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August 13, 2008
Opening Tip: Let the Games really begin

Cue the intrigue. Team USA gets its long-awaited grudge match with Greece on Thursday at 5 a.m. California time, an actual test from Spain on Saturday and the curiosity of Germany on Monday, three consecutive games the gold-medal favorites will be / could be pointing to at the Phelpsapalooza in Beijing.

This is when the Olympics really start for the United States men's basketball team, not the opener against China, although playing the host country and national hero Yao Ming with a gazillion people watching on TV wasn't a bad alarm clock, and not Tuesday against Angola. Even with its typical lousy perimeter game, as if anyone should be surprised NBA players can't hit a jumper, the U.S. still won by 31 and 21.

Greece pick-and-rolled Team USA to bits in the semis of the 2006 world championships in the outskirts of Tokyo, and that's apparently enough motivation for this tournament and the next seven. Carmelo Anthony just told the Washington Post that "It's been circled on my calendar for two years -- since we left Japan." That would have had greater credibility if 'Melo hadn't also called the China game Sunday the "greatest sporting event in history," but you get the idea. The Americans will be into it tomorrow.

Then comes Spain, along with Argentina the team with the best chance of toppling the U.S. Germany isn't in the same class, but has Dirk Nowitzki and the capable Chris Kaman, and NBA talent can always get players' attention. Plus, it's big NBA talent and the United States roster is heavy on the perimeter. Mike Krzyzewski can run three guys at Nowitzki and that's the end of the Germans, but the days of coasting against Angola are over.

After that, Team USA is into the medal round, where one loss ends the shot at the gold, and everyone else is gunning for them. For now, though, there are the final three games of pool play.

  • Greece
Familiar names: Theo Papaloukas, the guard who cut them up in '04; former Rocket Vassilis Spanoulis; former Grizzlies short-timer Antonis Fotsis; Clippers draft pick Sofoklis Schortsianitis.

Why the U.S. should be worried: The Greeks are the Bad Boy Pistons, playing very physical and pounding on their opponents until the mistakes come. This is the one NBA GMs will be watching with hands covering their eyes, hoping their players don't come home in pieces. Greece has a chance to control the tempo for stretches and turn it into the half-court game that leaves Team USA vulnerable.

Why the U.S. shouldn't be worried: Spain already beat Greece by 15.

  • Spain
Familiar names: Pau Gasol of the Lakers; Rudy Fernandez heading to the Trail Blazers as a first-round pick; Ricky Rubio projecting as a top-five pick; Juan Carlos Navarro, with the Grizzlies last season; Jose Calderon of the Raptors; former Jazz Raul Lopez; Marc Gasol of the Grizzlies; former Raptor Jorge Garbajosa.

Why the U.S. should be worried: Spain is the reigning world champion and has a roster stocked with talented players who have spent years together. The depth is especially critical in the backcourt, with enough true point guards and combo guards to withstand Team USA's pressure defense.

Why the U.S. shouldn't be worried: Spain was unimpressive the last game, needing to outscore China 25-11 in the fourth quarter to force overtime and 13-3 in that extra period to win. And that was with Yao going 4 of 12 from the field.

  • Germany
Familiar names: Kaman; Patrick Femerling, long ago of the University of Washington; Nowitzki.

Why the U.S. should be worried: Germany is the least threatening of the three, so the worry will be relative. But the Germans have bigs who do more than take up space.

Why the U.S. shouldn't be worried: One of those bigs, Kaman, has four rebounds in 35 minutes the first two games. Nearly 13 per outing in the NBA last season, then two against Angola and two against Greece. Citius, Altius, Ineptus.



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