Commentary

Breaking down the semis: Who's going to Beijing?

Originally Published: August 31, 2007
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN.com

LAS VEGAS -- One game should be a barnburner. The other should be a blowout.

Here's a preview of the two Saturday semifinal games at the Tournament of the Americas, with the winners earning berths in the Beijing Olympics:

Brazil versus Argentina, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN 360)

On individual talent alone, Brazil should be favored. The Brazilians have one of the best big men in the tournament in Nene, the most prolific scorer outside of Team USA in Leandro Barbosa, one of the most dead-eye 3-point shooters anywhere in Marcelo Machado and an assortment of role players, led by Tiago Splitter, to do the dirty work. They do not, however, always play as a team, and that's going to be a huge factor when this game goes into the fourth quarter.

When the teams met on Wednesday, Argentina trailed by eight when the fourth period began but kept hammering away, and when Barbosa missed an ill-advised 30-footer right before the final buzzer, the game went to overtime and Argentina prevailed.

There is no team in this tournament more skilled in playing tactical, precision basketball than Argentina, which is missing most of its best players but still manages to play a style of basketball that purists drool over. Their most important player is Luis Scola, a burly power forward, and their best pure scorer will be Carlos Delfino. But they also have 10 other players who know how to back-pick, move without the ball and defend, and their composure to this point has been tremendous.

If point guard Pablo Prigioni can stay out of foul trouble trying to keep up with the speedy Barbosa, I see this one going down to the final seconds, and Argentina pulling it out.

Prediction: Argentina by 2


United States versus Puerto Rico, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN Classic)

Strange things always happen at FIBA tournaments, but you won't see it happen here. The strangeness already has come and gone for Puerto Rico, which was on the verge of being eliminated from the tournament Sunday when Panama was leading Argentina by eight points late in the fourth quarter.

A victory by Panama would have knocked Puerto Rico out, but Argentina rallied to force overtime and ended up winning by 17. Panama was eliminated, Puerto Rico advanced, and now they're playing for an Olympic berth.

They won't get in, however. Not even if Elias Ayuso turns into World B. Free again and shoots the lights out from 3-point range. Kobe Bryant will make sure that doesn't happen, and LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony will join him in carrying the team on offense.

Puerto Rico will spread the floor and force plenty of switches, Carlos Arroyo will provide the bulk of the point production on offense, and P.J. Ramos will clog the middle and be a force on the boards. But this one will stay competitive for only about 12-14 minutes, and then it'll get out of hand much like it did when the US beat Puerto Rico, 117-78, on Wednesday.

The Americans have been waiting patiently for this semifinal game to arrive. They'll be as focused as you've ever seen them -- especially after finally getting a day of rest Friday in wake of six games in six nights.

Prediction: U.S. by 42

Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.