Saturday, August 25, 2007

USA Basketball Showing Signs of Recovery

Team USA looks really good.

I realize it’s only been two games. I also realize that Venezuela (ranked #21 in the world) and the Virgin Islands (#38) are not the stiffest of competition, but the United States men’s basketball team has looked downright unbeatable in the first two games of the FIBA America’s Championship in Las Vegas, winning by an average score of 118 (actually 117.5)- 64. That doesn’t just sorta happen. More than any U.S. national team since 1996, the current incarnation of USA Basketball has the look of an actual team, not just a collection of incompatible individual talents that happen to be wearing identical shirts. A chemistry exists between the members of this team that only results from genuine commitment and a desire to make the game easier for one another.

Obviously it’s important to maintain some perspective. Needless to say, this team is only beginning its journey, and match-ups against Brazil and Argentina will serve to either validate this early dominance or to brutally strip off its luster. However, it must be said that right now this team has come flying out of the gates, looking like it actually believes that not only will it not be beaten, but that no team in the world can eve compete. Kobe Bryant has been an outstanding playmaker, looking to make the extra pass that will get his teammates an easy bucket. He, Jason Kidd and Chauncey Billups bring experience and a winning pedigree to a team that otherwise has little of either. Aside from this trio, Team USA has a combined 3 trips to the NBA Finals (LeBron James and Tayshaun Prince twice) and just one championship ring (Prince). Additionally, Michael Redd and Mike Miller give this squad a deadly outside threat that’s been missing since Chris Mullin and Reggie Miller were wearing the red, white and blue.

With a full complement of backcourt players, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony (particularly LeBron) have been afforded the luxury of being able to play almost exclusively on the wing, rather than having to both set up the offense and finish going to the basket. Playing with talented guards that can spot passing lanes and get him the ball has revealed the possibility that LeBron James is truly at his best making cuts in the halfcourt and filling the lane on the break, not bringing the ball up the court and setting up the offense. Add in the inside presence of Dwight Howard and Amare Stoudemire, two of the NBA’s top big men, the maturity and defense of Tayshaun Prince, as well as the defense and rebounding of Tyson Chandler (underrated!), and Team USA really does not have any glaring weaknesses. What will happen when this team lines up against the likes of Brazil and Argentina? That remains to be seen. But right now, it needs to be said-this team is STACKED!

Allow me to reiterate. I’m not saying that dishing out a couple of beatdowns to a couple of marginal international teams is cause to hang a “Mission Accomplished” from the roof of the Bellagio. However, the way in which Team USA has dominated these games is extremely encouraging. These guys are looking to make the extra pass, hitting the open man on lobs and backdoor cuts and, most importantly, protecting the ball (15 turnovers in 2 games; just 4 turnovers against the Virgin Islands). Beyond that, this version of Team USA just has the look of team that’s out for blood. These guys look like they are on a mission.

Now that we’ve seen they’ve got it in them, let’s hope they can maintain their focus, because this team has to potential to be special.

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