Commentary

Team USA gives hosts a show

In one-sided exhibition, Brits get close-up view of the 2012 gold-medal favorites

Originally Published: July 19, 2012
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

Anthony DavisNathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty ImagesFacing a smaller British lineup, Team USA's Anthony Davis and Kevin Love didn't face post issues.

MANCHESTER, England -- Big Ben is some 200 miles to the south. Arrival in London, furthermore, is still seven days away for Team USA.

That's OK, though.

So says a certain Coach K, who used the platform of his first postgame news conference in the Olympic host country to announce to the world that his players need no loudly ringing bells, no four-faced chiming clock, to make sure that the Yanks are alert and prepared for what awaits them after this 118-78 pounding of Great Britain here in Manchester.

After one of the few no-sweat nights they're likely to see this summer, Mike Krzyzewski insisted that a much narrower victory Monday night over Brazil back in Washington, D.C., was not the proverbial wake-up call for a group that's never supposed to lose. And that's because ...

"We are awake," Krzyzewski countered from a cramped interview room in the bowels of the Manchester Evening News Arena. "We were never asleep."

"And if we play poorly at times, it's not that we're not ready. It's just that the other team is that good. We're not going to look great all the time because the rest of the world is that good. We've known that since we took over the program in 2005 and we're not going to assume anything."

The biggest difference, some seven years later, is how quickly and deeply Krzyzewski's message is sinking in. That became clear when Team USA guard Deron Williams, after moving into the starting lineup ahead of Chris Paul for Thursday night's 40-point thrashing, could be heard at the same podium dispensing the same warnings as his coach, which Krzyzewski has clearly been pounding into these guys since they convened in Las Vegas for training camp after the Fourth of July.

Dobbs I wasn't worried about that [Brazil] game in the least. That's y'alls job to worry so you can write your little stories.

-- Kobe Bryant

"If we don't come to play, if we overlook an opponent, we can be beaten," Williams said.

That was obviously never going to happen against the Brits, who hung in there for a while behind the brave two-man game Chicago Bulls swingman Luol Deng and NBA vet Pops Mensah-Bonsu tried to play, only for Team USA's athleticism and ball pressure to inevitably inflict the same sort of battering recently suffered by baseline spectator Amir Khan. The visitors turned it up late in the first quarter with the introductions of Andre Iguodala and Russell Westbrook, ultimately forced 26 turnovers and turned the fourth quarter into an embarrassing succession of breakaway dunks.

"When we do get a rebound or a turnover, it's beautiful," Krzyzewski said. "I mean, we had 39 assists tonight and nine turnovers. That's sensational in any context."

Yet he swears that he can also see the beauty in that 80-69 home win over Brazil that got the crisis talk going earlier than anyone imagined. Krzyzewski is convinced that anyone who couldn't wait to shift into panic mode is forgetting that Brazil just might rank as the worst matchup nightmare for Team USA than anyone outside of Spain.

"For the last three quarters [against Brazil]," Coach K told ESPN.com this week, "we played the best defense of any team I've ever coached internationally."

It really didn't surprise Krzyzewski or Kobe Bryant or Tyson Chandler that Team USA struggled against a team with three legit NBA big men (Nene Hilario, Tiago Splitter and Anderson Varejao) and one of the best coaches in the world (Ruben Magnano). Especially not after a months-long injury crisis has left Chandler, Kevin Love and young Anthony Davis as the Americans' only legit big men.

"We beat Brazil by one point in 2010," Chandler said. "So I guess we really got 10 points better."

Said Bryant after posting a quiet five points against the Brits, leaving the likes of Williams (19 points), Carmelo Anthony (19) and LeBron James (16) to power the offense: "I wasn't worried about that [Brazil] game in the least. That's y'all's job to worry so you can write your little stories."

Calm has been restored at least until Sunday night, when the strength of schedule ramps up significantly for Krzyzewski & Co. with an exhibition in Barcelona against Manu Ginobili's Argentina, followed by a Tuesday night showdown with the Spaniards on the European champs' own soil. The most significant storyline to ponder until then is the emergence of Davis, who rung up 11 quick points in 13 garbage-time minutes and, more importantly, impressed Krzyzewski with his work as a roamer in the middle of a previously untested zone.

When he doesn't have to bang against Brazil-sized big men and can focus on shot-swatting from the weak side and causing havoc with his lively body, Davis shows real international promise. He also stuffed four blocked shots into those 13 minutes and might well carve out a role for himself on this squad if he can replicate some of that in the final two exhibitions.

"That may [become] a weapon for us," Krzyzewski said.

To the locals, meanwhile, even an ending as ugly as Khan's recent KO at the hands of Danny Garcia carried great significance, since the occasion of the Americans' visit drew the biggest crowd in British basketball history, completely filling the 17,000-seat MEN. Deng led the Brits with a hard-fought 25 points in his Duke reunion with Coach K, but it was undoubtedly the presence of Kobe and LeBron that prompted the venerable BBC to televise a basketball game live throughout England for the first time ever.

Team GB coach Chris Finch of the Houston Rockets and assistant Nick Nurse, who serves as head coach of the Rockets' D-League affiliate, began their coaching careers in the 1990s in the British Basketball League, which is somehow even lower-profile in England now than it was back in their day. The hope of the sport's top administrators in England is that this exhibition, with the Olympic tournament to follow, can finally give basketball a lasting spark.

Guards are what the Brits need to develop for the future, which obviously won't happen fast enough to help them get out of Group B at the Olympics, Team GB's only means of seeing Team USA again. Finch does have some NBA talent at his disposal with the relentless Mensah-Bonsu (12 points and nine boards) and Portland Trail Blazers rookie Joel Freeland on the roster, but 38-year-old Nate Reinking started at point guard because the Houston assistant feels he has no backcourt alternative.

Said Reinking, a naturalized American, of trying to guard Kobe for stretches: "It was a dream come true. What can I say? I'm an old man. I was telling [Bryant], 'Slow it down, I'm 38.' He just laughed."

"It's unbelievable," Deng said. "They take five guys out and put the next five guys in, and they're basically just as good."

Deng told Krzyzewski when they embraced at the final horn that Team GB had never seen anything like it. Krzyzewski will be telling his crew to tune out all the gushing and stick to the humble approach.

"It's always on my mind that this team can lose," Krzyzewski said. "If you don't think you can lose, you're not doing everything you can to win. I think, in a seven-game series, we'd beat anybody in the world. But everyone's susceptible to losing in a 40-minute game.

"That's why we've got to keep getting better. So we won't lose."

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics