Nigeria’s men’s national basketball team, D’Tigers, will on Sunday morning, at the Saitama Super Arena, begin their quest for Olympic honours with their sights set on avenging their earlier defeat to the Australians.
The Group B game against the Aussies comes almost two weeks after both sides met in a pre-Olympic Games exhibition match in Las Vegas, in the United States; a game in which the Aussies defeated the Nigerians 108-69.
D’Tigers, in that 39-point loss to the Boomers, were a far cry from the team that had beaten the top-ranked United States and Argentina a few days earlier in Las Vegas, but there were suggestions that Mike Brown’s side took their feet off the pedal against the Aussies, possibly with an eye on Sunday’s clash.
So anyone expecting the Australians, who on paper are superior, to repeat their blowout of the Nigerians on Sunday in Saitama could be in for a rude awakening.
For a start, D’Tigers have since that loss had more days to train as a unit and will be a much better side than they were when they played against an Australian team that had spent longer time together.
In fact, the Australians have been together for a long time. Utah Jazz’s Joe Ingles and San Antonio Spurs guard Patty Mills are on their fourth Olympic team, Toronto Raptors’ Aron Baynes and former Cleveland Cavaliers guard Matthew Dellavedova are making their third appearance, and Chris Goulding is on his second trip to the Olympics.
D’Tigers may not be as experienced as the Boomers but they can also now call on the services of Milwaukee Bucks shooting guard Jordan Nwora, who was unavailable in Las Vegas owing to his involvement in the NBA Finals.
The presence of Nwora would further boost the chances of a team that relies heavily on their shooting from three-point territory, as exemplified in their 90-87 win over the United States in Las Vegas.
Coach Brown may likely fall back on the starting-five that started the wins over the USA and Argentina (94-71) – Josh Okogie of the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Miami Heat trio of Gabe Vincent, Precious Achiuwa, and KZ Okpala, as well as Ike Nwamu – but with Nwora’s undeniable prowess from three-point territory, the Golden State Warriors’ assistant coach may throw in the 22-year-old from the start to curtail the Aussies who have a habit of going all-out from the opening second of the first quarter.
It may not be that easy though for D’Tigers, as the Boomers are one of the favourites to land a medal in Japan, and will want to make a strong start against Nigeria, a team they have gotten the better of in their last two matches.
They also boast of some prominent NBA stars like Ingles, Mills, and Aaron Baynes, who all sat out that blowout win over D’Tigers; their third win in Las Vegas, having earlier beaten Argentina (87-84) and the USA (91-83).
The Aussies, who enter the Olympics as the number three ranked team in the FIBA rankings behind the USA and Spain, have tremendous firepower and experience in their ranks, and will likely start with a backcourt featuring Mills and Dellavedova, while Ingles, Jack Landale and Baynes will complete the rest of the starting-five.
They are undeniably a much stronger side on paper compared to Nigeria and will head into the game as the overwhelming favourites, but both teams have excellent shooters and decent size, so that could be one factor that could favour D’Tigers, provided they find their rhythm early on.
Win or lose, both Australia and Nigeria are favourites to secure the two automatic tickets to the quarterfinals, ahead of Germany and Italy, who will be hoping to secure one of the two spots reserved for the best third-placed teams in the three-group men’s basketball event.
Australia should finish top of Group B, as they have the most talent and experience, while D’Tigers will finish second ahead of the Italians and Germans who will not be able to match Nigeria’s athleticism and speed.
After the group stages come to a conclusion at the start of August, though, and the Olympic organisers hold the draws for the quarterfinals and beyond, it will all come down to the luck of the draws to see who ends up winning a medal on August 7 when the men’s basketball event comes to a close.