Not China, obviously. That was made clear in the pool-play opener Sunday, as expected.
And not Angola, probably. Very, very, very probably. That's the next game for Team USA, tomorrow beginning at 5 a.m. California time and essentially ending sometime around 5 a.m. and 18 seconds.
But this could get good at some point. Maybe this week (Greece, Spain, Germany). Maybe once the preliminary round is over and the quarterfinals begin Aug. 20 with better competition and the added walk on the high wire of knowing that one loss ends the chance at gold. More than a pressure thing -- much of the roster has played in at least a conference final in the NBA -- that advanced stage greatly reduces the margin of error.
The pre-Olympic rankings from FIBA, basketball's international governing body:
1. United States.
9 (tie). Germany.
9 (tie). Australia.
(China is 11th, Angola 14th.)
The numbers are slightly skewed, based on past results and not current rosters. Germany got Chris Kaman of the Clippers, one of the better NBA centers, as a late add, and that's an obvious benefit. Plus, Germany qualified for Beijing and higher-ranked France and Italy did not from the same region, so there's the value of FIBA rankings in real-time 2008.
It's a decent reference point, though. Most importantly for the issue at hand, the top three are indisputable in some order, with Pau Gasol, Jose Calderon and Spain able to make a very sound case for No. 2 ahead of Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola and Argentina. Plus, Argentina, the defending Olympic champions, lost its opener Sunday to Linas Kleiza of the Nuggets, ex-Warrior / Pacer Sarunas Jasikevicius and Lithuania, a medal contender.
Team USA won't face Argentina until the medal round, if at all, but gets Spain in pool play Saturday and then maybe again at some point from the quarterfinals on. The Spanish will be as real a test as the U.S. will face. Even if both are sure to advance will face. Even if sure are both to advance -- four of the six teams in the two groups go on -- at least it gets good this week.