Tuesday, August 22nd, 2006 at 8:32 am  |  40 responses

USA 114, Slovenia 95

News and notes from Team USA’s third win at the World Basketball Championships…

by Lang Whitaker

So that was easier than anyone thought. After Slovenia jumped ahead to a few leads early on, their largest lead being 5 points, Team USA’s pressure defense kicked in and the Nats blew Slovenia off the floor through most the last 14 minutes of the first half. The US led 66-49 at the half, got up by 29 in the third. Slovenia cut it to 11 with 2:27 left, but that was mostly because Team USA subbed in Chris Bosh and Brad Miller, who have both been disappointing, and then just tried to hang on and run out the clock for the win, which they got, 114-95.

Slovenia played a lot of zone, and the US acquitted themselves fairly well versus it, at least early on when it mattered. Dwyane Wade has visibly improved game by game at finding gaps and attacking the rim. Perhaps he’s become Team USA’s designated zone-buster.

ESPN’s announcers said over and over that Slovenia had seven players that had been selected in the NBA Draft. Well, guess what? Team USA had 12. Anyway, Freddy Weis and Carl Lewis were each drafted by the NBA, but whether or not you were picked by an NBA team is really irrelevant — the question is, How good are you at basketball?

Some random thoughts from an early morning watching the game…
• Dwight Howard was once again terrific inside. He got whistled for a foul just deconds into the game, but he settled in and really controlled the interior, including a mighty swat into the seats that he followed with a salute (with a huge smile on his face) to the bench. He got another one in the second quarter that he threw out to halfcourt, with consecutive blocks on the next two plays. Dwight just has too much energy and drive for the other post players, who looked exhausted just minutes into the game. He also had a ridiculous dunk on a rebound over Milic, which Fran Fraschilla, channelling Tim Hardaway on the old NBA Jams video, accurately described as a “tip jam.” Dwight’s going to have another incredible season.

• By the way, let’s keep an eye out to see who the first person will be to write a predictable column about how the World Basketball Championships are going to tire out the players for the NBA season.

• Coming into the game, Chris Paul had a gaudy 17-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, and he finished this game with 1 turnover. What’s interesting is that CP3 isn’t really outrunning guys, but if you watch him closely he’s just playing with a ton of savvy.

“I feel like I’m not overly fast,” Chris told me out in Vegas. “I’m not as fast as a lot of the guards in the League. I know I’m not as fast as a guy like TJ Ford, Tony Parker, those guys. Them guys are unbelievably fast. What I try to do is just keep guys off-balance, have them not knowing what I do next. I just try to do a great job of changing pace, going from fast to slowing down to speeding back up again. I feel like that’s when I’m most effective.”

That’s what he’s been doing thus far in this tournament. By the way, Howard and Paul are the youngest guys on Team USA.

• I also love the way LeBron’s been playing. He’s not calling for the ball, not concerned with trying to establish himself offensively. Instead, he’s playing tough defense, throwing the ball out on the break and getting points in transition. His versatility and skill have really been amazing.

• Two other guys who had games worth mentioning: Joe Johnson and Elton Brand. JJ forced a few steals and was knocking down his jumpers. And with his size and strength, he’s able to defend anyone, at least for a few moments at a time. Elton is proving himself more and more important, as his ability to nail jumpers from the free throw area and out draws the defenders out away from the paint. He played the best all-around game I’ve seen him play yet.

• Props to Fraschilla, who asked the million dollar question: Does Kobe Bryant fit on this team? Something we’ll talk about here a little later on today.

• Nice team photo, USA. Carmelo’s hair is a little bit out of control, no?

• Over at True Hoop, they’ve been debating Team USA’s defensive philosophy, namely the idea that the US might be gambling too often. The announcers and some international pundits (including my main man/comedic foil George Eddy over at NBA.com) have said the US needs to play more zone defense. But if you look at the numbers, the US has by far the best assist/turnover and steal/turnover ratings, and they forced 25 turnovers against Slovenia. Why mess with something that’s working so well thus far?

I was thinking the other day about how people have adopted a sky-is-falling mentality with this team. If they get down early in games, even by two or three points, the announcers wonder what’s the matter. Look, there’s going to be some close games in this tournament, and the US probably won’t lead every game from start to finish.

• One thing I’ve noticed is that Team USA is terrible at defending at the end of quarters. I have no concrete evidence for his, but I think they’ve had at least one last-second shot made against them in each game in the tournament.

• There are stickers on the backboards that read, “Clean Game.” That’s an ad for FIBA’s anti-doping campaign.

• This sets up the best game thus far for the USA tomorrow morning: US versus Italy, two teams that are each 3-0.

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  • German Reignman

    Yo Lang,

    how come you ain`t blogging for FIBA on their Website ?

    I mean, George Eddy is doing his thing …. which means a lot of exclamation marks (His first sentence: Get ready, the real games are about to start and that’s when we’ll be able to see where Team USA really is!! )

  • pete

    dwight definitely looked great on defense and impacted without scoring. defense was definitely an issue….we had some trouble playing good halfcourt d and definitely gambled a lot. also had some trouble helping out on drives when a man got beat gambling. little concerning how the lead slipped away at the end and against a better team like spain or argentina that could be costly. i think were fine without kobe and swapping oden for miller will be sick…

  • http://slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    But I don’t think Coach K cared about the lead at the end. He didn’t take a timeout, didn’t substitute, nothing. Maybe he he planned to do something if it got under 10, but they stretched it back out again at the end.

  • Tommy Trujillo

    Great game! For all you haters out there talking about how the NBA Finals Referees were giving Dwyane Wade every call: Notice How the FIBA Referees are calling the same calls and sending Wade to the line eight times a game also. There is no conspiracy; its just that NOBODY has ever penetrated and taken the rock hard to the basket like Dwyane Wade. That man deserves any superstar treatment that comes his way.

  • http://nba.com Nadav

    I’m pretty sure point totals act as tie breakers, so Coach K should infact care about the final score…

  • Jurij

    What about some thoughts about Slovenian team??

  • Ben

    I understand by your comments that you don’t think playing the World Championships tires out players for the season, Lang. But I wonder if you could talk more about this.

    I always read columns about how it hurts players’ upcoming seasons, but I think: It’s not as if those players don’t play basketball during the offseason anyway. And if they don’t, then doesn’t this get them in better shape?

    But at the same time, you always read about it, and you have seen some pretty high profile injuries from players who played on the Olympics or WC teams.

  • http://slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    But what about guys who get hurt who didn’t play in a major offseason tournament? Did they work out too much at their local health club?

    Injuries just seem to be a part of sports, no matter how careful you are or how much working out or resting up you do. But whenever there’s a tournament like this, someone writes about how all the injuries to guys who took part just have to be related to their participation. Look at baseball now and the pitchers who appear worn out, and how that’s being attributed to the World Baseball Classic (or whatever they called that thing).

    I’m not saying there’s no relation, I’m just saying that blaming injuries on off-season activity is a predictable response.

  • http://slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    And looking at that picture again, don’t you think they could’ve let some of the guys (Nate McMillan, D-Wade, Hinrich) borrow an iron before they took the picture?

  • http://thehype.wordpress.com Hype

    That Fran comment about Kobe was freaky because the second right before the said it I was thinking it. (And I watched it on tape delay)

    Melo’s hair all loose like that makes him look kinda like Master P … just me? Alrighty!

  • Max Airington

    They look like the Harlem Boys Choir….

  • Young C

    By the way Lang, team USA has 11 players that were drafted by the NBA. Brad Miller was undrafted and played overseas and in the CBA.

  • Matthew

    the only two players who didn’t have black shoes were probably melo and bron bron. so where do we stick them??? in the front row. since kicks is already out, maybe you can put their shoes in the Slam 102 in the “off court” section. holla.

  • Steve

    With shoes like that, Carmelo should have been put in the back row. You too, Lebron.

  • Allen

    I’m ready to talk about Kobe! I don’t see why Kobe WOULDN’T make this team better. I’ve heard all the reasons before (chemistry, ego, selfishness, etc), but I just think that’s B.S. and pure speculation. He would have to be the horrible person that Kobe haters think he is, but outside of that being true (he doesn’t have to be a saint), he would only be an asset to the team. The solid outside shooters on the team seem to be do well when the offense is not really producing points (Carmelo and Joe Johnson against Puerto Rico comes to mind), and Kobe can do what they do, if not better!

  • Allen

    Man, I gotta check my grammar before I hit “submit”, but you know what I mean.

  • Allen

    ps Chris Paul looks like a midget in that pic. A super basketball genius midget.

  • http://slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    Good call, Young C.

  • http://Slam Sean

    How would Kobe not help this team? Put him on the W.C. team and he’d be the best offensive AND defensive player on the squad.

  • B Ball I.Q.

    Allen, we all love KB24 but we all know his game by now. He just wouldn’t fit on this team, and neither would Paul Pierce, they are older and I really don’t think they’d take a back seat to the young guys when it comes down to it, they have never had to defer to any system before but Bron didn’t come in the L jackin and neither did D-Wade, and Melo is calmed down by having those guys and Beoheim on the squad. I’d love to see those guys in ’08, but it might not be whats best for the team. I also love the Oden for Miller thing in ’08 too. But lets all be real the rest of the world has gotten better but when they have good coaching(No LB yeas Coach K) and play like a team (unlike ’02) team USA can’t be f’ed with, even if they put 2nd tier player (like Lamar, RJ,Brand,Rip, J-Rich,Redd for example). Even though I don’t think it’ll work with KB24 we’d still win by 20+ so this whole post doesn’t even matter.

  • Myung

    I’d rather just type “Kobe” than KB24. But that’s just me.

  • Pablo Favarel (Argentina)

    How about that “Clean Game” sign? You Lang said about the anti-drug program. How about NBA players drugs control? All over the world the main thing people say about nba players is that they are all big-time drug consumers. The NBA doesn´t control it, even admiting anabolics like it was water. So Lang, what are your ironic comments about it? FIBA players do not do that, as far as I know

  • Lindsey Hobson

    hey, i know this is completely irrelivant to usa basketball, but what about a cover of OJ and Walker, like the king and bassy one you guys had. i dunno about you guys but i think that would be pretty cool

  • Sam#23

    I’m getting sick of D.Wade He takes every single damn shot and doesnt do crap on defense. Also Joe Johnson doesn’t get the credit he deserves, Did you see what he did on defense? Like 10 steals and caused at least 50 turnovers.

  • O’Nell

    Haha Coach K looks like the 40 year old virgin…

    Getting hurtin in off season tournaments?Perfect example- Bartolo Colon from my L.A.Angels. Dude is done for the season. But, i feel that he just didnt get himself ready the right way.

  • SchW

    As my man Jurij said: what about some comments on Slovenian team.

    First: the game was called by the NBA standards. Aint nothing wrong with that. But there was some questionable calls since the USA could play very phisical but when the Slovenians did the same thing they were called for a foul.
    Second: this is the world championship and is played by FIBA rulles so they should call some traveling violations since they were doing it the whole time.
    But looking at the whole game you should agree that Slovenia stick through it quite well and Howard did not jumped more than Milic. He is just bigger and taller. And you might noticed how hard did played Milic and that Howard quite felt that when he bumped into him one time.

    P.S.: As you might noticed I am from Slovenia but I was nearly beaten when I jumped in the air after Wade molested Brezec. gots to respect that:)

  • SchW

    And as it goes for Howard and Milic there are some clips of Marko Milic the first Slovenian ever that was drafted at the NBA Draft. And he was named Air Milko and Mily Way by the peoples in Phoenix…. Just thought you should know;)





    I hope you find it interesting

  • http://www.myspace.com/kylestack Kyle Stack

    If anyone feels that Kobe can’t change his game for the goal of a team, then check out the three championship rings he has in his safe deposit.
    Hey Lang, do you think Michael Redd will be on the Olympic team since Team USA is missing a “pure” outside shooter?

  • David Webb


    Two days ago this site posted how Toronto will have problems with its players since they have 5 playing in the WBC

  • illydiva

    Seeing how clean Nate McMillan is during the NBA season, bet it nearly killed him to have to be photo’d in that corny suit. I’m sure he secretly applauded Bron and Melo’s originality.

  • Matthew

    watchin the game on tape delay right now on espnu. dwight is a beast and had the magic drafted ronnie brewer instead of jj redick, and with the way arroyo is ballin out right now, i’d go ahead and say go ahead and order playoff tix. and one more thing… chris paul will be the best pg in the league in 2 yrs. guarantee.

  • http://nba.com jologs

    Yo lang! I think if team USA looses one game they need to get Kobe in the team.

  • Mighty

    I like that Jaka Lakovic guy from slovenia….”jaka for three!”

  • Vish from India

    hey Lang,
    I think Kobe will be a good fit on this team. As we have all noticed Kobe has always been a team player when he is surrounded by good players and when the situation calls for it (All Star Games, early Laker years [he has contributed equally to the 3 rings as shaq; remember portland, sacto, san antonio?, indiana, defense on AI etc etc?], 05-06 playoffs against pheonix etc.) He is the best player in the game; no one can stop him. Plus since he is Kobe, he will attract a lot of attention leaving open team mates for team USA. I dont think how you can overlook Kobe for team USA….

  • G

    man, those brown shoes are horrible. and their jackets are all too long. word on Coack K = 40 yr old virgin though!

  • Blinguo

    You think Dwight will get names confused with Marko Milic and Darko Milicic when he gets back to Orlando?

  • bja

    Does anyone know a decent World Championship website?

    It seems we’ve brought fiba.com to its knees. You can’t even see the results presently, let alone its promised video streaming.

    ESPN is only covering USA games. Nice one.

  • sam 23

    i’m so sick of d.wade . he’s turning into a hog .

    p.s chris paul looks like a midget. and melo looks like a girl .

  • http://deleted sam 23

    also joe johnson needs more playing time.

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