Kerr lauds USA’s lineup stability after 4-0 start


ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — There was plenty to evaluate as Team USA moved to 4-0 on their pre-FIBA World Cup tour Friday night, beating old rival Greece 108-86 in its first-ever game in the U.A.E. But perhaps the most relevant item came before the game.

That’s when coach Steve Kerr filled out his lineup card with the same five names to start for the fourth consecutive game. This is an unusual development in preparation for any international competition for any Team USA, which usually spends its few weeks of prep time and sometimes even the first few games of tournaments searching for continuity.

That was especially a concern with this group, where all 12 players are playing for the senior national team for the first time and there’s very limited experience playing under FIBA rules. For Kerr to have already settled largely on now only how he wants to play — small and fast, like he’s leaned into over the past decade with the Golden State Warriors — and found the foundation of many roles quickly.

“It’s so hard because you only have a couple weeks and then you jump right into the tournament,” Kerr said. “So I like the stability of that [starting] group.”

The team is settling into patterns, which can be so valuable in these tight prep windows. Anthony Edwards, who came in as the team’s second-leading scorer, led them with 21 points in just 18 minutes. He hit three 3-pointers. Mikal Bridges, who came in ridiculously efficient shooting 68% in the first games, was efficient again as he made 3 of 5 shots and scored 10.

The other three starters — Jalen Brunson, Brandon Ingram and Jaren Jackson Jr. — generally showed the good ball and body movement and active defense that has largely been a feature of the past two weeks in these exhibitions.

It’s a safe bet they will be in the starting lineup when the U.S. opens the World Cup on Aug. 26 against New Zealand in Manila, Philippines.

“I feel like we got it going pretty good,” Edwards said. “The whole coaching staff does a great job to make sure we know the (play). You know, we really like each other too, so we don’t mind sharing the ball and making the extra pass. So I think it’s going pretty good.”

Cameron Johnson and Austin Reaves, who have been toasting opponents with sharpshooting off the bench, did so again and combined for 24 points.

This isn’t to say the Americans were perfect. They didn’t play cleanly for stretches against the Greeks, who played without national hero Giannis Antetokounmpo as he recovers from offseason knee surgery. For example, they turned over the ball 20 times, costing them 24 points. During one stretch in the second quarter where they turned the ball over four times in a six-possession span in the first half and at one point saw a 17-point lead sliced to six because they lost some focus.

But like they did last weekend in Malaga when they had a quality win over host Spain, the Americans routinely followed up patchy stretches with force and kept a comfortable lead throughout.

After getting outrebounded by Spain, a concern for a team that is purposely constructed with speed ready that bulk, the U.S. won the glass, 49-35.

“The concern is turnovers and rebounds. If we stay even on the possession game, I feel great about our chances against anybody,” Kerr said. “The way teams can beat us is if they get extra possessions and force a lot of turnovers and we’re not sharp and we’re not boxing out. And I’ve told our guys that…it’s not really a secret.”

Greece, who will face the U.S. in pool play on Aug. 28, had five players in double figures

POST AUTHOR: Brian Windhorst

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