The U.S. men’s basketball team’s 98-94 exhibition loss to Australia on Saturday snapped a 78-game win streak in major international tournaments and exhibitions, a first defeat for a roster of NBA players since the 2006 FIBA World Championship.
The U.S. led by as much as 10 in the third quarter before an Australian team sparked by San Antonio Spurs guard Patty Mills rallied in Melbourne for an eye-opening result one week before the FIBA World Cup starts.
The U.S. is still favored to win the World Cup, where the top two teams from North and South America will qualify for the 2020 Olympics in the first of multiple chances to grab a Tokyo Games spot. But, with a roster missing NBA superstars like LeBron James and Stephen Curry, there is a much smaller margin of error for new coach Gregg Popovich.
“Nobody wins forever,” Popovich said, according to USA Basketball. “The Aussies gave us a great lesson as far as where we have to be and how we have to play in this kind of competition.”
The 13 finalists for the 12-man World Cup roster include one Olympian (Harrison Barnes) and two 2019 NBA All-Stars (captain Kemba Walker and Khris Middleton)
“They say Team USA doesn’t lose. I get it. They haven’t lost in a very long time, which I understand, but it happens,” Walker said. “These guys [Australia] have been playing with each other for a very long time. Us? We’re just kind of beginning.”
It has become custom for the World Cup team to include few Olympians. The 2014 roster included two players from the London Olympics (Anthony Davis, James Harden). The 2010 World Cup team had zero Beijing Olympians.
Many notables dropped out of roster consideration before or during this month’s training camp and practices: including Olympians Davis, Harden, Kevin Love and Kyle Lowry. James, Curry and others withdrew before the camp roster was named, some citing a need for offseason rest.
The last string of defeats in 2004 and 2006, the most recent loss being the 2006 Worlds semifinals to Greece, spurred the Redeem Team, an effort by NBA superstars to show up for the 2008 Olympics after previous teams lacked some of the top players. Under coach Mike Krzyzewski, the U.S. won three straight Olympic titles and back-to-back world titles.
During the 78-game win streak with NBA players, the U.S. has lost games with rosters including non-NBA players, notably at recent Pan American Games and in FIBA World Cup qualifying. And this U.S. team of NBAers lost at least one training camp scrimmage against a group including G-League players last week.
Australia had never beaten the U.S. in more than 20 games at the top senior level.
“Some of it is expected, with a new group that’s trying to learn about each other and learn the system, so it’s not surprising,” said Popovich, who is going into his first tournament since succeeding Krzyzewski. “The Aussies give us a great lesson as far as where we want to be and how you have to play in this kind of a competition.”
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