From the Cheap Seats
Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor

August 16, 2004 - USA Olympic basketball coach Larry Brown said before his team's humiliating loss to Puerto Rico Sunday that the game wouldn't come down to outside shooting, but it would hinge on his team's defense and ability to play as a team.

Boy, was he wrong - and right.

Those who were surprised by the Puerto Rican's 92-73 victory obviously haven't watched a whole lot of the NBA in the last few years, when the league has turned into a maul-fest, hack-a-lot, Little Dribbler imitation of what it should be.

The game did turn on the United States' inability to hit an outside shot (a paltry 3-of-24 from beyond the 3-point line), but it wasn't helped by a squad that didn't play defense, giving up 90-plus points in a 40-minute game ... to Puerto Rico.

Nothing against the island nation of 4 million people, but the Puerto Ricans are not considered to be among the world's elite basketball teams. Neither should this American team.

Yes, the rest of the world is catching up to the U.S., but the American game is also regressing at an alarming rate. For every step forward the rest of the world is taking in basketball skill, the Americans are taking a step back.

Sure, the good ol' U.S. has the best slam dunkers in the world - when Dwayne Wade powered home a tomahawk slam in the third quarter of Sunday's game, it was awe-inspiring. But all it did was cut the Puerto Rico lead to 21 points.

While the Americans were admiring the dunk, the Puerto Ricans were running the ball back up court and scoring.

While this may be America's "B" team - 12 NBA players declined to play for various reasons - the second-best professional players from the U.S.A. should be able to beat a team whose country has about as many people as the greater Houston area.

What the rest of the world is seeing is the same thing many of us have noticed - the low-scoring contests in the NBA aren't because of exceptional defense, it's because of poor offense and a deteriorating skill level.

There's no question that today's NBA players are better athletes than in years past, but they're not better basketball players.

The international referees actually call the game the way it should be, limiting the physical play. What the Americans are finding out is that when the officials won't let them hold, grab, tug, slap, elbow and knock-down their opponents, they can't play defense.

And when the other team shrugs back into a packed zone defense, the Americans pass the ball about as effectively as Quincy Carter under pressure and shoot it worse than Shawn Bradley on the baseline.

Sunday's game showed what is wrong with American basketball. The best way to tell those were NBA players was at the end of the game when the United States was down by 20 points but it didn't keep Richard Jefferson and his cohorts from still talking trash.

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