BEIJING The five-date slate of preliminary pool games for the 12 mens basketball teams at the Beijing Olympics has accomplished its purpose providing the seeding for the eight quarterfinals and reflecting how dominant the gold-favorite United States really is.
But once in the quarterfinals, a slip here or a misstep there can result
in an upset loss, which in the quarterfinals means elimination, in the
semifinal finals means bronze medal at best, and in the championship game
means a perceived tarnished silver.
Up first for the United States in Wednesdays quarterfinals Andrew
Bogut-led Australia, which after opening the Games with a pair of listless
performances ripped off three dominating victories in Group A.
Other quarterfinal pairings: Spain meets up-and-down Croatia, Lithuania
faces host China, and defending champion Argentina takes on Greece.
After the U.S. struggled to a 5-3 record and a much-maligned bronze at
the 2004 Athens Games, anything short of gold for star-studded Team USA will
earn public rebuke.
The United States thrashing of Group B peers did nothing but fuel the
fire of public expectations.
And the efforts of opponents to knock them off, as U.S. head coach Mike
Krzyzewsi has warned.
Every team we play from here on, said center Dwight Howard, "coach said
was going to be like a 'game seven and we have to stay focused.
Focused is what the Americans were through five pool games.
Consider the numbers:
Scoring The United States is first in points scored at 103.0 a
game and tops in points allowed, only 70.8. And the five margins of victory 29 points in the opener against China, followed by a charitable 21 against
winless Angola, then 23 versus Greece, 37 in blowing out then-undefeated
Spain, and 49 in the finale with Germany.
Shooting After a couple of off outings, the U.S. ended up
shooting a collective 55 percent from the floor and allowing opponents just
37 percent. Thats 64 percent to 43 on two-pointers and 36 percent to 27
percent for 3-pointers, the latter an area where critics wondered if the
Americans could stop the international sharpshooters.
Defense The United States has created 114 turnovers but
committed just 69, tripled the amount of steals made versus given up (72 to
24) and blocked 21 shots to having been stuffed 14 times.
Balance Unlike other Olympic squads, the U.S. is not counting
just on one or two mainstays. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James are ninth and
tied for 10th in scoring average, but both are in the top six in FG
percentage and total field goals made.
And when it comes to unselfishness, the U.S. has three James, Chris
Paul and Deron Williams ranked in the tournaments top 10 in assists.
As the Americans and Aussies get set to square off in their
quarterfinal, both teams temper acknowledgement of the opponent with some
Australia plays a completely different style of game than we played
[against Germany], said Kobe Bryant. They run a continuity offense and
they are very proficient at it, and they run hard cuts and set hard picks.
They are real smart, so it will be a different ball game.
Countered Bogut: I have not seen them play with such a chip on their
shoulders since the Dream Team of 92, especially with Kobe running the
show. They have a different mentality. They are trying to kill teams, and
they are going to try to knock us out with the first punch, but we have to
Even the coaches got into the act.
They are probably playing their best basketball at the moment, and they
can put points on, said Krzyzewski of Australia.
Said Brian Goorjian, his counterpart. We get a chance to step up to the
plate and have a swipe at the big dog. I dont know if we can or cant beat
them, but I like how Australias playing. Im confident we will get out and