Basketball - Olympics: Day 12

Source: Sam Greenwood / Getty

Team USA regained its confidence and look to be the team to beat (once again) after crushing Argentina 105-78. Now in the semifinal round, Team USA is set to go against Spain. Most basketball experts were calling Spain the second best team coming into the Olympics. Here are some keys to the game for Team USA:

Matchup background

Coming into the game against Argentina, many experts not only declared that Team USA was beatable, they also mentioned how other teams “figured out” Team USA’s strategies. Well, after the US played well and overcame an early deficit, they cruised to victory the rest of the way, overpowering Manu Ginobili and Argentina.

Next up is Spain. Spain is a team that many expected Team USA to face for the gold medal instead of in the semifinal round. Similar to Team USA, Spain struggled a bit in the beginning of their pool play in the Olympics and actually lost two games in a row. Because of their slow start, they will now have to face Team USA a round earlier than they anticipated. Spain is led by current all-star center Pau Gasol from the San Antonio Spurs in the middle and Minnesota Timberwolves PG Ricky Rubio running point. Other than Team USA, Spain has the most players who are currently on an NBA roster or have been on one at some point in their careers. Translation: they are a very good team.

Team USA has defeated Spain in the last two gold medal games, dating back to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and in 2012 in London, so there’s some history between the two squads. The big difference between Spain and Argentina is Spain likes to keep a slow pace and force you to defend. The slower pace on offense also means less turnovers and fast breaks for Team USA. Teams with excellent point-guard play have historically given Team USA problems, and with Rubio running point for Spain, he will definitely be a problem for Team USA to contain. As good as team Spain is, Team USA still hands-down has the best talent and athletes in the world of basketball and should still be able to pull out the win. USA wins 80 – 69

Story lines to watch

Can Team USA play a slow-paced game? Unlike Argentina, Spain plays a very controlled, precise type of offense designed slow the game down. Team USA has struggled when playing against teams that have perfected this type of play. The US will have to be patient on defense and not have as many lapses that can keep Spain close.

Are the players that were struggling all the way ‘back’? Kevin Durant busted out of his slump in a big way against Argentina by scoring 27 points on a variety of shots and moves. From the beginning of the game, KD was more aggressive and his outside shot was falling the way we are used to seeing. However, Team USA’s defense will still need to get stronger as they go further into the medal rounds and match up against teams that can exploit their defensive holes. Facundo Campazzo, the starting Argentinean point, was carving up Team USA early in the game, and while he’s a good player, he isn’t as good as Rubio. Team USA will have to find a way to contain Rubio early and not let him get comfortable. Ultimately, against a strong team such as Spain, Team USA will need strong games from a variety of players … ahem … Klay Thompson, Carmelo Anthony, and Kyrie Irving … but it all begins with KD.

Players who will be the X-Factor for Team USA

With all-star center Gasol being Spain’s best player, the obvious answer here for Team USA would be Demarcus Cousins or DeAndre Jordan. However, this will be Team USA’s toughest game and they will need veteran leadership and experience, so Anthony is the real pick here. He will need to hit shots early and set the tone for Team USA. Most of the other teams don’t have a player that matches up with Melo’s size and agility, so he should often look to be the aggressor. When Melo’s three ball starts falling in these Olympic games, other players feed off his energy and Team USA becomes unbeatable.

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