USA Basketball relying on defense so far at World Cup




SHENZHEN, China (AP) -- U.S. guard Donovan Mitchell turned toward his bench with fists clenched, then punched the air in celebration and let out a joyous scream.

It wasn't for a dunk, or a 3-pointer, or some highlight-reel play.

Mitchell's exuberant reaction was because the U.S. forced a 24-second violation in a big moment against Greece on Saturday.

The U.S. team at this World Cup is like none other assembled by the Americans for a big international tournament in a long time. This is no scoring juggernaut, but rather a team that has decided its best path to victory - and, it hopes, an unprecedented third consecutive World Cup title - is to clamp down on the defensive end.

''We all love playing defense,'' U.S. guard Marcus Smart said. ''That's the thing. When you've got a team like that, it's not crazy for us. We knew coming in what we could do and hopefully everybody else knows.''

Through four games, the unbeaten Americans - who face Brazil on Monday - have held opponents to 36% shooting. And they've given up a total of 98 points in their last two games, the stingiest two-game run by any U.S. men's team in a big tournament since the 1988 Olympics.

''I told them that if they didn't play defense like this, their NBA contracts would be pulled,'' U.S. coach Gregg Popovich joked.

Popovich, of course, doesn't have the power to jeopardize the $171,296,102 that the U.S. roster is set to make in the NBA next season. But the Americans are playing as if he does.

And it's largely out of necessity, since the offense just isn't clicking.

For the first time since the 2004 Olympics, the U.S. is not going to lead a major international tournament in scoring. Unless things pick up on the offensive end, the Americans might finish outside of the top five in scoring at an international event for the first time since the 1986 world championships - long before NBA players were making up the rosters for such events.

The U.S. is averaging 87 points so far in China, which would be the lowest per-game mark by an American team in an international tournament since the 1998 world championships. And the U.S. field-goal percentage so far at the World Cup (42.5%) isn't even in the top half, ranking a dismal 21st in a 32-team field through Sunday's games.

So the defense matters, big-time.

''That's got to be our calling card,'' U.S. forward Harrison Barnes said. ''I think when you look at past USA teams, scoring has not been an issue. There's been a lot of talent. But for us, we know that defense is how we're going to stay in games, how we're going to be able to win and compete. So I think we've done a good job of focusing in on that and that's what's really carrying us right now.''

There have been 12 instances so far in this World Cup of a team scoring at least 100 points, 34 instances of a team shooting at least 50% in a game and 42 instances of a team shooting at least 40% from 3-point range. And in all those cases, none of those benchmarks has been reached by the U.S.

In order, the Americans have shot 49, 35, 48 and 36% - yet are still 4-0.

''You obviously want to shoot better,'' said U.S. guard Joe Harris, the NBA's 3-point percentage and 3-point shootout champion last season. ''So we have to get better in that regard. ... Still have to hang our hat defensively. That's where we really feel like and believe we're going to win this tournament, on the defensive end, but we know we have to play better offensively and shoot better.''

Popovich has been stressing defense all summer with this team, and said he isn't surprised that the group has figured out how to come together on that end of the floor. Players, meanwhile, are just waiting for someone to get hot and for that contagious feeling to spread around the rest of the roster.

It'll happen, Mitchell insisted.

''And it's going to feel great,'' Mitchell said.

---

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

COMMENTS

More Related News

Coronavirus: How Fox News and other right-wing media endanger our health
Coronavirus: How Fox News and other right-wing media endanger our health

Despite steady warnings from health organizations worldwide, right-wing media are clogging airwaves with conspiracy theories and inaccurate reporting.

Why a Top Trump Aide Said
Why a Top Trump Aide Said 'We Are Desperate' for More Immigrants

WASHINGTON -- At a private event last week, Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, stated a reality that economists treat as conventional wisdom but that the Trump administration routinely ignores: The United States needs immigration to fuel future economic growth."We are desperate

Trump Has a Problem as the Coronavirus Threatens the U.S.: His Credibility
Trump Has a Problem as the Coronavirus Threatens the U.S.: His Credibility
  • World
  • 2020-02-27 13:20:35Z

WASHINGTON -- When Hurricane Dorian crashed into the Atlantic Coast in September, President Donald Trump assumed a take-charge role in response. But he undermined his own effectiveness after it became apparent that before displaying a map in front of the television cameras in the Oval Office, he had altered it with a Sharpie pen to match his inaccurate forecast of where the storm was headed.For years, experts have warned that Trump has been squandering the credibility he could need in a moment of national emergency, like a terrorist attack or a public health crisis.Now, as the coronavirus races across the globe and has begun to threaten the United States, Trump could face a moment of...

A Mexican Exodus Is Helping Shrink the Population of People in the Country Illegally
A Mexican Exodus Is Helping Shrink the Population of People in the Country Illegally

LOS ANGELES -- Jose cared for the bottle-fed babies, 700 of them in all. He knew a calf was healthy if her eyes were bright and her appetite hearty. Droopy ears were a bad sign. He was attuned to calf coughs."His job was to do all things a mom would do to look after her young," said Mary Kraft

Coronavirus live updates: CDC warns Americans of
Coronavirus live updates: CDC warns Americans of 'significant disruption'
  • World
  • 2020-02-25 22:02:00Z

Until now, health officials said they'd hoped to prevent community spread in the U.S. But following community transmissions in Italy, Iran and South Korea, health officials believe the virus may not be able to be contained at the border. This comes in contrast to statements from the Trump administration.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply

Comments

Top News: Basketball