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Watch Live: Team USA vs. Italy, 8:40 a.m. ET on ESPN2

It’s win or go home for Team USA starting Tuesday

2023 FIBA World Cup - USA Men’s National Team v Lithuania Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Three games in six days. That’s it. Team USA will need to win three games between Tuesday and Sunday to stand on the medal platform, bow their heads and receive gold. The final stretch run begins Tuesday morning, New York time, when the Americans face Italy. Both teams are 4-1.

Then, if the U.S. advances, they will face the winner of the Germany-Latvia contest on Friday, the final game before the FIBA World Cup finals next Saturday. Starting now, though, it’s win or go home.

For Team USA, their pursuit of gold hit more than a bump on Sunday vs. Lithuania. Although the final score showed the tiny but basketball-mad Baltic state beating the U.S. by six — and with 10 seconds left, Mikal Bridges missed a crucial 3-pointer — Lithuania dominated early, getting out to a 21-point lead in the second quarter. Moreover, for the second straight game, the Americans were badly outrebounded. In fact, over the two games, Montenegro and Lithuania secured 90 boards to Team USA’s 58. Jaren Jackson Jr., the starting center for the U.S. had a solitary — meaning one — rebound in the two contests.

While Italy doesn’t have an NBA big man like the Montenegrins’ Nicola Vucevic or the Lithuanians’ Jonas Valanciunas, what they do have a sparkling defense. First they limited Serbia to 76 points - 28.7 points below their average of 104.7 - and then held Dominican Republic to just 57 points - down from their average of 92 points. The Americans will enter the game averaging 101.4 points.

Nicola Melli, a 6’9” power forward anchors the Italian D. He played two years in the NBA earlier this decade with the Pelicans and Mavs (and supposedly was a one-time Nets target.) He will face off against Jackson in the key matchup of the evening (Manila time).

The Italians have one NBA player, Simone Fontecchio, a 6’7” Jazz forward who’s averaging 18. 4 points and 6.6 rebounds a game. Another big part of the Italian squad is former NBA player, 6’8” power forward Luigi Datome who like Melli had two years in the league with the Pistons and Celtics.

The big story, however, is the bad blood between the national basketball federations of the two countries caused by Paolo Banchero’s decision to play with the Americans rather than the Italians who claim the Magic’s 6’10” Rookie of the Year reneged on a promise to play for Italy. Gianni Petrucci, the head of the Italian National Federation, has even accused Banchero of “betrayal.” When Banchero was asked this weekend if he had a message for Italian fans, he simply said, “no.”

Bridges is coming off his best game in Cup play, scoring 14 points. Don’t be surprised if he becomes more of an option Tuesday. He will likely guard Fontecchio.

Live stats can be found here.

WHO: Team USA vs. Italy

WHEN: 8:40 a.m. ET

WHERE: ESPN2 or Courtside 1891, the official streaming service of the World Cup.