So far, through the exhibition run up and into the first two games of the Rio Olympics, Team USA has played just four teams: China three times, Venezuela twice, Nigeria and Argentina once. If you did a power ranking of the 12 Olympic teams, only Argentina might be in the top six. Maybe. There’s a reason the USA has thrashed these teams, beyond the USA’s vastly superior talent level.
All of which is to say the USA has not been tested yet. The Select Team — of USA rookies and rising stars — in Vegas was the best team they have faced.
That changes Wednesday in the form of Australia.
The Boomers have five NBA players — Andrew Bogut, Patty Mills, Matthew Dellavedova, Aaron Baynes, and Joe Ingles — and four of them have championship rings. That has shown through the first two games of the Rio games, where Australia upset both France and Argentina.
Venezuela laid out the blueprint to beat the USA — slow the game down, don’t turn the ball over, get to the line, be as physical inside as the officials will allow. The problem for Venezuela is it lacked the talent to execute it.
Australia comes much closer.
They have an NBA-level backcourt — Mills had 26 points, while Dellavedova had 23 points and 13 assists in the win over Serbia. They are guys that can handle the defensive pressure of the USA better than maybe any other team in the games. Inside, they have good defenders and high IQ players with Bogut and Baynes. Ingles both can move the ball and hit threes.
Make no mistake, the USA should win this game. Handily. They are more talented at every position, and if they can get out run — taking advantage of their superior athleticism — there is nothing Australia can do.
But this is the first team that can give the USA a real test. The Americans knew it, speaking to the press before practice Tuesday (via the Associated Press):
“We know Australia is going to be a tough one for us, just based on how physical they are,” Carmelo Anthony said.
Beyond this one game, Australia seems destined for second place in the group, win or lose to the USA. The Boomers remaining two games after Wednesday are against China and Venezuela, which should be two comfortable wins. That should give them a good shot at getting in position for a medal.
But first they are going to take their shot at the world’s best and give them a real test. If the USA starts as slow and sloppy as they did against Venezuela, this game is going to get very interesting very fast.