NEW YORK – It’s hard to know if the U.S. National Team got better on Wednesday. Their opponent in their second exhibition game wasn’t nearly as good as their opponent in the first. After pushing past Brazil in the fourth quarter in Chicago, the U.S. manhandled the Dominican Republic, 105-62, at Madison Square Garden. They won each of the first three quarters by double-digits.
The offensive numbers — 58 percent shooting, 10-for-23 from 3-point range, just 13 turnovers — were great. The defensive numbers — 34 percent shooting, 5-for-25 from 3-point range, 19 turnovers — were even better.
As much as it was an opportunity to take a step forward in preparation for the FIBA World Cup, it was a chance to see more minutes from guys who are vying for the last few roster spots.
USA coach Mike Krzyzewski said that all 16 players currently on the roster will still be on it Friday, when the team plays another exhibition here against Puerto Rico. But after that, some guys won’t be making the trip to Gran Canaria, Spain, for the next phase of training.
“I’m sure we’ll do something before we leave the country on Saturday,” Krzyzewski said. “We’ll get down to a lower number. We have to do that.”
The final, 12-man roster does not need to be submitted until Aug. 29. So the U.S. may take 13 players on the plane and wait to make a final decision.
The four players who did not play in Saturday’s win over Brazil each came off the bench on Wednesday. And three of them put up numbers that could help their cause.
After missing Saturday’s game with a knee bruise, DeMarcus Cousins scored just two points, but was the game’s leading rebounder with eight boards in less than 16 minutes.
DeMar DeRozan, who was the leading scorer in the USA Basketball Showcase in Las Vegas, tied for the team-high with 13 points on 6-for-9 shooting on Wednesday. He’s one of the players most likely to be sent home this weekend, but has flourished in these fast-paced games.
Andre Drummond also seems like a likely cut, but also seemed at home with the up-and-down style, racking up 12 points and five rebounds (four offensive) in 16 minutes.
Gordon Hayward, meanwhile, was the only player who didn’t see any action until the second half on Wednesday. He was his usual solid self, but didn’t make much of an impression with the game already well in hand.
And that, again, was the issue with Wednesday’s game. The U.S. needs players it can trust in a hostile environment against a quality opponent. Though the MSG crowd had a sizeable Dominican contingent that got loud with every early basket, this wasn’t much of a test for the U.S. team or any of its players.
So, the decisions that Krzyzewski and USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo have to make in the next few days will not be easy. Cousins, DeRozan, Drummond and Hayward appear to be in competition with Damian Lillard and Mason Plumlee for the final two roster spots. After playing strong against Brazil, Plumlee did not play Wednesday, so that Drummond could see some floor time.
Lillard’s status may be tied to that of Derrick Rose, who also sat out Wednesday’s game after sitting out the last two days of practice. Neither Rose nor Krzyzewski nor Colangelo has expressed concern over the point guard and all three say they’re just being careful.
“I’m just trying to protect myself,” Rose said, “knowing this is a long, long schedule and this is the most basketball I’ll be playing in two years.”
He said that he will practice Thursday (a non-contact day) and play in Friday’s game against Puerto Rico. He called the soreness he’s been feeling since the Brazil game “just body fatigue” and said it had nothing to do with either of his surgically repaired knees.
“No, not the knees,” Rose said. “No, no, no, no. You don’t [have] to worry about that.”
But while Rose’s words may ease the worries of Chicago Bulls fans, four days of rest after one exhibition game can only elicit questions about Rose’s readiness for the World Cup, which begins on Aug. 30 with five pool-play games in the first six days.
Asked if there’s any concern about his starting point guard’s ability to handle the grind of what’s to come, Krzyzewski said, “We’ll find that out in the next few days.”
Kyrie Irving started in Rose’s place and looked sharp offensively. The rest of the starting lineup remained the same, making it more likely that Kenneth Faried will be the team’s power forward when it plays Finland on Aug. 30.