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Dream on: U.S. men's basketball dominance extends to Rio

Dream on: U.S. men's basketball dominance extends to Rio

Posted by PanamericanWorld on August 02, 2016

Here's a quick guide to what, when and who to watch in the men's basketball tournament at the Rio Olympics. 

America is great again

As always, the Unites States is the overwhelming favourite. With the exception of 2004 — when a Tim Duncan- and Allen Iverson-led team that also included NBA rookies LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony settled for an embarrassing bronze — the U.S. has won gold every time since Michael Jordan and company romped through Barcelona in 1992, opening the Dream Team era. The stars and bars ride a 17-game Olympic winning streak into Rio. 

    The Americans' galaxy is so vast that they could lose the sport's two brightest stars — two-time reigning NBA MVP Steph Curry and Finals MVP LeBron James elected to sit out — and yet still have a 94 per cent chance to win gold, as per the odds offered by respected bookmaker Pinnacle. 

    B team?

    The list of Americans taking a pass on Rio reads like an all-star team — and one that would likely beat the Olympic squad. 

    Team Vacation — headlined by A-listers Steph, LeBron, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Kawhi Leonard (OK, we'll stop there) — sports an average Player Efficiency Rating of 24.8, as noted by Sports Illustrated. Team USA — featuring Steph's Golden State teammates Kevin Durant (probably the third-best player on the planet), Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, plus LeBron wingman Kyrie Irving and Toronto Raptors guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan — checks in at 20.7. That's the lowest since the 19.8 mark of the disappointing 2004 squad. 

    In case you're wondering, the legendary '92 team boasts an average career PER of 22.4, which is lower than the 2012 team's 24.0. But bear in mind that the '92 number is dragged down by its now-retired players' fading final seasons and, well, Christian Laettner. 

    The long shots

    OK, so maybe the Americans aren't quite at their best this year. Upset in the making? Not so fast. Countries like Argentina and Spain that looked like rising basketball powers earlier this century have failed to make the leap to legitimate contender status. 

    Among non-U.S. countries, Pinnacle gives Spain (about 10 to 1) and France (about 15 to 1) the best odds of winning gold. 

    The Spaniards reached the gold-medal game at each of the last two Olympics and their roster features several NBA names you may recognize: six-time All-Star Pau Gasol, slick-passing Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio, solid Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic and former Raptor Jose Calderon. Marc Gasol, Pau's younger brother, is out as he recovers from an injury, and sharp-shooting big man Serge Ibaka took a pass. 

    The French, who beat Canada to win a last-chance Olympic qualifying tournament in early July, have a potential future Hall of Famer running the point in Tony Parker, good NBA vets Boris Diaw and Nicolas Batum at forward, and an elite defensive centre in Rudy Gobert, who joins up after skipping the qualifier. 

    Key games

    The tournament tips off on Day 1 (Saturday, Aug. 6) and the star-studded U.S. team takes on China at 6 p.m. ET that day. 

    A couple other good group-stage matchups: the U.S. vs. France on Aug. 14 at 1:15 p.m. ET, and Spain vs. Argentina on Aug. 15 at 6 p.m. ET. The latter features the last non-U.S. team to win gold (Argentina) and the silver medallist at the last two Olympics (Spain). 

    Both medal matches are on Aug. 21, the final day of the Games — bronze at 10:30 a.m. ET, gold at 2:45 p.m. ET. 

    For a full schedule, click here

    The format

    The 12 teams are divided into two groups. Group A has the United States, France, Venezuela, Serbia, China and Australia. Group B is Spain, Argentina, Brazil, Lithuania, Croatia and Nigeria. 

    Each team plays the other members of its group, after which the top four teams in each group advance to the knockout stage. To start the knockout round, the top team in each group crosses over to face the fourth-place team in the other group. The second-place team crosses over to play the third-place team. 

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