The U.S.A. Olympic men’s basketball team, featuring some of the top talents in the NBA, opens its 2012 London schedule against France Sunday.
Oddsmakers have set the latest version of the “Dream Team” as 24.5-point favorites against the French, with the total listed at 167.5 points – the highest number of the six basketball games on the board Sunday.
France features NBA players Tony Parker and Boris Diaw of the San Antonio Spurs, Nicolas Batum of the Portland Trail Blazers, Ronny Turiaf of the Los Angeles Clippers, and Kevin Seraphin of the Washington Wizards. Former NBAers Mickael Gelabale and Yakhouba Diawara round out the roster along with future-pro Nando de Colo.
Parker has been the captain of the national team since 2003 but has never finished better than a bronze medal at 2005 World Championship in major international competition. He did, however, lead the French to the final of the Eurobasket tournament in 2011, losing to Spain. Parker averaged 22.4 points and 4.4 assists for the tournament.
“We know they have a lot of NBA players,” U.S.A. guard James Harden told the Sporting News. “It is guys that we are familiar with. They’re going to be a tough team to play because they’re good, they can shoot. They’re not going to be intimidated.”
The USA men’s team has been plagued with travel issues since arriving in London. First, they got hung up while visiting the basketball venue on Thursday. Then, they arrived 20 minutes late for a press conference Friday after their team bus entered the wrong gate and was hung up by security.
"Two days we've had nothing but issues with transportation. No one's fault in particular, just general," USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo told reporters. "We've been through so many neighborhoods, when this is over we're going to be able to do a little history on the city of London."
The one thing Team USA has been criticized for is its lack of size inside. Besides Tyson Chandler and college standout Anthony Davis – two slender centers – the “Dream Team” doesn’t pack much of a punch in the paint.
Power forward Kevin Love provides the most beef down low, but has been known more for his inside-out game, especially since winning the NBA’s All-Star 3-point contest. Fellow forwards Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala are face-up threats that operate from the wing.
"They don't have a big side," France’s Batum told reporters. "They are very small but they can use it pretty well. That can be a weakness for them. But you can use a weakness to be a strength. And that's why they are very good."
Chandler struggled manning the paint by himself versus Spain, fouling out of the game with the FIBA five-foul rule.
Roll with it baby
The Americans have arguably the two best basketball players in the world right now in LeBron James and Kevin Durant, which is why head coach Mike Krzyzewski has paired them in perhaps the most lethal pick-and-roll combo in the history of the game.
James and Durant worked the simple two-man game perfectly against Spain, with James setting the pick and Durant reading the defense off the screen. That led to a dominant inside performance from the reigning NBA MVP, who shot 10 for 15 from the field and totaled 25 points in the win over Spain. Durant finished with 13 points and two assists.
The American squad, with a roster packed with stars like James, Kobe Bryant and Durant, is the overwhelming favorite to capture the gold medal at the 2012 summer games, priced at -700.
Spain, which the U.S. defeated 100-78 in an exhibition last week, is the next team listed on the outright odds at +450. France is the third-overall favorite at +2,800.
Team USA is a -1,200 favorite to win Group A, which includes France (+1,000), Argentina, Lithuania, Nigeria, and Tunisia. The top two teams from each group advance to the knockout stage.