The United States beat Argentina yesterday 86-80 and are now 4-0 in their exhibition games leading up to the 2012 London Olympics.
Kevin Durant had 27 points, six assists and made seven 3-pointers in the game and LeBron James had 15 points, five assists and seven rebounds.
“We started off pretty well, got a couple of shots,” Durant said after the game. “Argentina did a great job of slowing the game down, making the right passes and penetrating and executing. So, it was a good game for us. We learned a lot tonight. We just have to keep getting better for the Olympics and our guys did a good job of playing through everything, playing hard, playing together.”
Durant and LeBron have emerged as the two best players in the NBA and the two best on this team. Believe it or not, Team USA is at its best with them on the floor together.
Team USA has outscored its opponents by 65 points in the 76 minutes Durant and LeBron have played together in the four exhibition games. Team USA won two of the games in blowout fashion but they’re still not dominating in all facets of the game.
The United States are small and they’ve had issues trying to go to smaller lineups. In the 58 minutes of action playing without any true big (Tyson Chandler, Kevin Love or Anthony Davis), the U.S. has been outscored 116-115.
Head coach Mike Krzyzewski has often gone with very small lineups featuring a combination of Durant, LeBron and Carmelo Anthony playing the four and five positions. This looks cool but it really puts the United States at a disadvantage.
This was more common in the first two exhibition games when Krzyzewski brought Durant off the bench. The first sub for Team USA in each game has been taking Chandler out. He was replacing him with Durant at center in the first two games, a move that leaves the United States vulnerable inside.
Krzyzewski will continue to play these small lineups although he should try and limit their time on the floor the most when Team USA plays a team like Spain. One way to make sure Team USA is still in good shape when these lineups occur is to start Durant so he can be out there with LeBron.
Durant is the perfect international player with his ability to easily shoot the shorter three over defenders. He’s a shooter that likes to get shots up early in a game too so coming off the bench doesn’t suit him the best.
LeBron compliments Durant perfectly especially at the start of games where LeBron prefers the distributor role as he feels out the game.
Krzyzewski has started Durant over Anthony in the last two exhibition games but did not in the first two. He has also said that this team essentially has seven starters and it doesn’t matter who he starts.
Durant and LeBron make for the perfect zone buster as well. Durant is the best catch-and-shoot player in the world and LeBron the best skip passer and ball mover in the world. When the United States has LeBron at the free throw line making decisions against the 2-3 zone and Durant is spotting up, good luck world.
It’s not rocket science that Team USA would be better with LeBron and Durant out there together but it’s also not impossible for Krzyzewski to fathom a rotation where the two aren’t necessarily playing together that much.
We’ve just seen exhibition games so far and Krzyzewski is likely to condense the rotation and play Durant and LeBron more minutes when the Olympics start this Friday.
The fact still remains though that Team USA will be at a disadvantage a lot during these Olympic Games. Going small is something we will see a lot of from them and when that happens, they’re not necessarily the best team in the world anymore.
The next test will be their last exhibition vs. Spain Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. EST on ESPN2. No team has better size than Spain and more potential to upset mighty Team USA.
“It’s going to be a tough game,” Durant said. “They’re on their homecourt. Those guys are big but I think we come out and play hard, play together, we’ll be fine. It will be fun playing against my teammate but on Tuesday, he’s not my teammate , he’s not my friend. I’m going to go out there and give it all for my group of guys and it should be fun.”