Team USA has been rolling through the group stage at the 2012 London Olympics, and now the merry band of NBA superstars is gearing up for their final encounter before the elimination stage. This will be a rematch of their exhibition match a short few weeks ago against Argentina.
Time, TV, Location, Online
5:15 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network, London: You can watch the game online here.
Record of Each Team
Team USA: 4-0
Team USA: Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Tyson Chandler, Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Andre Iguodala, James Harden, Anthony Davis
Argentina: Pablo Prigioni, Manu Ginobili, Carlos Delfino, Andres Nocioni, Luis Scola, Juan Gutierrez, Leonardo Gutierrez, Facundo Campazzo, Federico Kammerichs, Marcos Mata, Martin Leiva, Hernan Jasen
Team USA (-24) over Argentina
Key Storyline: How Focused Will Team USA Be?
While Argentina is certainly one of the most talented countries in the world, Team USA should absolutely come away with this victory—if it plays with focus.
That’s the biggest issue for this team.
Some may want to say the offense isn’t elaborate enough, but the majority of this tournament has seen the U.S. putting up big offensive numbers.
The key is how determined the defense is to finish the job on possessions. The ball pressure has been fantastic, and the Americans are forcing a lot of turnovers early in the shot clock.
However, the mental lapses defensively sometimes pile on before they can swing the momentum in their favor. We saw a lot of this early against Tunisia, until talent overtook the Tunisian players. Team USA gave up open looks on three-pointers and allowed its opponent to stay in the game for far too long.
The last time USA and Argentina played (before the Olympics began), Team USA was able to dictate the pace for most of the game. They held a double-digit lead for much of the game but couldn’t put Argentina away because they continued to lose focus defensively.
One of the biggest issues is the transition defense. With Prigioni and Ginobili bringing the ball up, Argentina is always a threat to get fairly easy secondary-transition buckets. The team isn’t getting straight fast-break points; they're causing mismatches by hurrying up the floor and exploiting defenses that might be napping.
In this play late in the fourth quarter of their pre-Olympic matchup, Prigioni ran his man off a quick screen for the step-back three-pointer.
The reason this worked so perfectly is that the defense wasn’t really set up. The Argentinians run so much offense through Luis Scola that it looks like a quick-hitting pick-and-roll. As soon as Prigioni saw he had space to get the jumper, he moved behind the arc and fired away.
It’s little lapses like this that make the U.S. especially vulnerable on the perimeter.
With the small lineups Team USA has been running, the Americans have had perimeter guys playing inside and not looking very comfortable hedging or popping out on screens, as some defensive big men are trained to do.
Key Matchup: Luis Scola vs. USA Small Lineups
Speaking of those small lineups, how are they going to defend Luis Scola?
We saw a lot of different looks against Scola in the friendly, and not many of them seemed to be very effective. The U.S. tried Tyson Chandler, Kevin Love, Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony on Scola, but he found a way to work against just about everybody.
So far in the Olympics, Scola is the leading scorer, at 22.5 points per game, partly because he’s drawing over seven fouls per game (7.3, also leading the Olympics) and has attempted 34 free throws (most of any player).
When he’s in the NBA, though, he’s Bruce Banner. He can do some damage and hurt you with his intelligence, but ultimately you can contain him.
However, when he gets into FIBA competition, he turns into the Hulk and smashes everything in his way.
This play was just a basic post-up to Scola, without much glitz or glamour. The help defense never came, and Carmelo was completely helpless against it.
When Scola has someone like Melo on his back, the defensive help has to come. LeBron, Westbrook or Durant’s lanky, flailing arms have to come flying into the post and scare Scola’s scoring chances away.
Essentially, you’re treating Scola as you would a bear in the woods. Get as big and loud as you can, and maybe he’ll back down.
The problem is, the rotations have to be good, because Scola can pass out of the post, and Argentina moves the ball around the perimeter for open three-pointers very well.
The Game Will Be Close If Argentina Can Hit from the Outside
That ball movement around the perimeter will be the key to Argentina's staying in this game.
Pounding the ball in to Scola and finding him for 14-foot jumpers are to basketball what body blows are for boxing matches: They set you up for the haymaker three-pointer.
Remember that problem I mentioned of Team USA's going small and its perimeter players not being used to popping out on screens? Here’s a good example:
Argentina ran a basic cross-screen for Carlos Delfino, which had the screener taking Kobe out of the play, leaving Carmelo as the big man popping out on the screen.
He didn’t pop out hard enough and left room for Delfino to take a comfortable shot.
Team USA can’t allow these plays to happen.
They allowed Tunisia to make nine three-pointers against them, and Lithuania shot 43.8 percent from downtown to keep their contest close.
Argentina is the third-best shooting team from three-point range so far (behind the USA and China), and they're more than capable of keeping things close with the long ball.
Player the U.S. Has to Contain: Manu Ginobili
We haven’t seen stats like plus/minus rating kept in the basic box scores of these games, but I’d imagine Ginobili’s is through the roof.
When he’s not on the floor, Argentina looks kind of lost. He’s still so slippery and so incredible at making plays happen that he has to be the focus of Team USA’s defense, even over the "Incredible Scola."
We saw Argentina use the pick-and-roll quite well in the friendly matchup.
Once again, Melo is not used to being a defending big man, and he shows on the pick-and-roll horribly. By the time he gets into position, Ginobili is on his way to the basket, and there’s not much the U.S. can do about it.
Ginobili is going to try to find the weakest link in his opponent’s lineup and exploit that matchup after the pick-and-roll.
Pick-and-roll defense has been kind of a problem for Team USA. Against Lithuania, the Americans were picked apart these plays and failed to make adjustments off the mismatches resulting from their switches.
Because of the small lineups (and this will be much more of a problem against Scola than it was the Lithuanian bigs), the back line of defense wasn’t prepared or in position to protect the basket.
This is how you give up 58 percent shooting to Lithuania.
With a lineup of CP3, Deron Williams, Kobe, LeBron and Durant, there isn’t a single shot-blocker who can hang around the basket and make sure nobody tries to get layups. Here, Paul grabs the roller (Darius Songaila) while Kobe and Williams fail to step in the way of the guy getting an easy basket.
This was a pretty common theme in the half-court defense for Team USA. If the Americans forced turnovers early and disrupted the initiation of the offense, they did pretty well.
Otherwise, Lithuania picked them apart.
X-Factor: Carmelo Anthony
Melo is really the key to Team USA pulling away in this game. You can tell he’s been pretty squirrely the last couple games because he’s pulling his arms back on his long jumpers, which is often a sign that he thinks he’s feeling it.
And while his offense can be smothering for opposing defenses, his defense will be the key to how Team USA is able to do what it wants to do.
The U.S. loves to go small so it can be disruptive and wreak havoc in transition. If Melo is a competent defender against Scola and gets the proper help, then it allows the perimeter defense to ratchet up the intensity.
Also, one thing that seems to be a growing trend with Melo is that he loves the idea of knocking the ball away when it’s above the cylinder. He appears to be the one player on Team USA that takes advantage of that rule, especially on missed free throws.
It’s his focus on the defensive end and the boards that could swing this from being a close game to being a bit of a breeze for the Americans.
It Will Be an American Blowout If Team USA Is Allowed To Dictate the Tempo
Team USA is at their best when they decide the pace of the game.
A lot of this happens with the defense creating turnovers, but it also happens quite a bit because of how quickly the U.S. moves the ball around the perimeter.
Argentina will probably utilize a zone during stretches of this game to dare the U.S. to take contested three-pointers. The key to stopping this is getting the ball into the middle of the floor and then moving it to open shooters.
Here you have a lineup of CP3, Kobe, Melo, Durant and LeBron, which allows the U.S. to spread the floor against the zone.
Melo is hanging out around the lower block because he probably moves the best without the ball in this lineup. With Kobe on the right wing and Durant on the left, LeBron is able to slip to the free-throw line, which is exactly where you want to attack a 2-3 zone like the one Argentina shows.
There isn’t a better cross-court passer in the world than LeBron James. Because Chris Paul is a threat to shoot, Prigioni was in no-man’s land defensively here. He couldn’t leave Paul, but he also knew he had to shade toward Durant.
He gambled on the pass, and Durant had too quick of a release for Scola ever truly to contest the shot.
This is the kind of tempo USA’s passing dictates. It creates chaos in both small and large spaces.
When they’re allowing themselves to move the ball in the half court and capitalize on ball-security mistakes by their opponents, the Americans become the greatest show on hardwood.
Prediction: Team USA 103, Argentina 86
How close this game is could ultimately depend on the Spain-Brazil game before this contest.
If Spain beats Brazil, then Argentina would badly need to win this game to avoid Spain in the single-elimination round.
If Brazil beats Spain, then an Argentine loss would mean that they play Brazil in the next round, and that’s a much more favorable matchup. In that case, it wouldn’t shock me to see Argentina rest some key players and lay down against Team USA.
Scheming aside, I’ve been talking a lot about what opponents can do against the U.S., and it probably comes off as me doubting Team USA. I don’t doubt them at all; I’m just concerned about their focus for 40 minutes.
We saw against Nigeria what can happen when a superior team has it going on both ends of the floor.
While we’re unlikely to see that against Argentina, we are likely to see Argentina play well in stretches that keep this game uncomfortably close. However, the U.S. will still keep enough of a margin to where the slightest four-minute stretch could put it away for Team USA.
This game is not very important in the grand scheme of the tournament in terms of seeding, but it is an important mental exercise for Team USA to continue to figure out how to keep their focus.
If they do that, nobody is going to beat them.