Before we get to what may be an inevitable showdown between the United States and Spain at the 2014 FIBA World Cup, the red, white and blue have to navigate their way through the group stage of the event.
Here is a look at the schedule with broadcast information for the Americans, courtesy of NBA.com:
|Saturday, Aug. 30||United States vs. Finland||3:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|Sunday, Aug. 31||United States vs. Turkey||3:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|Tuesday, Sept. 2||United States vs. New Zealand||11:30 a.m.||ESPN|
|Wednesday, Sept. 3||United States vs. Dominican Republic||3:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|Thursday, Sept. 4||United Staes vs. Ukraine||11:30 a.m.||ESPN|
|Sept. 6-7||Round of 16||TBD||TBD|
|Sept. 14||Gold Medal Game||TBD||TBD|
Believe it or not, the hard part for Mike Krzyzewski’s team is in the rearview mirror. The squad first had to survive all the roster turbulence when Paul George went down with a gruesome leg injury and Kevin Love, Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin withdrew from competition.
What’s more, Coach K had the unenviable task of trimming the roster down to 12 players from the 16 who laced it up for most of the exhibition schedule. That meant cutting superstars such as Damian Lillard.
Here is a look at the group Krzyzewski settled on, via SportsCenter:
USA Basketball World Cup Roster announced: Rose, Curry, Irving, Thompson, DeRozan, Harden, Faried, Cousins, Davis, Gay, Drummond, Plumlee.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) August 23, 2014
Clearly, this squad is built for the later rounds with the big men. A potential clash with Spain and Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka looms, which means plenty is expected of Anthony Davis, Mason Plumlee, Andre Drummond, DeMarcus Cousins and Kenneth Faried.
That list may not seem as formidable as it could be down low, but Davis is rapidly becoming the next superstar in the NBA. His game is ideal for the Team USA roster because he is versatile and athletic enough to protect the rim on defense, grab tons of rebounds and get out in transition with the guards.
He demonstrated how much his skill set has developed in an exhibition against Slovenia when he totaled 18 points, 11 rebounds, four steals and four blocks in only 19 minutes.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though. We are focusing on the group-stage games before any match with Spain, and it’s difficult to envision the Americans losing at all.
The biggest challenge is the schedule itself.
Team USA plays five games in a span of six days. The players will need to stay fresh before the knockout stage, and it will be worth keeping an eye on Derrick Rose’s knees, in particular. If they prevent him from playing in back-to-back games (he sat out an exhibition game and multiple practices with soreness), that will put more pressure on Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving and James Harden.
What’s more, it will be critical that Krzyzewski keeps Davis ready for that hypothetical Spain game.
There is some talent in place in Group C that American fans will recognize. Erik Murphy is on Finland, Omer Asik is on Turkey, and Edgar Sosa and Francisco Garcia are on the Dominican Republic, but all of them aside from Asik are fringe players in the NBA at best.
Team USA is loaded with NBA All-Stars and some of the best players in the world. Brazil, Spain, Argentina and even Croatia could pose difficult challenges, but they are in separate groups.
The Americans should breeze through this relatively weak group on talent alone. That will be important because, again, the stretch of five games in six days is physically demanding even if the level of competition isn’t.
Playing against Asik will be a good early test for the big guys, but these games will also let the guards unleash their ball pressure and up-tempo attack. Good luck stopping a combination of Rose, Curry, Harden and Irving in transition.
Krzyzewski noted that Harden in particular has been impressive thus far, via Brett Pollakoff of Pro Basketball Talk:
James has been as good a leader as we’ve had for this team. He has a great personality. He is an upbeat guy, smart, and he’s obviously very, very talented. With this group, especially after Kevin left, he has asserted himself even more as an older guy. I know him, he knows me, because we have worked together. He’s really one of our key guys. There is no question about it.
Between the elite talent and the solid leadership, there is no realistic way the Americans are going to lose a group game unless there is an uncharacteristic game in which all of their shots simply aren’t falling. Even if that was the case, they could pound it down low with the five big guys.
United States 101, Finland 75
United States 99, Turkey 72
United States 112, New Zealand 80
United States 100, Dominican Republic 81
United States 120, Ukraine 78
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