Australia-United States of America Preview
LONDON (AP) - Three games from gold, the U.S. men's Olympic basketball team believes its best is still to come.
First up is Australia in the quarterfinal round, though Wednesday's game, and each one after that, may as well go by another name to the Americans.
"Game 7,'' forward Kevin Durant said. "Every game is Game 7. Most of the guys here been in those situations.''
The Americans have two choices: Win, and move closer to the title, or lose and go home in disgrace.
"We're focused on this,'' coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "We're ready. Let's go.''
The U.S. was 5-0 in pool play, perfect in the standings if not quite on the court. The defense hardly seems at a championship level, though that never mattered because the Americans could outgun all of their opponents.
But there are no Nigerias in the single-elimination round, so maybe there will come a night where they can't win with offense alone.
"I think we can outscore teams, but you're going to have a game where your shots aren't falling and you need to get stops,'' swingman Andre Iguodala said, "and that's the scary part of our team. It's that we can still get better. We want to get better. We want to really dominate. It's really just communicating and continue to gel. Even though there is only a week left, we're trying to gel with one another and put some dominant games together and try to go home with the gold.''
Krzyzewski is fed up with people thinking that's supposed to be easy. For more than 13 minutes Tuesday, he fought back against every notion that his squad should never dare find itself in a close game.
Now it's time for his players to answer for themselves.
"We're undefeated, now we're 0-0. Like, our team's done a really good job,'' Krzyzewski said. "I mean, we have great camaraderie, we're healthy. Again, you all can do whatever you want with the dominance thing, but it ain't happening. It's just not happening and we know that. So if you're looking at a game for us to dominate every minute of the game, it will not happen. They're too good. People are too good and so if you can win minutes, segments, then that adds up to a win, which is what we want to do.''
The U.S. faced only one close game in preliminary-round play but showed an alarming lack of commitment to defense in the last two victories for a team that has always insisted that defense is its strength.
Or maybe it's no concern at all, not when a team can score the way these Americans can.
Kobe Bryant sure isn't worried.
"No, because in literally one minute we can go on like a 10-0 run,'' he said. "So I'm not concerned right now.''
The Americans were locked in a one-point game with Argentina at halftime Monday after allowing 56 percent shooting. Then they buried the Argentines under a 42-17 avalanche in the third quarter, rolling to a 126-97 victory. That came two nights after the U.S. was shredded for 58 percent in its 99-94 victory over Lithuania.
The U.S. is allowing 79.6 points per game, a number that would rank nearer the bottom of the 12-team field if not for all the teams whose average was ruined because they had to play against the Americans and their tournament-best - by a marathon length - 117.8 points averaged.
"I would like to see our defense play a little bit longer, as close to 40 minutes then to 20, 25, 30,'' LeBron James said. "But you know we have so many heavy hitters and so many home run hitters that we could break up a two-point game into a 13-, 14-, 15-point game in two or three possessions, you know, two or three minutes. It's great to be a part of something like that.
"It's not dangerous for our team because it's not like we're out there not playing hard. It's not like we're out there not caring, because when we get to the sideline we say 'Hey, we've got to pick it up defensively, we've got to start playing defensively' and then we lock in. So I like the way we've been playing.''
So does Krzyzewski, but sometimes he feels as if he's in the minority. He's been around international basketball for much of his coaching life and was an assistant 20 years ago on the Dream Team, so he's watched opponents go from fearful to fearless when they play against the United States.
"How many of them are NBA players? Why wouldn't they be?'' Krzyzewski said. "I mean, you're out there with (Manu) Ginobili and (Luis) Scola, they play against these guys all the time. They're not intimidated by anybody and the other thing is, if a team does not have as many NBA players, what do they have to lose? So they're playing with free money. In other words, there are different things that you're defending besides an opponent's offense: their egos, their opinion of you.
"That's just the way it is and it's been that way - I don't know why people don't understand this it's been that way for a long time. It's been that way for a decade and we understand that.''
Australia has been a frequent elimination-round opponent for the Americans in recent years and another that won't be in awe. The teams went at it hard in an exhibition game four years ago and the U.S. players who were on that team expect more of the same as the competition moves to the North Greenwich Arena - or the O2 to the NBA players who have already had games there.
"They're definitely another aggressive team, another physical team, a team that likes to scrap,'' Carmelo Anthony said. "Everybody likes to scrap out there, so it'll be another one of them games.''
Speedy point guard Patty Mills of the San Antonio Spurs led the Aussies to a 3-2 record in Group B, including an 82-80 victory over top-seeded Russia on Monday. Mills won it on a 3-pointer at the buzzer and is averaging 20.2 points, just off Pau Gasol's tournament-best 20.6 per game. But the Americans will likely swarm him defensively, and there isn't enough firepower around him.
"We understand the level of talent we'll be up against,'' Australia coach Brett Brown said. "Our focus will be on playing prideful Australian basketball. The players are looking forward to playing them and will use it as a measuring stick to see what level they are on now.''
The Americans will be expected to crush them from the start, and perhaps Krzyzewski is right about that being unfair and unrealistic. Nobody remembers during his victory laps if sprinter Usain Bolt was slow out of the blocks.
The only thing that matters is the finish, and the U.S. is on track for the one it wants.
"I think now our focus level is to start the game off extremely aggressive within the game plan and within the way that the game is being called,'' Anthony said. "I don't think we will come out as far as being lacksadaisical, anything like on the defensive end or waiting to see what they're going to do to make our adjustment. Our adjustment will be from the tip-off.''
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