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Team USA basketball – Key lessons from exhibition win over Canada

Ahead of its quest for a fifth consecutive Olympic gold medal, the USA men’s basketball team began its preparations with an 86-72 win over Canada in Las Vegas on Wednesday night.

Team USA, with Derrick White replacing forward Kawhi Leonard in the 12-man roster, faced off against a talented Canadian team that is expected to medal at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

After a slow start — including missing their first six shots — the Americans came into their own in the second quarter while the Canadians were cold from the field. Team USA outscored Canada 16-2 in the paint in the second quarter and took a 41-33 lead into the break.

Despite Canada’s halftime run, the USA continued to dominate late in the third and throughout the fourth quarter. Four Americans scored in double figures, with Anthony Edwards leading the way with 13 points. Anthony Davis had a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. RJ Barrett led Team Canada with 12 points.

The USA national team will now focus on Australia, who they will face in a friendly in Abu Dhabi on Monday.

So far, what have been your biggest lessons from the win over Canada?

1. The USA team’s performance against Canada was _____.

Tim Bontemps: Very encouraging. Team USA didn’t play well at all — they committed 17 turnovers and looked disjointed overall, especially on the offensive end. And yet Team USA pulled off a double-digit victory over one of its two biggest rivals for the gold medal next month (the other being France). In addition to all of this, Joel Embiid, who is still playing through a knee injury in the NBA playoffs, looked like he had a healthy amount of rust to clean up. This game further reinforces how clearly Team USA is the preferred team on the court in Paris.

Bobby Marks: It’s a good test. I have nothing against Cooper Flagg and the elite team, but playing in front of a sold-out crowd against a Canadian team that featured Jamal Murray, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dillon Brooks was a good test. Team USA treated the game like an All-Star Sunday, but it was a preview of what to expect in France.

Dave McMenamin: It’s a blueprint for when games matter. As long as the U.S. plays defense and gets out in transition, it shouldn’t matter that this roster has had so little time to come together before the Olympics — it limited Canada to 33.7 percent shooting, had 11 steals and 9 blocked shots. With so many running opportunities, shot distribution wasn’t an issue — all 10 players who entered the game took at least four shots and no player attempted more than 10.

Ohm Youngmisuk: Better than expected. Canada is a tough opponent with Gilgeous-Alexander and Murray. It was completely expected and understandable that Team USA came out rusty after they were assembled a few days ago, but they showed a lot of potential — offense, defense, size and versatility. We haven’t seen an opponent test Team USA inside because of Canada’s lack of size. And it will be interesting to see how the U.S. adjusts when defenses take away Stephen Curry’s outside shooting and some of their stars get into foul trouble (like Embiid fouling out late in the fourth quarter). But for the first outing, Team USA should be pleased.

Bontemps: Something that no one on Team USA cares about or takes seriously. Edwards said in the same media conference that he’s happy to come off the bench. He looked great Wednesday playing as part of a second unit that included Bam Adebayo, Anthony Davis, Tyrese Haliburton and Jayson Tatum, and he looked like a real asset if coach Steve Kerr keeps it up. Edwards is already known for making over-the-top comments, and this was one of them. As Adebayo said Sunday, “Everybody on this team is a No. 1 option.”

Marking: Not surprising. Every time Edwards steps on the court, there’s a strong sense of belief that he’s the best player. That same confidence and self-assurance from the playoff wins against the Phoenix Suns and Denver Nuggets was on full display in the first half. Team USA came out of the close from the start, and it was Edwards’ energy and the second unit that erased Canada’s 11-1 start. Team USA has at least five No. 1 options on this roster, and Edwards should be considered one of them, whether he starts in the starting lineup or comes off the bench.

McMenamine: Missing context. Before Edwards made the statement, he was asked about the role change of being the Wolves’ go-to player and then potentially coming off the bench for Team USA. What he meant was that just because he might have a bench spot in the rotation doesn’t mean he’s coming in with a shrinking mentality. As long as he’s on the court — regardless of teammates, opponent or position — Edwards will play with great confidence.

Young Misuk: Expresses confidence in his skills. Edwards may be the most athletic player on Team USA and will almost certainly provide the most electric moments of the Olympics. He will shoot, but when the games get tight and Team USA needs to score, especially from outside shooting, I believe Curry will be Kerr’s choice. USA will need Curry’s outside shooting in FIBA-style basketball, and Embiid’s ability to be mismatched could also be a primary option.

3. How will Kawhi Leonard’s absence affect Team USA in Paris?

Bontemps: That’s nothing against Leonard, one of the best two-way wings of his generation, but I don’t foresee it being that big of an issue. It just shows the wealth of talent at coach Steve Kerr’s disposal. Team USA is gone without Leonard — but it still has Kevin Durant, Jayson Tatum, LeBron James, Jrue Holiday, Devin Booker and Anthony Edwards playing on the wings. And he could play any of his three centers — Joel Embiid, Anthony Davis and Bam Adebayo — together. Plus, Derrick White is an elite perimeter defender and an excellent off-ball attacker. In short? This team should be just fine.

Notes: I was surprised to see Leonard selected given the knee issues he has had throughout his career, including a season-ending right knee injury suffered in the LA Clippers’ first-round loss to the Dallas Mavericks. Leonard is an MVP candidate when healthy, but it’s hard to see how he would make an impact, especially if he were on a minutes restriction. On the plus side, Team USA executive director Grant Hill has found a replacement right away.

McMenamine: As we learned from Kobe Bryant’s impact on the Redeem Team, there’s power in a superstar of that caliber putting all of his effort into being a defensive stopper and having that contagious throughout the team. Leonard, one of the toughest defenders the league has ever seen, could have filled that role on this team if he were healthy. So, yes, it’s a loss. But the decision to replace him with White was a perfect one. White may not have the stature of a two-time Finals MVP like Leonard, but based on what we’ve seen from White in Boston, he should have no problem making defense his top priority.

Youngmisuk: Leonard is one of the best two-way players in the world when healthy. His ability to score from midrange over any defender, shoot threes and then use his size to be a key defender would be invaluable. The two-time NBA Finals MVP was never going to be at his peak given the inflammation in his surgically repaired right knee. White’s ability to defend with shorter, faster guards and switch will help cushion Leonard’s loss, while also helping Jrue Holiday, Anthony Davis, Anthony Edwards and Bam Adebayo become the team’s best defenders. Still, there will be games where Team USA will need someone who can stop penetration and calm down a hot opponent while also hitting threes.

4. What should Team USA’s starting 11 look like?

Bontemps: Four of the five spots in Wednesday’s opener should remain that way for the duration: Stephen Curry, Jrue Holiday, LeBron James and Joel Embiid. Curry, James and Embiid are the three key names to start; Holiday, arguably the best perimeter defender on the planet, can guard the opponent’s best point guard while providing a great connection on offense. As for the fifth spot, I predict Kevin Durant (currently dealing with a calf injury) will eventually get more approval than Jayson Tatum (who arrived late in camp).

Notes: I won’t overreact and say Steve Kerr needs to change his roster because of a slow start against Canada. I’ll stick with four starters (Holiday, Curry, James and Embiid) on Wednesday and replace Devin Booker with Anthony Edwards. If Team USA faces France in the medal round, Kerr could counter Victor Wembanyama and Rudy Gobert with Embiid and Anthony Davis.

McMenamine: Start with James, Curry and Durant (after recovering from a calf strain), for obvious reasons. They’re three of the best players of their generation, and this is the first and likely only time they’ve played together in the Olympics. Then group them with the two most versatile defenders left on the roster: Holiday in the backcourt and Davis in the frontcourt. Holiday takes over the opposing team’s primary ball carrier; Davis is tasked with patrolling the paint.

Youngmisuk: Holiday, Curry, Tatum, James and Embiid make perfect sense. Holiday can be the opposing team’s best perimeter threat and help with all the little things like offensive rebounding. Curry’s outside shooting will be crucial to Team USA’s success. Tatum should be the starter next to James until Durant is healthy again. And Embiid can anchor the interior with Davis sharing minutes with him at center off the bench.