Gold medal warm-up? Far from it

While Spain’s clash with Team USA was an anticipated pre-Olympic warm-up game, the key words in that are ‘warm-up game’.

USA were comfortable 100-78 victors over the side that most people believe will provide their toughest test in London, but other than Carmelo Anthony’s one-man show in the first half, no real statements were made. The game was played like a warm-up exhibition was intended and even though it was physical; the result meant nothing to both teams. The contest was merely a final tune-up for everyone to get court-time, for players like Spain’s Juan Carlos Navarro to get a good run-out and both sides trying to figure each other out before they meet in London… possibly.

Many were expecting Tuesday’s night game at the Palau Saint Jordi to be a preview of what could happen at the North Greenwich Arena in three weeks time but it was far from it. Both Spain and USA had no intention of doing that, preferring to save their energy for their first games on Sunday when the Olympic basketball tournament starts properly.

USA will begin their quest for back-to-back gold medals against France while Spain square off against China.

Both teams rotated often, Spain coach Sergio Scariolo, only played Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka together for the majority of the first quarter and in garbage time when the States had the game wrapped up. The Eurobasket winners were missing Marc Gasol with a bad shoulder, Navarro is gradually coming off a long-winding foot injury and Rudy Fernandez isn’t fully fit just yet.

Scariolo was looking at his best rotation and what roll the bench would play – he no doubt had the China game in mind and also wanted to see how USA squared up against his squad.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski has a clear thought of what his team and rotation will be. Carmelo Anthony seems to be relishing the sixth-man role, LeBron James likewise as a playmaker but one thing has come out of Team USA’s trip to Barcelona: They’re not at their peak just yet.

While the ball movement was exceptional, the States over passed it a lot of the time, which led to turnovers. The team chemistry is almost there, but definitely needs smoothing over a little. Krzyzewski admits that and especially after the Argentina and Spain games, that work will carry over to the Olympics. They are hot favourites, no question, but it won’t be as comfortable as what some fans make out it will be.

At times, they struggled against both Argentina and Spain, as they exploited their weakness in the front-court. But one thing the Americans do better than anyone, is that they punish opposition turnovers, run the open floor and put on a show. Team USA will win their games in transition and if they are shooting the ball well, they can be lights out.

Defensively, they need some work, sure they can play James, Durant and Anthony as forwards and centers, but for the latter position, anyway. All three are not accustomed to that role, and it showed in the Spain game. Gasol had a lot of freedom once they successfully got Tyson Chandler in foul trouble and it was odd that Krzyzewski didn’t feature Kevin Love more, as he is suited to international basketball and when he came on against Spain, was exceptional. Post-game in Manchester, a few members of the American press that were there said that come the knockout stages, Love will one of the three most important players on the U.S. roster.

100 percent agreed. Why play a natural guard at the four spot when you have a four on your roster? Not to mention that Love was a walking double-double machine with Minnesota last season.

Love managed just two points but grabbed ten rebounds in around 13 minutes comfortably.

A lot of things came out of the Spain-USA game, the Spanish were rotating and keeping players fresh, plus the game was a good chance to give Navarro some game- time. USA were giving all the players a chance.

If both sides do reach the gold medal game, you can times the level of intensity by 25 and you have the vast difference of that possible future encounter compared to Tuesday night’s mere tune-up game.

John Hobbs is TalkBasket.net’s Olympics reporter. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/johnswisshobbs