The United States men's basketball team won its third straight Olympic tune-up Thursday, walloping an under-manned Great Britain side by the final score of 118-78 in Manchester, England.
With wins over the Dominican Republic, Brazil and, now, Great Britain in the rear view mirror, the U.S. can look ahead to two games that actually matter for the 2012 Olympics. Upcoming exhibitions against Argentina (July 22) and Spain (July 24) will help Team USA set the tone for its bid for Olympic gold in London.
Thursday's win over Great Britain stayed close early on, but the USA held a comfortable 55-37 edge heading into halftime. In the second half, the Americans turned the contest into a dunk-fest worthy of NBA Jam. The speed and perimeter defense for the U.S. was simply too much for a British side—even with Chicago Bulls forward Luol Deng—to handle.
Next week will be the true test for the Americans, however, and any concerns that may have arisen during a 80-69 win over Brazil earlier this week will either be put to rest or put into focus against two of the world's best countries for basketball.
Argentina, which won the 2004 gold medal, will feature eight medal-winners and several NBA talents. The squad is led, of course, by San Antonio Spurs guard Mano Ginobili, but this isn't a one-man show. Alongside Ginobili will be fellow NBAers Carlos Delfino (Milwaukee Bucks) and Luis Scola (Phoenix Suns), plus former NBA player Andres Nocioni.
Argentina will also feature two talented big men—Leonardo Gutierrez and Federico Kammerichs—who could give the injured Team USA problems in the paint.
However, don't expect either side to show too many of their cards, as the U.S. and Argentina are in the same group for London. Still, a win for either side would be a big confidence ahead of group play in London.
Overall, Spain will be the game most circle, and speculation is that the Spanish side is the one team that could keep the U.S. from winning gold in London.
Runners-up to Team USA in 2008, Spain will bring a bevy of NBA talent to the 2012 Games.
Electric point guard Ricky Rubio (knee) won't play, but Spain is the only country outside the United States that can throw out an NBA starting lineup.
Included on the Spanish roster are Pau (Los Angeles Lakers) and Marc Gasol (Memphis Grizzlies), Jose Calderon (Toronto Raptors), Serge Ibaka (Oklahoma City Thunder) and Rudy Fernandez (formerly of the Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets).
Juan Carlos Navarro could probably be an NBA bench player, and Victor Sada won't be a push over defensively.
Coming out of Pool B (USA is in Pool A), Spain is a solid bet to reach the final and face the Americans in London.
One thing to watch in Barcelona when Team USA takes on Spain next week: The battles down low.
Team USA lost much of its depth down low to injury—Chris Bosh, Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin—and the Spanish may feature the most talented front court in the tournament. The U.S. may find a big problem next week if they can't contain Spain in the paint.
Overall, the USA can erase the memory of a poor performance against Brazil with better showings against possibly its two biggest rivals for the gold medal in London. While Team USA can't win the gold with two wins next week, it can set the stage for an easier path to the top of the podium.
Any backtracks against either Argentina or Spain could make for a shaky ride through London later on this summer.