The United States can advance to the knockout rounds on Saturday when it takes on the Czech Republic in its final men’s basketball group stage game.
Both the United States and the Czech Republic come into the game at 1-1, having lost to France and defeated Iran.
US downs Iran to rebound from loss
That makes this game critical for both teams. The winner will go to the quarterfinals, likely as the second-place team out of Group A. The loser can only go through if they’re one of the two, third-place teams that get the final two berths.
Team USA bounced back well from its opening loss to France by running Iran out of the gym on Wednesday. The Americans won 120-66, using their superior depth and talent to overwhelm the Iranian team.
Damian Lillard led the United States with 21 points on seven 3-pointers.
“Being in the hotel, at meals and on the practice court, and just talking after that loss, we came together,” Lillard told reporters after the win. “It’s time to start looking like Team USA.”
In contrast, the Czech Republic only beat Iran by six points in its opening matchup, though it controlled most of the game before the Iranians staged a fourth-quarter comeback. France beat the Czech squad 97-77 on Wednesday.
The United States should have little trouble winning against the Czechs. FanDuel Sportsbook lists Team USA as a 23.5-point favorite in the game.
Americans, Popovich still refining Olympic system
While the Czech Republic boasts a stronger team than Iran, it still falls far short of Team USA in terms of talent. The roster features just a single NBA player: Point guard Tomas Satoransky of the Chicago Bulls. The majority of the team plays professionally throughout Europe.
For the United States, the key to success in the men’s basketball tournament might be finding a system that works for its collection of All-Stars. Head coach Gregg Popovich preached ball movement during the exhibition games and the loss to France, leading many players to pass up open shots. Joe Vardon of The Athletic reported that players were “grumbling” about “running the San Antonio offense” after that game.
That changed against Iran, as the United States used a smaller lineup and let the ball fly from behind the arc.
“We were a bit too unselfish early on, and it bit us,” Kevin Durant said after the win over Iran. “Tonight, guys came out super aggressive. It may look bad when the shots don’t go in, but we still had great intentions ever since we got together.”
Despite their struggles, the United States remains the clear gold medal favorite in men’s basketball. FanDuel sees Team USA as the -250 pick to win gold, ahead of Australia (+800), Slovenia (+800), and France (+900).