The United States enters the medal round Wednesday against Australia at 5 a.m. California time, and it obviously doesn't look good for the Aussies. It doesn't look good for anyone, though -- the Redeem Team just blew through pool play 5-0 with an average winning margin of 32.2 points and crushed Spain, arguably the second-best team in the world, by 37 on Saturday.
Australia will cling to the hope that it delivered the closest thing to an actual game in the five U.S. exhibitions in Las Vegas and Asia and the five victory laps in these Olympics. The challengers played the heavy gold-medal favorites into the fourth quarter before falling by 11 despite Andrew Bogut, the Bucks center, resting a minor injury. Of course, that was in Shanghai in the final tuneup, the United States looked bored and ready to get on to Beijing already, and the United States has definitely not looked bored once the scoreboard started to matter for real.
Full-strength Australia, and the rest of the world, will cling to the other hope: the Americans will play like the Americans and trip over themselves on offense when the shot isn't off a fastbreak or a lob. It will take that and everything else going wrong at the same time for Team USA to lose, except that missing from 20-23 feet is a realistic starting point.
Team USA has been killing with defense -- even an opponent like Spain, with several point guards with NBA experience, quickly wilted as the U.S. pressured the ball 30 feet from the basket -- and transition makes. Superior athleticism, in other words. The decision to load the roster with smalls and mobile wings, at the risk of getting hurt inside, has paid off.
But the United States was seventh among the 12 teams in three-point percentage in the preliminary round and sixth among the eight that are into the quarterfinals. Even if it never gets to the point that it actually matters because it will continue to dictate the fast-lane pace, refusing to let anyone turn the tempo into a test of half-court wills, 36.2 percent at a shorter distance than the NBA three shows Team USA can be hurt.
(One of the few ways it can be hurt by speed is next. Australia's point guard, Patrick Mills, has rockets in his shoes. He went right past Chris Paul, a good defensive PG, a quick PG, a couple times in Shanghai. Mills will return to St. Mary's as one of the most exciting prospects in the West and draw pro scouts to Moraga.)
The inability to shoot is, of course, a forever problem. The '08 Games merely reinforce what was already obvious from November to June back home. A lot of it, too, is that Team USA is so dominant that it prompts the natural inclination to find some fault. It's a real good team. Just not a perfect team.
You can take the game out of the NBA, but you can't take the NBA out of the game.
The trick is finding what USA Basketball could have done differently with the roster, considering the top 10 in three-point shooting last season.
- Jason Kapono, Raptors, 48.3 percent.
- Steve Nash, Suns, 47.
- James Jones, Trail Blazers, 44.4.
- Peja Stojakovic, Hornets, 44.1.
- Daniel Gibson, Cavaliers, 44.
- Richard Hamilton, Pistons, 44.
- Anthony Parker, Raptors, 43.8.
- Sasha Vujacic, Lakers, 43.7.
- Matt Carroll, Bobcats, 43.6.
- Mike Miller, Grizzlies, 43.2.
The designated shooter Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski did pick, Michael Redd of the Bucks, is four of 16 (25 percent) and eight of 28 (28.6 percent) overall and has been near the end of the bench. Kobe Bryant is just eight of 29 on threes, but is an obvious benefit in other areas.