Just two games into Group B play, a separation is already
forming between the potential medal contenders and the teams that
likely won’t be standing on the podium.
Still, Russia coach David Blatt is not going to overlook any
opponent. That’s probably a good idea with Brazil on Thursday’s
With two of the five preliminary round games completed, Russia,
Brazil and Spain remain undefeated, while Australia, China and host
Britain are looking for their first wins.
“I thought initially that Spain was the top team in the group,”
Blatt told FIBA’s official website following a 73-54 victory over
China on Tuesday. “After seeing Brazil play in the preparation and
then seeing China play Spain (a 97-81 Spanish victory Sunday) so
tough and so hard in a game that was much closer than the final
score, it makes it all the more evident to me it’s hard to
differentiate between teams in this particular group.
“Every game is a monster.”
Thursday is no different, as Brazil looks to improve to 3-0 in
its first Olympic appearance since 1996. The Brazilians, however,
will likely have to get off to a better start than they did in a
67-62 win over Britain on Tuesday, when they hung on following a
four-point first quarter.
Brazil, 13th in the FIBA world rankings, has been getting big
production from its frontcourt of Tiago Splitter, Anderson Varejao
and Nene, who are averaging a combined 30.0 points and 29.5
Russia, though, might be one of the few teams in the tournament
that can match that trio of 6-foot-11 forwards. Centers Timofey
Mozgov and Alexander Kaun have totaled 37 points and six blocked
shots in two games, while 6-8 forward Victor Khryapa is grabbing a
team-best 8.5 rebounds per contest.
“We were physical but so are other teams here,” forward Andrei
Brazil could have its hands full with Kirilenko, who leads the
tournament with 51 points and is averaging 6.5 rebounds and 3.0
steals – tied with Argentina’s Manu Ginobili for tops in the
“He’s unique,” China coach Bob Donewald Jr. said of Kirilenko.
“It’s his cutting, it’s his defense, it’s his rebounding, it’s his
running – all of his activity.”
Russian point guard Aleksey Shved, who like Kirilenko will join
the Minnesota Timberwolves next season, has 30 points and a
tournament-high 19 assists. He’ll need to continue to be at his
best when he faces Brazil’s Marcelinho Huertas, who’s tied with
Splitter with a team-best 28 points and is second in the
preliminary round with 9.0 assists per game.
Shved had 14 points and six assists against China, but also
“Don’t get me wrong, I love the kid. But I didn’t like the way
he played today,” Blatt said. “Not as well as he could have and
should have. He held the ball too long and I’m going to tell him
Russia faces Spain on Saturday, while Brazil gets a shot at the
2008 Olympic silver medalist Monday.