USA Basketball wins 80-45 in the United Center


Jul 30

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It may be time for the t-shirts. Or perhaps copyright. Maybe Pat Riley will beat everyone to it as he did with threepeat.

Get ready for the Three Alphas.

“The excitement shows around the city,” Bulls All-Star Jimmy Butler was saying late Friday night about the new look Bulls after the USA Basketball team romped over Venezuela 80-45 in a pre-Olympic exhibition in the United Center. “That’s Chicago sports. I think we are going to play extremely well together, the Three Alphas, as people would call it. I like the direction we are moving. We are already talking, trying to get to know eachother off the floor. Now that we are on the same team we have to get better on the floor. I’m excited. I can’t wait for training camp to get here. I hope I’m on the opposite team so I can guard him (Dwyane Wade).”

Butler, who started and had four points and eight rebounds in the USA victory, made clear his priority for now is an Olympic gold medal with this team. They seem on their way with their fourth straight victory, now by an average of 42 points per game.

This was never much of a contest as afterward even the coach for Venezuela said, “We don’t have a chance; we know that.”

The USA team shot poorly, 42.6 percent and four for 25 on threes. But they were overwhelming, as they’ve been in every game, on the boards with a 54-29 rebounding margin and defensively.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski said the players still are adjusting to the different international ball, which is smoother with more panels. But he said he was confident the team would shoot better the more they played. But their defense, rebounding and effort remained outstanding and would be vital to success.

Krzyzewski praised Butler as one of the team leaders on the defensive end, where Butler has focused for this USA team.

“I saw Jimmy a long time ago at Marquette,” said Krzyzewski. “First of all he’s a great guy and a great teammate; obviously, he’s one of the better players, one of the best players in the NBA. But he’s easy to play with and extremely versatile. I had not seen him in person in a long time. I’m amazed at how much athletic ability and versatility he has. He can guard one through five. That’s a huge plus for our team. He and a few of the other first time guys are being too unselfish offensively. Passing up shots. I’d like to see him shoot it when he feels it. They want to fit together. He’s outstanding; we are lucky to have him.”

The Bulls feel that way as well as their team begins to come together led by Butler, Rajon Rondo and Wade. Earlier Friday, Wade had his introductory press conference with the Bulls and said Butler’s welcome was vital to persuading Wade to sign with the Bulls. Wade also joined Rondo, who came up with the Three Alphas name, in agreeing under constant media inquiries that it is Butler’s team.

That was a tactic used often last season by some in the public and media to try to divide the team in sort of a Shaq and Kobe tug of war. It’s been a regular question at virtually every media session this summer and was again for Butler Friday night after he declined to answer the question at Thursday’s USA media session. Butler continues to try to avoid any informal team hierarchy given the experience and credentials of Wade and Rondo and perhaps given some of the damage it did to the team last season with queries about whether Butler, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah or Pau Gasol were in charge.

Butler rolled his eyes when asked again long after the game in a press conference with Krzyzewski. But trying to be gracious, Butler finally said:

“Is it my team? I guess two of the Three Alphas have said that. I don’t think you will ever hear me say that. But I do need to step up. I need to help us win a lot of games. I’m liking that role as a leader; it’s a lot of pressure. I want that. It’s only going to make me better. But I have a lot of help with Rondo, D-Wade, obviously. You can go down the list, Niko (Mirotic), Doug (McDermott). I think we’re going to have a really good team.”

This USA team is going to be very good even with several top players, like LeBron James and Stephen Curry, opting not to play. Kyrie Irving and Klay Thompson led the USA team Friday with 13 points each, the only two USA players in double figures. But the defense was stifling as Venezuela without any NBA players had 18 points at halftime.

“Obviously, we didn’t hit shots or complete plays as well as we could,” said Krzyzewski. “We played hard for 40 minutes; you get 54 rebounds and you’re playing defense right to the end. That’s what I’m looking for. The fact the ball was not going in did not stop us from giving a quality effort.”

Krzyzewski also said the publicized concerns about Rio de Janeiro are not an issue for him and that seven of his grandchildren are attending along with two of his daughters. He called Rio one of the world’s great cities.

Chicago, of course, agreed the Chicago native, Krzyzewski. And Butler felt the warmth with a rousing welcome before he addressed the crowd pregame with thanks for the support for the USA team.

“Feels good to be back in Chicago, playing before a lot of familiar faces,” said Butler. “New team; did our job, got the win, missed a few shots. But that’s part of the game. We played outstanding defensively, rebounded the ball well. Proud we got the win as a whole and glad to be back. We only have one goal, to win, play incredible basketball as a team. All we talk about is winning the games, winning the gold medal.

“It makes me smile knowing I was a part of Dwyane Wade being here,” Butler added. “I just want to win. Chicago Bulls uniform, USA uniform; that’s what I’ve always been about. All the individual stuff never really mattered. This is like home for me now. I’m glad I got to play here for USA in front of my home crowd; they’ve embraced me since Day 1. I hope they continue to do so. I want to win with the Bulls, win with USA, bring a championship with the Bulls and a gold medal here.

“I’m grateful for the comments they’ve been saying,” Butler added about his new teammates, Wade and Rondo. “I hope I live up to that on the court. I’m ready for that. I working hard enough.”

Krzyzewski then leaned over and said the Bulls probably were looking for more than one 51-point game from Butler this season. Though actually it was 53 over the 76ers last season.

Jimmy was an ox that night, a true Alpha at the beginning of the Bulls new basketball alphabet, one of the Bulls Three Alphas. Which sounds pretty good.

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