Team USA breezed through the first round of the FIBA World Cup with no problems. They are 3-0 in the Philippines and have the tournament's second-best point-differential at plus-103, but that came against the relatively uninspiring competition of Group C. Now, in the second group phase, things are about to get a bit harder.
Up first for Team USA? Montenegro and the toughest NBA player the Americans have faced in the tournament thus far: Chicago Bulls center Nikola Vucevic. At 20.7 points per game, Vucevic is averaging the sixth-most points in the tournament and is outscoring all of Team USA's stars. Here's how you can tune in as Team USA attempts to slow down the two-time All-Star big man.
Team USA vs. Montenegro
- Date: Friday, Sep. 1 | Time: 4:40 a.m. ET
- Location: Mall of Asia Arena -- Manila, Philippines
- TV channel: ESPN2 | Live stream: fubo (try for free)
- Odds: Team USA -25.5 | O/U: 181
Team USA made a significant lineup change before Wednesday's win over Jordan by benching All-Star Brandon Ingram in favor of role player (and former Lakers teammate) Josh Hart. The move is surprising on paper only. Ingram is the more heralded player, but has struggled mightily by averaging just 4.7 points per game. Hart, on the other hand, has thrived as a rebounder, defender and transition menace. The move paid dividends against Jordan, and Steve Kerr to sticking with it, but Team USA is surely hoping that Ingram can find his groove again at some point in the tournament.
Team USA's 3-0 record in the first group phase has afforded it a bit of breathing room in the second. The top two teams from each new group advance to the knockout stage, and so long as Team USA defeats Lithuania on Sunday, Friday's result ultimately doesn't matter. But Montenegro went 2-1 in the first round and must beat both Team USA and Greece to advance. That effectively makes this an elimination game for them, so Team USA can expect to get their best effort on Friday.
Montenegro may have advanced to the second round, but that was largely due to wins over lower-ranked competitors. Defeating Mexico and Egypt is nice, but a 20-point loss to Lithuania is a far more accurate measure of how well this team can compete with top competition. Team USA is far more dangerous, and is seemingly rounding into form at the perfect time. Team USA has covered this 25.5-point spread in all three of its games so far. Why should Friday be any different? The Pick: Team USA -25.5