U.S. team leaves for Puerto Rico, will face Brazil on Wednesday
NEW YORK -- Day 9 of their shared existence brought a break for the U.S. Olympic team as coach Larry Brown canceled the practice that was supposed to precede their flight to Puerto Rico.
The American team checked out of its hotel Monday and headed to the airport for its flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where the FIBA-Americas qualifying tournament begins Wednesday.
Three spots are open for the 2004 Athens Games, and the U.S team is all but a lock to get one of the berths.
"I'm getting to know what guys are capable of doing and the positions we have to put them in," Brown said. "My biggest challenge is distributing the minutes."
Brown went with a starting five of Tim Duncan, Jermaine O'Neal, Tracy McGrady, Allen Iverson and Jason Kidd in a 101-74 exhibition victory Sunday over Puerto Rico. He then used what amounted to a nine-man rotation with Mike Bibby, Elton Brand, Ray Allen and Vince Carter playing the biggest roles off the bench.
"The thing we're trying to get the guys to understand is that their role on their (NBA) team is different than their role on this team. For us to truly become a team we have to realize that," Brown said. "Allen has to take 30 shots for Philadelphia to be successful, Tracy is Orlando's first, second and third option."
On the American team, however, nobody needs to dominate the ball.
The U.S. squad was at its best against Puerto Rico pushing the ball upcourt in transition and relying on the passing skills of Kidd, Iverson and Bibby to create good shot opportunities. Duncan scored the majority of his 21 points by being in the right place at the right time, rather than having the offense run through him.
"Now, Tracy might have to be our defensive stopper and play (power forward). Allen might have to be somebody that gets other people involved when things bog down. Elton is somebody that has to complement Tim Duncan, so that's the neat thing that's evolving," Brown said.
The Americans will play their first game Wednesday night against Brazil, which is expected to be the second-strongest team in Group A behind the Americans. First-round play continues this week with games against the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
In the second round, the Americans will face the four teams that advance from Group B, which includes Argentina, Canada, Puerto Rico, Uruguay and Mexico.
The U.S. team went 10-0 four years ago in a qualifying tournament in Puerto Rico, rarely getting tested as their smallest margin of victory was 17 points over Brazil and their average margin of victory was 31.6.
Things are expected to be more competitive this time, with Argentina -- the silver medalist at last summer's World Championships in Indianapolis -- expected to provide the toughest challenge.
Brown watched on television last summer as Argentina manhandled the U.S. team, and he's been trying to emphasize to the 10 new members of Team USA (Brand and Jermaine O'Neal are the only holdovers from last summer) that the Americans can't play as though they're at an All-Star game. Instead, they have to function as a cohesive unit.
"I don't think we started the game (Sunday) understanding just what these teams are about. They execute well, they're all good shooters, and they're really truly a team. We've got to understand that," Brown said.
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index