USA-Lithuania Preview

Kleiza and the Lithuanians will be a true test for the U.S. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images)

ISTANBUL – The United States is two nights and two wins from a gold medal at the 2010 FIBA World Championship. But neither of those two wins will come easy. And if it’s not at its best on both Saturday and Sunday, the U.S. will fail to accomplish their goal.

The level of competition takes another step up in the semifinals on Saturday, when the U.S. will meet 7-0 Lithuania.

Lithuania has perhaps been the second best country in international competition since NBA players began participating in 1992. They’ve finished in the top four of every Olympics (with three bronze medals) since then. They haven’t has as much success at the World Championship, but this is a country with a lot of basketball tradition.

This year’s edition of Lithuania basketball is missing some key veteran players like Sarunas Jasikevicius, Ramunas Siskauskas, Rimantas Kaukenas and Ksystof Lavrinovic. But clearly, with how well they’ve played thus far, they’re doing pretty well without them.

Linas Kleiza, a better player than he was when he left the Denver Nuggets a year ago, is the star. But this is a deep and talented roster, with plenty of guys that can put the ball in the basket.

These two teams met in an exhibition game three weeks ago in Madrid. The U.S. came away with a 77-61 victory, but not before Lithuania taught them a lesson or two in international basketball.

“They were playing the international game and we were still playing a U.S. game that night,” USA coach Mike Krzyzewski said Friday. “And they knocked us back. We did enough to win the exhibition, but we’re going to have to play a lot better than that to win on Saturday.”

If the U.S. didn’t know that before, they knew it after Lithuania crushed Argentina in the quarterfinals on Thursday. It was a dominant performance on both ends of the floor, a clear indication that the Lithuanian squad is not the same one the U.S. faced three weeks ago.

“To me, it’s a little scary that they can be that good,” Krzyzewski said. “And they can be that good.”

And the U.S. can’t get comfortable if it happens to lead by double-digits in the first half. The quarterfinal against Argentina was a bit unique, in that Lithuania got out to an early lead. This team came back from 17 down against Canada, 18 down against Spain, 15 down against France, and 11 down against China.

Recent History
2000 Olympics – USA 85, Lithuania 76; USA 85, Lithuania 83
2004 Olympics – Lithuania 94, USA 90; USA 104, Lithuania 96

How Lithuania got here (1st place, Group D)
Defeated New Zealand, 92-79
Defeated Canada, 70-68
Defeated Spain, 76-73
Defeated France, 69-55
Defeated Lebanon, 84-66
Round of 16: Defeated China, 78-67
Quarterfinals: Defeated Argentina, 104-85

Lithuania’s Offense
111.5 points scored per 100 possessions (9th of 24 teams through Thursday)
They will look to keep Kleiza on the move and get him the ball in different spots on the floor. He’s both strong and versatile, not an great matchup for either Andre Iguodala or Kevin Durant. He can shoot from the outside or put the ball on the floor. And sometimes, he’ll just use his strength to back his man down and get to the rim.

Point guard Mantas Kalnietis runs the show, but averages just 3.4 assists per game. As a whole, Lithuania records assists on less than half of their field goals.

And though they execute well in the half-court, they will look to run when they can. They’ve played at the seventh fastest pace of the 24 teams in the tournament thus far. And against Argentina, they got a lot of opportunities in transition and on the secondary break, with guys spotting up on the perimeter.

Almost every guy in their rotation can shoot, so the U.S. will need to get back quickly and cover the perimeter. Avoiding turnovers as well as they have in the last two games will also be critical.

Lithuania’s Defense
96.5 points allowed per 100 possessions (3rd)

Lithuania has played mostly man-to-man in the tournament, but they played zone almost exclusively against a France team that couldn’t shoot. They’ll likely mix things up against the U.S., maybe showing zone more than they have against less athletic teams.

In the exhibition game three weeks ago, Lithuania put both (former Dukie) Martynas Pocius and Simas Jasaitis on Durant. Like Russia, they will be physical with the U.S., unafraid to pick up fouls to keep the Americans from getting to the rim.

Lithuania doesn’t force many turnovers, but they’ve been the second best team in the tournament at defending the 3-point line, allowing their opponents to shoot just 29 percent from beyond the arc.

Rebounding
With two strong defensive teams, this may be the most critical aspect of the game. Lithuania has been the second best rebounding team overall (behind only Serbia), but they rank sixth on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. The U.S. has been the second best offensive rebounding team in the tournament, but below average on the defensive glass.

Starting center Robertas Javtokas grabs more than 10 boards per 40 minutes, but so do forwards Tadas Klimavicius and Paulius Jankunas. And their guards rebound too. So the U.S. will have make sure to get a body on everybody when a shot goes up.

***

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John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.

51 Comments

  1. Buhalterija Kaune…

    [...]USA-Lithuania Preview « NBA.com | Hang Time Blog[...]…

  2. dbast says:

    howdyy

  3. LietuvÄ— says:

    Americans, congratulations! I have to admit that you have made your best. Otherwise, like my mum said: ‘it would be too cruel to beat americans on such a day’

  4. Vidmantas says:

    Congrutalions team usa with the victory. Durant was way too much for us. Good luck in finals.

  5. wtf says:

    why would they air this on espn classic???

  6. andrewvuong says:

    Kevin Durant will pump & bleed Lithuania alive. =)
    He is a beast of a player. USA all the way.

  7. Vladimir says:

    USA team is good with many stars, but about Lithuania, yes they have Linas Kleiza, he is only one their star. USA must keep all players guarded, because they doesn’t know that Kalnietis, Jankunas, Pocius.. are very unpredictable, they can shoot well from field, post, outside. So watch them USA team, or that team will grab gold medal :)

  8. Lee says:

    Sorry for Lithuanian teens comments, some can’t hold their excitement. I think the fact that Lithuania is taking this match so passionatly proves that we respect team US, and proves what strong opponents these guys are.
    Hope to see a good match. May the best men win :)

  9. Kristina says:

    Go Lithuania!

  10. juju says:

    it’s ironic, now americans says that lithuania is STRONG and good team, but before the championship they didn’t even mention Lithuania between favorites :) where’s Spain Argentina Slovenia now? :)))

  11. LTU says:

    3 million fans love Lithuania national team.

  12. Derek Geary says:

    Hey guys. Lithuania is sitting 9/2 on party bets right now. For you non-gamblers that means if you bet 50 on Lithuania, you would win 225. (275 but 50 of it is your own money).

    A solid bet no matter who you are cheering for. They are underdogs, but they’re not that bad.

  13. Digger says:

    Who said the USA team is small? Kevin Durant – 206cm /6’9″. Lamar Odom – 208cm/6’10″. Danny Granger – 203cm/6’8″. Tyson Chandler – 216cm/7’1″. Kevin Love – 208cm/6’10″. These guys are monsters.
    As a Lithuanian I I would love to see Lithuania to win but sorry ain’t gonna happen. We need a miracle.

  14. Petras says:

    No doubt that Europeans will show some proper game, my $ is on Lithuania.

  15. RaioN says:

    Wow. A lot of people are underestimating the Americans. No offense to the Lithuanians, but by saying “Lithuania will win and own the US”, you guys are the ones being arrogant here. I’m not saying the US will win, both teams have been playing well, but we won’t know the outcome until it happens. The Americans may not have the height or w/e, but they have been playing with a lot of heart. Good luck to both teams, but I support Team U.S.A. :)

  16. Jack says:

    You keep saying ” we got B team ” /cry
    Dont forget our opponents LTU got not even a B team but a D team.

  17. Tomas says:

    LITHUANIAN MAN FRANK LUBIN was captain and leader of USA ,…Lubin became an Olympic champion with the US team in 1936 in Berlin, and a European champion with the Lithuanian team in 1939 in Kaunas. He is often called the “Grandfather of Lithuanian basketball” as he promoted basketball in Lithuania and helped Lithuania to win its second consecutive European championship. He studied at the UCLA then played in AAU tournaments for about 30 years. In 1997 he entered the UCLA Hall of Fame as the best player of california for a first half of the 20th century.
    WHICH COUNTRY IS A BASKETBALL COUNTRY?

    Is it USA second team????? No…. Durant: 30PPG, D’Granger 25ppg,5.5rpg.,Gay 20pps and others… or maybe you want that Miami “Heat” plays in WCC?

    Lithuania doesnt have BIG-Z (He is Lithuanian too by the way), Songaila, Jasikevicius and others. So this is second team of Lithuania… :)
    We believe in god, but we think that god is Jordan. Our Churches is in a gym and chapel – basketball hoop….
    3 million population? yes, becouse other 10 million lithuanians playing basketball in other countrys :))

  18. Matas says:

    50/50 i think. I am from Lithuania and I am waiting this match since the morning. Good luck for both! ;D (bit more for LT! ;D )

  19. jin says:

    Its 9/11. its remind u smthing usa ? yea, today u will fall just like your’s skycrapers. u can all cry again

  20. fan of LTU says:

    With the speed that Lithuania has benn showing so far I think that team USA is not any much faster than us. Today the defence gonna be the key to the victory. If Lithuania shows at least 75% of what they did against Argentina, we’ll be rollin, for sure.

  21. Stasys says:

    after 12 Lithuanian players will stay 3 mil of reall Lithuanian basketball FANS !!! fans which trust and love our time

  22. whennacks, philippines says:

    to John & Giddy, dude you’re not truly be basketball fanatics..you both fanatics of your country.the ball is round and we need to play..in the first place the US routed Lithuania in Madrid.Turkey is in need to be proven.See you after the games.Good Luck boyz..

  23. vava says:

    USA (population 310,216,000) vs
    Lithuania (population 3,329,227)
    which country is basketball country?

  24. Lithuanian says:

    I’m looking forward to this game. Of course, US will be favourite tonight, but I hope that Lithuanians will show their character. I think it’s like 30/70 who’ll win tonight.

  25. anthony chua says:

    I have deep faith this time in the USA team. If you look the way they played, all 12 players can deliver and Coach K has a good way to maximize its chemistyr and potentiay. It’s amazing how these kids jell in so short a time. This US team, i noticed won’t bug down easily as they always fight hard to gain the upperhand if they find themselves trailing. Based on USA & Lithuania’s record in this tourney, I think the latter has had some rough sailings while USA only met its real test with the Brazilians. But the Lithuanians was a total surprise in manhandling the Argentinians. They are “on fire” this time, and so the US must not be complacent. I’m sure they will isolate & try to break Durant, so Coach K should have another 1 or 2 guys taking up the scoring socks. For me, the morel dangerous foe is still Turkey.

  26. Tadas says:

    I would say. It will be the biggest mach in this championship till now and after. I rather expect Lithuania will play same game as vs Argentina, just becouse i don’t hope you can’t overrun US fast youngsters. But there are much more elements in basketball, then only scoring. No matter how “good” looks Turkey in this chapionship now, I absolutely sure, in this match will be sorted next World Champion. I wish good spectacle for both teams fans :P

  27. dan says:

    the US team this year definitely lacks size and the big names, but they’ve more than made up for these two “faults” with athleticism, good coaching and forcing the opponents to play their preferred game: running, running and running. If Lithuania is forced to play uptempo and lets the Americans pounce over their defense, United States will move onto the final. Otherwise, I see Lithuania clinching it. 50/50

  28. paul in chicago says:

    James, Wade, Bosh, (three sissies) CP3, D12 and carmello couldnt do it if rose and durant can do it witch chandler as their starting center that says something and trust me the competition didnt get any easier lietva are some monsters and turkey really suprised me i wanted the americans to lose the last time becaouse tthe were so cocky and they got what they deserved but this year i know thy will win my boy DROSE isnt going to let them lose. the US sucks But i love this team Humble and Respectfull and that goes a long way

  29. paul in chicago says:

    James, Wade, Bosh, (three sissies) CP3, D12 and carmello couldnt do it if rose and durant can do it witch chandler as their starting center that says something and trust me the competition didnt get any easier lietva are some monsters and turkey really suprised me i wanted the americans to lose the last time becaouse tthe were so cocky and they got what they deserved but this year i know thy will win my boy DROSE isnt going to let them lose. F___ the US But i love this team Humble and Respectfull and that goes a long way

  30. ivan says:

    no way USA will lose this game, so much atheticism, the way they play, denies passing lane, no open 3′s for sure like their game in argentina, US players can defend any positions

  31. Carlin Smith says:

    Stats are given like Lithuania’s Offense and Lithuania’s Defense. Nothing is given for the USA team? I would very much like to compare. Where are these listed?

  32. anklebreaker says:

    Lithuania is good but sorry to to them the US Basketball team will win!!!

  33. totskie says:

    I think Lithuania gonna win this one…

  34. john says:

    The team that will be able to execute their play will win. The US team are small but quick so if they can force the lithuanian team to a fastbreak game they will win.

  35. romuald says:

    My guess is around 50/50. Both are strong teams worth a golden medal. Sympathies to Lithuania though.

  36. Giddy says:

    I will agree with John. In my opinion Lithuania is the best team in this tournament and they will show it against USA. 1 Lithuania 2Turkey 3Usa

    • Law064 says:

      lol @ Giddy your dreaming argeeing with a moron like John. @ Profsimard I agree 100% speed kills and the US have the most speed and athletisism over the entire WC this year. This team is special because there’s not a bunch of huge ego’s competing against each other. Instead you have young inexperienced players getting a taste on international play. They are proving all the doubters wrong. USA will take gold USA USA USA USA!!!!!!

  37. Profsimard says:

    Loll! You guys are funny. I do understand the respect approach so the americans don’t get too cocky too early but let’s face it, there is waaaaaaayyy too much speed and athleticism on the US roster.

    If you’ve ever played ball, you know how demanding it is to keep up with a freak athlete just like the russians who all red faces and cheeks at halftime breathing as heavily as Charles Barckley running towards a hotel buffet.

    Speed and skills will prove US dominance is back with the focus of coach K.

  38. mburrhed says:

    Ok so Lithuania’s good. But the real question here is, Why is it that over the past 15 years, the U.S. got alot of attention for how much they struggled against foreign teams, and came home huge disappointments, even with our A-List teams, but this year, we are absolutely rockin it with small youngins that don’t have int’l experience and are esentially our Plan-B guys?

    Sure Brazil really made us sweat, and we’ve been sloppy, but isn’t that expected of the U.S. when they play International ball? We have seriously held our own. should we seriously think about always sending our Plan-B teams to the olympics?

    Has the world talent dropped? Or is there something special about this year’s team?

    Why are we not out? Why are we winning??

  39. pyyypke says:

    honestly , i never liked the americans.. mostly cause of their arrogance.. i disliked every american NT before this tourney until these guys. they are a young team and their a dedicated team. all the comments that I read from americans about how these tournaments are only about deciding whose 2nd best really fueled that anger . but all that aside im starting to respect this USA team in particular. not because they win games , but because they respect their opponents and come out to play 100% every time. ill not hate if lithuania loses USA and ill not hate if US wins the gold. for the first time for as long as i can remember this team actually deserve to win.
    though deep down i hope they lose to us.. but that will hardly happen

  40. rico says:

    I always pull against usa in these kinda things cause they are usualy star studed qnd cocky, but this year i’m pulling for this interesting hard working seemingly short handed squad. Love to see them do what the cocky ones couldn’t

  41. Luke says:

    @John

    Sorry. Look for our “boyz” to actually give it a full go this time. No more playin around this one will be serious.
    We’ve seen the last of the first half shenanigans

    Watch for D’rose to chew em up and spit em out.
    And D’rant to put em back thru the wash cycle

    Sukotosotic and Koropotomic and whatever goofball names you come up with don’t make a bit of difference
    Our B team is in it to win it. Now just sit back and watch.

    • Vytas says:

      Typical american attitude – “I know nothing expcept my own yard”. Mr. basketball expert, Please explain me, why can’t your savages win WC for 16 straight years now? Because of the attitude like yours and tonight the story will repeat itself.

      • Zzanzabar says:

        I find it interesting that you pick this particular post to reply to, it says alot about you. The ones before it give the international players due credit, but you singled this one out so you could spout your own form of ‘bigtry’ (you know the ‘savages’ thing). I guess one bigot can always seek out another, humm?

      • Law064 says:

        @vYTAS are you serious about this young US team being cocky? This team is very level headed they are not even the cream of the NBA they are role players and a couple of Vets and a Rising Star. They will win because they’re not taking anything for granted. Lituania has a good team but they will not beat USA. Savages?? Go eat a di*k swallow and spit it up in Lituania.

  42. royi says:

    not that I’m underestimating coach K in any way, but I have to cool the enthusiasm a bit. I know both NBA basketball and european basketball (live in Israel) so I’m also aware of the big differences between the two. This means that even a US team consisting mostly of 2nd grade NBA players is more athletic and talented than most international teams. Therefore, their achievment is great, but not as incredible as some would say and to me not very surprising.

  43. John says:

    Sorry but US Boyz will have to take 3rd place this time. Lithuania is just to strong for them..

  44. laurynas says:

    Thanks for a good preview and respect to Lithuania as the opponent.
    People in Lithuania are waiting for this game very much. This Lithuanian team has the only star in Kleiza (no Siskauskas, Songaila, Ilgauskas, Jasikevicius, Kaukenas, etc.) and gang of youngsters, who unexpectedly had grown up fast into the contending team. Interesting fact, that Lithuania even failed to qualify for this WC, but then received FIBA invitation.
    My preview, that Lithuania on a good day can win against any team, except against USA if it is a good day for Americans too :)

  45. periong says:

    I have yet to read a serious review or comments that the championship road of Team USA in the final rounds of the 2010 FIBA World Basketball would be easy. It is tough,narrow, very tough indeed. It is a challenge to my observation never faced by any
    American basketball team in international competition with the available and given resources under the prevailing circumstances. I give my salute to Coach K, his staff and his “Boys” for their tremendous achievement thus far.