Can Team USA be better than 2008 champs?

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Can Team USA be better than 2008 champs?

From Comcast SportsNet
LAS VEGAS (AP) -- They lost Dwyane Wade but gained Kevin Durant. Dwight Howard's size has given way to Russell Westbrook's speed. The Americans know their men's Olympic basketball team will look much different than the one that captured gold four years ago in Beijing. Three of the most important players from that team were unable to return, but the carryovers keep talking about being better now than they were then. "I think it has the potential to be that if we learn to use our versatility. It's a more versatile team than 2008. Now does that translate into being better?" coach Mike Krzyzewski said Sunday. "Although we don't have the center, that team didn't have Durant or Westbrook. So it's a different team and we'll see if it becomes better, but it can be. It could be." In some ways, that's difficult to envision. Wade was the team's leading scorer, averaging 16 points in just over 18 minutes per game off the bench. Howard started at center and averaged 10.9 points while shooting 74.5 percent from the field. Chris Bosh, also out this summer, backed him up and shot even better, knocking down 24 of 31 shots (77.4 percent) and leading the team with 6.1 rebounds per game. How can any team make up for all that? "Well, we have some guys that can pick that up," LeBron James said. "I mean, D-Wade was our leading scorer, but we didn't have Kevin Durant on our team. We didn't have the activity of Tyson Chandler on our team as well and the athleticism at the point guard position." Westbrook is an offensive upgrade over Jason Kidd, the point guard not back from 08, and is seen by teammates as the player who could most easily fill Wade's role as the game-changer off the bench. As James sees it, Andre Iguodala is more athletic than Tayshaun Prince, and James Harden can do more things offensively than Michael Redd. Prince and Redd, along with Carlos Boozer, were reserves on the 2008 team but were not retained. Kidd retired from international competition after winning two gold medals. "If you match us up, we have so many great pieces that guys can just play to their strengths, and I think we can be better," James said. Having Durant is a start. The NBA's three-time scoring champion had the best tournament ever by an American player at the world basketball championship two years ago, scoring 22.8 points per game. But the biggest difference could be James, who was already a great player in 2008 but has grown into the best in the world by now. Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Deron Williams, the other young players from that team, have made similar leaps toward superstardom, and Kobe Bryant has held steady where he was. "First of all, you have to look at the guys who are with us from the 08 team. They were 21, 22 years old back in Beijing. They're now in the prime of their careers, so they're a lot bigger, stronger, better basketball players today," USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said. "Those players by themselves are much better and I look at the players we've added. We have much more depth, much more talent than we had in 08 when I look at this roster versus that roster, and I'm not looking to make comparisons, but when asked the question, I'll put this team up against anyone." Center remains the biggest question mark. Chandler was the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year and has become more of a weapon offensively in recent years, but he's still not quite Howard. Kevin Love and Blake Griffin will have to show they can handle the move to center as well as Bosh did. The Americans averaged 106.2 points in 2008 and smashed their opponents by nearly 30 per game. Nobody was close to them until the gold-medal game, when Spain was within four points with 2 minutes left before the U.S. pulled away to a 118-107 victory. Playing at that level again won't be easy. So no matter what the expectations are now, none of them matter until the games start in three weeks. "We didn't do nothing yet," Anthony said. "So until we go out there and we win the gold medal, then people are going to talk, going to speculate, but we'll see after we win the gold medal if we determine if we're a better team than 08."

Haggerty: Rask puts up, makes critics shut up

Haggerty: Rask puts up, makes critics shut up

BOSTON -- The decision to sit out Saturday night's game against the Islanders, for whatever issue needed healing, worked wonders for Tuukka Rask.

Rask looked fresh, strong and determined while stopping 24 of 25 shots in a 4-1 win over Nashville on Tuesday night, and, at the very least, temporarily quieting talk of his missing Saturday's win over the Islanders because of a lower-body injury that wasn't disclosed until the day of the game. It also snapped his personal four-game losing streak, in which Rask had allowed 15 goals on 95 shots (an .842 save percentage) and hit rock bottom while surrendering a couple of damaging soft goals in last week's loss to the Lightning.

After watching Anton Khudobin battle, brawl and double-pad-stack his way to a huge win in Brooklyn on Saturday, Rask played with his own battling style Tuesday, fighting through Nashville attackers as he limited the the Preds to one goal.

"I loved [his battle]," said interim coach Bruce Cassidy. "He really worked hard to find pucks in traffic. They created some good opportunities, and even the goal against, he found it. They just tipped it at eye level so it was going to be a tough one, and we need to be better in the shooting lane on that one.

"But I thought he was terrific, very pleased with his performance. If you've got to track pucks, you've got to find pucks and you've got to fight through bodies, and he did a real good job with it.

"I thought we played well in front of him, but when we broke down it seemed to be in those areas where we couldn't break the puck up below our goal line. [There were] lot of bodies, a lot of point shots. This is the type of team, [Ryan] Ellis, [P.K.] Subban, [Roman] Josi, they rely on that part of the game and traffic. It was going to be a test for [the defense] there. I thought [Rask] answered the bell and in a terrific manner."

There were no two ways about it, Rask was truly excellent in a game where he had to be.

He made a save in the second period on Viktor Arvidsson when a David Backes turnover at the half-wall gave Arvidsson a wide open look at the net, and made 9 of his 24 saves in the third period as the Predators ramped up the desperation once Craig Smith had broken through on a tipped Josi shot. He also was the beneficiary of 24 blocked shots from the defenders in front of him. Adam McQuaid had five of the blocks all by himself,  absorbing all kinds of bumps and bruises in the process.

It was clear that the Bruins, as a team, were in late-season urgency mode.

"Well, we needed [a win]," said Rask. "Personally, I mean, I've lost four games but played a couple good games there, and we just didn't get the bounces. But we kind of got in winning habits there in [Broooklyn] and me stepping in here, I just wanted to make sure that I gave us a chance to win. The guys did the rest. So, it was a great team effort today, I think. As I said before, we blocked a lot of shots, which is huge."

So does one solid performance mean everything is settled for the B's No. 1 netminder after sitting out last weekend?

It certainly goes a long way toward putting some distance between Rask and whatever lower-body injury popped up and then disappeared just as quickly, and it puts a bit more of an optimistic spin for the remainder of the season. Rask didn't actively listen to any of the criticism of the last couple of days, but he fully understands that it comes along with the territory of being the No. 1 goalie in a city that takes hockey seriously.

"I can't do anything about what people say," said Rask, who took a pretty good hit on a Predators drive to the net in the third period but kept right on trucking. "I'm not staying home because I want to say home. I'm not playing because I don't want to play. I don't think any athlete does that. Obviously what's happened where I missed a game [vs. Ottawa] last year, people are going to talk about it. That's just the nature of media people, and what they talk about. It's fine.

"[All you can do is] you try not to read any of it, you stay even-keeled and you play the game the right way."

But the bottom line is the Bruins need much more of what they saw from Rask on Tuesday -- determined, tough-minded, a strong No. 1 goalie -- in the final six games if they want to be a playoff team this year.

He played well enough in the first few months, carrying the Bruins through the early portion of the season, to make people forget about calling in sick against Ottawa in the final game of last season. That's to Rask's credit. But last weekend's action, or lack of it, brought some of those same nagging questions back. He needs to build on Tuesday's encouraging performance to continue instilling confidence that he's a big-time No. 1 goalie.

Morning Wrap: Looking at C's potential first-round foes

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Morning Wrap: Looking at C's potential first-round foes

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