Angie: The Sports Authority

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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Basketball: USA beat Germany and reach the semifinal of the FIBA World Championship

They are in the Semifinals. The United States Basketball team didn't really get a stern test from Germany today, but it did get a stern warning.

As we said, the Americans were victorious, 85-65, which advanced them to the FIBA World Championship semifinals Friday against Greece. However, it was a bit of an eye-opener, because the usually suspect defense actually carried the day, and the supposed iron-horse offense sputtered.

Cleveland star LeBron James scored 13 points with five rebounds and four assists and helped defend German star Dirk Nowitzki, who was held to 15 points. Carmelo Anthony recovered from a poor start to lead the U.S. squad with 19 points.

It's fair to mention that facing an aggressive full zone for the first time in more than a week, Team USA seemed to forget its strategy. Instead of driving gaps and making interior passes, the "Dream team" were all too happy to hoist away 3-pointers at an astounding rate - and miss them at an equal clip.

Never embarrassed to shoot, the Americans were averaging 23 3-point attempts per match in the world championships coming into the quarterfinals. In fact, in this one, they jacked up 40 of them, making just 10, often because it was the easy thing to do against the zone.

Carmelo Anthony went 2-of-12 from the floor in the first half, and Dwyane Wade, who briefly left the game after getting poked in the eye, finished 1-of-11 shooting.

It's important to see this, because the Greeks are experts at zone defense and have bigger and rougher defenders than the Germans. No doubt they took copious notes on Team USA's struggles.

"I really think it was a very competitive game. They did a good job of packing in the zone," James said. "We missed a lot of easy shots we are capable of making."

However, the Americans' defense saved them, especially in the second half. The U.S. defense forced 24 turnovers and held Germany to 26 points in the second half. What's more, Team USA also ruled the glass, picking up 22 offensive rebounds. That led to 16 second-chance points and 12 fast-break points.

Nowitzki, who is averaging 24.5 points in the tournament, went 3-of-12 from the floor. Shane Battier and LeBron James both were strong against him, denying entry passes and preventing him from driving. It was really tough for him.

"Dirk is kind of unstoppable," James admitted. "We just wanted to send as many defenders at him as possible." And it worked.

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