Posted Aug 15 2010 7:33PM
NEW YORK -- The U.S. National Team concluded its week of training in New York on Sunday with its first exhibition game, an 86-55 win over France. It was another step on the way to the World Championship in Turkey, and another display of the U.S. Team's strengths and weaknesses.
With almost as many stars missing from their roster as the U.S. Team, France was not a great test for the Americans. This game was more about getting used to international rules and developing chemistry than a measure of how well they'll need to play in the elimination rounds at the World Championship.
The most promising aspect of Sunday's game was the team's defense. With their guards hounding the French ball-handlers all game, the U.S. forced 22 turnovers, held their opponent to just 35 percent shooting and just 55 points on 77 possessions.
Though he didn't get credit for a single steal, starting point guard Rajon Rondo was the key to the defense, frustrating the French point guards by getting in their shirt and knocking their dribble away.
"It starts with Rondo," Krzyzewski said of his team's defense. "Him going after the ball like he does disrupts the half-court offense."
With a deep rotation, especially at the guard position, Rondo and his teammates were free to be as aggressive as they wanted to be defensively, knowing that subs were ready to come in early and often.
"No one's going to play over 20 minutes here," Rondo said afterward. "So you've got to go all out."
And by the time the fourth quarter came around, the visitors were worn down. France committed 10 of its 22 turnovers in the final 10 minutes and scored on just four of their 21 fourth-quarter possessions.
The U.S. offense was never nearly that bad. But for the second straight day, it struggled early on. The Americans scored just seven points on their first 11 possessions of the game, turning the ball over four times.
Kevin Durant struggled with his jumper again, getting all of his 14 points in the paint. Between Saturday's scrimmage vs. China and Sunday's exhibition, Durant shot just 10-for-25 from the field and 0-for-3 from 3-point range. Danny Granger, Saturday's leading scorer, didn't score a point on Sunday and fouled out in just 11 ½ minutes of playing time.
Chauncey Billups (17 points, 3-for-6 from 3-point range) and Rudy Gay (19 points, 7-for-12 from the field) picked up the slack. Otherwise, the shot distribution was as balanced as the playing time.
The U.S. shot 51 percent from the field overall, but they're still not where they want to be offensively. They will get points in transition, but may struggle at times in the half-court.
Part of the problem is simple chemistry.
"It's a matter of a little more time, communication, us understanding each other," Tyson Chandler said, adding that players are a little too unselfish now. "I think the longer we'll go, you'll start to see individuals kind of get a little more comfortable where they stand on the team, and our offense will pick up."
Head coach Mike Krzyzewski also noted that there are still some offensive sets that need to be added. Thus far, the staff has kept things pretty simple on that end of the floor.
"We haven't worked on our half-court offense much," Krzyzewski said. "We have had a limited amount of time. We've tried to get defense and rebounding first.
"Now, when we go to Spain, we have to add a little bit more of a precise half-court offense."
The U.S. Team will travel to Madrid on Monday and play exhibitions against Lithuania and Spain there on Saturday and Sunday. Then they will travel to Athens for an exhibition against Greece before they make their way to Istanbul for the start of the World Championship on Aug. 28.
Before Sunday's game, the team trimmed the roster from 15 to 13 by cutting forward Jeff Green and center JaVale McGeee. The remaining 13 players will travel to Europe, and a final cut may not be made until after the game against Greece on Aug. 25. Krzyzewski admitted that the players on the bubble have made the decision tougher than he thought it would be.
"The final decision will be one that we make because of our three exhibition games after this," Krzyzewski said. "And just what do we think at that moment we need a little bit more than the other guys."
The three players on the bubble are guards Stephen Curry, Eric Gordon and Russell Westbrook. And the decision will come down to both performance and skill set, with the staff needing to decide if they want an extra point guard (Westbrook) or an extra shooter (Curry or Gordon).
Overall, the U.S. should be happy with the week in New York. They have a group that plays hard, plays together and is willing to defend. Now, they have to work out the kinks offensively. And they have 13 days to do it.
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