The U.S. men's basketball team plays Germany today in a game that on the surface means next to nothing. The Americans have already clinched the top seed in its group for the medal round, and should have absolutely no problem beating a German squad that has lost to China, did not qualify for the knockout round. I think this game is more important than most people realize though for two main reasons.
First, it sets the tone for how the U.S. will enter play in the quarterfinals. If Kobe Bryant and company play the way they did on Saturday against Spain and come out early and set an aggressive tone, then odds are they will continue to do the same thing once the medal round begins. If they come out and play like they did against Angola, and let an undermanned team hang around for a majority of the first-half, then it will be the fourth game of the tournament that they will have come out flat, and that is not a trend you want to set with the medal round just around the corner.
Secondly, today's game should serve as an opportunity for every player on the roster to see significant court time. Krzyzewski would be wise to get players like Tayshaun Prince, Michael Redd and Carlos Boozer more minutes than they have seen in any other game this tournament. I don't expect that the U.S. coach will change the starting lineup around at all, but giving his role players a few extra minutes will give them a confidence boost, and gives his starters a breather.
The Americans have been to run away with games in the second half because of their defense. They forced the Spaniards into 28 turnovers and seemingly out-hustled them down the floor throughout the contest. Team U.S.A. will be playing a team today that has absolutely nothing to lose. If the LeBron James and Bryant set the tone early and are able to slow down Dirk Nowitzki, this game shouldn't be very competitive at all.
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