Now things get serious.
Not that the games suddenly will be closer or more interesting, but the stakes go way up starting Saturday.
That’s when USA Basketball tips off its Rio Olympics run, taking on China in the opener.
The Americans finished their pre-Olympics preparations with another blowout win knocking off Nigeria 110-66 Monday night in Houston. Carmelo Anthony led the way with 19 points for the USA (and postgame he apologized to Vanessa Carlton), Klay Thompson had 17, but more importantly, the USA was knocking down threes again (39.4 percent) and continued to play impressive defense.
Team USA looked ready.
“Yeah, and we hope to get even more ready during the pool play, because then it’s one-and-done once you get into the medal round,” USA coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a televised interview post game, referring to the five group-stage games the USA will play first.
The USA struggled from three in its last exhibition against Venezuela hitting 19 percent, but against Nigeria they hit 39.4 percent (13-of-33) led by Thompson’s 5-of-9 from deep. Kevin Durant was also 3-of-4.
What changed with the USA’s shooting?
“I thought we played really good defense,” Krzyzewski said, falling back on the coaching axiom that good defense leads to good offense. “We had played good defense, but (tonight) it led to some fast breaks. And these guys are too good a shooters not to be good shooters. They might have a bad night shooting, but it hasn’t affected their defense.”
There was a bit of a stumble for the USA early as another makeshift starting lineup didn’t blow anyone away — Nigeria went on an 8-2 run to make it a one-point game in the middle of the first quarter. The USA defense was fairly solid, particularly with Houston native DeAndre Jordan patrolling the paint, but the starters were 4-of-11 shooting and were not taking quality shots. But when in came more of the projected starters — Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, DeMarcus Cousins — things turned quickly. Thompson hit 3-of-4 from deep to start, the ball moved better, and the USA was up 13 after one and 24 at the half.
Nothing changed after that. Nigeria wanted to run and have an up-tempo game, which is smart in the sense they didn’t want to face the USA’s half court defense, but trouble because they didn’t have the athletes to run with the Americans. So things like this happened.
The USA did that without Kyrie Irving (left thigh bruise) and Paul George Paul Geroge (left calf injury), both of whom sat the game out. Coach K said after the game neither injury was at all serious and both will be ready to play in Rio come Saturday.
Nigeria was led by Chamberlain Oguchi, who played his college ball at Oregon and Illinois State. He had 21 points and his four made threes were the only ones that Nigeria had all evening.
If you’re searching for negatives with Team USA, you could point to Draymond Green’s offensive performance so far, or that point guards who can attack off the dribble may give them trouble. But you’re just looking for the negatives — while this team isn’t perfect they look far better and deeper than any other team heading to Rio. The USA is just far more talented and is the clear gold medal favorites for good reason.