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|Time to put the training to the test: Team USA gears up against Canada (ESPN, ESPN360.com, 8 ET).|
The G-word was all the rage at practice Thursday following LeBron James' quasi-guarantee that Team USA would return home from Beijing with gold medals.
James didn't actually use the word "guarantee" but rather answered, "Absolutely," when asked whether he was guaranteeing gold, which doesn't exactly put his statement up there in the same boldness realm as Joe Namath's guarantee that the New York Jets would win the 1969 Super Bowl over the heavily favored Baltimore Colts (which they did).
Anthony used the G-word four years ago on the first day of Team USA's training camp in Jacksonville, Fla., prior to the Athens Olympics, infuriating coach Larry Brown and providing bulletin board material for the rest of the basketball universe. The guarantee wasn't fulfilled, and for a time, Anthony even denied making it. But it taught him a lesson about humility and how to watch what he says.
"I said what I said. Yeah, I guaranteed it. USA needed some excitement; there wasn't any excitement about the '04 team," Anthony told ESPN.com earlier this week. "But you don't even have to ask the question, this time. I ain't guaranteeing nothing, but we've got a good chance of going over there and bringing the gold medal back."
Asked Thursday what will happen Friday night against a seriously overmatched Canadian team, Anthony refused to be baited.
"We should win. What do you want me to tell you? We'll play hard," he said.
The Americans have concentrated on defense during their first four days of training camp, practicing against a U.S. Select Team, pressing three-quarters of the court, focusing on how they plan to defend the pick-and-roll (they'll switch at the 1-4 positions, except when Chris Paul is running the point) and identifying which players are most adept at executing the catch-and-shoot shots (coach Mike Krzyzewski said Anthony and Michael Redd are the team's best) that are a staple against the zone defenses the Americans will see plenty of.
|D-Wade will most likely step in for King James against Canada.|
With James nursing a sore ankle, Krzyzewski said he was 95 percent certain that James would sit out Friday night and be replaced in the starting lineup by Dwyane Wade. The other likely starters are Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Anthony and Jason Kidd.
Down the road, Krzyzewski disclosed, James will get the bulk of the backup minutes at power forward behind Anthony, with Carlos Boozer in reserve as a third center behind Howard and Chris Bosh.
The Canadian team has been in Las Vegas for several days following its ouster from a pre-Olympic qualifying tournament in Athens, during which coach Leo Rautins threw center Samuel Dalembert off the team for reasons that still have not been fully explained. Canada lost to Slovenia and Croatia and had to rally from a 10-point deficit in the final two minutes to defeat Korea. The only NBA player on Canada's roster is Miami's Joel Anthony.
Tipoff is at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN and ESPN360.com.
P.J. Carlesimo has been coaching the Select Team with assistance from former Canadian national team coach Jay Triano. Many of the scrimmages have been close -- the senior team actually has lost a couple -- but details have had to come secondhand, with the U.S. federation not allowing reporters to watch.
"I think [the senior team is] getting better. Their defensive focus is excellent, and when you see the evolution of the team over the past two years -- the only thing I'm fairly confident in saying at this point, because nothing matters until they get over there -- I think this team is better than last year's team. And they're both better than two years ago's team -- at this point," Carlesimo said.
"You can see the carryover. These guys are more used to playing with each other, the coaching staff learned more about them, they have more clearly defined roles, I think they understand each other. You see them doing things better each year. It did transfer to the games last year, but this will be a whole different level of competition. The Tournament of the Americas compared to the Olympics is night and day, but I believe at this stage -- training camp stage -- this team is a level above last year's team. They're further up the hill than they were in the past."
Is that reason enough to be so optimistic as to guarantee gold?
"I've never made a guarantee," Bryant said. "All you can do is go out there and work and play -- that's been our mind-set, and that's what we'll continue to do."
"When [Detroit's Rasheed Wallace] guaranteed against us in the playoffs, it didn't fire us up any more," James said. "You've still got to go out and play the game, so it doesn't matter."
And you, Carmelo, what can you guarantee?
"Us playing hard, us competing for our country, playing as a team, playing together. If we stay committed the way we are now, on Aug. 25, we'll have that gold medal. We've still got that bitter taste in our mouth. It's been four years we've had to wait for this opportunity, and I've never seen a group of guys this excited about going over there and playing basketball."
Chris Sheridan is an ESPN.com Insider. He has covered the U.S. senior national team since the 1996 Olympics.