USA (7-0) vs Lithuania (7-0) – WOW. Though I did say Lithuania was better than the 40/1 odds against them to start this tournament, I cannot say that I anticipated them doing this. They just clobbered Argentina, who was a favorite to win this tournament in the eyes of many, and Linas Kleiza is the sole reason why. He showed years ago in Denver that he has the ability to shoot lights out and sometimes take over games coming off the bench, but in this FIBA tournament he has shined as a starter. Through 7 games he is averaging 19 ppg and also leading the Lithuanians in rebounds, as well. It is always strange how seemingly average NBA players take over these tournaments, and Linas has just been one of many to do it.
Who on the US will take on covering Linas? Will the task fall on Durant’s shoulders, hoping that his 6’9 frame can bother Klieza? Or will they go with the smaller and quicker Eric Gordon, who could possibly fight around the picks for Klieza more quickly? Either way, Linas Kleiza is a light’s out shooter who can get very hot at a times. After watching Lithuania thrash the Argentine team, it would seem that they can give the US a real push. The US’ entire offensive attack is predicated upon getting Kevin Durant easy iso opportunities and Lithuania doesn’t really have anyone (does any team?) who can check Durant. I think, ultimately, this game will be decided on the shoulders of Kevin Durant and how far he is going to go to carry the US team. Billups will also have to do a good job of keeping the US in check emotionally if they come out and get off to a poor start.
One thing that works in Lithuania’s advantage is that they did a great job of keying in on Argentine forward Luis Scola. If they can manage to frustrate Durant by making it difficult for him to get the ball in his sweet spots, they have a shot at sneaking a victory. Lithuania has shown a propensity for putting up great offensive numbers, and if they can turn it on defensively, the US is in for a tough game.
What I envision happening in this game is Lithuania battling tough for 3 and a half quarters, but losing their grip in the end while the US finishes strong.
Prediction: US by 9
Serbia (6-1) – 5 Game win streak vs Turkey (7-0) – Last game Turkey went out and punished Slovenia. In my opening round up article I mentioned that we’d get a look at Ilyasova this tournament…Ersan Ilyasova had a monster game with 19 points and 5 boards, while Hedo ran the offense, dishing out 7 assists to go with his 10 points. Turkey has looked comfortable all tournament and passed tests both against Slovenia and Greece. The rest of their schedule had been soft, but against both juggernauts, they came out and won. Serbia, meanwhile, Serbia notched impressive victories over both the Spanish team and the Argentine team. So they have shown that they have the ability to deliver knockout punches to good teams, too. This game is a total tossup, really. Despite the suspension following the brawl, Krstic has led the Serbians in scoring at 15 ppg. Omar Asik, Semih Erden, and Ilyasova will have their hands full with Krstic, who is a great shooter and can also bang inside against atypical competition in terms of what he faces in the NBA.
If I had to pick a winner, I would go with Turkey, simply because while Turkey will have trouble with Krstic, Serbia will have even more trouble with Ilyasova, who is too quick for their bigs and is so adept around the basket.
Prediction: Turkey by 2