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USA draws Spain in Olympic B-ball


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Hey Pau Gasol, your Spanish team is undefeated after five games of Olympic preliminary play.

What's your reward?

A matchup with Tim Duncan and the United States in the quarterfinals.

Gasol and his Spanish Olympic teammates must feel snakebitten after a wonderfully successful week somehow led them to a first-round matchup with Team USA.

But the Americans' 3-2 record in Group B merited a No. 4 seed in Thursday's quarterfinals and a meeting with the top squad from Group A. That's Spain.


Despite their low seed, Larry Brown and his staff must be relatively happy with the U.S. teams' position. Spain, while playing well, is not an overwhelming opponent.

They are led by Gasol, who is averaging 18 points and almost eight rebounds per game in the Olympic tournament. They're the best free throw shooting team in the Olympics, are well-coached, and solid defensively. If Spain were an NBA team they might be the Pistons.

But they're not a great three-point shooting team, and perimeter defense has been a problem for the U.S. throughout the Olympics.

If the Spaniards' top three-point shooters – Jose Manuel Calderon and Juan Carlos Navarro – continue to struggle from the outside, this game could turn into Gasol vs. Duncan, who routinely uses his strength to bully the smaller Spaniard in the NBA.

Despite the loss to Lithuania, the U.S. has actually played its best this past week. Against Lithuania they finally shot well from the outside, played with poise and got the ball inside. And after a blowout win over Angola heading into the quarterfinals, they enter the medal round playing with some confidence.

The U.S. is first in the tournament in rebounds, steals and blocks, so they know they can defend and control the interior against Spain. They must keep them off the foul line, force some turnovers and find some easy points.

Offensively, someone must make some three point shots. It's amazing to watch Stephon Marbury, who routinely has games in the NBA where he is absolutely unstoppable, struggle to make a single shot.

Like a lot of his teammates, Marbury is used to being the star, taking 20 shots per game, and having the leeway and time to find a rhythm to his game each night. But it's much different as a player when you only take five shots per game.

The better shooters can be consistent in that role, but the 'scorers' like Marbury, Allen Iverson and LeBron James need plenty of shots to get comfortable. And they're not going to get them in this setting. As a result, they struggle.

Coach Brown will have his club ready to go versus Spain, and Gasol and his teammates will be uncomfortable in their role as 'favorites.' They definitely got the short end of the stick having to face the Americans.

Brown's team is beginning to click. I see them making just enough perimeter shots to beat Spain in a close game and move on to the semifinals.

Steve Kerr is Yahoo! Sports' NBA analyst. Send him a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Updated on Tuesday, Aug 24, 2004 10:49 am EDT

Didn't the Wizards draft Navarro?

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