Olympics: US NBA stars, rivalries spice quarter-finals
Three intense match-ups and the US NBA Olympic Dream Team's first win-or-go-home game in their quest for gold in London promise a passionate set of men's basketball quarter-finals on Wednesday.
South American competitors Brazil and Argentina, European border rivals Spain and France and former Soviet states Russia and Lithuania all meet in Wednesday's quarter-finals, as do Australia and the unbeaten US NBA stars.
American squads are 13-0 against the Aussies in world and Olympic play but that brings little comfort to the United States after they needed NBA guard Patrick Mills's three-pointer at the buzzer to drop Russia from the undefeated ranks in group play.
"I know we can lose," US coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "I know there are teams that are out there capable of beating us. We have the utmost respect for world basketball."
Even with an Olympic record 156-point tally in one victory, the multi-millionaire Americans worry about what can derail their bid for back-to-back Olympic gold.
"We're very beatable. We're not unbeatable," star player LeBron James said. "We've got to work on our habits, defensively and offensively.
"Teams that have been together for many years execute extremely well and they will pick you apart."
Dave Blatt, an American who has coached the Russian team for seven years, has developed such a core group and will test it against a Lithuania squad that played for bronze in the past two Olympics but who have been without a medal since 2000.
"They are a very potent offensive team," Blatt said.
Twenty years after the break-up of the Soviet Union, the latest products from a once-unified talent pool will meet in a grudge match featuring NBA players including Lithuania captain Linas Kleiza and Russian big man Andrei Kirilenko.
"Russia are the favourites," Lithuania's Mantas Kalnietis said. "We have to play as a team to stop Kirilenko but they also have many options to shoot from outside. If we're going to win, we will win it with our defence."
Spain defeated France 98-85 in last year's European championship final but has been inconsistent at the Olympics, NBA Los Angeles Lakers big man Pau Gasol unable to spark sufficient play down the stretch.
"I'm worried because we have not found our best game yet," Gasol said. "I'm concerned because we've already played a lot of matches and we have not played to the best of our ability.
"The way we are playing right now, anyone can beat us."
French standout Mickael Gelabale notes the Spaniards have years of working together.
"To stop them, we have to play our best basketball, tough defence," he said.
No rivalry dominates South America like Brazil-Argentina and the familiar foes meet once more, with someone's medal dreams destined to die.
"We know Argentina very well and they know us," Brazil's Tiago Splitter said. "It's going to be a very close game."
Brazil lead the overall rivalry with Argentina 37-32 but their only prior Olympic meeting came in 1952, when Argentina won 72-56.
"It looks that Brazil and Argentina are two trains that go on the same direction and we always bump into each other," said Olympic scoring leader Luis Scola of Argentina.
Brazil coach Ruben Magnano knows better than most what is at stake, being from Argentina himself.
"The thing that worries me more about Argentina is the hunger for glory," Magnano said. They are a winning team and I still see that on their team. I have the feeling that my team also have that same hunger for glory."
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