First they went up against Team China, a group undoubtedly more concerned with the atmosphere of the Olympics than with staying with the Americans. That seemed pretty clear when Yao stood up off the bench in the final minutes of the game pumping his fists and cheering as if the Chinese were about to take a lead. They were down by 30.
Next it was an Angolan squad that wanted to avoid being embarrassed by more than 40 points. Though they accomplished that goal, they were defeated from the moment they saw Team USA opposite their names on the schedule.
But Thursday morning’s game (8 AM EST) against Greece is being hyped as a different breed. The Greeks triple-teamed Chris Kaman when they faced Germany and held the Clippers center to a miserable 4-point, 2-rebound, 5-turnover game. Greece topped the two-headed German team of Kaman and Dirk by 23 points, and will undoubtedly bring that same physical brand of ball to the U.S.
With LeBron and Dwyane Wade carrying Team USA thus far, who do they need to step up when they confront a better opponent who will do more than try to lose honorably?
It’s easy to point the finger at Kobe. He started 0-7 from the field against Angola and looks like the trip to Beijing broke his ratchet. Of the four field goals that he actually did make in that game, they were all within two feet of the rim. The bigger issue is that he attempted 13 field goals. The next highest total was LeBron’s 7 tries, which were basically all dunks.
But some might argue that Kobe should still have the green light, even on a fully loaded roster. The Angola game was an aberration, and we’re not ready to pull the ‘best player in the world’ crown off of Kobe’s head for a couple of shaky nights from the floor.
Instead of picking Mamba as the member of Team USA who needs to step up, what about pinpointing Michael Redd? He sunk a couple of meaningless three’s towards the end of the game against China, and then missed both of his attempts from three against Angola, finishing with 2 points. Redd has had plenty of time to get used to being wide open when he pulls. Plus, he’s a few feet closer than usual – two reasons why his J should be falling more consistently. After being told since the inception of this team that spot-up three-point shooting will be a key to our success, it’s Mike’s job to keep defenses honest guarding the three.
What about Carlos Boozer? As Team USA preps for the Greek team that dances that fine line between physical and dirty play, it’s not going to be Chris Bosh who bodies up in the paint. And with Dwight Howard looking like Optimus Prime taking on the Decepticons every time he steps on the court, he can’t bear a much bigger burden. That leaves Boozer to carry his own weight. He played just under 9 minutes against China and just under 12 against Angola, in which he whiffed on a lefty baby-hook that he always makes. If nothing else, Carlos at least needs to offer a physical presence and hit the glass hard – he has four boards in Team USA’s first two games.
Who do you think needs to step up on Team USA?