Team USA faces Tunisia in the opening round of the 2012 London Olympics, beginning Tuesday at 2:15 p.m. PDT.
1. Team USA will never trail in this game. No need for an actual scouting report on this one. Sportsbooks have Team USA as 55-point favorites for good reason. Tunisia is making its first Olympic appearance after participating in the African Championship for a half-century. It never led once in its first game against Nigeria, where it scored only 15 points at halftime. And we’re talking about Team USA here, which has so much talent that its select teams could take the floor in this one.
2. This is a good opportunity to adjust to FIBA rules. Judged by their scrappiness and ability to cut Nigeria’s double-digit lead, it’s likely Tunisia will try to muck it up. Therefore, this could provide a further test on how Team USA reacts in limiting foul trouble. This area isn’t going to be consequential by any means in this game. But Team USA needs to fine tune this after after collecting 26 fouls in their opening-round win Sunday against France. Former Lakers assistant coach and Sky TV analyst Ettore Messina, who has spent most of his career coaching internationally, believes the referees called the game fairly. Though he credited Team USA for not showing frustration with the calls, it’s clear the team hasn’t fully adjusted in avoiding the whistles.
3. Can Kevin Love build off of his recently good performance? After self-admittedly struggling for most of the exhibition season, Love performed one play that literally made Coach Mike Krzyzewski leap out of his seat. Love performed a spin move around Lakers forward Pau Gasol against Spain, prompting Krzyzewski to jump up and pump his right fist. It was an otherwise meaningless play in an exhibition game, no less, but it provided the breakthrough Krzyzewski believes Love needed to force himself back into the rotation. Love then followed that up with a 14-point effort in 14 minutes in Team USA’s opening-round win against France.
Such a string of events proved significant considering that Team USA chairman Jerry Colangelo told USA Today that Love “has not performed up to what he is capable of performing." That’s because he lacked aggressiveness in the shortened amount of time he received on the floor. The games against Spain and France proved to be a different story. In a game that will likely feature Krzyzewski emptying his bench early, Love’s performance against Tunisia could further dictate his role.
4. Expect Anthony Davis to have extended minutes. We’ve already seen an early glimpse on how he’s going to take the NBA by storm. In an eight-minute stint against France, Davis’ lone field goal came off a nifty alley-oop from Deron Wiliams. It’s likely this year’s No. 1 draft pick will have an even bigger opportunity Tuesday considering Team USA will likely build a double-digit lead within a matter of minutes. Davis may be the lone player on the U.S. Olympic team without NBA experience. But by no means does his role mirror Christian Laettner’s with the 1992 Dream Team. He mostly amounted to being the team’s whipping boy and hard-nosed practice player. Davis is expected to play to some degree in these games. And a game like Tuesday’s will give him a good opportunity to spread his wings.
5. Who will have the highlight of the game? It’s possible this game will get out of hand early and lead to just one highlight reel after the other. Should Krzyzewski allow that to some degree, this opens up a few tantalizing possibilities. Can LeBron James top his perfect cross-court bounce pass he threw to Kevin Durant in Team USA’s opening round win against France? Which big man in Tyson Chandler, Love or Davis will throw down the most dunks? Will Kobe Bryant awe the London crowd with a string of fadeaways? Will Chris Paul and Deron Williams break a few ankles after performing the pick-and-roll? It’s possible all of the above will happen.