Team USA beat Mexico 86-63 on Saturday in the round of 16 of the FIBA Basketball World Cup to advance to the quarterfinals, where it will face a Slovenia team that defeated the Dominican Republic in the same round. Here are three questions about the game:
Will Stephen Curry stay hot?
Curry began group play in bit of a shooting slump, connecting on just four of his first 17 field goal attempts and three of 11 three-point tries in wins over Finland and Turkey. The Warriors’ star guard heated up in Team USA’s ensuing pool games against New Zealand, Dominican Republic and Ukraine (57.1%, 42.9%, 58.3%) before going off for a tournament-high 20 points against Mexico. Curry shot 70 percent from the field and scored 11 of his points during the third quarter, in a sequence that resembled one of those vintage on-fire streaks that makes you feel like he's never going to miss.
With Team USA set to face stiffer opposition as it advances deeper in the tournament, Curry’s perimeter shooting will take on added importance. The Yanks may be able to get by Slovenia even if Curry doesn’t light it up from beyond the arc, but it’s better he develop a rhythm now than have to break a shooting dry spell in a hypothetical final against Spain. An in-form Curry is a frightening thing for any team to plan for, and if his game against Mexico is any indication, the Slovenians should brace for the worst.
What do I need to know about Slovenia?
Team USA beat Slovenia 101-71 in its final tune-up before group play began. The Yanks limited the Slovenians to 38.2 percent shooting and their best player, Suns point guard Goran Dragic, finished with just six points on 3-of-11 shooting. His brother, Zoran – who has drawn NBA interest – led Slovenia with 16 points. As has been the case in Team USA’s pool games, the Yanks were able to dominate thanks to their length and athleticism, with long-limbed center Anthony Davis submitting a sterling two-way effort (18 points, 11 rebounds, four steals, four blocks). Based off that game, there’s little reason to believe the Slovenians will seriously challenge Team USA.
That’s a shame for Slovenia, considering the unseemly tactics that helped bring about their meeting with the Yanks. Australia appeared to intentionally lose its final group game against Angola, allowing the Australians to delay a potential game against Team USA (Australia fell to Turkey in the round of 16 on Sunday). The apparent tank job – FIBA announced Monday that it's investigating the matter – combined with Slovenia’s loss to Lithuania in its final group game, set up the Slovenians to face the Yanks on Tuesday. Dragic took to Twitter to express his frustration with Australia’s shenanigans. Another rough outing against Team USA won’t temper his outrage.
How is Derrick Rose playing?
Rose has looked out of sorts through most of the tournament, and his struggles continued in the win over Mexico. The 2011 MVP scored zero points on 0-for-5 shooting in 16 minutes. Over six games, Rose has shot 21.6 percent from the field and 1-for-11 from three-point range. While it’s encouraging that he hasn’t had any setbacks after missing most of the last two seasons with two major knee surgeries, Rose has been dogged by questions about his health and performance. It’s gotten to the point where Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski is suggesting that reporters ask Rose about a totally made-up rift regarding Krzyzewski and Rose growing up in different parts of Chicago.
Rose has maintained that he feels good health-wise and that he’s comfortable operating in a complementary scoring role while other players such as Davis, Harden and Faried carry the load offensively. Yet there may come a time in this tournament – against Spain, perhaps – when Team USA needs the explosive scoring ability that defined Rose before his injuries. Bulls coach and Team USA assistant Tom Thibodeau has said that this has been a positive experience for Rose. A breakout game that recalls his MVP form would be even more encouraging.