A weakened U.S. basketball team believes it’s still the strongest one in the Olympics.
LeBron James, Stephen Curry and enough stars to fill an All-NBA team passed on playing, leaving the Americans with a roster that falls short against the Dream Team comparisons they always face.
But the U.S. doesn’t need to beat the Dream Team, or to be one. It just has to be the best in Brazil.
“I respect the guys that declined the opportunity, but I think we still have a great team here, a lot of talent,” center DeMarcus Cousins said. “We still have the same goal in mind, winning the gold medal.”
The Americans remain favored to do that, which would give them three in a row. Some things to watch as they try:
THE U.S. ROSTER
While they’re not the Dream Team, the U.S. squad in Rio is still an impressive group of players. The team includes: Golden State’s Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green; New York’s Carmelo Anthony; Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving; Toronto’s Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan; Indiana’s Paul George; Dallas’ Harrison Barnes; Chicago’s Jimmy Butler; Sacramento’s Cousins and the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan.
Two six-team groups. Each team faces the others in its pool, and the top four teams in each advance to the quarterfinals.
Group A features the U.S., Serbia, France, China, Australia, and Venezuela.
Group B is Spain, Lithuania, Brazil, Argentina, Croatia and Nigeria.
WHICH GROUP IS TOUGHER?
Group A is more top-heavy, with the U.S., Serbia and France finishing 1-2-3 in the Basketball World Cup two years ago. But Group B appears to be deeper, with Spain (No. 2), Lithuania (3), Argentina (4), Brazil (9) and Croatia (12) all among the top dozen ranked teams in the world.
GRAB A SEAT, THIS WILL BE A WHILE
The Olympic basketball tournament runs nearly the entire length of the Games, making the first round of the NBA playoffs seem speedy. Competition begins Aug. 6, the day after the opening ceremony, and the medal games are Aug. 21, the day of the closing ceremony.
ROLLING INTO RIO
The U.S. has won 63 straight games, 45 in FIBA competitions and 18 in exhibition play.
Anthony will become the first U.S. men’s player to appear in four Olympics, and become the most decorated men’s basketball Olympian ever if the U.S. wins a medal. He has a bronze from 2004 and golds in Beijing and London.
THIRD TIME THE CHARM?
Spain sure hopes this is the year it can break through, after pushing the U.S. deep into the final minutes of the last two gold-medal games. The Americans emerged with a 118-107 victory in 2008 and held on to win 107-100 in London. The Spanish bring back veterans such as Pau Gasol, Jose Calderon and Juan Carlos Navarro for a final shot.
GOODBYE, GOLDEN GENERATION
This certainly seems like the end for Argentina’s greats, who won gold in 2004, bronze in 2008 and narrowly missed another medal when they finished fourth in 2012. Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola and Andres Nocioni are back, with Scola chosen as Argentina’s flag bearer.
BEST FIRST-ROUND DAY
Group B has some intriguing games on Aug. 13. Spain meets Lithuania in a rematch of the 2015 EuroBasket championship game, and Brazil and Argentina renew a fierce rivalry that’s seen one knock the other out of the last three major international tournaments. Argentina eliminated Brazil in the 2010 world championship and 2012 Olympics, while the Brazilians – coached by Ruben Magnano, who led Argentina to its 2004 gold – ended the Argentinians’ stay in the 2014 Basketball World Cup. Croatia and Nigeria meet in the nightcap.
MEN IN THE MIDDLE
Spain is keeping Marc Gasol on its roster for now and Australia is doing the same with Andrew Bogut, hoping their centers can return from injuries during the NBA season. France has added Utah’s Rudy Gobert to its Rio roster after his recovery from injuries kept him out of the Olympic Qualifying Tournament it won in early July.