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Welcome to the first of my in-game diaries for Team USA at these 2012 Olympics. We don’t need a big long introduction, but the basic outline for these pieces:
I’m up at a family cottage in Canada for the entirety of the basketball tournament, so I’ll be watching whichever games I can (based on times and which ones our limited television access gets us) and jotting my thoughts. The Internet here is also very limited, so I’ll be doing the entirety of every article with no help from the web – meaning no stats or numbers. This will allow me to go purely based on the feel of the games and what I can see with my own eyes. During many of these preliminary games, I’m likely to go off on various tangents by the later quarters, once the games are all but wrapped up. But hey, it’s my column and those are the perks. So sit back, relax and enjoy, starting with Thursday’s game versus Nigeria.
- No slow start today. 8-0 after a couple threes by Durant and Kobe. It’s just Nigeria, but every game this team seems to develop more chemistry. Especially on defense. Nigeria could be lucky to hit 50 points today.
- As USA goes up 20-6, it’s amazing to see how shortening the 3-point line just a few inches can help a gunner like Durant. The symmetry between him and LeBron is remarkable. He could shoot 60% from distance for the tournament if he keeps getting looks this open.
- Black Mamba came to play today. Already several quick jumpers plus a steal and a reverse dunk for Kobe.
- I’m watching (as I plan to all tournament) on a channel up here in Canada which is an Olympic Basketball-only station. There are no commercials, no ads, and best of all, no announcers. The court is wired up well enough that you can hear all the communication on the hardwood. If I had my choice, I’d watch every NBA game like this. Not only is there frequent comedy (Carmelo, while leaping over Kevin Love for a defensive rebound: “I got that SHIT, get outta here K-Love!”), it’s really cool to hear the way these guys talk on the court, particularly on defense.
- At the end of one, it’s USA in a massacre, 49-25. A graphic on screen shows the US shooting 11-14 from long distance, nearly 80%. That can’t continue all game, but a 24-point lead after one quarter is remarkable against anyone, even Nigeria.
- In contrast to the preliminary games before London, Coach K seems to be content with two separate squads while the game remains close – his starters (Paul, Kobe, Durant, James, Chandler) and his bench (Williams, Westbrook, Iguodala, Anthony, Love). It’ll be interesting to see if he sticks with that in the meaningful games.
- Never mind that comment about Nigeria not hitting 50. This is among the fastest-paced basketball games I’ve ever seen. This full-court press for the Team USA is downright mean. Westbrook especially. I hope Scott Brooks is watching and taking notes, I see no reason this couldn’t work in the NBA to some degree. The challenge now for the US is seeing if they can double up their opponent’s final score.
- My brother just walked by and saw the score (72-39 USA), asking me “Is this even fun to watch?” Uh, yes. For a basketball nerd like me, this would be fun even if they were playing against high-school kids. Sure, we can see guys like this together every day during the NBA season, but not these guys together. It’s almost more fun in these throwaway games because they really loosen up and start having fun.
- 78-45 at the half. Team USA can still play better, but not a whole lot. Anyone worried about them having chemistry issues in the big games needn’t fret – these guys are plenty comfortable together. It’s nice to see their understanding that this team is something special, that this doesn’t happen every day (and might not happen again for a long time, if David Stern gets his way). It’s that understanding that the teams in ’04 and ’96 were missing…and for all the talk we have about the egos on these guys, you have to give them credit for embracing the opportunity. Of course, if they somehow manage to lose in London, I could end up eating these words.
- Second half is on, and it’s certainly time to rest the starters. Doubtful LeBron or Kobe will get many minutes here. Carmelo has been shining with the second squad, though, he’s been outright dominant tonight. And the best part is, we should be in for a healthy dose of Unibrow before long.
- You think if Carmelo were allowed to wear a Team USA jersey during the regular season, he’d play like this more often? Guy is a flamethrower right now. It’s got to suck to be any other team and watch this explosion while saying to yourself, “This guy is coming off the bench?!”
- The US is up 50 now, but still no Unibrow just yet. I’m a little disappointed. Quick tangent on him: If you gave me 1-10 odds (bet $10 to win $1) on Davis winning Rookie of the Year, I’d still take it. Even in limited minutes, he’s already shown he belongs with the stars of the game despite not playing a single NBA minute. If New Orleans played in the Eastern Conference, I’d be tempted to pick them as a playoff dark horse this season just because of the ‘Brow.
- At 134-68, the doubling effort is on. In my head, at least. Kobe and LeBron haven’t played a minute in the second half, but this has easily been the USA’s best team effort overall, again with the caveat that it’s against Nigeria. Davis finally got in and is doing Unibrow things, a few dunks and a defensive presence. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him get some minutes against Spain even if it’s close, he could really help if someone like Chandler gets in foul trouble.
- Final score, 156-73. A successful double. Without seeing any stats, wouldn’t be surprised if six or seven guys had double figures. God, it’s fun to watch these guys play. It’ll be even more fun if they actually run into a challenge somewhere along the line.
By Ben Dowsett (@ben_dowsett)
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