U.S. Men’s Basketball Team Passes First Test Against Lithuania

By: Kels Dayton

They may have laughed it up against Nigeria, pouring down threes with the frequency of rain droplets on a London spring day, but the U.S. men’s basketball team is in for far more nip-and-tuck nailbiters than it is 83-point wins throughout the rest of its stay in England.

James took control in the fourth quarter, scoring nine points and lifting the U.S. to a narrow win over Lithuania. (Getty Images)

Lithuania proved that Saturday, taking the lead from the team that said it could beat the Dream Team twice in the second half before finally bowing out, 99-94.

Led by Toronto Raptors reserve Linas Kleiza, who scored 25 points, the Lithuanians frustrated Team USA, hanging with them the entire way and forcing LeBron James to take matters into his own hands in the fourth quarter.

James scored 9 of his 20 points in the final four minutes for the Americans, keeping them undefeated at 4-0 by the force of his will.

“It was like LeBron said, ‘I got this, I’m doing this,’ said head coach Mike Kryzyzewski. After it was over, James and the rest of his U.S. teammates proclaimed that narrowly escaping Lithuania will be a good thing for the team long-term. “You want to get tested,” LeBron said. “The best teams want to be tested. We love the competition. We’ve got some of the best competitors in our league, in this world, so you want to have a game where you feel like you’re tested, and we had that today.”

Carmelo Anthony added 20 points, Kevin Durant had 16, and Chris Paul grabbed seven rebounds, six assists and four steals for the Untied States, which went just 10-for-33 from behind the arc after draining 29 threes in their 156-73 slaughtering of Nigeria two days ago.

The Americans also struggled to defend the pick-and-roll, which is something that has concerned team architect Jerry Colangelo since Greece ran it down the U.S.’ throats in an upset win in the 2006 World Championships.

No one will argue that the world outside the U.S. hasn’t improved greatly since Michael, Magic, Larry and company charged through the Olympics in 1992. In fact, you could argue that the Dream Team started the basketball revolution that has resulted in the rest of the world’s rapid improvement.

Still, a five-point win over Lithuania isn’t exactly the way to convince anyone that the 2012 team could have stood toe-to-toe with the original Dream Team.

Instead of worrying about that, shouldn’t we worry about just beating Spain first?

In everyone’s haste to wonder about whether or not these will be the last Olympics that NBA stars should be allowed to participate in, we forget that just eight years ago–with a team that included stars such as Tim Duncan, Dwyane Wade, Allen Iverson, and Carmelo Anthony, the U.S. finished with the most underwhelming bronze medal in the history of the Olympics. That team lost to Puerto Rico by 19.

This was never going to be a cakewalk for the U.S. Not against Lithuania, not against Argentina, and certainly not Spain.

The team recognizes that.  Here’s hoping everyone else will.

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