Coach K, Team USA ready to get even with Greece
BEIJING -- Jason Kidd predicted what will happen in Team USA's game against Greece on Thursday.
BEIJING -- Jason Kidd predicted what will happen in Team USA's game against Greece on Thursday.
"They're going to target Dwight [Howard], and they're going to target Carmelo [Anthony]," Kidd told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "The most important thing for us will be to keep our composure."
Kidd came to that conclusion after talking Tuesday with fellow Mav Dirk Nowitzki, who was roughed up and eventually lost his cool against the Greeks in Germany's 23-point loss. Like Kidd, Nowitzki expects Greece to go after two of the younger and more emotional players on the U.S. roster in what should be a physical, temperamental matchup between two teams that will each try to impose its preferred style of play upon the other.
It'll be the first meeting between the teams since Greece's stunning upset of the Americans two years ago at the semifinals of the world championships in Japan, and this time Team USA is a 21½-point favorite. (This came as a surprise to Brazilian basketball legend Oscar Schmidt, who covered Team USA's practice for Brazilian television and said the Americans should be favored by 30 points in every game they play.)
This will be the first true redemption test for the so-called Redeem Team, which has gone 13-0 in international competitions since that fateful night at the Saitama Super Arena when the Greeks ran 42 pick-and-roll plays against an American defense that couldn't figure out a way to stop them. Greece shot 63 percent in that game, and Team USA has waited two long years to exact revenge.
There may be no one who wants to win this game more than American coach Mike Krzyzewski, who many felt was outfoxed in Japan by his counterpart and friend, Greece coach Panagiotis Yannakis.
"To me, his team is him," Krzyzewski said. "They play with his passion, with his dignity, with his toughness, and I have just loads of respect for him. When we lost to him, we just didn't play well, and after the ballgame we could have made all sorts of excuses, but I would never not dignify his great accomplishment. He is truly a great friend. But in saying that, I want to turn the tables on him [Thursday]. We'll be ready. We're going to be a different team than we were then."
Keep that last remark in mind when you're viewing this contest, because one of the key things to watch for will be the tactical adjustments Krzyzewski is willing to make if things don't go his team's way.
The Americans, who have shot only 27 percent from 3-point range in their first two games (Kobe Bryant is 1-for-15), expect to see 40 minutes of zone defense from the Greeks. They also expect to find the same type of no-layup rule the Greeks employed with great success against the Germans.
Team USA will again rely on its pressure defense to create turnovers and fast-break opportunities, while Greece will attempt to use the same pick-and-roll offensive sets that worked so brilliantly in Japan.
"We've had to live for two years with people saying we can't defend or we can't do this," Krzyzewski said. "And in that game, we learned the finality of what it is if you're not at your best. And there's an atonement for that, it's like a cleansing, and as far as our pursuit of the gold medal, that's part of the process."
Krzyzewski said Bryant will be the primary defender on Greece's best offensive player, Vassilis Spanoulis, though Bryant is not approaching the matchup with the same mind-set he had last summer when he locked down Brazil's best player, Leandro Barbosa, in the Tournament of the Americas.
"Barbosa, his whole purpose is to score. And Spanoulis seems to be more of a setup guard who will score, more of a combo, but he gets them into the offense quite a bit. So it'll be a little different," Bryant said.
Spanoulis' take: "I will enjoy it, you know. He is a great player, and he will come with his best for me."
Interestingly, Krzyzewski said the Americans' game plan going in will not include much use of a traditional 2-3 zone unless the man-to-man defense proves ineffective. That's particularly intriguing given Greece's difficulty scoring against a traditional zone, something the American coaching staff noticed as it was on hand to scout Tuesday's Greece-Germany game.
"If I tell my guys we're going to play a certain amount of zone, it's almost like saying our man-to-man is not good defense. Just psychologically," Krzyzewski said Wednesday in discussing his tactical scheme with ESPN.com.
But if they're no good against the zone, shouldn't you play zone?
"Well, no," Coach K said. "They may not be good against our man, and over the years, the championship teams I've had have made teams adjust to them. And if you're constantly adjusting to who you play, then you've got to be careful you never know who you are. But again, zone is part of our repertoire, and I'm not saying we're not going to use it, I'm just saying I don't know how many minutes we'll use it."
Generally speaking, the Greek team executes with tremendous confidence when playing from ahead. But when it falls behind, it often falls apart. Yes, the Greeks looked very good and very tough against Germany, but they looked dreadful in the second half of their Olympic opener, a 15-point loss to Spain.
Here's a look at their roster, beginning with their probable starting five:
Spanoulis: A better scorer than he was two years ago when he had 22 points in the victory over the U.S. An extremely confident player; sneaky-quick; a go-to guy; the key to their team.
Dimitrios Diamantidis: A left-handed combo guard; an outstanding defender. He can shoot the 3 or go into the post if the Americans put a smaller player on him.
Kostas Tsartsaris: A 6-foot-10 power forward, one of three Greek national team members who play professionally for Panathinaikos. A glue guy who can hit 3s and free throws.
Panagiotis Vasilopoulos: A small forward who plays for Panathinaikos' main rival, Olympiacos (the team that recently signed Josh Childress). "He's a slashing guy, and nobody really talks about him, but he's good," chief U.S. scout Tony Ronzone said Wednesday.
Andreas Glyniadakis: May start at center, although Yannakis also could opt to start Sofoklis Schortsanitis. Glyniadakis played briefly for the Seattle SuperSonics and won a D-League title with Albuquerque. In a nutshell, he is the designated enforcer.
Sofoklis Schortsanitis: Has the widest body of anyone in the Olympic men's basketball tournament. Killed the U.S. on the pick-and-roll in Japan, but can play only short bursts because he's poorly conditioned. In Greece he's known as Baby Shaq.
Antonis Fotsis: Played briefly for Memphis. Started against Spain and came off the bench against Germany. "The key with him, he's soft," Ronzone said. "But if he's like Carlos Delfino, a guy who if he makes his first two shots, he's on. If he misses, you've got him."
Theo Papaloukas: The backup point guard, a savvy veteran who backs up J.R. Holden for Euroleague champion CSKA Moscow. At 6-7, his size will give Deron Williams and Chris Paul problems on post-up plays, but his outside shot is flat. Will be on the floor if the game is close at the end.
Nikolaos Zisis: Plays both guard spots (his pro team is CSKA Moscow), can shoot the 3 but rarely looks to score. Was knocked out of the 2006 worlds by a particularly nasty elbow from Anderson Varejao.
Ioannis Bourousis: A 7-foot-1 center who also plays for Olympiacos and is a threat from 3-point range. A key component of the Greek team's depth.
Michail Pelekanos: A 6-foot-9 backup forward. He's a Greek version of Tayshaun Prince, though he has been the 12th man in these Olympics.
Georgios Printezis: Another backup forward who probably won't get off the bench. San Antonio drafted him in the 58th spot in 2007, and Toronto acquired his rights.
Chris Sheridan is an ESPN.com Insider. He has covered the U.S. senior national team since the 1996 Olympics. To e-mail Chris, click here.
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