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USA vs New Zealand FIBA Preview: Let the official games begin

Can Team USA’s overwhelming firepower lead them to a dominant victory past the New Zealand Tall Blacks?

2023 FIBA World Cup - USA Senior Men’s National Team v Germany Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

MANILA, Philippines — After two and half weeks of preparation and exhibition games, Team USA officially begins their bid for their sixth FIBA World Cup title against the New Zealand Tall Blacks on Saturday in Manila, Philippines.

This will be the first of three games that Team USA will partake in the group phase round. For them to advance to group phase two, the Americans will have to finish as one of the top two teams in their group (Group C) which also consists of Greece and Jordan — two of the countries that Team USA will face in the following days.

The Tall Blacks enter the tournament ranked 26th in the FIBA World standings and currently don’t have a single NBA player on their roster, as Memphis Grizzlies center Steven Adams won’t suit up due to a knee injury.

Still, New Zealand’s team core is very much intact under head coach Pero Cameron’s leadership, and two of the advantages they have over the United States are the continuity and identity they’ve built as a unit over the past couple of years. Expect the Kiwis to come out of the gates with their usual high-paced style that involves a lot of running and scoring.

That said, this matchup for the United States is probably going to be one of their easiest tasks for the tournament. Team USA may not have the continuity that some teams in the tournament possess but they simply have the most talented roster (at least on paper) which will be enough for them to leave the Mall of Asia Arena on Friday with a blowout victory.

Aside from this game being the first FIBA game that actually counts for Team USA, there are also a couple of storylines worth following in this one. Two of those are:

How sharp does Team USA really look?

Team USA swept all five of their exhibition games, sending a message to the world that they’re indeed the team to beat in the tournament. However, according to head coach Steve Kerr, their goal wasn’t to prove just that but rather to get accustomed to the FIBA style of play and build enough continuity as a unit in order to be the best version of themselves.

After Team USA’s first practice in Manila last Wednesday, Kerr mentioned that he was satisfied with how that process panned out and that the team is heading at the right direction:

And so did our very own Austin Reaves:

So now, it’s going to be interesting to see how sharp Team USA looks as a unit in their first match against the Tall Blacks. Have they completely gotten used to the FIBA style of play? Has Kerr stabilized his lineups and rotation? Has the team’s overall chemistry developed? Is there an apparent improvement in how the team has adjusted to Kerr’s system and philosophies? We’ll get all our answers on Friday.

Who’s going to lead the charge?

In his press conference last Thursday, Team USA captain Jalen Brunson stated that what makes this corresponding unit unique is that any player from the roster — from top to bottom — can shine on any given night.

It was Anthony Edwards who stood out as the team’s best player during the exhibition games — followed by Reaves (no, we’re not biased here), Tyrese Haliburton, Paolo Banchero, Mikal Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. But now that the games count more than ever, the question is who will shine the brightest among the 12 Americans?

Will Edwards continue to prove that he’s indeed the best player on the team? Or is Brunson correct in stating that there’s going to be a different hero leading the charge every night? Who’s going to be that against New Zealand on Friday? That’s certainly one compelling storyline worth following.

And as for Reaves, well, he clearly proved in the exhibition games why he deserved a spot on the roster. In those five tune-up games, the sophomore guard averaged 11.4 points, 2.4 rebounds on 60.6% shooting from the field and 57.1% from the three-point line in 16.8 minutes. Kerr has shown a lot of trust in the guard over the past two weeks, given that he’s closed out games for Team USA. Will his ascendance continue under the bright lights in Manila?

We’ll see how Reaves and Team USA perform tomorrow against New Zealand. Let the games begin!

Notes and Updates:

  • After spraining his ankle against Germany last week, Anthony Edwards is expected to suit up For Team USA, according to Steve Kerr. Everyone on the team is healthy and ready to go.
  • One fun fact about Team USA: They have the chance to make history in this year’s World Cup tournament if they win gold, as they will be the first country to have six Basketball World Cup titles under their belt. Team USA is also the current leader in the all-time medal hunt, with 12 medals on their resume.
  • Besides Team USA’s battle against New Zealand, look out for the match between Greece and Jordan (who both, as mentioned above, are in the same group as Team USA) that will tip off at 1:45 a.m. PT.

Team USA and New Zealand will tip off at 5:30 a.m. PT on Saturday, Aug. 26. The game will be exclusively televised on ESPN 2.

You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani

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