Posted: Thursday August 31, 2006 9:46AM; Updated: Thursday August 31, 2006 3:17PM
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In a half-court offense, the U.S. often looks sloppy: looping YMCA-style skip passes, crazy drives, quick shots. Of course, when the ball ends up inside, someone dunks it emphatically, rousing the Japanese fans from prolonged silence into appreciative oohing and ahhing (teams are not cheered here; athletic feats are). When a shot misses, someone flies in, grabs the board and resets until someone else can get the ball and dunk it (the Americans' 22-6 advantage on the offensive glass saved them against Germany).
The problem is, athleticism won't carry the day from here on out.
Both Spain and Argentina will defend the rim, and Greece has the type of wide-bodies -- primarily Sofoklis Schortsanitis, the much-hyped "Baby Shaq" -- to do so as well. That means the U.S. will have to find other ways to score, or gamble that the threes will drop like they did against Australia last Sunday.
The obvious solution is penetration and motion. A good sign: At the end of Thursday's practice, the U.S. was working on sets that included high-post handoffs and drive-and-kicks. The unit on the floor -- Hinrich, James, Brand, Anthony and Johnson -- may also be a preview of Friday's starting lineup against Greece.
If there is a change at point guard, from Paul to Hinrich (who is a better one-on-one defender), it might help against Greece's pro-style offense, which is built around plodding isolation plays that often lead to trips to the foul line.
Other notes from Tokyo:
Dwight Howard, already muscular, looks even bigger this summer. Take a 24-ounce can of beer and attach it to someone's shoulder and you have a rough approximation of the size of his deltoids. I asked how he's keeping his weight up, and he detailed a sophisticated lifting program.
"Every night I play a boxing video game [called Fight Night Round 3]," he said. "In between each round I do 20 to 40 push-ups." He averages about 10 matches a night, at anywhere from two rounds to 12. His estimate: 400 push-ups a night. Who says video games make kids fat and lazy?
Not sure if it's obvious on TV, but no one cares about the world championships here. In the U.S., fans aren't watching because the games are on at dockworker's hours. Here they're not watching because they can't.
At 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in Japan, as the U.S. tipped off against Germany, you could turn on the TV here and see horse racing, one of two soccer games (Sanfrecce vs. Jubilo or Trinita vs. the Red Diamonds in the J. League) or one of two Japanese baseball games, the Giants vs. the Carp or the Marines vs. the Hawks. But no basketball.
One upside for the players is that they're not mobbed everywhere they go. Miller and Hinrich went to a baseball game -- baseball being the Japanese national pastime -- and no one recognized them.
Miller says the biggest hassle was the corridors -- so low that even the 6-foot-3 Hinrich had to duck to walk through them. As for the other Japanese pastime, Miller had this review: "I like the Kirin, but the Sapporo's kind of, you know, sour. Like the bitter beer face."