Team USA suffered an upset in an exhibition match against Nigeria, 90-87. While it was a no-bearing game, the result sent shockwaves throughout the basketball universe: the USA is not invincible.
What Team USA lacked
Team USA is missing some prep time. The roster was only announced recently, and players got little time to know how to play with each other on the court. It takes some time to understand how to play for each other. On paper, the USA team is stacked, and they have many weapons offensively. Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal, Jayson Tatum, and Damian Lillard can light it up anytime. What the team lacked, as shown in this game, aside from chemistry, is wing defenders.
Nigeria torched Coach Pop's team with torrid outside shooting. As mentioned, the USA has no problems putting the ball into the hoop. The roster lacks players who can do the dirty work—setting up screens, defending the best opposing players, and providing pressure defense and rim protection. The bigs in the lineup are utility forwards such as Draymond Green, Bam Adebayo, Kevin Love, and Jerami Grant. They are undersized when they face the Gasols, Gobert's, and Valanciunas of the world.
The Kobe Bryant effect
The last time the two teams met was in 2012. Team USA beat Nigeria in a record-setting margin, 156-73.
At that time, the team was also loaded with offensive talent. Carmelo Anthony scored 37 points in just 14 minutes. On the other hand, Kobe made 16 points in 11 minutes. But perhaps, the most significant difference Bryant made was being the locker room leader in that team, providing leadership, insights, and veteran presence.
When you look into the current lineup of the USA, you have Kevin Durant as the assumed leader. He won two Olympic gold medals in 2012 and 2016 and captured the FIBA World Cup title in 2010. It looks like this will be his last cameo in the Olympics. He will surely get it done to solidify his legacy in team USA history and replace the bittersweet feeling of the failed Brooklyn Nets season. Can KD become the team's Kobe Bryant in terms of leadership and setting an example to teammates? Time will only tell.
Team USA remains the favorites to win it all in the Olympics. But as the exhibition loss showed, it will not be a walk in the park, and if KD and the gang are not careful, an upset will not be surprising anymore.
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