The NCAA tournament begins for USA Basketball 11:40 p.m. Monday CT against Spain.
Because it's win or go home as men's Olympic basketball starts the quarterfinal "knockout" round with Zach LaVine and the USA team confident they've adjusted and developed after a stumbling start.
"Do what we do well, bring intensity on defense, play our roles, (be) ourselves in our roles. We are the best players in the world," LaVine said early Monday morning on a Zoom conference call. "I don't think anyone will be able to beat us. We focus on ourselves and then go out and compete in the game. We came here to accomplish a goal. Not just us but everybody we are trying to represent, these three letters across our chests. We'll take it game by game. Obviously, we didn't come here for anything less than that gold medal."
It's the second time in the last month the USA team will play Spain with former Bulls center Pau Gasol and his brother Marc. The U.S. closed its exhibition game series in Las Vegas last month with an 83-76 win over Spain that still didn't ease concerns about the USA play. That enabled the team to leave Las Vegas 2-2 before opening the Olympic Group play with a loss to France. The USA team then defeated Iran and Saturday the Czech Republic to advance to the quarterfinals.
Because of the second-place group finish behind France, the U.S. drew the veteran Spain team.
The U.S. team and Spain are ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the world rankings coming into the Olympic tournament. The U.S. and Spain played for Olympic gold in 2008 and 2012 and in the semifinals in 2016. The U.S. is 16-2 against Spain in Olympic or World Cup competition, but the games have been close. The Americans won 82-76 in the 2016 Olympic semifinals, 107-100 in the 2012 gold medal game and 118-107 in 2008. Spain won the most recent international basketball competition, the 2019 World Cup. The U.S. finished seventh in that tournament.
"We came away with the win (in Las Vegas)," LaVine noted. ‘We're going to try to do the same thing. They're a tough team; they've been together for a long time. But we know what we do well and if we do that well, I don't think anyone is going to be close to beating us. I think if we focus on ourselves and do the right things we'll have the same result."
Spain's Ricky Rubio scored 23 points against the USA in the July exhibition and is fourth in scoring in this Olympics behind Luka Doncic, Rui Hachimura and Patty Mills. The top USA scorer is Jason Tatum at 16.7 per game, tied for 10th.
LaVine coming off the bench is fifth on the USA team in scoring at 11.3 per game, but he is the team's most efficient player. LaVine is leading the team in assists at 5.3 per game with fewer than one turnover per game. LaVine also has been the best shooting perimeter player at 53.8 percent on threes and 61.1 percent overall. Only Draymond Green with limited attempts has shot better.
While LaVine said his concentration remains with the USA team, he also acknowledged he'll monitor the NBA free agency, which begins 5 p.m. CT Monday. The Bulls have many possibilities, one of which is using salary cap room to extend LaVine's contract. The Bulls also are rumored in various signings and trades.
"I just want my respect," LaVine said. "I think that's the main thing. I outplayed my contract. I've been very loyal to Chicago. I like Chicago. I just want my respect. If it's now, later, it's something that we've got to work out internally and we'll go from there. We'll have some conversations going forward. I think free agency's going to play a big part with other players and constructing the roster. Me, AK (Arturas Karnisovas, basketball operations chief), Marc (Eversley, general manater) will talk and we'll get to the bottom of it.
"I should have a good idea what's going on," LaVine said about the team's free agency period. "I take that very serious, keep up to date with what's going on back home. But obviously still get my rest because we've got a game."