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Team USA's Close Call Means.... What Exactly?

Differing viewpoints on Team USA's close call against Brazil (which was an exhibition game, as all us hoops-starved maniacs forget).

First, ESPN.com's Chris Sheridan:

I've been trying to hit that point hard in my coverage of this team thus far, to such a degree that truehoop.com has started calling me "The Doubter" and one e-mailer has gone so far as to call me a traitor for daring to suggest that Coach K, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony should be prepared to run into a speed bump or two between now and Sept. 3.

But speed bump No. 1 was hit Tuesday, and the U.S. looked pretty vulnerable after losing Carmelo Anthony to a hyperextended knee (he was injured diving for a loose ball. ...

This near-miss against Brazil, this should break them out of any slumber they developed by handling Puerto Rico and China so easily, and I think today's result will make a few more people in America realize this isn't going to be easy.

Sheridan is actually tons more measured than he has been recently, and has solid analysis on the tests ahead. This is a very pleasant change from the wannabe-coach we saw in July.

But for some incredibly in-depth analysis of the game, you can't beat trainer/coach David Thorpe:

Deep breath, everyone. Just because Team USA barely eked out a win yesterday over a decent Brazil team is not a reason to feel we are doomed to witness another disappointing finish in an international event. There were many factors that caused a performance that was less than average, and most of them do not concern me at all. ...

I'm not concerned about our energy in future games, or Carmelo's knee, or our zone attack. I am concerned, however, about the same thing I cautioned in my last blog. Leadership. The lack of it was evident early in the 2nd half yesterday as Brazil made their first run. Chris Paul never took the reigns of the team, in fact, he did just the opposite. He allowed us to lose our control and tempo and never dictated anything. Hinrich wasn't much better, and the 2 of them combined for 9 turnovers in 45 minutes. ...

Everone recognizes that Lebron James is a world class player and passer. But read his quote from after the game and you'll wonder if he will ever provide the "spirit" this team needs in crunch time: "Some of the guys were a little nervous of course being in this position for the first time. But, I've been in this position before, playing in the games before. And I know what to expect when games get close". ...

What guys? What position? First time? Is he saying that there are players on this team who are not as experienced as he is in playing important games on the road? After all, LeBron did not play in college and has played a grand total of 13 playoff games in his career. Wade played that many playoff games as a rookie. In fact, James is surrounded by players with little playoff experience. Only 3 guys, Brad Miller, Bruce Bowen, and Wade, have what would amount to serious playoff experience. Those 3 players account for 181 playoff games and 3 World Championships. The rest of the team has 115 playoff games-TOTAL, and no rings. Let's look at college, where the intensity is just as high in road conference games and NCAA tournament experiences. Jamison's Tar-Heels made it to the Final 4.  Hinrich played in the Big 12, and an NCAA Championship game. So did Arenas and Brand, at Arizona and Duke. `Melo won a title. So did Battier. Those players must be shaking their heads at LeBron's quote. Yes, he made the winning basket after a rather poor performance. Yes, he is mega-talented, and probably the best wing transition player in the world. But no, he is not yet a leader. ... We need the most famous basketball player on our team to instill confidence in his teammates, not get them to be confident in him. Until that happens, I fear that the next time the team is in a tight game, we will not come out on top.

I usually don't like to clip that liberally, but this stuff is too important and spot-on not to post. Believe or not, there is more great stuff in Thorpe's post, so read the whole thing. (Hell, read Sheridan's, too. He has some good info about the Americans' upcoming opponents.)

More than anything else, I am loving that people are talking about the Worlds as much as they are. This didn't happen in 2002 (and those were here!). Building international basketball - including the American contingent that represents us overseas - is vital to improving the level of skill at home. The more kids that watch and hear about Arroyo's Puerto Ricans or Barbosa's Brazilians or Parker's French, the better.