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Sunday, August 3, 2008
What to make of the change at the point?

By Chris Sheridan
ESPN.com

Jason Kidd
Although he wasn't injured, Jason Kidd didn't play in the second half Sunday.

SHANGHAI, China -- Jason Kidd sat and watched the final 20 minutes of Team USA's friendly competition against Russia from the bench Sunday, his warm-ups never coming off.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski, when asked why he benched Kidd, was in the middle of answering during his postgame interview when Kobe Bryant interrupted with a two-word explanation: "He's old."

Krzyzewski said Kidd will be back in the starting lineup Tuesday night when the Americans play their final pre-Olympic exhibition game against Australia, but what will happen beyond that point is fair game for open speculation.

With Chris Paul and Deron Williams looking especially effective against Russia's zone defense, what we saw in Team USA's 89-68 victory over the reigning European champions could be an indication of what we'll see in the next couple of weeks.

J-Kidd could be done, or at least on his way to being marginalized. That's not the way he saw it, though.

"Coach wanted to get those guys more time. He wanted to see something different, get those guys into some situations," Kidd said. "I've seen everything, so I'm fine with it. I can use the rest. There's nothing to read into it."

Except there is.

Until Sunday, Paul and Williams usually had been paired as the second unit's backcourt, with Williams playing shooting guard and Paul running the point. But Paul was the starter when the second 20 minutes began, and Williams was the most effective player on the court after the Russian team made a nice little run to cut a 20-point deficit in half, throwing the closest thing to a scare into the Americans as they've seen in their four games together thus far.

The scare went away quickly as the Americans turned up their defensive pressure and forced expatriate American J.R. Holden into an ill-advised shot and a turnover. (Williams came up with the steal.) Michael Redd then hit a pair of 3-pointers, the second in transition, to turn a 61-51 game into a 71-51 game.

Krzyzewski went with a lineup of Williams, Chris Bosh, LeBron James, Redd and Dwyane Wade to start the fourth quarter, singling out Bosh for praise afterward even though he did not grab a rebound nor make a bucket and earned his three points from the foul line. (So keep an eye out for Bosh's possibly supplanting Dwight Howard as the primary big man, perhaps when the Americans face Spain in the fourth game of the preliminary round of the Olympics. Bosh might be a more effective post defender against Pau Gasol, and he's certainly more mobile -- and a better free-throw shooter -- than Howard.)

The Americans shot nearly 60 percent and made seven of their 13 3-point attempts, but the number of turnovers they forced was down (17), as were their overall scoring (89 points after averaging 118) and their fast-break points (15). Russia outrebounded them 12-4 on the offensive boards and had 14 second-chance points to the Americans' four, and the Americans acknowledged afterward that this opponent was especially crafty in finding ways to disrupt their flow.

Although it wasn't really a step back for Team USA, it was an eye-opening experience for its players to see how a big, disciplined, smart team can find ways to dictate the tempo, slow the pace and keep itself within striking distance.

That's the formula that worked to perfection for Russia against a more talented Spain team in last summer's Eurobasket finale, and it's something China and Greece will try to accomplish when the games start getting more meaningful a week from now.

"Both teams got out of this more or less what they wanted," Russia coach David Blatt said. "We came out of it a little better than when we went in."

When asked to expound, Blatt replied: "Anytime you face the beast and don't get eaten, you're a little stronger. As Nietzsche said, 'That which doesn't kill you makes you stronger.' You can come into a game like this and you can get destroyed -- and that has an impact on you for more than one night. One of our main objectives was to come out and compete, to limit them with some different strategies defensively -- we wanted to score the ball better than we did -- but to come out of the game with the feeling and the confidence that we can compete with anyone.

"I don't think that we're at the level of the U.S., certainly without Viktor Khryapa (sprained ankle), but I do think we showed ourselves that we have the ability to compete with anyone when playing right, and therefore I feel we took a step forward. The fact that we were able to keep them under 90 points says something."

The Americans will have Monday off to rest their minds and legs, take one last long, deep breath and enjoy this gem of a city on China's eastern coast.

Kidd mentioned afterward he was half-regretting not bringing his golf clubs along, saying he had borrowed Williams' sticks to take a few practice swings earlier on this trip.

Little did he know it at the time, but it may have been his first step toward becoming the utility wedge instead of the driver in Coach K's bag of tricks.

Because if the Americans keep seeing as much zone defense as they did against Russia, Krzyzewski might feel he has no better choice than to go younger and quicker than he had originally planned. In that scenario, Kidd could increasingly find himself the odd man out.

Chris Sheridan is an ESPN.com Insider. He has covered the U.S. senior national team since the 1996 Olympics. To e-mail Chris, click here.