Team USA takeaways: The Steph Curry-LeBron James connection, a spark plug and big adjustments

LAS VEGAS — Here are some observations from USA Basketball's first exhibition game, an 86-72 win over Canada, before the team heads to Abu Dhabi.

Five-man units

Coach Steve Kerr ran out the hockey shifts for large parts of the evening, starting Stephen Curry, Devin Booker, LeBron James, Jrue Holiday and Joel Embiid. Canada jumped out to an expected lead while the turnovers mounted and the sloppiness was evident.

The second unit was anchored by Anthony Davis, with Anthony Edwards, Tyrese Haliburton, Jayson Tatum and Bam Adebayo — a clean 10-man rotation with Kevin Durant out and Derrick White yet to join.

You could see the overpassing and hesitancy in the opening 10-minute quarter, no one wanting to be too assertive. Only Curry had a field goal for the starters in the period.

“You know, we're really just getting started, four days of practice,” Kerr said. “You can see the rust on the offensive end. A lot of turnovers in the first half especially.”

Kerr has warned reporters not to put too much into which lineup starts the exhibition games, that he’ll mix and match before the team heads to Paris. But you can see where Holiday fits in terms of ball pressure — he’s the perimeter stopper and that’s needed with an older Curry and James in the first unit.

“You kind of can't go wrong, picking a starting lineup with this group,” Kerr said. “So I think I told you guys the other day, I'm going to do something different. The next two games we're going to just look at a few different combinations before we settle on anything.”

The Stephen Curry-LeBron James connection

One thing it appears Kerr wants to explore, the Curry and James connection. When the lineups were mixed during the rare instances, those two were on the floor together. James on the break or in semi-transition is looking for Curry, and one of his passes hit the expensive seats where former USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo and former USA Basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski were seated.

James likes to hit teammates on the run for spot-up triples, and it seems Curry picks his spot on the floor that he wants to launch from and plants himself there. That will just be a matter of repetition.

“It's a test and it's a challenge to try to figure out like coach said, just the chemistry, just the flow and the rhythm, especially on offense,” Curry said. "Because there's a temptation to defer, the temptation to overthink every possession because everybody can make a play.”

Curry scored 12 and connected with James in the second half for a highlight alley-pop that’ll be replayed for quite awhile.

Whatever develops, it’ll just take time.

Ant-Man isn’t shy

Edwards navigates and moves so easily on the floor, there isn't a spot he can't get to. And even though that No. 1 option may be more bravado than intention, he was a sure shot in the arm — he electrified the T-Mobile Arena crowd with a foray to the basket and jumpers that were followed by playful glances and motions to the crowd.

He looks like the clear spark plug, the youthful energizer bunny who’ll change the pace, along with Haliburton, who loves hitting players ahead of the play. Edwards was 6 of 10 from the field and led the US with 13 points. Haliburton had six assists, a game-high.

“I told (LeBron), that’s the first time, I ain’t been nervous in a minute,” Edwards said. “I don’t know what made me nervous. I feel great, I feel like I’ve calmed down a little bit.”

The bigs will adjust

The physicality of perimeter defense is one thing, but the widened lane, the ability to take the ball off the rim as opposed to goaltending rules and what the officials will allow is something every big will have to adjust to.

Joel Embiid, in his first FIBA game, got in foul trouble and was called for an unsportsmanlike foul for contact on Canada's Dwight Powell. He looked like he was laboring a bit and, because he gets to the foul line a lot in the NBA, he’ll have to figure out ways to get himself into the game quickly rather than an abundance of touches.

He committed five fouls, while Davis seemed to use his length and activity to block shots and make himself big underneath for duck-ins.

“It’s my first time in FIBA, so I’m gonna get used to it," Embiid said. "A lot of physicality is allowed. Especially for bigs. It was one of those nights. I’m a quick learner, I’ll just need a game or two.”

Kevin Durant’s return

One would assume, although it’s quite dangerous in these instances, that Durant will fit seamlessly into the first unit when he returns from his calf injury. It’s nowhere near a concern, USA Basketball managing director Grant Hill said, and Durant has begun on-court work.

He sustained the injury days before getting to Las Vegas, and sitting him was just a precaution.

“Durant will be on the plane, unless you know something I don’t know,” Hill said. “He has been working, rehabbing. His looks great. I think we're just being cautious and conservative. And I think we expect to see him on the court when we're in Abu Dhabi.”

The United States will play two exhibition games in Abu Dhabi against Australia on July 15, and against Serbia on July 17, before playing two games in London. Hill made sure to specify there wasn’t a drop-dead date on which game Durant would play in, but he’s made it clear the team is on a crash course with chemistry and conditioning before its first Olympic game in Paris on July 28.

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