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Five lessons learned as Team USA returns to the gold medal game

By Royce Young | NBA writer
KD led Team USA again past Argentina. (Getty Images)

Argentina remained proud and valiant, but there really was never a doubt. Once someone on Team USA heated up, there was no stopping the train. And like the last meeting between the two sides where the U.S. used a big third quarter run to blow out the Argentinians, it was once against Kevin Durant bombing away from 3 that sunk them.

It means the United States has taken care of business to this point, winning all seven of their games in the tournament, with six being in extremely impressive fashion. Including a five-point close shave against Lithuania, Team USA has a margin of victory of 31.0 points per game.

But as is the case, the U.S. has only done what it's supposed to do. The team has been impressive though and has played six extremely complete games against pretty quality competition. The game against Argentina was certainly dangerous, playing a solid team a third time in 20 days. But they handled business and advanced.

So as the gold medal game awaits on Sunday against Spain, here are five lessons we've learned about this team thus far:

1. "Explosive" isn't even the right word. The ability this team possesses to rip of 10, 15 even 20 points in a matter of minutes is staggering. The U.S. started Friday against Argentina on an 18-4 run before Argentina came back, but it was only a matter of time before another big run happened.

The U.S. is just a 24-4 run waiting to happen. A barrage of 3s here, a bunch of transition buckets there and before you know it what was once a close two possession game is now a 25-point deficit.

2. LeBron James has played a near perfect tournament. Late in the fourth quarter LeBron had the ball isolated on the left wing and was about to either back his man down or try and attack him off the dribble.

LeBron dribbled the ball behind his back, mishandling it as it bounced out of bounds for an unforced turnover. And you could almost hear a gasp from the crowd. What? LeBron messed up? Huh? Where am I?

LeBron has been so perfectly in control of the game this whole tournament that anything he doesn't do just right is jarring. He scored 18 points, dished seven assists and grabbed seven rebounds against Argentina and you got the feeling that could've been more like 30-10-10 if he wanted it to be. He's owning the floor, without really attempting to assert his dominance on the game. It's incredible.

3. Kevin Love has become a major piece. Everyone knew about Team USA's size issues after Blake Griffin's injury, and most understood Kevin Love might have a big role on the team. But he started slow in the exhibition games and wasn't a major impact player early in the Olympics.

But he's found his role and has become vital to Team USA's attack. He's not scoring, but he's doing little things inside. Creating extra possessions with tapped out rebounds, tipping in misses, starting breaks with great outlet passes -- he's doing a lot of small things. Love's play has been critical, or as critical as it could be in 30-point blowouts, and it seems obvious he's going to be needed against the sizable Spain.

4. Even when the lineups don't make sense, they kind of do. Coach K has trotted out some real head-scratching combinations during the tournament, but it almost seems like he has a Midas touch. Why? Because even when you're going with an odd lineup like Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony, it tends to mostly work.

Coach K's willingness to try new things has kept the U.S. a very fresh and interesting unit. Some combinations have worked far better than others, but that mixing and matching could be part of what creates those explosive runs. It's about trying to hit the right formula at some point in the game.

5. One thing's for sure: This is the best team U.S. team since the Dream Team. Forget the debate about the two teams. What's clear is that this installment of Team USA is at least the second best. It's got the talent, it's been completely dominant against high quality international talent and they've handled all their business. One close call against Lithuania, but that's to be expected when you play pretty good teams.

Except the job's not finished. Anything less than gold means this team is a massive failure, second only to the disatrous 2004 squad. Kind of a tight line to walk.

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