Coach K's game plan might start with lineup change

Updated: August 31, 2006, 4:41 PM ET
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN Insider
SAITAMA, Japan -- Coach Mike Krzyzewski plans to change his starting lineup for Team USA's semifinal game against Greece, likely going with Kirk Hinrich and Joe Johnson after they were two of the primary difference-makers in the quarterfinals.

"We're going to switch it up a little bit. We haven't decided on the final lineup yet, but Kirk and Joe could be in there," Krzyzewski told Insider on Thursday.

Kirk Hinrich
AP Photo/Dusan VranicHinrich (left) may have played his way into the starting lineup.

Coach K turned to Hinrich and Johnson at the start of the second half, after the U.S. had a poor first half against Germany, teaming them with Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Dwight Howard.

The move paid immediate dividends, with the Americans turning up their defensive intensity over a key five-minute stretch that changed the complexion of the game. Germany never recovered, and Team USA went on to a 20-point victory that advanced it to a semifinal matchup against the unbeaten Greeks.

"I just wanted to get a more experienced team and change the type of defense. Two of our best defenders are Joe and Kirk. I don't know if they're picked on NBA All-Defensive teams, but for us, we wanted to take a look at a lineup we'd use tomorrow night or Sunday, because we're not locked into anything," Coach K said.

Unlike 2004 U.S. Olympic coach Larry Brown, who went with the same lineup for every game (though he did sub Shawn Marion for Richard Jefferson to start the second half in one game), Krzyzewski has shown no hesitance to shake things up.

Krzyzewski has gone with a starting five of James, Anthony, Chris Paul, Shane Battier and Elton Brand in five of the Americans' seven games, settling on that lineup in Game 2 of the World Championship. The exceptions were when Paul, Anthony, James, Brand and Antawn Jamison started in the opener against Puerto Rico; and in the final first-round game against Senegal, when Coach K started James, Hinrich, Johnson, Jamison and Howard.

Greece will go with one of the bigger lineups the Americans will have faced in the entire tournament, and Krzyzewski will have to find ways to counter the size Greece coach Panagiotis Yannikis has been employing since losing shooting guard Nikos Zisis midway through the first round when he was elbowed in the face by Brazil's Anderson Varejao.

Greece (7-0), the reigning European champion, specializes in slowing the pace of the game and running much of its offense through the low post and centers Lazaros Papadopoulos and Sofoklis Schortsianitis.

Sofoklis Schortsianitis
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillSofoklis Schortsianitis and the Greece squad won't be intimidated by Team USA.

On defense, the Greeks play what the American coaches were calling a soft man-to-man scheme, a bit different from a matchup zone and nothing as rigid as the tight 2-3 zone that Germany had some success using.

Krzyzewski and Yannikis have become friendly over the years through conducting clinics together both in Greece and America, and Coach K has the utmost respect for an adversary who has won EuroBasket titles as both a player and coach. The Americans saw against Germany's Dirk Bauermann how a coach's game plan can have more of an effect against them than anything any particular opposing player does on the court. "I think they'll be the toughest unit," Coach K told Insider. "All the teams we play usually play us harder than their other opponents, and what you see on tape isn't always what you get. You get better, because they're not afraid to lose.

"With the Greek teams, they do that all the time. They're accustomed to playing at that level. They bring their A game all the time, because they have the pride of a champion. They're as tough as anybody we're going to play, because they play as one. They'll take you until late in the shot clock, and then break you down or get it into the post, and they score a great percentage of their points on free throws, and that chops up the game. So we have to do a good job of playing without fouling."

Some of the Greek journalists who attended the U.S. practice Thursday believe the Greeks also will try to pressure the Americans in the backcourt, though Krzyzewski said he'd welcome such a tactic since it would open the floor and allow the Americans additional room to operate.

The U.S. team lacked creativity against Germany's tight zone, hoisting up 40 3-point shots and making just 10, but assistant coach Mike D'Antoni said a review of the tape showed that all 40 3-point attempts were good ones. Coach K put the number at 39, listing a pull-up airball by Dwyane Wade early in the shot clock as the only bad one.

Most of the American players were lined up around the perimeter practicing their 3s when the media was let in to practice Thursday, and they should hope that one of them is finding a rhythm. Only once in the tournament -- Anthony's 19-point third quarter outburst in the first round against Italy -- has any of them heated up from outside to a game-changing degree. Battier (56 percent), Anthony (46 percent) and Hinrich (44 percent) have been their best 3-point shooters, while Wade (1-for-12), Paul (5-for-15) and James (6-for-17) have struggled. As a team, the Americans are shooting 37.5 percent from behind the arc, sixth-best behind Puerto Rico, Slovenia, Serbia-Montenegro, Australia and Spain.

"If they give you a wide-open shot, you've got to take it," D'Antoni said. "There's really no other game plan. We just take great shots, and you've got to make 'em."

The winner of the Greece-United States game (Friday, 3:30 a.m. EDT, ESPN2) will advance to play the winner of the Spain-Argentina game (Friday, 6:30 a.m. EDT, ESPN2).

ESPN2 will re-broadcast Greece-USA on Friday at 4 p.m. EDT. Both semifinal games will also be re-broadcast Saturday afternoon on NBA TV and Saturday evening on ESPN U (Spain-Argentina, 6 p.m. EDT; Greece-USA, 8 p.m. EDT).

FIBA switched the Americans and Greeks into the early semifinal slot to ensure a larger television audience in Europe, where the Spain-Argentina game will begin in the late morning or early afternoon.

All four teams in the semifinals sport a 7-0 record.

Chris Sheridan covers the NBA and international basketball for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.


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