Team USA Basketball 2012: American Men Who Must Thrive vs. Lithuania
The United States men's basketball team has continually been compared to the 1992 Dream Team since the start of the 2012 London Olympic Games, but not many people truly believed that the comparisons were fair.
After the Americans shattered the Olympic scoring record in a 156-73 rout of Nigeria, however, it may be time to reassess that.
One thing that made the Dream Team so good was that it received production throughout the lineup.
The current version of Team USA has that going for it as well, but there is no doubt that some players on the roster could stand to sharpen their skills as the knockout stage approaches.
The American men will face Lithuania on Saturday at 9:30 a.m. ET, and while there is little chance that the Lithuanians will upend Team USA, here are three players who must perform well for the U.S. with pool play winding down.
Of the three, which player must play the best against Lithuania?
The hallmarks of Team USA are speed, athleticism and defensive intensity along the perimeter, but a big man in the middle is still needed. Due to injuries and refusals to participate from the likes of Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum, Chandler is the only true center on the roster.
The New York Knicks' star has been a definite presence for the Americans thus far, but he hasn't had to get too involved since the United States has played teams with poor interior games.
Although Lithuania has a promising, young big in Jonas Valanciunas, Chandler's play won't make or break the USA in this game, either.
In order to prepare for teams with strong paint scorers such as Brazil and Spain in the elimination rounds, however, Chandler needs to be sharp. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski would love to see Chandler take the lead in terms of rebounding and shot-blocking on Saturday.
With high-volume scorers such as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony on the squad, Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul has been somewhat of a supporting player for Team USA.
His true importance cannot be understated, though. Paul is a glue guy of sorts who runs the offense without receiving any of the credit. He has been good in that role, but it would be nice to see him bust out a little bit against Lithuania.
Paul is capable of taking over a game offensively, so Coach K should encourage Paul to get to the basket, take three-point shots, feed his teammates and show his full range of skills.
There are a lot of guys on the team who can handle the ball and run offensive sets, but Paul will be the guy that the coaching staff turns to in crunch time. Just to ensure that he is confident when the games truly count, his role should be expanded a bit against Lithuania.
New Orleans Hornets rookie Anthony Davis was supposed to play the role equivalent to what Christian Laettner did with the Dream Team. Because of the blowouts thus far, however, he has actually received quite a lot of playing time.
Davis has acquitted himself well, and he could be a key figure moving forward. Davis may be the youngest player on the team by far, but he has the length and defensive ability that perhaps only Chandler can match.
The United States will probably have to face Spain in the gold-medal match, and Davis could really come in handy against Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka.
Davis simply needs playing time at this high level in order to gain some experience, so he should be used heavily against Lithuania, especially since the odds of losing are incredibly low.
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