Olympic Basketball Schedule 2012: Previewing Each Team USA Men's Game
The 2012 Summer Olympics are in full swing, but fans have yet to get a glimpse of Team USA in the men’s basketball tournament. They are perhaps the most hyped and exciting group in the entire London Games, let alone the b-ball tournament.
Fortunately, the Americans will get started with preliminary play tomorrow – Sunday, July 29 – and are guaranteed to play five games against their group through Monday, August 6.
After group play, only the top total four teams from both Pool A (USA, France, Argentina, Lithuania, Nigeria and Tunisia) and Pool B (Spain, Australia, Brazil, Russia, Great Britain and China) advance to the semifinal round.
America has a great chance of making the final four, but they have to get through the group first.
Let’s take a look at their impending matchups, which players to watch and make a prediction on who will win.
All preliminary men’s basketball group games will air on NBC Sports Network and the special event NBC Basketball network.
All games will take place at Basketball Arena in Olympic Park, London, England.
All games will be live streamed at NBCOlympics.com.
France – Sunday, July 29 at 9:30 A.M. ET
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Opposing Player to Watch: Tony Parker
The Frenchman is one of the top point guards in the world and easily the best player on the national team.
He’s got to step up as a facilitator, penetrator, scorer and leader if he wants to keep his team in this game – especially against the supremely athletic and tough defensive PGs on Team USA.
Key Matchup: Nicolas Batum vs. Kobe Bryant
Batum is going to be the No. 2 scorer for the French and will have the tough job of guarding a number of different athletes on Team USA, most notably Kobe Bryant if coach Vincent Collet matches him up against his position.
The 23-year-old can clearly play and was just rewarded with a four-year, $46 million contract by the Portland Trail Blazers. It’s time to see if that payday has motivated Batum or made him complacent.
Prediction: USA 85 – France 70
The Americans have excellent matchups against France and should have no problem steamrolling them to open the tournament.
Tunisia – Tuesday, July 31 at 5:15 P.M. ET
Photo Credit: NBCcircle.com
Opposing Player to Watch: Marouan Kechrid
The 5’10” guard was the leading scorer in Tunisia’s gold-medal effort at the FIBA Africa Championship in 2011, which secured his team a spot in the London Olympics.
He’s going to have to have the game of his lifetime if the Tunisians hope to even keep this semi-respectable.
Key Matchup: Big men
This is perhaps the only matchup where Team USA has a size advantage down low no matter who they play.
Tunisia does not have a player above 6’9” with the exception of 7’ Salah Mejri, who is of absolutely no threat to Tyson Chandler or the other USA bigs.
Expect the US to pound it inside for once in this contest.
Prediction: USA 95 – Tunisia 52
There is just no chance that a group of unheralded talent with no NBA experience can hang with the global superstars from America. They will get destroyed.
Nigeria – Thursday, August 2 at 5:15 P.M. ET
Photo Credit: Cruisenigeria.com
Opposing Player to Watch: Ike Diogu
The former Arizona State Sun Devil was taken ninth overall in the 2005 draft but quickly turned out to be a bust in the NBA. He bounced around, winding up with seven different teams during his seven-year career.
However, he’s the best center that Nigeria has available and they need him to somehow harness that talent that made him so desirable back in ’05 and caused so many teams to take a flier on his skills.
Key Matchup: Al-Farouq Aminu vs. Team USA forwards
Aminu is a former lottery pick (No. 8 overall in 2010) of the Los Angeles Clippers and was one of the key pieces that landed in New Orleans as part of the Chris Paul trade.
He’s an excellent defender and a decent scorer, which is great, as Team Nigeria will need him to play at an all-around high level in this contest.
Aminu will be tasked with locking down LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and many of the other forwards on the U.S. national team while also being counted upon to score.
It’s a tall task for the 21-year-old.
Prediction: USA 87 – Nigeria 65
Again, this team just doesn’t have the NBA experience or basketball skills to hang with the US. They might keep it close for a bit, but the Americans will eventually turn this into a blowout.
Lithuania – Saturday, August 4 at 9:30 A.M. ET
Harry How/Getty Images
Opposing Player to Watch: Jonas Valanciunas
The 7’ Lithuanian center is making the leap to the NBA this upcoming season after being selected No. 5 overall in 2011. He’s going to get a rough welcoming from the current crop of stars in the league on August 4.
He’s one of the best young bigs in Europe, but his raw skills will be tested against the grizzled veterans on Team USA.
Key Matchup: Linas Kleiza vs. LeBron James
Kleiza is the starting 4 for the Lithuanians and will be counted on to match up against King James to start the game.
At 6’8”, 235-pounds, the former Missouri Tigers standout certainly has the size to guard the NBA MVP, but his questionable quickness may be a problem.
However, Kleiza’s greatest impact may be forcing LBJ to guard him and expend his energy on that end of the court. When given the freedom to create and attack—something he isn’t afforded with the Toronto Raptors when he is playing stateside—the 27-year-old can be quite dangerous.
Prediction: USA 85 – Lithuania 77
This will be a close matchup until the end, when the athleticism and quickness of the Americans will finally wear the feisty and scrappy Lithuanians out.
Argentina – Monday, August 6 at 5:15 P.m. ET
David Ramos/Getty Images
Opposing Player to Watch: Manu Ginobili
The 34-year-old NBA superstar is Argentina’s best chance of pulling an upset against Team USA.
He dropped 23 points in before fouling out in an exhibition game in Barcelona against the yanks on July 22. His team ended up falling by just six points, 86-80.
If he is able to catch fire from beyond the arc and create his usual devastation via penetration, the Argentinians have a real shot to win this.
Key Matchup: Carlos Delfino vs. Kevin Durant
In the exhibition match, the Argentinians stuck Delfino on KD to open the game. That obviously didn’t work, as the three-time NBA scoring champ caught fire early and finished with 27 points (21 from downtown) and six assists.
Delfino must do a better job denying the OKC Thunder swingman the ball and getting a hand in his face when he catches it beyond the arc.
Had Durant been forced into an average night from three-point land instead of an absurd one, Team Argentina could have scored an upset last week.
Prediction: Argentina 81 – USA 80
With the group play winding down and the US having a guaranteed spot in the semifinals, expect them to get complacent and vulnerable.
Argentina is still upset about their blown chance at an upset in Barcelona and will pull one off in London.