Posts Tagged ‘John Schuhmann’

Gasol leads Spain to bronze

Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic were too much for Australia on Sunday (Credit: RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports).

Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic combined for 45 points in the win. (Photo credit: RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports)

RIO DE JANEIRO — At 36 years old and surrounded by NBA talent, Pau Gasol is still El Rey of Spanish basketball.

Gasol led Spain to its third straight Olympic medal, scoring 31 points (making 12 of his 15 shots) and grabbing 11 rebounds in an incredible bronze medal game against Australia.

After an incredible, back-and-fourth second half (in which the teams combined for 99 points), the game went down to the wire and was decided by a tough foul call on Patty Mills that gave Spain’s Sergio Rodriguez two free throws with 5.4 seconds left.

After a timeout, Australia tried to run a hand-off play for Mills, but Ricky Rubio got his hand on the ball, Australia was never able to get a shot off, and Spain escaped with an 89-88 victory.

Another medal for Spain and Gasol, the clear MVP of this tournament (given how many different guys have stepped up for the U.S. in its run to the gold medal game).

“He’s amazing,” Rubio said of Gasol afterward. “There’s no words to describe the way he dominates FIBA basketball. He’s one of the best ever and that’s why he put Spain on the map. Of course, we’ve had great players around him, but he’s the key of this generation.”

“It’s not only about just his game,” Jose Calderon added. “It’s about leadership. It’s about a lot of things. He’s been great for us forever and he’s still got some more years, I think, on him.”

More years for the national team?

“I really don’t know how the process is going to play out,” Gasol said. “I love playing for my national team. That’s pretty obvious. I have a lot of fun. I feel something special when I play for the national team, something unique. I always said that I’d like to do it as long as I can.

“I’m just enjoying the ride and I’m going to continue to work hard to extend it.”

Rough finish for the Boomers

Australia bounced back after an ugly performance in Friday’s semifinal against Serbia, but its finish is still such a huge disappointment for what looked like a clear medal favorite through pool play and the quarterfinals. Australia has now reached the Olympic semifinals on four occasions and finished fourth each time.

“My two worst games of the tournament were the last two games,” said Andrew Bogut, who fouled out with 7:54 to go in the third quarter on Sunday. “That’s going to eat at me for the next couple of days.”

Mirotic banged up

Nikola Mirotic helped Spain get off to a strong start with eight points in the first quarter. He injured his right knee in a collision with Aron Baynes early in the fourth, but returned after a brief stint on the bench and finished with 14 points and seven rebounds.

Afterward, Mirotic said the initial injury scared him “a lot,” saying the collision was “very strong, knees against knees.”

“But it was the last five minutes of the tournament,” he continued. “I didn’t want to miss that opportunity to play. I was hot in that moment too, so I didn’t feel a lot of pain. Right now, I’m feeling hurt. But it’s OK. We won the medal. That’s the most important thing. Hopefully, this is nothing. I need to do some tests now and I expect it’s all good.”

Serbia thumps Australia, sets up another meeting with USA

RIO DE JANEIRO — For the second straight time in a major international tournament, it will be the United States vs. Serbia for the gold medal. And for the second time, Serbia has followed mediocre pool play results with an impressive run in the elimination rounds.

At the 2014 World Cup of Basketball, Serbia went 2-3 in pool play, beating only the two teams – Egypt and Iran – that didn’t advance out of Group A and losing to the other three teams – France, Brazil and Spain – that did. Then it beat Greece (the top seed from Group B), Brazil and France before losing to the U.S. in the final.

In these Olympics, Serbia went 2-3 in pool play, beating only the two teams – Venezuela and China – that didn’t advance out of Group A and losing to the other three teams – Australia, France and USA – that did. And now it has beat Croatia (the top seed from Group B) and Australia to face the U.S., once again, in the final.

On Friday, Serbia never trailed, beating Australia 87-61 in the second semifinal and earning their first Olympic medal in men’s basketball (since the break-up of Yugoslavia). The question now is whether it will be gold or silver.

The U.S. won the ’14 gold medal game by 37 points, but only beat Serbia by three last Friday, allowing Serbia to shoot 52 percent. The U.S. defense has shown improvement since then, but will be tested by Serbia’s passing and the playmaking (and shotmaking) of point guard Milos Teodosic.

“We gave them a pretty good fight,” Serbian big man Miroslav Raduljica said about last week’s meeting, “showed that they’re not unbeatable, and that we can play against them.”

Going to settle for silver?

“No, never,” Raduljica replied. “We are Serbian.”

Teodosic led all scores with 22 points on Friday, shooting 9-for-14 and adding five assists. The Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic shot just 2-for-7, but grabbed 11 rebounds.

Friday’s result was a disappointing one for Australia, which looked like the second best team in the tournament. It entered the semis at 5-1, with the tournament’s second best offense and second best defense, having only lost to the U.S. by 10. The Boomers beat Serbia by 15 in their first meeting (though the game was much closer than the final margin would have you believe).

But the Australia offense came up empty on Friday. The Boomers shot a brutal 6-for-29 in the first half, scoring just five points in the first quarter and nine points in the second. They trailed by as many as 31 points midway through the fourth.

Andrew Bogut and Aron Baynes combined for just 11 points on 3-for-9 shooting. Matthew Dellavedova, who had 13 assists in Australia’s first game vs. Serbia, registered just two on Friday. And Patty Mills made just one of his nine 3-point attempts.

“This definitely wasn’t what we were expecting,” Dellavedova said. “I really don’t know what happened. They played well and we didn’t.”

Australia still has a chance to earn its first Olympic medal in men’s basketball, but will need to beat Spain in Sunday’s bronze medal game.

Spain reaches semifinals, ends Parker’s national team career

RIO DE JANEIRO — From an 0-2 start to a berth in the semifinals, Spain has turned into, maybe, the best team in the Olympic Men’s Basketball tournament. The European champs are certainly the best defensive team at this point.

A French team that scored 97 points against the United States on Sunday was held to just 67 points on 39 percent shooting in the quarterfinals on Wednesday. Spain rolled into the semis and a potential matchup with the U.S. with a 25-point victory over their European rivals.

To get the rematch of the last two gold medal games, the U.S. will need to beat Argentina Wednesday night. Spain (4-2) took care of business by outscoring France 50-33 over the middle two quarters.

Pau Gasol took a back seat in the offense and looked to get his teammates going early. The strategy worked and some pretty ball movement led to an open Nikola Mirotic corner 3-pointer that gave Spain the lead for good at 9-8. France was within three at the end of the first quarter, but the Knicks’ Willy Hernangomez scored six points on an 8-1 Spain run to start the second.

Mirotic had 16 points by halftime. He was matched up with Boris Diaw most of the afternoon, but switches allowed him to score inside against Nicolas Batum or drive around Rudy Gobert. And the passing of Spain’s guards allowed him to consistently get open beyond the arc.

“I felt like Spain was the Spurs tonight,” Tony Parker said afterward, “and I was on the other side.”

The game marked the end of Parker’s national team career.

“Tony Parker,” French coach Vincent Collet said, “is the best French player for ever.”

Mirotic finished with a game-high 23 points, shooting 5-for-8 from 3-point range.

“When he learns when to shoot and when to play for the team,” Ricky Rubio said of Mirotic, “it’s unstoppable. He had an amazing game today. He was the key. But not just that, I think he’s really learning to be important on defense too.”

France couldn’t get things going offensively like it did against the United States on Sunday. Parker scored 14 points on 4-for-9 shooting, but Batum (0 points, 0-for-2) was invisible on offense. Credit the Spain defense, which has allowed less than 92 points per 100 possessions in its four games against teams that made the quarterfinals.

“We didn’t lose control at any moment,” Rubio said about his team’s recovery from its 0-2 start, “even though our situation wasn’t the best. We played as a team. Nobody stepped up as an individual and everybody stepped up as a teammate.”

Australia is pretty good in routing Lithuania; Valanciunas: ‘I was pretty bad’

RIO DE JANEIRO — Australia (5-1) continued it’s strong run at the Olympics, advancing to the semifinals with a blowout, 90-64 win over Lithuania (3-3). The Boomers have become the clear favorite to reach the gold medal game from the side of the bracket opposite the United States, and need one win in their next two games to earn their first Olympic medal.

“It’s a hard and long road to go,” Patty Mills said afterward. “I can tell you this is one hell of a group that I’m very happy and proud to be a part of.”

Matthew Dellavedova started Wednesday’s game with two 3-pointers and Australia never trailed. It led by nine at the end of the first quarter and by 18 at the half. Mills led all scorers with 24 points, hitting five of his 11 3s. The guards’ aggressiveness opened up things for everybody else and the Aussie offense, which ranked second through pool play, just kept clicking.

“We lead the tournament by far in assist-to-field-goal percentage,” Australia Andrej Lemanis said. “I think that reflects that fact that we play together as a group and we’re all prepared to do what’s in the best interest of the team.”

This is the fourth time that Australia has reached the Olympic semifinals. But on the previous three occasions (1988, 1996 and 2000), it finished fourth. On Friday, it will face the winner of Wednesday night’s quarterfinal game between Croatia and Serbia. It should be the favorite in the semis and certainly has a shot (especially with how poorly the U.S. has been on defense) to win the gold medal.

“We believe,” Andrew Bogut said. “I’ve been on teams where you say all that, but there’s that doubt still there. We believe we can beat teams. We come in with that mind set and a resilient group that plays hard.”

Lithuania’s Olympics started with three straight wins and ended with three straight losses. It hurt itself with 13 first-half turnovers on Wednesday.

“Everything slipped away,” Jonas Valanciunas said afterward. “We didn’t come away with the same energy, same focus. We were not playing basketball. We were just trying to, I don’t know, score, whatever. We were not enjoying basketball.”

Valanciunas was maybe the most disappointing NBA player in the tournament. He averaged just 6.7 points on 39 percent shooting over Lithuania’s six games. He scored just five points on 2-for-5 shooting in the quarterfinal.

“He and [point guard Mantas] Kalnietis were our focuses,” Australia assistant coach Luc Longley said. “We managed to get a lot of pressure on the ball early and a lot of Valanciunas’ looks come off Kalnietis. If he’s not rolling, it’s hard for Valanciunas to get rolling.”

Lithuania’s lack of perimeter shooting (it ranked last in 3-point percentage among teams that advanced to the quarterfinals) gave Valanciunas less space to operate, and he just never got going offensively.

“I was pretty bad,” he admitted. “I got to do something with my head.”

Blogtable: Who will have the biggest impact on the Knicks?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Level of concern for Team USA? | Will Warriors, Cavs meet in 2017 Finals? |
Who will have biggest impact on Knicks?


> Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose, Courtney Lee or Jeff Hornacek? Who will have the biggest impact on the Knicks this season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Joakim Noah. He’s crawling the walls eager for his chance to play in New York and to make a difference for the Knicks. The defense, rebounding, play-facilitating, energy and, off the court, camaraderie he brings will transform a rather dreary culture at Madison Square Garden. I hope all goes well for Rose, but I sense he’ll be managing his body for one more season, trying to show just enough while avoiding injuries so he can have a real market in free agency next summer. Lee is a role player. And while Hornacek – a fellow alum of Lyons Township High (LaGrange, Ill.) – is a solid coach and swell guy, he won’t be in line for much credit regardless sandwiched between a starry roster and Phil Jackson up above. Noah, if he stays healthy, is now the Knicks’ jumper cables.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Whichever one of Joakim Noah or Derrick Rose breaks down first. It’s not a matter of if, but when.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I’m picking Rose because his impact could swing positively or negatively. Lee is a solid role player but nothing more, Noah is on the downslide and Hornacek an above-average coach. Rose is a serious wild card who can spring a bounce-back year or falter from injury or a prolonged slump. Neither would surprise me.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comI’m not sure Noah is better than Robin Lopez at this point. Lee is an upgrade over Arron Afflalo, but not to the same degree as Hornacek and Rose are from last season’s counterparts. And since the talent on the floor is always more important than the coaching, Rose should have the biggest impact. This is a team that has been near the bottom of the league in shots near the basket over the last few seasons and has needed some quickness with the ball. Rose isn’t the finisher he was in years past, but he’ll still get defenses to shift a lot more than previous Knicks point guards did.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Courtney Lee and the rest of his family appreciate his inclusion on this question. You are so kind. But I don’t think there is any doubt that Derrick Rose will have the biggest impact, one way or another. If he’s as good as can be, the Knicks will benefit greatly from his arrival. If not, well … see the fallout in Chicago. All that said, I think Noah has the potential to big things for his hometown team if he’s back to full health this season. He can impact games in more ways that any of the new additions and cover the backs of both Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis on the defense end.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The answer is Derrick Rose. The question is what kind of impact will he create? It will be positive if he can play 75 or more games at a high level, which will enable him to provide consistent leadership while bringing out the best in Anthony and Porzingis. If he’s sidelined for 20 games or more, and is working his way back into the lineup for much of the time, then he’ll be a drain.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI don’t know if it’s fair to expect Joakim Noah or Derrick Rose to have a sizable impact at these stages of their careers. With their respective injury histories, the best-case scenario for the Knicks should probably be having them (and Courtney Lee) play supporting roles to Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. Which is why I think Jeff Hornacek could and probably should have the biggest impact. This Knicks franchise needed a leader with a vision that fans can believe in, and Hornacek has a chance to be that guy. It’s been a while since New York City had a manager/coach the city celebrated, and perhaps Hornacek can break that streak.

Blogtable: Will Warriors, Cavs meet in 2017 Finals?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Level of concern for Team USA? | Will Warriors, Cavs meet in 2017 Finals? |
Who will have biggest impact on Knicks?


> Never in NBA history have the same two teams played each other in the Finals three years in a row. I know it’s only August, but are we destined for a historic Cavs-Warriors rematch next June?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I can’t see myself picking anything other than Cleveland-Golden State when we do season predictions in October. No team in the Eastern Conference closed the gap on the Cavaliers, and the Warriors’ biggest obstacle will be themselves. Fitting in Kevin Durant’s offense game, notably his “touches,” won’t be simple without sacrifice by others. Klay Thompson in particular might wind up texting and calling Russell Westbrook a bit seeking ways to cope. And let’s remember, Father Time catches up with all NBA players but Crazy Uncle Injury picks and chooses those he torments – if Steph Curry, Durant or Draymond Green comes up lame for any length of time, the West could split wide open. Well, for San Antonio and the Clippers, anyway.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Yes. And it will be spectacular.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: No, and I say that only because history is against it. On the surface, those two are the Goliaths of their respective conferences and therefore it would make most sense if they’re the last teams standing. Still, I suspect LeBron James‘ 6-year run to The Finals will be snapped. I just can’t answer by whom, and how. Just a silly hunch that somebody else in the East — Toronto or maybe Boston — will sneak through.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It’s very difficult to imagine any other scenario. The Warriors took the best player off the roster of team that almost kept them from making The Finals last season. The Cavs, meanwhile, cruised through the Eastern Conference playoffs and no team behind them made enough changes this summer to be much of a threat.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: No one had won 73 games in a season before the Warriors pulled it off last season, so I’m choosing to believe that we’ll see a bit more history made in June of 2017. While I think an upset of either team along the way makes for an infinitely more interesting postseason, I’m just not sure I can identify the team that’s supposed to pull that upset off. The whole parity idea is lost on me. I want to see the best of the best battle it out for the title every year. If it happens to be the Warriors and Cavaliers for a third straight season, I’m fine with Round 3.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Cleveland will be there. I’m not so sure about the Warriors, who will need to go through some adjustment pains along the way. Can they figure it out in one season? We saw how the San Antonio Spurs were more talented last year with LaMarcus Aldridge and yet not as effective, in part because of changes to their style and a weakening of their bench. Golden State is going to win championships, that is a given, but Durant is not some plug-and-play component that can be added automatically. The guess here is that the Warriors are going to learn how to win multiple championships by way of losing in the Western playoffs next spring.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: It may feel that way, but if we’ve learned anything from watching the NBA over the years it’s that expectations rarely manage to match reality. The Cavs and Warriors certainly seem like runaway favorites to end up in the Finals, and if I had to pick I’d probably go with them just to be safe. That said, there’s a little nagging part of me wondering about the Warriors. It’s not that I don’t think Kevin Durant won’t be helpful, it’s that I wonder if losing Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli, Leandro Barbosa and assistant coach Luke Walton won’t completely be outweighed by the addition of Durant (and David West and Zaza Pachulia). The last two seasons, the Warriors built something of a dynasty with a lot of moving parts. This season, the parts have changed and I don’t think the Warriors will just waltz back to The Finals.

Blogtable: Your level of concern for Team USA?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Level of concern for Team USA? | Will Warriors, Cavs meet in 2017 Finals? |
Who will have biggest impact on Knicks?


> As we head into the quarterfinals in Rio, what’s the level of concern for Team USA? And who do you see as the biggest threat to snap the USA’s gold-medal streak?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I ultimately think Team USA’s biggest concern will be the apathy that they’ll generate by winning gold again but not dominating the way the Dream Team did in ’92 or (in people’s memories at least) other editions of this NBA star-studded national squad did. There are reasons for the closer scores, some owing to the competition, some to holes in the U.S. team. But I think there will be a healthy mixture of respect for foes and fear of failure now for Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony et al that will see them through. Biggest threat? It’s all relative, but give me Australia, which has some brassy NBA players in Andrew Bogut, Matthew Dellavedova and Patty Mills; some healthy disrespect for a few of their pro peers, and a pesky defensive style that might already be in the U.S. stars’ heads.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: It shocked me to read comments from Americans that essentially admitted surprise that many of the other teams are actually playing like teams, passing the ball, etc. If Team USA wants to stand around and play 1-on-1 “hero” ball, they could lose any game left to anybody. I wouldn’t have believed that before the Olympics began. I thought they had the proper mindset. But the team simply seems to have fallen back into many of the old, bad habits. Where the hell is the defense? Definitely looking more and more like time for a change. They could use a big dose of Gregg Popovich biting them in the butt right about now.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The level of concern is cool. Not warm or hot. Yes, there have been some relatively close calls and the ride a bit bumpy, but here in the money round I don’t see the US exposing much vulnerability. The biggest threat to snap Team USA’s streak is Team USA. Only a sloppy performance would leave the Americans open to being upset by an opportunistic country such as Spain.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The level of concern is high. The defense is the worst it’s been under Mike Krzyzewski and the Olympic field is stronger than ever, with all eight remaining teams having hopes for a medal. Still, Spain is once again the biggest threat to beat the U.S. After a sluggish first three games, Pau Gasol and his team have found their gear, crushing Lithuania on Saturday and beating Argentina handily on Monday. They have a tough test themselves in the quarterfinals, with a France team that beat them in Madrid two years ago. But if USA and Spain meet in the semis, it may be a toss-up.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: My level of concern is significant. I hope it’s the same for the members of the team as they face a very real threat from Argentina first and foremost, and either France or Spain in the semifinal round. The U.S. is at its best when it treats every opponent like a credible threat, even the teams that we all know should not come close to touching the NBA stars. In London four years ago, that attitude was prevalent. That team attacked the opposition in a way that made clear that the U.S. would not leave the games without gold. There was always a feeling in the building that no matter how hard the other team played, they would ultimately come up short. I don’t know what it feels like inside the building this time around, but I know what it looks like from afar. And I haven’t seen that same sense of urgency in Rio.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The defense has been alarming. The USA has allowed 92 points over the last three games (equivalent to yielding 110 points over a 48-minute NBA game). Their opponents over the final three rounds – if the US gets that far – all know how to share the ball and move without it, beginning with the clever Argentines in the quarterfinal. The most dangerous opponent will emerge in the semis: France (Tony Parker) and Spain (Pau Gasol) each has the great player capable of leading and finishing the upset. For the Americans, assuming they can’t resolve their fundamental lapses on defense, the question comes down to which one or two of them is going to own this tournament in the way that LeBron James owned it in 2012. If they’re not capable of winning with fluid teamwork, then someone (Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, and/or Kyrie Irving) is going to have to take on the responsibility of carrying them.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: We’re not supposed to be concerned, right? After all, all we’ve heard is what a strong defensive team this is, and we know that the Team USA brass had their pick of dozens of players before curating this particular dozen, so why should there be any concern? Oh wait, I know why! Because this team seems awkwardly constructed. Or because their defense has never come together, and because the default offense seems to be clearing out and going one-on-one. This group is clearly talented, but they just can’t seem to get on the same page. Even if they can’t get things figured out, they will probably still win gold. But to me, Team USA’s biggest threat is themselves.

2016 Olympic quarterfinals preview

RIO DE JANEIRO — The 2016 Olympic basketball tournament is wide open. Eight great teams remain and every one of them has a chance at a medal.

The United States is the only undefeated team among them and carries a 50-game winning streak in international tournaments into the quarterfinals. But, it has looked vulnerable over its last three games, allowing Australia, Serbia and France to score more than 110 points per 100 possessions. If it doesn’t get enough offense in any of its next three games, the U.S. can lose.

And every other team can win. The only team in the quarterfinals that doesn’t have a quality win in Rio is Serbia. But Serbia lost to France by one and had a wide-open three to send its game vs. the U.S. to overtime. And, oh yeah, Serbia won silver at the 2014 World Cup, having beat Greece, Brazil and France to get to the final (after, just like this year, picking up no quality wins in pool play).

Here’s a rundown of each of Wednesday’s quarterfinals…

Pace = Possessions per 40 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Stats are from games vs. remaining teams. For full Olympic pace & efficiency stats, go here. (more…)

Olympic quarterfinals set, USA faces Argentina on Wednesday

RIO DE JANEIRO — The quarterfinals of the Men’s Olympic basketball tournament are set after the final day of pool play. And we’re looking at what should be the best tournament we’ve ever seen.

Hosts Brazil beat Nigeria in Monday’s first game to stay alive, but didn’t get the help they needed from rival Argentina, who lost to Spain in the day’s second game. Spain’s win eliminated Brazil, but there was still some sorting out to do in the day’s final game.

And appropriately, we ended up with a four-way tie after Croatia’s win over Lithuania. Argentina, Croatia, Lithuania and Spain all finished at 3-2.

Croatia won the tiebreaker with a 2-1 record against the other three teams and a win against the other team (Spain) that went 2-1.

Here’s how the Group B seeding sorts out…

1. Croatia (2-1 vs. the other three, beat Spain)
2. Spain (2-1)
3. Lithuania (1-2, beat Argentina)
4. Argentina (1-2)

And that sets up the following quarterfinal matchups for Wednesday…

Australia (A2) vs. Lithuania (B3) – 10 a.m. ET
Spain (B2) vs. France (A3) – 1:30 p.m. ET
USA (A1) vs. Argentina (B4) – 5:45 p.m. ET
Croatia (B1) vs. Serbia (A4) – 9:15 p.m. ET

The winners of USA-Argentina and Spain-France will meet in the semifinals on Friday. The winners of Australia-Lithuania and Croatia-Serbia will meet on the other half of the bracket.

It’s truly a wide-open tournament. All eight teams have shown the ability to beat anyone, as well as the ability to lose to anyone. No result in any of the next eight games would be a shock. And with the USA and Spain on the same side of the bracket, we’ll definitely have a different gold-medal-game matchup than we did in the last two Olympics.

Morning Shootaround — Aug. 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Fear factor vanishing for Olympic team? | Group B gets crazy in Rio | Lebron’s new deal about more than money | Thomas convinced rest of the league knows Celtics are on the rise

No. 1: Fear factor vanishing for Olympic team? — All it takes is a couple of close calls in Olympic competition for the legion of doubters to appear for Team USA in Rio. That aura of invincibility vanishes with each and every tight game survived by this current group of All-Stars led by superstars Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Kyrie Irving. Michael Lee of The Vertical shines a light on the turning tide in Rio as Mike Krzyzewski and his coaching staff continue to search for an identity for this particular group (perhaps in time for today’s game against France, 1:15 p.m. ET):

The hilarious Snapchat prank sessions, Facebook sing-alongs and Instagram video shenanigans were much more entertaining than the actual games for the United States men’s Olympic basketball team through a barnstorming exhibition tour and two effortless but sloppy beat-downs to start these games in Brazil. But just as this group was headed toward earning the playful title of the Meme Team, the Americans have encountered some genuine adversity in their past two games that – if mistakes aren’t corrected or adjustments not made – could find them on the wrong side of the joke.

Team USA might survive these Olympics unscathed. Ten All-Stars, including a former MVP, might prove to be all that the Americans need to escape the Rio games with gold medals around their necks. Getting shoved around by Australia and gasping for air until Serbia’s Bogdan Bogdanovic’s potential tying 3-pointer drew iron, however, should give anyone pause that “the real world” – as coach Mike Krzyzewski has dubbed his team’s current predicament against superior opponents – is theirs to dominate. The Americans won’t be beatable until they actually lose, but the veil of invincibility has been exposed in too-close-for-comfort wins against Australia and Serbia.

“They are just players,” said Serbian center Nikola Jokic, the promising Denver Nugget who bludgeoned the U.S. for a game-high 25 points in a 94-91 loss. “If you think about who they are, you are not going to be good at this. Maybe Australia showed us they can get beat. They can get beat.”

Even without LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, James Harden or Chris Paul, the talent on Team USA is overwhelming in comparison to the other teams in this tournament. The performances have been extremely underwhelming, though, exposing the vulnerabilities and deficiencies without those aforementioned stars.

The off-court camaraderie that this group has developed appears authentic, as players have repeatedly discussed the bonds that have been formed in less than a month. But they are still learning to play with each other. Before confronting a fearless group from Australia, Team USA’s games were played at All-Star Game-level intensity and provided little in the form of preparation for what would be in store against legitimate competition outside the United States. The ease with which won made it easy to overlook that the team has 10 players making their Olympic debuts, including six who have never played any international competitions.

The Americans have all been asked to assume roles that are different than the ones they play on their NBA teams and the adjustment has been far from seamless. On the previous two Olympic gold medal-winning teams, Paul or James controlled the floor, Kobe Bryant embraced the role as defensive stopper, Dwyane Wade and later Westbrook came off the bench as cold-blooded assassins and Chris Bosh and later Tyson Chandler served as the defensive anchor protecting the rim and covering mistakes.

Through four games, this team is still waiting for those positions to be filled. Wins over Australia and Serbia were claimed in disjointed, grinding fashion. 

Team USA hasn’t looked sharp. Winning the past two games by a combined 13 points makes it obvious that something is amiss, but before trouncing Venezuela by 43, the Americans were tied with one of the worst teams in Group A after the first period.

“We got to expect this,” said DeMarcus Cousins. “Every time we step on the floor, guys are going to give us their best effort, everybody wants to beat Team USA. We know that coming in, but at the same time, we can’t crumble the way we’ve done the past two games. Right now, we’re hurting ourselves. Not taking away credit of how Serbia played, because they played amazing tonight. But we’ve got to be a lot stronger mentally.”

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