LAS VEGAS -- That was one heck of a frantic, frenzied track meet of a scrimmage Saturday night for Team USA, the blue and white squads each trying to outrun the other in a 114-96 victory for the Kevin Durant-led white team.
Hope you saw it and had a chance to appreciate it, because chances are you won't see much like it in the weeks ahead. This speed might be on display against France in Team USA's first exhibition game, and again against Iran and Tunisia in its final two first-round games of the world championship in Turkey. But in between, there will be a question of whether the Americans can impose their will and their style of play -- and how they'll respond if and when they are unable to do so.
"We're unconventional," team director Jerry Colangelo said afterward, repeating a phrase that coach Mike Krzyzewski has uttered dozens of times.
Problem is, unconventional eventually will meet conventional, and how this team performs when it cannot dictate the style of play ultimately will determine whether it returns home a winner or loser.
For a night, though, speed and talent meshed brilliantly. The squads combined to score 210 points, made 24 of 51 3-pointers, watched a breakout performance from Derrick Rose (15 points, 8 assists, 5 steals, no turnovers) that should make him the leading contender to start at point guard and got 28 points in 29 minutes from Durant.
What Team USA didn't get, however, was any kind of taste of what is ahead. The crowd booed only once, when it was announced that a fan had won a basketball autographed by LeBron James. The referees (two of whom, Zach Zarba and John Goble, work in the NBA) let the players get away with moving screens and blatant travels. Even TV timeouts lasted more than twice as long as they will when the real competition starts.
The Americans also need to realize that as much as they try to run, their opponents will try to slow the pace. Plenty of veteran-laden teams will be able to do just that. (The Greeks are masters at it, even though they sped things up and beat the Americans at their own game in the semifinals of the 2006 worlds.)
Team USA probably will not see as much zone as it has during the past several years. But if Saturday night is any indication, it won't have much of a low-post game to turn to if its outside shots aren't falling the way they did at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Take a look at how the big men, already thinned out by the losses of David Lee, Amare Stoudemire and Robin Lopez, performed:
• Brook Lopez was 1-for-2 for two points and had no rebounds in 13 minutes.
• Tyson Chandler was 6-for-6 from the field but 1-for-4 from the line for 13 points, and nobody out there was looking to wrap him up or hammer him across the arms as will be the case in the weeks ahead.
• Lamar Odom, the starting center (not a misprint) for the white squad, shot 1-for-4 and scored two points.
• JaVale McGee had a dominant 90-second stretch when he first checked in, making three straight buckets and blocking a shot, but did relatively nothing the rest of the night, finishing with seven points.
And two of the best 3-point shooters, Eric Gordon (16 points, 4-for-7 shooting from 3) and O.J. Mayo (18 points, 3-for-6), could be caught in the numbers crunch when the team hierarchy whittles the roster by four players early this week.
"We're going to go with 15 for sure," Colangelo said. "We'll talk [Saturday night], and it will continue tomorrow, but by Monday we should have it done. It would have been even more complicated if some of our bigs who went down or couldn't play were here."
Players who helped their chances Saturday included Gordon, Mayo and Andre Iguodala (5-for-6 from the field, including 3-for-3 from 3-point range, for 17 points). Meanwhile, players whose stock appeared to drop included Gerald Wallace, who shot 2-for-6 overall and 0-for-4 on 3s in just 12 minutes (the second-lowest total court time behind McGee, who played nine minutes), and Danny Granger (five points and five fouls in 21 minutes).
Durant and Rudy Gay combined for 14 of the game's 35 turnovers, but their offensive production (51 points combined) more than made up for it. Rajon Rondo was sort of ordinary, and Chauncey Billups missed his first seven shot attempts before making his next two.
"This team will be everything we've said it will be once we saw what we had. They're athletic, they're going to be able to shoot the ball -- a lot better than people think they can -- especially if they play with rhythm," Colangelo said. "You could build a case for saying there's not enough space for all the terrific guards we have. That's a dilemma, and it's certainly true, and somebody is going to be disappointed when it's all said and done."
But that disappointment will pale in comparison to what the whole squad will feel if it cannot figure out how to play more than one way.
Unconventional is not necessarily bad, but there has to be some ability to play conventionally when circumstances call for it.
In the weeks ahead, we'll get to see whether this U.S. team is capable of doing so.
If it isn't, it could be a bumpy road ahead that'll have the Americans longing for the night in Vegas back in late July when their first public appearance looked more like an NBA All-Star Game than a FIBA competition.