We've had about 24 hours to bask in the afterglow of one of the worst basketball massacres administered since Dr. Naismith hung peach baskets from the walls of a Springfield YMCA. I'm sorry, Christian Okoye, but the term "Nigerian Nightmare" means something completely different now.
Up next for Carmelo "37 points in 14 minutes" Anthony and his buddies in Group A action is a series of matchups against teams that boast some significantly better players than the Nigerian squad.
Lithuania is a basketball-mad country that has produced a number of current and former pro ballers, chief among them Arvydas Sabonis and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. The current squad features Linas Kleiza and Jonas Valanciunas, both of the Toronto Raptors, and former NBA'er Sarunas Jasikevicius, who plays for Greek powerhouse Panathanaikos. Kleiza and Valanciunas provide Lithuania with size against the US, which has the potential to give the Americans problems while Jasikevicius can still penetrate, even at the age of 36. They won't beat the United States (they've already lost to France and Argentina and their lone win came against Nigeria), but they won't lay down and lose by 80, either.
On Monday, the US faces their toughest challenge of the tournament to that point in Argentina. They've met before in a friendly exhibition on July 23 that saw Team USA hold on for an 86-80 win. Argentina boasts a strong NBA roster, led of course by San Antonio's Manu Ginobili. But with names like Luis Scola, Andres Nocioni and Carlos Delfino, Argentina has a solid NBA pedigree to go along with its years of chemistry and international success. Argentina is one of the models for the new USA Basketball system where players make longer-term commitments in an effort to play more cohesively in multiple international events while still playing in various professional leagues around the world. And any team with Manu Ginobili on it has a puncher's chance, even against an avalanche of talent like Team USA.
After those escalating challenges come the medal rounds, and teams like Brazil, Russia, and the ultimate challenge: Spain.
So yesterday was fun. You put Ike Diogu in his place for all his trash talk, broke a bushel full of records, and even rekindled a tiny bit of the "2012 vs. 1996" talk. But all that blog fodder is done now. Starting tomorrow, the games get serious with opponents of escalating difficulty. Step into "The Marshmallow" with the attitude that every game will be like Nigeria, and you'll have a little explaining to do when your medals aren't the color we expected them to be.
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