Shanghaiist sports editor Maggie Rauch writes a biweekly column in Chinese for the 21st Century Business Herald. Below is a translation of her column from yesterday on today’s men’s basketball game between China and the USA.
China plays the United States in men’s basketball tonight at Wukesong Arena, in what is for Chinese fans one of the most anticipated events of this Olympics. Members of the USA’s “Dream Team,” or “Redeem Team,” have been received like rock stars since they arrived in China two weeks ago.
I have been quoted (accurately) as saying that the home team has no chance tonight, but I regret saying that. Of course China has a chance. That’s why we actually play the games. To atone for my sin against the beautiful unpredictability of sports, I am going to break down a few possibilities that could help tip the scales a little in China’s favor.
The Yao that we know finally returns.
Yao has given China a boost since his post-injury debut, but not the heroic performances the team requires from him if it is to pull off any upsets. He will suit up to play the USA after a week of rest and he’ll also be playing for bragging rights among his NBA buddies. There is every reason to believe that Yao’s strongest Olympic performance will come against the USA.
China shoots the lights out.
Okay, it’s obvious. If you make more baskets than the other team, you win. That’s why the game is called basketball. But China has some great shooters in Zhang Qingpeng, Li Nan (李楠) and Zhu Fangyu (朱芳雨) (pictured). If two of them get really hot, the whole floor opens up for China.
Lebron, Kobe and Carmelo just don’t care enough.
The guys have all been saying the right things about how much it means to them to win Olympic gold. But in America, boys who swim or do gymnastics grow up dreaming of winning a gold medal. Boys who play basketball grow up dreaming of an NBA championship. And should the American team lose a few games it is expected to win, its players all have multi-million dollar contracts to comfort them.
Coach K keeps Prince on the bench.
In recent FIBA competition, both Angola and Australia disrupted China’s offense with strong perimeter defense. Angola’s smart and quick players kept popping up in China’s passing lanes, and Australia’s big guards made it hard for China to get easy shots or advance the ball toward the basket. Long-armed and defensive-minded Team USA forward Tayshaun Prince, not likely to be a starter, could really help slow down shooters and keep the ball out of the key.
China’s fans give the home team an even bigger lift than they gave the women’s team in April.
The USA women were heavy favorites in the finals of the Good Luck Beijing women’s basketball test event in April. But when the game tipped off, the American women looked like they were ready to board the plane, while China’s women, in front of a packed house at home, played like it was the most important game of their lives. Ultimately, they avenged their 20-point rout by the U.S. two days before. The men will need a really strong crowd to get a similar boost at the Olympics.
Team USA assumes Wang Zhizhi and Sun Yue (孙悦) are China’s third and fourth most important players.
Among American fans, the only known names besides Yao and Yi are Wang Zhizhi, who played five seasons in the NBA, and Sun Yue, who created a bit of a stir when he was drafted by the Lakers in 2007. Wang’s minutes and production have declined as Yao’s have gone up, and Sun has averaged just over 4 points over the last 8 games. Either of these guys could have some good games in the Olympics, but containing veteran point guard Liu Wei (刘炜) and shooting/slashing small forward Zhu Fangyu (朱芳雨), if they are both healthy, should be higher on the U.S.’s list of priorities.
Maybe none of these things will happen—although I expect a strong performance from Yao Ming—but if a few of them do, we’ve got ourselves a game tonight.
For more China sports news and video of China’s best players, check out China Sports Today.