Trans. Aug 31 3:51 ET (Aug 31 3:51 ET ) They figured it would be simple, that they would just beat up on Turkey like they did Finland a night earlier. ''I guess we felt like last night's game was pretty easy and tonight was going to be the same way, but Turkey came out and they gave us their punch from the beginning,'' forward James Harden said. A night after crushing Finland by 59 in its biggest rout ever while using NBA players in the former world championship, the Americans couldn't take control against Turkey until early in the fourth quarter after compiling a 17-1 run. ''So we've got to come out ready to play no matter who we're playing against.'' The Americans trailed 40-35 at halftime and Turkey led by six early in the third before the Americans could finally get the game into the quicker tempo they prefer and pull away to win the rematch of the 2010 gold-medal game in Istanbul.
This week, the best basketball nations in the world are heading to Spain for the FIBA World Cup of Basketball. The tournament — known until recently as the world championships — lacks the overwhelming attention of the Olympics in the United States, but for many other countries it is considered to be nearly as prestigious. As usual, Team USA enters the competition as the favorite, although that position is as precarious as it has been for some time, with Spain serving as the strongest competition. Even if the general hierarchy of teams hasn't changed, there is no question that they appear less dominant than we're accustomed to. The tournament tips off on Saturday, with Team USA set to take on Finland at 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN. Here are five pressing stories to help you get acquainted with the World Cup before play begins. 1. Team USA looks vulnerable. When it comes to the best basketball country in the world, such issues as vulnerability are always relative, because their chances of losing remain much lower than those for any other team. Nevertheless, this is not the same Team USA that won the 2008 Olympics, 2010 world championships, and 2012 Olympics with very few hiccups. The team's world championships/Cup roster never features the overwhelming star power of the Olympics, but it's still reasonable to think the group will include one or two perennial All-NBA players. Team USA is used to the best. The 2014 roster does not immediately look like such an established and dominant group. While USA Basketball expected the absences of proven international commodities like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, the powers that be weren't necessarily looking to be without Kevin Love (who bowed out due to his potential and eventual trade from the Minnesota Timberwolves), Paul George (who was lost to his now-infamous leg injury during an exhibition game), and Kevin Durant (who withdrew from consideration due to mental and physical exhaustion ). As such, Team USA lacks a game-changing wing player who can move over to the "four" position — the role that has defined head coach Mike Krzyzewski's tenure. The team's ostensible leaders are Derrick Rose, who has barely even played competitive basketball in the past two years and might have trouble with the tournament's demanding schedule; James Harden, who sees himself as the team's defensive stopper and on-court leader even though he's not known for those qualities; and Anthony Davis, a truly incandescent talent who nevertheless has never been asked to do so much in international play.
There is little doubt that Houston Rockets All-Star guard James Harden is an extremely talented basketball player — guys don't make the All-NBA First Team by accident, no matter how controversial there selections prove to be. But Harden gets the sort of criticism that most elite stars don't receive. Harden's lackadaisical and often just horrible defense has been extensively documented, and it doesn't help that he also occasionally makes ill-considered comments about his teammates and mocked at least one very respected member of the media . There's a not uncommon belief that Harden doesn't really get what it takes to be the top dog on a title contender, which makes it a bigger deal than usual when he, like many athletes before him, overestimates his standing in the sport . Although Harden turned 25 years old just this Tuesday, he is one of the most experienced players on Team USA as it heads into Saturday's opening game of the FIBA World Cup of Basketball in Spain. As such, Harden sees himself as a leader. If that appears a bit presumptuous of him, then please consider that USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo believes Harden is taking well to the role. From Michael Lee for The Washington Post (via EOB ): “Right now, I think I would look to Harden as that leader,” USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said as his team continues to prepare for the tournament in which the winner earns an automatic berth in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. “Harden is kind of a natural leader and he seems to be willing to accept that role. And you can just kind of feel it and sense. He’s the one.” [...] Colangelo said Harden has been one of the team’s most vocal players and has helped elevate practices with his effort and tenacity. “I don’t know if he’s been waiting [to lead]. It’s evolved,” Colangelo said. “He came in as a pretty high draft pick. Got off to a great start in Oklahoma City. Whether he was disappointed or surprised by what transpired, he found himself in another uniform and that’s part of life in pro sports and the NBA, and I think he’s adjusted to that and his numbers get bigger and he’s being recognized more and more as the player he is. And this is a great platform for him to come out as a leader.” [...] “This is a different platform,” Harden said. “A platform that I haven’t really been on before, but I think most of us haven’t been on it, either. I think we’re all kind of figuring it out together. That’s what’s going to be so special about this team. We figure it out together and we come out with a gold medal, it makes it that much more special.” Lee notes elsewhere that Harden is one of just two players on the 2014 roster to have also played on the 2012 Olympic team — Anthony Davis is the other — so it makes sense that he would be seen as something of an elder statesman. It's possible to argue that Harden earned the role by default after the withdrawal of Kevin Durant and in the absence of players like Kevin Love, but there seems to be little doubt that the Rockets star is occupying the role for Team USA right now. That's notable in itself, if only because NBA fans haven't been conditioned to think of Harden as the sort of guy who is capable of leading a roster of stars (diminished or not) in a major international tournament. We're not sure he's ready to represent Houston on a major stage, let alone the most powerful basketball country in the world. Colangelo's praise is important, but it's also true that it's his job to talk up the positive qualities of the national-team experience in order to convince fans and prospective players that the squad represents the best of America. If an increasingly vulnerable Team USA fails to win gold in the World Cup, it's easy to see public opinion on Harden turning increasingly sour, if only because leadership and championship-readiness are often defined in terms of what someone did most recently. Anything less than convincing victory will suggest that Harden lacks what it takes to lead the national team. In other words, it would be prudent not to declare any certainty about Harden's leadership ability, because it's at least partially dependent on the result of the World Cup. Plus, even if Team USA does develop into a dominant squad that wins every game convincingly, Harden will face a whole new challenge with the Rockets this fall. To paraphrase a cliche, the true test of a leader — or maybe just the true test of a leader's reputation — comes when the going gets tough. - - - - - - - Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @FreemanEric
Anthony Davis, Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry and James Harden headlined the release of the 2014 Team USA Basketball roster on Friday.
The Scoop:Klay Thompson, Kyrie Irving, DeMar DeRozan, Kenneth Faried, and DeMarcus Cousins all made the squad, though Cousins' status appeared to be in doubt for much of the time. Rudy Gay and Andre Drummond also made the team, as did the ever-so-controversial Mason Plumlee. Damian Lillard, Chandler Parsons, Kyle Korver and Gordon Hayward were among the final cuts. Team USA will be the favorites in Spain, but this is undeniably one of the weaker teams we've seen in a while.
James Harden scored seven points vs. the Dominican Republic on Wednesday.
The Scoop:He stated he's the best all-around player in the NBA heading into this game, but obviously didn't prove much. We've all seen the bearded one tear it up on offense, but he's still way behind on defense, as evident by the way the Rockets gave up 23rd-most points in the NBA last season. Regardless, he's a top-five fantasy player.