Posted: Wednesday August 23, 2006 12:48PM; Updated: Wednesday August 23, 2006 3:07PM
Have a question or comment for Kelly Dwyer? Submit it here.
Should the U.S. players be faulted for playing too much one-on-one ball? Yeah, but their over-dribbling isn't born of selfishness. It's born of knowing no other way to play. When things fall apart, these kids revert to what they know -- and for the last 15 years, American players have known little else beyond dribbling for 20 seconds and firing up a shot.
Coach K has done quite a bit with his assembled talent, but he's not going to wean LeBron James off the style of play that has made him millions by age 21. Yes, it'd be lovely to see LBJ work off the ball for 15 seconds, finally freeing himself up for a pass and subsequent flush, but don't hold your breath. These players haven't played enough ball yet -- in their careers, or with each other.
A few other trouble spots from Wednesday's game:
Dwyane Wade has won a Finals MVP, leading his team from the brink and an 0-2 deficit on basketball's biggest stage, so there's no reason he should be thrown off his game (as he was in the first half against Italy) by a C-level player in Matteo Soragna.
Shane Battier made his mark at the college and professional ranks by making sound defensive decisions and covering wide swatches of the court with his length and instincts, so there is no reason he shouldn't be able to fight through a screen on this level -- especially when he knows the end result will always involve his man setting up for a shot some 21 feet from the hoop.
Wade, Anthony and Kirk Hinrich all managed to swish pointless free throws in those pedestrian February matchups with the Warriors and the Bobcats, so there is no reason they shouldn't be able to concentrate long enough to nail better than 6 of 12 from the line while representing their country. And each of these guys has played against the Knicks, so they know all about quick and questionable shot decisions from behind the arc, and the long rebounds that usually result.
Still, they're learning, by hook or by crook. Anthony and Battier both took offensive fouls, which in international play involves dubious footwork and a blood-curdling scream at the slightest hint of contact. Luckily for Team USA, the refs played along.
Anthony's 35 points didn't come by launching a 22-footer, Stephon Marbury-in-2004-style, in the face of a defender four inches shorter than he. He moved and stayed active, and in the end Italy couldn't keep up. Elton Brand continues to impress on both ends of the court, and LeBron kept a healthy attitude in the face of his worst game in years.
How will this team react to its first sweat-it-out game? That's been the question since the beginning of this tournament, and we haven't had a black-and-white answer even in response to dominant conquests or (like Wednesday's game) lucky little wins.
The U.S. should blow past Senegal on Thursday before getting two days off before the elimination rounds. If Team USA wants the gold in Japan, it must win four games in seven days, against teams that are far superior to anything it has seen thus far.
How well the U.S. does will probably be determined by how much the players deal with Wednesday's effort. So far this team has proven to have nothing less than an exemplary attitude, so we've little room to doubt that the U.S. will regard the win over Italy in the correct context -- as a step back.