Tag: USA Lithuania

Preview USA vs. Lithuanians: Now we see how far the youngsters have come

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Thumbnail image for andre_iguodala_team_usa.pngBack in August, the USA got together to take on Lithuania in a “friendly” — and the young Americans got punched in the mouth for a half. Don’t believe me, this is what Coach K told John Schuhmann of NBA.com.

“They were playing the international game and we were still playing a U.S. game that night,” USA coach Mike Krzyzewski said Friday. “And they knocked us back. We did enough to win the exhibition, but we’re going to have to play a lot better than that to win on Saturday.”

They have to because Lithuania is playing better, more confident than they did in that meeting. That and this the World Championship semi-finals, one-and-done. Lithuania is 7-0 so far and have knocked off Argentina and Spain in this tournament. Lithuania is capable of shooting lights out for long stretches (59 percent in the first half against Argentina when they took the game by the throat early).

This is a measuring stick game for the USA — they are better, more talented than Lithuania, but if the Americans have not progressed as a team since the last meeting it will not matter.

Here’s what you really need to know about Lithuania — they will fight. Not in the Greece/Serbia sense, in the way every coach in every sport in every country wants their team to fight and scrap. They are the definition of gutty and physical. They were down double digits to Spain, France, China and Canada and came back to win every game. The USA cannot take their foot off the gas in this one.

Lithuania spreads the floor on offense and will run a lot of pick-and-rolls, a classic European offense in that there always movement off the ball, plenty of cutting to the basket. Pretty much everyone on the Lithuanian roster will drive the lane, save Simas Jasaitis who just stands out there and knocks down threes. They like to run, although how much they push the pace against a more athletic USA team remains to be seen.

We already told you all about Linas Kleiza, who is leading the team in scoring at 19 a game. He brings a more complete and more confident game to this game than NBA fans will remember from his days in Denver. The USA will likely counter him with Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala, but Kleiza’s physicality will be a challenge for either of them.

The USA is the better team, the deeper team. But Lithuania is playing about as well as it can right now, and it will fight for this one. They know that in a best of seven they are toast, but one game… anything can happen. Unless the USA comes in focused and on its game, then this is decided.

Linas Kleiza's Greek vacation has made him a new man

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Thumbnail image for Kleiza_Lithuania.jpgHe is scoring 19.1 points a game on 60.4 percent shooting, is getting to the line, has shown everyone what he is capable of on the World Stage and is the unquestioned leader of a team in the FIBA World Championships.

Kevin Durant? No, although their statistics are nearly identical.

It’s Linas Kleiza. The former Nugget and soon to be Raptor who is leading Lithuania up against the Americans on Saturday.

Kleiza was a nice backup guy for the Nuggets, but some who watched him then and now have a question: Who is this guy with the well rounded game and is putting up Durant-like numbers in Turkey?

Player development guru David Thorpe knows, and he isn’t surprised. Thorpe is the executive director of the Pro Training Center (as well as ESPN analyst) who worked with Kleiza a few years back and said he always had this in him.

“In reality what we’re seeing now is just the natural evolution of a guy asked to play the three but was only a guy allowed to shoot threes and dunk in [the Denver] system,” Thorpe said. “He was a much more fluid player than he was allowed to show.”

Denver had Carmelo Anthony and for much of Kleiza’s time Allen Iverson — they had dynamic scorers, better scorers than Kleiza. The result of that is what happened to him happens to a lot of players Thorpe said — they get put in roles that work for the team but do not show off or exploit all a player can do. There are plenty of players collecting NBA paycheck and living the NBA lifestyle in the same boat.

But Kleiza’s answer was different — he broke the mold and went to play for Olympiakos, the Greek powerhouse (along side Josh Childress, now of the Suns). There he got to both show off the variety of his game and gain confidence that he can be a leader and top scorer — he was one of the leading scorers in EuroLeague.

That is what he is bringing back to Toronto.

“I’ve always thought he was a starting level three,” Thorpe said. “He’s very explosive, very rugged and though a guy who can race the floor… He’s your classic mismatch nightmare because he’ll just pulverize smaller players with his strength but he can also hit the three.”

China struggled to find a matchup for him in the round of 16 at the World Championships. They didn’t want to wear out Yi Jianlian on him, so they went with a smaller player and Klieza just backed him down and hit little 8-footers over him. If you go bigger he is too quick and can get open on cuts and in transition, plus he can space the floor.

Team USA may be better suited than anyone to have answers for Kleiza, Thorpe said. Both Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala are quick enough to stay with him on the perimeter but their strength and length will keep Kleiza from getting easy looks around the basket.

But it will not be easy, because if there is one thing Kleiza brings its toughness. He will scrap for what he wants.

Most teams that take on Toronto will face the same matchup challenges that the world has faced in recent weeks, Thorpe said. He added he thinks Kleiza could be the Raptors leading scorer next season or should at least be in the mix.

“He’s a very good three point shooter who can finish around the rim, has great hands and can take the punishment…” Thorpe said. “Not a lot of guys who can do all that.”

Next up for the USA is Lithuania, which isn't as easy as you think


Thumbnail image for Kleiza_Lithuania.jpgSadly, the Lithuanians will not be breaking out the Grateful Dead tie-dye uniforms Saturday.

They will not be rolling over for the USA, either.

Lithuania advanced to the semifinals of the World Championships, routing Argentina 104-85.

A lot of people probably thought with Argentina gone this should be easier for the USA, but Lithuania has been anything but an easy out this tournament — they are undefeated. They have defeated Spain and Argentina.

Former Nugget, soon to be Raptor Linas Kleiza has been the leader of this team — dropping 30 on China last round then 17 on Argentina —  showing off a more rounded game than he was allowed to in Denver. But more on him tomorrow. (That’s called a tease in the business.)

Lithuania fell to the United States in a warmup game for the World Championships, 77-61. It was a game where the Lithuanians were very physical with the USA and it was close for a half, with the Americans shooting just 25 percent. It was a combo of poor play from the USA as they adjusted to a more physical brand of basketball, and the fact that Lithuania isn’t bad.

And they are playing better, with more confidence now than they did then. Russell Westbrook (12 points), Rudy Gay (14) and the quickness of the Americans eventually wore down Lithuania. It probably will again. But like we said, every step on the road to a title gets more challenging, and this will fit that mold.