USA vs. Australia: 5 Things Team USA Basketball Must Do to Avoid Meltdown
The Team USA national basketball team comes into its first game of Olympic medal round play as 33.5-point favorites (via Bovada.lv) after crushing their Group A competition en route to a 5-0 record.
The U.S. squad is led by Kevin Durant, whose 18.6 points per game led the way for Team USA, and LeBron James, who has put up consistent virtuoso performances in London.
Australia comes in led by Patty Mills, whose 20.2 points per game is second among all Olympians, but boasts little else after an injury forced center Andrew Bogut out of these Olympic Games.
The talent disparity is so high in this matchup that it would take a complete meltdown for Team USA to come home empty-handed. How can the U.S. avoid that meltdown?
Follow along for a look at five ways the U.S. can avoid losing to Australia.
Have a Good First Half
In Team USA's past two games against Argentina and Lithuania, the team has gone into halftime up a combined five points.
And while you could attribute that to the United States' level of competition rising against those two squads, the team has only outscored its opponents in the first half by 67 points so far in London.
In a vacuum, that sounds like a ton of points as it averages out to a 13.4-point lead at halftime.
But that number is artificially enhanced by Team USA's 34-point beatdown of Nigeria in the game's first two quarters.
And considering the U.S. has outscored opponents by 87 in the third quarter alone, it's pretty clear that Coach K needs to swap out his pregame speech for the one he gives at halftime.
If Team USA can get out to a quick start, there is no team in London that can keep up with a front-running U.S. squad. But if Team USA keeps allowing teams to stick around, it'll eventually come back to bite them.
Stop Falling in Love with the 3-Pointer
Through preliminary round play, the United States has hit a jaw-dropping 77 three-point shots on an even more impressive 45.8 percent shooting.
No other team in London is even at a 40 percent rate so far.
But if you take a look past the initial numbers, you can see Team USA's numbers are artificially enhanced by one brilliant team performance and two individual performances.
By now, everyone has heard about or seen Team USA's record-setting 29-for-46 performance from beyond the arc in the team's 156-73 romp over Nigeria. That performance may not be replicable, but least, it was a legitimate team effort.
The United States' 20-for-39 effort against Argentina, however, not so much.
Take away the 13-for-16 gunning duo of Kevin Durant and Chris Paul, you get a terrible 7-of-23 (30.4 percent) performance.
Team USA needs to force its mediocre shooters away from the three-point line and only give the green light to Durant, Paul, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love, the team's best shooters.
Guard the Whole Team, Don't Focus on Just Patty Mills
While Mills has shocked Olympic competition with his 20.2 point per game rate (tied for second-place overall), it's been a rather inefficient scoring affair.
Mills is shooting just 41.7 percent from the floor so far in London and has fallen completely in love with the shortened FIBA three-point line. The 23-year-old point guard's 39 three-point attempts lead all Olympians, thus far, and represent a shocking 31.5 percent of Australia's threes as a team.
Those are what we NBA fans like to call "Iversonian numbers."
If Team USA doesn't focus its defensive efforts on simply stopping Mills, it's just as likely that the Aussie guard shoots his team out of the game as he single-handedly keeps them within striking distance.
More Kevin Love
With Team USA center Tyson Chandler playing just 21 minutes in the team's past two games, it's becoming abundantly clear that Coach K loves himself some small ball.
But while Team USA's small ball lineup (where LeBron James plays center) makes the U.S. an unstoppable offensive force, it has also opened up a myriad of defensive problems.
James can expertly guard centers on the defensive end or be Team USA's most-relied on offensive force, but it's far too taxing on his body to do both. If Krzyzewski's trust in Chandler and 19-year-old Anthony Davis is lost, then he needs to ramp up the minutes for reserve power forward Kevin Love.
In his first taste of Olympic action, Love has secretly had one of Team USA's best performances. The 23-year-old's 13.0 points per game are good for third on the team, and Love's 6.4 rebounds per game actually lead the U.S. squad.
And, unlike James, Love is big enough to hold his own in the defensive post internationally without it taking too much of a toll physically.
If Coach K wants small ball, he needs more Love.
Keep the Ball in LeBron James or Kevin Durant's Hands as Much as Possible
While Carmelo Anthony may have something to say about it, most agree that Kevin Durant and LeBron James have been the two best players on Team USA so far.
Durant has been Team USA's leading scorer and most consistent outside shooter, scoring 18.6 points per game while shooting 60.6 percent from beyond the arc. With Team USA mostly inconsistent from three, having someone with Durant's steadiness will be vital for the team.
And despite James has mostly taken a backseat to Durant scoring-wise (LeBron's 11.6 points per game are good for fourth on the team), the 2012 NBA MVP seemingly knows that he can score at will against any international opponent.
James scoring nine of Team USA's last 12 points against Lithuania should have let the world know that much.
James and Durant mostly do their work apart, but every once in a while we've gotten a glimpse of these two run the floor together. And there may be no more beautiful thing in basketball's history.
Either way, so long as the ball is in one of the two players' hands, the United States has a great chance at a gold medal.