USA vs. Lithuania: Preview, Analysis, Prediction for Olympics Preliminary Game
Now that they're done destroying Nigeria, it's time for Team USA to finally turn their attention to an actual basketball powerhouse when they take on Lithuania at the London Olympics on Saturday.
The Americans broke seemingly every mark in the record books on Thursday, with their 156-73 throttling of D'Tigers. Mike Krzyzewski's squad couldn't miss from the floor (an Olympic-record 71.1 percent) or from deep (29-of-46), with Carmelo Anthony hitting 10 threes on the way to a U.S. Olympic-record 37-point night.
Earlier in the day, Lithuania picked up their second loss in three tries, this time falling to an increasingly formidable French team, 82-74. Toronto Raptors forward Linas Kleiza once again led the way for his country with 17 points, though he and his compatriots struggled to contain Tony Parker and Nicolas Batum, who combined for 48 points for Les Bleus.
The U.S. and Lithuania last met on the court in the semifinals of the 2010 FIBA World Championship in Turkey, when Kevin Durant dropped a U.S. international-record 38 points in an 89-74 win for the red, white and blue.
Time: Saturday, August 4 at 9:30 a.m. EDT
Location: Basketball Arena, Olympic Park; London, England
TV: NBC Sports Network
Record of Each Team: USA 3-0, Lithuania 1-2
|Guard||Chris Paul||Kobe Bryant||Deron Williams||Russell Westbrook||James Harden|
|Forward||LeBron James||Kevin Durant||Carmelo Anthony||Kevin Love||Andre Iguodala|
|Center||Tyson Chandler||Anthony Davis|
|Guard||Rimantas Kaukenas||Mantas Kalnietis||Martynas Pocius||Sarunas Jasikevicius||Renaldas Seibutis|
|Forward||Linas Kleiza||Jonas Maciulis||Darius Songaila||Simas Jasaitis||Paulius Jankunas|
|Center||Jonas Valanciunas||Antanas Kavaliauskas|
Betting Line: TBD
Key Storyline to Watch For: The Follow-Up
So Team USA just dismantled Nigeria to an extent that hasn't been and likely never again will be seen on a basketball court.
Did America's shooters spend all their bullets on an Olympic debutante? Will they be overconfident after playing perhaps the most perfect game of basketball ever seen at this level?
And what will Lithuania have to say about all of this? Their 19-point win over the Nigerians doesn't quite compare, though it shouldn't suggest that they'll lose to the Americans by 64 points (because, you know, 83-19 = 64).
Key Matchup: Linas Kleiza vs. LeBron James
Linas Kleiza and LeBron James are the best players for their respective squads, and they sport similar builds and play largely the same position.
The difference, of course, is that James is the best baller on the planet, while Kleiza, formidable in his own right, serves as a role player for the Toronto Raptors by trade.
That being said, the 6'8", 245-pound Kleiza is a tough cover, thanks to his ability to operate inside and out. But if LeBron tightens the defensive screws on him, then Lithuania could be in for a long afternoon in London.
It wouldn't exactly be a surprise, seeing as how LeBron's done it to Kleiza before:
The Game Will Be Close If...
The U.S. comes out cocky and lethargic, like they did against France and Tunisia. On the other side, if the Lithuanians play better defense, hit some outside shots and take advantage of their size inside, they'll have Team USA in for a rude awakening.
It Will Be a Team USA Blowout If...
The Americans play with anything close to the level of focus and intensity that helped them stomp the Nigerians.
And even if they don't, the U.S. bench is so deep and relentless as far as talent is concerned that they should be able to dispatch a thus-far underwhelming Lithuanian side without too much trouble by the time the final buzzer sounds in London.
Player the U.S. Has to Contain: Kleiza
As mentioned earlier, Kleiza is Lithuania's best and most reliable player, and has the potential to be a matchup nightmare if Team USA don't bring their "A" game again. He managed just four points on 1-of-11 shooting the last time these two teams met, but he has been playing some solid basketball at the Olympics so far, averaging 16 points per game through three contests.
X Factor: Jonas Valanciunas
As impressive as Kleiza has been in these Olympics, Jonas Valanciunas has been equally unimpressive for Lithuania. Kleiza's soon-to-be Toronto Raptors rookie teammate was touted as arguably the second-best prospect to enter the NBA this fall, behind only Anthony Davis.
Through three games in the Olympics, though, Valanciunas has hardly looked the part. The 20-year-old seven-footer has racked up 14 points and eight rebounds in total as his nation's starting center. Worse still, Valanciunas came up empty on the boards in Thursday's loss to France.
Which team will win?
The Lithuanians could certainly benefit if Valanciunas were to acquit himself better in front of his future adversaries, as much for his own good as for that of his country on the court. And if Valanciunas does come to play, he just might find Team USA's lack of size and depth up front to be just what the doctor ordered.
Prediction: USA 115, Lithuania 80
Lithuania are no slouches on the hardwood, but they haven't looked the part of a worthy competitor for Team USA thus far.
They'll be hard-pressed to start, now that the Americans are on such a roll.
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