Olympics: Versatile US NBA stars favored for goldBy Jim Slater
LONDON – With LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony leading the way through an undefeated exhibition run, the United States collection of multi-millionaire NBA stars is a favorite to capture London Olympic gold.
The Americans ripped Spain 100-78 and outlasted Argentina 86-80 in tuneup games against two of the rivals considered the biggest threats to deny the US superstars a 14th gold in 18 Olympics.
“We haven’t shown all our cards yet,” James warned. “We have so many options and so many things we can go to with our team. We have room for improvement.”
“We’ve still got time. We’ve still got a couple more days before we actually open up but our chemistry is really good right now. Our cohesiveness is improving. We’ll be ready once the Games begin.”
The US squad lacks height, Tyson Chandler being its only true centre, and half a team of injured NBA stars is sitting at home, including Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, Chris Bosh, Blake Griffin, Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade.
But the Americans compensate with speed and size at the other positions, providing opposing defences formidable match-up problems. And after only three weeks training together, their teamwork and confidence is growing.
“We’re not the tallest team but that doesn’t bother us at all,” James said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that play above their height. It’s not about height. It’s about the determination inside.”
Added playmaker Kobe Bryant: “We have a lot of speed. A lot of speed. When you have that amount of speed, it makes up for it.”
The Americans will play in round-robin Group A with Argentina, Lithuania, France, Tunisia and Nigeria while Group B includes Spain, Russia, Australia, Brazil, Britain and China.
The top four in each group reach the quarter-finals.
“We have gotten better,” US coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We need to use pool play to qualify for medal play but also to get five more international games under our belt. We have to keep learning about it.”
The international game is generally more physical and tighter on foul calls and adapting to officiating will be important, British former NBA centre Pops Mensah-Bonsu warns.
“NBA officiating lets more things go,” he said. “It’s probably more difficult to adjust coming over to Europe. It’s a different game. It is an adjustment.”
That could produce foul trouble, but the US squad includes NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant and his NBA runner-up Oklahoma City Thunder teammates Russell Westbrook and James Harden, the NBA’s top reserve. Few teams have the depth to stay with the Americans.
“We have to be more physical,” US guard Deron Williams said. “We have to be aggressive and use it to our advantage because some teams are bigger than us. If we don’t disrupt them as much as possible then we are going to have trouble with the bigger teams.”
Spain will offer NBA big brothers Pau and Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, who also plays for Oklahoma City. And the Americans expect the Spaniards will offer more trouble in the Olympics than in the exhibition, when Marc Gasol was out.
French NBA star Tony Parker said what many rivals have been thinking since injuries began depleting the US lineup – that this year’s US squad is very talented but not unbeatable.
“All teams can be beaten,” Parker said. “They are not unbeatable.”
Parker will find out quickly if the French can handle the US NBA stars. Those teams meet on Sunday in a round-robin group opener.
Sunday’s other openers find Britain facing Russia, Spain playing China, Brazil taking on Australia, Argentina meeting Lithuania and Nigeria meeting Tunisia.