What Lies Ahead
Posted Aug 29 2007 3:53AM
LAS VEGAS, August 28, 2007 — The U.S. shooters were in the zone in the second quarter of Tuesday’s 117-78 win over Puerto Rico, which allowed the team to get in some early work on other aspects of its game, like the defense by the same name as well as spot-up three-pointers, as it prepares for what lies ahead in the 2007 FIBA Americas Championship.
En route to a 59-27 lead at the break, four different U.S. players connected on seven shots from downtown in the second stanza – none by a fellow named Michael Redd.
The Bucks' sharp shooter struggled for a second straight night, going 1-for-8 from beyond the arc – he’s 2-for-14 from there in the team’s last two contests. Redd’s about the only player on the roster, however, who didn’t stroke the ball well on this night.
“That three-point shot, I practice that shot a lot,” Redd’s teammate Amare Stoudemire said after he hit his only attempt from behind the line. “You guys don’t get a chance to see it as often, but it’s a shot I feel comfortable shooting.
“There’s more to come.”
“When he shot it, Mike (D’Antoni) was saying he’s going to do more of that for Phoenix next year,” joked USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski, sitting with Stoudemire in the post-game press conference.
“Oh yeah,” Stoudemire replied with a smile.
Maybe not, Coach K admitted to laughter, “I’m not sure if he said that or not.”
One player who does – and will continue to – get his fair share of looks from outside during the NBA season is LeBron James. The Cavaliers’ young star hit all three of his attempts in the quarter, in which the US squad broke open a 32-point lead that it maintained the rest of the night. Carmelo Anthony, too, shot well in the first half, hitting 2-of-3 triples in the second quarter and finishing with 14 points at the break, after which he would log only four more minutes.
The early gap never fully allowed Puerto Rico to get comfortable and play the role of spoiler – or, at least, pest – as they have in year’s past.
“I don’t hold grudges,” said Anthony, a member of the 2004 Olympic team that lost to Puerto Rico in Athens, “but I will keep that in the back of my mind every time we play them.”
The team now must look to Wednesday’s opponent, Uruguay, and avoid the temptation to anticipate Thursday’s meeting with undefeated Argentina.
“No,” Kobe Bryant answered matter of factly when asked if there might be a letdown tomorrow. “I don’t think so. We’re ready to go – everyday.”
Stoudemire, for his part, must be ready to resume his customary position beneath the basket, as the team will likely focus its efforts on keeping Esteban Batista off the glass. The Atlanta Hawks' restricted free agent, who hauled down a tournament-best 20 boards on Tuesday, leads all players with 84 rebounds – 35 more than the next closest player.
Other than Batista and guard Nicolas Mazzarino, who is averaging 19.0 points per game in the tournament, there are few players who should give the Americans much trouble.
Reading into the comments of Alberto Espasandin, the team’s head coach, perhaps he expects as much.
“I think that for our players to even play against the top of the NBA, the US team, is just an incredible experience,” Espasandin said Tuesday. “We will just make sure to rotate and give a chance for all of our players to get game time. Other than that, we will just rest up and recharge our batteries for the following game.”
While Espasandin sounds as though he’s conceding the contest to the US, Sergio Hernandez, head coach of Argentina, essentially said, “United who?”
“First and foremost, I think that Argentina and Brazil both came here to get qualified straight to the Olympic Games,” Hernandez responded when asked which teams he believed to be the favorites to capture the two Olympic bids up for grabs in the tournament. “I think that Brazil's loss against Puerto Rico was not expected. Brazil had a bad night. I think that Argentina is getting more popular because of the way it has been playing in this tournament. With each game played and won, the more people cheer for us.”
Whether the slight was intentional or not, there’s no disrespect on the part of the U.S. team. Even the biggest of stars spoke glowingly of one of the world’s best teams less than 48 hours before the squads meet at the Thomas & Mack Center.
“They’re a great team,” Kobe Bryant said, “extremely well coached, extremely well prepared. They have fabulous young players that played behind (Manu) Ginobili, (Andres) Nocioni and the older guys. They have younger players that are going to step in years from now and be great to. So, they have a lot of talent and they just seem to keep finding talent.”
“I think they’re great,” he continued. “Argentina is just one of those countries that puts out great player after great player. It’s pretty remarkable. It’s comparable to the U.S. in terms of players, the flair that they play with, the creativity that they play with. It’s fun to watch.”
And it should be fun to watch the teams – both of which could enter the game undefeated – meeting on Thursday, when only two teams will join the U.S. and Argentina in classifying for semifinal play.