EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) — The U.S. and Spain are facing off Friday night, a matchup of the two top-ranked basketball teams in the world and a possible precursor to a medal-round meeting next month at the World Cup.
That might sound exciting.
To the teams, not so much.
Both the Americans and the Spaniards are going into the game in Anaheim feeling the same way — that they are still in the formative stage, working out kinks on the way to setting a final roster. That’s why the teams also are making this much clear: What they show Friday won’t be what they’re hoping to show in China when the World Cup gets going.
“For sure, it won’t be on our side,” Spain coach Sergio Scariolo said. “We still have 14 players. Not all of our players are in 100 percent shape yet, and most of them are kind of in a load management in terms of their playing time. I think it’s going to be a nice game between good teams … but the final product, not at all.”
Spain worked out Thursday at a high school in Playa Del Rey, while the Americans went through their last practice on U.S. soil back at the Los Angeles Lakers’ practice facility. It’s expected that the U.S. will have most of its 15 remaining players available Friday — Boston’s Marcus Smart (who did some on-court work Thursday) probably won’t play while he works his way back from a calf strain, and Denver’s Mason Plumlee left practice Thursday after his mouth got bloodied.
The Americans will leave for Australia on Saturday. The 12-man roster for China won’t be set when that plane takes off; the U.S. plan is to take at least 14 players to Australia for three exhibitions and at least three practices there, then set the final World Cup squad before heading to Shanghai around Aug. 28.
So Friday will be in part about evaluation, part about experience.
“We just want to get better,” U.S. coach Gregg Popovich said. “We’re trying to form a basketball team. So familiarity and camaraderie is important, understanding who they’re playing with, what each other does on the court, that’s all new to our guys. Understanding how we want to play and the system we think we need to play to win, just taking further steps hopefully without skipping any.”
The U.S. is ranked No. 1 in the world by basketball governing body FIBA, while Spain is ranked No. 2. Spain’s roster features Marc Gasol of the NBA champion Toronto Raptors, plus Phoenix guard Ricky Rubio and former NBA guard and longtime Spanish national-team standout Rudy Fernandez.
DURANT, GREEN VISIT
The U.S. practice Thursday had a couple of visitors — Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant and Golden State’s Draymond Green. Durant, the MVP of the 2010 World Cup gold-medal run for the U.S., milled about and addressed players. Green exchanged a warm hug with his Warriors coach and U.S. assistant, Steve Kerr.