Will USA show improvement in first Olympic elimination game vs. Argentina?

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The biggest concern for Team USA in Rio is not the tight 10-point win against Australia, where the Americans struggled to defend good guard play, were pushed around, and where the offense was stagnant. A wake-up call game can happen for a team.

No, the real concern is that they showed no improvement in those areas against Serbia, a three-point USA win. Then against France the offense looked a little better, but the defense was still a mess.

The Americans are not getting better as the Olympics have moved along.

Now the Olympics move into an eight-team tournament where it’s win or go home. Will the USA show that improvement against Argentina in their quarterfinal game (5:45 Eastern on NBC SportsNetwork)? They need to start soon.

The USA likely can beat Argentina without much improvement, but if they don’t start to show it now it’s hard to imagine them flipping the switch when they take on Spain or France in the semifinals Friday.

The USA overwhelmed Argentina in an exhibition in Las Vegas last month, beating them 111-74. However the Argentinians have improved since then — their conditioning is better, and they have found the cohesion and unity of play the Americans are still searching for. Wednesday’s game is going to be closer than the one a month ago.

Argentina is playing for the final time with the core of its “Golden Generation” — Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola, Carlos Delfino, and Andres Nocioni. That group won gold in 2004. Argentina has been getting good play from the guys around that core, particularly Facundo Campazzo who has averaged 16.4 points per game and is a real threat from three.

Argentina has the guard play to bother the USA, and their veteran bigs still know how to score the basketball. However, they lack the depth or size to likely win the game, or really threaten the USA late (probably). Expect a big game out of Kevin Durant (16.8 points per game) and Carmelo Anthony (15.2).

However, the two medal-round games after this the USA will see teams that can threaten them — they need to show more focus and cohesion on defense starting Wednesday. The book on how to beat the USA is out there — primarily draw the American bigs into high pick-and-roll actions where the communication has faltered, and have shooters in the corners make backdoor cuts to the basket when American off-ball defenders get caught ball watching. Will the USA show improvement?

If not, this game Wednesday could serve as a warning for what would come Friday against a more talented European squad.

Not that the USA should need another wake-up call at this point.