Team USA vs. Brazil
Brazil is one of the world's strongest teams, and the last time they met with Team USA, in the 2010 FIBA World Championship, they came within two points of victory.
This year, they're as strong as ever, boasting 4 NBA players, one Euroleague player, and seven players that come from their reasonably strong domestic league. They are also a very experienced national side, with only one player on the roster under 25 years old. They're not a team looking at their last run, as their roster is generally pretty flexible and they have a wealth of players to choose from, but they are a fearsome side nonetheless.
Their last tournament was the 2011 FIBA Americas championship, in which they lost the Final game to Argentina, the other South American basketball powerhouse. But I wouldn't take that result too seriously, as the team didn't include Nene, Leandro Barbosa, and Anderson Varejao, all of whom are playing on the Brazilian team today.
But let's get down to brass tacks. Why was Brazil able to take Team USA to the brink in 2010, and will they be able to do the same today?
In 2010, Brazil was able to take advantage of the fact that Team USA had no real distribution point guard to lead their team. Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook are great scorers to be sure, but neither of them leads a Nash or Kidd-like offense that blows your mind. Brazil didn't really diverge from their strategy. They played a traditional offense with a medium pace, distributing the ball to scorers in positions they knew they could score. They exploited the wider lane of the international game, using it to create space for guys like Splitter to get uncontested shots. Meanwhile, Team USA was consistently getting to the line, and using individual talent to score.
But, the international trapezoidal paint area is no more, and I have a feeling the upcoming game will be more suited to the United States. Now they have better distributors in Chris Paul and Deron Williams, allowing them to get the ball to their scorers more effectively. The smaller lane will also give Brazil less room to operate in their traditional wide-open style of play, limiting their scoring effectiveness.
On the other side of the token, this game will seriously test Team USA's defensive effectiveness down low. Nene, Tiago Splitter, and Anderson Varejao make for a fearsome paint trio, and will probably score a good deal of Brazil's points inside. However, Brazil has traditionally not been a very good rebounding team, so if Team USA loses out in that area, it could mean serious problems for them down the road.
Brazil will also rely on guys like Leandro Barbosa and Marcelo Machado to shoot a ton of threes, mostly after they open up scoring in the paint. Marcelino Huertas will act as the pass-heavy point guard, who also has the quickness to get down low for a few uncontested baskets. Alex Garcia is also a key component, running the break and isolation plays quite well. An interesting X-Factor for the Brazilians will be Larry Taylor, a naturalized Brazilian citizen who played small college ball in the US. He's one of the best players in the Domestic league, averaging 15 points and 7 assists.
All in all, this is one of the best teams Brazil has fielded in years, but with the international game pushing towards an NBA style of play, I have to give team USA the advantage. Brazil has the talent necessary to win, but I'd say that the US would win out 7 or 8 out of every 10 games they played. And they obviously have a more talented roster deeper in the depth chart, meaning that they'll probably get an advantage when the backups are in the game.
Prediction: United States 85, Brazil 79