Unbeaten Americans looking to improve


SAPPORO — Team USA was a perfect 5-0 in group league action of the FIBA World Championship 2006.

Does that assure a gold medal?

Not yet. And the United States needs to fix some weaknesses that were revealed by its Group D opponents if it wants to go further.

First off, the U.S. seemed to lack an inside presence, once an American staple.

In basketball, size does matter, especially for battles down in the paint. But the U.S. team has Brad Miller as its sole seven-footer (213 cm), and he is not playing very well. Miller seems to be a bit out of shape, and he struggled against opposing post players, although his time on the court has been limited so far.

Elton Brand and Chris Bosh are quality players who grab a lot of offensive boards, but they may be a little undersized against European centers.

The point guards are a concern as well. Chris Paul and Kirk Hinrich are well-known in the NBA, but that does them little good against international competition, which has turned up the intensity against the young guards.

During the Group D games, Puerto Rico’s Carlos Arroyo, Slovenia’s Jaka Lakovic and Italy’s Gianluca Basile were on equal footing with Paul and Hinrich, and were successfully able to outplay them at times.

“This game around the world is growing up and up,” said U.S. assistant coach Mike D’Antoni. “Probably quicker than Americans. France, Spain, Italy, Greece . . . the players individually have gotten a lot better.”

Team USA lost players who could’ve helped these issues, such as Kobe Bryant, Gilbert Arenas, Chauncey Billups, Amare Stoudemire and Lamar Odom in the runup to the worlds.

The U.S. has already gone through a thriller in this tournament. When it took on Italy on Wednesday, it gave up a lead at 45-36 at halftime.

Even though Carmelo Anthony saved the team with his 35 points to give the U.S. a 94-85 win, if he had not found his shooting touch, the game could’ve gone Italy’s way.

In group play, the USA was the only team that averaged triple-digit scoring, posting 108.6 points per game, which topped second-place Spain at 95.2, but Mike Krzyzewski’s men will face stiffer defense in Saitama.

Italy used a man defense against the Americans, saving its zone defense scheme because it may face the U.S. again in the final round.

Time will tell, but America has to take care of its own house.