LOS ANGELES — The ball. That’s what Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski came up as part of a list of things that are going to be challenging for the Americans during this five-game exhibition tour before they head to Rio de Janeiro for the Summer Olympics.
It takes some time to adjust to the Molten basketball, which is used in international competition and is said to be a bit slicker than the Spalding basketballs used in the NBA, Krzyzewski said on Sunday after his team’s 106-57 rout of China.
Even with superstars such as Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and LeBron James pulling out of consideration for this Olympic team, Team USA is so much better than the teams they’ll be playing during these warm-up games, it’s hard to assess just where the American team is.
“I hope we’re never challenged,” Krzyzewski said after Team USA’s second straight rout. “But there have been challenging points in each game. A huge thing is for us to just get to know one another [on this tour]. … The rules and the ball. You can tell with some of our guys, they don’t have the feel yet. It’s a challenge to adapt to the game.”
The challenging points Sunday came, um, in the first quarter when Team USA led just 10-7 with 3 minutes, 10 seconds to go. But then Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson came in and started raining 3-pointers and the Americans went on a 16-6 run to close the quarter.
“I don’t think there’s any coach that likes not to see the ball go in,” Krzyzewski said. “Because there’s a part of you that says — ‘Will it?’
“I don’t care what team you’re coaching, you would feel that way.”
Still, this is what constitutes worry for Team USA at this point.
And it basically went away as soon as Durant and Thompson started making shots.
For all the talk of the lack of experience and leadership on this year’s team — only Durant and Carmelo Anthony played in the 2012 Summer Olympics — the talent gap, particularly against the teams the Americans will play on this exhibition tour, is still virtually insurmountable.
There are teams that are capable of challenging the U.S. once it gets to Rio — Spain, France, Serbia to name a few — but right now the Select Team would probably push them harder than Argentina, China or Nigeria during this tour.
In the meantime, Krzyzewski said he’s putting the team focus on building a defensive identity because of the versatility and athleticism it has on that side of the ball.
“This group has been a fabulous group to coach,” Krzyzewski said. “None of the groups we’ve coached have worked harder defensively.”
Sunday he tried out lineups with Indiana Pacers swingman Paul George defending the point guard position and loved the pressure he was able to put on the ball. Then, there’s the dimension Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan gives them.
Jordan began the game with a thunderous block on China’s Wang Zhelin, then raced down the court to slam home an alley-oop, which got the home crowd out of its seats early.
“Coach told me if I didn’t do anything in the first 30 seconds I was coming out,” said Jordan, who finished with 12 points, 5 rebounds and 3 blocks in just 17 minutes.
Team USA will face this same Chinese team Tuesday at Oracle Arena, then finish out the tour in Chicago and Houston.
“A lot of the times we’re thinking about the opponent,” Jordan said. “But with only five games, all we really need to work on is ourselves.”