A Gross Physical Salute
Despite the massive margin of victory (according to the broadcast the second largest in FIBA history after the legendary Cuba thrashing of '92 ), tonight's game against the Virgin Islands wasn't nearly as exciting as yesterday's Venezuela contest. A lot of that can be attributed to a lackluster second quarter in which a disturbingly bad team actually outscored Team USA. Granted, it's hard to stay motivated when you've jumped out to an awesome 42-13 lead after the 1st quarter, but it's exactly that type of foot-to-jugular mentality that makes these blowouts worth watching. Because the Virgin Islands managed to be even worse than Venezuela, this game didn't uncover anything earth-shattering about Team USA and their readiness for top-level competition. Nevertheless, there were still a few issues worth discussing. (Note: this is another TK/CB joint production.)
Hey Vegas, you want a team in your city? How 'bout you start by by filling the stands when your own personal All Star wrecking crew comes to town. Forget the Donaghy stuff, that kind of underappreciation of the opportunity to watch some of the finest talents in the world worries me way more. Are these tickets dramatically overpriced or something? I can't imagine turnout being this pathetic if it had been in Venezuela. About 100 fans in the upper-deck of an 18,000-seat arena is pathetic.
At this point there's not much left to be said about Kobe. MJD summed it up perfectly in his recap of the Venezuela game: "Kobe Bryant is in [sic] the floor with LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwight Howard, three of the ten most physically gifted basketball players on the planet ... and Kobe's standing out head and shoulders above them." One thing that did stand out tonight that I was too jaw-droppingly impressed/amused to notice yesterday is how freaking happy he looks. And who could blame him? First off, he can't possibly do any wrong in this situation. It doesn't matter if he wants to play the facilitator or dominate the scoring, either way he'll look awesome. For practically the only time in his career, during the next few weeks his chorus of critics won't be able to say shit about him. More importantly though, he's getting to remember what it's like to play with real players. Although the powers that be probably mandated it, Kobe seems to genuinely like chilling with LeBron and Melo on the bench in a buddy-buddy kind of way I'm not used to seeing from him. Leaving this environment for the glamorous world of Larry Turner and Coby Karl is going to hurt. The first time Sasha goes to high-five him, Kobe might have to resist punching him in the face.
The Kidd/Bynum fiasco has to sting more than ever. Anyone who continues trying to defend Kupchak (or lil' Buss or big Buss or whoever) needs to stop rationalizing already. I don't care what system you're running, Kidd will work in it. I don't care how good Bynum's going to be someday, he's never going to average a triple-double for a playoff series. Kidd clearly made the very conscious decision to avoid dribbling whenever possible, which I never realized would make basketball that much more thrilling. At one point he tried to touch-pass a steal. His half court bounce-pass through three defenders was about as cool a way to commit a turnover as possible. I wasn't sure which was more shocking: that he actually took a shot, or that he dribbled four times on the same possession. We already mentioned some of this last time, but he's been brilliant enough that further analysis was needed.
The intensity of the second unit just isn't the same as that of the first. A lot of that's probably because Kobe sets an impossible standard, but Tayshaun really needs to take it upon himself to be the guy who sets the tone by playing harder than everybody. If they're going to insist on playing the Billups/Redd/Miller/Tayshaun lineup, there's really no need for him to be taking shots. He should be focusing on hustling his ass off on both ends making things happen, which for now doesn't seem to be happening. Also, we touched last time on our displeasure with Miller filling what we see to be Durant's spot, but this game strengthened our feeling that Redd can be both the designated shooter and a multi-faceted player at both ends. Miller can't.
On the Virgin Islands side of things, there's really not much to say other than that they looked really, really bad. Not that it would have helped any, but it's still a shame about Raja's surgery because I was really looking forward to the role-player-as-franchise-star experiment. Honestly, even as a pre-college UCLA fan, I (Ty) couldn't get excited about Jim Harrick on the sidelines. I will say, though, that it's unconscionable that he couldn't figure out a way to get the O'Bannons and Tyus Edney on the team.
Random non-USA notes: Be sure to check out the Painted Area's recaps of the Mexico-Puerto Rico game, the Canada-Brazil game, and the Uruguay-Panama game from Wednesday. His knowledge of the international game is kind of absurd. ... Mexico forcing 27 turnovers (11 against NBA PGs) sounds pretty hellish to me. ... Jose Juan Barea getting suspended for two games for cursing is bullshit, especially in a tournament this short. ... People need to stop talking about Varejao's absence from Brazil as though it's a huge deal. This team has Nene, Splitter, Barbosa, and plenty of other capable players. ... Argentina-Puerto Rico could be a good game tomorrow, especially now that Mexico's shenanigans have put Puerto Rico's back against the wall.