2012 Olympic Basketball: Game-by-Game Predictions for USA's Path to Gold Medal
The men's basketball portion of the 2012 London Olympics is set to commence, and so will Team USA's journey to collect their second straight gold medal.
All eyes in the basketball world will be on southeast England, where some of the NBA's biggest and brightest stars—LeBron James, Serge Ibaka, Luis Scola, Tony Parker, etc.—will collide and battle for something more than personal conviction; national pride.
The sport is one of the most watched in all of the Olympic sports, not only because of its incredible athleticism and fast-paced action, but because of its ability to put forth a competitive tournament year after year.
It will once again take center stage again this year, and here are my game-by-game predictions for this year's preliminary rounds and elimination tournament.
This is a great resource to help you figure things out, but if you want the quick version then here it is: The tournament layout of the Men's Olympic Basketball championship is the same as the World Cup in soccer—it has a group stage and then elimination stage—except for the fact that there are only 12 teams and two groups.
In Group A there are the following teams:
— United States
In Group B there are the following teams:
— Great Britain
Out of each group of six, only four teams advance to the single elimination bracket, which looks like this.
Each game has four ten-minute quarters, and group play consists of five sets for each group. The "sets" consist of three games each—each team plays on the assigned days—on July 29, July 31, August 2, August 4 and August 6.
Group "A" Matches, Set 1 (July 29)
Nigeria (1-0) defeats Tunisia (0-1), 81-68
Nigeria is led by its only NBA player, small forward Al-Farouq Aminu. He will most likely have a big game scoring-wise, even going up against a decent forward rotation in Tunisia.
The key will be whether Ike Diogu can whether the storm of Salah Mejri and Macram Ben Romdhane, and I think the ten-year NBA veteran can replicate his masterful performance that got Nigeria into the Olympics in the first place.
Tunisia will keep it close early, but I think a big second half from Aminu will propel Nigeria.
United States (1-0) defeats France (0-1), 95-86
Facing one of the few teams with loads of NBA talent, the "New Dream Team" will be lucky enough to engage in a battle of strengths. The loss of Joakim Noah, the team's only dominant inside threat, to injury will hurt France's ability to exploit USA's weakness, interior scoring and rebounding.
With that said, locking down France's dynamic backcourt duo—Tony Parker and Nicolas Batum—won't be easy, even for a guard rotation that includes Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, James Harden and Kobe Bryant.
The key to the game will be America's dominance at the small forward position—Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony should dominate Mickael Gelabale. It'll be a scare, but Team USA's ability to score in bunches will put them on top in this one.
Argentina (1-0) defeats Lithuania (0-1), 89-70
I really like the veteran Lithuanian team, led by young Toronto Raptors star Jonas Valanciunas, but Argentina's savvy and scoring ability—fueled by Manu Ginobili, Carlos Delfino and Luis Scola—will be too much for a team that lacks a lot of athleticism or talent at key positions.
I think Linas Kleiza and Valanciunas will have big games inside, but it won't be enough to stave off a late Argentina run and open group play with a win.
Group "B" Matches, Set 1 (July 29)
Brazil (1-0) defeats Australia (0-1), 86-78
With Kyrie Irving and Andrew Bogut playing the 1 and 5 respectively, I'd be able to see Australia as a medal round favorite. Without them, however, that perspective is definitely forced to change.
The tenacious rebounding duo of Nene Hilario and Anderson Varejao crushed the Americans on the glass, so it will be no surprise when they dominate the paint against the inferior Aussie big men. I expect big things from Patty Mills and Matthew Nielsen, but not enough to knock off Brazil.
Spain (1-0) defeats China (0-1), 101-64
China's use of a very good domestic team to field a nice international squad is impressive, but it will pale in comparison to the gold medal-caliber roster Sergio Scariolo has put together in Spain.
The front court trio of Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka will be supreme once again in these games, something that clearly spells doom for a country that relies on 7-plus-foot trees to win their games.
And that's all without factoring in a solid 1-2-3 punch of Jose Calderon, Juan Carlos Navarro and Rudy Fernandez.
Great Britain (1-0) defeats Russia (0-1), 80-77
There isn't much that I can say here in terms of analysis; I'm going off of a hunch.
Russia's lack of American talent is cancelled out by its excellent national league. Great Britain doesn't have much in the way of depth or star power, featuring only one viable scoring threat—Luol Deng. What it does have, however, is experience and savvy, two things that I think will help it shock the world.
The home crowd will be fired up, and so will the Brits. Deng's scoring and the team's strong defense will be enough to propel them past Kirilenko and Russia.
Group "A" Matches, Set 2 (July 31)
Lithuania (1-1) defeats Nigeria (1-1), 81-74
Jonas Valanciunas will come to play, knowing that the fourth spot in Group A will likely come down to Lithuania and Nigeria.
If and when he does, Nigeria must be ready. The 6'11" center has the talent and athletic advantage against veteran Ike Diogu, and will tear Nigeria to shreds unless double teams work effectively. Even if they do—which I don't think they will—power forward Linas Kleiza should be there to clean things up in the paint.
It won't be a blow out, but Lithuania won't let this one get away.
Argentina (2-0) defeats France (0-2), 93-91
France just didn't catch a lucky break. Facing two of the three teams that can beat them regularly—the other being Spain—in as many games won't help France get out of the gate quickly.
That said, there is no way Tony Parker is going to lay down at the feet of teammate Manu Ginobili. He, Batum and Diaw will claw and scratch for every effective possession against their NBA opponents, which include Ginobili, Carlos Delfino and Luis Scola.
The key to the game will be which guard can force the wings to collapse first. If either Ginobili or Parker is able to penetrate early, they'll open things up for their respective small forwards—Delfino and Batum—as well as attract attention away from the big men in the paint.
Fresh off of a tough postseason, I expect Ginobili to get the better of Parker and put his team in cruise control.
USA (2-0) defeats Tunisia (0-2), 109-80
In one of its more straightforward contests, I don't see any way that Coach K's squad will falter against Salah Merji and the "Cinderella" prospects from Tunisia. It's just too outlandish.
Tunisia is ranked 32nd in the world by FIBA, and the only reason this team got into the Olympics was by shocking Angola in the AfroBasket. They have a big heart, but that won't be enough against the star-studded Americans. Expect Kobe Bryant and Kevin Love to have field days against Morad El Mabrouk and Mohamed Hadidane respectively.
Group "B" Matches, Set 2 (July 31)
Russia (1-1) defeats China (0-2), 78-71
As you can guess by now, I'm not very high on Team China.
Even though they continue to field a team with an abundance of near 7-footers, I don't believe height will be enough to overcome the adroit, veteran Russian squad led by Andrei Kirilenko, or "AK-47" as he was known in Utah.
Neither team is good enough to pull away at any point, but Russia will keep a comfortable margin throughout and put the Chinese in a hole through two games.
Australia (1-1) defeats Spain (1-1), 80-75
Didn't think Spain would lose in the preliminary rounds? Think again.
The Boomers from Australia didn't make things easy in their 81-75 exhibition loss on the road, which makes me think they have the defensive presence and willpower to get things done on a neutral court in London.
Jose Calderon isn't a far cry from Ricky Rubio, but his inability to stop guard Patty Mills on the defensive end will keep Australia in the game throughout. Good defensive efforts from Matthiew Nielsen and David Andersen will keep Serge Ibaka and the Gasol brothers at bay, allowing Australia to steal one and keep itself in contention.
Brazil (2-0) defeats Great Britain (1-1), 91-74
Britain's magic was going to run out anyway, but it's unfortunate that it would have to happen against their fellow Set 1 winners from Brazil.
Brazil's experience will be too much for Luol Deng and the Brits. Tiago Splitter, Nene Hilario and Anderson Varejao will provide a tough task in the front court, and even though Britain has the defense, rebounding and scoring from guard Leandro Barbosa will just be too much to handle over four quarters.
Group "A" Matches, Set 3 (August 2)
France (1-2) defeats Lithuania (1-2), 96-73
Even though France will be facing their third straight tough test, there is no way Tony Parker will let his veteran ballclub falter for a third straight time against Jonas Valanciunas and Team Lithuania.
Seeing Parker go head-to-head with Šarūnas Jasikevičius, Lithuania's 36-year old point guard and leader, will be interesting. Both are savvy vets who can distribute the ball, but whether Jasikevičius can keep up with Parker's scoring will be important as to who can pull it out.
I don't expect Valunciunas to struggle, again, but Nicolas Batum and Diaw could stop fellow Raptor Linas Kleiza from doing much of anything. France will get an early scare, but they'll pull away early in the third quarter and blow Lithuania out of the water to get their first win.
Argentina (3-0) defeats Tunisia (0-3), 89-68
There isn't much Tunisia can do, seeing as they lost their only chance at a "w" against fellow AfroBasket member Nigeria.
Salah Merji will provide a tougher test than many expect for Argentina forward Luis Scola, but as he's always done, Manu Ginobili will hit big shots when he's counted upon to do so.
Point guard Pablo Prigioni has shown that he can run the offense well, and if Carlos Delfino gets hot at the right time, this game could be over by halftime. Expect four or five Argentinians to be in double-digits.
United States (3-0) defeats Nigeria (1-2), 95-72
As they did with Tunisia, Team USA will cruise to victory and a 3-0 start.
If I wanted to be really "smart" and call that Al-Farouq Aminu will outplay Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, and that Ike Diogu will suddenly turn into Dikembe Mutombo and silence the American front court, I could.
But that won't happen, because as much as heart plays a role, superior talent with superior desire will win. The Americans are on a mission and they will just be too much for Nigeria to handle, especially with Kobe Bryant going head-to-head with guards who couldn't defend NBA backups.
Group "B" Matches, Set 3 (August 2)
Australia (2-1) defeats China (0-3), 81-72
See a trend?
China isn't even as good as they were in 2008, when they barely qualified in the preliminaries and finished 8th overall out of 12 teams. Their international success hasn't translated past Asia, after complete disasters at the 2010 FIBA World Championships and the five-game London Olympics test event in 2011.
Yi Jianlian is their go-to guy, but his shot selection is too suspect to say that he'll be effective against a very good defensive team in the Aussies. I wouldn't be surprised if China managed to overcome that and somehow pull out a win against an Australia team with limited athleticism, but if the past means anything then I doubt it'll happen.
Brazil (3-0) defeats Russia (1-2), 92-84
Even though the Russians will likely have an NBA player back in the mix by this time—Andrei Kirilenko is supposed to sign with the T'Wolves in the next week—it still won't be enough to knock off Varejao and the Brazilians.
I'm very high on the big men of Brazil—Varejao, Nene and Tiago Splitter—and their ability to control a game from the inside-out, which works best in international play. They're dominance of the glass against the undersized Russians will open opportunities for star guard Leandro Barbosa. To win this game, they'll need a strong offensive performance from him, which I believe they'll get.
Brazil's style is to score, score and score, and Russia won't be able to stop themselves from getting sucked into a scoring race which they're bound to lose.
Spain (2-1) defeats Great Britain (1-2), 95-52
Luol Deng could go off for 30-plus points against an overmatched Rudy Fernandez. The Gasol brothers could get into early foul trouble due to a surprisingly dominant offensive performance by Robert Archibald. Then again, neither is likely to happen, so why even try and predict a British win?
Even without Rubio at the point, the Spanish backcourt is too much for the Brits to handle. When you add in the best front court in the entire tournament—the P. Gasol, M. Gasol, and Ibaka trio—I don't see any way Britain can defend the Spaniards in their half-court set. On offense, Luol Deng will likely have a good game, but they won't get much else with the defensively-minded Serge Ibaka patrolling the paint and averaging nearly three blocks per game.
The Brits are an underrated team that earned its way into the Olympics, but they simply can't stand a chance against the world's second-deepest, second-best team.
Group "A" Matches, Set 4 (August 4)
France (2-2) defeats Tunisia (0-4), 91-74
France is back on a roll after a two-game hiccup to start the Olympics. After a tough, scrappy win against Lithuania, I fully expect veteran guard Tony Parker to lead his team to victory with another dominant performance against a weak backcourt.
Even so, I don't expect it to be smooth sailing for the French against a Tunisia team that will be looking to make a statement and earn back some respect. Macram Ben Romdhane will have a nice day offensively, as he will often do in these Olympics, as he bodies up against Boris Diaw. Salah Mejri, Tunisia's first seven-footer, will also leave his mark with a double-double against the undersized French center pairing of Ronny Turiaf and Kevin Seraphin.
Where France will make its money, however, is with small forward Nicolas Batum. His athleticism will allow him to run the floor with ease against Tunisia, a team that didn't see anyone like him in the AfroBasket. Batum will be the 17-point difference France will need to escape Tunisia and claw back to .500.
United States (4-0) defeats Lithuania (1-3), 94-87
Of all teams in this group, I think Lithuania is the least likely team to be described as "underrated". Ranked fifth overall, they are now one of international basketball's powerhouses. Even so, seeing a 1-2 team limp into a match against mighty Team USA can disarm even the most clever of coaches.
Lithuania's losses against France and Argentina won't misrepresent their talent. They simply don't match up well against either. When facing Team USA, however, Team Lithuania and coach Kestutis Kemzura will have the tactical advantage.
The Americans have always struggled against talented, tall frontcourts, which is exactly what Lithuania has. Linas Kleiza is a 3 who can play the 4, and his versatile offensive game will provide a challenge to whoever guards him, whether it be Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James.
Jonas Valanciunas and Darius Songaila will most likely start at center and power forward respectively, and provide a tough test from the get-go. Valunciunas is the most athletic big man in the entire tournament, and his ability to score around the basket will put Tyson Chandler in foul trouble early. Songaila has an array of post moves that will give Team USA's unconventional PFs—especially Durant—trouble.
This game is going to be a dogfight. I see USA's three-point prowess being the difference, as they use the international line to go on a roll late in the game and come back to steal one away from Lithuania. If they want to avoid an upset, however, Coach K is going to have to up Kevin Love's minutes and let his best rebounder lock down the boards.
Argentina (4-0) defeats Nigeria (1-3), 88-75
Nigeria is lucky enough to have Argentina and France in their group, two of the powerhouses whose strengths aren't size. Even so, I don't see Nigeria getting a win against either.
Al-Farouq Aminu will have a field day against Argentina, likely going for 20 and 10 while shutting down swingman Carlos Delfino who will struggle against Aminu's physical on-the-ball defense.
The difference in this one will be the guard play, because I don't see Argentina doing much more than getting a draw in the frontcourt. Prigioni and Ginobili outclass Nigeria's backcourt in every facet of the game, and will continue their run for a perfect record with a double-digit win against Nigeria.
Group "B" Matches, Set 4 (August 4)
Spain (3-1) defeats Russia (1-3), 82-77
The Russian team has an interesting dynamic, one that will make its contest a close on against top-ranked Spain. They have a lot of chemistry formed between their players, with six players coming from CSKA Moscow and three others coming from Khimki Moscow. They also have a balance of the old and the young, with their two best players being their oldest (Andrei Kirilenko, 31) and third-youngest (Alexey Shved, 23).
Their "quality" bigs won't be much use against the Big 3 of Spain, a trio that I've mentioned many times already in this article. Shved and Kirilenko, on the other hand, will use scoring savvy to pour in the points and keep the game interesting until the final buzzer sounds.
I expect both to score more than 20 points, using the pick-and-roll combined with isolations to run a two-man show throughout.
Spain will have to find its answer in three-point threat Rudy Fernandez, whose ability to hit the international long ball will give Spain a consistent offensive source in tough spots. Their best shot to score consistently is to feed the ball inside, but against Russia it will be tough.
Brazil (4-0) defeats China (0-4), 85-80
In its closest defeat yet, Yi Jianlian nearly takes the monkey off his team's back by nearly leading his team to a well-deserved win against the still unbeaten Brazilians. Nearly.
I think the battle of Liu Wei versus Leandro Barbosa in the backcourt will be interesting, but the game will be won down in the post as China's big men battle NBA stars Anderson Varejao and Nene Hilario. Hilario's low-post moves make him a much more polished scorer than any of China's seven-footers, except for Jianlian, which will eventually give Brazil a slight edge in points in the paint.
Turnovers will be far and few in between for both teams, which means that conserving the ball will be of the utmost importance for China's not-so sure-handed big guys. Brazil's ability to win the turnover battle, even by a slight margin, will allow them to keep up a relentless offensive attack which will eventually lead them to outlasting China over the course of the 40-minute contest.
Australia (3-1) defeats Great Britain (1-3), 75-56
Australia is definitely the most defensively-minded team in the Olympics, and I think they'll show that in their bout with the most offensively-challenged team in the tournament.
An interesting matchup will be Luol Deng versus David Barlow; in qualifying Barlow proved he can defend with the best of them, and he'll certainly get one of his tougher tests against Britain's leading scorer.
With Deng facing a strong defender, I don't see the floor opening up for his teammates, which is GBR's victory formula. Without that, the Aussies should cruise behind captain Matthew Nielsen and Patty Mills.
Group "A" Matches, Set 5 (August 6)
Lithuania (2-3) defeats Tunisia (0-5), 91-75
This game will probably be the hardest-fought of the entire preliminary round, seeing as Tunisia is fighting to prove that the AfroBasket win wasn't a "Cinderella" fluke and Lithuania would be able to clinch with a victory.
The young matchup at center will be interesting, with Valunciunas facing off against Salah Mejri. Valanciunas definitely is more polished in and around the rim, but Mejri definitely has the height and strength to body up throughout the game and come away with points and blocks. It is apparent that he won't out play the Lithuanian prodigy, but he'll definitely keep his team in it with a strong performance.
In my mind, the game will come down to Linas Kleiza and Macram Ben Romdhane. If Kleiza gets the upper hand on offense, he'll take over. Romdhane hasn't been known to bounce back from bad defensive performances, which could prevent his team from ever taking control. It'll be an interesting matchup, but Lithuania's talent and willpower will be greater than Tunisia's at the end of the day.
France (3-2) defeats Nigeria (1-4), 88-74
Neither team has the size advantage, which means the game will likely come down to shooting and athleticism. In both areas, I don't see France relinquishing much, if anything.
The likely starting lineup of all NBA players—Parker, de Colo, Batum, Diaw, Turiaf—will give Nigeria fits; they just can't match France's talent or depth.
There will be a couple nice match ups—Aminu vs Batum, Diogu vs Turiaf/Seraphin—but even in those the Nigerians aren't big favorites (or even favorites at all).
There is nobody really on Nigeria who can guard Parker or de Colo, which will make things easier for the forwards in terms of opening up the middle of the court. Nigeria has the experience and the grittiness, but they don't have enough talent at each position to hang with France for 40 minutes.
USA (5-0) defeats Argentina (4-1), 92-84
Finally! The two best teams in Group A—ranked 1st and 3rd respectively by FIBA—meet in the last game of the preliminary rounds to determine which team will run the table and take home the first seed.
As they showed early in the exhibition game, the Americans can hit threes with the best of them. Unfortunately, they didn't convert early success from beyond the arc into easier opportunities down low and on the drive. They settled too often for bad jumpers, and it allowed Manu Ginobili and Luis Scola to help their team sneak back into the game.
I don't see Coach K allowing the same type of offensive style in the real deal. Expect LeBron, KD, and Kobe to see 35-plus minutes against an Argentinian team that struggles to defend the arc. As they did in the first game, they'll definitely try and establish an offensive rhythm from downtown but as the game wears on you'll definitely see more drives and signature slams from the stars. It's a science: shooting leads to lay-ups.
The only way I see Argentina pulling this one out is if Scola gets LeBron James and/or Kevin Durant in foul trouble, and the USA offense cools off while Scola wreaks havoc once again. But if that happens, I hope the coaching staff will see they need Kevin Love to get plenty of minutes, which will likely be enough to stifle Scola.
Team USA has to win this game if they expect to carry any momentum deep into the elimination bracket.
Group "B" Matches, Set 5 (August 6)
Russia (2-3) defeats Australia (3-2), 72-64
When it comes down to being eliminated or not, I can't imagine that Andrei Kirilenko will let Team Russia fall at the hands of the shorthanded Aussies.
Expect Australia to be playing at a lower level, given their amount of success and the fact that they will do it without their best player, center Andrew Bogut. If the term "drunk with success" means anything to you, you'll understand what I mean.
Alexey Shved has the capability to take Patty Mills off the dribble at the top of the key, which will open up jump shots and easy lay-ups for Kirilenko and center Timofey Mozgov. That will be key if Russia wants to avoid disaster and qualify as Group B's fourth seed.
China (1-4) defeats Great Britain (1-4), 82-72
In other news, Team China wins a game. The Chinese avoid complete embarrassment once again by knocking off the British, who will be in free fall following their Game 1 upset over the Russians.
Yi Jianlian will have a field day against Britain's ragtag group of power forwards, who don't have the athleticism, size or talent to defend him down low in the post or on the outside. After a poor showing in a couple of his team's losses, he won't be in a position where he can fail again on the international stage.
I've talked on and on about Luol Deng, but the person who could fuel a GBR victory is forward/center Pops Mensah-Bonsu. In the exhibition game against the USA, he showed a propensity for getting to charity stripe and rebounding, two things the rest of the team struggled with. If he struggles against China's big men, Great Britain could be out of it by the second quarter.
As it is, I just don't see the British having enough in the tank to beat China. It'll be a close, hard-fought game, but a one that China won't let slip through their fingers.
Spain (4-1) defeats Brazil (4-1), 89-71
Surprising, isn't it? Spain has to win to ensure they don't fall to the third seed. That is exactly why they'll blow the Brazilians out of the water.
On the surface, Team Brazil can handle the Spanish frontcourt. Deep down, when a win is the difference between the first seed and the third seed, there is nothing that will stop the Gasol brothers for dominating the painted area.
An interesting thing to watch will be Brazil's ability to drive against Serge Ibaka, who's been known to send a shot back once in a while. If Leandro Barbosa can't get early lay-ups and floaters, it could seriously affect his shooting, which will spell doom for Brazil's high-octane offense.
I don't expect Spain to let up, which won't be good for a Brazil team that will be outmatched from the start.
Preliminary Round Wrap-Up
- United States (5-0)
- Argentina (4-1)
- France (3-2)
- Lithuania (2-3)
- Nigeria (1-4)
- Tunisia (0-5)
- Spain (4-1)
- Brazil (4-1)
- Australia (3-2)
- Russia (2-3)
- Great Britain (1-4)
- China (1-4)
GROUP "A" STANDINGS:
GROUP "B" STANDINGS:
A3 (France) defeats B2 (Brazil), 92-81
Brazil got the short end of the stick in this draw, facing a team that will have it's number from start to finish.
France doesn't have as much height or talent in their front court, but their guards' ability to score and create their own shot will create problems for the porous Brazilian defense. Nando de Colo in particular could have a big day with Leandro Barbosa focusing primarily on Tony Parker.
Team Brazil relies on its offense to simply outscore the opposition, but they won't be able to do that against France. Not only do the French have too much experience and defensive polish, but France's ability to slow down the pace on offense will keep Brazil out of the transition game early and often. It will be an interesting game, but the world's 12th-best team will have the edge over No. 13.
A1 (USA) defeats B4 (Russia), 85-62
This game won't even be close. It's as easy as that.
Russia can't defend all of Team USA's offensive stars, especially the spattering of small forwards that includes 'Melo, LeBron and KD. Kirilenko can only be in one place at one time, which won't be enough for the Russians.
Expect the Americans to get their points early and often, pulling away before the Russians even get a chance to get comfortable. This game will give the benchwarmers like James Harden and Anthony Davis, who could be starters at the 2016 Brazil Olympics, a chance to get some serious game action in a game that matters.
A2 (Argentina) defeats B3 (Australia), 80-73
The new de facto home team with GBR out of the equation, I expect Australia to give Argentina quite the run for their money.
If Argentina can't set up the half-court set with efficiency against the Aussie's press defense, things could get ugly early and the final score could be something like 52-50. I shudder at the thought.
Argentina usually plays to the competition, and competition is exactly what they're going to get down low from forward Matthew Nielsen. If Luis Scola can't work the up-and-under or any of his regular low-post moves on offense, the Argentines will have to rely too heavily on guards Manu Ginobili and Carlos Delfino.
On the flip side, if Patty Mills doesn't get things going in a hurry, Australia's already poor offense could be quite stagnant. They won't be able to get open and they'll start "chucking and praying" midway through the second quarter.
All in all, Argentina's star power will be the difference. In crunch time, Ginobili has the offense that Australia doesn't. They don't have anyone to count on late in the game, which will force them into tough situations defensively as Argentina pushes the transition game.
B1 (Spain) defeats A4 (Lithuania), 89-71
And Group B has a winner! The Spaniards avoid an 0-4 run for teams from Group B by eliminating Jonas Valunciunas and the Lithuanians.
But it won't be easy, to say the least. Group B only has one team in the top five, while Group A has three, including Lithuania. The depth disparity is shocking.
Valanciunas and Kleiza will make things miserable for the Gasol's down low, but the game will be won at the point guard position where Jose Calderon faces off with veteran guard Sarunas Jasikevicius. Calderon and Jasikevicius are both great floor generals, but who can find their teammates in a more efficient manner will lead their team to victory.
Lithuania has had trouble with athletic teams, and Spain's inability to run the floor could make things difficult if the game is still close late. But with Calderon and Fernandez patrolling the backcourt, I see Spain's offensive excellence being too much for Lithuania to handle.
Top: USA defeats France, 98-85
As they did in the prelims, USA will have to work quite hard if they want to get past Tony Parker and Team France. And as they did on January 29th, they will take it to France thanks to tough backcourt defense and a prolific offensive attack.
France is a little undersized in the front court, but then again it isn't like the Americans will have an edge regardless on the glass and in the paint. If Tyson Chandler gets into early foul trouble and USA has to go small, France could even dominate down there.
They've always, however, made their money with three-point shooting and excellent finishes at the rim courtesy of Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony. Did I mention they also have the defensive presences of Andre Iguodala and Anthony Davis in reserve as well?
Their is a clear tier difference between the two teams, and even with Nicolas Batum, France can't keep up with the Americans on the fast break. They won't be able to keep the ball out of the net early on, which is why they'll trail for most of the game, if not all of it.
Bottom: Spain defeats Argentina, 85-84
In a classic "2 vs 3" matchup, we get to see Luis Scola go head-to-head with Marc Gasol, Rudy Fernandez face Carlos Delfino and Manu Ginobili body up against Jose Calderon.
Argentina has always played best when their starting five gets going offensively early in the game. Against the USA in exhibition, they struggled early which put them in too big of a hole out of which to climb. What you saw near the end, however, was an offensive juggernaut that can put up 15 points in next to no time.
Serge Ibaka and the Spaniards are at their best when they slow down the pace, forcing teams to beat them one-on-one in the half-court set and allowing their own guards to work the ball down low for easy buckets against overmatched frontcourts.
Both teams' strengths will go against the opposing team's weakness. Spain will have trouble stopping the Argentinian fast break and Carlos Delfino, while the Gasol brothers and Ibaka will take it to a undersized Argentina frontcourt.
Who wins this game will be decided by who can get the big defensive stops in crunch time, which I see Spain being able to do with able-bodied shot-blockers and athletic wing players.
Bronze Medal Game: Argentina 89, France 77
In the tournament's second-most important game, Team France looks for revenge against their foes from Argentina.
This will be a rematch of NBA teammates, as guards Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili go "mano-a-mano" to decide the winner of this year's bronze medal in Olympic basketball.
In the paint, neither team has a height or talent advantage. On the international level, Luis Scola and Boris Diaw will likely play to a draw with neither center pairing having enough to dominate the other.
That's why, once again, the game will be won beyond the key. I expect Pablo Prigioni and Ginobili to get hot early on their drive-and-kicks, which will give Carlos Delfino a chance to start swishing three-pointers early and get into an offensive rhythm. Nicolas Batum is an athletic defender, but he's always struggled to defend the three-point line and will do so against one of the better three-point shooters in the international game.
Late in the game, France will need a huge spark on offense which they likely won't be able to find. Tony Parker is a nice scorer, but when it comes to "dominating" Manu Ginobili or Pablo Prigioni, I don't see him being able to do that on a consistent enough basis to lead his team past the world's third-best squad.
For the second Olympics in a row, Team Argentina grabs the bronze behind Spain and the USA.
Gold Medal Game: USA 94, Spain 87
This is what they played for. This is what everything comes down to; can Team USA win their second gold in a row, or will Spain take center stage and shock the Americans on the world's biggest basketball stage?
The game will be a dogfight, that much is clear.
Early on I expect the Americans to try and push the fast break, but that can only happen if they stop Spain in the half-court set. Kevin Love will likely see an increase in minutes in this game, as Coach K pulls all stops in the front court to try and slow down Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka.
On offense, I don't expect them to shoot as many three-pointers as they did in exhibition, but with LeBron and Chris Paul facilitating, they'll get their open shots and bury bucket after bucket.
The game will come down to the scoring race between the Gasol brothers and Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and LeBron James. Both sides will get their points in spurts, but whoever can continually score the ball will end up taking the gold.
As they showed in the 22-point exhibition win, Team USA is a scoring machine. The international three-point line and their ability to finish around the rim will make it too difficult for even Spain to stop them. It won't be easy, but the Americans fight off Spain to win their second gold and maintain their standard as the world's best team.
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