BEIJING Funny how much difference a year and a new venue can make.
Consider the Russian men's basketball team, which behind the all-round game of Andrei Kirilenko avenged its only qualifying-round loss of the 12-team 2007 FIBA European Basketball Championships by beating host Spain for the title.
Fast forward to Thursday in Beijing, where essentially the same Russian team dropped its second straight Olympics qualifying game to fall to 1-2 and face a must-win game Saturday against Australia, if the Russians have any hope of making the medal-round quarterfinals.
And the two losses have come against teams Russia downed in last year's 2007 EuroBasket tournament 85-78 to Croatia on Tuesday, and 86-79 to Lithuania on Thursday.
In the loss to Lithuania, Russia hung around even with or just close behind to its opponents from start to the final minutes, with the score tied with four minutes to play. From there, Lithuania scored on two straight possessions to take a five-point lead, and Russia could draw no closer.
"We played our hearts out. We missed 10 easy layups and we gave up 10, 15 offensive rebounds that's the whole game," said Russia coach David Blatt. "We had every opportunity to win that game, but we missed 10 layups, and you don't win when you miss 10 layups."
American-born guard J.R. Holden led all scorers with 25 points, and Kirilenko added 17 points, with what would have been a strong all-around outing hurt by some shooting woes.
Kirilenko's 17 points came on 3-of-9 shooting from the floor and 10-of-19 from the line. He added six rebounds and team-highs in assists (six), steals (six), blocked shots (four) and minutes played (39:16 sitting out just 34 seconds).
"I missed lots of free throws," admitted the Utah Jazz forward. "It's a seven-point game, and I missed eight or nine free throws, or it could be different. I couldn't make a free throw (so) I was trying to hustle, be around the floor everywhere."
And for supposedly being the focal point of his national team, the one-time NBA all-star went for extended stretches without offensive touches.
Then again, if you're not hitting your free throws, the ball doesn't find its way to you as much.
Rimantas Kaukenas led Lithuania, which improved to 3-0 and is atop the Group A standings with undefeated Croatia. Siskausas Ramunas added 16 and Sarunas Jasikevicius 12 for the Lithuanians.
Kirilenko said Russia and other teams that have dropped a game or two already in Olympic preliminary competition are trying to adjust."Everybody's getting used to this floor, the referees, the baskets," he said. "It's different, so we need to get used to it."
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