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USA Basketball routs Slovenia, on to World Cup semis

BARCELONA – In this setting where winning isn't merely enough and every phase of Team USA's games are analyzed in the context of whether or not they can beat Spain in a championship game, this wasn't a good look.

In the first half, anyway.

It was an alley-oop fest at the end, when the guard-heavy Slovenians simply folded under the pressure of the American's superior talent. Still, the start was ugly enough to make you wonder about what it means going forward.

Team USA missed 10 of its first 11 shots and trailed 10-8 early on, with James Harden (0-5), Stephen Curry (0-4), Kenneth Faried (2-6) the worst offenders in the first quarter that they led 29-22. If not for the monumental size advantage that allowed the Americans to clean up on the glass (16 offensive rebounds to Slovenia's five in the first half that they led 49-42, they could have been in real trouble.

It's a huge 'if,' to be sure, but such is the Six Degrees of Spain mentality that I wrote about Monday.

Team USA finally pulled away in the third, when the emotion built and the highlight reel finally started rolling.

Kyrie Irving, who was wincing in the first half after falling on the same backside that he injured last week, gave a loud yell and a flex when his three-pointer stretched the lead to 17 points. He found Anthony Davis for an alley-oop – or, as the announcer calls them here, a 'Smash-ala! – not long after, and Davis offered a staredown to his frontcourt foe.

The tension that had come with the unexpected early struggles finally seemed to dissipate late in the third quarter, when Harden ran the break with players on all sides and threw a beautiful, no-look pass to a soaring Kenneth Faried for another 'smash-ala' that drew the first real oohs and aahs from the nearly-packed Palau Sant Jordi crowd.

Team USA was led in scoring by Klay Thompson (Golden State Warriors, 20 points on seven of 12 shooting, with four three-pointers), while Derrick Rose, Faried, Irving, Harden and Davis combined for 65 points. Slovenia was led by Goran Dragic with 13.


"So far, Spain."

Goran Dragic (Slovenia, Phoenix Suns) on who is favorite at this point in FIBA World Cup.

kenneth faried


Spain, of course. The Team USA scrutiny is all rooted in the perceived infallibity of the host Spaniards, as they simply seem to be playing on another level. They play France Wednesday in their quarterfinals game – the same Tony Parker-less France team that fell to them by 24 points four games into the tournament. In other words, it'll be 'on to the next' for the hosts.

As for Team USA chatter, say hello again to Derrick Rose. You may have missed him, and we're not referring to the season-ending injuries he's been battling through these past few seasons. The Chicago Bulls point guard was a relative no-show in the tournament coming in, having missed 37 of 45 shots overall and 10 of 11 three-pointers. He hit 6 of 10 and had 12 points in what was easily his best game of the tournament.


That aforementioned big-man edge against Slovenia will be much smaller in Thursday's semifinal game against Lithuania (Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas and Houston Rockets forward Donatas Motiejunas down low), and nonexistent should the USA-Spain tilt take place (Memphis Grizzlies' Marc Gasol, Chicago Bulls' Pau Gasol, Oklahoma City Thunder's Serge Ibaka).

And therein lies the problem.

As good as Faried and Davis have been for most of the tournament, no one expects them to dominate against the Spanish frontline. As Team USA attempts to maintain its 61-game winning streak (including 18 exhibitions) and keep up the revived gold medal tradition, all the isolation offense and inconsistent performances from game to game from so many perimeter players doesn't bode well.

And Lithuania, by the way, is no pushover. They have won six of seven games, though it's worth noting that they downed Slovenia by just three points (67-64 in their fifth game).

source: usatoday

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