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Breaking down the Boomers' Group B opponents

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Windhorst on Boomers' Patty Mills: He plays like Steve Nash (1:03)

Brian Windhorst recalls the first time he saw Patty Mills take his game to the next level while playing for Australia. (1:03)

When we talk about these Australian Boomers, there's a key word it always comes back to: context.

It's a short but agonising history that informs the team's sentiments and actions, which is why an Australian fan can enter these Olympics Games with a level of trust in their men's basketball team. They've been here before; they know what it takes to win, and absolutely know what it feels like to fall horrifically short.

The Olympics are particularly cut-throat. One loss in the group stages and there's a chance your Games are over; lose two and you're packing your bags. Enter the group games with a false sense of security, and that could well be the beginning of the end of your Olympic campaign.

The Boomers enter the group stages of the Tokyo Olympics with a stellar warmup game record under their belt, talent across the board, and that context of back-to-back fourth-place finishes in major international tournaments. In a Group B that also features Italy, Germany, and Nigeria, Australia should be considered the favourite to come out on top and advance to the Finals Phase of the Games.

With that in mind -- and Australia's level of urgency turned up all the way -- here's what the Boomers can expect from their three group games to start the Tokyo Olympics.


The Australian Boomers, in a nutshell

Brian Goorjian rejoined the team as head coach and you can already see how it's lifted the Boomers from a defensive standpoint; it looks to be their identity. Patty Mills remains the go-to player and has a real shot to be the Games' leading scorer, while Joe Ingles looks ready to take on a larger role. The introduction of Matisse Thybulle has given the Boomers a defensive, athletic wing presence they haven't had in some time, and could be the difference-maker in one of those crucial end-of-tournament games. Aron Baynes leads the way in the frontcourt, but expect both Jock Landale and Nick Kay to step up in that regard. Danté Exum and Chris Goulding project to provide a much-needed punch off the bench for these Boomers, who are looking for their first medal in a major international tournament.

How to advance

There are three groups of four teams. The top two teams in each group advance to the Finals Phase, along with the two best third-placed teams. The three teams that topped their respective groups, as well as the best second-placed team, will be put in one pot, and a draw will take place to see which of the remaining four teams they will face in the quarterfinals. From there, it's just a standard bracket all the way through to the medal games.

The Group Phase schedule (AEST)

July 25: Australia vs. Nigeria @ 6:20pm

July 28: Italy vs. Australia @ 6:20pm

July 31: Australia vs. Germany @ 6:20pm

All games will be played at the Saitama Super Arena.


Italy

Key player(s): Danilo Gallinari, Nico Mannion

This was supposed to be Serbia. The final of the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade came down to a matchup between Serbia and Italy, and, while the home team was favoured to win it and book a spot in Tokyo, it wasn't to be.

It was Italy who advanced to the Olympics, on the back of impressive showings from the likes of Nico Mannion and Achille Polonara, both of whom project to be big pieces through the Games. The Italians will also get a significant boost with the addition of Danilo Gallinari, who's coming off a playoff run with the Atlanta Hawks.

Gallinari is, pound for pound, one of the best scorers in world basketball. He was extremely efficient at the 2019 World Cup, and will likely have to shoulder more of the offensive load without Marco Belinelli in the lineup. Italy also has a true point guard they can lean on in Mannion, who's the Golden State Warriors' third string guy at the one-spot, but has looked impressive thus far with his senior national team. Mannion averaged 17.7 points and 4.0 assists a game over the qualifying tournament, and will have the ball in his hands a whole lot over this Olympic run.

Italy doesn't have that plethora of NBA talent scattered across its roster, but they have players who excel for high-level European teams -- Polonara, a versatile forward in his prime who can put points on the board, is a perfect example -- so they'll still be challenging.

For the Boomers, defending the three-point line will be the key here. Australia has the size advantage, so that's the main area where the Italians would be able to hurt them. During the Olympic qualifying tournament, Italy averaged 32 three-point attempts a game, and hit at an impressive rate -- over 40 percent -- so look for that to be a trend for them in Tokyo.

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Germany

Key player(s): Moritz Wagner

Just like most would have predicted that Serbia would be part of Group B, the fact that Germany defeated Brazil to advance to the Olympics was also somewhat of a surprise.

Still, they made it, and have some intriguing pieces going into the Games. The big name is Moritz Wagner, the Orlando Magic big-man who's bounced around a few different NBA teams over the past three years. He's only 24, but led the way for Germany in their Olympics-clinching win in Split, Croatia, dropping 28 points. He's a versatile scorer, so he'll force opposing big-men to have to guard him out to the three-point line.

The other name to keep an eye on is Maodo Lo, Alba Berlin's dynamic point guard who'll primarily be running the point for this German team. He's not at the same level as Mills, but, as a smaller guard, has similar craftiness and does a good job creating his own shot. With no Dennis Schröder, Lo will be Germany's lead guard during these Olympics, so how well he's able to create for himself and others will be an indication of how successful they can be.

Realistically, Germany is the least threatening team in this Group. The talent across the board for Germany isn't particularly strong, and Australia has the bodies to limit their prominent offensive pieces.

Nigeria

Key player(s): Gabe Vincent, Precious Achiuwa

If Nigeria won Group B, it wouldn't even be a surprise. In saying that, it wouldn't be surprising to see them come last, too. That's the range of output we've seen from this team thus far.

They opened their pre-Olympic exhibition campaign with a famous win over Team USA, and everything seemed to be clicking. Mike Brown had the team organised, Gabe Vincent was able to get to his spots and knock down shots, the length of Precious Achiuwa and Chimezie Metu made a difference defensively, the team was able to run, and their bench guys were able to come on and keep the scoreboard ticking.

Nigeria even followed that up with a blowout win over Argentina. Wildly impressive, right?

Well, they were then on the other end of a giant margin, in a loss to an Australia team that sat most of its starters. Granted, Nigeria sat a few key players as well, but there were some less-than-ideal signs throughout that game that might be worrisome going into the Olympics.

Still, we've seen that Nigeria can beat some of the best teams in world basketball, and the talent across their roster indicates that could become somewhat of a trend.

Overall, they're more athletic than the Boomers, and have the ability to attack what's still a somewhat precarious Australian frontcourt; we saw Josh Okogie, for example, relentlessly get on the rim during Nigeria's warmup games. Brown's team also isn't afraid to get into a shootout with you, and have shown that they can knock them down. At the end, you'd bet on the longevity, chemistry, and IQ of this Australian team to put together four good quarters against Nigeria, while the likes of Thybulle and Exum will play a part in diminishing their opponent's athleticism advantage. Whatever the case, the Boomers can't go into the game thinking it'll be a walkover.