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Path to gold (continued)

Posted: Thursday August 24, 2006 11:55AM; Updated: Thursday August 24, 2006 5:28PM
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• During the 2005-06 NBA season, Brand, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony combined to shoot 77 percent from the line, and yet they're making less than two thirds of their free throws so far in international play. In the face of a docile Japanese crowd that could hardly be called distracting, it made no sense to see these players stumble at the line.

• By NBA standards, Bosh is a solid enough rebounder (he pulled in 14.4 percent of available rebounds in 2005-06, a rebounding rate that was good for 29th in the league), but he was hardly expected to make a difference on the glass in this tournament. After pulling in only five boards in the first four games, Bosh appeared to be lacking in energy and rhythm -- but all that changed on Thursday against Senegal. Bosh was all over the floor, doing his best work on the offensive glass and finishing with aplomb. If he can find a role in the medal round as Team USA's designated offensive rebound machine, then Coach K may have found a secret weapon.

• It was a cute talking point in the days leading up to Team USA's exhibition play -- how the squad was going to miss the defense and outside shooting of Spurs forward Bruce Bowen. This was all laughable to NBAniks, of course, because Bowen is past his prime at age 35, and Shane Battier was a better defender than Bruce last season (to say nothing of his superior skills in other areas).

But Battier has struggled with his pick-and-roll defense, and 11 rebounds in 78 minutes of play won't cut it. Bowen certainly would not have been an improvement on Battier, especially in the rebounding department, but this doesn't mean Shane can't improve. Battier's help-side defense, predictably, has been superb.

Figure it out

• Team USA has yet to take on an opponent that uses the sort of back-door/high-low offense that Argentina, Greece and Spain run to perfection. And while we're at it, the team has yet to successfully guard a basic screen-and-roll offense for an extended period of time, even when the opponent's objective (an open 20-footer) is obvious.

• The U.S. was clearly dragging in the early stages of Thursday's game, understandable considering the heavy workload of the past 10 days. Plus, none of these players are used to playing this sort of action in August. Then again, Senegal has played the same schedule and is just as unfamiliar with mid-August play. Then again, Senegal (and other teams) will always raise their level of play against the favorites from America, giving it that extra edge. Then again, shouldn't Team USA come up with that same edge -- considering that it is representing its country?

Listen, we love the team's attitude, and this squad is still the favorite heading into the medal round, but an on-court leader has to emerge. This is no time to worry about stepping on anyone's toes -- be they the toes of coaches or players -- and no time to worry about being labeled 2006's version of Paul Pierce or Stephon Marbury. If the play is dragging, the pace is lackluster and the referees seem to be calling an entirely different game, then someone is going to have to rally the kids.

It would be a semi-shocker if nobody stepped up, because there are a half-dozen players on this roster capable of filling that role. And if the preliminary round has taught us anything, it is that the U.S. is more than prepared to come together on the fly and bring home the senior basketball team's first gold medal in six years.