BY CHAD SMITH
Where will you be Labor Day morning? If you’re like me, you will be ready to dig into your Labor Day lunch with ESPN 2 in front of your face.
The FIBA World Championship Tournament continues tomorrow as Team USA looks to open tournament play in their first round match up with Angola. The Americans are already 5-0 in their games in Turkey, surviving a scare against Brazil in the third game.
While this may be the USA “B team,” they are still a great group to watch. Kevin Durant is obviously the most talented player on the squad, but since this team was assembled, they have played collectively as a group, and seem to always be balanced when it comes to scoring.
Durant has led the team in scoring a few games, but other guys seem to step up when he isn’t at his best. Eric Gordon led the team in their last game with 21 points, but he was scoreless in an earlier game, and only had six points in the last few minutes of a game before that.
The bench has saved the team a couple of times, but the starters have carried their fair share of the load as well. They are a young group, very young and very athletic. While many of the players have no experience in these type of games, they will look to veterans Chauncey Billups and Lamar Odom to help calm the nerves tomorrow.
Angola will present team USA with some challenges, as most teams have kept it close in the first half. Angola finished in fourth in the Group A standings, with a 2-3 record in the five games before tournament play began. They are currently ranked in 12th according to the FIBA World Rankings. Team USA is No. 2 on that list, behind Argentina.
The Angola team is comprised with four legitimate scorers, led by Olimpio Cipriano, who is averaging 15 points per game. Joaquinn Gomes leads the team in both rebounds and assists, while also being the second-leading scorer behind Cipriano.
Since 1989, Angola have won 10 of the last 11 FIBA Africa Championships and it is fair to say that they reign supreme on their continent. However, they are still waiting for the breakthrough on world level.
If team USA can play more solid defense, and limit their careless turnovers, they should be able to handle Angola fairly well, and move on to the “elite eight” of the tournament. If they do so, they will join the other teams that have already moved on to the next round. Those teams include Serbia, Slovenia, Turkey, and heavy-favorite Spain.
It will be interesting to see if Coach K will elect to go with a different starting lineup than we have seen in the first five games. Normally, Billups and Rose will start at the guard positions (one of them being out of their “normal” position) Durant and Andre Iguodala at the forward spots, and Lamar Odom at center.
Coach K might consider putting Eric Gordon in place of one of the guards, and possibly putting Kevin Love in the starting rotation. Those two guys have really been the spark for the team off of the bench, so he might want to leave them where they are at. It all depends on how the Americans start the first quarter.
In the end, everyone should see some quality playing time as Team USA should be able to pull away in the second half. The main goal here in this first game is to shake off any rust, make some improvements, and get into a good rhythm. Getting through the game without suffering any injuries is also key.
In the end, I see the U.S. getting a 16-point victory, and heading on to the next round of games. Stay tuned.
The game can be seen live on September 6 on ESPN 2 at 11 a.m. EST