At every major international tournament, the competition finds one chink in the Americans' armor and tries to exploit it.
At the 2004 Olympics in Athens, it was perimeter shooting. Puerto Rico, Lithuania and Argentina packed five guys into the lane and practically dared Team USA to beat them from the outside.
At the 2006 world championships in Japan, the United States appeared to have constructed a juggernaut. It steamrolled through its early opponents, hammering the competition by an average of 25 points entering the semifinal game against Greece. But with an opportunity to regain some measure of international pride, the Americans were victimized by the simplest play in basketball: the pick-and-roll.
Running it with
USA Basketball has gone to great lengths to address those problems. It added a sharpshooter/zone buster in
But there is a new threat looming, one that will likely be pointed to should this group come up short in its quest to reclaim Olympic gold.
Tempo. The United States likes to push it, and the rest of the world is doing everything within its power to slow it down.
After watching the Americans' first three exhibition games in China, against Turkey, Lithuania and Russia, you can see their offensive strategy. Run. Run on steals. Run on missed shots. Run on made shots. Run out of the huddle before the other team takes the court.
OK, we made up the last one. But you get the idea.
"If you take a look at past games," Russia forward
He's right. The United States has fielded what is probably its most aggressive defensive team to date, a ball-hawking group of players that creates turnovers in bunches to set up transition opportunities. Team USA forced 19 turnovers against Turkey, 23 against Lithuania and 17 against Russia.
The leader of the group is
The question now is, Can Team USA maintain this type of tempo throughout the Olympics? And if not, how effective will it be in the half court?
If the game against Russia is any indication, teams may be willing to roll the dice and find out.
Using a methodical offense that would have made
The strategy was effective. Against Turkey, the United States had 82 offensive possessions. Against Lithuania, the number jumped to 86. In both matchups, Team USA had 28 fast-break points and turned the game into a Harlem Globetrotters-type exhibition.
But against Russia, the tempo slowed considerably. The USA had 74 possessions and finished with only 15 fast-break points.
"They did a good job of calling timeouts or substituting when there was a free throw," forward
Slowing the game down, however, only works when you are executing on the other end, and with Turkey, Lithuania and Russia each shooting no better than 44 percent, there wasn't much chance for an upset. Still, better offensive teams might have more success keeping the game close and forcing the United States into a half-court game, where its love of isolation plays can be detrimental in international competition.
"I think that's why they schedule these games,"
A sampling from readers in response to my column about referee
Scott Foster, the NBA's Sal "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero? I think that might be a stretch, Bob. But the fact that wild conspiracy theories like that are floating around only underscores my point that the NBA made a huge mistake (and continues to compound it) by steadfastly refusing to offer up any meaningful explanation/comment about the Foster-Donaghy relationship. Perhaps the NBA is waiting to reveal the findings of the Pedowitz report, an investigation named after former federal prosecutor
I refuse to demonize Foster just because he had a relationship with Donaghy. The man was clearly a qualified referee, having officiated two Finals games last season. And just being friends with a crook doesn't make you one. But by ducking the questions, the NBA is looking exactly the way it doesn't want to: like it is hiding something.
You're not going to find too many bigger fans of
While Pierce is a fantastic offensive player -- he has
Kobe is a lockdown defender. In 12 seasons, he has been named to the NBA's All-Defensive team eight times (including six first-team selections). Pierce has never been chosen in his 10 seasons. That fact alone gives Bryant a decisive edge in my book.