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After somber Wednesday, Team USA prepares for medal round starting Friday

Two more games left and the FIBA World Cup is theirs but Team USA will have to get by the only undefeated team in the tournament. What’s Mikal Bridges role?

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2023 FIBA World Cup - USA Men’s National Team Practice - Manila Photo by Brian Choi/NBAE via Getty Images

Team USA will practice Thursday and play Germany, the only undefeated team in the FIBA World Cup, in semifinal action at 8:40 a.m. ET Friday. The winner of that game will play the winner of Canada vs. Serbia in Sunday’s Finals. Those two play four hours earlier.

After destroying Italy by 37 Tuesday — led by Mikal Bridges 24 points and seven rebounds — the team got its longest stretch without playing since August 25 when they opened against New Zealand. In fact, they were able to spend a big part of Wednesday visiting the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in Manila, the largest overseas U.S. military cemetery, with U.S. Ambassador MaryKay Carlson. Players said it left them somber.

The last time the German team lost was in Abu Dhabi when the U.S. beat them in an exhibition game that was close till the end and required an 18-0 run. Since then, Germany has dominated with wins over Japan, Australia, Finland, Georgia, Slovenia and Latvia, that last game decided by two points earlier Thursday.

Germany has two advantages shared with the U.S. They feature NBA players and are deep.

“They’ve probably been the best team in the tournament overall,” Kerr said. “They’re connected, really well coached and have a lot of continuity and have a very strong team, physical team. So we’re going to have to play well to beat them.”

The key players for the Germans are Dennis Schroeder of the Raptors and the Orlando’s Wagner brothers, Moritz and Franz who is back from an ankle injury (and scored 16 points in 18 minutes vs. Latvia.) Schroeder playing his usually aggressive style, has been one of the best players in the World Cup (despite his 4-of-26 performance vs. Latvia.)

Although Germany has the size — the roster also includes 6’8” Pacer big Daniel Theis, it is not a particularly good offensive rebounding or good shooting team, as Brian Windhorst reported Thursday. What they do have — and the U.S. does not — is continuity in international play. Their NBA players are almost uniformly loyal to the national team, as was Dirk Nowitzki before he retired.

Kerr remains optimistic.

“We have so many guys with speed and quickness and ballhandling ability,” Kerr said. “It’s always easier to attack a defense that’s not set than one that’s set. So that’s been a theme for us.”

Nets fans will be watching (on ESPN2 or the ESPN+ app) to see if Kerr once again gives Mikal Bridges a big role in the offense. After the 24-point explosion vs. Italy. Bridges is now averaging 12.2 points a game on 68/50/87 shooting splits (no typos there.) He is second in scoring and efficiency, first in plus/minus for the Americans. in talking the L.A. Times Dan Woike, teammate Austin Reaves quoted Bridges on his philosophy, ball or no ball in his hand.

“We were talking the other day and he looked at me and said, ‘Bro, I don’t care. As long as I can put a gold medal around my neck, I don’t care. I don’t care what happens. As long as we win, I don’t care.’” said Reaves quoting Bridges.

Meanwhile, Bridges and Cam Johnson, who has fallen out of Kerr’s rotation, were part of the delegation who visited the U.S. cemetery, a nearly three-square mile cemetery containing the graves of 17,000 American and Filipino military who fought and died in World War II.

Joe Vardon of The Athletic said Bridges and Johnson along with Bridges Villanova teammate Josh Hart found graves of the fallen whose last name matched theirs, stopping briefly to honor them.

By Friday morning New York time, the Cup Finals match-up will be known. ESPN and a lot of fans from Halifax to Vancouver would like to a USA vs. Canada championship game, but first the Americans have to give Germany its first loss and Canada has to get by Serbia.