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US overcomes slow start to top Lithuania 77-61
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MADRID (AP) — Coach Mike Krzyzewski had no problem identifying what the United States needs to improve ahead of the basketball world championship coming off its 77-61 exhibition victory over Lithuania.
“Everything,” the Duke coach said from Madrid’s “Magic Box” center on Saturday.
The U.S. labored through a poor first period, hitting 3 of 21 from the field and making six turnovers, before settling down and feeding off the energy of its reserves to overcome a tough opponent.
Krzyzewski said it’s all part of the growing process ahead of the Aug. 28-Sept. 12 tournament in Turkey.
“We have to keep improving in every area as a team, including getting to know one another,” he said. “There’s not that continuity or chemistry — there’s the attitude, a great attitude to get to know each other, which is why games like this are so important and the game tomorrow is so important.”
The U.S. plays defending world champion Spain on Sunday in a rematch of the 2008 Olympic final.
The Americans won the gold medal, but not one player from that team is on this one, explaining the early nerves and poor shooting that left the U.S. trailing 15-7 after the first period.
“I thought we were a little tight and they played well defensively,” Krzyzewski said.
The Americans regained their composure against an equally poor-shooting opponent, taking the lead for good at 54-49 after Lithuania was assessed a technical and flagrant foul by Mantas Kalnietis near the end of the third period.
It was part of a 17-0 U.S. run led by Russell Westbrook and Eric Gordon.
Kevin Durant led the U.S. with 15 points, while Linas Kleiza had 12 for Lithuania, which hit 25 of 62 to the Americans’ 27-of-58 shooting.
Rudy Gay’s entry helped spark the U.S. in the first half, but it was the play of Westbrook and Gordon in the third quarter that gave the U.S. cushion it needed. Gay finished with 14 points and five rebounds, and Gordon nine points.
“I thought (Derrick) Rose, Gordon and Gay really picked us up,” Krzyzewski said. “But you have to have that energy at the start of a ball game, we have to start out strong.”
Gay ended a 6-0 run by Lithuania, with the Memphis Grizzlies forward scoring from the right before blocking Paulius Jankunas’ one-handed slam attempt.
Westbrook, who finished with 12 points and five rebounds, also played a key role in his bid to make the team, as Krzyzewski must drop his roster by one player to 12 before the Aug. 28-Sept. 12 worlds in Turkey.
“I try to go out and not pay attention to what’s happening with the cuts and whose getting cut,” said Westbrook, Durant’s teammate on the Oklahoma City Thunder. “The key for me and the rest of the team is coming out and having a defensive mindset. If we defend our offense will take care of itself.”
Part of the early turnover problem was a slippery floor, which Krzyzewski put down to all the recently laid advertising.
“Any court where you just put those logos on, those are dangerous,” Krzyzewski said. “It gets real slippery for the players and tonight the floor was very slippery and that’s a concern. But that’s not why we shot poorly.”
Stephen Curry overcame a left ankle injury to play, but Rose left the game early after getting poked in the eye and would be evaluated Sunday.
Durant said the excitement of getting started in the Spanish capital added to his poor night. He is one of the five 21-year-olds on an inexperienced roster for the U.S., which is trying to win its first world championship title since 1994.
“It was a tough one,” Durant said. “But we fought through it.”