The United States' opening exhibition game against Brazil exposed some roster holes in need of plugging. Mike Krzyzewski's squad went about doing just that against the Dominican Republic Wednesday night.
James Harden got the offense going early, and Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan kept it going late as the United States turned up the pressure to defeat the Dominican Republic, 105-62, despite the absence of Derrick Rose.
The United States shot 57.9 percent from the field, with six players scoring in double figures. DeRozan and Rudy Gay led the way with 13 points apiece, each taking advantage of plenty of open-court opportunities.
The Dominican effort was led by Francisco Garcia and James Feldeine, who each scored a game-high 14 points. Even with the U.S. missing arguably its most talented player, the Dominican Republic shot 34.3 percent and had only three double-figure scorers.
Rose sat out after not participating in practice Monday or Tuesday due to soreness in his surgically repaired knee. The Bulls star, who has played in only 10 NBA games the past two seasons, initially expected to play before Krzyzewski decided before the game to give him additional rest.
Ethan Strauss of ESPN sent out a sentiment similar to many others:
Hungry for non ominous Derrick Rose news— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) August 20, 2014
Strauss got some of that news when Bulls head coach and Team USA assistant Tom Thibodeau said Rose will play Friday, per Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com:
Thibodeau says he expects Rose to practice tomorrow and play Friday. Said staff expected him to have 'soreness' after last Saturday.— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) August 21, 2014
Rose scored seven points in the United States' 95-78 win over Brazil in the first of three exhibition games before the FIBA World Cup. While they got out to a stellar start and led by 14 points after the first quarter, Team USA's offensive struggles allowed the Brazilians back into the contest. The U.S. turned the ball over 16 times, shot 4-of-17 from three-point range and needed a 31-16 free-throw advantage to come out ahead.
"I'm pleased with our team," Krzyzewski told reporters. "We've had a lot of interruptions. The one thing that hasn't been interrupted is our effort...To play an organized team, an outstanding team like Brazil the way we did tonight is really encouraging."
The shortcomings were few and far between against an overmatched Dominican side.
The U.S. broke out to a double-digit lead around the midpoint of the first quarter and held a comfortable lead for the rest of the contest. Harden scored 10 of his 12 points in the first 10 minutes, again using his body and setting an attacking tone for the rest of the night. As he continues his quest to prove he's the best player in the world, Harden even threw in quite a bit of defensive effort.
Zach Harper of CBS Sports is ready for the public perception on Harden to begin anew:
I’m all in on a James Harden renaissance.— Zach Harper (@talkhoops) August 20, 2014
Playing their patented aggressive style, Team USA used its athletic superiority to force turnovers and create easy buckets in transition. The Dominican Republic turned the ball over 19 times, leading to 23 U.S. points.
When locked in, the United States defense was nearly unstoppable. It held the underdog Dominicans, who had a strong contingent of fans cheering them on at Madison Square Garden, scoreless for more than half of the third period during a lengthy run. The third-quarter rout took a game that had hung near semi-respectability in the first half and made the final 10 minutes academic.
The third was also a showcase for Irving, whose excellent evening had to make Cavaliers fans hopeful for October. Irving made all five of his shots, added five assists and made the most of his minutes in Rose's absence. Taking a page from his NBA exhibition playbook, the All-Star guard also made the crowd swoon with his ball-handling skills.
Cant guard Kyrie , https://t.co/KGJ90gOnfF— gifdsports (@gifdsports) August 20, 2014
Eric Freeman of Yahoo Sports expressed some slight disappointment, believing moments like those will be less frequent with LeBron James back in Cleveland:
I'm excited to watch the Cavs, duh, but I'm bummed that Kyrie will handle the ball less next season. Because wow.— Eric Freeman (@freemaneric) August 21, 2014
After being spurred by big man Anthony Davis against Brazil, it was a wing-led effort Wednesday night. Davis finished with just seven points and four rebounds, sitting for a majority of the second half when the game was of reach.
DeRozan in particular was impressive with his willingness to get teammates involved. The Raptors All-Star added a game-high six assists in 23 minutes. DeRozan has been the leading scorer or tied for the honor in both of his Team USA appearances thus far.
Andre Drummond, also looking to lock up a roster spot, proved his worth on both ends of the floor. He scored 12 points on 6-of-10 shooting and grabbed five rebounds. Nate Duncan of Basketball Insiders noted Drummond's skill set could be an asset in Spain:
It's good to see Drummond playing well though. His NBA skillset is by far the most useful for this team among the backup bigs.— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) August 21, 2014
While Team USA will be pleased with its overall effort, it was obvious team-building is still an ongoing process. Turnovers, timing issues on seemingly easy plays like alley-oops and occasional defensive breakdowns on pick-and-rolls point to some understandable rhythm issues.
Kevin Durant's departure, Paul George's injury and minor bumps and bruises for Rose and Cousins have created a rotation far different than expectations.
The roster turnover in some ways excuses the team's flaws. Exhibitions are designed to work out the kinks, and the U.S. certainly looked better against the Dominican Republic than it did over the weekend.
That said, neither opponent can match the quality of Spain—the World Cup's host country and biggest threat for Krzyzewski and Co. The United States will need to find better consistency from beyond the arc and calm down the highlight-chasing passes against the world's elite. While Spain has less talent on paper, its core has the best chemistry in the world and has challenged Team USA's so-called A-Team in the last two Olympics.
The team from these first two exhibitions isn't yet on that level. With Wednesday's win, though, the U.S. might start getting enough momentum to be there when the games start counting.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.