Team USA Men's Basketball: Previewing Tuesday's Exhibition Against Spain
For the first time since 2004, Team USA looks completely beatable. Brazil kept it close against the Americans, losing by only 11, and Argentina came even closer in a six-point loss. Now it's time to preview Team USA's biggest challenge yet: a duel with their chief rival Spain.
In terms of raw talent Team USA should dominate, but injuries have decimated their potent roster. They are now left with only one true center (Tyson Chandler) to contain Spanish brothers Pau and Marc Gasol.
As well as being two of the best big men in the NBA, the Gasols have incredible chemistry as they've been playing together for their entire lives. In fact, most of Spain's team has been in the national program since their teenage years.
That's the sort of chemistry that brought down Team USA in 2004 (although Argentina was the team that did it). It's Spain's biggest weapon against a far more talented American roster.
Their size is a close second. Spain has the Gasols and Serge Ibaka to throw at Team USA, who can only really counter with Tyson Chandler, Kevin Love or Anthony Davis. All three are worthy players, but Coach K is unlikely to use more than one of them at a time considering their ridiculous depth on the wings.
Expect the Spaniards to pound the ball inside as much as possible. For Spain to win, the Gasols have to take at least 25 shots.
They'll also have to play incredible defense. LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will all spend plenty of time driving to the basket. They'll have to find ways of slowing those guys down without fouling. If either of the Gasols fouls out, Spain will lose.
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The Americans will try to take advantage of their superior athleticism. Assuming they stick with their usual starting lineup, Juan Carlos Navarro and Rudy Fernandez will have to spend a significant amount of time defending Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant.
As good as those guys are in supporting roles, they've never been known as stoppers. Guarding two of the world's best pure scorers seems like a tall order.
If the Americans want to expose this weakness, they're going to have to drive the lane as much as possible. Spain doesn't have the perimeter defenders necessary to stay in front of those guys.
This will also give Team USA a chance to create a major free-throw disparity. Easy points will mean a lot in such a close matchup. Considering Spain doesn't really drive to the basket, the Americans have a chance to steal a ton of free points.
Team USA also has an advantage at point guard. Even if Spain had Ricky Rubio, he and Jose Calderon couldn't stand up to Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Russell Westbrook.
However, this advantage isn't as pronounced as it seems. Spain thrives on constant ball movement from the entire team. Calderon won't be the sole distributor.
If Spain's excellent passing can keep Team USA guessing, their size should be able to cause major problems. In fact, it may even be able to force Coach K's hand and make him play Tyson Chandler and Anthony Davis together for significant minutes.
While defensively that duo would be fantastic, it would severely limit what the Americans can do offensively. They essentially wouldn't be able to go inside.
That should be Spain's major goal. They have to force Team USA to adjust to what they're doing, not the other way around. If they can do that, the Spaniards might be able to pull off the upset.
Something else to note: don't be surprised to see Spain hold a bit back in this game. They know this game doesn't count, and they may experiment a bit to try to find a hidden weakness in Team USA.
Team USA is going to want to make a statement in this game. They know the Spaniards are gunning for them. Expect the Americans to jump out to an early lead and not relinquish it. Final score: 88-76, Team USA.
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