Five thoughts from USA-Spain
Outside of Marc Gasol, who sat with a shoulder injury, Spain didn't appear to hold anything back in the much-anticipated showdown between the FIBA's No. 1 and No. 2 teams. They quickly got Tyson Chandler into foul trouble, sending Team USA's only rim-protector to the bench and allowing Serge Ibaka to explode for 16 first-half points that were comprised mostly of uncontested dunks.
It was a scary start for a team that likens itself to the '92 Dream Team. At least until Carmelo Anthony checked into the game. While the U.S. felt Chandler's absence on defense, it was rejuvenated by the Knicks' trigger-happy star on offense. Anthony wasted no time by quickly draining two three-pointers and rattled off 23 of his game-high 27 points in the first half, including 13 of Team USA's first 25.
LeBron James nailed a three-pointer with seven minutes left in the second quarter to give the U.S. the lead for good. Team USA stretched it to eight by halftime and 22 by the end of the game, proving at least for one night that it's still the superior basketball power. But don't forget Spain's strategy at the 2008 Olympics. The Spaniards lost by 37 in group play before giving the U.S. all it could handle in the gold-medal game. Team USA passed its test Tuesday, but it's unlikely to be the last one it faces.
It became a different game in the second quarter when the U.S. turned up the tempo, something Krzyzewski likely noticed. Much has been made about how the U.S. will struggle against Spain's bigs, but the Spaniards face just as daunting of a challenge in keeping up with the speedy Americans.
Davis has played extremely well in garbage time during Team USA's five-game exhibition tour, but Krzyzewski has said he is reluctant to play the Kentucky product in the Olympics. He might have to change his stance if Chandler gets into foul trouble again or Love continues to struggle to keep up with Team USA's high-octane offense. Davis might be 19, but he's also USA's best shotblocker outside of Chandler.
The U.S. has plenty of scoring options. Durant is a three-time NBA scoring champion. Kobe has scored the fifth-most points in NBA history. And Anthony, as he reminded us Tuesday, is as capable as anyone on Team USA with the ball in his hands, pouring in a game-high 27 points off the bench with staggering ease.
The last thing Team USA needs is another guy who feels like he has to score 20 points per game for his team to win. Which is why LeBron (who had 25 on Tuesday) should, and likely will, embrace his role as an All-World facilitator. He catches flack in the NBA for not shooting enough (see: fourth quarters), but when it comes to Team USA, LeBron is at his most effective when focusing on facilitating on offense and clamping down on defense.
Team USA begins play in Pool A against France on Sunday, followed by Tunisia, Nigeria and Lithuania. They'll then face capable Argentina before entering the elimination stage -- but don't be surprised if the U.S. coasts to the gold-medal game via double-digit margins.
The U.S. beat Spain by just one point in a heated exhibition before the 2010 FIBA world championship and that was only after Rudy Fernandez's game-winning attempt was blocked by Durant at the buzzer. The next time they meet, the margin will be a lot closer to one than the 22-point victory they cruised to Tuesday.
The potential gold-medal showdown will be as enticing as any in London. If only the winner could be decided by a best-of-seven series.