WASHINGTON, D.C. – After traveling from Las Vegas and taking a day off, the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team got back to action with an open practice in front of 3,100 members of the military and their families at the D.C. Armory on Saturday.
There was loud music, an MC, a shooting contest, and performances by the Wizards dancers during water breaks. And as important as it is to honor the military for their service, you had to wonder how the U.S. Team was going to get any serious work done in this environment.
But they did. They ran through their offense, worked on defensive rotations and close-outs, and scrimmaged. And maybe the crowd was a good thing, because, according to head coach Mike Krzyzewski, it got his team to communicate on the floor.
“Today was real good,” he said, “because we got to scrimmage in front of a crowd, and they talked.”
With just one more practice here in D.C. before Monday’s exhibition against Brazil and their trip overseas, every minute on the floor counts. Further crunching their timeline is the fact that they were without their two point guards for a few days in Vegas.
“This is only the second practice where we’ve had 12 guys,” Krzyzewski said.
For the most part, these practices are all about chemistry, both offensive and defensively. The talent is there and egos have been checked at the door. Yes, size is an issue with this roster, but you can’t practice being bigger.
“I think we’re all willing and capable to do whatever coach needs us to do,” Kevin Love said. “I just think we need that time on the floor together.”
Saturday, though it was in a unique environment, was a step in the right direction.
“We were coming to play for our troops, the guys who make everything possible for us, the guys we have the utmost respect for, for what they do for us and how they serve,” Deron Williams said. “And also, we got a good workout.”
For most of the practice, the squad was split into two groups of six…
White team: Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, Tyson Chandler, Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Chris Paul
Blue team: Anthony Davis, James Harden, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams
And yes, that white team looks like the starting group and a sixth man (though I wouldn’t be surprised if Williams got a start or two at the point). Kevin Durant was the guy coming off the bench in Thursday’s exhibition win over the Dominican Republic.
There were two types of scrimmaging. First, there was a controlled scrimmage. It was full-court action, but if a team scored, it kept the ball. And the White team scored on seven of its first eight possessions.
My unofficial scoring for the controlled scrimmage was 28-14 in favor of the White team, who had the advantage of getting the ball first and keeping it for a while. LeBron James was the leading scorer with nine points.
Then the two teams played a standard, eight-minute scrimmage. And they tacked on two more minutes when the score was tied at 20 after the first eight. The white team won that scrimmage 26-23, thanks to a pair of Durant 3-pointers in the overtime.
Here were a few highlights:
- A sweet dish from Durant to Tyson Chandler underneath after the blue team stopped the initial pick-and-roll action.
- Kobe Bryant, in the paint, getting two guys in the air and then feeding Carmelo Anthony for a baseline dunk.
- A fast-break alley-oop from Williams to Andre Iguodala.
- A reverse throw-down by LeBron off an alley-oop from Durant on the break, clearly the play of the day.
- A pick and roll by Williams and Anthony Davis, ending in a huge dunk from the rookie after taking off from eight feet out.
You’ll notice that all of those highlights were assisted buckets. And the one thing that was really noticeable was that the passing was sharp and abundant.
While Durant and James Harden shot the ball well from the perimeter, Love and Russell Westbrook did not. One other negative was a few fadeaway turnarounds by LeBron that came up short. He shouldn’t have to take those shots with this team.
Kobe had some fun posting up Westbrook at the start of the standard scrimmage, hitting a lefty scoop and a elbow turnaround on the White team’s first two possessions.
Here’s my unofficial combined scoring for the two scrimmages…
You get the feeling that Durant, who scored 24 points against the Dominican Republic on Thursday, is going to be this team’s leading scorer, even though he’s got more talent around him than he did in 2010. But most of his shots are coming off feeds from his teammates. He doesn’t need to control the ball much, and can be that weak-side shooter that makes defenses pay for loading up on James or the point guards.