Team USA Clinches Group B by Beating Iran
Good timing. The Team USA big man went from being a non-factor two days earlier against Brazil to scoring a team-high 13 points and grabbing six rebounds in just 11 minutes Wednesday as the Americans beat Iran 88-51 at Abdi Ipekci Arena to raise their record to 4-0 and clinch Group B in the World Championship.
"Aerodynamics,'' Love quipped about the shave streamlining his play. "Somebody said that before. So I'll use that.''
Whatever the reason, one of the priorities for the Americans on Wednesday was to get the bench back involved. In the 70-68 escape over Brazil, two players didn't see action and three, including Love, were used for just five minutes apiece.
The Americans knew they weren't going to be challenged by Iran, and it will be the same story Thursday in the finale of group play against woeful Tunisia. So it's important for the reserves to regain their confidence heading into next Monday's knockout round, when Team USA will face the No. 4 seed in Group A, which will be the loser of Thursday's Angola-Australia game.
"We thought we would be able to play our roster (Wednesday) and (Thursday), and that it is important to get people involved,'' said USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo, who said that was one of the issues discussed in a team meeting earlier Wednesday.
Another of the topics brought up was Colangelo saying the Americans are "turning over the ball and making too many mistakes.'' That didn't sink in right away Wednesday considering Team USA had seven turnovers in the first quarter and led just 19-13 over an out-manned Iranian outfit.
But the Americans eventually cut down on their turnovers, finishing with 17. Colangelo thought the team looked better in the second half, when it outscored Iran 46-23.
In addition to Love, looking better off the bench was center Tyson Chandler, who had seven points and seven rebounds in 13 minutes.
"Tyson and Kevin Love showed they could make a contribution, and I think that's important,'' Colangelo said.
It sure could be. Team USA, which has been weak inside, could run into Spain, the defending Worlds champion, as soon as the quarterfinals. And Spain features Marc Gasol, perhaps the top true center in the tournament.
The only way Spain won't finish with the No. 3 seed in Group D and be in line to face Team USA so soon is if New Zealand beats France on Thursday -- and even then Spain may need to lose to winless Canada. If Team USA and Spain do meet in the quarterfinals, it would mean one of the two Worlds favorites would be assured of not even medaling.
For now, though, the Americans were happy to have wrapped up Group B. Slovenia is 3-1 and could force a tie if Team USA somehow did the impossible and lost to Tunisia. But Team USA would win a tiebreaker due to having already beaten Slovenia.
"Now, it's time to move forward and get better,'' said center Lamar Odom, who was needed for just 16 minutes and was one of four Team USA starters to log fewer than 20 minutes.
Indeed it is. After the game against Tunisia, there will be no margin of error. One loss and the Americans would fall short of their goal to win the Worlds for the first time since 1994.
"We've got a lot of work to do in practice before we start the next round,'' said Colangelo, whose team also got 12 points from forward Kevin Durant and 11 from guard Derrick Rose.
At least Team USA was able to get Love and Chandler going after the two had combined Monday for just three points and two rebounds in 10 minutes. In fact, the bench against Brazil scored just six of the team's 70 points.
"We can come off the bench and give us a spark,'' Chandler said of the reserves. "We've got to be ready when our number is called.''
Love was ready early Wednesday, scoring nine of his points in the first half when the game was somewhat close. He looked wise beyond his 21 years.
"I didn't do a clean shave because, if I did that, then I would really look like I was 12 years old,'' Love said of his date with the razor.
The baby-faced big man left some hair intact. But the aerodynamics still were very much in place.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson