Facing one of the tournament’s and the world’s best teams while trying to regain its previously untarnished luster, the United States men’s basketball team stand as a 24-point favorite over No. 6 ranked Serbia ahead of Friday night’s Group A showdown at Carioca Arena.
Team USA is coming off a 98-88 victory over Australia, by far its tightest matchup during the 2016 Rio Games, marred by poor shooting and a lack of experience playing together rather than leading their respective NBA teams.
Still, the U.S. maintains first-place in the group and joins Group B leader Lithuania as the only perfect 3-0 teams in Brazil. The Aussies hold on to second place despite the loss with France (Team USA’s final opponent in the group stages) in third and Serbia clinging to the fourth and the final spot in the next round.
An upset by Serbia, however unlikely according to oddsmakers, would lock down its place in the elimination rounds where the top four teams in each group advance to quarterfinals for a shot at a medal.
The game also marks a rematch of the 2014 FIBA World Cup final, which the U.S. won 129-92 behind current starting point guard Kyrie Irving’s 23 points and team World Cup-record 6-for-6 shooting from three-point range.
However, the Serbs are coming off a difficult 76-75 last-minute loss to France, and U.S. head coach Mike Krzyzewski praised the squad’s coaching as well as its roster.
"Serbia is one of the top international teams,” Krzyzewski said. "We played them in the World Cup two years ago for the championship. They’re unbelievably well coached; they’ve been together; in [Milos] Teodosic you have one of the great guards in the last decade in Europe; in [Bogdan] Bogdanovic they have one of the great shooters; and [Miroslav] Raduljica is one of the best big men. Then they are tall and deep and they’ll be huge challenge for us and we respect the heck out of them."
Indeed, Serbia will send out four players 6-foot-10 or taller, including Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, who snagged seven boards and tallied four assists against France.
Seven-footer Radukica came off the bench to lead Serbia with 16 points on 7-for-9 shooting and lanky shooting guard and deep threat Bogdanovic, acquired by the Sacramento Kings in the draft earlier this year, went 3-for-4 from three for 10 points and grabbed four rebounds in the loss to France.
Projected Startling Lineups
F Carmelo Anthony
F Kevin Durant
C DeMarcus Cousins
G Kyrie Irving
G Klay Thompson
F Nikola Kalinic
F Stefan Bircevic
F Nikola Jokic
G Nemanja Nedovic
G Stefan Jovic
Point Spread: USA -24
Over/Under: 188.5 points
Prediction: USA over Serbia, 100-82