- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 13, 2021

These games don’t matter in the grand scheme of things, and for Team USA basketball, that could be a good thing.

But Team USA experienced something it hasn’t in quite some time: Not just losing once, but losing back-to-back games. Before Saturday’s exhibition loss against Nigeria, the U.S. had posted a 54-2 record in exhibition games between 1992 — when professionals began to play in Olympic competitions — and 2020.

But now, Team USA has doubled that loss total with consecutive defeats, the latest coming Monday night against Australia, 91-83.

“We walked into this game expecting to win,” Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles said after scoring 17 points for Australia (per ESPN). “No disrespect to them, they’re a hell of a team, obviously the guys they’ve got on their roster and [coach Gregg Popovich] standing up there is always nice to see, but we came in here expecting to win the game and that’s what we did.”

Team USA is still the favorite to win a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics, but the consecutive defeats in warm-up contests show that the squad still has to jell before then. The results also show countries around the world could give Team USA trouble.

Team USA’s roster is still full of NBA All-Stars, despite some of the biggest names opting against playing. There’s no LeBron James, James Harden or Kawhi Leonard, for instance. And Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday and Devin Booker are still playing in the NBA Finals.

But Australia also has multiple NBA players on its roster, too, with the San Antonio Spurs’ Patty Mills scoring 22 points to add to Ingles’ production. However, 76ers guard Ben Simmons isn’t playing on the Olympic squad.

“These teams are experienced,” said Damian Lillard, via the Las Vegas Review Journal. “They’ve spent a lot of time together. We’re still working at becoming a team.”

Team USA will have another chance to build chemistry Tuesday night against Argentina, a team that lost to Nigeria by 23 points on Monday.

Team USA has largely dominated the international basketball scene since 1992, with six Olympic gold medals, only missing out in 2004, when the team finished with a bronze medal. The U.S. could still go on to win its fourth straight Olympic gold this summer in Tokyo. But through two exhibitions, the path appears more difficult.

“It is different … now you go out there and the whole starting five are NBA players that are in the rotation,” Lillard said, per ESPN. “This also isn’t the first time I’ve seen Team USA be tested.”

• Andy Kostka can be reached at akostka@washingtontimes.com.

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