U.S. basketball team’s loss, first in 13 years, raises doubts about world title hopes

MELBOURNE, Australia — The World Cup is a week away, and the United States is no lock for gold. Australia delivered that message to the world Saturday.

For the first time in nearly 13 years, a U.S. roster of NBA players played an international game — and lost. Former St. Mary’s guard Patty Mills scored 30 points, and Australia rallied from a 10-point deficit in the second half to stun the Americans 98-94 and snap a record 78-game U.S. winning streak that started with the bronze-medal game at the 2006 world championships.

After the 2006 world championships, the Americans went unbeaten through the cycles for the 2007 FIBA Americas, 2008 Olympics, 2010 World Cup, 2012 Olympics, 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.

Kemba Walker scored 22 points for the U.S., and former Warriors forward Harrison Barnes had 20. Former Warriors center Andrew Bogut scored 16 points for Australia. Attendance was 52,079, the biggest crowd to watch a basketball game in Australia — breaking the record of 51,218 set during the Americans’ 102-86 victory over Australia on Thursday.

U.S. coach Gregg Popovich downplayed the momentous loss, the first ever for the U.S. against Australia.

“Some of it is expected with a new group that’s trying to learn about each other and learn a system,” Popovich said. “So it’s not surprising. But the Aussies gave us a great lesson as far as where we want to be and how you have to play in this kind of a competition.”

But it further underlines the weaknesses of the U.S. roster. Star after NBA star removed themselves from consideration for the World Cup roster, and the Americans were dealt a further blow Saturday when Kyle Kuzma of the Los Angeles Lakers, who did not play against Australia, pulled out with a left ankle injury.

USA Basketball is No. 1 in FIBA’s world rankings, but so far in the run-up to this World Cup the Americans have not looked like world beaters. They beat Spain by nine in Anaheim on Aug. 16, needed a big second half to defeat Australia by 16 on Thursday, and then let a sizable second-half lead slip away Saturday.

Barnes, Marcus Smart (who had been out with a calf strain), Khris Middleton, Donovan Mitchell and Myles Turner were the starters for the U.S. on Saturday. Others on the final roster: Guards Walker, Joe Harris and Derrick White; forwards Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum; and centers Brook Lopez and Mason Plumlee.

What are the Amercans up against at the World Cup, which begins Saturday in China? Serbia has already made very clear it expects to win gold. NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo will lead Greece. France figures to have a medal shot.

Now, with the Australians knowing they can beat the U.S., the tournament will begin with no shortage of realistic title hopefuls.

This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/U-S-basketball-team-s-loss-first-in-13-years-14376343.php.

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