All games can be seen on NBC Basketball Channel or NBC Sports Network, and can be streamed online at NBCOlympics.com.
Team USA vs. Argentina
Time: 11 AM CST
Team USA has faced Argentina twice in the past few weeks. The first matchup, which was a friendly, looked like a blowout of Team USA, but a late run by Argentina's starters brought the team to within 6. They might have won the game had they continued at full effort, but they stopped the run because the game was essentially meaningless. In the second matchup, during the group stage of Olympic play, turned out to be an easy win for Team USA after a run in the third quarter. Then again, Argentina did give a good amount of time to their bench, and the result of that game was also meaningless, with both teams retaining their position in the standings regardless of the result.
But now, the two teams finally have the opportunity to show their stuff. Team USA pretty clearly has the upper hand. Though I'd argue that teams have similarly good starters, Team USA's bench is in a different universe than that of Argentina's. Argentina has a roster of relatively reliable veterans, but they're not as good as they once were, and they're generally only good at one particular skill. Meanwhile, Team USA has a young bench of multi-talented guys, all of whom are perfectly capable of taking a game over.
The thing is, the international game is only 40 minutes long, putting less emphasis on the bench. Argentina has done a good job of resting their starters so far, and Pablo Prigioni appears to have recovered from a minor bout with kidney stones. So I'd say that Argentina has a decent chance of upsetting Team USA in this game. Aside from depth reasons, Argentina is probably a better shooting team than Team USA is, and they have better post scorers.
Still, Team USA does have the upper hand overall. Their scorers are more dynamic, and almost unstoppable when they get hot. LeBron James has proved himself to be a terrific playmaker who can make a huge difference when it matters, and Argentina just doesn't have a guy of that caliber. Their rebounding is also superior, as Argentina doesn't have too much legitimate size on the bench, and Team USA gets a bunch of hustle boards. Lastly, if Team USA could up the pace, they would definitely have the upper hand in the transition game. Still, I will say that Argentina can take care of the ball better than most teams.
At the end of the day, in order to win, Argentina will have to control the pace of the game, run an efficient offense, and find a way to get past Chandler and Love in the paint. If they can't do they above, I don't see them having much of a shot.
Below: Spain vs. Russia!
Spain vs. Russia
Time: 11:00 AM CST
Spain has had a rough going of it in this tournament so far, enduring two losses in group play and barely being able to stay ahead of France, the team they beat handily in the 2011 Eurobasket final. But Spain still was able to defensively shut down France in the final minutes of that game, keeping them to 0-11 shooting until a meaningless Gelabale jumper added to France's point total at the end of the game.
But, despite their excellent defense, the fact remains that Spain had some serious trouble scoring when it mattered. Their game winning play was arguably Rudy Fernandez flopping on a defensive rebound. Pau and Marc were neutralized by France's killer inside defense, and Spain went cold from outside.
The question for Russia isn't whether they can score efficiently, because they have a pretty well rounded attack. It's whether the Russian bigs can defend well enough against Spain's bigs to keep the team out on the perimeter, and whether Russia can dominate the transition game.
Spain will need to work on getting their guards more involved in the half-court offense, namely Juan Carlos Navarro and Rudy Fernandez. Navarro is coming off of an ankle injury and hasn't looked his best during the tournament, and Fernandez, arguably their second best scoring guard, has been really hot and cold.
To put it frankly, there's really not that much separating these two teams. The only thing I can really say based on their group stage encounter is that Spain prefers getting to the line more, while Russia likes to shoot on the perimeter. But I could see both things changing, depending on how different aspects of their offense are working on any given day.
Unless something goes terribly wrong, this game will probably come down to the final moments, where the team that has the best end-game strategy of them all. And though I highly admire the ability of David Blatt to win games, I think that Russia relies too much on their ability to hit big shots. Spain will do a better job of shutting down an opponents defense, and doing the little things to exploit the game for their own gain. Then again, Spain hasn't had much success hitting shots of their own lately, so I'm going to go with Russia here. But it could just as easily be Spain....
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