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There's no surprise when NBA, err USA, loses

August 05, 2004|by DAN KAUFFMAN

Call Italy's 95-78 defeat of the USA men's basketball team whatever you want. Just don't call it stunning, shocking, surprising or any of those things.

Because it's just not.

Listen, folks: Two years ago, America sent some of the best NBA players to the world championships. They finished sixth.

Sixth!

So don't fool yourselves. If the USA fails to medal at all in Athens, it wouldn't be that big an upset.

This isn't the 1992 Dream Team. This isn't even a great team. It's just a team of good NBA talent. Nothing more. Frankly, I'd be hard pressed to call it a team. It's more like a collection of individuals who fake it, and quite poorly.

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I didn't watch the Italy game (I doubt I missed much). I did watch some of Wednesday's game against Germany (in which the USA needed Allen Iverson's last-second 3-pointer to win), and the first half of last weekend's game against Puerto Rico, from which I observed a couple things.

First, Dwayne Wade cares. Carmelo Anthony cares. Tim Duncan may ... it was hard to tell. No one else played like the game mattered. That matters. A team full of guys who don't seem to care usually won't care for the end result.

Second, international competition is different from NBA competition. It's truly a Team game, and please note the capitalization.

Say what you want for the individual talent on the squads of Puerto Rico, Italy and Germany (which did feature Dirk Nowitzki), but those teams play like teams. The NBA guys on the USA squad are used to playing a 1-on-1 style predicated on positional matchups. Isolation plays are the name of the NBA game, but that won't cut it in Athens, not when zone defenses are allowed without restrictions.

(Side note: Goaltending is not illegal in international competition. If I was a coach, I'd tell my tallest defender never to leave the area directly around the basket. That way, any shot which goes up, that player can leap up and grab or deflect it before it goes in. Makes sense, right? So why does no one mention this?)

The bottom line is, the rest of the world has gotten better at basketball, and we've regressed. International teams can shoot from outside. Good luck finding one good shooter on the USA squad. International teams know how to work the ball from side to side, send a cutter to the basket and capitalize on opportunities. NBA basketball doesn't work that way - remember, it's more about matchups and isolation - so our guys don't.

Most of all, international teams care about winning, whether in exhibitions or in Athens. I'm not so sure our guys do. Certainly not most of them.

That being said, this USA squad could still win gold. It'd be stupid to think otherwise.

It'd also be stupid to think they're locks to win anything.




Dan Kauffman is a staff writer for The Morning Herald. His column appears every other Thursday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7520 or by e-mail at kauffman@herald-mail.com

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