Even without two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, Greece is expected to be Team USA’s toughest opponent in the World Cup group stage.
In a good sign for Team USA’s prospects, the Americans easily handled the Greeks in a tune-up game in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, racing out to an early lead and winning 108-86. Team USA is not 4-0 in its World Cup tune-ups, with one more interesting one against a good German team before the USA Basketball crew flies to Manilla for the start of its World Cup on Aug. 26.
Edwards scored all 21 of his points in the first three quarters and finished 8-of-16 shooting for the game, plus he had four rebounds.
Coach Steve Kerr stuck with his starting five of Edwards, Jalen Brunson (nine points, seven assists), Jaren Jackson Jr. (11 points), Mikal Bridges (10 points) and Brandon Ingram (seven points).
However, what really separates this USA team is a bench showing natural chemistry behind the pace and ball sharing of Tyrese Haliburton that sets up Cameron Johnson (13 points), Austin Reaves (11 points) and Bobby Portis (10 points, seven rebounds).
The USA raced out to a double-digit lead early in the first quarter and the game never felt in doubt after that. It was another dominating performance and a good sign for the Americans, who face Greece on Aug. 28 in World Cup group play (Group C also features New Zealand and Jordan, two teams from the group will advance to the knockout round, a single-elimination tournament).
This version of Team USA may lack the biggest names — blame FIBA for that, putting the World Cup one year before the Olympics, players are choosing to prioritize the Paris games — but is showing a fast chemistry and connection on the court not seen in the past couple of iterations of the top American team, even the one that won gold in Tokyo (but came together more slowly). Players such as Ingram, Reaves, Johnson and on down the line have accepted roles different from what is asked in the NBA and with that the team is thriving. They also are playing fast and loose under Steve Kerr, with a few sets and many of the basic principles that have helped the Warriors thrive.
Kerr, however, is a coach from the Gregg Popovich mold, so he is never happy and has his concerns.
“The concern is turnovers and rebounds,” Kerr told the Associated Press. “If we stay even on the possession game, I feel great about our chances against anybody. The way teams can beat us is if they get extra possessions and force a lot of turnovers and we’re not sharp and we’re not boxing out. I’ve told our guys that. I’ll tell you guys that. It’s not really a secret. So, that’s our focus.”
The USA will play Germany in Abu Dhabi before flying to Manilla to begin the World Cup where, despite Kerr’s concerns, the Americans are the heavy betting favorites.
Right now it looks like they should be.