Ahh yes, Olympic Basketball. The one time where my fanaticism with the NBA Draft and overseas basketball comes in handy. Sorry this first post is so text filled and lacking ironic pictures and Youtube links, I needed to get this done before the second set of games start. Stay tuned for the second edition on Wednesday!
1) USA -(1-0) Last Game (W vs China 101-70)
This was a team that the US was supposed to blow out and they accomplished that through their unparalleled depth, which caused the US to break open the game in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. Lebron furthered his quest to become the next world emperor by turning in 18 pts, 6 rebs, 3 asts, 3 blks and 1 stl in 25 minutes of action. D-Wade was an offensive force as well turning in 19 pts on 100% shooting (A good performance no matter how you look at it). Chris Bosh was also impressive today providing good interior defense and getting 3 stls in the process. However, all was not rosy for the US and Carmelo Anthony and Jason Kidd both turned in less than stellar performances. No worries though, the US's next opponent is Angola, a team that has finished near the bottom of the group standings the past 4 Olympiads.
2) Spain -(1-0) Last Game (W vs Greece 81-66)
Here is the World's best shot to knock off the US this year. Spain posses a deep and talented roster filled with players with plenty of International experience. This was evident in their defeat of Greece (Favored to medal) in which only one player played over 24 minutes. The attack was pretty balanced with the "Big 3" of Pau Gasol (Lakers), Rudy Fernandez (Joining the Blazers this year), and Jose Calderon (Raptors) chipping in 11,16 and 13 points respectively.
Player to Watch: Ricky Rubio, PG - Scored 7 pts on 50% shooting along with an assist, rebound and steal in 13 minutes of action. Not eye-popping numbers until you consider that he is 17 years old. The fact that a minor managed to crack the rotation of the 2006 world champion is astounding. He is expected to declare for the 09 draft and go within the first 5 picks.
3) Russia -(1-0) Last Game (W vs Iran 71-49)
Took care of business against the mystery opponent of these Olympics, Iran. Russia used it's brand of pressure defense to force Iran into 38% shooting and 22 turnovers. Andrei Kirilenko and J.R. Holden led the way on both sides of the Russian attack combing for 34 points 6 stls and 3 blks. The only negative from this performance was Russia's lack of outside shooting and rebounding which could hurt them against Argentina later in the week.
Player to Watch: J.R. Holden, PG - Took the long way to international stardom, started at Pittsburgh then made his way through the former Eastern Bloc to Euroleague power CSKA Moscow where he became a star. Soon after he became a naturalized citizen and now plays point for the Russian National team. He's the driving force behind this teams offense and defense. For Russia to medal in these Olympics J.R needs a stellar string of games.
4) Croatia -(1-0) Last Game (W vs Australia 97-82)
Came out like a well-oiled machine and took apart the Aussie with superior shooting and post play. Played terrific team basketball with 5 players getting double digits and 19 asts (Assists aren't given out as freely in International play). Center Nikolas Prkacin showed Andrew Bogut what a real center is all about by scoring 16 points and getting to the line 8 times in 11 minutes. If Croatia can keep up this torrid offensive pace against the defensive-minded Russians expect Croatia to make the semifinals with ease.
Player to Watch: Marko Tomas, F - Hit 4 of 4 3-pointers for 12 points in the win today. His name was floated around during the draft but teams passed due to his commitment to Real Madrid of the ACB. He's only 23 so he still has good shot at the NBA. Reminds me of a young George McCloud (that one's for you Tank).
5) Lithuania -(1-0) Last Game (W vs Argentina 79-75)
Knocked off the '04 Gold Medal winner Argentina in a tightly contested contest. Lithuania used solid ball movement coupled with great defense (held Argentina to 22% 3Pt shooting and C Krystof Lavrinovic registered 4 blks) to stifle the scrappy South Americans. Sarunas Jasikevicius proved that he is still one of the top International PG's by dropping and Olympic leading 8 dimes. As long as they continue with the great inside-outside defense they will be a formidable squad this Olympics.
Player to Watch: Linas Kleiza F (Nuggets) - Denver fans need to take notice here. Due to Eduardo Najera skipping town, Linas will have a larger role with the Nuggets. This tournament has shown a growth in his confidence as he sank a 3-pter with 2.1 seconds to put the Lithuanians ahead for good against Argentina.
6) Greece -(0-1) Last Game (L vs Spain 66-81)
That was an uncharacteristically sloppy performance from the usually machine-like efficient Greeks. 24 fouls bleh, 1:2 asts to to ratios terrabull, 45.8 FT% 10000 B.C. bad. The good news is that it came against the 2nd best team in the tournament and the Greeks still shot well and played solid D. Greece needs to bring it's 'A' game against Germany, or else those hopes of medaling will drop faster than this girl's panties.
Player to Watch: Sofoklis Schortsianitis C - Ah, Baby Shaq, the 300+ pound Grecian has made strides to become slimmer in hopes of finally playing in the NBA (rights are owned by the Clippers who have tried to bring over for the past few years). He plays a bit out of control at times and has conditioning issues but when he is in the zone he is one of the best interior scoring options in International Basketball.
7) Germany -(1-0) Last Game (W vs Angola 95-66)
Won against Angola like it was supposed to. This team's lack of proven guard play outside of Pascal Roller will eventually be their downfall. Germany's key at advancing in the tournament is finding ways to bust open the zone defense besides Dirk. If they can do that they will go far, otherwise they'll finish in the bottom of Group B.
8) Argentina -(0-1) Last Game (L vs Lithuania 75-79)
I think the loss against Lithuania was more of a sign of things to come rather than a fluke occurrence. PG Pepe Sanchez's retirement from International play is a larger concern than Argentina let on. That coupled with another international no-show (Walter Herrmann), left the Argentinian team very thin ( Only 6 players played over 10 mins in the last game). On the good side, Manu Ginobili and Andres Nocioni showed they are still a dynamic 1-2 scoring punch in Olympic basketball. The duo of Manu and Chapu still need to work on shot selection however as they shot a combined 11/29 from the field. If that continues Argentina could be the first ever basketball team to not medal after winning gold the previous Olympics.
9) Australia -(0-1) Last Game (L vs Croatia 82-97)
It had to be the Aussies didn't it. The one team that I believe has chance to rise to be a premier basketball nation (USA, Lithuania, Spain, Argentina etc) comes out flat on defense against Croatia and allows them to shoot a dazzling 66% from the floor and 75% behind the arc. They needed to win that game to put them in contention of entering the medal round, and instead of going into the next game against Argentina 1-0; they are now fighting for the Olympic lives against an Argentinian opponent who is none too happy after losing to Lithuania.
10) China - (0-1) Last Game (L vs USA 70-101)
Well someone had to be the US's first victim during it's quest for gold, and China lucked into it.There are reasons for celebration even in the blowout loss. China's guards have a good-eye for the international 3 and Yao Ming played very well in the losing effort(13 pts 10 rebs) even though with his own admission of not being 100% healthy. Keep an eye out for Sun Yue(Lakers signed him) and Chen Jianghua, two of China's NBA hopefuls who both showed flashes of future brilliance in the opening game.
11) Angola -(0-1) Last Game (L vs Germany 66-95)
To quote Charles Barkley during the 1992 Olympics: "All I know about Angola is they in trouble."
12) Iran -(0-1) Last Game (L vs Russia 49-71)
Iran is the most unknown team in this tournament. Iran has some players with potential but due to the government we will probably never hear of nor see this again. From what little i could gather in their warm-ups against NBA summer-league teams in Utah they rely on two players to do a bulk of their scoring, C Hamed Ehadadi (a 7 ft classic back-to-the-basket center) and their captain Samad Nikkhah Bahrami (Iranian Wally Sczerbiak due to his tendencies to take over games with either great shooting or turnovers ). However he did have this great quote about playing against against an Israeli coach: (Russia's David Blatt) "As soon as you start running you forget everything and remember that we are all the same. Unfortunately, politics is not in the hands of the regular people and the athletes." You embody the true spirit of the Olympics Samad, and I wish you and your team the best of luck.