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USA Basketball comes to Chicago

Jimmy Butler and the rest of Team USA face off against Venezuela on Friday at the United Center

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By Sam Smith | 7.27.2016 | 3:20 p.m.

As if Venezuela doesn’t have enough problems with food shortages and riots roiling the country in a desperate humanitarian crisis. Now the national basketball team must face a hungry USA Basketball juggernaut in the United Center 8 p.m. Friday.

The USA team’s pre-Olympic exhibition tour officially is known as its Basketball Showcase.

But it’s been a case of the missing opponent. With two games against China and one with Argentina, the USA team is 3-0 with an average margin of victory of 45.3 points.

And then coach Mike Krzyzewski chided the team a bit after the Wednesday 107-57 victory over China in Oakland for perhaps not taking things seriously enough. Uh oh.

This exhibition tour doesn’t feature the best competition the USA team will see in Rio de Janeiro next month in the men’s Olympic basketball tournament. But it’s been an impressive start, nonetheless, and even for a team that is without several of the NBA’s biggest stars, like LeBron James, Chris Paul, LaMarcus Aldridge, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Blake Griffin, John Wall, Anthony Davis, Kevin Love and Damian Lillard. All withdrew for various personal reasons, including injury and fatigue.

But it’s not a team without stars as Kevin Durant has emerged as one of the top scorers along with Carmelo Anthony and DeMarcus Cousins.

Bulls two-time All-Star Jimmy Butler is among the 12 USA players competing for the gold medal. Butler is expected to start Friday in the United Center game.

Krzyzewski said he’s been changing starting lineups to feature players at or near their home cities or home teams. Several Golden State Warriors started in Tuesday’s game in Oakland, including new Warrior Durant making his Oakland debut.

Butler said at USA training in Las Vegas last week he’d concentrate on defense with this team.

“It’s cool being on the same team as some of the best players in the world,” Butler said. “Watching them go at it and compete even in practice. That’s something I’ve got to be able to carry over to the NBA soon.

“Do whatever it takes,” Butler added. “I know I’ll be guarding; that’s for sure. But I don’t think anybody’s going to have the same role that they had with their individual team in the NBA. But like Coach K said, ‘Everybody’s gotta sacrifice for the greater of the team.’ So whatever my role may be, you best bet I’ll star in that role. (This is) another thing I never expected to happen being from Tomball (Texas). Until August 21st, (winning gold) is what each and every one of the guys on this Olympic roster wants.”

Butler has come off the bench in all three games, averaging just under 15 minutes per game. Butler is averaging 2.3 points on three of nine shooting in the three games. Krzyzewski has emphasized defense with this USA team, which is not uncommon for USA national teams given the short time coming together. But Krzyzewski also said it’s a roster best fit for defense because of the athleticism and size of the players and thus the ability to switch on the perimeter and protect the rim.

“I think there’s a willingness to play it,” Krzyzewski said about the team’s defensive efforts. “The guys want to play it and then it’s a matter of us getting to where we understand our coverages on the wing, top ball screens, stuff like that so it’s coordinated. I think we can play really good D. DeMar (DeRozan) had his hands on a lot of balls, and Paul (George) was really good on both ends of the court. Then either or he or Jimmy (Butler), Klay (Thompson), DeMar, those are very active defenders on the perimeter.”

Durant and Anthony have been the leaders of the team.

Durant is the leading scorer at 18.3 per game with Anthony at 14 points per game. Anthony is going for a record third consecutive gold medal and fourth straight Olympics with USA Basketball. Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins is second to Durant at 15.6 per game and a team best 11 rebounds. Cousins plays much differently with USA Basketball than he does with the Kings, more in control and team oriented. Cousins has been running the court and attacking the boards instead of holding onto the ball as he does with the Kings, and he thus has been a dominant player.

DeAndre Jordan complements Cousins at center as the team has had huge margins on the offensive boards. Klay Thompson, Kyrie Irving and George have provided scoring. George is making a popular comeback with USA Basketball after suffering a broken leg at USA training two years ago.

The USA team will practice in Chicago Thursday. Following Friday’s game against Venezuela, the team will play a final exhibition game Aug. 1 against Nigeria in Houston. The team then leaves for Rio de Janeiro for the basketball competition from Aug. 6 through Aug. 21.