Big names out as Boomers tackle USA
The waiting is over.
Tonight, in front of 60,000 fans, Australia’s basketball elite will play one of the most important games on home soil in quite some time.
The Boomers will host Team USA at Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium in the first of two friendlies ahead of the World Cup in China.
But we use the term “friendlies” loosely.
If you think these games don’t matter, you’re kidding yourself.
The Boomers are missing some big names, most notably Ben Simmons, who pulled out of the series after signing a $240 million contract with the Philadelphia 76ers.
They’re also missing Jonah Bolden, the son of NBL royalty Bruce Bolden and a rising star in his own right.
NBA talent including Dante Exum (injury) Ryan Broekhoff (birth of his child) and Thon Maker (NBA commitments) round out the notable omissions.
But the Boomers will still be formidable.
The visitors are missing stars of their own — plenty of them. James Harden, Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard are out, but in their place are hungry, young talents desperate to shine at an international level.
This is everything you need to know ahead of tonight’s game one.
Kemba Walker will lead Team USA. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)Source:AP
THE BOOMERS ARE SERIOUS
Just ask USA head coach Gregg Popovich.
At training yesterday, the San Antonio Spurs mastermind known simply as “Pop” led the squad through a light workout in front of the media.
He was keen to stress that Team USA will not be taking the Boomers lightly.
“They are one of the teams that can win the whole thing, without a doubt,” Popovich said, referring to the World Cup. “I’m not saying that because I’m here (in Melbourne). It’s just a fact.”
Popovich knows first hand what Australia’s NBA talent brings to the table. He’s coached guard Patty Mills for years and also had new Phoenix Suns recruit and Boomers centre Aron Baynes in San Antonio.
“They’ve been close for several years, and they are hungry,” he said. “They are talented. Coach (Andrej) Lemanis does a good job, and they are a team.
“They are together. They know what they are doing. They execute really well, so that’s what it takes. They have the toughness and physicality to go with it. I think they are one of the top contenders without a doubt.”
Australia will likely start Mills and Cleveland Cavaliers guard Matthew Dellavedova at the guard spots with Joe Ingles at small forward and a combination of Baynes and Andrew Bogut or newcomer Jock Landale.
Landale, who played college basketball at St Mary’s in northern California, impressed during summer league play with the Milwaukee Bucks recently.
At 208cm, he has the size to match it with Team USA’s bigs, but experience may leave him wanting.
Australian basketball players Andrew Bogut, Joe Ingles, Patty Mills, Matthew Dellavedova and Aron Baynes. Picture: Alex CoppelSource:News Corp Australia
TEAM USA IS HUNGRY
When the big names pulled the plug on the World Cup exhibition friendlies, the door opened for up-and-coming talent to walk straight in.
Team USA will be led by new Boston Celtics point guard and NBA All-Star Kemba Walker, but behind him there is not great depth of experience.
Explosive Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell can torch teams, as he showed during the Jazz’s playoff run two years ago by dropping 38 points in a Game 6 against Oklahoma City to eliminate Russell Westbrook and Co.
Khris Middleton was an All-Star last season for Milwaukee and Jayson Tatum, Boston’s third overall pick in 2017, has shown he has an offensive skill-set that holds up against the world’s best defenders.
Jayson Tatum will be hard to stop. Picture: Marcio Jose Sanchez/APSource:AP
KEY MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Who guards Kemba Walker? That job likely falls to arguably Australia’s feistiest player.
Dellavedova will be asked to match up with the former Charlotte Hornets guard to start the game, but there are a host of capable backups eager to take on the challenge of slowing Walker down.
Mitch Creek is a world-class defender and Nathan Sobey will get his chance, too.
Patty Mills will be asked to corral Donovan Mitchell — a man who yesterday told reporters he’ll be trying to throw one down on Jazz teammate Joe Ingles if he gets the chance.
On the other side of the ball, no Australian wants to see Marcus Smart. Named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team last season, the Boston Celtics stopper is a menace.
Khris Middleton and Ingles will square off to start the game. Both are long-distance marksmen so a shootout could ensue. Ingles will also get a look at Tatum and Kyle Kuzma.
Aron Baynes will try to guard one of Team USA’s stretch big men. Myles Turner and Brook Lopez can both shoot the long ball, meaning Baynes can’t park his giant frame in the painted area and body up.
Andrew Bogut and Jock Landale will likely play on Miles Plumlee when he enters the game.
Joe Ingles likes to chat on the court. Picture: Richard WainwrightSource:AAP
EXPECT THINGS TO GET CHIPPY
If there’s one thing that you can guarantee tonight, it’s that Joe Ingles will be talking.
Mitchell told reporters yesterday he expects it, but that he won’t let the self-described trash talker get under his skin.
“I don’t think he’ll get under my skin because I’ll probably start laughing,” Mitchell said. “But he’s definitely one of those guys that gets you irritated.”
We might not see the fireworks from previous encounters — Shane Heal vs Charles Barkley anyone? — but we can always hope.
WHEN IS IT AND HOW CAN I WATCH?
Tip-off for the first of two contests in Melbourne is 7.30pm at Marvel Stadium, a venue traditionally reserved for Aussie Rules football.
The game will be broadcast live on SBS Viceland and SBS On Demand.
Game Two is Saturday at Marvel Stadium at 2pm and it will also be broadcast on the same channels.
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