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Path to gold

Group play is over, but the U.S. still has work left

Posted: Thursday August 24, 2006 11:55AM; Updated: Thursday August 24, 2006 5:28PM
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Shane Battier needs to work on his pick-and-roll defense.
Shane Battier needs to work on his pick-and-roll defense.

The  U.S. concluded a perfect five-game run through the preliminary round of the World Championship by routing Senegal by 45 points on Thursday. The players have accomplished quite a bit, but this team still has some work left to do before it's gold-medal worthy. Here's what the U.S. needs to do.

Keep it up

• The right attitude is there. The Team USA outfits in 2002 and '04 also had their share of blowouts, but you never got the feeling they were enjoying their time on the court. This year's model isn't exactly bringing the ball up with a smile, but they at least appear to appreciate the respective talents of their teammates, and they're trying to execute coach Mike Krzyzewski's game plan. Should the going get rough in the medal round, and we've no reason to expect that it won't, this roster has a solid mind-set to fall back on, alongside its considerable athletic gifts.

• Through the first five games in Japan, the U.S. had only 54 turnovers, a considerable accomplishment when you factor in the hectic pace and the fact that few of these players have shared the court with one another. If Team USA wants to win with its offense and ability to create turnovers on the other end, the team must continue to limit its turnovers to about half of its opponent's total.

• Stick with the minutes distribution. It may seem awkward or unorthodox, a remnant of All-Star Games gone by, but Coach K must continue to throw waves of talented players at the opposition. Kirk Hinrich needs minutes. Either Elton Brand or Dwight Howard has to be on the court at all times. Chris Bosh (20 points) showed on Thursday that he was far from enervated by his pittance of 36 minutes in the first four games.

Get it back

• Team USA is bigger, better, stronger and faster than its competition -- and it needs to act like it. In its first four games, the U.S. outrebounded its opponents by a mere four combined boards. The U.S. often gives up bulk and savvy to its older opponents, remains perplexed by the trapezoid lane and is often playing away from the NBA comfort zones on defense. It needs to acclimate and start to dominate the glass.