Perfection not the goal for Team USA
ISTANBUL -- Against Angola, the only thing Team USA has to fear is traffic.
That, and the pursuit of perfection.
The first problem can be solved by the Americans leaving extra early from their hotel on the eastern side of this bustling metropolis, where rush-hour traffic can turn what would ordinarily be a 30-minute ride into a two-hour crawl.
The second problem can be solved with lowered expectations, looser attitudes and a general understanding that focusing on one game at a time and winning one game at a time is enough to get the job done.
"I would like for them to be youthfully enthusiastic in trying to accomplish something, instead of trying to be perfect. Being perfect is about those other guys," coach Mike Krzyzewski said, comparing this year's version of Team USA to the superstar-laden Redeem Team that won the gold medal at the 2008 Olympics.
Being perfect is about those other guys. ... It's a different American team. It's changed from early spring, it's changed throughout.” -- USA coach Mike Krzyzewski
"I think you should always look at the team. If we had all the main guys here, then you should nitpick anything because that's the world they live in. They always have to perform great, but we have a young group," Krzyzewski said. "I think our guys have done great, and part of it is this is their first experience. We still have five guys who are 21 years old, and I think they've been terrific, and now they get a chance to do something that will be a momentous thing for them in their careers if they can get it done.
"Wanting to win, being enthusiastic, loose balls, getting out in passing lanes, that's how we have to be with them. It's a different American team. It's changed from early spring, it's changed throughout. It changed right at the first practice when we lost Amare [Stoudemire], David [Lee] and [Brook] Lopez."
Team USA will play Angola on Monday night at 7 p.m. local time (11 a.m. ET, ESPN2). Barring the incomprehensible, they will then have two more days of practice time before playing in the quarterfinals against the winner of Monday night's second game, Russia versus New Zealand.
The semifinals are Saturday, and the gold-medal game is Sunday.
Coach K put the team through a rigorous practice Saturday, and the team took a boat tour of the Bosphorus River on Saturday night before holding a less intense practice on a damp, rainy Sunday at a club gym not far from their five-star hotel -- thereby removing the traffic congestion from the equation.
For now, Krzyzewski plans to stick with the same starting lineup he used in the five preliminary-round games: Derrick Rose at point guard, Chauncey Billups at shooting guard, Kevin Durant at small forward, Andre Iguodala at power forward and Lamar Odom at center.
In Angola, Team USA will face an opponent best remembered in U.S. circles for its 68-point defeat at the hands of the original Dream Team at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona -- a game in which Charles Barkley caused an international incident by elbowing one of the Angolan players, explaining in his own Barkleyesque way afterward that it was a "ghetto thing" and that he was worried the African player might attack him with a spear.
Two years ago in Beijing, perfection came for everyone on the U.S. team except Kobe Bryant in the first half of a preliminary-round game against Angola as Dwight Howard (5-for-5), LeBron James (5-for-5), Dwyane Wade (3-for-3), Carmelo Anthony (3-for-3) and Chris Bosh (2-for-2) made every shot they took from the field; Bryant was 0-for-7 but did not have as bad of a start as Angola's Carlos Morais, who had 10 first-half turnovers. The U.S. won that game 97-76, and Angola's players were thrilled to have kept the margin below 40.
But the American staff is taking nothing for granted, preparing the players in film sessions by focusing on each individual Angolan player's relative strengths and weaknesses. Angola will also be the only team that the Americans match up well with size-wise, having no player taller than 6-foot-8.
Small forward Olimpio Cipriano has been their leading scorer in this tournament, averaging 14.8 points and shooting 71 percent on 2-point shots and 43 percent from behind the 3-point arc, and power forward Joaqim Gomes has accumulated 58 points and 34 rebounds in five games while also going 7-for-13 from 3-point range.
Cipriano, however, is questionable for the U.S. game after injuring his leg in Angola's fourth game, against Germany. Angolan press reports Sunday said he would not have been able to play if the game was held Saturday or Sunday.
"They're very quick, very fast," U.S. scouting director Tony Ronzone said. "Cipriano is a guy that can explode at you and get 30, Gomes played at Valparaiso, and they're a balanced team. I think they're going to play some zone against us, they're going to look to attack, and they're a team if they get hot and get going, that's going to be a factor.
"They're much better [than in 2008] because they're more confident and they've played two more years together. When you've played together as long as they have, their confidence is better. Plus the fear factor is gone."
Krzyzewski's fear factor involves his team's confidence level. Team USA had an up-and-down opening round, looking good against Croatia, not as good against Slovenia, ordinary against Brazil (in a two-point victory), and then lethargic against Iran and Tunisia before closing out the Tunisians with a strong finishing kick.
Krzyzewski has been a workaholic over the past month, holding film sessions into the wee hours of the morning with his staff and being an amateur psychologist to his players. He has taken them through this journey one step at a time with an eye toward being in peak form at the end, trying to keep their minds in the present rather than in the future or the past.
Expectations of perfection might be on the minds of others, but not his.
"I'm accustomed to that. No matter who we put out for Duke, someone says you should win every game and not let anyone score, and other than that you'll be all right," he said. "But I don't want that to be what this team feels. This team will make mistakes, this team will look bad for a little bit. But if overall we don't let that be what we think about -- you know, if we make a mistake, let's get on to the next thing. You miss a shot, don't punish yourself.
"I think sometimes these guys are very hard on themselves because they have such good attitudes. They're proud to play for their country, they know this is a tremendous opportunity, and it's their first time. So I think how we play against Angola -- it's a big game for us. We need to play really well and get into the mood for this week -- that one-and done mood where it's not one and done and uptight, it's one and done and you're aggressive and enthusiastic. If we can win it, we'll have done it that way."