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Team USA

USA Soccer Wins in Mexico

At one point, due to the NBA lockout, I tried to follow the Premier League. Didn’t work out. Games were played at odd hours, I couldn’t pick a team without feeling like a phony, and I didn’t want to put the time in to learn who all the players were.

It’s different with USA soccer. Patriotism presents an easy foundation for fandom, and coupled with my born-again love for playing the sport, it got easier and easier to become a real fan. Throw the Olympics in there and fandom goes bonkers. In London the men’s team failed to qualify, which might have actually helped me. I was able to fulfill my soccer quota with the United States of Alex Morgans. (She played well all tournament and looked good doing it. Seriously, name five girls right now who look better with no makeup and full of sweat.)

Last night the men’s team took the pitch in a friendly against Mexico in the infamous Estadio Azteca. The Americans haven’t won south of the border in 25 matches, and of the last 49 goals scored between these two teams in Mexico, the Taco Bell chihuahuas have scored 45 of them. For the first time in our national team’s history, the red, white, and blues defeated Mexico with grit, luck, and Tim Howard.

Before the game, several commentators spoke about how the game would provide nothing more than a good psychological warmup. With several regulars, including Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley, not scheduled to gain a cap last night, Team USA featured a bunch of dudes who have been under-the-radar (BockerKnocker code for “I’ve never heard of them”). Early on, the Mexicans attacked the American half of the field, evidenced by their ridiculous time of possession (63%) and the shots-on-goal count (7-2) in the first half of play. The men in green seemed to wear down Team USA with deft passing, clever through balls, and displayed more overall chemistry than our guys.

There were many problems on the American side, starting with the inauspicious play of one Kyle Beckerman. Several times, Beckerman directed the ball away from his teammates, including one point where he volleyed a ball in the air towards his own defense, resulting in a Mexico corner kick. In the 61st minute, he did manage to almost put one past the opposing goalkeeper with a surprise floater, but all in all, Beckerman played horribly. And oh yeah, he looks atrocious.

In the second half, the main culprit for poor play was Jermaine Jones. Jones had enjoyed a couple of good appearances for Team USA in the past couple of months, but he just didn’t have it last night. On several scoring opportunities, Jones lost the ball while attempting to be creative. Other times he would get pushed around, sans whistle, resulting in Jones being over-aggressive on defense, where he committed multiple Tyson Chandlers (BockerKnocker code for silly fouls).

Alas, the US of A came out on top because of one wonderful run by super sub Brek Shea, whose USA jersey is slowly climbing up my personal wish list, and our best keeper of all-time, Tim Howard. Shea megged through a Mexican defender on the left side of the field, almost lost control of the ball, but put a ground cross to the middle. There, happy-to-be-there Terrence Boyd back-heeled the ball towards the net, where Michael Orozco Fiscal tapped in (but almost whiffed) the lone goal of the match.

14 minutes remained, and Mexico, led by the blazing fast Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, had several opportunities to tie the game. Partly because Mexico was fired up, but mostly because the American defens… Read more...

Game Recap: USA vs. Australia, Olympic Quarterfinals

What, me struggle?

     After watching the Russians, Spanish, and Argentinians advance to the semifinals, the US men’s team went out and took care of business against Australia, a repeat of the chippy quarterfinals in 2008. On paper, it was a 119-86 drubbing where the US dominated with 22 threes, 13 steals, and 18 forced turnovers. In reality, however, it was the third straight game where the Red, White, and Blues played only sporadically with the requisite focus and let their opponent hang in the game well into the second half. Thanks to LeBron’s steady triple double and the Black Mamba’s 2nd half explosion, the game never felt as close as the scoreboard indicated. 

     The first half was an ugly slugfest, with 19 fouls against 13 total field goals at one point in the second quarter. At half time, LeBron’s precursor to a triple double (7 points, 10 boards, and 6 assists) and big halves from KD/D-Williams were the only reasons the US had a lead. Although they were defending with energy and holding Australia to a low FG percentage, the Aussies shot well from 3 and had a huge first half from the criminally underrated Patrick Mills. Although down 14 at half, they closed to 6 in the first 2 minutes of the 3rd quarter and hung around until the US surge.

     As a Lakers fan, these Olympics are interesting to watch. I wonder if Pau Gasol is relearning how to be assertive on offense, but, more importantly, I’m watching Kobe react to lower minutes and not being the primary ballhandler. For the Lakers to be successful, he’ll have to accept a diminished role with Steve Nash, which means settling for the fact that he may need to save his days of heavy usage and ball domination for the times when he’s going off or that’s what the defense is giving them. To his credit, that’s exactly what Kobe has been doing for Coach K, while serving as a leader and Elder Statesman. Throughout the Olympics and prelim games, his defensive energy, ability to draw fouls, and passing have been great. He hasn’t forced it on offense, but the Black Mamba has not been scoring efficiently either and isn’t getting his usual number of shots.

     A few minutes into the 3rd, he had 3 turnovers and was 0-4, missing some makeable shots. That said, he drew a few nice fouls and had passes that weren’t converted on before finally throwing a huge alley-oop to Chandler. After that, Kobe got hot and that was the game. He drilled a three, stole the ball, and drained another three, extending the lead to 12. In the fourth, he drained four more, with three coming in rapid succession to singlehandedly put the game away. All the sudden, USA’s energy level was reinvigorated and a few steals led to easy transition buckets. The lead was 30, human victory cigar Anthony Davis was in the game, and garbage time commenced for Team America. Similar to Argentina, a spurt broke the spirits and backs of their opponent to restore order to the game.

     It’s great that the Team LeBron (11/14/12 and first Olympic triple double ever) can rely on his excellence, but this team has its blind spots. Love has started to play well and I have been consistently impressed with Paul, Deron Williams, and Carmelo during these games. With the NBA’s greatest scorers in one place, you never count them out, but they have enough lapses in defensive intensity that I’m a bit worried. Regardless of who they have on the floor, there’s no question that this team’s defense fuels its offense, with steals and transition buckets serving as the core of these epic runs. With Tyson Chandler trying to set an Olympic record in foul rate, they lack a shot … Read more...

USA Basketball 2012: The Stream Team

(This is a guest post from MAMBINO friend and brother of CDP, Big Plato. From SoCal, he’s been intently watching the Olympics with a keen eye for historical implications. Check it out!)

No significant cultural or athletic event can pass without a title, a hook attached to the legacy. We love the pop pull of nicknames, of zingy summations of the historic impact or general character of whatever passed before us. Like all self-respecting sports entities, USA basketball has a proud tradition of accurate inscriptions. The Dream Team is a fondly remembered, hazy monument, an untouchable feat that can never be undermined despite modern considerations of talent and logic. We were Redeemed in 2008 and while much of the squad remains on the roster, the influx of new stars and an entirely different swagger sets the 2012 team apart. So what are they? We could pull out our rhyming dictionary and throw a slew of irrelevant adjectives and inappropriate nouns at the board until a syllable sticks, but there may be a simpler answer. And before any naysayers try to spoil the fun in favor of naturalism and letting the games speak for themselves, I would like to state, to insist, that this team must have a moniker. There is no way around it, we would be passing up too great an opportunity for jingling insight otherwise.

Without further ado, Uncle Sam proudly presents your 2012 American basketball all-stars, the Stream Team.

Fond as I am of tributaries and other water formations, the name refers to the efficiency of their ball movement and their existence in the digital age. Between a loaded roster of legitimate threats playing at, close to, or just past their primes, a raw mess of athleticism unparalleled on any basketball roster, the already present and ever expanding chemistry brewing on and off court, and this team is dangerous. Add in the fluidity of their play, the natural ease of their game, and the only way to describe what they do is “continuous flow.” Maybe we keep that water analogy after all. Mimicking the movement of raging rapids, thunderous typhoons, and crackling cascades in their quick transition plays and rousing finishes, their patron saint is Poseidon, ruler of the sea and wielder of water and all its might. No matter what god they pray to, the way this squad is playing right now, it’s fast, it’s constant, and it’s smooth as silk. Not all the time, but enough to make it count.

A sizable portion of this team’s identity- how we perceive them, how they came together- comes straight from the series of tubes we call the Internet. They would not exist as they do now if it weren’t for the technological advances of the past 20 years. Part of the Dream Team’s personality was mystique, a separation from the masses, excepting the humanitarian strolls of Sir Charles Barkley. The Stream Team has no such choice. We’re going to get behind the scenes photos, revealing tweets, and all the other nonsense no matter what. By hijacking the format first, releasing Instagram images of their meals, giving digital shout outs to other athletes, and interacting with the public like never before, they are nothing if not a product of our age. We contribute too, with our continual online critical dissections and comparisons and the way in which we experience the action, often streamed from the web or downloaded after the fact. Kobe and crew are heroes of and for the digital age, modern goliaths of progress and reckoning. With every alley oop and public prank, they boldly proclaim the birth of the future, today.

Shockingly, the leader of the … Read more...

2012 Olympic Basketball Primer: Group B

Can hosting the Olympics propel England to basketball
relevance in 2012?

Welcome to Part II of the 2012 Olympic basketball primer. Last week in Part I we covered Group A, which includes Team USA, a veteran Argentina team, and an up-and-coming French squad loaded with NBA talent. Group B may not be as top-heavy, but it is a bracket without a weak link and lots of teams that expect to make it out of group play. As a reminder, each team in both brackets will play all 5 other teams in their group and the top 4 teams advance to the quarterfinals.

Group B

Spain (FIBA rank: 2) is seen as the biggest threat to US hegemony in Olympic basketball. Spain won in 2006 and was barely edged out by Kobe & Co in 2008’s truly incredible gold medal game. Spain has size in the frontcourt, tons of international experience, and continuity with a team that has played together for years. On paper, Spain should be able to give the US (and anyone else) everything they can handle. Between the Gasol brothers and Serge Ibaka, they have the best frontcourt in the world and complementary pieces to boot. Spain boasts Jose Calderon, Sergio Rodriguez, Juan Carlos Navarro, and Rudy Fernandez on the perimeter.


Before we hand Spain an appearance in the gold medal game, there are some cracks in the foundation as well. They are an older team that will really miss Ricky Rubio’s presence in a lot of ways, and not just because he played well against the US in 2008. Beyond his athleticism and court vision, he also is their best backcourt defender. This Spanish team has the size, shooting, and veteran savvy, but it is lacking in athleticism. It can win if it gets a team like the United States into a slower game of execution, but they cannot afford turnovers leading to easy baskets. Furthermore, who is going to guard LeBron James or Chris Paul on this team?

Australia (FIBA rank: 9) is a team that has historically dominated its region and done well in international competition. They have been almost medaled quite a few times and are looking for their big break. After playing Spain very closely twice in recent exhibition games, Australia needs to be taken seriously and should make it out of group play. Although they are missing Bogut, Patrick Mills is a capable NBA floor general that can fly up and down the court. Australia also features former NBA player David Andersen and Joe Ingles/Brad Newley, who both play in Spain.

China (FIBA rank: 10) has traditionally been a basketball power in Asia, carried recently on the giant   shoulders of Yao Ming, but has yet to win much in major competition. Their current roster is respectable, but not a real threat to win during these Olympics. Former NBA players Sun “Monkey King” Yue and Wang Zhizhi form a solid foundation with Yi Jianlian that should be a threat when some of their young talent develops in a few years.

World beware: the beak is sharp!

Russia (FIBA rank: 11) is quickly becoming everyone’s surprise pick for Group B. Russia is a hungry team that has had 4 top ten finishes between the Olympics and World Cup since 2000. Led by All-Star and All-Ugly Team MVP AK-47 (if you don’t know about his deal with his wife, please read this), Russia also has NBA talent and size with Timothey Mozgov and Viktor Khryapa on the roster. This is a tough team that will assert itself during these Olympics. If their team defense can fall into line with AK-47’s pitbull impression, they could cause a lot of teams to have a long night on offense.

Brazil (FIBA rank: 13) is on the verge of becoming a powerhouse, but has yet to win big in international competition. They have not q… Read more...

2012 Olympic Basketball Primer: Group A

The shadow of 2004 still looms over the US program

With its rich history and unparalleled talent pool, anything less than total domination by the United States will be seen as an abject failure. Since the Dream Team in 1992, the rest of the world has been playing catch-up, but the US has shown a renewed enthusiasm for Olympic basketball in recent years. After succumbing to improved competition and a bronze medal with 2004’s Starbury-led disaster, Jerry Colangelo took the reins, convinced Coach K to head the program, and emphasized commitment and continuity for future rosters. The result was 2008’s Redeem Team, which was packed with NBA players like Kobe and LeBron in their prime and had a collective chip on its shoulder. They breezed through the competition until meeting Spain’s Gasol brothers in the title game, but emerged victorious. The 2010 World Championship Squad, with the next generation of NBA superstars like D-Rose and Kevin Love, had similar success and cruised to a gold medal. The 2012 team is essentially a mixture of all the healthy parts from 2008/2010 with a few new faces.

The format of the Olympics is simple: there are 2 groups (A and B) with 6 teams. Each team plays the other 5 teams in their group and the top 4 teams in each group advance to the quarterfinals. With the Venezuela tournament concluding this week and the groups finalized, we at GREAT MAMBINO wanted to provide an Olympic basketball primer on the competition as well as our predictions. Despite the recent string of successes, this year’s Olympic field should present a formidable challenge to the 2012 edition of the US team.  

Group A
 

United States (FIBA Rank: 1) is the clear favorite, with its immense resources and top to bottom NBA talent. Led by Coach K and an army of quality assistants like Boheim and McMillan, the US team is smaller than you’d like to see, especially against the Gasol brothers/Serge Ibaka front-line representing Spain, but it is perhaps the most athletic and fastest international team ever assembled. With Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Kobe Bryant, and James Harden in the backcourt, the US has plenty of scoring and passing options with its guards. Colangelo has filled the forward positions with versatile talents who can play multiple positions, including LeBron “NBA Finals MVP” James, Kevin Durant, Andre Igoudala, Kevin Love, Carmelo Anthony, and Blake Griffin. 


Although Chandler is the only pure center on the team, expect LeBron and maybe even Melo to play small-ball center along with Griffin and Love. While this team is certainly undersized against some of the bigger frontlines in this tournament, Team USA should be able to assemble another stifling, full-court defense that creates havoc with turnovers and points in transition. With so much offensive horsepower and versatility, this team should be able to put up points at will and against anybody. They just cannot afford to get into a battle of half-court execution with a team like Spain or Argentina who can out-muscle them in the post.

Argentina (FIBA Rank: 3) presents the most formidable challenge to the United States in Group A. Back in 2004, it was Argentina who denied US the opportunity to play in the championship game and took home the gold. A deep, veteran team that has superior continuity and been playing together forever, Argentina has well-defined roles and an unselfish offensive mentality. In terms of NBA pedigree, few teams can rival the experience of Argentina, who have Manu Ginobili, still one of the best guards in the world when healthy, and NBA v… Read more...

Sending our favorite NBAers to the Olympics?

The preliminary 20-man roster for this summer’s Olympic Team USA was released this past Monday, and of course, BockerKnocker and I could not help but derive a spirited debate from it. In this one in particular, we discussed the merits (or demerits) of putting NBA players on active contracts into what essentially amounts to a series of souped-up exhibition games. As Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant both hold the keys to our respective NBA kingdoms, we had horses in this race. The specific question that spurred our latest frivolous waste of worktime productivity was: What is your stance on those two players going to play for Team USA in the 2012 London Olympics?

from: KOBEshigawa
to: BockerKnocker
date: Tue, Jan 17, 2012 at 4:17 PM
subject: Team USA

I’m of two minds with this:

On one hand, I’m thrilled that Kobe is going to London this summer and more than likely, will be chosen as a starter alongside either Derrick Rose or CP3, as well as incumbent Team USA starters LeBron, Carmelo and Dwight.

Being the red-blooded patriot that I am, I couldn’t be happier than America’s best baller (I said it) is taking time from his off-season schedule to participate. With the German HGH he got last summer, Kobe really has reinstated himself as the best 2-guard in the league, and his being on the team gives the US the best chance for winning it all. I actually care about the Olympics, and when we finish with anything but an unblemished record and a gold medal, I feel embarrassed.

Also, I’m also just a commonly paranoid Lakers fan that feels that Kobe still doesn’t get his due. Despite probably cementing his status as one of the top 5 to 10 players of all time, he still is commonly pooped on, day-in and day-out, for shooting too much, being too stoic, playing too many minutes, cheating on his wife too much, whatever.

His reputation was never lower than in 2008 when he and the Lakers were embarrassed and destroyed by the Celtics in the Finals. And after joining the Redeem Team, alongside younger guys like LeBron, Melo, Dwight, and CP3, many people presumed the older and recently “devalued” Kobe Bryant would simply be a bit player in Coach K’s puzzle. But it turned out quite opposite — Kobe ended up being the “go-to” guy on the team, with all his supposed basketball “superiors” deferring to him in the final moments of the game. To top it off, Kobe took on the most difficult nightly defensive cover. After the Olympics, every guy on the team talked about how impressed they were with the much-maligned Kobe and his extraordinary work ethic. Much like this long-winded paragraph, the other members of Team USA (as well as the NBA watching world) were giving Kobe a massive amount of public props, which diverged from their usual compliments with caveats of how he’s selfish, how he didn’t deserve it, how other people contributed more to his success, etc.

Basically, I would really relish many more Kobe internet BJ sessions for the whole summer.

On the other hand, Kobe is a guy with a messed up knee, ankle, wrist and essentially his entire right hand. He needs about 4 different surgeries AND 3 months of rest, and competing for an extra month is really not the best thing for a 33 year-old who will be going into his 17th (!) season.

Even still, I wouldn’t just be okay with Kobe on Team USA, I’d be ecstatic. You communist.

from: BockerKnocker
to: KOBEshigawa
date: Tue, Jan 17, 2012 at 4:35 PM
subject: Re: Team USA

Barring Coach K choosing to go really small (CP3-Wade-Kobe-
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