It’s win or go home for the United States men’s basketball team now.
And they are going to have an interesting road to get to the gold medal game.
The team has started to get more into a rhythm in the last two games against Iran and the Czech Republic. They started playing at a faster pace and were able to make threes with a level of consistency that we would expect from a team of mostly NBA All-Star caliber players.
However, the road ahead for Team USA doesn’t get any easier and a bad shooting night could be detrimental. In the quarterfinal matchup against Spain Tuesday, the Americans will face off against probably its biggest weakness this year: Skilled big men. The United States has advantages in athleticism and explosiveness, but when it’s played against large centers who can punish it with physicality the team has proven it can be vulnerable.
And that’s the exact challenge that Spain presents with the Gasol brothers. Marc and Pau Gasol are skilled enough to give the United States problems on switches if Spain can slow the pace down.
While both are older (Pau is 41 and Marc is 36) and less explosive, they both have a ton of international experience and a crafty point guard in Ricky Rubio who can get them the ball in spots that will allow them to be effective.
Then if you forecast the rest of the road for the U.S., there are more problems. If Australia handles business against Argentina, Patty Mills has proven that he can take over a game for his home country. If the U.S. advances to the gold-medal game they’ll likely have to play either France who beat them in the opener, or a Luka Dončić-led Slovenia team.
Dončić almost scored 50 in one game at the Olympics, but even if you double him the whole game, the Slovenian supporting cast has shown to be formidable. France has already shown the U.S. what it can do when it’s hitting on all cylinders.
The United States needs Kevin Durant to be special and they need Damian Lillard to be hitting perimeter shots to do what everyone expects them to do and come home with the gold. They have to find a way to avoid these slugfest-style games and get in the open court and make plays. That’s where they’ll have the advantage.
This team has had many questions surrounding it since its inception, and for good reason. If you include exhibitions it hasn’t had a really impressive showing as an Olympic squad. But all that will be forgotten if the U.S. can win three more games.