Nothin' but Net: Unlikely heroes carry Team USA

Updated: 9/04/2014 10:45 am

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Philadelphia, PA ( - If you would have told me the USA Basketball team would be undefeated in Group C play of the FIBA World Cup, I'd have yawned.

If you told me the reason for the team's success rested on the frontcourt, that would catch my eye.

Consider my beautiful baby blues caught.

On a team featuring four elite guards - James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Derrick Rose and Steph Curry - the grunts in the paint have proved to be difference makers.

The Americans are making minced meat of their opponents and the primary reason has been the big-man trio of Anthony Davis, Kenneth Faried and DeMarcus Cousins.

This group first established itself against Turkey on Sunday as the Turks built a five-point lead by halftime. The United States, led primarily by Faried, won the third quarter by 11, then beat the tar out of Turkey in the fourth for a 22-point victory.

Faried finished with 22 points and eight rebounds in the game, but 14 of those points came after the break.

"Kenneth changed the game," said Harden, arguably the team's best player. "With his intensity, his defensive effort, his hustle plays, block shots - he did everything tonight. That kind of got us going a little bit."

Davis was no slouch against Omer Asik and Turkey. He scored all 19 of his points in the second half and that game brought the American frontcourt to the forefront.

"I thought Kenneth and Anthony in the second half played at an extremely high level," USA coach Mike Krzyzewski said.

Cousins finished with 11 points, the only bench player in double figures.

The Turkey game brought these men into the limelight, but they have been sensational throughout the tournament.

Against the Dominican Republic on Wednesday, Faried led the way, followed by Cousins off the bench.

On a team in which everyone is giving the ball up at will, it's pretty telling that the squad's two leading scorers are Davis (16.8 ppg) and Faried (14.8 ppg).

Faried has been the real revelation in this tournament.

His 7.8 rebounds per game lead the American side and rank him 10th in the tournament. Faried has always been known as an energy guy, sometimes at the expense of appreciating his skill set. He's an above-average defender and wonderful transition guy.

In this tournament, Faried is shooting a preposterous 78.4 percent from the field. Numbers are inflated in fast-break blowouts, but Faried has been a dominant force. His defense and enthusiasm have defined the Americans' best performances.

"I just love to play basketball," Faried said after the win against Turkey. "Every time I step on the basketball court, you never know it could be your last game, so I like to play my hardest in every game. When you love the game like that, it tends to reward you back."

That reward appears to be in the form of a new contract. Reports state Faried and the Denver Nuggets are negotiating an extension. There would need to be one in place by Oct. 31, Halloween as some like to call it, or Faried would become a restricted free agent after the season.

His attitude is infectious, but in a good way, not a poison oak way. Teams win games with and because of players like Faried. The timing couldn't be more perfect for the big man to iron out financial figures.

Plus, another thing to like about Faried is that he's loyal. He wants to stay with the Nuggets above all and admitted that trade rumors last season, most notably to the New York Knicks for Iman Shumpert, bothered him.

If Faried has been a bit of a surprise (and it was since he was not quite a mortal lock to make this team at the beginning of training camp), Davis' emergence as a force was more predictable than the plot of a romantic comedy.

He was the only big man of worth in Las Vegas after Kevin Love, Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge bailed. Everyone knew Davis might have to play heavy minutes, or at least what passes as heavy minutes for a U.S. team that is throttling everyone.

Davis leads Team USA in scoring and blocked shots. He's second in rebounding and shooting 61.9 percent, which is great, but looks like rubbish next to the 70-plus percent shooting of Faried and Cousins.

Davis is the next great superstar in the NBA. He made the All-Star team in just his second season and when he puts a full, injury-free campaign together, hold on to your hat.

At 21, Davis is the guy immediately after LeBron James and Kevin Durant in terms of who front-office guys would start a team with right now. In a league dominated by wings and points, Davis could start a big-man revolution for the New Orleans Pelicans.

And Cousins is not to be overlooked. He took the backup big role by the throat and was a huge reason the U.S. squad played so well over the Dominican Republic on Wednesday.

Cousins is someone who can really benefit from this experience. He needs to grow up. He led the NBA in fouls per game last season and shared the lead in technical fouls. Cousins led the league in techs in 2012-13. He was second in 2011-12 and fifth in 2010-11. That's not a good situation to be trending up.

By being around such a professional group, and coached by one of, if not the best basketball coach in history, Cousins should take the lessons learned from Coach K and take it with him to the Sacramento Kings. Sitting at the foot of Krzyzewski is a unique experience. He has now seen how truly elite professional leaders work and he can translate that into a smarter, bigger role guiding the Kings.

"It's extremely fun, it makes your job easier, but at the same time it's a different thing because there's so much talent in one group you have to put your game aside to make another guy and vice-versa," Cousins said. "So it's a unique experience and I'm enjoying it."

The fact that this trio has played such a huge role for the Americans is surprising more because of the strength of the U.S. backcourt. In free-for-all games, which is what these one-sided affairs turn into, guards dominate the ball.

But this trifecta has become the focal point of the offense. Coach K acknowledged the team is trying to utilize the post more in the last two games.

The way Faried, Davis and Cousins have played might be a little shocking, but these three didn't find their way on to the team as a lark. The little secret everyone knows is that if the United States finds its way to the championship, the home nation of Spain is probably waiting. The Spaniards feature Marc and Pas Gasol, alongside Serge Ibaka. That's three legit stud big men, so the Americans will have to counter.

Coach K dismissed any overture that the team went big because of a future tango with Spain, but the prominent way he's using them can't be side-stepped like he's dodging a land mine.

Team USA needs those three bigs to play as big as they have when Spain becomes the opposition. It's a fact and to date Faried, Davis and Cousins have given America the boost it needs and the boost it will need to win the gold.

It's just been a little surprising.


- If this hasn't been the slowest news week for NBA info, I don't remember a worse one.

- Kevin Durant and Nike stay together. Thank God. Only took $300 million to do it, but Durant is staying put. Sneaker deals do not excite and won't unless my son signs a big one in 20 years.

- Ryan Anderson of the Pelicans was cleared for contact after cervical spine surgery. That was some scary stuff and I don't think people realize the talent of Anderson. He averaged 19.8 ppg and 6.5 rpg and shot 40 percent from 3-point range in his 22 games last season.

- Movie moment - "The Unauthorized Saved By The Bell Story" is on my DVR begging for two spare hours.

- TV moment - I'm not the hippest cat in the cafe, but I know a little something about pop culture. I had to Google six of the 14 "stars" on the upcoming season of "Dancing with the Stars." Time to put that dog down.

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