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updated: 3/8/2011 4:27 PM

With Rose and Durant, USA has shot at Worlds

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  • USA's Kevin Durant, left, congratulates Derrick Rose after scoring during the preliminary round of the World Basketball Championship Aug. 30 in Istanbul, Turkey.

      USA's Kevin Durant, left, congratulates Derrick Rose after scoring during the preliminary round of the World Basketball Championship Aug. 30 in Istanbul, Turkey.
    Associated Press

 
 

Bulls guard Derrick Rose is toiling in Turkey right now, leading a group that has been dismissed as America's 'B' Team in the FIBA World Championships.

True, all 12 players from the gold medal Olympic squad in 2008 declined to participate in this event. The team also missed out on a couple of talented big men when Amare Stoudemire and Brook Lopez dropped out with injuries. Boston guard Rajon Rondo was cut by mutual consent a few days before the first official game.

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The U.S. barely hung on to beat Brazil 70-68 on Monday when a Leandro Barbosa shot fell off the rim at the buzzer, so the team is looking vulnerable after playing just three games.

Make no mistake, though, Team USA is very capable of winning this tournament. One benefit to getting the gold medal is an automatic berth in the 2012 London Olympics, which means the U.S. wouldn't have to bother with a qualifying tournament next summer.

None of the top contenders appear to be at full strength for the World Championships. Defending champion Spain is without Pau Gasol and Jose Calderon. Argentina is missing Manu Ginobili and Andres Nocioni. Dirk Nowitzki is not playing for Germany.

France is missing a half-dozen players that could be helping its cause. The Brazil team that nearly pulled an upset on Monday was missing NBA big men Nene and Anderson Varejao due to injury.

There is more to international basketball, however, than just counting the number of NBA players on a team's roster. Remember, the nucleus of the '08 Olympic team won bronze at the 2006 World Championships in Japan after losing in the semifinals to Greece, which had no NBA players on the court.

That was the latest World Championships failure for the United States, which usually saves its best effort for the Olympics. The World Championships have been held every four years since 1950 and the U.S. has won just three times, most recently in 1994.

This year could be different. The No. 1 advantage for the U.S. is having the best player in the tournament by a wide margin. In the first three games, Kevin Durant is averaging 21 points and 7.3 rebounds, while shooting 52 percent from the field.

The coaching staff, led once again by Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, realized that chemistry is the biggest disadvantage facing Team USA. In many cases, the opponents have essentially grown up together playing for their national teams.

During tough times against Brazil and Spain in an exhibition, the U.S. fell into the trap of tossing up quick shots, while the opponents made sharp passes and took advantage of uncertain defenders playing together for the first time.

The U.S. is trying to address the chemistry problem by playing at a high speed. That's probably the biggest reason the coaches turned to Rose at point guard instead of Rondo. No one in the world can push the ball up court as fast as Rose, and easy baskets trump team chemistry every time.

Despite the roster defections, the U.S. hung onto Chauncey Billups and Lamar Odom, a couple of veterans with championship experience. It also brought a couple of 3-point specialists in Stephon Curry and Eric Gordon. The other U.S. players in the rotation are Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala, Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook, Memphis' Rudy Gay and Minnesota's Kevin Love.

Another problem with this tournament is it basically comes down to two or three games. One bad day in the semifinals, like the U.S. had against Greece in 2006, and the gold medal is gone. While pool play is generally a breeze, there is no margin for error in the playoff round.

The U.S. has two more pool games remaining against Iran and Tunisia. Rose talked about his experience after Monday's narrow win against Brazil.

"Some of us haven't played three games in three days since AAU or high school games and you got us playing against a whole bunch of professionals that really know how to play," he said. "It's tough out here. It's very tough, but every game we learn something different and our hope is it prepares us for the next game."

mmcgraw@dailyherald.com

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