A weakened men’s U.S. basketball team believes it’s still the strongest squad in the Olympics.
LeBron James, Stephen Curry and enough stars to fill an All-NBA team have 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 even be one — it just has to beat 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 golds in a row. Some things to watch as they try:
The U.S. roster: While it isn’t the Dream Team, the U.S. squad in Rio is still impressive. It 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 DeMarcus Cousins; and the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan.
The format: 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) among the top dozen-ranked teams in the world.
Grab a seat; this will be awhile: The basketball tournament runs nearly the entire length of the Games, making the first round of the NBA playoffs seem speedy. Competition begins Saturday, 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.
Captain America: Carmelo Anthony will become the first U.S. men’s player to appear in four Olympics, and he’ll become the most decorated men’s basketball Olympian ever if the U.S. wins a medal. He has a bronze from 2004 in Athens, and golds from Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012.
Third time the charm? Spain hopes this is the year it can break through, after pushing the U.S. deep into the final minutes of the past two gold-medal games. The Americans emerged with a 118-107 victory in 2008 and a 107-100 win in 2012. The Spanish team brings back veterans such as Pau Gasol, Jose Calderon and Juan Carlos Navarro.
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 suffered during the NBA season. France has added the Utah Jazz’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.