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.