FIBA 2010 World Championship: USA vs. Russia Preview

USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski (C) speaks with Rudy Gay (L) and Kevin Durant before their FIBA Basketball World Championship game against Tunisia in Istanbul September 2, 2010.  REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (TURKEY - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

Chris Sheridan, ESPN: Lamar Odom will continue to start at center, but Tyson Chandler expects to see a bigger role in having to defend against the 6-foot-11 Kaun and the 7-foot-1 Mozgov, who will play for the New York Knicks next season after signing a three-year contract earlier this summer. The Americans will also be at a size disadvantage at the power forward position, where Andrei Vorontsevich, who plays professionally for CSKA Moscow, is four inches taller than his U.S. counterpart, Andre Iguodala. So it is to be expected that the U.S. team will press in the backcourt and near midcourt as much as possible, not only to try to force turnovers but to slow the Russians from getting into their offensive sets. The Russians run high pick-and-rolls and side pick-and-rolls on a majority of their offensive possessions.

Chris Tomasson, Fanhouse: The 1972 game, won by the Soviets on a length-of-the-court inbound pass with three seconds left that resulted in a game-winning layup after officials had overruled two failed Soviet inbound passes, was discussed earlier this week by Russian coach David Blatt. Blatt, a U.S.native who now holds dual American-Israel citizenship, talked about crying while watching the game as a 13-year-old in Massachusetts. But he now says he believes Russia was justified in winning the game and the Americans weren’t cheated. “He’s Russian,” said Krzyzewski, who was in the Army stationed in South Korea when that game was played. “He coaches the Russian team. So he probably has that viewpoint. His eyes are clearer now because there are no tears in them. It’s great. Whatever he thinks, he thinks. It really has absolutely no bearing on what we’re trying to do (Thursday). Absolutely none.”

John Schuhmann, Russia lacks offensive talent, but is a big, strong and physical team. The Russians go 6-foot-5, 6-foot-9 and 6-foot-9 at the two, three and four spots. And their two centers both play big, averaging 24 points and 10 rebounds. Russia will look to use their size and get under the Americans’ skin with more contact than they’ve seen all tournament. Russia wears teams down and punishes them late. Over the course of six games, the Russians have lost the first half by four points, but have won the second by 45. The U.S. hasn’t seen that kind of physical play in its last three games against Iran, Tunisia and Angola. But the U.S. will be able to draw on the experience of facing Lithuania in its first exhibition game after arriving in Europe. The Lithuanians hammered the Americans early and often whenever they tried to get to the basket or out on the break.

The USA/Russia quarterfinal will be aired live on ESPN at 11 AM ET on Thursday.

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USA 70, Brazil 68

USA's Kevin Durant (R) drives past Brazil's Alex Garcia (L) in the first half of their FIBA Basketball World Championship game in Istanbul, August 30, 2010. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (TURKEY - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

In many ways, today’s USA/Brazil game was a typical Team USA game. The Americans overcame sloppy play (22 turnovers) and poor outside shooting (2-of-11) from all players not named Kevin Durant, and survived against the Brazilians, who had every chance to steal a win against the superior talent of Team USA. But Leandro Barbosa went cold in the second half, finishing 3-of-13 from 3PT after a hot start, and Brazil came up short.

Outside of Durant (27 points, 10 rebounds) and maybe Chauncey Billups (15 points) and Derrick Rose (11 points), this team is a mess. The bench managed a paltry six points, but Coach K leaned heavily on his starters, playing each guy a minimum of 29 minutes. (Durant played 39 minutes.) There was little or no offensive movement, leaving Durant, Billups and Rose to create on their own. How a team with this much talent can turn the ball over 22 times in 40 minutes is mind-boggling.

Moreover, there was little to no enthusiasm from the U.S. bench, while the Brazilians were standing and cheering their teammates throughout the game. At one point, I think Danny Granger (zero minutes) fell asleep. (Kidding. Not really.) They played hard enough defensively, and even though they gave up a ton of open shots, they eventually wore the Brazilians down.

One reason I tuned in was to see the Spurs new center, Tiago Splitter, who Fran Fraschilla called the best center in Europe. He’s 25, moves well for his size, and has a pretty nice jump hook with both the right and the left hands. I suspect he’ll be in foul trouble for the entire month of November as he figures out how NBA officials are going to call the game, but he has the potential to be as good as any center Tim Duncan has played with since David Robinson. (I realize that’s not saying a whole lot.)

Team USA vs. Brazil at 2:30 PM ET on ESPN

USA's Kevin Durant goes high to dunk the ball against Slovenia during their FIBA Basketball World Championship game in Istanbul August 29, 2010.   REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (TURKEY - Tags: SPORT SPORT BASKETBALL)

The Americans are 2-0 at the FIBA World Championship, and today they’ll face their toughest test to date, as they take on international power Brazil. Here’s ESPN’s preview of the Brazilians:

Even with the talent displayed by Marcelinho Huertas, Leandro Barbosa and Splitter, Varejao is still the key to this team, no matter which way we look at it. In his participation in a recent friendly tournament in LogroƱo, Spain, Varejao’s defense was the factor that kept Brazil in the game after the absence of Nene and Splitter.

In the highly physical international play, there may be no one better than the Cleveland Cavaliers power forward to keep a team together and provide scoring opportunities for Splitter and Barbosa.

The only gray area is in the team’s adjustment to Magnano, who replaces Spain’s Moncho Monsalve, who took the helm in 2008, failed to qualify the team to the 2008 Beijing Olympics and then had to leave the job because of health concerns.

Anyone would say that changing coaches midway through an Olympic cycle is hard and that it affects the players, who probably got used to a style of work and professional trust. And this is where Magnano may run into problems.

The game is on ESPN at 2:30 PM ET.

USA nips Spain, 86-85

ESPN has the highlights.

Kevin Durant led the U.S. with 25 points and had two huge blocks in the waning seconds to secure the one-point exhibition win.

The U.S. went to zone after Derrick Rose’s go-ahead free throws and Durant did the rest with a pair of blocks on Ricky Rubio and Rudy Fernandez.

Even though Spain played without its best player, Pau Gasol, they’re still one of the top international teams in the world, so this is a good win for this young U.S. team.

It took some doing, but I finally found the box score. (Warning: It’s in Spanish.)

Team USA to play some zone?

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski (L) and assistant coach Jim Boeheim talk during a U.S. national basketball team practice in Las Vegas, Nevada July 21, 2010. REUTERS/Laura Rauch (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

Chris Mannix of has the details:

When Team USA broke camp in Las Vegas last month, before reuniting this week in New York for more workouts, implementing a zone defense wasn’t even on its radar. Pressure was the word of the week, with U.S. coaches convinced that the team’s length and athleticism would make it a dangerous pressing unit in the upcoming FIBA World Championships.

However, recent circumstances — specifically the withdrawal of most of the team’s top big men — has led to a shift in that thinking. With Amar’e Stoudemire, David Lee and Brook Lopez bowing out of the tournament, which begins Aug. 28, rebounding has become a major point of concern. Tyson Chandler and JaVale McGee are the only natural centers on the roster, while Kevin Love and Lamar Odom are the only true power forwards.

Playing zone, coaches say, will position more bodies near the backboards. To that end, the U.S. has tapped assistant coach Jim Boeheim, who has employed the zone at Syracuse for more than three decades, to teach the principles of the defense to the U.S. team.

“It can take away the inside and take away the offensive flow,” Krzyzewski said. “If you really play it well, people think you give up the three in it but you can match up pretty well in it.”

With the right personnel and enough practice, a zone can be extremely difficult to score on. It gets a bad rap because too often teams turn to it in desperation when they’re already getting killed and they haven’t practiced it all week. But when players know their assignments, it can be a great defensive weapon.

The key is to force three-point shooters to drive and pull up for difficult 15-18 footers that they haven’t practiced as much. There is always help in position with a zone, so the perimeter defenders can aggressively close on a shooter without worrying too much about the help that’s behind him.

Jim Boeheim is a master of the zone so if anyone can get Team USA ready, he can.

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