Close games and nail-biters isn’t the normal style for the men’s USA basketball team at the Olympics but the last two games in Rio haven’t exactly been the norm. A 94-91 win against Serbia on Aug. 12 was preceded by a 98-88 decision against Australia. The USA jumped out to early leads in both contests but later had to fend off furious rallies to dodge defeat. The USA opened preliminary play with ease, winning both games by 101 points. They’ve won their last two games by a total of just 13 points while forcing less turnovers and allowing opponents to shoot better from the floor. Despite a fully loaded arsenal of the NBA’s finest players, the USA looks vulnerable as it prepares for a huge game on Aug. 14 against a France team that’s loaded with NBA-level talent. With such a big game on the horizon is it fair to ask if the USA Team is guaranteed a gold medal? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate this question.
United States’ Carmelo Anthony (15) and teammates walk off the court after their win over Australia in a men’s basketball game at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Riley: With more NBA-caliber talent spread out throughout the tournament, it’s not that Team USA is underperforming as much as it is facing better competition. Basketball has become a universal mega sport and more and more teams now know how to game plan, execute and compete so things may not get any easier as the tournament ramps up. The USA team isn’t the only unit with NBA talent, as teams like Spain and Australia are stacked with players from the Association. The USA team has talent but I can’t guarantee they will win the tournament because it won’t be a cakewalk.
Green: I don’t care who plays for any other team when you have a Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins and Carmelo Anthony headlining your team you should be dominating. Period. I get that there are more foreign players who are now great players inside the NBA, but this current USA team is oozing with homegrown, superior talent. They don’t have the collective maturity of the original Dream Team, but physically, this team is off the charts. Perhaps they’re taking things for granted, but it’s obvious that this team simply isn’t playing up to its talent at the moment. France has a deep and savvy roster that Team USA is set to square up against. If the USA doesn’t refocus I wouldn’t be surprised if they lose their first game of the preliminary round.
Riley: Close games only spell a bigger problem with the USA team. The defense hasn’t been robust over the last week and ball movement has been nonexistent. We’re banking on the USA to just snap their fingers and kick things into high gear but things aren’t that easy with such a deep pool of talented competition. The USA always has a mark on its back in Olympic play and with that bullseye and more parity from its competitors the timing could be right for an Olympic-size upset.
Green: What evidence have you seen that says the USA is ready to be upset, Riley? We’ve seen the last two games where the U.S. jumped out to a huge lead then eased their foot off the gas. The USA is clearly the superiorly talented team, and as long as the focus is there they’ll wreak havoc through league play. So they’re not dominating the competition like USA teams of prior years but they’re just as loaded as any USA team before them. It might not be in the fashion we want but the job will get done and USA will come away with the gold.