One final layup for the United States men’s basketball team.
At least it should be. Otherwise, they will be slammed again.
After following up a loss to France, its first Olympic defeat since 2004, by blowing out Iran, Team USA will finish group play Saturday against the Czech Republic (8 a.m. EDT). Listed as 23.5-point favorites, the Americans need a win to be certain of a berth in the quarterfinals that never should have been in doubt. In the quarters, all first- and second-place teams from the three groups join two third-place teams in an eight-team knockout tournament.
“We don’t go into every game thinking we’re going to beat everybody by 50,” center Bam Adebayo said. “It definitely keeps us on edge and shows that we can’t mess around.”
The Czechs are in the Olympics for the first time, after beating Greece and Canada to steal a spot in the original 12-team field. Like the U.S., the Czech Republic lost to France and beat Iran to carry a 1-1 record into the Group A round-robin finale.
A win for the U.S. would keep alive their chance at the No. 4 seed and would allow the Americans to avoid any of the three group winners until the semifinals — though a potential quarterfinal matchup with Spain or Luka Doncic-led Slovenia would be no cakewalk. A loss to the Czech Republic — while critique-worthy — probably won’t eliminate the U.S. because the tiebreaker for third-place teams is overall point differential.
“If we win [gold], that’s going to put to rest a lot of the things that have been said. Doom and gloom,” USA basketball’s managing director, Jerry Colangelo, told reporters in Tokyo. “If we don’t win, people will have their opportunity to take shots. I’m the one that has to look in the mirror and know that I did my best. I’ll tell you in advance the answer is yes: I believe we’re going to win.”
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Tomas Satoransky, a Bulls point guard who has never reached 10 points per game in any of his five NBA seasons, and Jan Vesely, the No. 6-overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft who lasted just three seasons in the league, are the best Czechs challenging the inconsistent U.S. team of NBA All-Stars.
Still, that duo poses more of a threat than Iran managed in a 120-66 win by the U.S., which evened its record at 3-3 including the exhibition games.
“I think everybody on our team would agree that it felt good to get out and run, get open shots, create steals and go the other way without having to set plays — and use our length and athleticism to our advantage,” guard Damien Lillard said. “I think [if] we can find a way to be consistent at that, we should have a pretty good chance of being successful.”