Lithuania-Argentina Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated July 27, 2012
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These Olympics could very well be the end for Argentina's "Golden Generation" and even their most recognizable player admits winning a gold medal is highly unlikely. That doesn't mean that Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola and the rest of the Argentinians don't plan on being somewhere on the podium. Argentina's quest for a third straight Olympic medal begins Sunday with a preliminary round matchup against Lithuania. With the United States as the consensus favorite to win gold and Spain not far behind, Argentina, France and several other teams figure to contend for bronze. Even Ginobili, the San Antonio Spurs shooting guard and a 10-year NBA veteran, is taking a realistic approach. "The gold medal is very tough, almost a utopia," said Ginobili, who turned 35 on Saturday. "But getting the bronze medal would not be impossible. The United States and Spain are still the favorites. Then comes France and after that there is a pack of four, five or six teams with a chance for bronze." Argentina has performed well in recent Olympics, stunning a United States team with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony in the semifinals in Athens eight years ago before beating Italy to win gold. Ginobili and Scola were two of the driving forces behind that team and also helped lead Argentina to a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Games. Both are back for these Olympics and will be joined in the starting lineup by Carlos Delfino, Andres Nocioni and Pablo Prigioni. Argentina is among the oldest teams in this tournament with four of the five starters over 30, and this could be the end of a great run for the group. "In London, I hope it's not the farewell for too many," coach Julio Lamas said. "If it's the case that many will be retiring, I hope we play our best game and finish as well as possible." Argentina went 9-1 in last fall's FIBA Americas Championship, beating Brazil in the title game to qualify for London. Ginobili scored 23 points in an 86-80 loss to the United States in an exhibition in Barcelona last Sunday after a 20-point defeat to Spain two days earlier. "We played much better on defensive rotations, gathered people in the paint and did well in rebounding," Ginobili said. "We're more satisfied than against Spain, feeling that we took a step forward and that always bodes well for the start of the championship." Lithuania has reached the semifinals of every Olympics since Barcelona, winning bronze in 1992, '96 and '00 before finishing fourth in Athens and Beijing. Although Lithuania can't match Argentina's firepower, it does have several current and former NBA players on its roster. Darius Songaila played eight seasons in the NBA, most recently with Philadelphia in 2010-11. Linas Kleiza averaged 9.7 points in 49 games last season for Toronto and Sarunas Jasikevicius appeared in 138 games with Indiana and Golden State from 2005-07. Another player to watch is center Jonas Valanciunas, who will be a rookie for Toronto this season after the Raptors selected him fifth overall in the 2011 draft. Valanciunas had 17 points and seven rebounds in a 109-83 victory over the Dominican Republic earlier this month at the 2012 World Olympic Qualifying Tournament that clinched a trip to London. These Group A teams next play Tuesday, with Argentina facing France and Lithuania opposing Nigeria.
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