Thrashing Germany 106-57 was an impressive end to Group play for the U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team, but the game itself hardly deserves extra analysis.
Deutschland, thanks for coming. 1-4 in Group B after only beating Angola, but at least they picked up Chris Kaman. Hopefully he’ll still be available in 2012.
So now the Americans move onto the medal rounds, and first up is Australia. After watching the U.S. outscore their opponents by an average of 103-71 in five preliminary games, it’s difficult to see LeBron, D-Wade and friends getting challenged regardless of what team they face. Still, it’s smart to respect each opponent in this Olympics, since that’s how the U.S. lost their way in the world of international basketball in the first place.
Australia: they’ve come a long way
Australia has improved quite a bit since the days of Andrew Gaze taking over half their shots, mostly in terms of depth. The Boomers have given the United States several high-profile college and pro players in recent years, headlined by former No. 1 NBA Draft pick Andrew Bogut.
Australia gave the Americans their toughest fight in the last two years when the U.S. defeated them 87-76 a couple weeks ago in the Americans’ last exhibition game before the Olympics, and that was without Bogut, who missed the game with a sore ankle.
Still, the Australians had Patrick Mills in that game. Mills, as all Bay Area fans surely know, starred at St. Mary’s this past season as a freshman, and in terms of speed is in the same league as Tony Parker, Chris Paul and Monta Ellis with the ball in his hands. He’s been getting starters’ minutes off the bench for Australia is their third-leading scorer with 13 points per contest during the Olympics. It’s not a question of if Mills will play in the NBA, but when he’ll declare for the draft.
Wade called the U.S. “lazy” after barely beating the Australians, and they were on both sides of the floor. The Aussies packed it in defensively, tempting the Americans into settling for long-range jumpers (the U.S. went 3-of-18 from three-point range). It was also the last time Team U.S.A. played NBA-style defense instead of the swarming, constant pressure they’ve employed since the Olympics began (but really started in earnest against Greece).
Australia’s Olympics (3-2 in Group A)
Australia’s advanced to the quarters just barely, and after losing their first game 97-82 to Croatia and their second to Argentina by a score of 85-68 (a game where Mills scored 22 points but Bogut only had 7), it looked like they were going to go out in 2008 like Dirk Novitzki and all of his David Hasselhoff-loving teammates.
But after an easy 106-68 win over Iran, the Australians didn’t just defeat two decent teams in Russia and Lithuania, they hammered them — thanks to Bogut. After three sub par games where he only averaged 9 points and 4 rebounds per contest, the seven-footer had 22 points and 7 rebounds against Russia in a 95-80 victory, and scored 23 (but only 1 rebound) against then-undefeated Lithuania in a 106-75 rout.
But do the Aussies have a chance?
Whether or not Lithuania threw that game against Australia in order to avoid the U.S. until the Gold Medal game aside, Australia has to be at least a little confident after three straight wins and being the only team to come within 21 points of Team U.S.A. this year.
Australia is also one of the more balanced team in the tournament, with a solid center in Bogut (leading the team during the Olympics with 14.4 ppg), speed at the guard spots with Mills and C.J. Bruton as well as strong outside shooting (Australia leads the Olympics with 48 threes in their first 5 games, led by 8 from Brad Newley, Australia’s second-leading scorer at 13.2 ppg). The Boomers like to use their defense to get their transition offense going, as the team’s 54 steals during the Olympics is second only to the Americans, who have an astounding 72.
Unfortunately for our friends down under, the U.S. team the Australians will face on Wednesday is far from the “lazy” squad that let the Boomers hang around in that recent tune-up game. Ever imagine what a Mike Krzrzrzrzrzski coached team could do defensively with a team full of freakish athletes? Well, me neither really, but it’s been pretty incredible.
Germany didn’t just lie down today; they dove for cover. But could you blame them? Just think about if you were on an opposing team right now, just trying to dribble up the floor. Wouldn’t you be paranoid that Wade might run up from behind and steal the ball without you even realizing what happened until he was already dunking? If Wade wasn’t around, how does a violent swipe at the ball from LeBron or Kobe Bryant sound — one that you’d have to hope connected with the ball because if their arm smacked yours it would be devoid of feeling for at least an entire quarter? How about if no American sneaks up from behind and you slow down, immediately facing a trap from Deron Williams and Chris Bosh or Chris Paul and a suddenly rejuvenated Carmelo Anthony?
Unless the U.S. decides they’re tired of dominating the world and earning more respect than NBA superstars have garnered since Michael Jordan left, they’re going to keep playing this type of defense. Sure, if Australia hits something like 20-of-25 threes and forces the U.S. into horrendous early foul trouble (always possible with the quality of international refereeing which makes the NFL’s officials look competent by comparison), there’s a chance Australia can defeat the Americans. But it’s a .000001% chance, and it’ll only happen if the U.S. goes ice cold from the free throw and three-point lines or if Coach K decides to replace the current team with his Duke squad from last year.
Prediction: U.S. defeats Australia, 110-82