Though it’s trumpeted as a launchpad for great big shiny heroics, playoff basketball’s cruel truth is that the no-shows have a particular, formative role to play in the maturation–or atrophy–of each series, as well.
So we’re all getting a reminder of how things are really day-to-day in the Olympics, eh?
A couple days ago, Carmelo Anthony had the new U.S. Olympics scoring record (37) and Team USA was considered unbeatable after they out Dream Teamed the original Dream Team and beat Nigeria by 83.
Then we get through Day 4 of the competition, and the world has turned upside down. The single highest-scoring game now belongs to Patty Mills of Australia, who dropped 39 on Great Britain as the Boomers came back from an 10-point halftime deficit to defeat Great Britain.
Oh, and Team USA?
Not looking quite so unbeatable anymore, I’d say. When those 3-pointers don’t fall, when the defense gets its share of turnovers but can’t get stops at other times, when the rim is unprotected with Tyson Chandler (8 minutes vs. Lithuania) on the bench, the U.S. team is a structurally flawed team. There’s no getting around that fact.
One week from today, we’ll have our gold medal game.
And right now, it looks like Team USA will go up against Australia in the quarterfinals, Argentina, Spain or Brazil in the semifinals, and Russia, France, Spain or Brazil in the gold medal game (assuming they get there).
But the unexpected can happen, and Monday could be the day the tanks roll in and change everything.
Before Monday’s games get underway, let’s ask 5 pertinent questions about the 2012 Olympics:
1. IS IT A CERTAINTY THAT USA AND RUSSIA WILL WIN THEIR GROUPS?
No. But it is highly probable. In Group A, the Americans will finish first even if they lose to Argentina — unless they lose by at least 110 points. The FIBA tiebreaker is point differential, and Team USA is +162 through four games. In Group B, the Russians are undefeated with one game remaining, against Australia. The line on that game is only 7, and you know why? Because Russia’s clever coach, David Blatt, could decide to become the first Israeli-American to send in the Russian tanks. And if Russia loses to Australia in Monday’s first game (3 a.m. EDT), the night’s penultimate game, Brazil-Spain, becomes a must-win game instead of a must-lose game.
2. WHY WOULD BRAZIL-SPAIN BE A MUST-LOSE GAME?
Simple. Because the loser (assuming Russia defeats Australia) goes into the bracket opposite Team USA’s bracket and would not have to face LeBron James’ team until the gold medal game. If you want to know how important it is to be on the other side of the bracket, ask Italy. In 2004, they defeated Lithuania in the semifinals and played Argentina for the gold because Argentina put on a clinic in defeating Team Marbury in the other semifinal. Italy has fallen off the basketball map since then, but they still have that silver-medal finish in 2004 in their national resume.
3. WHO POSES THE GREATEST THREAT TO TEAM USA?
The team that has been lulling everyone to sleep, or just plain sucking-but-mostly-winning — Brazil. They have the world’s best non-NBA point guard in Marcelinho Huertas, who leads the tournament with 6.3 assists (tied for 1st, actually, with Alexei Shved of Russia), they have 3-point shooters, and they have a beastly NBA front line of three NBA players — Anderson Varejao, Nene and Tiago Splitter — who can punish the Americans on the boards like no one else. In case you didn’t notice, the Americans were outrebounded (42-37 overall, and 36-24 on the defensive boards) for the first time in this tournament Saturday by Lithuania, which played small ball and used Jonas Valanciunas for a mere 9 minutes. Brazil also has a brilliant coach in Ruben Magnano, who is Argentine but is coaching Argentina’s greatest rival because of a fallout a few years back with the Argentine federation.
4. AMONG NON-NBA PLAYERS, WHO IS HAVING THE BEST TOURNAMENT?
Tough call, but the nod at this point goes to Russia’s 6-foot-5 shooting guard, Vitaly Frizdon, who scored 24 against Spain as Russia rallied from a 20-2 deficit to win Saturday, and who hit the buzzer-beating game-winner against Brazil in the tournament’s most thrilling finish to date. Frizdon plays for Khimki Moscow, where last year he was teammates with e-NBA players Chris Quinn, Sergei Monia, Zoran Plananic, Mickael Gelabele and Australia’s Matt Nielsen, who is a borderline NBA-worthy player. Khimki won the EuroCup (a notch below the Euroleague) last season. Honorable mention goes to Ike Diogu of Nigeria, who was out of the NBA last season and played in China. He is averaging 17.0 ppg, 10th best in the Olympics.
5. WHO ELSE IS OFF THE CHARTS STATISTICALLY?
Let’s start with Nicolas Batum, who is shooting an otherworldly 84.4 percent from 2-point range (he is 6-for-17 on 3s) and scoring 15.2 points per game for France, which will finish second in Group A unless Argentina defeats Team USA. Luis Scola and Patty Mills are tied for the scoring lead at 22.5 points per game, and Carmelo Anthony is fourth at 20.5 despite playing only 16.8 minutes per game. ‘Melo’s 64.4 field goal percentage leads all players, with Andrei Kirilenko (60.9), Batum (60 pct), Luis Scola (.576) and Pau Gasol (.564) giving chase. ‘Melo also leads the tournament in 3-point percentage (.636, 14-for-22).
(RELATED CONTENT: Roundup of Saturday’s games)
(RELATED CONTENT: The Lithuanian Tavern: Diary of the Uncredentialed, Edition V)
(RELATED CONTENT: Video: Lessons learned vs. Lithuania; Argentina preview)
Chris Sheridan is publisher and editor-in-chief of SheridanHoops.com. He has covered every version of Team USA since 1996, at the Olympics in Atlanta, Sydney, Athens and Beijing, as well as the World Championships in Indianapolis, Japan and Turkey. Follow him on Twitter.
I do not usually write our blog, leaving that task in the capable hands of our bloggers, Jim Park and Dan Malone.
But I also do not usually watch the Olympics on TV, especially not on NBC. I haven’t been on by sofa watching the Olympics since 1992, and back then I believe my sofa might have been a futon. But here I am back in New York after ditching the idea of going to London as uncredentialed media in the hope of becoming credentialed (chronicled in detail here, in Diary of the Uncredentialed, Edition IV), and I am stuck with NBC like the rest of you in America.
It is afternoon here, the commercials are making me angry, and so I am out on the porch doing today’s blog because Verizon has been ducking Park for three days now with his Internet down, and we needed a bench guy.
So let’s have a look around the Web, a broader look than usual, and see what’s up:
From TMZ.com: The police officer who arrested ex-LA Lakers star Matt Barnes waited in an alley for 2 hours … waited for Barnes to exit a restaurant, and then charged the b-baller with felony resisting arrest – even though Barnes never got physically violent … Barnes had a warrant out for his arrest for failing to appear on a ticket for driving on a suspended license. Sources say Barnes had gone to the DMV, gotten his license reinstated, and mistakenly believed he no longer had to go to court to clear the ticket. Now here’s where it gets strange. Our law enforcement sources say the arresting officer KNEW Barnes had an outstanding warrant as he watched the NBA forward and his baby mama park their car in a lot Monday night — and walk a block-and-a-half to MB Post, a popular restaurant in Manhattan Beach, CA — yet the cop did not approach the hoopster. Instead the officer waited in an alley near the car” for 2 hours before pouncing. We’re told Barnes already had one hand behind his back as he attempted to hand his gf (sic) the keys with his other hand so she could drive home. Sources say the cop grabbed the hand with the keys and the Lakers champ pulled away. The cop then immediately informed Barnes he would be charged with resisting arrest.
- From JasonMcIntyre of TheBigLead.com, commenting on ESPN sending a small army to cover backup Jets quarterback Tim Tebow at training camp: (Hannah) Storm, tanned and toned having just returned from a vacation with 14 girlfriends to Bimini Island, was a rockstar in her own right; on her way to the bathroom, she was repeatedly stopped by fans (off-duty cops, moms, little kids) wanting a photo. It may have had something to do with her short, form-fitting dress, a number that would have had Tony Kornheiser kvetching again.
- From Nick Gibson of SheridanHoops.com, on Team USA’s 83-point beatdown of Nigeria: “So 156 points isn’t the peak. Interesting. You think the locals should be impressed by a measly 156 points? Please. There’s a reason it’s not called Average Britain: In the 1900 Olympics, the Devon and Somerset Wanderers of Great Britain defeated the French Athletic Club Union by 158. It was the first, last and only time cricket was featured in the Summer Games. If Thursday’s beatdown proved anything, it’s that the Team USA’s toughest opponent will be themselves argument is stale. This is not golf. This is basketball, and Russia has a very good basketball team. The best outside the U.S. right now, as a matter of fact. Thursday, that Russian basketball team played similarly undefeated Brazil. After Marcelinho Huertas put Brazil up two with six seconds remaining, Russian coach David Blatt (who hails from Framingham, Mass.) drew up a play for Vitaly Fridzon, who had made only one shot and a free throw up to that point. Blatt’s confidence paid off, as Alexey Shved found Fridzon off the inbounds and Vitaly rose and hit from the corner, even as Leandro Barbosa rolled beneath his feet on a foul that went unwhistled. The miraculous shot gave Russia the 75-74 win and kept them undefeated.
- From David Aldridge of NBA.com Coach Mike) Krzyzewski canceled practice Friday, in part so that the players could get one last opportunity to see some of their athletic brethren in events. Kobe Bryant took in Roger Federer’s tennis match at Wimbledon, while many other players were planning to see Michael Phelps’ last swim meet in Olympic competition Friday night.
- More from Aldridge on the tougher opponents Team USA faces going forward: Even though the Lithuanians are just 1-2 in Pool A after losing Thursday to France, they have talent and NBA experience and — the biggest challenge to this U.S. team — size in the middle. The Lithuanians feature the Raptors’ Linas Kleiza, who’s averaged 16 points a game so far in the Olympics, and NBA-quality depth with the likes of ex-NBAers Darius Songalia and Sarunas Jasikevicius. Their young center, Jonas Valanaciunas, hasn’t played in the NBA yet; he’ll be a rookie this season with Toronto, which drafted him No. 5 overall in 2011. He spent this past season playing for Lietuvas Rytas, making the all-Eurocup team. And Valanciunas isn’t a focal point offensively for the Lithuanians, who shoot it well from the perimeter. But 6-foot-11 skilled players can pose problems for the Americans; even the 6-foot-7 Diogu had success (27 points) in the paint against them Thursday. “Well, we’ve played against Lithuania quite a bit, and I know their coach real well, and one of my former players is on their team, Marty Pocius,” Krzyzewski said. “But Kleiza is the guy they start off with. He’s capable of a big performance. And they’re deep. They’ll play all 12 guys. It’s a country that loves basketball and has had great success, and a lot of pride. They play good continuity stuff, and we just have to be prepared. It’s our next game and you forget about this one and get our fourth win in pool play.”
- From Gery Woeffel of the Racine-Journal-Times: The Bucks are also in talks with unrestricted free-agent center Joel Przybilla, yet another excellent defender who played last season for the Portland Trail Blazers. According to some individuals close to negotiations, the Bucks are clearly the front-runners for his services. The Bucks haven’t been nearly as aggressive in their pursuit of a wing player, though. They did draft Doron Lamb, a shooting guard from Kentucky in the second round. While Lamb is definitely an intriguing prospect, as he exhibited in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, he doesn’t appear ready for major minutes. What’s more, he doesn’t have the size the Bucks are looking for at the wing spot. That has led Bucks officials to explore the possibility of trading for a wing player or signing one in free agency. While they have plenty of time to pull off a trade before training camp by using one of their power forwards as bait, they have been checking out the free-agent market. While the top-shelf wings have already signed with other teams, there are still some solid veterans available. One of them is Mickael Pietrus, who played last season with Boston. … Bill McCandless, Pietrus’ agent, said his client is drawing consideration from several teams. McCandless confirmed he and Bucks general manager John Hammond have had exploratory talks. “We talked about 10 to 14 days ago,” McCandless said. “We’re waiting to see what happens. Mickael would be interested in playing for Milwaukee, absolutely.”
- Got this in an e-mail from Jimmy Shapiro, who reps Bovada.lv: From SportsBook manager Kevin Bradley: “It was a good day for the players yesterday as the USA Men’s basketball team easily covered the spread in their game against Nigeria. Significant late action on the USAwas able to push the final point spread to 43 points after opening at 41.5. By game time yesterday about 70% of the action was on the Americans to cover while 57% was on the over 170.5 game total. Looking ahead to Saturday’s game against Lithuania, we opened with the USA 34.5 point favorites but once again all the early action (82%) was on the American team so that pushed the spread to 35 points. We are still seeing the majority of the action (72%) once again on team USA, so early projections make the book big Lithuania fans this weekend.”
- Myself, I don’t think Lithuania gives a damn about tomorrow’s game against USA. But Raptors fans are going to want to have a look at big man Jonas Valanciunas, and here is a great breakdown how how Valanciumas has fared thus far in the Olympics, from BallDontLie.
The South Americans barely snuck by the Aussies in the opener and withstood an indescribably impotent, four-point first quarter to keep Great Britain winless in game two. Thanks to that soft schedule and the even softer touch on Marcelinho Huertas’ floaters, Ruben Magnano’s squad are among the four teams with zeroes in the loss column.
The ranks of the undefeated will shrink by at least one Thursday when Brazil goes up against Andrei Kirilenko, Viktor Khryapa and Sasha Kaun of Russia.
With those six gangly arms protecting the rim, Huertas will have to heave those floaters a little higher than usual, and he’ll need more consistency around him than he’s gotten in the first two frames.
If help arrives, Brazil can keep their record spotless and join the medal conversation. If not, then Russia keeps one foot on the podium.
Let’s pick us some winners, shall we?
France (1-1, 5th) vs. Lithuania (1-1, 3rd) | Tip: 4:00 AM EST
Nicolas Batum hit a two, a three, and then assisted on France’s third bucket against Argentina, and that’s exactly the hot start Vincent Collet needs out of his small forward. I’d even categorize his goaltending violation in the first few minutes as a positive; making an aggressive mistake beats floating around with his hands stapled to his hips.
Containing Tony Parker is obviously a priority, and nobody on Lithuania can do it alone. In last summer’s EuroBasket, Kestutis Kemzura spun a carousel of defenders at quick ball handlers—Milos Teodosic, Bo McCalebb and even Parker himself—so expect Mantas Kalnieits, Martynas Pocius and even the cagey vet, Sarunas Jasikevicius, to give it a whirl.
And as long as Parker’s goggles are making the rim look fuzzy (8-of-21 from the floor, 0-of-7 from three), Kalnietis & Co. should slide right under those picks and make him convert from outside.
Figuring out who hedges on which screens is even more important than who applies initial ball pressure, so Paulius Jankunas, Darius Songaila and the other Lithuanian bigs will need to be even more active than usual to keep TP out of the lane.
Given Jonas Valanciunas’ history of foul trouble, he’ll need to be extra cautious when the situation calls for a switch. Lithuania’s at their best when the 20-year-old is diving toward the rim and finishing around the rim, not brooding on the sideline in his warm-ups.
The Pick: Lithuania by 4
Argentina (1-1, 2nd) vs. Tunisia (0-2, 6th) | Tip: 9:30 AM EST
Both teams are coming off losses, but only one has the firepower to make amends on Thursday. If you caught any of Team USA’s game on Tuesday night, you might have surmised that Tunisia is not that team.
Of the five players averaging 20 or more in these Olympics, coach Julio Lamas has two of them in Luis Scola and Manu Ginobili. Quite the luxury.
An even grander luxury? The chance to give those old horses a rest in favor of an underutilized, unproven bench. If Argentina can push the lead above 20, Lamas should send a fresh five to the scorer’s table.
Hopefully that leads to an epic duel between 5’10″ point guards Facundo Campazzo and Marouan Kechrid because, really, that’s why we’re all here.
The Pick: Argentina by 25
USA (2-0, 1st) vs. Nigeria (1-1, 4th) | 5:15 PM EST
After USA’s 47-point destruction of Tunisia, the betting lines for Nigeria and the States have shot into the forties. If you call yourself a gambler, I’d throw some money (naira, if you’ve got some) on the Aminu Brothers.
Nigeria is not Tunisia, nor should they be treated as such. Salah Mejri and Macrah Ben Romdhane were the only Tunisians worth boxing out on Thursday, while Nigeria has the bodies to board with Team USA for 40 minutes. Their front court of Ike Diogu, the Hornets’ Al-Farouq Aminu and his older brother Alade is averaging 27 rebounds as a unit, and Nigeria as a team has snagged 41 offensive boards through two games.
But to grab O-boards you need to miss shots, and Nigeria’s Olympics-leading stats may be due to an excess of opportunity. The team is shooting 29 percent as a whole and a sickly 10 percent (3-of-29) from distance. Whereas Nigeria has one player making more than half his shots (Diogu), Team USA has seven.
And lastly: do you remember George Mason’s Final Four run in 2006? Of course you do. Tony Skinn ran point for the Patriots then, and he’ll be bringing the ball up the court for Nigeria tomorrow.
The Pick: USA by 27
Australia (0-2, 4th) vs. China (0-2, 6th) | 6:15 AM EST
Aleks Maric ripped the Euroleague to shreds during the 2009-10 season as he and Bo McCalebb led Partizan to a Final Four appearance in Paris. Maric was named to the All-Euroleague squad behind 14.6 points and 8.4 rebounds (in just 26 minutes per game) and that summer, both Serbia and Australia tugged at the 6’11″ center in hopes that he’d join them in Turkey for the World Championships.
The center with dual citizenship chose to play in the country that birthed him, but three summers later Australia is still itching for that Partizan beast to resurface. So far in London, the 27-year-old Maric has eked out just two points, four boards and five fouls in a total of 18 minutes.
And that’s too bad, because Australia really could use him.
Few bigs in these Olympics have the international résumé of David Andersen—seven Euroleague Final Fours with three different teams, three Euroleague championships, two NBA seasons, both the 2004 and 2008 Olympics—but the 6’11″ Boomer would rather stretch the floor than bang inside, and Matthew Nielsen is a scrapper, not a skills guy.
The door is open for Maric to thrive, especially when Aron Baynes is the only other center trying to squeeze through.
On the perimeter, it’s all about threes for Australia: keeping China from getting open looks on defense—they’ve made 12-of-29 from deep—and convincing Patty Mills (1-of-14) to stop shooting so many on the other end.
The Pick: Australia by 11
Brazil (2-0, 3rd) vs. Russia (2-0, 1st) | 11:45 AM EST
Tiago Splitter flipped the script, going 2-of-10 in the opener before blasting the Brits for 21 points on 9-of-11 shooting in game two.
Then there’s Nene, who’s been fairly mediocre since Muhammad Ali lit the torch.
And while Brazil’s legion of NBAers is having trouble stringing together solid outings, their Euroleague representative is picking up the slack. Marcelinho Huertas plays his club ball for Regal Barcelona in Spain, and he’s put Brazil on his back so far in the United Kingdom.
In a frightening display of what life without Marcelinho might look like, Brazil sat him for five minutes of the opening period against Great Britain and the result was disastrous: just four points scored in the entire quarter. The hosts lifted their foot from Brazil’s neck a little too early, but Russia has the length in their backcourt—6’6″ Alexey Shved, 6’8″ Anton Ponkrashov, 6’5″ Vitaly Firdzon—to harass the 6’3″ Marcelinho from the moment he crosses half court.
If it’s one thing Russia has plenty of it’s big, versatile forwards. And if there’s one thing Brazil lacks it’s…big, versatile forwards.
Brazil will have to get creative to limit Andrei Kirilenko and Viktor Khryapa’s touches inside the arc. That might mean more Marcus Vieira at small forward and it might even mean more Guillherme Giovannoni, who’s not especially fleet of foot but at least offers some height at the three.
No matter what Ruben Magnano dials up defensively, David Blatt will look to exploit Brazil’s personnel issues early and often.
The Pick: Russia by 8
Spain (2-0, 2nd) vs. Great Britain (0-2, 5th) | 3:00 PM EST
Pau Gasol missed all four of his threes in Beijing. Here in London, he’s already gotten two to fall.
But fans of British basketball—I promise they exist; I’ve even met a couple—should remember one particular Gasol triple very clearly.
It was EuroBasket 2009 in Poland, and Great Britain had battled back from down 14 to take an improbable lead in the fourth quarter. Then Pau, destroyer of miracles, knocked one in from the top of the key with 3:11 on the clock to recapture the lead for good and deprive Great Britain of their fledgling program’s biggest milestone.
Team GB gets another crack at Spain on Thursday, who will likely be missing scorer extraordinaire, Juan Carlos Navarro, with a foot injury. JCN’s absence takes a boat load of pressure off of Nate Reinking and especially Andrew Sullivan, who has picked up eight fouls in the first two games and would have had fits chasing a healthy Navarro around the arena.
Pops Mensah-Bonsu’s made it perfectly clear that he’s going up if you throw him the ball, and if Joel Freeland adopts the same attacking mentality they could force the Gasols and Serge Ibaka into foul trouble. Add Luol Deng’s potential mismatch at the two and you’ve got a recipe for British redemption.
The Pick: Spain by 14
Andrei Kirilenko makes Russia scary. Luis Scola is the craftiest big man in London. Let Pau Gasol catch the ball inside of seven feet and you’re toast. Yi Jianlian is a better player for China than he is in the NBA. And you should probably get a hand in Kevin Durant’s face.
Long before Durant circled Olympic Stadium with his newly shaved head underneath a Ralph Lauren beret on Friday night, we knew this about him.
We knew all of these things about all of these guys, and when that orange and white Molten ball shot toward the rafters on Sunday, the aforementioned quartet had no problem reaffirming those truisms.
Each led his team in scoring and to victory on Olympic basketball’s first day of action.
Yes, they’re all big names and yes, all four of their teams are among the favorites to leave London with medals, but do me a favor while digesting these performances: resist the urge to take them even partially for granted. As the past, with some help from Carlos Arroyo, has proven, all it takes is 40 Olympic minutes to flip what you know on its ear.
Just ask France, whose duo of Tony Parker and Nicolas Batum mustered just 17 points against Team USA’s rangy, spastic defense. Then go talk to Lithuania, whose historically lofty Basketball IQ eluded them against Scola’s Argentines. See how badly Tunisia’s hurting after losing by four to Nigeria, their African counterparts who weren’t even supposed to qualify for this thing.
With only a matter of weeks to train and a handful of exhibitions to gel, Olympic basketball requires adaptation between games and often between quarters. A coach should always be on his toes; an Olympic coach needs to hyperextend those toes.
As we enter the second day of games, we’ve got six winners, six losers, and 12 teams that still have a long way to go. Here’s how each side can play better:
Last Game: 102-79 W vs. Lithuania | Next Up: France
It’s easy to pick on Argentina for being old and having no bench. It is when they lose, at least. Then there are days like Sunday, when Scola (32), Manu Ginobili (21) and Carlos Delfino (20) combined for 73 points—that’s more than Nigeria, Tunisia, France or Australia scored as a team—and old feels more like experienced while praise for their starting five drowns out concerns about the team’s depth. If the Golden Generation wants to remain untarnished in their last Olympic go-round, they will need something—anything—out of their bench. Spanish League veteran Hernan ‘Pancho’ Jasen has been a lynchpin on this team for years, and his 24 minutes on the floor should yield more than a single shot attempt and two turnovers, while Juan and Leo Gutierrez (no relation) need to keep their bodies moving down low to create driving lanes for Ginobili and elbow jumpers for Scola. With Manu and Luis reeling in help defenders, the Gutierrez boys should survive off put backs and dump downs offensively. Argentina could beat almost anyone here on the strength of their starting five alone. That’s great, if you want to almost medal.
Last Game: 75-71 L vs. Brazil | Next Up: Spain
If Matthew Dellavedova only gets two 3-point attempts in 28 minutes, then there’s no way Patty Mills should be chucking nine (and hitting just one) in 31 minutes. Of all the guys playing point guard in London, only a few —Tony Parker, Alexey Shved, Chris Paul, Deron Williams — can get into the lane as creatively as Patty, who notched 16 of his 20 points from inside the arc. Mills is this team’s offensive compass, and right now they need him pointed toward the rim.
Last Game: 75-71 W vs. Australia | Next Up: Great Britain
‘Twas a tale of two Marcelos for Brazil: Huertas scored 13 and added 10 assists in the win; Machado shot eight 3s and made one. As a team, Brazil was 2-for-15 from beyond the arc and 28-for-68 overall. With the sort of looks Huertas creates off the dribble and Varejao/Nene/Splitter down low, Brazil has no excuse for a shooting percentage in the low forties, and are lucky that Australia matched them, brick for brick.
Last Game: 97-81 L vs. Spain | Next Up: Russia
The Chinese only gave it away eight times and were themselves very active on defense. Head coach Bob Donewald has a good handle on his men after two plus years at the helm, and it shows in their play, which is as spirited as it is disciplined. Beating Spain was never a possibility Sunday, just as a win against Russia is out of the question today, but if they want to pick off Australia, Brazil or the very gettable hosts, Sun Yue needs to add more than three to Yi’s 30.
Last Game: 98-71 L vs. United States | Next Up: Argentina
What does it take to get Nicolas Batum good and rowdy? Come up with that answer and you just might inherit coach Vincent Collet’s job. With Joakim Noah on the mend, there’s not a soul with French heritage better equipped to assume the role of TP’s Sidekick than Batum, yet the freshly re-upped Blazer still appears reluctant. It’s not every day that he’ll face the sort of length and aggression with which Team USA defends, so we’ll wipe his line of seven points, two boards and zero assists clean if he can keep either Ginobili or Delfino quiet and help France past a wily Argentina side in tonight’s best game.
Last Game: 95 -75 L vs. Russia | Next Up: Brazil
Andrei Kirilenko played a nearly perfect ballgame. Fourteen of his seventeen shots found the bucket for 35 points in all to go with four boards, two steals and three blocks. Yet on the same court, and in that same Russian jersey, British coach Chris Finch saw something that should have been far more disturbing than AK’s dominance: a point guard. Finch watched as 23-year-old Alexey Shved orchestrated a dynamic Russian attack and finished with 13 assists; as a team, Great Britain only had 10. Luol Deng, Pops Mensah-Bonsu and Joel Freeland had 61 of the team’s 75, but without a point guard that can get the defense on its heels, we’ll never see that three-headed weapon properly deployed.
Last Game: 102-79 L vs. Argentina | Next Up: Nigeria
Lithuania rammed their head into a brick wall on Sunday, and the wall didn’t give. Instead of setting a pick to get past it or passing around it, they lowered their shoulders and rammed harder. Bad idea. This wall was made of aging Argentines who would rather pop a forearm in your back than follow you closely on a cut through the lane. Still, Lithuania couldn’t mobilize their offense against Argentina’s flatter feet, and a stagnant, discombobulated attack was the result. Kestutis Kemzura needs to figure out the best way to create one on one opportunities for Linas Kleiza without slowing down Lithuania’s pick-and-roll game, which can be as potent as anyone’s with 36-year-old Sarunas Jasikevicius handling the ball. Kemzura will dip deeper into his bench than any coach here, so the earlier he figures out which combinations give Lietuva the best shot at winning, the better.
Last Game: 60-56 W vs. Tunisia | Next Up: Lithuania
Derrick Obasohan has always had an itchy trigger finger, but the Nigerian swing man (from Texas, actually, but you get it with none Americans on the roster) might want to take an extra breath before firing up the next one. Obasohan shot 1-for-6 and scored just six points on Sunday, 10 fewer than the 16 he averaged in last summer’s African Championships, where he led Nigeria in scoring. With Ike Diogu and the Aminu Bros (Marc and Pau Who?) forming an increasingly formidable frontcourt, some buckets from Obasohan could move Nigeria into contention for a quarterfinal spot.
Last Game: 95 -75 W vs. Great Britain | Next Up: China
Let Sunday’s shellacking go to show that it’s impossible to beat Russia if you can’t force their guards into mistakes. If you give Shved and Vitaly Fridzon too much room to breathe on the perimeter, stopping Russia will be next to impossible. If Kirilenko and Viktor Khryapa are getting consistent touches inside the arc, it’s bedtime. If Anton Ponkrashov can have a mini resurgence, or at least a return to legitimacy in London, then Russia will have something few other teams can boast: a 6’8″ point guard that can see over your press. Might come in handy in, oh, I don’t know, a gold medal game against the States?
Last Game: 97-81 W vs. China | Next Up: Australia
It seems as though the task of replacing Ricky Rubio has coaxed a group effort out of the Spaniards, as eight players had at least two assists for the 2006 World Champions. Pau Gasol had a double-double, Serge Ibaka had one of his better games in a Spanish jersey with 17 points and three blocks and Juan Carlos Navarro looked healthier than he has all summer on his way to 14. But on the other end, China’s Yi Jianlian used post ups, midrange jumpers and a steady diet of baseline drives to torch Spain for 30 on 13-of-19 shooting. They got past China in spite of Yi’s dominance, but Spain better figure out their approach to defending versatile forwards before Linas Kleiza, Nicolas Batum, Andrei Kirilenko and half of Team USA show up for layup lines.
Last Game: 60-56 L vs. Nigeria | Next Up: United States
The reigning African Champions sent Nigeria to the line 31 times and only took five free throws themselves. If you were wondering how Nigeria shot 33 percent from the field and still walked away the victors, that should answer your question. Tunisia’s best shot at an Olympic win is now behind them.
Last Game: 98-71 W vs. France | Next Up: Tunisia
It would be a real treat to see the United States run a play other than Wait For Teammate To Gain Head Of Steam On Baseline, Throw Ball In General Vicinty Of Rim, but until they meet someone who’s ready to challenge them physically and apply adequate pressure on USA’s ball handlers, Coach K might not need to call much else. The line on tonight’s game (10:15 p.m. London time start) is 56!