LAS VEGAS – Team USA has already dealt with its share of challenges in the opening week of training camp, and plenty of questions still remain on the Americans' road to London.
Contract situations, fatigue and injuries limited the progress of Team USA. Three players – Eric Gordon, Rudy Gay and Anthony Davis – were cut and named alternates. After Blake Griffin suffered a major knee injury that will keep him off the Olympic roster, Davis, the 20-year-old top pick in last month's NBA draft, was added.
Team USA hopes to limit those distractions before its Olympic competition starts on July 29. Here are five questions facing the Americans before they arrive in London:
1. Who will start for Team USA?
Chris Paul started at point guard, with Kobe Bryant at shooting guard, LeBron James at small forward, Carmelo Anthony at power forward and Tyson Chandler at center in Team USA's exhibition victory over the Dominican Republic. Unless Paul’s thumb injury worsens, expect him to remain as the starting point guard. The only position in question is power forward, where Anthony started in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
It’s possible that Kevin Durant, who scored 24 points off the bench against the Dominican Republic, ends up starting over Anthony. Durant, however, also has a comfort level playing with Oklahoma City Thunder teammates Russell Westbrook and James Harden, both of who will come off the bench.
"Coach just said before we went out on the floor that 'Melo was starting and I was like, ‘That’s cool with me. Whatever the team needs,' " Durant said. "That’s something we may do down the line, but I really don’t know. It was a little different coming off the bench, you know. I was there for three or four minutes, but then he left me out there for the rest of the first [quarter]. So, either way I felt good."
2. Who will be Team USA’s biggest competition in London?
Spain is led by the Gasol brothers, Marc and Pau. The Spanish roster also includes NBA players Serge Ibaka, Rudy Fernandez, Jose Calderon and rookie Victor Claver – Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio is out with a knee injury. Ibaka has already claimed Spain has as much talent as the Americans. USA defeated Spain in the gold-medal game during the Beijing Olympics.
Argentina, the 2004 Olympic gold medalists, is always a threat while led by Manu Ginobili and Luis Scola. France has Tony Parker, Nicolas Batum and Boris Diaw, but is missing Joakim Noah. Lithuania and Brazil are also countries to watch.
[ Photos: Members of Team USA hoops]
"When you put on this jersey, there’s a sense of pride for us, a sense of patriotism," Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love said. "So, we just want to get out there and play as hard as we possibly can, no matter who we’re playing, no matter what night it is. At the end of the day we’re going for the gold on August 12."
3. Could this be the most athletic and fastest team in Olympic history?
Speed and athleticism are major weapons for Team USA – and that’s without Griffin. Westbrook, Chris Paul and Deron Williams are all speedsters, and Durant, Anthony, James and Bryant can also fill the lane on the break.
Team USA scored 63 points in the second half against the Dominican Republic. Any country that is forced into a track meet with Team USA will lose. Expect Westbrook, Paul and Williams to pressure opposing teams' ball-handlers. Andre Iguodala will be a defensive specialist on the wing while Chandler, James and Davis challenge shots.
"It is like a dream," Anthony said. "I get a rebound, I push the ball up the floor and I have Kobe one way, LeBron one way, I have K.D. trailing and I got Chris Paul out there, too. It is kind of surreal."
4. Will size matter for Team USA?
The Americans have only three players taller than 6-foot-9: Chandler (7-1), Love (6-10) and Davis (6-10). The one benefit of adding Davis to the roster is he can provide some needed length.
Anthony, Durant and James can take turns playing power forward and possibly even some center with smaller lineups. What Team USA lacks in size, it makes up in versatility with a roster of players who can play multiple positions. The U.S. had Paul, James, Anthony, Bryant and Durant on the floor at the same time during one stretch of the first half against the Dominican Republic.
Size, however, will be the biggest concern against Spain because of the Gasol brothers: Marc stands 7-1 and Pau is 7-0. But if James, Durant or Anthony play power forward or center, the Spaniards could have trouble using big men to defend them. Expect Krzyzewski to use Team USA's speed and athleticism to compensate for the lack of size.
When asked what is Team USA’s biggest concern, Anthony said with a laugh, "We’re small – too small."
5. How is Team USA's chemistry?
Team USA's chemistry is the best since it began using NBA players in 1992. James and Anthony will be playing on their third Olympic team. James, Anthony, Bryant, Paul and Deron Williams won Olympic gold medals together four years ago in Beijing. Durant, Chandler, Westbrook, Love and Iguodala won gold medals together two years ago at the world championships.
The only U.S. players without international experience at the senior level are Harden and Davis. No U.S. team has had a roster with that much familiarity or international experience.
"Overall, one of the things we wanted to accomplish here was to develop good camaraderie," Krzyzewski said. "Guys seemed to get along really well. They pull for each other, and they play hard. Now, we have to translate that into an effective system, both offensively and defensively, and they have to get to know one another, and we have to get to know them in this context."
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