Team USA focused on defense, chemistry in China as they prepare for World Cup

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In the next 48 hours, it gets real for USA Basketball.

All the talk of who didn’t play for Team USA, the exhibition wins over Spain and Canada, the exhibition loss to Australia (and a win over them, too), will be in the rearview mirror. Ahead will be the FIBA World Cup opener in Shanghai against the Czech Republic, followed by group games against Turkey and Japan. From there, it is on to the second round and…

Team USA is trying not to get ahead of itself. In China, the focus seems to be on two things. First is defense, as Marcus Smart and Myles Turner told Booth Newspapers.

“We don’t have guys like Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and those guys to come bail us out on the offensive end,” Smart said. “So our defense is going to be real important for us, especially on nights when our shots aren’t falling.”

“Defense is big for us. We’re working on our defense,” Turner said. “Working on being together and communication. Those are the biggest points we’re working on.”

The second thing they are focused on is team chemistry. It has been a focus on coach Gregg Popovich and his staff since Day 1, trying to get Team USA some of the togetherness that the countries they will face have (because those teams grew up playing together).

Team USA players went to a team dinner once they landed in China, no coaches, no Brook Lopez (only because he has an Android phone, not an iPhone, so he didn’t get the message in time). Popovich was happy with that he told Brian Windhorst of ESPN.

“They’ve become close in a short period of time,” Popovich said. “The camaraderie has blossomed, and I think that will bode well for us.”

Team USA remains the favorite heading into the tournament, and the three first-round group games should add to their time to work out the kinks because none of those teams have the talent to really challenge the Americans. That will change deeper in the tournament, but if the Americans are a true team by then they will be hard to beat.

The USA’s first game tips off at 8 a.m. Eastern Sunday morning against the Czech Republic.