ISTANBUL (AP) - With the field down to 16 teams, the knockout stage of the basketball world championship begins Saturday with two highly anticipated matchups.
Balkan rivals Serbia and Croatia, who fought a war in the early 1990s, play the opening game at the Sinan Erdem Dome. That’s followed by defending champion Spain vs. Greece, two of the pre-tournament favorites. Spain beat Greece for the title four years ago in Japan.
The long rest before Brazil’s game gives Anderson Varejao more time for to recover. The Cleveland Cavaliers forward grabbed 12 rebounds Tuesday in just his second game after sitting out the first three with a sprained right ankle. He’ll have to lead the defensive effort against Argentina’s Luis Scola of the Houston Rockets, who leads the tournament with 29 points per game.
“To try to stop him, it’s not easy, we know that,” Varejao said. “It’s for a reason he’s the scoring leader in the tournament. But we believe we can do that, we can do a good job against him.”
The U.S. wasn’t sharp in its final two games of group play, but guard Chauncey Billups compared those matchups against Iran and Tunisia to an NBA team taking it easy in its final two regular-season games before the playoffs.
“That’s over with now, and now we can get to the meat and potatoes,” Billups said.
The Americans are expected to get to the semifinals.
“When it comes to basketball, people expect us to win and play well all the time and win every tournament, win every game,” center Lamar Odom said. “And basketball’s played all over the world now, there’s a balance of talent spread throughout the world.”
Angola finished fourth in Group A. The perennial African champions lost all five games at the 2008 Olympics, where the U.S. beat them 97-76, but bounced back to advance to the knockout stage for the second straight time in the world championship.
By Jay Sekulow
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