Unbelievable though it seems, tonight’s 2010 FIBA World Championship warmup game in Athens represents one of the last such games before the big tournament goes down. And though coach Jonas Kazlauskas has played down the importance of the game, stating that what happens tonight will have “nothing to do with” the Turkey tournament. (“Είναι ένα πολύ καλό τεστ, αλλά δεν θα έχει καμία σχέση με αυτά που θα συναντήσουμε στην Τουρκία.”)
There’s no way you can convince a Team USA backer of that, though. American fans of the international game surely have Greece as no. 1 on the hit list after handing the Red-White-and-Blues their last seriously egregious defeat, the 101-95 masterpiece in the 2006 FIBA Worlds – not to mention the glimpse of a nice adrenaline-inducing team that overcame Spain this weekend.
What to look for in tonight’s game? How about these subplots…?
• The Greek advantage in height… Even coach Mike Krzyzewski sounds a bit envious when contemplating the Hellenes’ roster, stating that Sofoklis Schortsanitis “would be useful for us, since we lack height” and that he admired the skills of Ioannis Bourousis. (Incidentally, where the *(*#^##!!#@ is Dwight Howard, by the way…?)
Normally, a Twin Towers schema would appear to be called for, but we may not face Sofoklis-Bourosis until late in the Turkey tournament, as the latter is unlikely to play tonight. Though given the all clear by doctors, Bourosis participated in practice on Monday and has the theoretical green light to play today; Greece-based media says that Kazlauskas will probably “not use the center before the World Championship.”
• …and experience. So Greece will be running slightly smaller tonight, with short-on-stamina Schortsanitis presumably starting in the middle and Kostas Tsartsaris seeing some quality time (unless Kazlauskas is still considering keeping Ian Vougioukas around, in which case the 25-year-old might get in early) – big deal. Team Hellas is running with seven guys that are 26 or older (Bourosis, Dimitris Diamantidis, Konstantinos Vasileiadis, Nikos Zisis, Antonis Fotsis, Vassilis Spanoulis and Kostas Kaimakoglou) representing a combined 33 international tournament appearances combined. With the exception of Kaimakoglou, all these guys have played for top-level Team Greece since at least 2003.
Where will we see the discrepancy between the solid unit of Greece and Team USA’s newbies? BiE’s looking at guard matchups and halfcourt play. So the backcourt played adequately against Spain (though hardly brilliantly and with few answers for Ricky Rubio still), but poor shot selection and the propensity to take contested jumpers are the Achilles’ heel(s) of this U.S. team. Against the defense of Diamantidis and Spanoulis, Chauncey Billups & Co. will have to play near flawlessly with the ball.
• Greece on its best behavior. Said Kazlauskas with regard to the melee with Serbia: “Everybody [knows] that we should not repeat this. We are professionals, we know that we did something wrong and need to protect our team.” It’s not like the Greece-based refereeing corps is gonna be tweeting the team for technical fouls, but with FIBA officials surely watching, the zebras will have a difficult time allowing any hint of overly physical play.
• Krzyzewski’s rotations. With Rondo out and the 12-man roster set, Coach K surely knows who his starting five (and sixth man, Lamar Odom) will be; it should be interesting to see what combinations come off the bench, particularly if Greece does throw out a pair of big men. How will time be distributed among Odom, Andre Iguodala, Tyson Chandler and Kevin Love.
• Can Team USA run like they did against Spain? If they can, they win this game: No one is going to “out-athleticize” the Red-White-and-Blues in this entire tournament. By romping early against Spain, the U.S. was able to build up a big enough lead to compensate for poor decision-making later and there’s certainly the opportunity to do the same here. Perhaps full-court pressure, Mr. Kazlauskas…?
The Greece-USA friendly tips off at 6pm CET (noon EST); you can catch the game live on FIBA TV for free in some markets.