A few thoughts after watching the USA v. Lithuania game, plus some other stuff.
• We still don’t know how this USA team will fare against a team that can maintain ball control against their aggressive defense — but the question really is how many teams are going to be able to do that? In this game the USA realized that Lithuania had one guy who is really a good ball handler, former Pacer and Warrior (and Terrapin) Sarunas Jasikevicius. They stuck Kobe on him to take the ball out of his hands, and with that the turnovers were flowing.
• All the USA wing defenders extended their defense way out beyond the three-point line. This made it hard for Lithuania to get into the pick and roll, but when they didn’t turn the ball over (when they settled down in the second quarter) Lithuania was able to get the ball inside and score.
• Lithuania did get into the pick and roll, in the first quarter the USA was generally aggressive and switching on defesnse. That left some mismatches big on small inside that another team may be able to exploit if they have the ball handlers. As the game wore on Lithuania was able to exploit this some with some baskets on good rolls to the basket. The USA had some confusion. It’s a kink the team still needs to work out.
• In transition team USA’s ball movement is fantastic. And fun to watch.
• D. Wade played some nice help defense.
• Lithuania really should wear the old Grateful Dead jerseys again.
• In previous Olympics and international competitions, team USA struggled against a zone. Not so far with this group — Howard is a good presence in the soft underbelly of the zone, Wade a d LeBron can drive into the lane, Kobe and Redd will just shoot over the top of it. Both are willing to shoot the NBA three, nearly three feet beyond the international arc, and defenders are just slow to come that far out.
• Against the second USA unit, where Chris Bosh is the center, the USA is soft inside. That may come back to bite them against a deeper team (Spain, for example).
• Studies have shown that guys who played in the Olympics/World Championships are not any more likely to be injured the following season (although the sample size is pretty small). I think it will be interesting to see this year — if I were a Cleveland fan I wouldn’t be that worried about LeBron, but Kidd in Dallas is another matter. Will he be a little more worn down and not bounce back as fast? That matters as dependant as Dallas will be on Kidd to contend.
• For the Lakers, I’m not that worried about Kobe after the Olympics. He takes amazing care of himself, plus he will get a little down time due to the hand surgery after the games.
Pau Gasol on the other hand, that has me a little concerned. Remember, he got a broken bone in his foot two years ago in the World Championships, missed the first few months of the season and was never quite right that year. That was a fluke accident, but flukes happen, particularly in the paint where bodies bang around.
• It’s been discussed in the comments here and everywhere else, but here are my two cents: Ron Artest makes Houston a top title contender — on paper. If Yao Ming can have a healthy season after the Olympics, if McGrady can stay healthy, if Artest can blend in comfortably as a third offensive option and not dominate the ball in crunch time, they can be contenders. That may be a lot to ask, but it is far from impossible. Much like Portland, Houston is a team that could be very good or very disappointing come February and March. By then we’ll have an idea if they are contenders or not.
• If you travel with your laptop, there are things you should know.