Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Americans Win Big, Starters Embarrass Themselves

When Coach Mike Krzyzewski exchanged all five starters for five bench players late in the first quarter, Tunisia was actually winning. Tunisia deserved credit for playing well, but make no mistake, this is not a good team. Tunisia struggled mightily in their first game against Nigeria, not exactly a basketball powerhouse themselves.

Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Lebron James, and Tyson Chandler all deserve loads of criticism for the team's poor start. Teams can have an off night. If the U.S. loses, so be it. But the lack of energy those five men showed in the first quarter was an embarrassment to themselves, their teammates, their coach, and the country they represent. Paul deserves blame as the point guard, LeBron as the leader, Bryant as the veteran presence, and Chandler as the defensive leader. Durant treated things as if it was a pick up game, arrogantly chucking up threes even when the lane was open.

James redeemed himself a bit in the second and Durant played better and with more energy in the third. Bryant played 9 sluggish minutes in all. Chandler gave up repeated easy buckets down low and offensive rebounds and didn't look like he belonged even in the Tunisian Basketball League. Makhram Ben Romdhane had 22 points, many of them easy buckets, and 11 boards (5 offensive). Salah Mejri was a force down low with 7 rebounds (3 offensive) and at least 2 blocks. Paul's head wasn't in the game. On two separate occasions in the first half, he allowed the ball to roll, waiting to touch it, after it was in bounded. But this is international basketball, so the clock ran regardless. Marouan Kechrid badly outplayed Paul in the first half.

As much criticism as the starters deserve, the bench deserves even more praise. Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook, Andre Iguodala, Carmelo Anthony, and Kevin Love were responsible for just about all of the U.S.'s 13 point halftime lead. They did it with pressure defense, transition offense, and a desire to work the ball into the paint.

The same fivesome began the second half on the floor and that's when the game got ugly. The U.S. dominated Tunisia in the third quarter, 39-14. Westbrook and Iguodala each had memorable dunks. When Love banged a knee, Anthony Davis came in and played well. He accrued five lob dunks in his brief stint out on the floor.

The final score was lopsided, but it was almost completely due to the stellar play of the U.S.'s bench. The U.S. won 110-63. The starters will need to show more pride and more heart in their next game against Nigeria, or face a similar backlash.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Off to a Promising Start

The U.S. coasted to a lopsided victory over France today. Unselfishness, offensive rebounding, and forcing turnovers carried the day for the Americans.

In the first quarter, Tony Parker kept France in the game. The referees were whistle-happy early, a trend that continued throughout the game. That disrupted the U.S.'s flow and allowed for a close opening stanza. The U.S. led only 23-22 after one.

But France's lack of depth, or more accurately, the Americans' incredible depth, contributed to an impressive second quarter for the U.S. The U.S. took a substantial lead immediately upon Parker hitting the pine and held a 52-36 lead at halftime. Parker's teammates did not play up to par. Boris Diaw, Nicolas Batum, and Mickael Gelabale all had poor games. France started Ronny Turiaf at center, which was a mistake. Turiaf got a few easy baskets early because the Americans' post defense was suspect throughout. But Kevin Seraphin and Ali Traore gave France a better interior scoring presence.

Kevin Durant (22 points, 2 blocks, 2 steals) and LeBron James (8 assists) were largely responsible for the U.S.'s superb play. Durant had 9 rebounds, but overall, the U.S. gave up too many second chance opportunities. Russell Westbrook made two bad plays. In the first, he fouled Batum, who jacking up a 40 foot shot at the end of the shot clock. In the second half, he left his feet and passed to Nando de Colo. And France's ability to get easy buckets was disconcerting.

Otherwise, the U.S. was nearly flawless. The U.S. resisted jacking up too many perimeter shots and kept up the defensive pressure. The number of uncontested alley oops speak the this team's ability to get easy shots through ball movement. America won 98-71.

After the game, the entire roster and coaching staff lined up to give First Lady Michelle Obama a hug. It was touching as it showed the importance of basketball as part of American culture and how it can be an avenue to achieve the so-called American dream.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Preview of the U.S. Men's Basketball Team

The exhibition season went swimmingly for the Americans, going 5-0 and never really being challenged. The strength of this team is in its turnover-creating defense, efficiency in the transition game, athleticism, and the number of exquisite passers it possesses.

A lack of size is often considered this squad's weakness, but that's a little misleading. Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Carmelo Anthony are all tall enough; the problem is they don't specialize in post defense or rebounding. Only Tyson Chandler, Kevin Love, and Anthony Davis (who has seldom played) are big men who fit that bill.

A big key will be whether Chandler and Love can stay out of foul trouble. FIBA officiating can often be inconsistent. And if they can't, will Davis be ready? If not, the U.S. will struggle to rebound and defend the interior.

Another weakness is outside shooting. The team actually has several players who can get hot from outside, but none are perimeter-shooting specialists. Kobe Bryant, James, Anthony, Chris Paul, James Harden, and Deron Williams all have the capability to nail a bunch of threes, but all can go stone cold as well. Durant might be the one player who is a three-point sharpshooter if his play in the exhibitions is any indication. But a bigger problem is the U.S.'s propensity to shoot a ton of three-pointers early in the shot clock. That might be the biggest weakness of this team.

Durant came off the bench during the first two games of the exhibition season, but started the final three. As he did during the 2010 World Championships, Durant was one of the primary scorers. James will be the best all around player again as he was in 2008. Bryant can score, defend, and- during the exhibition schedule- has shown the ability to defer when necessary. Anthony and James can post up and also score from the outside. Both will need to rebound well during the Olympics.

With all their great passers, the U.S. will need to be unselfish. If not, the offense will likely stall and if the U.S. can't force turnovers, it could spell doom. Russell Westbrook, who showed great defensive intensity during the training period, will need to see his teammates in the halfcourt. Hopefully, Paul, Williams, and James will control most of the point guard duties and Westbrook will play off the ball on offense, so he can concentrate on scoring. Andre Iguodala is another unselfish player, good rebounder, and nice defender.

All in all, barring bouts of jacking up threes and over-dribbling, this team should win the gold. France, Argentina, and Spain pose the biggest problems. France is strong inside and the U.S. won't be able to force turnovers if Tony Parker has the ball. Argentina also has veteran guards, good cohesiveness, but lacks size. Spain has size, but not much depth at the guard position. But these three all could potentially pose problems for the U.S. But this U.S. team is well-constructed and I predict a first place, unblemished finish. We shall see.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Lannan, Detwiler, and Flores

John Lannan, after giving up two first inning runs in the second of a double header last Saturday, pitched wonderfully. He was surprisingly demoted before the season started and made a memorable first start of the season. It's important because he'll likely be called on in September when Strasburg is shut down and could end up starting in the playoffs (should the Nats make it) if things lineup a certain way.

I remember Ross Detwiler when he threw out the ceremonial first ball after signing his first contract. He bounced it and I booed. But I've believed in his stuff. The problem has been his stamina. In the past, he's gone only about 5 innings and that can kill a bullpen. In his last two starts, he hasn't given up any runs, but more importantly, he went 7 innings in both. That's a welcomed development.

The major thing being overlooked in the Nats special season so far is Jesus Flores's defense. He is one of the best I've seen at blocking balls and calls a great game. When he's not in the lineup, it's obvious. And that's no disrespect to the other catchers, it's a compliment to Flores.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

U.S. Impressive in Win Over Spain

This was the Americans best game of the exhibition season. Spain got out to an early lead because the U.S.'s weak-side defense was poor. Serge Ibaka got easy scores at the rim early. But Carmelo Anthony, who came off the bench, was the reason why the Americans took an 8 point lead into halftime.

Carmelo ended with 27 points, the vast majority in the first half. He is a player with an uncommon ability to make tough shots. He is incredibly strong and yet, possesses the agility of a guard. His sweet stroke and underrated athleticism complement his offensive arsenal. Anthony's only true offensive weakness is decision-making, but when he is on fire, a group of first team all-defensive teamers can't stop him.

The second half showed the heights that this U.S. team can reach. The ball movement was exquisite. They probed the taller Spanish defense as would a world renowned surgeon. Kevin Durant, whose passing has improved greatly over the past season, and LeBron James (25 points, 7 assists) deserve special mention for their great passes. Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul were pretty spectacular as well.

After extending the lead to 20 in the third, Spain switched to a zone. Russell Westbrook came in and hogged the ball, stalling the offense. But Westbrook's steal-inducing defense continues to deserve praise. Spain cut the lead dramatically, but the Americans' first team came in in the fourth and closed the show with a 100-78 victory.

I was surprised to see the statistic that the U.S. hasn't fared well when Tyson Chandler, Kevin Love, and Anthony Davis are all not in the game. I think the reason is because they are willing to do the dirty work: clog up the lane on defense and rebound. When Carmelo, LeBron, and Durant are on the front line, none is particularly adept at doing the little garbage (spoken with the utmost affection) things that Chandler, Love, and Davis provide.

I was hoping Davis would've seen significant minutes. He'll be needed against Spain, should they meet in the Olympics, to negate the Spanish size. In this game, Pau Gasol (19 points) and Ibaka (16 points) only played 24 minutes each and Marc Gasol didn't play. It would have given Davis some nice experience. But perhaps there's still some concern over an injury or Coach Krzyzewski saw something where he felt Davis wasn't ready to play bigger minutes.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Pyrrhic Victory?

The threes came in a hurry. And just like that the U.S. took a 19-3 lead over Argentina. Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant couldn't miss. But then the long range jumpers stopped falling. Argentina gradually found their stroke working inside out.

A testy moment happened in the second quarter when Chris Paul got tied up with Facundo Campazzo and got called for a technical foul. That led to chest bumping from Durant and LeBron James on the American side and Andres Nocioni and Luis Scola on the Argentine side. Scola was frustrated early, a good sign for the size-deprived Americans.

Aside from the opening three-point bonanza, Argentina outplayed the U.S., especially during the last nine minutes of the game. The fear with this U.S. squad is that they fall in love with shots from beyond the arc; it's a bigger fear than their dearth of centers. The team has players who can light it up from back there, but none that are particularly consistent. Instead of settling for quick threes over zone defenses or one-on-one play against man defenses, the Americans need to utilize better ball movement. They have a team stacked with good passers.

Intense defensive pressure leading to transition dunks is the U.S.'s most effective offense. But against experienced ball handlers such as those featured on the Argentine squad (Manu Ginobili and Pablo Prigioni), that isn't always an option. Argentina only turned the ball over 13 times. Though it never seemed as if the U.S. would lose, the Americans were a little fortunate that Argentina shot an uncharacteristically low 40% from the field.

Durant ended with 27 points, 12 coming in the first quarter, and 6 assists. Kobe Bryant finally had a good scoring game with 18. LeBron added 15. Durant and LeBron both played over 30 minutes.

It must be said that it was disappointing to see Argentina pack it in at the end of the game. With the game in single digits, the veteran squad didn't foul on defense and didn't hurry on offense. The U.S. won 86-80.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Fog Rolled over Great Britiain

I can relate to Great Britain. I watched them play the U.S. team in a prescription drug haze after a trip to the dentist. For Great Britain's part, they hung in early. Luol Deng looked a cut above his teammates, scoring 25 points. Only Pops Mensa-Bonsu contributed to the British cause early. Both Deng and Mensa-Bonsu got to the line.

But most of the game saw Britain overwhelmed by the U.S.'s pressure defense and dizzying array of dunks. Coach Mike Krzyzewski smartly started Durant and Deron Williams instead of Carmelo and Chris Paul. The U.S. had been getting off to slow starts, even trailing Brazil by ten points last game. It will likely take the U.S. some time to blow out most of its opponents in their Olympic contests, because depth is one of the U.S.'s major strengths.

But the starting line up change helped Williams (19 points) who started, and Anthony (19 points, 10 in the first), who didn't. Westbrook's incredible turnover-inducing defensive energy was at it again. It led to America's best offense, the run-out dunk. Britain turned the ball over 27 times in a 40 minute game. Westbrook had 15 points and 9 assists. He helped break the game open in the first.

The USA was ahead by 13 after one, 18 at the half, and won 118-78. Britain's Andrew Sullivan got hot late, scoring 11 points in 6 minutes, but by that time, the outcome was no longer in doubt. This was America's best all around game because it tried to get the ball inside first and then let the outside shot flow. The defense was customarily strong as well.

On the Letterman Show on Wednesday, Mike Greenberg slammed Andre Iguodala's inclusion on this team in the context of comparisons between the 2012 and 1992 national teams. Greenberg's comments expose his ignorance. He claims that the '92 Dream Team had all stars and no role players. But international basketball has drastically improved. A blind collection of stars obviously hasn't worked for the U.S. throughout much of the 2000s. Iguodala is essential to this team because he's an all-defensive first teamer, good rebounder, and is unselfish. Perhaps Greenberg would prefer someone more like Stephan Marbury?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Best in the National League

The Nats are 53-36, the best team int he National League by three games and about to be 4 and a half up in the division. After seven long years of either finishing last or with a losing record, it's about time the Nats found some success.

But so much so soon? It's been wonderful. I was critical of Davey Johnson for not seeing the big picture last year. He didn't test his starting pitchers and ran his bullpen into the ground. He'd go all in to win a game, which would lead to two losses.

Well, I have to give him credit this year. It's not just that the Nats are winning. Johnson is making the right moves. Even when they don't work out, they're the right ones. He's stuck with Danny Espinosa, through his struggles. He found Lombardozzi playing time when he was hot earlier int he season. When he cooled, Johnson tried Tyler Moore. That worked, too. Then Moore cooled and Johnson pulled the right strings again. He's used Bernadina well.

Johnson has used his relief pitchers correctly. The Nats' relievers were about as good last year as they are this year, but Johnson has used them far more wisely and the numbers show it. The starters have been allowed to go longer into games. I still think he should let Edwin Jackson go longer in games. Jackson is an innings-eater and should be allowed to go deep into games even if he's given up a few runs. But all in all, I'm much happier with Johnson's managerial style this season than I was last one.

Bryce Harper has brought energy to the team. He gives his all every play, which fires up the team and the fans. I just don't see the arrogance that's supposed to be part of his personality. But his impact might be biggest in the national attention he brings the club.

The offense still needs to be more consistent, but so far so good this season.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Getting By On Talent

For the second straight exhibition game, the men's U.S. basketball team's starting lineup struggled at the outset. Threes were hoisted without even attempting to probe the defense in order to score inside. Meanwhile, Brazil was getting to the rim and scoring. Brazil took a 17-7 lead in the first quarter.

When Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant entered the fray, the momentum changed. The U.S. utilized its pressure defense on route to forcing a whopping 23 turnovers from the Olympic-qualifying squad from South America. Those Brazilian turnovers were the difference in the game. Brazil shot over 50% from the field, often getting open shots. The Americans only shot 40% from the field and a pitiful 25% on 6 for 24 from beyond the arc.

In fact, the U.S. was a pathetic 1 for 12 from three-point range in the first half. The fear heading into the Olympics is not only the very real possibility that the U.S. will lay an egg from beyond the perimeter, but that they'll continue to shoot from distance despite the pile of bricks they've amassed.

So far, this team has only shown the ability to get inside with dribble penetration and in transition. Its low field goal percentage is a result. But the defensive pressure, especially from the second quarter on, was scary. A 20-5 second quarter gave the Americans a five point lead, 37-32, at the half.

LeBron James's game-high 30 points kept the U.S. ahead in the second half. LeBron played a game-high 33 minutes, nearly 8 minutes more than any other American. The Brazilians had four players scoring double figures. Alex Garcia was hot from the field with his awkward , cross-body, left-handed shot. Marcelo Huertas had 13 assists to go with his 11 points.

After the Americans ran to a double digit lead in the third, Brazil traversed back to cut the margin to 6 late in the fourth. But Brazil couldn't shake the U.S.'s pressure defense. The U.S. won 80-69.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

False Promises

By: Rob Oakton

The Feared and Peerless Leader, who took over the country from his brother just over a month ago, has promised to create a democracy, a privatized market, and a country that respects human rights. He claims that achieving those ends will take some time. But his actions show that he has no intention of proceeding with his intended aims.

The Feared and Peerless Leader has either executed or exiled virtually every high-ranking member that served under his brother's reign. That has allowed him to be solely responsible for promoting junior members. They credit the Feared and Peerless Leader for their promotions and thus, will remain loyal to him.

Under the Dear and Fearless Leader, most major industries had been nationalized. The Feared and Peerless Leader has moved quickly to privatize the economy  to fall in line with IMF and World Bank standards. But the vast majority of the money from the privatization measures have gone to the new leader himself along with about 100 of his closest cronies.

The situation in the country is far bleaker than it was under the current leadership's predecessor. A network of clandestine informers have quickly cropped up across the nation. Family members are squealing on their own kin when words that are perceived to criticize the Feared and Peerless Leader are uttered.

The Dear and Fearless Leader's quirky, zany, and occasionally violent rule has been replaced by his brother's totalitarianism and demand for complete obedience.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Cruising Past the Dominican Republic

The U.S. struggled offensively at the outset. They settled for outside shots and weren't making them. But the dejected Dominican Republic didn't really have its heart in it after narrowly missing out at a chance to play in London.

When Kevin Durant entered the game, he went ballistic from three-point range. Durant ended with 24 points in 22 minutes on 9 for 11 shooting (5 for 6 from three) and ten rebounds. Not bad. The U.S. led 50-27 at halftime.

The U.S. continued dominating in the second half. Kevin Love and Andre Iguodala scored a ton of points each when the game was no longer in doubt. Only one Dominican player scored in double figures and it wasn't Al Horford, who isn't as proficient when he's the first option. Even Jack Michael Martinez couldn't grab double digit rebounds, a rarity.

The U.S. had no trouble, even with Tyson Chandler struggling with fouls early. He is the only center on the team, but it didn't matter in this game. The strength of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, and the length of Durant, negated Dominican's inside game. The ferocious pressure of Russell Westbrook helped cause 27 Dominican turnovers. The final score was 113-59. And it wasn't even that close.

One interesting moment came when Anthony Davis, filling in for the injured Blake Griffin, started woofing at his old college coach, John Calipari, the coach of the Dominican Republic.

The team's lack of size could hurt in the future. The U.S. also doesn't have great consistent shooters. Kobe Bryant, Anthony, James, Durant, among others, can all light it up, but most of the team is pretty streaky. I'm also curious about the dynamic between Anthony and his former coach with the Knicks, the man he got fired, Mike D'Antoni.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Onward and Upward Great Nation

Friends! Things have been wonderful since we acquired new leadership in our land. We are doing our best to create a market-oriented democracy that respects human rights. You may have noticed some changes since the military junta took over about a month ago. We apologize if any of these changes have rubbed you the wrong way. They are all for the sake of reaching our goals for our nation in a timely manner.

Today's decrees
The military junta will hold elections as soon as possible.

We will privatize the economy with all deliberate speed.

The human rights of every citizen will be respected once that becomes feasible.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Life After the Coup

My no-longer fellow citizens. This is your former Dear and Fearless Leader. It has been a month since the coup and you're probably wondering what happened to me. I'm not hiding in some hole like a schnook. The United States has given me asylum and I now work at a prestigious think tank in Washington, D.C. and teach a course in leadership at American University. I live in a two-bedroom apartment in Chevy Chase, Maryland and shop at the Giant. I take the metro to work. Life is stable.

Part of me misses the power I held. I miss the countless number of beautiful naked women who would cater to my every whim because the threat of death wrapped around their necks if they didn't. I miss the Yes Men. I misses my palaces. But, most of all, I miss issuing decrees.

We've had some good times, but I know I must write a new chapter in my story. I only ask that my brother, the Feared and Peerless Leader, honor the legacy we created during my reign. Formerly fellow citizens, I wish you the best from the bottom of my heart. I will do the best I can from my current position to fulfill my life's mission, to bring prosperity to my native land.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Learning from Fasting and Silence

Today is the fourth day this month I've fasted and kept silence in the hopes that I wouldn't be bothered by life's little annoyances. I realized that it is important that I not speak if the only purpose is to soothe my ego. Instead of engaging in ego-driven speech, quiet forgiveness is a more appropriate response.

But if someone has wronged me, and forgiveness is not in my heart, it can be even more destructive to fake forgiveness. Forgiveness must be genuine to be effective.

Forgiveness can be achieved through appreciation. It ties back to my belief that I must appreciate each person I come in contact with. True forgiveness also requires empathy. Everyone has their own issues and problems. We don't know what others go through, so we must attempt to be empathetic and not judge others.