Hooked - (Stacia Naquin)
Updated: 10/11/2013 - I'm SO CLOSE to being able to do a pull-up. So my trainer introduced something new into my training.
The Dream Team comparisons, and the boasts of living up to them, were starting to return to U.S. basketball at the FIBA Americas tournament.
And through two games, the United States looked worthy of them. But perhaps it's best to show caution.
Even while going without a major gold medal since the 2000 Olympics, the Americans have had games where they looked like they used to. Those stretches haven't lasted.
The Americans were off Friday, the day after their 123-59 victory over the U.S. Virgin Islands. It was the most points they scored in this event since the famed 1992 team had 127 against Venezuela in the final game of that qualifier.
"They're that good," said former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson, who is coaching Mexico in this event. "They're like the Dream Team that came with Magic and Bird and those guys. They have that kind of a chance to put the USA back where they belong on top of the map."
Only if they keep hitting from 3-point range.
The Americans were 25-of-56 (45 percent) from behind the arc through two games, leading the tournament in a statistic where the U.S. has usually been closer to the bottom in recent years. They shot 31 percent in the 2004 Olympics, which was 10th in the 12-team field and a primary reason they came home with only a bronze medal.
But if they shoot 3s as well as they did against the Virgin Islands, when they made 15 of 30, Carmelo Anthony said he can't see the Americans losing.
"I don't think so, especially when we space the court out like that," said Anthony of the Denver Nuggets. "When everybody's making 3s, from the point guards to the shooters to the big men knocking down shots, it just opens up things for everybody."
The biggest difference now is the additions of Michael Redd and Mike Miller, two of the NBA's top 3-point shooters. Redd hit half of his 14 attempts in the first two games, tying Anthony for the team scoring lead with 19.5 points per game. Miller has five 3s, though he's only at 33 percent thus far.
"We are shooting pretty well right now," Miller said. "We got to continue to get better. We're missing some shots that we normally make. We just got to continue to focus on it and continue to work and keep shooting."
Still, it's too early to tell if the Americans have solved their biggest offensive weakness, because they still haven't shown they can stay consistent throughout an entire tournament.
In their best all-around performance in Athens, the Americans were 12-of-22 from behind the arc in a quarterfinal victory over previously unbeaten Spain. They were horrible again in the semifinals, making 3 of 11 in a loss to Argentina.
Last year in the world championships, the Americans shot 14-of-27 from 3-point range, a better percentage than they hit Thursday night, in a 113-73 rout of Australia in the round of 16.
"I think we're as ready as we're ever going to be right now," U.S. point guard Chris Paul said after the game.
No, they weren't.
The U.S. was 10-for-40 in the next round, a victory over Germany, but couldn't overcome its 9-for-28 night and lost to Greece in the semifinals.
Having Redd would have helped. Many U.S. fans felt he should have been added to the 2004 team that obviously had a hole in its roster when it came to perimeter shooting. And he would have been in Japan last year, but he was getting married.
"It was humbling to hear that people were wanting me on the team, but I felt we had a good enough team anyway without me being here," Redd said.
After playing in both events, Anthony knows the thinking around the world is that the way to beat the Americans is by forcing them to shoot 3-pointers. He wants his team to show that thinking will no longer work.
"We just want to go out there and just prove everybody wrong," Anthony said. "The only way we can do that is by winning basketball games."
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