It’s a big game for Team USA and the twins. They’re 3-0 and going up against Lithuania, who is also 3-0, and they have something that has given the U.S. problems in the FIBA World Cup: size.
Lithuania is led by Pelicans center Valančiūnas who is backed up by former Rockets big Donatas Motiejūnas, both near 7-footers and very large human beings. They’re also two of the five Lithuanian players 6’9” or taller. Lithuania has former Knicks wings Ignas Brazdeikis and Mindaugas Kuzminskas as well as Knicks stash Rokas Jokubaitis, a very capable point guard. In other words, they are formidable.
The U.S. issue with bigs is not theoretical. In their win over tiny Montenegro, population 300,000, Friday, Team USA was outrebounded 49-31, and Bulls center Nikola Vucevic put up 18 points and 16 boards. They have also faced issues with Germany and the Wagner brothers and Spain with the Hernangomez brothers. Steve Kerr knows the U.S. will be tested.
“We understand teams are gonna try to be physical and slow the game down, and (Montenegro) did a good job of that. But our whole thing is we feel like over 40 minutes, we can wear the other team down if we stay solid,” said Kerr.
The Americans strength of course has been their depth and experienced coaching staff. Lithuania, unlike previous opponents, has both.
The USA and Lithuania have both already clinched spots in the next round. So, the advantage of a win will be about seeding ... and an automatic bid to the Olympics. And one step closer to gold for the Nets Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson a week from Sunday.
“We gotta be more physical, man,” Anthony Edwards told the media Saturday. “We gotta get in there ’cause we, sometimes we go small and I might be at the 4, so, you know, we just gotta, I gotta be more physical. All of us guards (have to). But I feel like we did a pretty good job. A couple of those rebounds were on air balls, so we couldn’t really gauge it.”
Live stats will be available here.
WHO: Team USA vs. Lithuania
WHEN: 8:40 a.m. ET
WHERE: ESPN2. It will also be available on Courtside 1891, the official streaming service of the World Cup.