A 5-0 start in the group stage, no injuries to be worried about. The rest? It’s all fixable. Beating Ukraine 95-71 put the USA through to the round of 16 in the Basketball World Cup, not letting another slow start worry them as James Harden led the team in what seemed to be the first time in this tournament that the perimeter players were more dominant than those in the paint.
Harden finished with 17 points as they overcame a 13-19 first quarter, something the quickly changed. It seems it’s all about the United States picking up their defensive intensity at some point. Once the game starts opening up and it’s not just about slowing down and trying to find openings methodically, no team they’ve faced so far has had anything remotely close to a chance to stop them.
Certainly not their group stage rivals. Turkey had their moments, and so did the Dominican Republic and maybe even Ukraine, but all games ended by 20 points or more separating the two sides, and always ending with a strong finish from the defending champions. The size and talent of Anthony Davis, Kenneth Faried, DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Drummond always seems to be the main difference.
Everyone is still waiting for the backcourt to wake up. Not just Derrick Rose, who is pulling off one nice penetration move each game but is yet to put on a consistent performance that isn’t just about mostly quarterbacking possessions and letting others take over. Stephen Curry did score 14 points against Ukraine but himself is quite inconsistent with his shooting. Kyrie Irving with 11 points has been the best of the guards so far.
What waits ahead isn’t too impressive. Mexico, who haven’t met with the United States in the Olympics or the Basketball World Cup since 1967, finished fourth in Group D, which means they’ll be the rivals in the round of 16. They have a couple of NBA players, but nothing from their 2-3 record suggests they have a chance to make it even difficult.
Things get a bit tougher, in theory, later on – Slovenia were angry about Australia losing on purpose to Angola, but that’s how these tournaments work – all about avoiding to play the favorites. The Dragic brothers aren’t the only thing that might be troubling for the Americans, but overall, anyone but Spain and maybe Greece due to their style doesn’t seem to be really bothering a side that’s had it quite easy since the moment they began this tournament, poised on retaining the title.