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Olympics2012U.S. Dream Team not invincible

Posted: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 | 01:57 PM

Categories: Olympics2012

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CBCSports.ca basketball blogger John Chick writes the United States is, on paper, too talented in transition to not be the favourite to win gold at the London Olympics. (Las Vegas Review-Journal, Jason Bean/Associated Press) CBCSports.ca basketball blogger John Chick writes the United States is, on paper, too talented in transition to not be the favourite to win gold at the London Olympics. (Las Vegas Review-Journal, Jason Bean/Associated Press)

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When Kobe Bryant said that this incarnation of the "Dream Team" could beat the original 1992 version, he was rightfully eviscerated. The statement was as much gamesmanship as anything else, and given the perception (real or imagined) after various injuries that this American team is not as sound and gold-guaranteed as previous versions, it probably didn't hurt internally to stir the pot.
I'm going to start this one out by going into a bit of a rant. On Monday night I was scanning Twitter, and someone suggested -- in the wake of another dominating summer camp performance by Vaughan, Ont.'s Andrew Wiggins -- how good Canada's 2016 men's Olympic team could be with Wiggins, Tristan Thompson and others. 

 

Exciting, yes.

 

Then I remembered the idea being bandied around about making the Olympic basketball tournament a FIFA-like 23-and-under affair (of course, NBA commissioner David Stern is a champion of this, meaning the odds of it happening are good). Under this arrangement it would mean we'd only get one possible Olympics out of Wiggins -- and zero out of Thompson, Cory Joseph (both would be 25 in 2016) and all the other guys who have been loyal to the national program like Joel Anthony.

 

Granted it's all conjecture at this point, but hey, let's face it. When you're a Canada Basketball fan, you are used to getting screwed one way or another. Let's hope this doesn't happen -- if it does, we can only hope the NBA or FIBA includes a handful of roster exceptions for older players.

Confident Kobe

 

As far as London goes, attention as usual shifts to Team USA. When Kobe Bryant said that this incarnation of the Dream Team could beat the original 1992 version, he was rightfully eviscerated. In my opinion the term "Dream Team" never applied to anyone except the 11-hall-of-famer-deep '92 squad, and the verbiage needs to be retired for good.

 

Kobe's not stupid though. One of his more admirable qualities the past few years has been his fairly clear disinterest in what the masses think of him. The statement was as much gamesmanship as anything else, and given the perception (real or imagined) after various injuries that this American team is not as sound and gold-guaranteed as previous versions, it probably didn't hurt internally to stir the pot.

 

Much has been made of this team only defeating Brazil by 11 (after trailing) and Argentina by six during its exhibition sked. But perhaps lost in that doubt is how well they've played during stretches. Kevin Durant torched Argentina Sunday with seven threes. LeBron James scored 30 points against Brazil. When you have the best team on paper in the world, somebody is going to step up.

 

While they don't have an interior scorer who they can throw it to on the block, the loss of Blake Griffin hurts, but it's a bigger loss to ticket buyers at the Olympic basketball arena in search of highlight-reel dunks. The international game is more perimeter-oriented, and while you live and die by the jump shot, the States (on paper anyways) is just too talented in transition to not be the favourite. And without question, they are the best defensive team in the tournament.

 

That said, they've come home disappointed before. In Athens eight years ago, the squad's poor architecture and lack of cohesion resulted in a bronze medal. The team that beat them in the semis in '04, Argentina, got a brilliant performance from a then-27-year-old Manu Ginobili.

 

Eight years later, what is called the "Golden Generation" of Argentina basketball is still intact. Ginobili, Luis Scola, Andres Nocioni and Carlos Delfino have played together on the team for a decade, cohesion often cited as an advantage. And when you consider that Ginobili and Scola do battle several times a year with the likes of Bryant and Durant, you know that this is a team that can hang with the USA (as evidenced Sunday).

 

The Brothers Gasol plus Ibaka

 

The toughest competition the Americans will face however is Spain. While I mentioned that the international game is less about size and more about perimeter play, the U.S. is actually at a disadvantage here. Pau and Marc Gasol join Serge Ibaka to form a formidable front line, and LeBron James knows Tyson Chandler, Kevin Love and Anthony Davis will have their hands full defensively.

 

"When a shot goes up you got to try and keep them off the glass because they're so big," James told reporters in Barcelona Monday.

 

Spain's backcourt is sound with the Raptors' (for now) Jose Calderon manning the point and deadly shooter Juan Carlos Navarro at the two, but you have to wonder how much better this team would be if they had Ricky Rubio healthy.

 

The Americans defeated Spain in the gold medal game in Beijing four years ago, and that's very likely what's going to happen again this time.

 

Raptors pick key to Lithuanian team

 

Fifth in the FIBA men's rankings going into London is Lithuania. Raptors fans shouldn't have to rely on grainy, illegal web feeds with pop-up ads in order to see centre Jonas Valanciunas over the next two weeks. Toronto's first-round pick from 2011 is the kid on this team -- at 20, the next youngest player is six years older than him. Given his development however, he's an important piece alongside fellow Raptor Linas Kleiza and former NBAer Darius Songaila.

 

This is a proud basketball nation -- players from the former Soviet republic such as Arvydas Sabonis and Sarunas Marciulionis formed the core of the Cold War-era Soviet basketball powerhouses, and following independence in 1991, they won three straight Olympic bronze medals.

 

The team that ended the Canadian men's medal hopes the last time they made it to an Olympics, France, shouldn't be a medal threat this time around, but they could make noise.

 

Tony Parker -- forced to wear protective eyewear for the Games after taking glass to the eye in the midst of the Drake-Chris Brown Manhattan bar brawl last month -- insisted to media Tuesday that the Americans are beatable. "In competition anything can happen," Parker told Agence France Presse.

 

Fellow NBAers Nicolas Batum, Ronny Turiaf, Kevin Seraphin, Nando de Colo and Boris Diaw -- all 300 pounds of him -- form the backbone of France's roster behind Parker.

 

Medal picks


Gold: USA


Silver: Spain


Bronze: Argentina

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