And now all eyes are on Team Canada.
Now that the Team USA men’s national basketball team has easily disposed of the FIBA’s No. 1 rated Spain team with a 98-88 victory in exhibition play on Sunday, the only question remaining is exactly which country’s basketball team has a fighting chance against these clear-cut juggernauts.
Spain was Team USA’s toughest test after blowout victories over Puerto Rico and the Luka Doncic-less Slovenian national team. Despite several ugly stretches of play featuring uncharacteristic turnovers and allowed baskets at the rim, the Americans handled the Spaniards in Madrid with two more Showcase exhibition games before FIBA World Cup play officially begins on Aug. 27.
And while Anthony Edwards is the stand-alone most talented player on Team USA’s roster, it was Knicks point guard and starting USA floor general Jalen Brunson whose play swung the game in America’s favor.
The Spanish national team suffered a huge blow when longtime floor general and Cleveland Cavaliers backup point guard Ricky Rubio withdrew from both World Cup play and the Cavaliers season citing mental health issues. Against a less experienced Spanish starting point guard, Brunson attacked all night, tallying a game-high 21 points.
The Knicks guard scored 16 in the first half alone and rounded-out his performance with 5 assists and 4 rebounds.
Team USA took a 55-45 lead into the half, courtesy of Brunson’s explosive scoring, but shortly thereafter coughed up the advantage. Spain took a 68-64 lead in the third quarter, thanks primarily to sloppy play from the Americans.
Team USA, however, responded with timely baskets from Nets stars Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson. Johnson made all three of his attempts from downtown and hit a top-of-the-key beam to end a 9-0 Spain run. Bridges got into early foul trouble and was whistled for an unsportsmanlike foul three minutes into the first quarter. He sat until midway through the second then found his way into the game, finishing with 10 points after hitting a huge catch-and-shoot three to give the USA an 81-77 lead.
Former Knicks big man Willy Hernangomez and his brother and former Denver Nuggets forward Juancho Hernangomez started in the front court for Spain, and former Portland Trail Blazers forward Rudy Fernandez gave the Spanish team a spark off the bench. The Hernangomez brother did damage in the paint against a Team USA roster whose starting lineup lacks size at the three and four with Bridges and Brandon Ingram.
The former NBA players combined for 24 points, with the bigger center Willy Hernangomez tallying 13 points.
Knicks forward Josh Hart rested Team USA’s first game and has played sparing minutes in each of the last two on the outside of Kerr’s regular rotation.
Slovenia will assuredly play better when Doncic returns to the lineup, but it’s Team Canada’s roster littered with NBA players that could be the USA’s toughest challenge. Canada’s team is headlined by another Knicks star — R.J. Barrett, who shot 13-of-14 in Canada’s win over Greece.
Other notable players on Team Canada are Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, ex-Memphis Grizzlies forward and current Houston Rocket Dillon Brooks, Dallas Mavericks big man Dwight Powell, and Thunder guard Lugentz Dort.
For the third game in a row, Team USA head coach Steve Kerr has gone to the three-guard lineup of Brunson, Pacers All-Star Tyrese Haliburton and Edwards, the Timberwolves superstar making strides on the defensive end during this FIBA stretch.
Haliburton logged 12 assists, Brunson finished with a game-high 21 points and Edwards starred in a featured role on both ends of the floor.
Team USA has gone 3-0 to open their Showcase with two more games left on the docket. They will fly to Abu Dhabi for matchups against Greece on Aug. 18 and Germany on Aug. 20. They will open the FIBA World Cup in the Philippines on Aug. 26 against New Zealand, then face Greece again on Aug. 28 and Jordan on Aug. 30.