Preview and Chat: Team USA vs. Spain

Darius Soriano —  August 22, 2010

U.S. national basketball team players (L-R) Lamar Odom, Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose take a break while warming up at Madrid's Caja Magica pavillion prior to a friendly game against Lithuania August 21, 2010. The U.S.A. basketball team is in Madrid to play two friendly games against Lithuania and Spain in preparation for the upcoming Basketball World Championships in Turkey later this month. REUTERS/Paul Hanna (SPAIN - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

It may not be a Lakers game, but there is actual basketball on today that is well worth a watch as Team USA faces Spain in a warm up to the FIBA World Championships that begin next weekend.  This is the first time that these two countries have faced off since the 2008 Olympics gold medal game where the Americans beat the Spaniards 118-107 in a thrilling, hard fought contest.

And while this is technically a rematch, the only thing that is truly the same is the name on the front of the uniforms – especially when speaking about the US team.  Because while Spain is missing its best player and current Laker Pau Gasol, the American squad will not return a single player from the team that clinched the Gold in Beijing almost one two years ago to the date.

So, while Spain will surely be looking for a bit of revenge as they warm up for a tournament in which they’re favored by many analysts to win, the U.S. team is really looking to find a rhythm as a unit and sure up some of their weaknesses so that they can continue the run they started at the Tournament of the Americas starting in 2006.  Because while there are some that do believe the US to be the 2nd best team leading up to the tournament, the Americans themselves remain confident and hope to continue to build momentum and show that this country is still the one that rules the basketball world.

But mental state aside, this US team will be tested today.  Because while the U.S. team was able to defeat a game Lithuania team yesterday on the strength of their pressure defense and open court play, today’s game will feature a Spanish team that is better than it’s European counterpart in every conceivable way.  As Matt Moore explains at ProBaskeball Talk:

The contest does lead to several significant questions going into tomorrow’s exhibition against the arguable favorite in the FIBA tournament, Spain. Spain is going to have better shooters, better bigs, better defenders, and better ball athletes. If USA comes out in a shooting slump like they did today, often lost on rotations inside and struggling to contain the boards, that game likely won’t right itself like today did.

As Moore mentions, the U.S. team’s real weakness is with its inside play.  In the past, the one advantage the U.S. team could typically rely upon was its superior talent in the pivot.  However, with nearly every great American big man either declining invitation or injured and unable to play this Summer, the U.S. team is going with a big man rotation of Tyson Chandler (starting Center), Lamar Odom, and Kevin Love.  And despite my personal affinity for LO and Love, those guys are not Howard, Bosh, and Amar’e.  Really, they’re not even KG, Bynum, or Brook Lopez as they don’t possess the size, defensive excellence, or offensive polish of the big men that have donned the U.S. jersey in recent international competitions.  This means that the shot blocking, interior rotations, and ability to plain “beast” it on the offensive end just isn’t there with this group.  This bears watching today.

But besides the interior play, what I’ll really be looking for today is how the guard rotation shakes out and if the U.S. team can show a bit better touch from the outside.  This team, despite the presence of Kevin Durant, Billups, Curry, Granger, and Eric Gordon is not a good outside shooting team.  Because while Westbrook, Rose, and Iguodala have all flashed an improved jumper they’re not quite the consistent shooting group that could off-set the lack of high level interior play.  And when you throw in Rudy Gay and Rondo, what you really have is a team that is built on strong defense that leads to open court chances.  As for the rotation at guard, yesterday against Lithuania, Rondo was put on the bench to start the second half in favor of Westbrook (which turned out to be a very good choice as the young OKC guard was the driver behind the win).  And seemingly every game, there seems to be another guard that steps up to make an impact.  At some point though, a standard rotation will have to shake itself out so that players can get comfortable in their roles.  Maybe that shaking out begins today.

And we’ll all be able to see together.  So, join us here as we observe the action.  You can watch on NBA TV at 12 noon on the West coast and you can also click here to watch the game online at ESPN3.

Darius Soriano

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23 responses to Preview and Chat: Team USA vs. Spain

  1. My big question is: why didn’t Dwight Howard elect to play this summer? This could have been his chance to put himself on the same level of recognition as Kobe, Lebron, and Wade, especially after having a sub-par Olympics. Howard would’ve been perfect for this team because he’s fast, agile, big, plays excellent team defense, and can protect the rim so that the USA wing players can ball hawk on the perimeter. The offense could’ve been predicated on the 3-5 PNR with Durant and Howard, and they could go into Howard early to get the opposing bigs in foul trouble and just give the ball to Durant late. Instead they’ve got Tyson Chandler starting at center by default.

    Despite the fact that the score ended up pretty lop-sided, Team USA played so poorly in the 1st half of the Lithuania game that I actually stopped watching. So many turnovers, so much dribbling, so much confusion, which could’ve all been relaxed if they had even the semblance of a post threat.

  2. Spain is shooting amazingly poorly right now – this can’t go on forever.

    Also, I agree with Zephid: Dwight now playing this summer was a weird decision.

  3. And btw: If Spain had Pau, or the US had Kobe – this tournament would be over before it started. (Unless they were both playing; then it’d be interesting;))

  4. link? Espn 3 doesn’t work with TimeWarner for some reason

  5. Kobama: http://veetle.com/index.php/channel/view#4b96d29fae537

    In Spanish, and you need to install the veetle-player, but the quality is good.

  6. Minor quibble, but didn’t the US clinch gold about 2 yeras ago today?

  7. #6. Fixed. Thanks for the catch.

    Also, agree with Andreas about Spain’s shooting. They’ll surely start to hit some shots soon. However, I also think the US team can continue to pressure the ball and if their rotations can remain up to standard, Spain’s shooters will continue to feel the presence of long and active defenders.

    On a side note, I’m quite impressed with Ricky Rubio. Fantastic court vision, great feel for the game, and has a knack of getting into space even when he doesn’t necessarily beat his man outright.

  8. Darius: Agreed – Rubio is a gem=)

  9. Spain going with a Barcelona line-up right now of Rubio, Navarro and Vazquez. Always nice to have players who are used to playing together.

    Edit: And of course they changed it as I wrote that;)

  10. I hear that Durant-guy is pretty good btw..

  11. Is nobody watching this?=) You’re missing out.

  12. The Spanish coach has obviously watched some Laker-games – he wants them to foul Lamar if they have to foul people towards the end;)

  13. I’m now really curious as to why ESPN chose to broadcast that crappy USA-Lithuania game and not broadcast what seemed to be a very awesome USA-Spain game. Please don’t tell me there was better stuff on, because I saw LLWS on ESPN and tennis on ESPN2.

  14. Andre Iguodala was fouling anything and everything out there. What poor defense…

  15. The game was on NBA-TV.

  16. If you missed the game, it will be rebroadcast on ESPN2 tonight at 10PM ET. I watched it via espn3.com but the picture quality was lousy.

  17. I came into this game wanting to see Team USA, but was more wow by Rubio. He’s a very interesting prospect and so entertaining to watch.

  18. Seeing the replay of the game on ESPN2. I found it very interesting that while showing the USA loss to Greece in 2006, ESPN chose to show only Melo – no clips of Lebron, Wade, Bosh et al. I just checked the boxscore and Melo was the highest scorer in that game by more than 10 points. I really hate ESPN and their penchant to create revisionist history.

  19. So, how did Lamar do?

  20. ab,
    This is the ESPN method, all the way back to Michael Jordan. Why, exactly, are you surprised?

  21. Lamar did great when he was doing the things he’s good at, like playing help defense, rebounding, and receiving interior passes for easy scores. It’s when he started taking corner threes or having to play 1v1 defense against Marc Gasol that he played poorly. Solid game, but Dwight Howard would have filled his role much, much better.

  22. Some quick thoughts

    *Color analysts was horrible. Constantly making excuses for NBA players. How there was no foul even when replays show it was a foul. Then a blatant lie in the end when he says that’s what he expected US defense to do was come out in a zone. Before the timeout, he talked about how it was going to be a man D.

    * Billups had several brain fart moments in the half court offense. For a guy brought in to be the steady veteran presence, he sure took some bad one on one shots instead of running the offense.

    *Why exactly did US tip their hand in playing a zone at a crucial moment for an exhibition game? Why not save it until it counts? So what if their man D was getting killed in the end. Use it as a learning experience. If you lose, so be it. Use the game tape to learn and practice executing. Save the zone as your ace in the hole and get your man D better.

    *Half court offense is horrendous. Too often devolving into individual play. US can get away with it against most teams but the better teams will defend that.

  23. the lakers worked out a spanish player named Pablo Aguilar over the summer.

    I thought there was a chance he could play for the national team, but I guess there’s a lot of depth at that position.