- The Washington Times - Monday, June 30, 2008

Team USA is destined to be vulnerable to a lane-clogging zone defense that implores the Americans to take perimeter shots.

That prospect will limit the potency of Jason Kidd and Dwyane Wade, if not stifle the gold-medal bid of Team USA at the Beijing Games.

Jerry Colangelo has labored three summers on the selection process after the Larry Brown-led fiasco in Athens in 2004, when Brown felt compelled to play the ugly American game and the team lost three games, including a 19-point loss to that celebrated basketball superpower Puerto Rico.

Colangelo put together a floating roster of 33 players two summers ago before whittling it down to 12 last week. It was no easy assignment, if part of the aim was to have a genuine team instead of a team of NBA All-Stars.

That has been one of the lessons while the U.S. has been in the midst of its basketball free-fall since claiming the gold medal at the Sydney Games in 2000. Even that competition came with a scare - a two-point victory over Lithuania in the semifinals.

The U.S. has been found wanting in its last three engagements with the globe, in the 2002 and 2006 world championships and the 2004 Olympics.

In each case, at some point in the competition, the U.S. lacked the old-fashioned capacity to make outside shots in sufficient quantities.

That deficiency has not been necessarily addressed this time around, with Michael Redd being the only shooter extraordinaire on the roster.

The U.S. has an abundance of scorers, led by Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, whose abilities to make outside shots rise in proportion to their abilities to get to the basket.

Both Bryant and James are accustomed to being high-volume shot takers, which is essential to establishing a nice shooting rhythm.

That quest is more difficult on what amounts to an All-Star team and in a competition that provides 40-minute tests instead of 48-minute ones.

Some players seemingly can hop out of bed and make shots while rubbing the sleep out of their eyes. Redd fits the type. No one else on the U.S. roster does. Not Carmelo Anthony. Not Chris Paul. And not Deron Williams.

Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh and Carlos Boozer do their best work around the basket, and Tayshaun Prince earned a spot on the team because of his defense, versatility and team-embracing manner.

The international game plan to defeat the Americans is fairly obvious: Run multiple zone defenses that cut off the driving lanes to the basket, limit their fastbreak opportunities, emphasize good ball movement and execute backdoor cuts that penalize their propensity to gamble on defense and make shots.

The U.S. often ends up having to accept a hard truth: No matter how dynamic the roster looks on paper - its 10th player possibly a significant step up from the 10th player on any other roster - the game is restricted to five players and one basketball.

The U.S. seemingly could use another shooter or two, plus another big body. Howard sat out the one-day minicamp in Las Vegas this past weekend because of a stress fracture to his sternum.

Howard is expected to be recovered by the time the U.S. team begins training camp July 21. Otherwise, that leaves Bosh and Boozer in the post, Bosh more finesse-oriented than Howard and Boozer undersized.

Americans are starting to understand that a backdoor layup is worth the same number of points as a high-flying dunk. USA Basketball came to that understanding after Athens and eliminated its previous selection process. So now it has tried to mold a genuine team. And it has tried to address its failings in international play.

The attempt, though worthwhile, seems incomplete and less satisfying, judging from the roster.

This U.S. team seems susceptible to having at least one poor-shooting game in Beijing. And that is sometimes the difference between gold and bronze, as it was for the U.S. team two years ago.

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