Team USA's Carmelo Anthony, center, battles Spain's Serge… (David Ramos / Getty Images…)
Below are five things to take from Team USA's 100-78 win Tuesday over Spain in an exhibition game in Barcelona:
1. Team USA overcame slow start. Even if Spain professed to care very little about the outcome, the hometown team played strongly enough anyway. It appeared Team USA had no answer for Spain's size and ball movement even without Marc Gasol because of a shoulder injury. Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka played a large part in Spain storming to a 22-13 first-quarter lead with 1:13 left in the first quarter. Team USA's defense lacked enough discipline to keep up with Spain's efficient ball movement. And Tyson Chandler's two quick early fouls furhter depleted Team USA's already thin depth.
Team USA overcame such an obstacle by relying on its offensive versatility. Carmelo Anthony scored 23 of his 27 points off the bench in the first half through an array of open jumpers and three-pointers (five). Team USA closed out the quarter with an 8-1 run by making defensive stops and converting into transition. And with Chandler sitting out for most of the game, LeBron James stepped in at center and helped temper the inside production from both Gasol (19) and Ibaka (16).
2. Team USA's small ball was effective against Spain. Team USA hasn't and shouldn't approach the 2012 London Olympics as the heavy favorites. It's also necessary to take an exbition game with a healthy dose of skepticism. But Team USA proved that its versatility could prove enough to overcome the aforementioned depleted backcourt, due to injuries to Dwight Howard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Chris Bosh and Blake Griffin. With the options dwindling, Kevin Love received increased playing time. But it's likely Coach Mike Krzyzewsk will resort more to small ball so Team USA can hope its speed and versatility can overcome the size disadvantage it has against Spain should the two meet again in the gold-medal game.
3. Team USA needs to adjust better to FIBA rules. Team USA opened the first quarter with two traveling violations, including one from Kobe Bryant. Chandler fell into early foul trouble. And it appears Spain's complaints that Team USA got away with missed calls in the 2008 gold-medal game caught the officials' attention. Team USA looked often confused on such calls, and it's something that could cost them down the road. It's likely Team USA will make the necessary adjustments, but it's somethng that's been prevalent already through five exhibition games.
4. Kobe Bryant deferred well. Save for an impressive double pump slam dunk, Bryant hardly played the same way most Laker fans are accustomed to seeing. Instead, Bryant logged six points, four assists and two rebounds. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Bryant played the setup man role well, making effective swing passes, leading fast breaks and fighting for loose balls. Certainly there will be games ahead where Bryant will take over. But for now, Bryant made a good calculated approach in helping the team while also conserving his energy level.
5. Pau Gasol thrived in his natural position. After seeing Gasol play on the high post this past Lakers' season, many Laker fans believed they were seeing his marked decline. Actually, they were just seeing Gasol play in a position that doesn't fully match his skills. His 19 points on six-of-nine shooting featured an array of three-pointers and jumpers, just like he offered last season. But it also featured Gasol getting looks in the low block. Spain's crisp ball movement reflects its continuity. But the Lakers could take a few lessons from that team on ensuring a similar team-first mentality. Because of that approach, Gasol provided maximum value for his team.
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