Big contracts, NBA stars, a new coach, a new approach, and -- after a disappointing loss in a recent major international competition -- something to prove.
More than anything, almost being able to taste Olympic gold, knowing that hitting shots and playing good defense will be enough.
No, I'm not talking about Team USA.
I'm talking about Spain.
U.S. in the Driver's Seat
After dispensing China, Angola, and Greece, the United States team led by Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Kobe Bryant has convinced nearly all observers that they are the favorites to win Olympic gold. Team USA's impressive depth, matched with a withering defensive attack on the perimeter, has produced long series of turnovers followed by the kinds of open-court layups and dunks that posters are made of.
But the Spanish team is also deep, also stocked with NBA players, and on something of a special mission.
The Spanish players are reigning world champions. To most of the basketball world, this is a more prestigious title than Olympic gold. The 2006 version featured 24 teams, with a grueling 16-team elimination tournament to wrap things up. (The Olympic competition, on the other hand, features 12 total teams, with eight making it to the knockout stage.)
Spain has also played the U.S. in elimination games twice in recent years. Many of these same Spanish players beat Paul Pierce and company at the World Championships in 2002. At the Athens Olympics in 2004, Spain cruised through qualifying for a top seed, while Team USA stumbled to 3-2. With a high seed, Spain met Team U.S.A. in the first elimination game, and lost by eight. (In the next round, Team USA lost to Argentina, before beating Lithuania for bronze.)
Spain and the U.S. did not play each other in the 2006 World Championships, as the U.S. lost to Greece in the semifinals. Spain, with much the same roster they have this year, did not lose all tournament long.
Last summer, however, in one of the best games of last year, Spain lost to Russia by a single point in the EuroBasket final.
These Olympics are Spain's chance to prove 2006 was no fluke.
Team USA will win through pure athleticism and iron-clad defense like Spain has never seen. I'm not one of those American kissers but objectively speaking the Redeem Team is very powerful. Their speed is too much and not to mention Kobe Bryant will takeover when necessary. After all, Spain isn't Boston no Paul Pierce there. I think Pau Gasol will play a great game like he always has for his country. Despite the supposed threat Spain will pose to the Americans the latter will blow by them come game time.
Game time: 10:15 pm