Angelenos received an Olympics primer and a rare treat when a group of future basketball hall-of-famers teamed up at the Staples Center on Sunday to trounce Team China, 106-57. Since the scrimmage does not affect Olympic play, the 49-point victory only further solidified Team USA as the favorite to win their third gold medal in a row in Rio de Janeiro.
Los Angeles Clippers’ star forward DeAndre Jordan and other first-time Olympians marveled at the magnitude of representing the country on the sports world’s biggest stage.
“It’s a huge honor to be representing the country,” Jordan said. “I’ve dreamt about this since I was a kid watching the Dream Team (1992 Olympic gold medal team). It’s amazing to be a part of, especially with a group of guys like this.”
Team USA guard Kyrie Irving, 24, is one month removed from raising the Larry O’Brien Trophy in Cleveland for the Cavaliers but still able to appreciate the moment.
“I love how basketball can connect and unite a bunch of countries,” he said. “There were a lot of fans coming out here just to see a game of basketball. I mean, we could be anywhere in the world, but here we are to put on a show for our fans in Los Angeles.”
Although the roster is noticeably different from 2012, it’s nothing new to see such a blow out for Team USA considering their average margin of victory was 32 points on their way to gold in London. But that didn’t stop players and coaches from listing adjustments they need to make, such as getting used to new rules, new style of play and the Olympics basketball, which has a different look and “feel” from the regulation NBA ball.
However, according to players and head coach Mike Krzyzewski, the most important adjustment might be getting NBA’s stars to play together as a team. Yet somehow on Sunday the league’s top individual performers played as if they have been teammates their whole careers.
Most months of the year, Team USA players are sworn enemies. Five weeks before the scrimmage at the Staples Center, Irving was battling Team USA shooting guard Klay Thompson, a Los Angeles native, and Team USA forwards Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes in one of the most suspenseful NBA Finals series in league history.
The series before that, Team USA forward Kevin Durant was crushed in a similarly competitive series against Thompson, Green and Barnes in the seven-game Western Conference Finals. Since the NBA season ended in June, Durant led one of the most polarizing free agency signings in league history when he left the Oklahoma City Thunder and signed with the Golden State Warriors.
But on Sunday, fans did not witness any of that. Except for the fans who booed Durant for signing with the Warriors, there were no signs that the 2015-2016 NBA season happened. Team USA united and dominated together.
Jordan said players are able to find continuity so quickly because the Olympics and the pride that players have for the country mean more than the teams that they play for professionally.
“We’ve only been together for a week but it seems like we’ve been teammates for years,” Jordan said. “And it’s great to be around.”
Irving said the scrimmage was a chance for the players “coming from our individual organizations to put it together as soon as we can.”
“Seeing their work ethic, seeing them in a different element other than lining up across from them is awesome,” Irving said. “I’m looking forward to getting to know every single one of these guys.”
He added that many NBA players are often familiar with each other after playing with or against teammates in high school or college.
“So it’s just unique relationships and it’s good to see how close we are already,” he said.
Indiana Pacers all-star guard Paul George, who grew up in Palmdale, said it’s also fun to play with so much talent at once.
“You get to still play your game, but there’s not as much pressure,” he said.
The players give much of the credit for the seamless transition to Krzyzewski, the winningest coach in NCAA history for Duke, who has built a reputation for handling big names like Kobe Bryant, Lebron James and reclaiming the gold medal after USA won bronze in 2004. Krzyzewski said the team of individual stars comes down to each player wanting more for their team than they do individually.
“[Thompson and Durant] are two of the best shooters in the world. So our guys want them to get shots,” he said. “And it’s neat when they do shoot, that the whole bench wants that to happen.”
Krzyzewski said the biggest hurdle for the team is getting to know one another, but that he isn’t too worried about that.
“These guys are good guys so that helps a lot. This is an easy group to get along with,” he said. “We get along because we tell each other the truth and we goof around a little bit and it’s been fun for me.
“And it keeps you young by being around these guys.”
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