While Kobe Bryant insists his 2012 squad would beat the original Dream Team from 1992, Team USA readies for the London Olympics with every expectation of repeating as gold medalists. Every sportsbook known to mankind has the Americans listed as heavy favorites and while an upset would be shocking, it’s not entirely impossible, either. Let us not forget that just eight years ago in Athens, Team USA -- a team which featured both LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony -- lost not once, but twice before capturing a disappointing bronze medal.
Here are the four teams with the best shot to pull off such a feat in London.
Spain has the world's-best soccer team, and perhaps its second-best tennis player and its second-best basketball team as well. The Spaniards biggest asset is size. The Gasol brothers are two of the NBA's elite centers and Serge Ibaka -- a nationalized Spanish citizen -- is the league's reigning shot blocking champ. And if Team USA has a weakness on its roster, it's the lack of big men. Dwight Howard -- who anchored the middle in Beijing four years ago -- is out with a back injury, as is Chris Bosh. Spain is missing point guard Ricky Rubio, who is still recovering from the torn ACL he suffered last season, but Juan Carlos Navarro and Jose Calderon are both very good and shooting guard Rudy Fernandez can score in bunches. Look for the Americans to extend ample pressure on the less physical Spanish guards from the outset though, because without Rubio, Spain lacks the ability to consistently drive the ball into the lane. If the Spaniards can get Tyson Chandler in foul trouble however, they can beat the Americans in the shortened 40 minute FIBA game. Remember, this is essentially the same Spanish roster that won the FIBA World Championship in 2006, an Olympic silver medal in 2008 as well as the past two European titles.
Argentina has a boatload of NBA talent, namely in the form of creator extraordinaire Manu Ginobili and power forward Luis Scola, who presents his own set of mismatch issues with his ability to step outside to 18-feet and extend the defense. The highly physical Argentinians' key to victory over Team USA is the three-pointer; basketball's great equalizer, especially under FIBA rules, where the line is significantly closer. Andres Nocioni and Carlos Delfino are two of the better long range bombers in the tournament and we know how easily Ginobili can heat up.
Head coach Ruben Magnano is considered one of basketball's greatest minds and he has some horses as well. Brazil's frontcourt depth is a legitimate concern. Nene, Tiago Splitter and the always active Anderson Varejao give the Brazilians terrific interior defense and a consistent trio of rebounders who will limit second chance opportunities. The x-factor for this unit is Leandro Barbosa, a former NBA Sixth Man of the Year who has struggled in international play. If Barbosa can get hot and stay hot, Brazil becomes extremely dangerous. The key to him getting open looks is point guard Marcelo Huertas, perhaps the best point guard in the world not playing in the NBA. Huertas is a tremendous penetrator in pick-and-roll and will be largely responsible for creating the Brazilian offense.
The French are a dark horse in this tournament thanks to four-time NBA All-Star Tony Parker, who recently announced he would play in the Olympics. Parker's ability to push tempo and get inside the teeth of defenses will play a crucial role in this team's fate. Flanked by San Antonio teammate Boris Diaw along with future Spurs teammate Nando de Colo (a gifted combo guard), Parker has enough ammo in his arsenal for France to really run the break and compete for a medal. However, the French are painfully lean in the frontcourt with the injured Joakim Noah unable to play. It's main question mark is defense; Nicholas Batum and Kevin Seraphin are both elite wing defenders but without Noah in the paint, a severe lack of size will plague this team.
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