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Clamping down

What's the key for U.S.? Defense, defense, defense

Posted: Sunday August 27, 2006 1:03PM; Updated: Sunday August 27, 2006 1:03PM
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If Team USA wants to win its first gold medal in 12 years at the FIBA World Championship, it needs to build off its play in the second quarter of Sunday's win over Australia. Entering the period with a four-point advantage, the U.S. outscored the Aussies by a 32-6 clip, refusing to let Australia manage even a field goal for the first seven minutes of the quarter.

That quarter, and the 113-73 win, was an impressive display. Team USA played its best help and strong-side defense of its World Championships run so far. Coach Mike Krzyzewski's crew pointedly stopped overplaying the big men who cut towards the ball on the perimeter, leaving fewer angles for the Aussies to hit backdoor cutters or shooters looking to work their perimeter fancy. Players like Kirk Hinrich, Joe Johnson and Shane Battier made sound decisions when it came to going over or under on screen and roll plays. The team moved its feet, it talked to each other and the interior defense was terrific.

Chris Bosh, Dwight Howard and ('natch) Elton Brand remained exemplary in this regard. Bosh is loving life right now. He got to prove himself on the international stage with a 20-point, 10-rebound outing against Senegal last Thursday -- up to that point, he'd been a victim of Coach K's numbers game and hadn't played more than spot-up minutes. Offering 12 points and nine boards against Australia on Sunday, he also took charges, disrupted shots on defense and covered large areas of paint with his impressive wingspan. Bosh could hardly be called a defensive force in his All-Star season with the Raptors last year, but his role on Team USA has been defined -- he's the player that Ben Wallace was supposed to be in the 2002 and 2004 US outfits.

Howard continues to grow with each game; he followed several Aussies out to the perimeter to contest shots but managed not to leave his feet too early. Recording a team-high three blocks (his total of 10 in the tournament also tops Team USA), Howard once again showed strong instincts in refusing to be caught in poor defensive position -- his feet were always moving, his shoulders always squared in the face of his opponent. Brand's seven blocks rank second on Team USA, but this only begins to describe his defensive capabilities.

This will come in handy during Team USA's next outing, against a Dirk Nowitzki-led Germany team. Dirk is averaging 24.5 points and 10 boards in six contests so far, with little significant help from any one else on the squad. Until the 2005-06 NBA season, the book on Dirk was to play him with a smaller forward and force him into uncomfortable spots on the low post, but Nowitzki more or less set that tome on fire last year. Nobody knows what Krzyzewski has up his sleeve, but don't be surprised to see Brand chasing Dirk around Wednesday night in the quarterfinals.