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FIBA World Championships 2010: Team USA Ekes Out 70-68 Win Over Brazil

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2010 FIBA World Championships: Team USA's Scare Against Brazil Shows Preparation Is Lagging

It seems like everyone has a theory about why Team USA has recently struggled in international competitions like the World Championships. Some feel they still don't care enough to take them seriously. Some feel it's a stylistic issue, with the athleticism-heavy style of the NBA being a poor fit for FIBA. Others feel the players are selfish and not willing or able to sacrifice shots for the good of the team.

All those explanations have varying degrees of merit. To me, though, there's a simple explanation for why we so often see games like today's two-point squeaker against a Brazil team missing Nene and Anderson Varejao. The bottom line is that Team USA cannot and does not put in the same kind of preparation for this tournament as these other national teams. 

Just watch the stark difference between Team USA's and Brazil's offensive sets. When Brazil has the ball, there's a lot of player movement all over the court. Every single action by every single player has a purpose and directly leads to a different action if the first action does not work. On one side of the floor, there might be a pick and roll, but on the opposite side, you might see a guard coming off a screen on the baseline. In other words, the sets have multiple options, and defenses need to keep both in mind. Even a group as talented as Team USA will struggle to always account for everything against a club that runs their offense as crisply as Brazil does.

When Team USA has the ball, on the other hand, it's an entirely different story. Most of the plays end one of two ways: either with one player isolating and going one-on-one or with two players running a freelanced pick and roll. There aren't any secondary options, and there isn't any action to set up a different action. Instead, Team USA is relying exclusively on it's talent.

It's temping to say this is because Team USA has the wrong mindset. After all, these are players who have played basketball their whole life, and they should know how to cut and move without the ball, right? But it's one thing to know the importance of cutting; it's another to be able to run a multi-layered offensive set effectively enough to confuse defenses. The latter requires a ton of practice, something Team USA just doesn't have the luxury of developing as long as they stick to the pro model. When you're bringing a team that has no holdovers from the squad you brought to the last big international competition, you simply can't develop the kind of cohesion, trust and practice time necessary to be able to run an effective half-court offense. Even the best players in the world need practice running sets and properly reading the defense.

Team USA's brass knows this, which is why they do so much to encourage the players to get out in the open floor and score in transition. That's Team USA's advantage, and everyone, from the players to the coaching staff, knows it. But that strategy can often result in turnovers from forcing the tempo, something that happened a lot today to Team USA. There's a tendency for these players to try to force the action, both because that's how they play in the NBA and because their coaches keep emphasizing the need to run. That could potentially cost Team USA against good teams like Brazil.

The thing to keep in mind is that Team USA won the game and is still fully capable of overcoming the preparation problem and winning this tournament. We're a long way from 2002, simply because Team USA is full of players who want to be there. But as long as Team USA sticks to the pro model, they're going to have to sacrifice cohesion in the name of bringing as talented a roster as possible. Sometimes, that talent overwhelms their more organized opponents, like it did in 2008. Sometimes, it doesn't. 

The jury remains out on whether the 2010 squad is talented enough to overwhelm their opponents. Just don't be surprised if they encounter a couple more games like this one against good, organized teams. It is in those games where the preparation gap really shows itself. 

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FIBA World Championships 2010: Team USA Holds On For 70-68 Win Over Brazil

Team USA is still undefeated at the 2010 FIBA World Championships -- barely. In a tight back-and-forth affair, Team USA rallied from a narrow halftime deficit to defeat Brazil 70-68 to remain undefeated.

Brazil actually had a chance to tie the game when dynamo Marcelo Huertas earned a trip to the line with just under four second left after a dubious foul was called on Derrick Rose. Huertas missed the first free throw and deliberately missed the second, but was able to track the ball down in the corner. He then fed Leandro Barbosa underneath the basket, but Barbosa wasn't able to hit a game-tying layup attempt over Kevin Love. 

Team USA took a 61-59 lead into the final period, but both teams tightened up in the fourth quarter, trading empty possessions with forced shot after forced shot. Team USA clung to a four-point lead through much of the final stanza, but was unable to extend the lead to three possessions as the clock wound down. After narrowing USA's lead to a deuce with just under a minute, Chauncey Billups scored on a strong drive to the basket, followed by a contorting Leandro Barbosa bucket that brought Brazil back within a basket. Billups subsequently misfired on a three-pointer that set up Brazil's final chance with just around 11 seconds left in the contest. 

Kevin Durant led the way with 27 points, but Team USA's offense was out of sync most of the night, and their defense allowed Brazil to shoot 71 percent in the first quarter. They'll have to figure out a solution to both of those problems if they want to win the tournament.

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FIBA World Championships 2010: Team USA Trails Brazil 46-43 At Halftime

For the first time in the 2010 FIBA World Championships, Team USA faces a halftime deficit. Facing off against an injury-depleted Brazilian side, Team USA trails 46-43 in their group round game.

Kevin Durant has nearly single-handedly kept USA in the game to this point with his 19 points, scoring off a variety of off-balance circus shots and drives. Chauncey Billups and Derrick Rose have put in seven and five points respectively for a USA team too often lulled into taking quick, contested shots.

However, Team USA's biggest problem thus far has been finding the defensive antidote to Brazil's spread-the-court pick-and-roll game. Employing a system reminiscent of Mike D'Antoni's 7SOL-era Suns, Brazil has repeatedly run high pick-and-rolls with their point guard and center, while spreading the court with three shooters. Marcus Vinicius Vieira Souza has led the way from distance for Brazil, while former Sun Leandro Barbosa and Spurs big man Tiago Splitter have chipped in with eight and nine points. Even more impressively, Brazil has done this without two of their key players: Nene and Anderson Varejao, both of whom are unavailable due to injury.

Still, despite Brazil's hot shooting, Team USA only trails by one possession. A few defensive adjustments on the pick-and-roll and some better shot selection should be enough for Team USA's superior talent to shine through. Of course, as we've learned over the last decade, that's no sure thing in FIBA play....

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