Team USA looks to deepen their leading position in Group A of the 2012 London Olympics as they face Lithuania. After a record-setting game on Thursday against Nigeria, Team USA will go up against a stronger opponent than Nigeria, but should still have a great chance at yet another blowout. Thursday was a historic game for Team USA, who broke the Olympic record for total points (156), shot 29 three-pointers and Carmelo Anthony posted a record Olympic-high of 37 points in just 14 minutes.
Coming off of a loss on Thursday to the Tony Parker led French team (82-74), Lithuania is hoping to gain some ground in group play in the Olympics. Lithuania is a bit of a mix when it comes to their roster, as they are comprised of FIBA players, former NBA experienced players and future NBA players.
Team USA currently has a 35 point spread going into this matchup against Lithuania, so let’s look at how these opponents stack up against each other.
Frontcourt: Linas Kleiza is somewhat of the top dog on Lithuania’s roster. Kleiza’s NBA experience and international comfort will benefit him in the matchup against the USA. Kleiza will have to have a near perfect game if Lithunia wants any chance to keep up with Team USA. Jonas Valanciunas is a twenty year old center for Lithuania who lacks a defensive mentality. Therefore, do not expect to see him on the court for many minutes against the USA. At the three spot is Jonas Maciulis, who posted just 4 points and 4 rebounds in 18 minutes of action against France on Thursday. Kevin Durant should easily be able to get on pace offensively and should do a credible job in guarding Jonas Maciulis.
Backcourt: Lithuania’s backcourt is led by their 35 year old point guard with past NBA experience, Mantas Kalnietis. Lithuania’s offensive pace is primarily determined by Kalnietis. On Thursday against France, he posted 6 points, 3 assists and 4 boards on 3-9 shooting in 26 minutes. Rimantas Kaukenas was limited to just 2 points in 10 minutes on Thursday due to foul trouble. Rimantas Kaukenas’ tendency to get into foul should be kept in the back of Kobe Bryant’s mind as Team USA’s offense unfolds. Martynas Pocius is a capable two-guard who is a leader off of Lithuania’s bench. Against France, Pocius posted 15 points in 16 minutes off of 6-10 shooting.
Keys to Victory:
Start Strong- After struggling to get it flowing by the starting five against Tunisia on Tuesday early on, Team USA came out of the box with focus and in a hurry to deflate the competition before they had a chance to respond. Led by terrific starts from Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant, who ended the game with 16 points and 14 points respectively, Team USA led Nigeria 49-25 at the end of the first quarter.
Carmelo Anthony then came into the game off the bench, which is a brilliant move by Coach K, and exploded offensively, with his 10-12 three-pointers, to deepen the gap against Nigeria. The starters did their job to open the lead by a wide margin, and the entire bench did an equally credible job to not only maintain, but lengthen that lead.
Run the Pick-and-Roll – As mentioned above, Lithuanian center Jonas Valanciunas struggles on defense and cannot defend the pick-and-roll. Therefore, Team USA must use this to their advantage by running the pick-and-roll using Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James and Tyson Chandler throughout the game.
Jonas Valanciunas and Lithunia’s bigs will either fall apart on defense or commit fouls. Doing this will also open up Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and other perimeter players on the wing for easy opportunities. As we all saw on Thursday, Team USA can make their opponent pay when they get hot at the three-point line.
USA (3-0) vs. Lithuania (1-2)
6:30 AM PST, August 4, 2012
Olympic Park, Basketball Arena, London, England
TV: NBC Sports Channel
Lithuania Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Mantas Kalnietis
SG: Rimantas Kaukenas
SF: Jonas Maciulis
PF: Linas Kleiza
C: Jonas Valanciunas
Key Reserves: G Martynas Pocius