Young US NBA stars rout Puerto Rico in World Cup tuneup

AFP , Tuesday 8 Aug 2023

Anthony Edwards and Cameron Johnson each scored 15 points to lead a young United States NBA squad over Puerto Rico 117-74 on Monday and conclude Basketball World Cup training camp.

United States' Mikal Bridges (5) dunks over Puerto Rico's Tremont Waters (51) during the first half of an exhibition basketball game Monday, Aug. 7, 2023, in Las Vegas. Photo: AP


Mikal Bridges scored 14 points, Jaren Jackson Jr. added 12 points and Jalen Brunson, Bobby Portis and Brandon Ingram each contributed 11 as the Americans launched a five-game exhibition tour in Las Vegas with a blowout.

"We've jelled really fast as a team. It shows the way we play the game," said Los Angeles Lakers guard Austin Reaves, who had nine points, four rebounds and four assists.

"We know we have a lot of talent and we can do a lot of great things but it's all about becoming one unit and going and playing for one another."

NBA All-Star guard Tyrese Haliburton of Indiana passed off a game-high 12 assists while New York guard Brunson grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds.

NBA All-Star guard Edwards of Minnesota made a game-high four steals while Brooklyn forward Johnson had six rebounds.

Reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year Jackson of Memphis, the league's top shot blocker each of the past two seasons, had seven rebounds and two blocks.

NBA 2022 All-Defensive Team swingman Bridges of Brooklyn had three steals and five rebounds in a team-best 23 minutes.

New Orleans forward Ingram, the NBA's 2020 Most Improved Player, had five rebounds and three assists.

The squad also includes 2023 NBA Rookie of the Year Paolo Banchero, a forward for Orlando, and forward Portis, who helped Milwaukee win the 2021 NBA crown.

The rout came ahead of the global showdown in Asia that starts this month, when the Americans will face New Zealand, Greece and Jordan in Group C games at Manila.

The US squad of NBA players in their 20s, coached by Golden State coach Steve Kerr, will play at Malaga against Slovenia on Saturday and Spain on Sunday, and then face Greece on August 18 and Germany on August 20 at Abu Dhabi.

The Americans, 2010 and 2014 champions, hope to bounce back from a humbling seventh-place showing at the 2019 Basketball World Cup, their worst showing in 15 major tournaments since NBA players began competing for the US national squad with the "Dream Team" at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

The US lineup made 48 of 85 shots from the floor but struggled from the three-point range, connecting on only six of 27 from beyond the arc.

The Americans grabbed a 50-43 half-time advantage, led by nine points off the bench from Reaves.

Speed and tight defending will be hallmarks for the US team, which went on a 20-0 run for a 94-61 lead early in the fourth quarter on the way to closing out a lopsided triumph.

'Good first test'

Grant Hill, managing director of the US national team, said having a young roster of mostly US national team newcomers is crucial for long-term development.

"We've got to get young players into the pipeline," Hill said. "They've given their time and sacrificing their summer. We've had a great camp. Guys buying in, playing hard, building that camaraderie and trust.

"It was a little tight out there in the first half but you don't play for a gold medal now. You want to keep improving, keep getting better. This is a good first test for us."

Hill admitted recruiting talent is among his harder tasks, especially when it's not for an Olympic squad.

"The World Cup is not valued here as much as the Olympics," Hill said. "So getting guys to be excited is a little bit different. Next summer it will be a little easier."

That's when the US NBA stars will go to Paris and try to capture a fifth consecutive Olympic gold medal.

Tremont Waters, a guard with 40 games of NBA experience, led Puerto Rico with 17 points.

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