What’s next for US basketball at the FIBA ​​World Cup?

Anthony Edwards’ statement was relatively mild, but it resounded loudly as USA Basketball’s perfect summer was drowned in a perfect storm of mistakes and inadequacies.

As the Americans prepared for FIBA ​​World Championship matches against Montenegro and Lithuania last week, Edwards, 22, announced that his team “are not really worried about these guys”. USA Basketball then survived a thrilling clash with Montenegro on Friday but lost to Lithuania on Sunday, leaving a sober Edwards singing a different tune.

“They beat us fair and fair,” said Edwards after the 110-104 loss that left USA Basketball 21 points behind in the first half. “Call out [Mindaugas Kuzminskas]. In the fourth he hit two big threes [quarter] As we ran, we lost our balance and fell off. One of them had two seconds left [after] I pulled out the ball and he threw it [in]. Call him. It was his night.”

USA Basketball is stunned by Lithuania but hopes of a World Cup are still alive

Lithuanians enjoyed their first win over the Americans since the 2004 Olympics – Vaidas Kariniauskas celebrated his team-best 15 points by sticking his tongue out at Austin Reaves and wearing a US basketball cap in the locker room after the final buzzer. The proudly hurting scene delivered a simple lesson Edwards and co. should have known by now: supreme confidence and NBA talent aren’t enough to win gold.

As the Americans come back from their only 10-game defeat in the group stage and group stage this summer, they are likely to discover several areas for improvement and some good news. Let’s start with the reason for optimism: the loss to Lithuania left USA Basketball on the easier side of the FIBA ​​World Championship, and several of the top contenders before the tournament failed to make the quarterfinals. All in all, the Americans couldn’t think of a better route to Sunday’s gold medal game.

Only eight teams remain from the original field of 32 teams. Spain, the reigning EuroBasket tournament champions, are eliminated. France, an American nemesis who won silver at the 2020 Olympics, has been eliminated. And Australia, who won bronze in Tokyo and went into the tournament with high medal hopes, are out.

On the American side, Italy, Germany and Latvia are represented. First up on Tuesday at 8:40am Eastern is Italy (4-1), who narrowly defeated Serbia but otherwise had a smooth run to the quarterfinals. Germany (5-0) boast several NBA players – including Dennis Schröder, Franz Wagner and Daniel Theis – and impressed with outstanding victories over Slovenia and Australia, but lost to USA Basketball in a pre-tournament duel. Latvia (4-1), whose sole NBA player is Davis Bertans, upset both France and Spain but were sidelined by Canada in a performance that suggested fortunes could soon run out.

Meanwhile, USA Basketball is on the other side of the group from Canada’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Slovenia’s Luka Doncic. Lithuania’s reward for beating the Americans will be a quarter-final showdown against the stubborn Serbia. Along with Germany, this quartet – Canada, Slovenia, Lithuania and Serbia – represents four of the five most difficult remaining Tests for US basketball.

If USA Basketball had been told a month ago that you would have to beat Italy and Germany to win a gold medal without ever playing Spain, France or Australia, that would have been a path they would have happily taken. The deal would only have been made more agreeable if the Americans had been promised they could avoid either Gilgeous-Alexander or Doncic, who will face off in a closely watched quarter-final on Tuesday.

Of course, bracketology will only get one team so far. USA Basketball still has a lot to clean up after their poor performance against Lithuania and their poor performance in the first quarter should be the starting point. Offensively, the Americans only shot 5 to 18 from the field, largely giving up the pass and too often using Edwards as a one-man scoring machine. They were thrown at the target on defense, struggled to defend the three-point line and waited until half-time to ramp up their intensity on the ball.

USA Basketball looked particularly vulnerable when Jaren Jackson Jr. was benched for foul problems, a constant concern for the Memphis Grizzlies center. Jackson conceded his first foul in the first minute and his second less than three minutes into the game. After sitting for most of the first quarter, he suffered his third foul midway through the second quarter and went back to the bench. At the end of the evening, USA Basketball’s 15 minutes on the court left USA Basketball plus-16 and minus-22 in the 25 minutes he was on the bench.

“Jaren needs to get better at that,” said US basketball coach Steve Kerr. “We need him on the ground. He’s one of our best players. The early fouls definitely changed the game. He needs to improve on that and he knows it.”

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Jackson’s absence only exacerbated Americans’ difficulty in rebounding and in defending themselves from the inside. Lithuania beat USA Basketball 43-27, accumulating 17 second chance points and 25 free throw attempts. Notably, Jackson and fellow starters Edwards, Mikal Bridges and Josh Hart only grabbed seven rebounds combined, an unacceptable feat if Kerr continues with a spread opening lineup.

Kerr had little success using backup center Walker Kessler along with a second big man in the first half, so he resorted to smaller backcourt pairings again in the second half in hopes of gaining more speed and versatility. The strategy nearly worked as the Americans staged a frantic comeback, but Lithuania kept their nerve and punched through inside.

USA Basketball can take comfort in the knowledge that even if there is a rematch between the teams in the gold medal game, they are unlikely to meet another opponent who can match Lithuania’s 14-for-25 hat-trick (56 percent). . Had Lithuania cooled off a little from the outside, the Americans’ ability to force turnovers and launch through transitions could have tilted the momentum in their favour.

“[Lithuania] “I did several really difficult three-pointers off balance to stay on top,” Kerr said. “When a team does that, you give them credit.”

Both Kerr and Lithuanian coach Kazys Maksvytis hinted that USA Basketball’s loss before the knockout stages could be a good thing because it would sharpen the team’s focus. The defeat also clarified the elements of a winning formula.

If USA Basketball can get a more disciplined game, better defensive power in front of goal, more effort at the glass and more consistent ball movement from Jackson, they should go for gold. But if one or two of those pillars collapse again this week, Edwards couldn’t take his words anymore.

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https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2023/09/04/usa-basketball-fiba-world-cup/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=wp_homepage What’s next for US basketball at the FIBA ​​World Cup?

Ian Walker

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