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‘Kind of can’t go wrong’: USA Basketball’s Olympic depth on display in win



‘Kind of can’t go wrong’: USA Basketball’s Olympic depth on display in win


LAS VEGAS – Calling the U.S. men’s Olympic basketball reserves a second unit is misnomer or at least misleading.

When U.S. coach Steve Kerr takes out LeBron James, Steph Curry, Jrue Holiday, Devin Booker and Joel Embiid and puts into the game Tyrese Haliburton, Anthony Edwards, Jayson Tatum, Anthony Davis and Bam Adebayo, it’s essentially five NBA All-Stars replacing five NBA All-Stars.

Canada, a 2024 Paris Olympics medal contender and fielding its best Olympic team, felt the onslaught of that depth in the USA’s 86-72 victory in an exhibition game Wednesday in preparation of the Summer Games.

Four Americans scored in double-figures led by Edwards’ 13 points and Davis’ 10 points, 11 rebounds, four blocked shots and two steals.

The U.S. wasn’t perfect, but that wasn’t expected after just four days of practice with this 12-player roster. Still, Canada’s Olympics team features many of the players who were on the team that beat the U.S. in last year’s FIBA World Cup bronze-medal game.

It was a solid start to the U.S. exhibition schedule which includes games against Australia, Serbia, South Sudan and Germany.

“You kind of can’t go wrong picking a starting lineup with this group, and I think I told you guys the other day, I’m going to do something different the next two games,” Kerr said. “We’re going to just look at a few different combinations before we settle on anything.”

Breaking down the U.S. victory over Canada:

USA’s superior depth

You will hear over and over how the rest of the world has caught up with the U.S. in basketball. And individually, there’s a case to be made with three players born outside of the U.S. winning the past six regular-season MVPs.

However, when the U.S. assembles its best players, it is the favorite to win gold as it has in the past four Olympics. No other country can match the U.S. depth. Serbia has three-time MVP Nikola Jokic and Greece has two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, but no country has what the U.S. has talent-wise (player one through player 12) for this Olympics.

After the U.S. fell behind early, including 11-1, the second five eliminated that deficit and helped build a 28-23 lead. The U.S. led the rest of the game.

“I love the second group and the defense picking up the pace for us in transition,” Kerr said. “They made a few good plays there defensively to really kind of jump-start our offense and that got us into the game.”

James, Embiid and Curry were outscored when on the court, but the U.S. bench outscored Canada’s 42-27.

“You get this collection of guys together and it is a test and it’s a challenge to try to figure out – just the chemistry, just the flow and the rhythm, especially on offense because there’s a temptation to defer,” Curry said. “There’s a temptation to overthink every possession because everybody can make a play and when you have an advantage, you just try to keep the game as simple as possible.

“That first unit, we struggled with that, but then once we got settled in, it seemed like everybody got a little bit more comfortable as we got deeper into the game and hopefully the next four exhibition games we have to see more progress.”

US uses size advantage vs. Canada

When the U.S. failed to medal at the FIBA World Cup last year, its lack of size at the center and power forward spots were exposed.

That’s not the case this year with Embiid, Davis and Adebayo. The final rebounding total (53-48) was not indicative of how the U.S. controlled that category – it had a 39-23 edge headed into the fourth quarter. Davis was dominant on the glass, and James, Embiid and Holiday each had at least five rebounds. Nine blocked shots gave the U.S. rim protection that was missing last year, and the U.S. outscored Canada 50-32 in points in the paint.

Strengthening the interior play was a focal point when building the roster, and it was addressed. Now, Canada isn’t big so let’s see how the U.S. handles a team with size, like Serbia and Germany in exhibition games.

US defense stifles Canada

The U.S. has scorers. Putting up enough points shouldn’t be an issue. But defensive-minded U.S. assistant coach Ty Lue wants intense pressure on the opponent’s offene. There are multiple All-Defensive players on the roster, and with Derrick White replacing Kawhi Leonard, the U.S. is adding another.

The U.S. held Canada to 33.8% shooting from the field and 21.2% on 3-pointers, had 11 steals and Davis blocked four shots.

Haliburton had four steals and James had three, and those Canada turnovers helped the U.S. own a 16-2 edge in fastbreak points. The U.S. held MVP runner-up Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to 10 points on 3-for-10 shooting and Jamal Murray to five points on 2-for-8 shooting.

“One of the keys to the game was just the collective ball pressure that our guys had out there, and Jrue obviously leads the way in that regard,” Kerr said. “But if we can get all of our guys pressuring the ball, we’ve got big guys behind the play who can clean things up and it should be a good combination for our defense.”

USA Basketball injury updates

The U.S. was down to 10 Olympians – Kevin Durant sat out with a sore calf, and White wasn’t available. He will join the team in Abu Dhabi.

“He has been working (and) rehabbing,” U.S. men’s national team managing director Grant Hill said of Durant. “He’s looked great. I think we’re just being cautious and conservative and I think we expect to see him on the court when we’re in Abu Dhabi.”

After watching Leonard practice Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, USA Basketball team staffers, led by Hill and in consultation with the Los Angeles Clippers, decided it was best to go in another direction. Leonard missed games at the end of the regular season and playoffs with right knee inflammation. Even though Leonard told reporters he was good to go, USA Basketball had reason to believe he wasn’t ready for the Olympics.

“Kawhi gave it everything he had when he was preparing and those last three days of camp,” Curry said. “Obviously they’re tough decisions and I know he wanted to play, but it’s one of those things where he wished us luck and he wanted us to go get the gold.

“And you love that kind of support from a guy that’s in a tough situation like that, but hopefully for the long term he’s in a good place because the game needs him and when he’s not out there, you miss an all-time great player. So we hope that he’s ready for this season.”

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