USA vs. Argentina: LeBron James, Coach K to Blame If USA Falls Short of Gold

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USA vs. Argentina: LeBron James, Coach K to Blame If USA Falls Short of Gold
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In what only can seen as the rubber match between two bitter international rivals, the Team USA men's basketball team takes on Argentina for the third-consecutive Olympic Games in semifinals action Friday (4 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network).

In 2004, it was the Argentines coming away with shocking 89-81 victory, giving the United States its only loss in medal round of the last two decades and sending Team USA Basketball into rebuilding mode.

The Beijing Games in 2008 saw the United States' Redeem Team do just that against their Argentinian rivals, smacking down Argentina 101-81 en route to its fourth gold medal in five Olympiads.

This year's Summer Games in London saw the rivalry reach bitter new heights. As time expired on Team USA's 41-17 third-quarter rout on the teams' preliminary round contest, U.S. forward Carmelo Anthony went up for a three-point shot and went down in a heap of pain.

What many thought was a rolled ankle turned out to be something more heinous: a full-fledged shot to the groin by Argentina forward Facundo Campazzo. In the aftermath, the teams jawed back-and-forth as Luis Scola seemingly stood at attention ready to take on the entire Team USA squad by himself.

It goes without saying that there are no shortage of story lines headed into this rematch. It's the shot at gold-medal glory. It's the low-blow showdown. It's the rubber match.

It's also a game where Team USA comes in as heavy, 24-point favorites (via Bovada.lv).

Regardless, this history means Argentina won't come in intimidated. The Argentines boast five players from the Athens team that saw the Olympic mountaintop and eight players from the 2008 team desperate for revenge.

This game also likely represents the final chance at Olympic glory for Argentina. Eight of Argentina's players will be older than 35 by the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, meaning this will assuredly be these players' last chance at a gold medal.

And if Argentina plays the game of its life, doing the impossible and knocking off the mighty United States, many will wonder who is to blame for the upset.

In a word: everybody.

But who would be most responsible for a Team USA meltdown? Coach Mike Krzyzewski and LeBron James. Here's a look at the reasons why for each.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

 

Mike Krzyzewski

There is no way a team of the United States' skill-level, depth or athleticism should ever lose an Olympic contest. It's a hollow cliche, but the only way Team USA loses one of its last two games in London is if the team "beats itself."

And if a team beats itself there is no one more responsible than the coach.

Coach K has spent these Olympic Games making one questionable decision after another. Namely, his choice to go with a small ball lineup.

The small ball lineup, with LeBron James playing center, is a defensive disaster. If you look at the plus-minus splits, it's clear when Krzyzewski is using an all-under 6'10" lineup as the points against stats go through the roof.

Argentina is too smart to turn the ball over against the uber-aggressive small ball lineup and too skilled to not knock down open shots caused by over-aggression.

If Coach K is uncomfortable playing Tyson Chandler and Anthony Davis, use Kevin Love, whose play has been nothing short of a revelation so far.

Krzyzewski has also been unable to curb his team's poor shot selection so far in London.

Considering Team USA's roster is comprised of the greatest slashers and athletes in the world, that the team has averaged 39.3 shots from beyond the arc in its past three games is asinine.

While the overall numbers look fine at 41.5 percent, it's been almost completely contingent on brilliant individual performances.

The fact is (and always has been) that Team USA is a mediocre outside shooting team that shouldn't take any more than 20 three-pointers in a game.

If Argentina takes down Team USA, it's likely because the Americans shot themselves into a close contest. And not curbing that three obsession will lie at the feet of Krzyzewski.

 

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

LeBron James

If Team USA falls to Argentina, it's not going to be by double digits. And if that's the case, then James failed in his duties as Team USA's best player.

We saw James scores nine of the Yanks' last 12 points against Lithuania in the preliminary round and have seen him put up the first triple-double in U.S. Olympic history against Australia.

There is no basketball player from any country or any planet for that matter who can stop James at this point in his career. A Team USA loss would likely mean a reversion to the pre-2012 LeBron where he freezes in big moments and relies on other players to do his late-game bidding.

That would be a huge black mark for James, as it would ruin a transcendent summer where the Miami Heat small forward put together one of the greatest individual runs in basketball history.

An Olympic gold is all that stood between LeBron and basketball immortality. A loss to Argentina changes everything.

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