By Blythe Lawrence | Sept. 01, 2019, 11:59 a.m. (ET)

Marcus Smart drives during during the Group E match between Team USA and the Czech Republic at the 2019 FIBA World Cup on Sept. 1, 2019 in Shanghai, China.

 

The United States opened its quest for a third consecutive FIBA World Cup title with a commanding 88-67 win against the Czech Republic Sunday in group play in Shanghai.

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell contributed a team-high 16 points, while 2016 Olympic gold medalist Harrison Barnes added 14 and Myles Turner pitched in a team-high seven rebounds and two blocks. The Czech Republic’s Tomáš Satoranský, who plays for the Chicago Bulls, led his country’s effort with 17 points.

The convincing victory may help answer some questions about how the U.S. group is coalescing as a team. Team USA, while loaded with elite NBA talent, has little experience working together as a unit, which may have played a role in dropping an exhibition game to Australia last month — its first loss in a dozen years that snapped a 78-game winning streak.

That reality check came just before a tournament in which the U.S. is not the clear favorite for gold for the first time in a decade. None of the problems were apparent on the court Sunday, however, as the team worked together to assure itself a hearty victory.

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“There are a lot of teams that are very good and have an opportunity to do very well in the tournament,” U.S. head coach Gregg Popovich said before the game. “So, we don’t take anybody lightly. It’s about respecting your opponent, and we do that, without any doubt.

Normally held every four years, 2019 is the first year of a new alignment for the FIBA World Cup. The last tournament, also won by the USA, was held in 2014. In addition to global bragging rights, Olympic berths are at stake: the top two teams from Europe and the Americas will qualify their nations to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, while the top team from Asia, Oceania and Africa will also book a quota place.

Group play continues for the USA against Turkey on Tuesday and Japan on Thursday.

Blythe Lawrence is a journalist based in Seattle. She has covered two Olympic Games and is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.