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2012 London Olympics Men’s Basketball Preview: August 6
- Updated: August 5, 2012
By: Kels Dayton
Games scheduled for 8/6
Start Time: 5:15 p.m. Eastern time
United States (4-0, 8 pts) vs.
Argentina (3-1, 7 pts)
WHY THIS GAME MATTERS: Team USA needs to finish off preliminary play with a good performance, especially after being tested by a game Lithuanian squad on Saturday. Argentina has been a legitimate rival ever since it knocked off the United States in the semifinals in 2004. The Argentineans came within six points of Team USA in a pre-Olympic exhibition game, so it would not be surprising to see them put up a challenge once again.
KEY PLAYERS-USA: LeBron James has become the alpha-dog on this team and is the unquestioned go-to-guy down the stretch. Still, Team USA could use more from its point guards, and Kobe Bryant should make it a personal goal to shut down Manu Ginobili. With all of the talk about James, Bryant, and Kevin Durant leading up to the Games, it’s easy to forget that Carmelo Anthony has been a zone-busting force in international play. He leads the Americans at 20.5 points per game, and scored a U.S. Olympic record 37 points against Nigeria in an absurd 14 minutes of action. Anthony’s game is tailor-made for the Olympics, and he’s going to have a huge say in whether or not the U.S. brings home the gold medal.
KEY PLAYERS- ARGENTINA: Everything Argentina does runs through Ginobili (21 ppg), but the Argentines’ biggest advantage may be with Olympic scoring leader Luis Scola (22.5 ppg) on the block. Team USA will likely clog the paint with a combination of Tyson Chandler, Kevin Love, and LeBron James inside and force Argentina to beat them from the perimeter. The Argentines also boast NBA players in Carlos Delfino (Milwaukee Bucks) and Andres Nocioni (Philadelphia 76ers).
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Team USA rolled France, 98-71 before humiliating Tunisia (110-63) and Nigeria (156-73). The Americans faced a tough test against Lithuania, pulling out a 99-94 win. Argentina opened up with a lopsided 102-79 win over those Lithuanians, and beat Tunisia 92-69 and Nigeria 93-79. They lost to France, 71-64, on July 31.
PREDICTION: United States 104, Argentina 86. Forget the Dream Team. The 2012 team hasn’t even been as dominant as it was in 2008, but it should get back on track by showing Argentina who’s boss in a double-digit win.
Start Time: 4:00 a.m. Eastern time
Russia (4-0, 8 pts) vs.
Australia (2-2, 6 pts)
WHY THIS GAME MATTERS: Both teams have clinched spots in the quarterfinals, but this game is still important in terms of seeding. If Russia wins, it will assure itself of the number 1 seed in Group B. The Russians have been the surprise of the Olympics so far, having upset Spain, 77-74 on Saturday after falling behind, 20-2.
KEY PLAYERS- RUSSIA: Russia is led by former Utah Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko, current Denver Nuggets center Timofey Mozgov, and sharp-shooting guard Vitaliy Fridzon, who drilled a crazy, falling-down game-winning three with four seconds left to beat Brazil, 75-74, in the third game of the Olympics. Fridzon scored 24 points in the Russians’ win over Spain. Former Kansas Jayhawks center Sasha Kaun is another familiar face.
KEY PLAYERS- AUSTRALIA: San Antonio Spurs guard Patty Mills always saves his best for international competition. The former St. Mary’s (CA) star is averaging 22 points per game to lead the Aussies, and ranks just behind Argentina’s Luis Scola (22.5 ppg) as the Olympic scoring leader. Mills has proven to be a terrific point guard in the international game, weaving up and down the court and using his speed to get into the lane any time he wants. With Golden State Warriors center Andrew Bogut out with a knee injury, Mills has become the heart and soul of this Australian team. Guard Matthew Dellavedova also went to St. Mary’s, and helped lead the Gaels to the Sweet 16 in 2010. Randy Bennett should just become the Australian head coach, already.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Russia pasted Great Britain (95-75) and China (74-53), before sneaking by medal contenders Brazil, 75-74, and Spain, 77-74. Australia lost hard-fought games to Brazil (75-71) and Spain (82-70) before hammering China, 81-61, and Great Britain, 106-75.
PREDICTION: Australia 80, Russia 77. The always-game Aussies slip by Russia in the final game of preliminary play, moving up the bracket and opening the door for Spain to capture the Group B title. Australia relishes its role as an underdog and has performed admirably in past international play, and Russia’s new role as a favorite will be unfamiliar. Just a hunch, but this appears to be one of those classic sandwich games for the Russians, as they may be looking ahead to the quarterfinals.
Start time: 6:15 a.m. Eastern time
Tunisia (0-4, 4 pts) vs.
Lithuania (1-3, 5 pts)
WHY THIS GAME MATTERS: It doesn’t matter much for Tunisia, which is just playing for national pride at this point. But this game means everything to Lithuania, which needs to win in order to advance to the quarterfinals. The Lithuanians have faced a murderer’s row of competition in Group A play and, as the United States can attest, are much more dangerous than their 1-3 record would suggest. Lithuania has a proud basketball tradition and its citizens would not be happy if the team failed to reach the quarters.
KEY PLAYERS- LITHUANIA: Former Missouri forward and current Toronto Raptors reserve Linas Kleiza has been the key cog on this Lithuanian squad, averaging 18.8 points per game and shooting 52 percent from the field. His Raptors teammate Jonas Valanciunas was the No. 5 overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft and is expected to make a huge impact when he joins the Raptors next season. ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla has said that Valanciunas would have been the second overall pick behind Anthony Davis had he come out this year. Point guard Sarunas Jasikevicius is Lietuva’s emotional leader and also spent time in the NBA, as did former Wake Forest star and Dallas Mavericks forward Darius Songaila. Martynas Pocius spent time at Duke, and sent a message to his former coach, dropping 8 points and 6 assists on his former coach on Saturday.
KEY PLAYERS- TUNISIA: There aren’t many familiar names here, but 7-1 center Salah Merji has emerged as one of the tournament’s better big men, leading all Olympians (along with Ike Diogu of Nigeria) with 9.5 rebounds per game. 6-8 forward Makram Ben Romdhane is a solid scorer and has also been tough on the glass, pulling down 9.3 boards per. The Northern African nation represented itself well by nearly shocking France, losing 73-69.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: As we mentioned, Lithuania has played arguably the toughest schedule of any team still in contention for the quarterfinals. The Lithuanians lost to Argentina, 102-79, France, 82-74, and the United States, 99-94. Lietuva handled Nigeria, 72-53. Tunisia lost a hard-fought game to African rival Nigeria, 60-56, to open up the Games, then lost in blowout fashion to the U.S. (110-63), and Argentina (92-69), before battling with France.
PREDICTION: Lithuania 99, Tunisia 64. This game just means too much to Lithuania for it to stumble. The Lithuanians will clinch a spot in the quarterfinals with an easy win over Tunisia.
Start time: 9:30 a.m. Eastern time
Nigeria (1-3, 5 pts) vs.
France (3-1, 7 pts)
WHY THIS GAME MATTERS: France looks to continue to build momentum through what has been an encouraging Olympic preliminary round. The French can clinch the No. 2 seed out of Group A with a victory, thanks to an earlier win over Argentina. The game also means something for Nigeria, which despite the embarrassing 83-point loss to the United States, still has a chance to reach the quarterfinal round with a win over France and some help from fellow African nation Tunisia.
KEY PLAYERS- FRANCE: Obviously, point guard Tony Parker leads France, and has shouldered most of the scoring load, averaging 19 points per game. But France has plenty of other NBA talent, with Portland Trail Blazers guard Nicolas Batum, Miami Heat big man Ronny Turiaf, and Parker’s Spurs teammate Boris Diaw all playing well so far.Guard Nando de Colo has been excellent for the French in the Olympics and will also play for Le Spurs next season. The Wizards’ Kevin Seraphin has also been a key player on this team.
KEY PLAYERS- NIGERIA: New Orleans Hornets forward Al-Farouq Aminu is probably the team’s biggest name, but former Arizona State star and NBA lottery pick Ike Diogu has been its best player so far. Diogu has been a consistent go-to-guy on the low block and is leading all Olympians (along with Tunisia’s Salah Merji) in rebounding at 9.5 per game. Also noteworthy is former George Mason point guard Tony Skinn, who helped lead the Patriots to the Final Four in 2006. Skinn is the starter for Nigeria.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: France has had an impressive run after losing its first game to the U.S., 98-71. The French upset medal contender Argentina 71-64, and then defeated Lithuania, 82-74, before squeaking by Tunisia, 73-69. Nigeria defeated the Tunisians, 60-56 in its first game before losing to Lithuania, 72-53, the U.S. 156-73, and Argentina 93-79.
PREDICTION: France 83, Nigeria 67. France should wrap up an impressive preliminary round with a fourth-straight win and a victory over the Nigerians, who will put up a fight in their bid to advance to the quarterfinals.
Start time: 11:45 a.m. Eastern time
Great Britain (0-4, 4 pts) vs.
China (0-4, 4 pts)
WHY THIS GAME MATTERS: It doesn’t. Other than to the locals, who would love to send its basketball outfit off with a win. The British have really embraced this team throughout the Games, and it has rewarded them by remaining surprisingly competitive. Great Britain nearly pulled the stunner of the Olympics when it came within one point of upsetting World No. 2 Spain on August 2, and like China in 2008, the team seems to feed off its home-crowd energy. The U.K. is the one place in Europe where basketball hasn’t taken off, but this team has gone a long way toward making the sport matter in the past week.
KEY PLAYERS- GREAT BRITAIN: Chicago Bulls forward Luol Deng is the big name, and he has carried Great Britain at times in these Olympics. Deng shot the lights out against Spain and nearly brought Great Britain back with two threes in the final minute to close the gap to one. Other familiar names include the unforgettable Pops Mensah-Bonsu, who helped lead George Washington University to a 27-1 regular season record in 2006, and Andrew Lawrence, who played for the College of Charleston last season.
KEY PLAYERS- CHINA: The loss of Yao Ming really hurt the Chinese, who were very competitive in Beijing. Dallas Mavericks forward Yi Jianlian leads China. Center Wang Zhizhi also spent time in the NBA.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: China lost to Spain, 97-81, Russia, 73-54, Australia 81-61, and Brazil 98-59. Great Britain was a bit more competitive, losing just 79-78 to Spain and 67-62 to Brazil, but they were also pasted 106-75 by Australia and 95-75 by Russia.
PREDICTION: Great Britain 87, China 85. The Brits finish off on a high note, knocking off the Chinese in a close, hard-fought game.
Start time: 3:00 p.m. Eastern time
Spain (3-1, 7 pts) vs.
Brazil (3-1, 7 pts)
WHY THIS GAME MATTERS: This should be a knock-down, drag-out war for the No. 2 seed in Group B. But it won’t be, unless Russia falls to Australia earlier in the day, because the winner will get the unintended consequence of landing on the same side of the bracket as the United States, should the Americans take care of business against Argentina. The Olympic bracket forces the second-place finisher in Group B to face the top team in Group A in the semifinals, while the third-place finisher wouldn’t have to face the Group A winners until the Gold Medal game, if it advances that far. (See the 2008 bracket as an example). This could set up a badminton-like scenario where neither team really wants to win this game.
KEY PLAYERS- SPAIN: The 2006 World Champions are led by the Gasol brothers, Marc and Pau, who have played exceptionally well so far in these Games. Pau is averaging 19.5 points per game. The fact that Oklahoma City Thunder enforcer Serge Ibaka comes off the bench for this team tells you all you need to know. Raptors guard Jose Calderon, Nuggets forward Rudy Fernandez, and former Grizzlies guard Juan Carlos Navarro are also on this roster. Spain is hurt by the loss of point guard Ricky Rubio, but this is still a ridiculously talented group.
KEY PLAYERS- BRAZIL: Brazil has an impressive collection of talent as well, with Pacers guard Leandro Barbosa, Cavaliers forward Anderson Varejao, Wizards center Nene, and Spurs center Tiago Splitter all on the roster. Both of these teams have more size than the United States inside, and can present matchup problems with speedy perimeter players.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Spain defeated China, 97-81, before struggling in wins over Australia (82-70) and Great Britain (79-78). The Spanish then blew a 20-2 lead and lost to Russia, 77-74. Brazil defeated Australia 75-71, Great Britain 67-62, and China, 90-58. The Brazilians lost to Russia, on a game-winning three with 4 seconds left by Vitaliy Fridzon, 75-74.
PREDICTION: Brazil 79, Spain 75. Neither team really wants to win this game, and Spain has been known to play possum before. No one will get sent home like the badminton players, but Brazil will try just a little bit harder in a close win.