With few challenges, U.S. wins and bears it

BILBAO, Spain -- An unmistakable problem has arisen for Team USA here in sunny España at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

The other problem, we mean, besides the fact that the Americans' old friends from the host ‎country have looked so dangerous so far in this tournament.

Spain's prowess is obviously the biggest worry for Team USA on Spanish soil, but the more pressing trouble for the NBA stars in red, white and blue is that there's really no way they can make any significant statements or impress the outside world in the first eight games of the nine needed overall to win the whole thing.

The unfortunate reality is that, in its first eight games, Team USA can probably only disappoint or underwhelm the masses with an off night.

That's the downside to having such a favorable draw in a 24-team event where only the eventual champion will automatically qualify for the 2016 Olympics. There simply isn't any opponent among the other 11 teams on the USA's half of the bracket, no matter how hard you look, against whom the Yanks can give their wow factor a significant spike by playing really well.

If they struggle for three quarters before finally putting away the opposition, as seen Sunday against Turkey, borderline panic ensues. If they uncork the expected rout, as seen here Wednesday in a 106-71 runaway against the Dominican Republic that clinched first place in Group C, their performance is greeted with shrugs.

On the same night Spain generated a fresh round of raves up and down the country by crushing France -- to go with an earlier dismantling of a dangerous Brazil team -- Team USA had to rouse itself out of what DeMarcus Cousins termed a "lazy and lethargic start" against the Dominicans.

Which isn't so easy when you know there's no real chance you'll get punished no matter how long it takes to do the rousing.

"At that point, it's more about us," said Team USA center Anthony Davis. "It's more about what we do. It's not even about the other team."

Said coach Mike Krzyzewski: "For me [in those situations], I look for togetherness. Effort. How we share the ball. ... I thought everyone left the court [against the Dominicans] feeling good about how they played."

Maybe so, but there's no denying that signing up for Team USA carries with it a unique pressure, since it's still the only basketball team on Earth besides the Harlem Globetrotters that -- more than two decades removed from the introduction of the original Dream Team -- is never supposed to lose.

Yet what the Americans are faced with in España is an even stranger position than they normally see.

There's simply no country in either Group C or Group D that can pose a legitimate threat to the United States, which can only face a team from Group A or Group B in the Sept. 14 championship game.

And Davis and all his friends know it.

They've already hammered likely Group D winners Slovenia by 30 points in a recent exhibition and are well aware longtime nemesis Lithuania isn't the same threat after losing point guard Mantas Kalnietis just before the World Cup began.

"We expect to win them all," said Team USA power forward Kenneth Faried.

Referring specifically to the Dominicans, Krzyzewski said: "They were shorthanded with [Francisco] Garcia not playing and what happens, I think, sometimes you don’t want to pile it on, but you also don’t have the edge you normally have."

It's not all bad, mind you, on the C/D side of the draw. Those first eight games are undeniably helpful from a continuity perspective for a team that had very little collective experience when it arrived in Gran Canaria some 12 days ago. Every second of shared court time helps leading up to the showdown with a Spanish machine that's been a unit for years.‎

"We’re all really talented players," said Team USA reserve guard Klay Thompson, "but we’ve only been playing together for a few weeks now."

o it's clearly going to be a challenge on multiple fronts, should they face Spain as expected in the title match, to step up and neutralize what appears to be the Spaniards' best-ever ‎squad. This edition of Team USA, besides the continuity concerns and its long list of high-profile absentees, will have seen very little at Spain's level for preparation purposes on the way there.

"We have a lot of depth and we love proving people wrong," Thompson countered, insisting that these are all problems this group can handle.

"A lot of people out there are writing us off, thinking we’re in Spain and not having the international experience of past teams is going to be a problem," Thompson continued. "As long as we play hard, we’re too talented to not do well in this tournament."

Adds his Golden State teammate Steph Curry: "We have high expectations for sure, so we know that the [first] half we played against Turkey was a little suspect. And we need to play better coming out at the start of these games. But we are very confident and haven't wavered in that confidence‎."