The United States and Spain will meet with nothing on the line on Tuesday evening in Barcelona. It’s the biggest, most anticipated pre-Olympic friendly in the world as the two gold medal favorites face off.
Next time they meet, it very possibly will be with the gold medal in the London Olympics on the line.
Which is going to make Tuesday’s game an odd little dance.
Both teams will want to win. Both teams will take it seriously. Both teams would love to send a message with this game. But if you have a strategy or matchup you think really favors your side, you will not pull it out for this game. Keep your powder dry and save the big guns for the real fight.
Spanish players like Marc Gasol have pretty much admitted this is what will be going on. And it makes sense. If you are Spain and you think a zone would be effective against the United States, you might at best throw it in for a few possessions to see how Team USA reacts, but you’re not going to show your hand. Yet.
You can bet Mike Krzyzewski is thinking the same thing. So be careful about taking too much away from this game.
Still, this will be the biggest test of the United States’ biggest weakness — can they handle the size of Spain up front? Spain starts Marc Gasol and Pau Gasol, they bring Serge Ibaka off the bench.
The USA has been much better in the preseason games when Tyson Chandler is on the floor and he is going to have to stay on for long stretches in this game to protect the rim. The United States needs Kevin Love to step up his game and not coast (did you see Andres Nocioni outwork him for a rebound in the last game?). They need to show that LeBron James at the four can both work on the defensive end and be a matchup nightmare on offense. The USA needs their pressure defense to lead to some turnovers and easy buckets.
These are things to watch. But don’t read too much into this game. Both sides are not playing their best cards.