It can only get worse for Tall Blacks after loss
MARC HINTON IN BILBAO
For the reeling Tall Blacks the refrain it can't get any worse doesn't quite apply here in Spain this week.
With the outrageously talented, super quick and mega-rich United States up next in Group C of the basketball World Cup in Bilbao, it not only can get worse, it almost certainly will.
The under-the-cosh New Zealanders have all but conceded they'll be 0-3 after pool play resumes tomorrow (NZ time) following a rest day. That's just reality. This USA may be without a few big names - LeBron James and Kevin Durant - but they're still very, very good.
In their pool opener they made a respectable Finnish outfit, who made short work of the Ukraine second up, look like they were playing in concrete boots. The Europeans, who have more than 8000 fans here, had just two points in the second quarter as they were thumped 114-55 in an embarrassingly one-sided contest.
These Americans are supposed to be vulnerable without their heavy-hitters, but clearly no one told them. With skill merchants such as Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving, Steph Curry and James Harden, the deadly Klay Thompson, and Rudy Gay, Kenneth Faried, DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis up front they are not short of firepower.
A quick perusal of the respective salary figures of the two lineups really puts things in perspective. The Americans will earn a collective $US111 million, give or take, for their efforts in the upcoming NBA season.
The estimated payroll of Nenad Vucinic's Tall Blacks is lucky if it stretches to $US1 million.
In a funny way it could be a key contest for the Tall Blacks, too, even if they have no hope of winning and only a small one of keeping the scoreline respectable.
After slipping to 0-2 here on Sunday when they came out flat, shot like they were wearing mittens and were beaten 76-63 by Fracisco Garcia and his Dominican Republic team, the Tall Blacks are now wedged firmly between a rock and a hard place. They probably have to win their last two against the Ukraine and Finland to have any hope of extending their streak of three straight knockout stage appearances.
To beat the Ukraine and Finland - with every game a home game for them - is going to require something pretty special from these under-sized and now out-of-sorts Tall Blacks.
They need more of what they showed in the first three quarters and a bit against Turkey, and none of what they produced in all four against the Dominicans.
"We will approach the game as a game," Vucinic said of the USA challenge.
"We're competitors and we will not just lie down. We will rotate our players because we have to rotate, not because we're giving up. They play at a high pace, they're incredible athletes and we'll have to share the minutes more than we have been and hopefully we'll be in a good mental and physical state to play Ukraine."
In terms of a game minus any real pressure of a result, Vucinic drew the line at suggestions his men could perk up their confidence. "It's very hard to restore confidence against the USA," he dead-panned.
Tom Abercrombie - easily the best Tall Black, with his efficient 22, in an otherwise sub-par effort against the Dominicans - said they were under no illusions.
"They're going to challenge every pass, and they're going to get out and run at every opportunity. They test you in every facet of the game and we'll need to be absolutely locked in just to stay with them."
Abercrombie said it wasn't about "saving face" or damage limitation.
"As a player you go out and play your butt off and do everything you can. Playing the USA is a pretty special opportunity. You always hope to play against the best in the world, so it's a great opportunity to test ourselves against that.
''We're a little basketball country coming up against the mighty US. What a great opportunity."
What chance the US will become the first nation this World Cup to actually face the haka, and not scurry off to their bench?
"I've got no idea," said Abercrombie. "We're 0-2 on fronts so far, so we might have to do it to their bench again."
Marc Hinton travelled to Spain with the assistance of Basketball New Zealand.
What did you make of the Tall Blacks' World Cup campaign?