Two hot-and-cold teams are set to collide, as Team USA and Australia prepare for a quarterfinal clash at the 2012 London Olympics.
The Americans survived six quarters of subpar basketball against Lithuania and Argentina to finish atop Group A with a sparkling 5-0 record. Chris Paul held the U.S. afloat against the Argentinians until Kevin Durant erupted for five third-quarter threes to pull away.
The Australians, on the other hand, dropped their first two games of these Olympics before ripping off wins against China, Great Britain and Russia to salvage a fourth-place result in Group B.
Joe Ingles led the way for the Aussies with 20 points in their surprising victory over previously-undefeated Russia on Thursday, with Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova combining for 23 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists in the backcourt.
It's fitting, too, that these two teams would meet in the quarterfinals. Their last matchup came in the quarters at the 2008 Beijing Games, wherein USA Basketball came away with a 116-85 flattening behind a game-high 25 points from Kobe Bryant.
Time: Wednesday, August 8th at 5:15 p.m. EDT
Location: North Greenwich Arena, London, England
TV: NBC Sports Network
Record of Each Team: USA 5-0, Australia 3-2
|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||Patrick Mills||Matthew Dellavedova||Brad Newley||Peter Crawford||Adam Gibson|
|Forward||Joe Ingles||David Andersen||Matthew Nielsen||Mark Worthington||David Barlow|
|Center||Aleks Maric||Aron Baynes|
Betting Line: USA -33 1/2 (according to bovada.lv)
Key Storyline to Watch For: The Tortoise, then the Hare
The Americans have already established that they have more talent and athleticism on hand than any other national team on hand at the Olympics.
What they've yet to show, though, is whether or not they can combine those assets with energy and intensity over a full 40-minute game. They came rather close to doing that against Nigeria, though it'd be a bit unfair to put a lights-out shooting performance against an Olympic debutante on par with shutting down a squad, like Australia, that's well-practiced on the international stage.
Not that the Aussies are necessarily a credible threat to the Yanks, though they'll certainly seem like one if Team USA comes out flat, unfocused and disorganized on Wednesday. The Boomers are no slouches, as they made perfectly clear with their win over previously-undefeated Russia. Their ability to bang bodies and utilize screens may well frustrate the Americans.
But if the Red, White and Blue come out firing on all cylinders, then there shan't be any need for Mike Krzyzewski to so much as brush the panic button.
Key Matchup: Battle of the Backcourts
Team USA's strength rests on the perimeter, where its guards and wings can apply pressure, force turnovers and get the ball moving in the other direction.
Australia's starting backcourt of Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova is plenty skilled and understands how to distribute the ball, but they lack much in the way of size, strength and athleticism. That deficit plays right into the small-but-quick hands of Chris Paul, as well as the rest of Team USA's bigger, stronger guards.
The more defensive pressure the Yanks' perimeter players apply to their Aussie counterparts, the more often Team USA will get out on the break, and the sooner this game turns into a blowout.
The Game Will Be Close If...
The Aussies take care of the ball, throw their weight around up front and catch Team USA sleeping. Australia is clearly capable of pulling off an upset over a superior opponent (see: Russia) and will need its guards to play big (and its bigs to play even bigger) to spring another, more monumental surprise.
It Will Be a Team USA Blowout If...
The Americans bring their A-game from the opening tip, particularly on the defensive end.
And if Kevin Durant catches fire again.
Player the U.S. Has to Contain: Patty Mills
The former St. Mary's star and current San Antonio Spurs benchwarmer is an explosive scorer out of the Australian backcourt. Mills has poured in 20 points or more on three occasions in this tournament, including an Olympic-best 39 points (on just 22 shots) against Great Britain.
Team USA must do what it can to contain Mills from the outset, if for no other reason than to keep him from getting hot from the perimeter. Otherwise, the Yanks could be in for an interesting evening in London, to say the least.
X-Factor: David Andersen
Australia's finest performances have coincided with those of David Andersen. The 6'11" big man—who's played for the Rockets, Raptors and Hornets—is Australia's most dependable frontcourt presence in the absence of Warrior center Andrew Bogut, whose ankle is still on the mend.
Andersen's big enough to compete on the boards and get his hands dirty on the low block, but he is at his best when he's also stretching the floor with his three-point shooting. His ability to play inside and out could give Team USA fits, especially if he's able to draw Tyson Chandler and Kevin Love away from the basket and open up driving lanes for the Aussie guards as a result.
Which team will win?
Prediction: USA 116, Australia 90
If talent were the only consideration in the Olympics, then Team USA would win this one by no less than 35 points. Perhaps the renewed urgency of playing the knockout rounds will give the Americans a much-needed kick in the pants to get them going early.
But chances are, the U.S. will take it slow in the early going before turning on the jets during a couple quick spurts to create a comfortable cushion and put this one out of reach.