ABU DHABI – A fast start was all that USA Basketball needed to remain unbeaten as it keeps moving closer to the World Cup.
Anthony Edwards scored 21 points, Cam Johnson added 13 and the U.S. never trailed Friday in a 108-86 win over Greece in a World Cup tune-up game for both teams.
Austin Reaves and Jaren Jackson Jr. each had 11 for the U.S., which improved to 4-0 in its five-game exhibition season before flying to the Philippines next week to start World Cup play. The Americans had all 12 players score, and Mikal Bridges and Bobby Portis each finished with 10 points.
“I feel like we got it going pretty good,” Edwards said.
Greece is playing without Giannis Antetokounmpo, the two-time NBA MVP for Milwaukee who is sidelined this summer while recovering from offseason knee surgery. Panagiotis Kalaitzakis and Nikos Rogkavopoulos each scored 12 for Greece. Thomas Walkup and Georgios Papagiannis added 11 apiece.
“These games, these friendlies, they're glorified practices,” Walkup said. “That's what they are. Of course you want to win, but we want to come out here to compete, get better, fix things.”
Greece, even without Antetokounmpo, figures to be the top competition for the U.S. when group-stage play starts at the World Cup next weekend. Greece is the No. 9 nation in the FIBA rankings; New Zealand is No. 26 and Jordan is No. 33.
The top two finishers in each group move to the second round. Not surprisingly, the race in Group C seems like it will be for second place after the way this exhibition turned out.
The Americans — just as they did at times in their first three exhibitions against Puerto Rico, a Slovenia team playing without Luka Doncic and Spain — looked dominant in some stretches. They had a double-digit lead midway through the first quarter, were up by 17 by the time the game was 9 minutes old and never seemed in any trouble.
That said, there are two big areas that worry U.S. coach Steve Kerr.
“The concern is turnovers and rebounds,” Kerr said. “If we stay even on the possession game, I feel great about our chances against anybody. The way teams can beat us is if they get extra possessions and force a lot of turnovers and we’re not sharp and we’re not boxing out. I’ve told our guys that. I’ll tell you guys that. It's not really a secret. So, that's our focus.”
The U.S. only outscored Greece 76-71 over the final 31 minutes — in large part because of 20 turnovers.
“They let up a little bit, for sure,” Walkup said. “We're aware of that. We're not tricking ourselves.”
Greece: The team had three players with NBA regular-season experience: Thanasis Antetokounmpo plays for Milwaukee, Kostas Papanikolaou made 69 appearances with Houston and Denver and Papagiannis played in 39 games with Sacramento and Portland. … The team also has Texas-born guard Walkup, who played in college at Stephen F. Austin. He was naturalized and got a Greek passport earlier this year, enabling him to play in this event.
USA: Among the NBA faces in attendance were Orlando coach Jamahl Mosley (who has Magic players Paolo Banchero, Moritz Wagner and Franz Wagner playing in Abu Dhabi this weekend) and Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks. … Walker Kessler was the first sub off the U.S. bench, in part because of Greece’s size, and all 12 American players had gotten into the game by the first possession of the second quarter.
The starting lineup for the Americans has been the same now in all four exhibitions: Jalen Brunson, Bridges, Edwards, Brandon Ingram and Jackson Jr. Kerr has tinkered with other combinations in practices, just in case, but that first group hasn’t changed on game days.
Not much conclusive can be read from exhibition games, but out of 32 World Cup-bound teams, the U.S. is one of five nations still unbeaten in this summer’s slates of warm-up games. France is 6-0 with one game left, Italy is 5-0 with two games left, Latvia is 4-0 with two games left and Brazil is 3-0 with two games left (including one against Italy).
Greece: Plays Germany on Saturday in Abu Dhabi in its last pre-World Cup game.
USA: Plays Germany on Sunday in Abu Dhabi, the final World Cup tune-up for both teams.