They won't admit it, the rest of the world, but a fear of the U.S. has to be growing.
Not because of Team USA's talent. Heck, every team in the 2010 World Championship is talented. Brazil has a former Sixth Man award-winner (
No, the U.S. isn't feared because of talent alone. It's feared because that talent is starting to play together. Angola has never been considered a basketball power. The former Portuguese territory is perhaps best known in international hoop circles as the team that was on the receiving end of a 116-48 butt-kicking by the 1992 Dream Team in its Olympic debut.
But this Angola team picked up two wins in Group play, a lopsided victory over Jordan and a narrow triumph over Germany. Angola has
Good? Far from it, but there's little doubt that the Angolans aren't nearly as bad as they used to be.
Of course, you would have a hard time buying that on Monday, when the U.S. dismantled Angola 121-66 to advance to the quarterfinals. Four U.S. players (
It's hard to find flaws in anything the U.S. did on Monday. It shot a blistering 52.6 percent from the floor, including an eye-popping 47.4 percent from three-point range. Billups (5-7 from three) and Gordon (5-6) did most of the damage, capitalizing on the comfortable cushion that Angola gave them beyond the arc.
The U.S. passed well, getting 30 assists on 41 field goals. It rebounded, crushing Angola 43-22 on the glass. And despite having hot hands from the outside, it was aggressive in the paint, getting to the free throw line 26 times.
"They were very unselfish. It showed in the extra passes that were made, and I thought we stayed aggressive the whole game," coach
Indeed, Monday's win represented the high-water mark for this U.S. team. The sloppy play that plagued it in training camps in New York and Las Vegas was replaced by fluid movement and flawless execution. The defense was better than it had been in Group play, particularly beyond the three-point line, where Angola made just seven of 27 shots (25.9 percent).
"We're coming along," said Billups. "It takes time. This is a new team. It's the first time we've all played together as a unit. We've been together for about a month, maybe. So that is the challenge, trying to come together as soon as possible. The game [in Europe] is totally different. The floor is different as well. The three-point line, the key is different, there are a lot of differences about the games. This is something that all the teams here are used to. We're not used to it, so that's another challenge that we are trying to fight through. I feel like we've got the best players in the world, though. Even if the Kobes', LeBron's, Melo's are not here, I still feel like we've got the best talent in the world. We should still expect to be successful."
Success won't come easy. Next up for the U.S. is Russia, a team coached by highly respected American David Blatt and led by Knicks center
Winning will require a polished team effort. On Monday, the U.S. showed it was capable of that.