CHRIS PAUL AND TEAM USA READY FOR LONDON OPENER
Eric Patten Follow @ericpatten
Now it counts.
After a week of training in Las Vegas, two exhibition games stateside, and three more in England and Spain, Chris Paul and the U.S. Men’s National Team begin their quest for a second-straight Olympic gold medal Sunday.
Following an undefeated run during its five-game warm-up schedule, Team USA opens the 2012 Summer Games in a pool-play matchup with France in London’s Olympic Park Basketball Arena.
Paul, who won gold with 2008’s “Redeem Team” in Beijing, is expected to start alongside Kobe Bryant in the United States’ backcourt. Lebron James, Kevin Durant, and Tyson Chandler will likely round out a starting unit that Paul says he’s enjoyed playing with so far.
“It’s a lot of fun to have so many options,” the Clippers’ All-NBA point guard said. “When you push the ball up the court and you see KD [Durant] spotted up, along with Melo [Carmelo Anthony], with somebody like Tyson running the court, there’s no better feeling being a point guard.”
In five exhibition contests, officially dubbed the USA Men’s National Team Tour, Paul averaged 4.6 points and a team-high tying 4.0 assists in 18.0 minutes. He started four of five games, giving way to Brooklyn’s Deron Williams against Great Britain a week ago.
The U.S. won, 118-78, in front of 16,979 fans at Manchester Arena. Afterward Paul downplayed any perceived controversy regarding the starting lineup. “No. No, we’ve done this before,” he told reporters. “We’ve played together for too long. We understand that at the end of the day it’s all about winning a gold medal. We love playing with one another.”
So far, it’s appeared the entire team loves their time together, on and off the court. They’ve visited historical monuments in Washington, D.C., dined together in Barcelona, and even resurrected the “Got ‘Em” game that Paul and Clippers teammates DeAndre Jordan and Reggie Evans made famous during the NBA season. Paul has snapped photos of Russell Westbrook and James Harden, among others, snoozing on the team plane and bus and posted them on his official Twitter account (@cp3) along with the hashtag #GotEm.
While Paul shot sparingly through the week-long tour, he still made 50% of his 3-pointers (3-of-6), including a key deep ball in the final quarter against Argentina in Barcelona.
“That was only my second shot of the game,” Paul said following his team’s 86-80 victory. “I felt for most of the game, I was letting them [Argentina] off the hook. They were going under the ball screens and [my man] went under and I saw that I was open so I felt like I’d try to knock it down.”
In a way it was reminiscent of what Paul did on so many occasions last season with the Clippers, coming on late to help re-route the course of a game.
“With this team that we have, a lot of times I’ll have a good shot but you can always get one of your teammates a better shot,” Paul said. “I’m standing open sometimes but I bring a defender to me and I can kick it to Kevin Durant so I like his chances also. At this stage and with this much competition, you got to stay confident.”
With Friday's opening ceremonies on the horizon, Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski was asked how he’d evaluate the team so far.
“I think we’ve gotten better,” Krzyzewski said. “I think we need to use pool play first of all to qualify for medal play but also I think to get five more international games under our belt.”