Blazers’ Lillard remains in running for spot on Team USA

By Erik Gundersen, Columbian Trail Blazers Writer



On Tuesday morning USA Basketball released their 16 finalists to make the final roster for the 2014 FIBA World Cup later this month.

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard was one of those 16. Twelve players will make the final roster, which is expected to be set before the team leaves the country.

“Everyone played well. Damian had a good week. I think he can be even better,” said USA basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski in a conference call on Tuesday morning.

Even after the first cuts including two guards — John Wall and Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards — Krzyzewski addressed the obvious about the backcourt situation.

“That was a tough call,” said managing director Jerry Colangelo on cutting Wall, thought to be in direct competition with Damian Lillard for a spot.

“We’re heavy in outstanding talent at the guard spot,” Krzyzewski said. “The one and the two, so guys have to be ready to play both.”

Chicago’s Derrick Rose, Golden State’s Stephen Curry, Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving join Lillard as the team’s 1-2 combo guards.

With Krzyzewski emphasizing that Irving — whom he coached for a season at Duke as well as multiple summers with USA basketball — will “have to” play off the ball on Team USA, it appears that he is Lillard’s most direct competition remaining.

Houston’s James Harden, whom Krzyzewski called “a big part” of their team, Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan, Atlanta’s Kyle Korver and Golden State’s Klay Thompson will have to play the 2 and 3 positions.

Colangelo said that the injury Indiana’s Paul George suffered in Friday’s USA Basketball showcase was “very emotional for everyone involved in USA basketball,” it also may force a change in strategy.

Krzyzewski admitted that Team USA would have to play smaller without George’s versatility, meaning everybody except for their big men should be prepared to play multiple positions.

Lillard has experience playing both guard spots. While Krzyzewski cautioned “we’re not going to be able to keep all of the guys,” Lillard doesn’t appear to be getting cut any time soon.

“We think the week was good. Damian did a good job and we’ll be able to see more over these next two stops in Chicago and New York,” he said.

The USA finalists will resume team training on Aug. 14 in Chicago before they play a game at the United Center against Brazil on Aug. 16.

They’ll then head to New York from Aug. 18-22, where they will play two exhibitions in Madison Square Garden on Aug. 20 against Domincan Republic and Aug. 22 against Puerto Rico.

Judging from Kryzewski’s comments Lillard has just over two weeks to make an impression before the roster gets cut down to 12.

However, Kyrzewski is more concerned with finding a core group of eight or nine players to focus on rather than just the final 12-man roster.