Running with Zaza

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Team USA Vs. the World (Part II)

Team USA opens Olympic pool play against China tomorrow morning at 10 am. Let me be clear, I want Team USA to win the Gold medal in dominating fashion. I am tired of losing these international competitions. I want someone to come out and say we invented basketball; and, we need to win this tournament for national pride. My standards are very high for this team. In short, I do not just want to win, but I want Team USA to send a message. In the final two games against Russia and Australia, the better competition exposed some chinks in the armor of the so-called “Redeem Team”. Here are the 5 questions Team USA must answer to win the Gold in Beijing:

Will Coach Krzyzewski make the right decisions, play calls, and adjustments during the games? There is no question about Coach K’s ability to manage egos and to motivate these players, but the fact that the staff with Nate McMillan, Jim Boeheim, and Mike D’Antoni has no NBA titles is a concern. Coach K is going to have to call a time-out sometime. He is going to have to decide what set plays to run down the stretch of a close game. Will one of these other professional, international coaches out coach the heralded Coach K? It could happen. With 33 seconds left in the game against Australia, the camera panned to Coach K on the bench and he looked red in the face. Maybe the team got too much sun in Macau and was just a little tired here in Shanghai. Hopefully, Coach K was boiling inside at the lackluster performance and went off on the team in the locker room after the game. When Team USA plays Spain, Greece, or Argentina in the win or go home tournament, the talent will be pretty close to equal. Coach K will need to make the right calls to give us a chance to win Gold.

Who will be the emotional leader of this team? Who will fire some guys up on this team? Actually, I am worried about this, because Team USA seems so politically correct in interviews and when talking about the other teams. We should respect these other teams and countries, but these games are going to be very competitive. Three weeks from now, I fear that I will be writing about how Kevin Garnett should have been on this team. There would be nothing “friendly” about these games if Garnett were in China. The USA team has to play these games like they are on the playground playing for their rent money. Garnett plays that way--always hungry to win. Redemption is ours for the taking, but our anger about losing has to be real. The “Redeem Team” went through the motions against Russia and Australia. Hopefully, someone mentioned that fact. Jason Kidd has a Gold Medal, but the fire has to come from someone else. Team USA needs a Charles Barkley stepping on someone’s chest type of moment early in this tourney. Tomorrow morning against China is a great time to send a message.

Will Team USA be able to convert clutch free throws when a big game is close in the final minutes? There is a lack of focus at the free throw line by some of these players. Dwight Howard and Lebron missed badly on free throws in a couple of the exhibition games. These international teams are scouting hard and they will know whom to foul when the games are on the line. Just ask the Memphis Tigers how important free throw shooting is to winning a tournament championship.

Can Team USA play Coach K’s pressure man defense well enough to win the Gold? In basketball when you pressure the ball, you have to contain your man. If the offensive man beats you off the dribble, a teammate has to rotate and stop the penetration. The USA help side defense and help side rotations were not consistent in the last two exhibition games. On one play in the second half, Andrei Kirilenko just blew past Carmelo on the right side of the court. That is horrible as Bill Walton might have said, but what was worse was the lack of help side rotation. Lebron just stood and watched the lay up as Kirilenko attacked the basket. Team USA often looks like a team with a mindset of “okay my man just scored, but we will score on the other end so it does not matter.” Team USA must hate to get scored on, and then we can blow out even the good teams.

Is the America roster big and physical enough to beat Spain, Greece, or Argentina? Can Team USA rebound and block shots well enough to win? Rebounding is a big question mark. The perimeter players seem to be floating to much and not coming back to help rebound. The USA’s lack of an inside, physical presence was glaring. With Dwight Howard in foul trouble, there was no shot blocking or fear from the Russian team going to the rim. The Russians and the Australians had so many lay-ups and easy shots. Hardly any physical play from the Americans. Team USA has to rebound, block some shots, and set solid screens to win this tournament.


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