The moment of truth for “The Redeem Team” has finally arrived. The Americans will have two weeks to prove that they are the best team in the world.
While almost anyone is ready to accept that this team has by far more talent than any other team, the real question is if that individual talent will come together and play as a single unit—A team worthy of winning the gold medal.
This team is much more serious than in the past with three real point guards as opposed to the shoot-first guards, Stephon Marbury and Allen Iverson who were no match for Argentina, Lithuania and even Puerto Rico.
If Team USA is ever going to win the gold medal in the next decade, this will be the team that does it, however the gold medal is still not going to be a given. Here is a preview of the US schedule and a prediction for how the road to redemption might work out for Team USA.
Aug. 10 Vs. China W
The US should win this game by about 30 points, but it will be really interesting to see how the lack of size from the Americans will do against the Chinese. They’re likely going to start Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian in the front court.
Both are over seven feet tall but aren’t going to be too much of a challenge for Team USA, especially considering Yao’s health. Yao admitted this week that the stress fracture is still bothering him and is only “60 or 70 percent” healthy.
Coach K is going to go small and beat China on the fast break as the guards won’t have a prayer keeping up with the likes of Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul. It might be worth watching Chen Jianghua, although he will probably spend a lot of time on the bench but he is often compared to the Chinese version of Allen Iverson so keep an eye on him.
Aug. 12 vs. Angola W
They are by far the best African team, but that won’t amount to anything this year as Angola will likely go winless and will probably make the US look like the 1992 Dream Team with another blowout.
Aug. 14 vs. Greece L
Finally, we have a challenge for the Americans. This is going to be a close game but this game will likely be a wake-up call for Team USA.
The determining factor in this game will be how the three-headed monster of point guards in Deron Williams, Chris Paul, and Jason Kidd do against the size of Greece’s Theodoros Papaloukas (6 feet, 7 inches) and Dimitris Diamantidis (6-6).
The Americans are going to have their hands full with Diamantidis who is a great perimeter player on both ends. Coach K will likely match up Kobe Bryant with Diamantidis but Williams has to carry the load offensively. He’s physical enough so that he can break the inevitable 2-3 zone that Greece will throw at the Americans.
The Americans will do everything to overpower Greece but will have a difficult time against a team that is terrific in a zone and has great team chemistry. Don’t let the fact that there are no NBA players on this roster and the fact that Greece squeaked out a win against a weaker 2006 US team fool you.
Greece is a lot better than it was in the last match-up against Team USA and easily the biggest team in the Olympics.
Dwight Howard will be at a considerable disadvantage to Greek center Sofoklis Schortsanitis who rightfully is nicknamed Baby Shaq at 375 pounds compared to Howard at 275. The US has to keep a fast tempo and not allow Greece to slow the game down or it’s going to be a rough game for Team USA.
Aug. 16 vs. Spain W
The back-to-back schedule with Greece and Spain does not bode well for Team USA but this team is too talented to take two losses in the preliminary round.
Spain is still recovering from a few minor injuries and they are probably waiting for the medal round to play their best basketball. Still, this game is going to be competitive. Look for Spain to really exploit Team USA’s weaknesses in the post with Marc and Pau Gasol along with Jorge Garbajosa.
It won’t get any easier with the guard play either. Bryant isn’t going to smother the offense by covering the best perimeter player as he did during the exhibition games.
Spain is very deep at the guard position and will probably start its best three guards, Jose Calderon, Juan Carlos Navarro and Rudy Fernandez against the US. Even the backups, Raul Lopez and Ricky Rubio can hold their own against the US.
Rubio has done very well during the friendly matches and is particularly intriguing as a potential No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft. The main reason for the Americans doing well thus far is their pressure defense on the perimeter, which forces turnovers.
The US has yet to face a decent ball-handling that moves the ball as well as Spain and that will keep the game close but the Americans should prevail.
Aug . 18 vs. Germany W
Here is another team loaded with bigs with six players between 6-10 and 7-1. The problem is that none of them are very good except for Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman.
This will be a very interesting game because of all the size Germany has to offer. All the US will need to do is to keep the ball out of the post and let the guards shoot since Germany’s perimeter play is pretty weak.
LeBron James could easily start at center in this game so that Coach K can rest his big men for the medal round. James is a good four inches shorter than Kaman and five inches shorter than Nowitzki, but he’s just as strong and more athletic.
Kaman and James weigh exactly the same (260 pounds) while Nowitzki is 15 pounds lighter. Putting James at center will likely allow the Americans to run the fast break much easier with a lineup that will probably feature Bryant and Carmelo Anthony at the forwards while Dwayne Wade and Paul work the back court.
The Americans should win this game by about 20 points.
A2 Russia Vs. B3 Greece
B1 Spain vs. A4 Australia
B2 USA vs. A3 Lithuania
A1 Argentina vs. B4 Germany
Analysis- The US got sweet revenge against the US killer, Sarunas Jasikevicius in the exhibition game against Lithuania but don’t put too much stock in this victory.
Give Bryant credit for stifling defense but “Saras” is officially over the hill at 32 and no longer the offensive threat he once was, especially with Arvydas Macijauskas, who also burned the US, out for the Olympics.
It’s tempting to look at the blowout over Lithuania and say Team USA has nothing to worry about, but according to espn.com, US scout Tony Ronzone is worried that Lithuania held back to give the Americans a confidence boost. He certainly has a point considering the bench played the entire fourth quarter after mounting quite a comeback in the third quarter.
Lithuania would certainly rely more on Ramunas Siskauskas, another great perimeter player, a lot more than it did in Macau, China. But there are still a lot of problems with this team and the US will probably win by about 15 points.
Greece vs. Spain
Argentina vs. USA
Analysis- This Argentinean team is still very good and has almost the exact same team that it had winning the gold medal. But this team is four years older meaning three of the starters, Manu Ginobili, Frabricio Oberto and Pablo Prigioni are over 30 years old.
Its depth is nowhere near as good as it has been when Argentina took the gold medal, plus Ginobili is getting over an injury. Team USA won the bronze medal game in the 2006 World Championships over Argentina and the US has gotten better while Argentina has gotten worse.
Team USA should still win by about 12 points and get revenge for the previous Olympics but it will be another difficult game for the Americans. The US has outrun its opponents on nearly every possession leading to easy fast-breaks.
While Argentina won’t keep up with Team USA, they will likely slow the game down by running a lot of half-court offense and being very patient. Argentina’s experience will pay off because of its patience, but it won’t be enough to knock off the US.
Spain vs. USA
Analysis- This is it.
This game will decide if all the preparation put into “The Redeem Team” finally pays off. It’s the day Team USA has anticipated since the team was put together.
These two teams are easily the most complete teams in the tournament and it should be a very competitive gold medal game. By August 24, Spain will be in top form and will throw everything possible at the Americans to make sure the Spaniards don’t lose a second game to Team USA.
As James said in a Team USA meeting, “We now have that player we wish was on our team so we have no excuse to do anything besides win the gold medal.”
But the world has caught up. Bryant is going to be the determining factor in deciding if the US receives a gold or silver medal.
If the US had more consistent shooters and more depth in the post, I’d feel more comfortable giving the edge to Team USA. The problem is the Americans did not address these needs so I can’t see the US stopping the Gasols and Garbajosa from taking over.
It would be a great disappointment if the US can’t win the gold medal after selecting the most competitive team that Jerry Colangelo could put together but the rest of the world has caught up to the Americans and this game should be glaring proof of that.
Note: All players mentioned who did not play in the NBA during the 2007-08 season have highlights linked on youtube.