After rolling through their first two contests, Team USA faces their biggest challenge yet at the 2010 FIBA World Basketball Championships today when they take on Brazil (2:30 EST).
The Brazilians, winners of the 2009 FIBA Americas Championship, are one of the most balanced teams in the tournament and could pose problems inside with the Anderson Varejao-Tiago Splitter combination.
If Varejao and Splitter are active and causing headaches inside for Team USA, it will really open up the middle for Leandro Barbosa to relentlessly attack the basket.
Defense will be instrumental in the U.S. gameplan today. It seems likely that Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook will spend a majority of the time on the speedy Barbosa when the U.S. plays man-to-man. Keep an eye on how much zone they play today as well; yesterday against Slovenia, Coach K implemented some of the 2-3 principles brought on board by Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim.
On the flip side, how Brazil defends Kevin Durant will more than likely be a strong indicator of how good of a chance they have of pulling off an upset.
Durant is such a difficult matchup, especially in international play, because of his height, length, and athleticism. He and Kevin Love were the two spark plugs that allowed Team USA to go up by 27 in the third quarter against Slovenia and coast to victory.
Check back just before tip-off for any last minute updates. B/R will be providing live updates and analysis as the game progresses.
Anderson Varejao will play for the first time in this year's World Championships. He won't be in the starting lineup and will come off the bench.
The starting lineups:
USA: Derrick Rose, Chauncey Billups, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant, Lamar Odom
Brazil: Alex Garcia, Marcelinho Huertas, Leandro Barbosa, Marcus Vieira, Tiago Splitter
The winner will have the inside track for first place in Group B.
--U.S. picks up full court and forces two consecutive turnovers, leading to two FTs for Iguodala and an and-one opportunity for Kevin Durant. But Brazil counters by breaking the press and getting an easy lay-up.
--Brazil running multiple pick-and-rolls at the top with Splitter and it has been effective. They then isolated him in the post, resulting in an open three for the Brazilians.
--Durant hits his second three and has nine points halfway through the first quarter. Any half court offense has been run through him.
--Really frenetic pace; Brazil isn't afraid to run with the U.S. Not sure they can keep up all game but Team USA is not defending well at all. They can't rely on hitting jumpers all day to win. U.S. up 18-17.
--Rudy Gay, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, and Eric Gordon all check in. First two possessions on the bench result in a turnover and a possession where the ball doesn't get closer than 15 feet to the hoop. Not a great start for the bench guys.
--An 8-0 run for Brazil to end the first and they lead 28-22 at the end of the first. Team USA defense still in the locker room; Brazil is shooting 75 percent (12-of-16) from the field and 100 percent (4-of-4) from the three-point line.
Brazil 28, USA 22
Poor halfcourt offense and no defense. If this continues it'll be a long game for the U.S. Let's see what kind of adjustments Coach K makes in the second quarter.
--Starters back in to start the second quarter. Kevin Durant's offense is single-handedly keeping the U.S. in the game. He has 12 of the 25 points and is touching the ball every possession.
--Brazil's ball movement is phenomenal. If there's any breakdown in the pick-and-roll defense, they capitalize on it. Splitter just made a great cross-court pass to Garcia for an open three. U.S. still using full-court pressure but it's not as intense as it was to start the game.
--Finally, a timeout. Brazil leads 33-27 with 8:30 remaining in the first half.
--USA much more active defensively the last two or three possessions, but offensively they're settling for way too many jump shots. They already have 10 turnovers and Fran Fraschilla made a great point about how the one-pass jump shots are essentially "invisible turnovers." They've had at least three or four of those as well.
--Chauncey is not contributing much today. Taking some bad gambles defensively, committing touch fouls, and stopping ball movement on offense with quick jumpers. Russell Westbrook subs in for him. Brazil leads 35-30 with 5:03 left in the second.
--The offensive sets between the two teams aren't even comparable. Brazil runs pick-and-rolls, flex sets, back screens...everyone is constantly moving. USA...not so much. Lots of isolation and shots off of one pass.
--Brazil ends the first half with a 46-43 lead. Lots of questions for the US, especially on defense. Really looking forward to the fourth quarter and seeing what kind of crunch time lineup is on the floor.
Brazil 46, USA 43
A few additional thoughts: Marcelinho Huertas looks like Steve Nash running the pick-and-roll, and I don't think he's that good...Brazil shooting 58 percent, and I don't think the U.S. can win unless they get them back down under 50 percent...if Splitter sits out at all in the second half, the U.S. needs to switch all screens...Anderson Varejao has yet to check in, which suggests that he probably won't play in the second half...offensively, someone needs to step up and help Durant - I want to see Rose attack the basket more in the second half.
Finally, for all you NBAers out there, keep an eye on Durant in the second half. I think everyone is pining for him to go into Kobe Bryant, "Eff You There's No Way We're Losing This Game" mode. This could be his alpha-dog coming-out party.
--Three turnovers in the first four possessions to start the second half for the US.
--Finally some good pick-and-roll defense. Lamar Odom getting aggressive and really hedging out on the screens; the help defense has been solid.
--Tyson Chandler makes an appearance as Odom picks up his third foul. He's here for defense, so let's see it Tyson...
--A Derrick Rose floater gives the US their first lead since halfway through the first quarter, 52-50. Defense has been much more active and effective. Only one basket in half court sets for Brazil in the second half.
--Good strategy defensively: hedge the pick-and-rolls on Huertas, have the weak side defense rotate on Splitter, and make Huertas throw cross-court passes and force Brazil to make three's. They're 0-for-4 to start the second half after going 7-of-11 in the first half.
--Great veteran play from Billups, drawing Huertas' fourth foul with just over four minutes left in the quarter. Now's the time to take a 55-50 lead and get into double-digits going into the fourth.
--When Derrick Rose checked out, Chauncey Billups mentally checked in. He drew Huertas' fourth foul, got an easy lay up splitting the help defense, then got in the lane and set up a dunk for Durant (might have been the first dunk of the game for Team USA). Him and Westbrook are playing very well together.
--Splitter picked up his fourth on an offensive foul. Critical time for Brazil, they need to find a way to hang around and keep it in the 5-6 point range.
--Good to see some similarities between NBA & FIBA officiating...like a guy tripping over his own feet and being bailed out with a foul by the ref that's 40 feet away from the play instead of the guy that's five feet away.
--Barbosa hits one of two free throws to close the gap to two heading into the final quarter.
USA 61, Brazil 59
Brazil scored 28 points and shot 75 percent in the first quarter. They've scored 31 points and shot 37 percent in the second and third quarters, so the defense has definitely improved. Offensively, they're still struggling in the half court but they're getting some easy buckets off turnovers.
Speaking of turnovers, the U.S. has 16. Far too many. Those numbers went down once Billups-Westbrook started in the backcourt.
Kevin Durant has 26 points on 9-of-15 shooting (4-of-6 three's), seven rebounds, and three steals. Simply put, he's playing incredible.
The U.S. blew an opportunity to stretch the lead out while Huertas and Splitter each had four fouls. It'll be a dog fight in the final 10 minutes.
--Splitter and Huertas remain on the bench with four fouls to start the quarter.
--I'm actually glad there's a delay to start the fourth. It's only been an hour and 20 minutes since tip off and it has flown by. Such fast pace with minimal commercial breaks. Great for watching but bad for trying to type and watch what's happening at the same time.
--And we're underway again...
--Rose checks back in and Chauncey reverts to quick jumpers and bad defensive gambles. Don't know why this is happening but Billups has only played well when Rose sat out in the third.
--Sloppy play to start the fourth for both teams. An incredibly acrobatic reverse lay up for Derrick Rose...and the foul! USA up four with over six minutes to play.
--Huertas and Splitter back in for Brazil.
--Updates might slow down just a tad in the final few minutes, things could get a little intense. But an aesthetically-pleasing quarter it has not been.
--Iguodala running baseline-to-baseline, but nobody else is doing much of anything on offense. Especially Lamar Odom.
--Durant went about 11 feet in the air to block a floater from Splitter. Huge, huge play, especially since Huertas and Splitter broke down the pick-and-roll defense again.
--Barbosa misses two three's, but Rose turns it over with excess dribbling. USA up 68-66 with just over a minute to play.
--Huertas fouled with 3.5 seconds left and misses first free throw. He clanks the second intentionally, gets the ball back, and Barbosa has a turn around go off the backboard and rim in and out as time expires. USA escapes with a 70-68 win.
--Final thoughts coming a few minutes, but right away I have one grievance: it's completely and totally inexcusable that Kevin Durant didn't touch the ball in the final two possessions. This is absolutely unacceptable.
USA 70, Brazil 68
...About the only positive outcome of this game was the win. But this game was a perfect example of why many thought Team USA could struggle in this tournament.
Defensively, they played relatively well in the second half but Brazil missed a lot of open shots that they made in the first half. The pick-and-roll defense was either great or horrible...no in-betweens.
...The Rose-Billups combo did not play well together. They forced things on offense, took too many jumpers, had bad gambles going for steals on defense, and were torched by Huertas.
...From an individual standpoint, Kevin Durant was great today. But Hertas and Splitter were the second and third best players on the floor. If this happens in the elimination round, all it takes is a few more made shots to knock the U.S. off. Someone else needs to step up.
...We need to see more of Kevin Love and Eric Gordon.
...I wasn't a big fan of the fourth quarter lineup. The starters pretty much played the whole time and it was a mess on offense. Iguodala was a non-factor and Odom had the deer-in-the-headlights look every time he touched the ball. And in the final minute, if you're not going to run an offense at all, wouldn't you rather have Durant play isolation instead of Billups?
...Bottom line, it wasn't pretty and this type of effort and performance won't get Team USA to the finals. They're athletic enough to blow teams like Slovenia and Tunisia out of the gym. But against balanced teams like Argentina and Brazil, they can't expect to play like this and win.
Tomorrow is an off day before playing Iran at 12 EST on Wednesday.