Friday, September 10, 2010

2010 FIBA Worlds: Team USA-Lithuania Semifinal Preview

The 2010 FIBA World Championship field has been whittled down to the final four and now medals are at stake this weekend. Team USA meets Lithuania in Saturday's first semifinal at noon EST (ESPN Classic, ESPN3.com). Turkey vs. Serbia follows at 2:30 p.m. EST, the winners of the semis meet on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. EST (ESPN Classic, ESPN3.com) to determine the World Champion.

Team USA will lean hard on Kevin Durant to generate points and create impossible matchup problems. Chauncey Billups and Derrick Rose will split ball-handling duties and also add some auxiliary scoring support. Lamar Odom and Andre Iguodala fill in the gaps with rebounding and defense.

Most of you are familiar with what Team USA has to offer, so we'll spend more time breaking down Lithuania. Let's take a deeper look at Lithuania:

Lithuania comes into this game undefeated (7-0) and riding high after the destruction of Argentina. Lithuania has done a better job taking care of the ball than they did last year. Plus, Lithuania is a solid rebounding team that could neutralize Team USA on the boards.

Lithuania is not quite as big as Russia but they do have more natural scoring talent and are relatively deep. Don't be fooled by the pedestrian 35.7% 3pt. pct so far at the Worlds, this team is dangerous from long-range. Ask Argentina.

Linas Kleiza leads Lithuania with 19 ppg, 7.4 rpg and has been one of the top players in the tourney. Kleiza is the primary option who will look to iso and post-up. Kleiza will often get screens to set up his post-ups. Lithuania really likes to cut or screen players across the lane.

SF Jonas Maciulis could be considered a poor-man's version of Kleiza with his combo of strength and athleticism. Like Kleiza, Lithuania will isolate and post Jonas, often flashing him across the lane. Maciulis has been very active in this tourney and can really jump passing lanes. Maciulis is averaging 9.8 ppg, 2 spg, but has not shot the long ball (27%) like he did last summer or like he did during his club season.

Lithuania will turn to a point-guard-by-committee set-up once again. Mantas Kalnietis, Tomas Delininkaitis and Martynas Gecevicius will share ball-handling duties.

6-5 Mantas Kalnietis is a big, fast guard who likes to push & attack the rim. Kalnietis has done a solid job keeping his TOs down this year and getting Lithuania into its offense, something he struggled with last summer. Should give Kalnietis a cushion, since outside shooting is not a strength and he wants to barrel toward the rim.

Delininkaitis and Gecevicius are dangerous shooters off ball screens. Gecevicius possesses a textbook stroke and buries pull-ups from everywhere. SF Simas Jasaitis is another long-range sniper who sneaks to open spots.

Athletic veteran 7-footer Robertas Javtokas won't do much offensively but he is a defensive presence and he did a great job shutting down Scola in the quarterfinals. PF Paulius Jankunas likes to float out to the perimeter, where he likes to release his awkward, yet effective, jumper. The rugged Jankunas is tough on the boards and bodies up well on defense.

Former Dukie Martynas Pocius loves to aggressively attack the rim and can draw fouls. Pocius is another quality spot-shooter for Lith., but is not as good pulling up. Pocius has shot the ball great in the tourney--8.7 ppg on 57.5% overall, 43% from 3pt. range. Pocius might have extra incentive in the game to not only win, but to stick it to Coach K for not playing him at Duke.

Expect more zone vs. Team USA than Lithuania played vs. Argentina. If they go man, not sure who will get assigned Durant duty. Maybe Maciulis is the best bet as he's an active athlete, but he is only 6-6. Would avoid Kleiza on Durant as much as possible to keep him out of foul trouble and fresh for offense.

Kalnietis has to play under control and be able to set the offense up. Can he do that with consistently against Team USA's pressure? Not sure.

If Lithuania wants a chance vs. USA, they will need to stroke the ball like they did vs. Argentina. That's not out of the question, Lithuania is loaded with shooting threats as always. But can they replicate their quarterfinals' defensive performance? I just don't see it.

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