Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Team USA 87, Australia 76

The best test Team USA would face during their exhibition schedule would come in the final game. The Aussies held them to the fewest points of any team so far playing without their star big man, Andrew Bogut, who was out with an ankle injury. The Americans shot an abysmal 16.7% from deep while Australia made 40% of their attempts from three-point range.

The Achilles' heel of USA has to be their free throw shooting, which could hurt them in the Olympics against good teams such as Spain. They shot only 60.6% from the line today and Dwight Howard alone went 0-for-6 from the free throw line.

Team USA was also turnover-prone at times especially when the backcourt group of Deron Williams, Chris Paul, and Dwyane Wade entered the game simultaneously. Two passes were thrown away and then another inbounds pass was almost picked off by the Aussies. Most of USA's 11 turnovers for the game, however, happened in their halfcourt offense. They were struggling to score because of Australia's packing their defense in the key and cutting down on USA's one-on-one isolation play opportunities, which are much harder to come by in international play than in the NBA.

For the Aussies, five players scored in double figures and all shared the scoring load, which made them tougher to defend. Their team featured a few Division I college players who were certainly not backing down to the Americans. In the second quarter, there was actually an exchanging of words that featured some pushing and shoving that broke out between some of the players. Personally, it was good for USA to experience something like that before they head to Beijing to begin Olympic play.

For Team USA, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James led the way with 22 and 16 points, respectively. LeBron also added four assists, five steals, and three blocks to his impressive stat line. Chris Paul had a game-high five assists while his teammate, Deron Williams, had zero assists and three turnovers.

As usual, USA had a few defensive lapses that gave the other team easy baskets. On one particular play, they doubled the post and left the weak side vulnerable. It was Carmelo's job to drop into the key but he decided to stay out on the perimeter and attempt to make a steal. An Aussie cut the middle, got the ball, and made a wide-open layup. Little things like that simply cannot happen if Coach K's team wishes to win gold.

I also think it was ludicrous for Carmelo and LeBron to guarantee gold and then for Wade to go out and announce that he has a gold medal tour planned already. They are just adding pressure to themselves when they really aren't so good as many people are believing and hoping they will be. If they play Spain like they did today, they will lose. Mike Krzyzewski and his coaching staff definitely have to make some adjustments such as working on their halfcourt offensive execution and their pick-and-roll defense. It wouldn't hurt to work on their defensive rotations either.

This game against Australia was another win for USA, but other teams like Greece and Spain and Argentina are watching these games and learning how to beat Team USA. It's no coincidence that their two toughest games were the two final friendlies on their exhibition schedule. As of right now, I don't see the Americans winning it all. Nevertheless, they most certainly have the potential and ability to do so.

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