Group play at the 2014 FIBA World Cup has been something of a warm-up for mighty Spain, and that will continue Thursday with a showdown against Serbia.
The game takes place at 4 p.m. ET and is available on ESPN3 and WatchESPN.
Through the first four games, Spain has destroyed everything in its path with a 90-60 win over Iran, 91-54 victory over Egypt, 82-63 win over Brazil and 88-64 victory over France. The performances against Brazil and France in particular stand out because both teams feature NBA players, including Boris Diaw, Anderson Varejao and Leandro Barbosa, so it’s not as if Spain was playing against cupcakes.
Serbia has been less impressive in the early going and beat Egypt 85-64, lost to France in heartbreaking fashion 74-73, beat Iran 83-70 and lost to Brazil 81-73.
One thing of note, though, is the fact that this is the last group game, and there is absolutely no doubt Spain is going through to the knockout stages as one of the favorites. This one is far more important for the Serbian squad because it is tied with France at 2-2 and a game ahead of 1-3 Iran.
If nothing else, Serbia should be the more motivated of the two teams.
Still, Spain has the talent advantage by a large margin.
Everyone immediately focuses on the big men with Spain, and it is clear why. Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka would be one of the best front lines in the entire NBA, let alone at the World Cup. They are the team’s top three scorers, with Pau Gasol averaging 21 a night, Marc Gasol scoring 12 a night and Ibaka adding 11 a night. They are also the top three rebounders and are grabbing a combined 19.5 boards a game.
Nate Duncan of Basketball Insiders has been particularly impressed with Pau Gasol:
Nate Duncan @NateDuncanNBA
Pau Gasol looks incredibly spry right now. His movement and athleticism much better than the last couple of years.2014-9-1 20:16:33
While the big men have been impressive, don’t overlook Spain’s trio of outside players in Ricky Rubio (who sports a team-high 5.8 assists a game), Juan C. Navarro and Rudy Fernandez. All have plenty of NBA experience and round out this squad to make it arguably the top team in the tournament.
ESPN Highlights pointed out just what can happen when the guards hook up for a nice play:
ESPN Highlights @HighlightsESPN
.@rickyrubio9 makes a great inbound pass to Juan Carlos who drains the buzzer-beater. #FIBAWorldCup2014 http://t.co/pYTQJ7aGZr2014-9-3 22:23:25
France’s head coach, Vincent Collet, discussed Spain after his team’s loss, according to The Associated Press, Via The Washington Post: “I am disappointed with the score spread, because we started quite well. When you let them go, they become unstoppable.”
Serbia is hoping Spain is stoppable Thursday and will bring Miroslav Raduljica, Nemanja Bjelica and Milos Teodosic to the table.
Raduljica leads the team with 14.5 points a night, Bjelica is posting 11 points and six rebounds a game and Teodosic is scoring 10.5 points and dishing out a team-high 4.8 assists a game. Teodosic’s ability to set the table for his teammates and pick the right time to score himself will be critical in his one-on-one matchup with Rubio at the point.
While Teodosic is a formidable point guard and Raduljica has NBA experience under his belt, Spain is clearly the better team in this one. Nobody has been able to stop the trio of big men yet, and that will not change Thursday.
Look for another blowout victory for the host country.
Prediction: Spain 91, Serbia 74
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