|2014 FIBA World Championship Preliminary Games|
|August 16th, 2014|
|The United Center, Chicago, Illinois|
|8:00 PM Central Daylight Time|
|Injury Report: DeMarcus Cousins (Out)|
|Previous Matchups: 2010 (W 70-68), 2012 (W 80-69)|
|Marcelinho (Huertas)||PG||Derrick Rose|
|Alex Garcia||SG||Stephen Curry|
|Marcus Vinicius||SF||James Harden|
|Nene (Hilario)||PF||Kenneth Faried|
|Tiago Splitter||C||Anthony Davis|
With the departure of Kevin Durant, Team USA basketball knew that they would have to step up and account for his absence. The response from Coach K and his staff has been swift. After practice on Friday, Krzyzewski admitted that Team USA's gameplan has seen a marked shift since the team arrived in Chicago:
"You have a four day training camp to really showcase Kevin. Which he should be. And then, you don't have that. You have two days of preparation to start your tour, putting new things in. It's not what you want, but it's what you have."
Coach K later admitted that KD's departure was a blow, because the team wasn't able to use the four days of preparation in Vegas and has to rely on perimeter play. Team USA isn't resting on its' laurels, though. The last two days of practice have been the most rigorous since Coach K began his tenure with Team USA, according to him. Derrick Rose noted a marked shift towards the defensive side of the ball in these practice sessions, stating that they had practiced more defense than he had ever experienced on previous Team USA incarnations, including on select teams.
Of course, KD's exit wasn't the only problem that Team USA had to navigate around. DeMarcus Cousins suffered a minor knee injury in Thursday's practice, and will likely not play in the game against Brazil. The shrinking size of the team is forcing the coaching staff to adjust. Coach K said that Team USA was starting to run a few low post sets specifically for Cousins, but didn't mention any other big men by name. In a separate interview, Andre Drummond talked about how the presence of scoring guards would affect his role. "It kind of forces you to be a defensive anchor," he said. "It forces me to speed up the process of being a better talker, making sure that they're in the right spots and not getting hit hard by the screen."
In Brazil, Team USA sees an opponent that has given them serious issues in the past. Back in 2010, Brazil was a last second missed layup away from forcing overtime. The game was in group play, but it's the closest Team USA has come to losing since 2006. Even 2012 brought some feistiness from Brazil, as they managed to jump out to a 27-17 lead before losing the plot in the second half. In case you're wondering, all of the rotation players from those Brazilian teams are still on the roster, and their coach is the same as well.
Does Brazil have what it takes to win tonight? Almost certainly. They have an extremely experienced front line, with both Nene and Tiago Splitter possessing the ability to create their own shots. Either player has the ability to eat up a smaller defender, forcing the smaller Team USA to constantly send help defenders down to the paint. This opens up a lot of drive and kick threes for Brazil, but it also makes passing the ball extremely dangerous. In the end, this is Brazil's primary downfall. When Team USA is able to pressure Brazil effectively enough, they kill all of Brazil's momentum with extremely demoralizing steals. It's a game of teamwork and experience against athleticism and quickness, and it's actually really fun to watch.
In terms of players to watch out for, Brazil is stocked. They've got a heavy NBA presence, boasting four players that saw time on squads last year. They also boast players who have seen time in the NBA previously, such as Alex Garcia and former OKC Hornet Marcus Vinicius. Still, speaking of their talent only in these terms would be a disservice. Marcelo Huertas, currently the starting point guard for FC Barcelona, is ruthlessly efficient for his position. His ability to throw no-look passes, finish in traffic, and hit big shots will really come into play. Meanwhile, Garcia, Vinicius, and Marcelo Machado are constantly on the wings, ready to lead a fast break or catch Team USA napping on a corner three.
On the bench, Brazil boasts a deep, experienced rotation. It's uncertain whether Vinicius or Machado will start at small forward, but whomever sits will lead the bench's charge. American-born Larry Taylor will likely run some point, showcasing his bombastic athleticism all the while. Guilherme Giovannoni will function as their fourth big man, and is pretty competent with the pick and roll. About the only youngster on the squad is Raul Neto, who was drafted in the second round last year. He played for the Jazz in the Summer League and showcased some really nice floaters. He should get spot minutes at backup point.
So, how much does this game mean to Team USA? An undefeated record since 2006 is nothing to sneeze at, but Coach K admitted that the team's main goal was to win the gold medal. "We haven't played a game yet, so we're looking for different combinations" Coach K said. There will be no further cuts from until the conclusion of training in New York, so it's clear that development is still the goal.
For Derrick Rose, this game is an opportunity for him to establish his role. "This is my chance to be a leader," he said. "Be more vocal in the locker room, be more vocal on the floor. It's a new journey for me." With Chicago fans eagerly awaiting his return, the spotlight will definitely be on his performance. Still, Rose is aware of how his role here might differ from other roles he's played in the past. "Basically, I'm shooting open shots and creating. I don't have to worry about scoring the ball at all, because I've got great scorers on the team."
Prediction: Brazil 83, Team USA 80.
What do you think will happen tonight? Let us know in the comments!