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A strong opening act for the United States
by Marc Narducci / August 10, 2008

Lebron James - Icon Sports Media The United States men’s Olympic basketball team showed many positives in its opening 101-70 win over host China.

The winners displayed a true commitment to defense, while displaying tremendous teamwork on offense.

During certain parts of the game, especially in a 25-11 third quarter that sealed the verdict, the U.S. looked like the team that many expect to go undefeated in these Olympics.

The U.S. was simply too quick, strong, deep and talented.

That doesn’t mean that the U.S. won’t be tested during these Olympics because even in this opening game some flaws were exposed

The biggest question regarding the U.S. is whether it will have the perimeter game to prosper in international competition.

Despite leading 49-37 at halftime, the U.S. shot just 1 for 12 from three-point range. The U.S. shot 6 for 12 in the second half from beyond the arc, but there are still some doubts about its consistency from the perimeter.

Conversely, China remained somewhat in the game after the first 20 minutes due to its shooting. China shot 8 for 16 from beyond the arc in the first half. The second half was a different story as the Chinese team wore down.

China played a decent amount of zone defense and the U.S. can expect to see a lot more of it during these Olympic games as opponents try to slow down the tempo of the game and make the U.S. beat them from the outside.

One of the reasons China was so successful shooting from three-point range in the first half was that the U.S. would often leave an open shooter while double-teaming the ball. Many international teams are so adept at shooting from deep range that the U.S. will have to play teams more straight-up and not gamble as much on defense.

While China has continued to improve on the national scene, the U.S. will face much more talented guard tandems as the Olympic continue.

China’s weakness is ball handling and the quickness of the U.S. took its toll on the Chinese guards. The strength of China is its frontcourt led by Houston Rockets center Yao Ming. It was admirable to see Yao competing after he suffered a season-ending stress fracture in his left foot in February.

Still admittedly only between 60 and 70 percent physically, Yao had 13 points and 10 rebounds, playing with energy and passion. The same couldn’t be said of teammate Yi Jianlian, now with the New Jersey Nets. Throw away one follow dunk in the third quarter and Yi didn’t do much to distinguish himself, scoring most of his points when the issue had been settled.

Meanwhile, the U.S. exposed China’s lack of quickness in the backcourt and forced 18 turnovers. And remember, these are just 40-minute games.

The two biggest positives from the U.S. came from two players who didn’t start the game, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

Both gave tremendous life off the bench, exemplifying the outstanding depth of the U.S. team.

Wade had 19 points and hit all seven shots from the field and was 5 of 5 from the foul line. More importantly he looked healthy after missing 31 games in each of the last two years with injuries.

Bosh scored nine points (going 4 for 4 from the field) and grabbed eight rebounds in 13 impressive minutes. He was also a defensive presence, which is important. The U.S. has a smaller team and some have questioned the depth at center behind starter Dwight Howard.

Bosh came in and was a major presence on offense and defense. And like Howard, he can beat opposing centers down the floor.

The performance of the U.S. was summed up best by LeBron James, had 18 points and six rebounds. “We didn’t play our best game,” James said.

That is true, but the U.S. deserves credit for winning by 31 while still ironing things out on the court.

Marc Narducci s a frequent contributor to HoopsHype.com

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