The United States men’s basketball team looked unprepared for its Olympic debut in Tokyo.
But three games in, he once again looks like a strong contender for the gold medal.
And this is good news, as their competition is about to get tougher.
If the United States slips – if they are anything less than their best in the knockout rounds of the tournament – the Olympics could end in the same humiliating way they started.
Credit where it’s due: Since the Americans’ 25-game Olympic winning streak was broken in an embarrassing defeat to France in the tournament’s first match, they’ve played two games and looked every bit like the best team in the world. They are connected at both ends of the court, allowing their superior talent to shine through.
Yes, the United States is back to its old ways. Not only did they beat Iran and the Czech Republic to close out group play – they blew them away with ease. The Americas have averaged nearly three points a minute in their last two games, with Kevin Durant and Boston Celtics star Jason Tatum on offense and defending led by Draymond Green and Bucks point guard Jew Holiday.
But he hasn’t won anything yet. For the US to claim the 16th gold medal in men’s basketball, they must carry this form to the knockout stages of the tournament, beginning with a quarterfinal game with rivals Spain (Monday, 9:40 p.m., Peacock) .
The US and the reigning world champions have twice played in the gold medal games (2008, 2012) and had a thrilling semifinal appearance at the 2016 Olympics, which was won by the Americans 82–76.
And while Spain’s best days in international sport are likely to be behind them – their core players from their gold generation playing in their last Olympics – they have some young players to help out. Alberto Abalde, a playmaking, sharp-shooting wing of Real Madrid, is likely to be the X-factor in the competition.
The United States and Spain played in a pre-Olympic practice game, in which the Americans won (yet another) close one, 83–76. The United States are the favorites for Monday night’s game by 11.5 points.
Should the Americans take care of business – and they have no excuse not to do so – they will likely face the second-best team in the tournament, Australia.
It’s the height of a golden generation of boomers – Australia has six current NBA players, including one-time Steph Curry-pester Matthew Delvedova and former St. Mary’s star Jock Landell. It is the second most talented team in the tournament and they play a tough but cohesive brand of basketball.
Once the knockout rounds begin, anything less than a United States A-game will ruin their gold medal dreams. If they play Australia, it’s not just a threat, it’s a guarantee.
The United States doesn’t need to be reminded, though—the Boomers beat the Americans in a warm-up play in Las Vegas in July, 91-83. America may have been playing the better ball of late, but the Australian team can beat them again in August.
That said, should Durant and company keep their heads upright, they should have no problem defeating top contenders both old and new on their way to the gold medal game, where it’s likely Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic’s Slovenia or France will loom. No, there is no relief for America
The United States is unquestionably the dominant power in the game, but if you still doubt the claim that the world is holding states over hardwood, the next three American opponents should be reassured.
There are four teams that America should be keeping an eye on going forward – two that have beaten the United States this season and two that have the potential to do so on the right day.
The Americans are still the favorites—heavy favorites—but there’s no question that they’ll have to work harder than most teams in American men’s Olympic basketball history to achieve glory.