Team USA’s biggest challenge, Dirk’s title window is closing, and who is the “Babyface Destroyer”?

08.16.08 9 years ago 23 Comments
LeBronLeBron James, Dime #31

No hyperbole is necessary: This morning’s matchup with Spain (10 a.m. EST) will be Team USA’s most important game since the ’04 Olympics. Winning a gold medal is still the ultimate goal, and while you don’t have to go undefeated in pool play to have a chance at the gold, a loss today to the defending world champions just keeps that door open for critics worldwide to say whatever they want bad about the U.S. squad and system. With Spain standing as one of the two “benchmark” teams in the field (along with Argentina), this is where LeBron and ‘Melo and the guys who have been in the USA Basketball program for the last three-plus years can put it all together and make a huge statement … Know that Pau Gasol and crew will play tougher D than Greece, they probably won’t make as many mistakes, and — in spite of how Pau looked against KG and P.J. Brown in the Finals — they’re not intimidated whatsoever by the Americans … This is also a big game for Ricky Rubio. The NBA scouts will be watching him go against Jason Kidd, Chris Paul and Deron Williams to get a better idea of how he might fare in the League, and if he’s worth a high Lottery pick in ’09 … We said in yesterday’s Smack that Carmelo seems overdue for one of his 25-30 point games, but the X-factors in this one should be LeBron and Dwight Howard. Spain doesn’t have anyone who can physically hang with ‘Bron, so if he’s on his game he could go off. And because Spain has quality big men, Dwight needs to be on the court (a.k.a. no foul trouble) for his defense and rebounding. And if Kobe taps into that “You’re not scoring on me” mode to lock up Rudy Fernandez, Team USA should roll … In the earlier Friday night/Saturday morning games, Lithuania ran its record to 4-0 by blasting Croatia; Australia beat Russia behind 22 points apiece from the inside-outside duo of Andrew Bogut and C.J. Bruton, while AK-47 went 1-for-10 from the field and had just six points for the reigning European champs who are 1-3 in these Games; and Greece routed Angola … We’re not among those who thinks Mike Finley is done, but he doesn’t have too much time left in the League. The 35-year-old re-upped with the Spurs yesterday, and although details weren’t released, we’d imagine it can’t be more than a one or two-year deal. Finley and Roger Mason Jr. will fight for the “starting” two-guard spot (until Manu comes in), and the loser of that battle will have a hard time finding minutes. Then again, Pop might be planning to use Finley as Robert Horry‘s replacement, meaning he won’t play much during the regular season anyway … Jannero Pargo, who San Antonio had eyes on for a minute, decided to take a one-year, $4 million offer from Dynamo Moscow (Russia). He’ll team up with Boki Nachbar and the immortal Hollis Price, who dropped BUCKETS at Oklahoma … Jason Terry on the Mavs’ title hopes: “I pretty much see this as almost like our window of opportunity is getting smaller and smaller. We realize the sense of urgency that it is for us to get it done this season.” He speaks the truth. The Mavs have a big hill to climb just within their own division, and it didn’t help that New Orleans, Houston and San Antonio all made moves to get better. The Mavs have traditionally owned the Rockets, but when you throw a wave of Ron Artest and Shane Battier at Dirk, things could change in that rivalry … If the Knicks buy out Stephon Marbury — who says he’s totally fine with the idea now — how many eight-figure buy-outs would that be on their ledger? … One of Ethiopia’s Olympic 10,000-meter runners is nicknamed “The Babyface Destroyer.” That’s a cool enough handle to jack and give to someone in the NBA. Chris Paul seems like the obvious pick, right? If only Tyronn Lue was a better player he’d be in the running, too … In between the Olympics coverage, we caught a couple of NBA TV replays yesterday. The first was a Knicks/Lakers game from ’03 when Allan Houston put up 53 points in Staples, giving Kobe and Devean George the hot plate … The second was an ’03 playoff game between the Magic and Pistons; the infamous series which T-Mac declared over when Orlando took a 3-1 lead and, well, you know the rest. This was before those famous last words, Game Two, when McGrady scored 46 at the Palace but Detroit got the W. Shawn Kemp was playing for the Magic that year, and one time during a huddle he was standing on the outside and you couldn’t see anyone else in the shot. After T-Mac, here’s the rest of Orlando’s starting five that year: Andrew DeClarq, Drew Gooden, Jacque Vaughn and Gordan Giricek. And you though LeBron had it bad? Wow … We’re out like Pargo …

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