Team USA Notebook: Possible Quarterfinal Against Spain Avoided
The nations were the favorites heading into the World Championship. But after Spain unexpectedly dropped games early in Group D play to France and Lithuania, it looked as Spain was in line to finish No. 3 in the group and perhaps run into the Americans, which won Group B, in the quarterfinals. That would have made it impossible for both Team USA and Spain to medal.
But that all became moot Thursday when New Zealand beat France 82-70 to force a three-way tie for second in Group D at 3-2. Spain won the tiebreaker to finish No. 2 in the group while New Zealand is No. 3 and France No. 4.
So Spain, which lost a home exhibition game 86-85 to the Americans two weeks ago, now can't see them again until the gold-medal game.
The Americans, who beat Tunisia, 92-57, in an early game Thursday, had long left the arena when the knockout round matchups were set later on the final day of group play. But they hadn't seemed too concerned about the possibility of a tougher-than-expected game in the quarterfinals.
"That's fine," guard Eric Gordon, whose team next faces Angola on Monday in the round of 16, said when asked about the possibility of playing a quarterfinal game against a Spain-Greece winner.
As it turned out, the Americans look to have a much easier road than anticipated. If they beat Angola, they will face next Thursday in a quarterfinal the winner of New Zealand against Russia.
New Zealand's last-second, 3-pointer gave it the 12-point margin of victory needed to move ahead of France for No. 3. Russia finished No. 2 in Group C, getting that positioning by beating Greece, 73-69, Thursday in a game in which the winner had been thought to be in line to face Spain.
With 16 of the 24 teams in the Worlds advancing out of the group stage to the knockout round, all of the matchups were set after the final day of group play. Here's how it will unfold.
Saturday: Group A No. 1 Serbia vs. Group B No. 4 Croatia and Group D No. 2 Spain vs. Group C No. 3 Greece.
Sunday: Group C No. 1 Turkey vs. Group D No. 4 France and Group B No. 2 Slovenia vs. Group A No. 3 Australia.
Monday: Group B No. 1 USA vs. Group A No. 4 Angola and Group C No. 2 Russia vs. Group D No. 3 New Zealand.
Tuesday: Group D No. 1 Lithuania vs. Group C No. 4 China and Group A No. 2 Argentina vs. Group B No. 3 Brazil.
Is Team USA Ready?
The Americans will take Friday off and then practice Saturday and Sunday in preparation for the game against Angola in which they will be heavy favorites.
"In the next few days, we have to get better," Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "It's one and done (in the knockout round). ... It's kind of like the NCAA Tournament."
The Americans had some uneven moments in group play although their only close game was a 70-68 win last Monday over Brazil. But center Lamar Odom said it's understandable expectations are always high for the Americans.
"That's the way it goes," Odom said. "When it comes to basketball, people expect us to play well every time, win every tournament, win every game."
Well, if the Americans don't win four straight games between Monday and Sept. 12, they won't win the Worlds.
"We know what we have to do," Gordon said. "We have to rethink and come together as team. That's why it's good we have a couple of practices before we really dig down in these last four games."
Guard Chauncey Billups sees a sure formula for Team USA to play for the gold medal.
"I just think if we're aggressive on both ends of the floor, very aggressive, very unselfish, I think we'll be playing (Sept. 12)," he said.
Billups, though, didn't say anything yet about winning that gold-medal game.
Shoot the Ball
First it was Kevin Durant that Krzyzewski had to beg to shoot. Now, it's a pair of guards.
In a practice three weeks ago, Krzyzewski told Durant, who averaged an NBA-best 30.1 points last season for Oklahoma City, he needed to shoot more. He has heeded that, and leads Team USA with a 19.8 scoring average.
Shooting hasn't been a problem in the past for Derrick Rose, who averaged 20.8 points last season for Chicago. But Krzyzewski said he had to remind Rose before Thursday's game not to pass up open shots.
"The last two games, for some reason, he was hesitant to shoot," Krzyzewski said. "So I talked to him actually before (the Tunisia) game. I said, 'Just shoot and, if you do make a move to the basket, don't look to pass.' He's a scorer."
Krzyzewski didn't believe Rose was hesitant against Tunisia even though he shot a modest 2 of 6 from the field in 21 minutes. But another guy who Krzyzewski got on before the game for not being aggressive enough offensively was the scoring star.
"There was a play from (Wednesday's win 88-51 over Iran) and Eric was wide open," Krzyzewski said of showing tape to the team about Gordon failing to take an open shot. "I stopped and I said, 'How many of you guys don't want him to shoot?' No one raised their hand. (Then Krzyzewski said), 'See Eric, everybody wants you to shoot. That goes for all of you (when open).'"
Gordon had no such problems against Tunisia. Gordon, who had three straight mediocre outings after scoring 16 points last Saturday against Croatia in the Worlds opener, bounced back by shooting 7 of 10, including 4 of 7 from 3-point range, for a game-high 21 points.
So the word from the coach is players need to take open shots. Well, perhaps Krzyzewski doesn't want center Tyson Chandler launching jumpers even when he's wide open.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @christomasson