds. Turkoglu has averaged 11.9 points per game thus far to go along with 3.8 assists. They also get a considerable contribution from their center, Omer Asik, who collects rebounds at a clip of 7.2 a game and averages 1.4 blocks.

As the world has come to recognize by this point, Kevin Durant is Team USA. He has been flat out phenomenal and the NBA should take note. Durant did not try to dictate all aspects of this summer and make them converge on him. Instead he spent his time in the gym working on his game rather than miming jumpers in a casino. Most people probably still do not know that he signed a max contract extension this summer because he did not announce it with fanfare, smoke, fireworks, and a laser light show. He tweeted it. This is who he is, he lets his game speak for him and it speaks volumes.

A hostile environment, an opponent that is playing for its people, how would Durant and the other members of Team USA handle the pressure? After one half of play Durant had 20 points and had already nailed five three-pointers. He also had grabbed three rebounds, collected two steals, and rejected two shots. It would seem as though Durant was far from rattled about the confines in which he was playing. He opened up the third quarter by draining consecutive three-pointers. Russell Westbrook had the second highest point total at the half with seven points and the score being 42-32 in favor of the United States.

At that point, the game was, for all intents and purposes, over. Turkey kept the game close early on and even took a lead at one point during the first quarter on a three-pointer by Turkoglu to give them a 15-14 advantage. They would extend it to 17-14 before Durant drained a three to tie it. Turkey would never have the lead again as the United States stepped up its defensive pressure and Durant kept doing what he does best. Team USA held Turkey to 36.4 percent shooting for the game. The lead swelled to 20 for the United States in the fourth quarter and the eventual outcome became merely a matter of formality at that point. Team USA would cruise to an 81-64 victory capturing their first gold medal at the world championships since 1994.

Durant would finish the game with 28 points having hit seven three-pointers, one shy of the record set by Reggie Miller. The entire Turkish team only connected on seven three-pointers for the game. Turkey was paced by Turkoglu’s 16 points but he was the only player to score in double figures for them. Ilyasova had seven points and 11 rebounds while Asik had five points and four rebounds.

The golden child

Westbrook had another well-rounded performance with 13 points, six rebounds, and three dimes. Yet, it was Lamar Odom who stepped up to play Pippen to Durant’s Jordan. (Yes, I will make that comparison and I will not back down from it.) Since the United States entered the elimination round, Odom has done all the little, gritty, and necessary things that must be done on the court in order for the team to be successful. Odom recorded his second straight double-double as he scored 15 points and grabbed 11 rebounds with five of them being offensive. Derrick Rose chipped with six assists to go along with eight points.

Now that this incarnation has won gold, all the naysayers and doubters should be quieted. The Redeem Team is a distant memory and the players who refused to participate in FIBA play this summer have been deemed selfish. (Kobe Bryant is excluded from this grouping because he really did need some time away from the sport.) What “B-Team” wins gold let alone go a perfect 9-0 in the tournament? If you read all the printed criticism about this team you would have assumed that the gold medal was nearly unattainable do to the team’s youth and unorthodox rotation. Mike Krzyzewski and Jerry Colangelo have been behind their pulpit since minicamp preaching a flexible and lengthy player doctrine. It would behoove many to take note. Now, they have no choice but to acknowledge the successes of their sermons.

By winning gold at the world championships, Team USA has earned themselves and automatic bid to play in the London Olympics in 2012. This is something that the Redeem Team could not even do as they had to qualify for the Beijing Olympics by competing in the FIBA Americas tournament. Now that Team USA does not have to compete in the Americas tournament, the likely hood of a strike is no longer a daunting prospect for the national team. They would have had to completely rebuild, yet again, with many of the NBA players being ineligible to play because of union contracts.

What the 15,000 Turkish fans who attended the championship game “witnessed” were the actions of a player who will be considered the best in the world at some point during his lifetime. No matter how loud the jeered and yelled, they could do nothing to cause his focus to waiver. His focus and determination were rewarded as he earned tournament MVP honors. Kevin Durant had set a goal for himself and the team. Now that he has attained gold at the world championships, he can return to gearing up for his next goal, an NBA championship.

Leave a comment

Filed under Team USA

Team USA rolls Lithuania 89-74, will play for Gold

King Kong ain't got nothing on Durant

Redeem Team who? Who needs the ghosts of the United States last gold medal Olympic team hanging over them? This incarnation of Team USA certainly does not. Why? In two words: Kevin Durant. He is the team, essentially. He is the alpha and omega of what makes Team USA work in its present form. Durant has put on a clinic this summer in Turkey. There is not a single defender that can stop him as he scores at will from all areas of the court. If this is a preview for the upcoming NBA season then you can go ahead and award him the Maurice Podoloff Trophy right now. He has put the world on notice and he is coming for that number one spot.

Team USA headed into Saturday’s semifinal match against Lithuania, after defeating Russia and earning revenge for losing to them in the 1972 Olympic gold medal game, having seen some of their biggest competitors in the tournament fall by the wayside. Argentina, ranked number one overall, had fallen to the Lithuanians and Spain, ranked third, had been edged by Serbia. The United States is the sole team ranked in the top three remaining. Serbia and Lithuania are ranked fifth and sixth respectively.

For Lithuania, Linas Kleiza has been a standout averaging 19.1 points on 60.4 percent shooting from the field. He also averaged 7.4 rebounds per game. Kleiza is returning to the NBA this season to play for the Toronto Raptors after spending a season playing for Olympiacos Piraeus in Greece. Physically, he has become bigger and stronger and will have no trouble fitting back into an NBA system (if that is what you can call the Raptors’ system) as he will be able to shift between the forward positions with ease.

Against the United States, Kleiza would turn out to be a non-factor. He scored just four points and made just one of his eleven field goal attempts and missed all four shots that he took from long range. Where Kleiza left a dud on the floor the United States had a player that looked otherworldly. Kevin Durant simply played out of his mind. He had 12 of the first 14 points that Team USA scored and 17 of the 23 that the team scored in the first quarter. By the end of the third quarter Durant had 29 points on 10-18 shooting. He was not finished yet. Durant scored nine more points in the fourth to bring his total to 38 for the game. Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski left Durant in with two minutes to play so that he could reach the 40 point mark but Durant’s last two attempts missed. His 38 point performance is a new FIBA record for an American player. He also almost recorded a double-double but was one rebound shy of the mark. Durant might be a humble individual but his game is boisterous and has a swagger all its own.

Durant and company pounced early on and did not relent. After one quarter of play they led by 11 and by halftime the lead had grown to 15 points. By this point it was clear to see that one team, and more specifically one man, wanted it more. After three quarters of play the score was 65-53. Lithuania tried to stop the bleeding in the fourth quarter with the margin being 18 points with four minutes to play.  Mantas Kalnietis connected on a three-pointer to bring the score to 82-67. However, it was answered by none other than Durant who nailed a jumper. Kalnietis responded with another, two-point, bucket 13 seconds later. This time it was Russell Westbrook’s turn to return the favor as he scored on a layup. After that exchange, the score was 86-69 in favor of the United States and Lithuania’s last scoring push had been effectively stemmed. Kalnietis would finish the game with ten points. Each team missed their next two shots but with under a minute to play Stephen Curry nailed a three pointer to seal the already decided outcome. Even though Lithuania scored the last five points of the game, it was nothing more than stat padding at that point as the final score was 89-74.

Lamar Odom had another nice game as he recorded a double-double in the victory with 13 points and ten rebounds. He also had three blocks. Khloe should be very proud of the way he has played the last two games as he has effectively proven that he can hold down the paint despite not being a traditional center. Nothing about this team is traditional, however. This team is breaking ground with its approach to the sport and for how it is viewed by an American audience. Russell Westbrook was the only other player to record double digit scoring for Team USA with 12 points. To go along with that, Westbrook had seven rebounds, three assists, two blocks, and one steal in 24 minutes for what was a very well rounded game for him.

Team USA forced the Lithuanians into 14 turnovers as their defense remained steady once again during the tournament. Ten of the turnovers came as the result of steals. The United States also recorded seven blocks and held Lithuania to 38.6 percent shooting for the game. Team USA will advance to the championship game where they will look to win their fourth FIBA World Championship title against the host country, Turkey, who made a furious comeback against Serbia to win by a score of 83-82 to advance.

Sorry, Chris Sheridan, the so-called “B-Team” that you have been harping about since the Las Vegas minicamp failed to materialize. B-Teams do not make it to the championship game of anything let alone the FIBA World Championships. This is not a team full of Charlie Buckets but they have found their golden ticket and Durant’s face is embossed on it. Kevin Durant is on a mission and the culmination of that mission will be wearing a gold medal around his neck on Sunday (game begins 2 PM EST) in Turkey against their national team.

1 Comment

Filed under Team USA