Redeem Team passes Spanish test

Even with six current or former NBA players, Spain was no match for Team USA in the fourth of five games of pool play. The combination of the Americans’ defense (16 steals) and three-point shooting (12-25, 48%) led to a 119-82 rout of the 2006 World Champions.

LeBron James led the U.S. in scoring with 18 points, while also posting eight assists, five rebounds and four steals. Dwyane Wade continued his fine play off the bench with 16 points, six rebounds and two steals. In total, the Americans had eight players in double figures.

Both teams have secured spots in the medal round and if the current standings hold, they wouldn’t meet again until the finals. The U.S. team plays Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Kaman and the rest of the German team at 8 am on Monday (on the USA Network) in the final game of pool play. The medal round starts on Wednesday.

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Redeem Team gets revenge, defeats Greece

Greece beat Team USA two years ago in the World Championships, forcing the U.S. to settle for a bronze medal. It might have been a blessing in disguise for the Americans since it required them to play in the summer of 2007 to qualify for the Bejing Olympics. That extra work is paying dividends as Team USA’s collection of (mostly) All-Stars is starting to play better together, especially on the defensive end. Team defense is what has gotten them through the preliminary games, and it’s what allowed them to upend Greece, 92-69.

The Americans have started 3-0 in pool play without an effective long-range game. They have shot just 19 of 65 (29%) from behind the arc, which is something that has plagued the U.S. for some time. Coach K has elected not to use three-point specialist Michael Redd all that much, probably because his team is getting by without him. They continue to see a lot of zone, however, and as the competition gets tougher, they might need Redd’s shooting to open up things inside.

The team faces its toughest test of pool play when it faces unbeaten Spain at 10 AM (ET) on Saturday.

On a side note, one thing that struck me as odd as I was watching ESPN’s series “Road to Redemption” was just how much of a leadership role LeBron James has taken. Apparently, he’s constant talking, coaching and cracking jokes. But other than his tremendous talent, I just don’t see how LeBron qualifies as a leader of this particular team. He’s just 23 and hasn’t been around great coaching other than his summers with Team USA.

Don’t get me wrong, he’s one of the world’s best and is already basketball’s most athletic player, but he doesn’t strike me as a particularly heady guy. His shot selection is suspect, he gets out of position when he’s on the ball defensively and, other than a big jump in FG% from his rookie to his second season, he has failed to drastically improve any other part of his game. His 3PT% still hovers around 32% and his FT% has actually decreased from 75% his rookie season to 71% last year. Moreover, he has failed to recognize that by developing a good post game, he could literally dominate on the block. Where is that turnaround that made MJ so hard to guard? Where is the up-and-under?

Given his athletic ability, it seems like LeBron could be so much more. And for that reason, I’m not sure why anyone on Team USA would be spending a lot of time worrying about what he has to say.

Redeem Team rolls over Angola

It isn’t going to be this easy. The U.S. men’s basketball team beat Angola, 97-76, in preliminary pool play.

Dwyane Wade scored 19 points, James dominated the game with his size and strength on both ends, and the U.S. Olympic team wrapped up the easy portion of its schedule with a 97-76 victory Tuesday night.

Dwight Howard added 14 points and James finished with 12 for the Americans, who had another rough night from 3-point range but don’t appear to be stoppable in the open court. Wade was perfect from the field in Beijing until missing in the third quarter.

The Americans (2-0) moved on to face Greece, the team that stunned them two years ago in the semifinals of the world championship. Two days later comes a matchup with Spain, the team that won that tournament and is also 2-0 in this one after rallying to beat China in overtime behind 29 points from Pau Gasol.

Look for Team USA’s game against Greece on Thursday (early) morning on the USA Network.

Redeem Team blows by China, 101-70

It was a rough start for Team USA in its Olympic opener as China made eight of its first 12 three-point shots. After that run of hot shooting, China was still within three (35-32) with 4:10 to play in the second quarter, but the U.S. outscored the Chinese 66-38 over the last two and a half quarters to win, 101-70.

Dwyane Wade came off the bench to lead Team USA in scoring with 19 points, shooting 7 of 7 from the field and 5 of 5 from the free throw line. LeBron James had an outstanding games, posting 18 points, six rebounds, three assists and three blocks, including two spectacular rejections in the first half.

The U.S. was sloppy at times and struggled to get good inside shots against China’s 2-3 zone. Shooting is still a team weakness as the U.S. made just 7 of 24 from long range. But the Americans’ overall athleticism was just too much in the end.

For China, Yao Ming posted 13 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks, and looked pretty active coming off a foot injury. Yi Jianlian, who was drafted by the Bucks but was recently traded to the Nets, had a pretty rough game, missing his first seven shots and finishing 4 of 13 from the field. China is going to need him to play better to make the medal round.

Team USA’s next game is Tuesday morning against Angola. Check your local listings.

Team USA still has trust issues

Call me unpatriotic, but at times during the 2004 Olympics in Athens, it was tough to root for the U.S. Men’s Basketball Team. Helmed by Larry Johnson (boy was that a bad choice), Team USA was young, fragmented and couldn’t shoot. For the most part, the competition in Athens played together, proving the old adage that a sum can be greater than total of its individual parts. Teams like Greece and Argentina ran fluid, smart offense and played gritty defense – stuff that would make James Naismith proud.

Truthfully, the bronze medal finish was just what American basketball needed. It served as a wake up call that the rest of the world hadn’t just caught up to Team USA, it had passed them by.

Enter former Suns owner and four-time NBA Executive of the Year, Jerry Colangelo, who became the national director of Team USA. He immediately decided to hire legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski to helm the team. Tired of the revolving door access to Team USA, in 2005 Colangelo required a three-year commitment that would take the program through the 2008 Bejing Olympics.

While the team has made progress defensively and (generally) playing together, offensively things are still a little rough. Team USA is at times sloppy, playing too fast and chucking up bad shots when an open jumper is two passes away. It’s difficult for NBA stars to check their egos at the door and pass up what they believe to be a good shot to eventually get a great one.

The team looked pretty good in a recent series of warm-up games against Turkey, Russia and Lithuania. They did not, however, look very good against Australia, even though they were playing without the Milwaukee Bucks’ Andrew Bogut.

The team added long range bomber Michael Redd (right) to shore up its shooting, but only he and Carmelo Anthony are consistent deep threats. Anyone on the team can get hot, but only the perimeter shooting of ‘Melo and Redd strikes fear in the hearts of the opposition. I’m afraid what will happen if both players have a bad game.

ESPN has been running a series called “Road to Redemption” that follows Team USA in its preparation both on and off the court. Essentially, it’s a fluff piece with all the players talking about how great everyone is and how much fun it is to play on Team USA. The footage from the meetings reveals a serious side to all of this; there is incredible pressure on the team to return with the gold medal. Failure is not an option.

Team USA opens up on Sunday at 10:15 AM ET against Yao Ming, Yi Jianlian and the rest of the Chinese team.

Here’s the complete schedule:

vs. China: Aug. 10, 10:15 a.m. ET
vs. Angola: Aug. 12, 8 a.m. ET
vs. Greece: Aug. 14, 8 a.m. ET
vs. Spain: Aug. 16, 10:15 a.m. ET
vs. Germany: Aug. 18, 8 a.m. ET
Quarterfinals: Aug. 20
Semifinals: Aug. 22
Finals: Aug. 24

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