(AP) — There is no aura of invincibility around this U.S. men’s
basketball team. It has gone just 3-3 so far this summer, still has
work to do just to qualify for the knockout stage at the Tokyo
Olympics and seems far from a lock to win its fourth consecutive
than many past Olympics. And the Americans don’t seem to mind.
“I feel like it
makes it more fun,” U.S. center Bam Adebayo of the Miami Heat
The next fun
destination for the Americans, they hope, will be the Olympic
quarterfinals. The U.S. can punch its ticket there on Saturday; the
sure-fire way to do that would be to beat the Czech Republic in the
Group A finale for both nations, though the Americans could still
move on even with a loss.
A win would
give the U.S. a chance at securing a top-four seed and ensure that
the team wouldn’t face any of the three group winners until at
least the semifinals. And the losses — two in
exhibitions, then the Olympic opener against
eventual Group A winner France — have been a benefit to
the Americans, Adebayo said.
“We don’t go in
every game thinking we’re going to beat everybody by 50,” Adebayo
said. “It definitely keeps us on edge and, you know, shows that we
can’t mess around.”
are still big favorites on Saturday; 23.5 points, according to FanDuel, and
that line was set after the U.S. had no problem in a 120-66 win over Iran on
Wednesday. The 54-point margin of victory — albeit against an
overmatched opponent — was the fifth-largest for a U.S. men’s team
in an Olympics since NBA players began being used in 1992, and was
by the far the best performance by the team yet this summer.
Damian Lillard said the game against Iran, the second one this
summer where the Americans had all 12 of their players. It was the
first with nobody recovering from flying 8,000 miles the previous
day to get to Tokyo after the NBA Finals — as Jrue Holiday, Khris
Middleton and Devin Booker were for the France game — provided the
blueprint for how this team needs to play.
everybody on our team would agree that it felt good to get out and
run, get open shots, create steals and go the other way without
having to set plays and use our length and athleticism to our
advantage,” Lillard said. “I think we can find a way to be
consistent at that, we should have a pretty good chance of being
Each of the
other U.S. Olympic teams that won a game by at least 54 points —
the 1992, 1996, 2012 and 2016 teams all had one such contest — went
on to win the gold medal.
for a couple days, it silenced some of the doubt about whether this
U.S. team is good enough to win it all.
“If we win,
that’s going to put the rest a lot of the things that have been
said, doom and gloom,” USA Basketball senior men’s national team
managing director Jerry Colangelo said. “If we don’t win, people
will have their opportunity to take shots at anyone and as much as
they wish to, for whatever reasons they choose.”
A look men’s
field heading into the final games in group play:
The men’s field
will be pared from 12 teams down to the eight for the knockout
stage this weekend, with the quarterfinal games to be played in
Saitama on Tuesday. The winners of the three groups, plus the best
second-place finisher, will earn top-four seeds. The other two
second-place finishers and the best two third-place teams will be
the bottom four seeds for the quarterfinals.
France (2-0) is
the group winner, no matter what happens Saturday against Iran
(0-2). The winner of the U.S.-Czech Republic game will be 2-1 and
finish in second place; the loser falls to 1-2 and will have to
hope to move on as one of the best third-place teams.
has clinched a quarterfinal berth and can lock up first place in
its group with a win Saturday against Germany (1-1). Nigeria (0-2)
needs a win, and probably by a sizable margin since overall point
differential is a potential tiebreaker, against Italy (1-1) in the
other Group B game on Saturday to have any chance of advancing. The
Italians would advance with a win.
Cup champion Spain (2-0) will take on Luka Doncic and Slovenia
(2-0) on Sunday to determine who wins Group C and is guaranteed a
top-four seed for the quarterfinals. Both teams have already
clinched a berth in the knockout stage.
(0-2) plays Argentina (0-2) on Sunday. The loser is eliminated and
the winner — again, likely depending on the points-differential
tiebreaker — may still have a chance to reach the quarterfinals. If
Argentina does not advance, it may mean that Sunday would be the
last time Luis Scola appears in the Olympics. The 41-year-old Scola, who has
appeared in five Olympics, hasn’t said if he plans to
continue his playing career.