Team USA has always been a dominant force in the Olympic Games, winning a record 19 gold medals and notching a bronze Athens in 2004. This year is no different, and sheer dominance is nothing less than expected from them during these games as well.
How good is this year’s team? When Kobe Bryant was asked whether or not this year’s squad could beat the ‘92 ‘Dream Team’ he had this to say, “We have a bunch of young racehorses, guys that are eager to compete. So I don’t know. It’d be a tough one, but I think we’d pull it out.” So, it begs the question: Is this year’s USA team better than ‘92 ‘Dream Team’? Talk is cheap and it comes down to the results on the court to even justify the comparison.
Exhibition games are played beforehand, but they’re far more important to LeBron and Kevin Durant who just faced each other in the NBA Finals last month. Durant spoke about playing with instead of against LeBron, “It does bother me, it does, but what can I do? He’s my teammate now. I’m a team player,” Durant explained, “I can’t let that affect this. This is bigger than that. It’s tough to lose in the finals and play the guy you’ve been going up against for five games who beat you. So me, I’m just going to get over it, still be a great teammate, come out and play hard.”
The only person who might be able to understand the situation would be Kobe Bryant, who played in the 2008 Beijing games while fresh off a loss against the Boston Celtics.
“I wasn’t playing on the Olympic team with, you know, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce and [Kevin] Garnett. He’s got to look at LeBron every day,” Kobe said, “I didn’t have to do that. So I don’t know if I could do that. I’d be trying to destroy him every single day in practice to try to…I don’t know, take a little of the edge off maybe,” he explained.
Team USA are scheduled to play five exhibition games starting on 12 July, and they started against the Dominican Republic in Las Vegas. It ended in a 113-59 rout with the USA showcasing their talent, athleticism and absolute dominance over the Dominicans, it almost didn’t seem fair. Durant finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds, while his teammate Andre Iguodala finished with 18 points and hit four three pointers as well. Head coach of the Dominican Republic John Calipari (also the head coach of national college champions Kentucky) wasn’t surprised, disappointed or discouraged, “I told the guys just go out and play basketball, don’t worry about the names on their backs or what the score is. Just go out, play some basketball and have fun, and they did,” he said after the game.
Kevin Durant lead in the charge in a double-double effort, showing clearly that the LeBron factor wasn’t an issue. He played wonderfully and went nine of 10 from the field. LeBron finished with 7 points, two rebounds and three assists, not nearly as effective as Durant.
The second game against Brazil offered much more competition, being down 27-17 at the end of the first quarter to the South Americans. For President Obama and the rest of the fans in attendance, it was a disappointing start to the evening. However, the second quarter saw a different American team.
They turned up the ball pressure immensely, doing an excellent job harassing the ball handlers and creating turnovers. It was an onslaught of fast breaks and it led to a 33-29 USA lead. They wouldn’t look back, the rest of the game saw the USA extend their lead while Brazil fought to keep it close.
LeBron lead the charge this time however, finishing with a game-high 30 points and four steals. The Brazilians fought valiantly, but LeBron’s fourth quarter put USA through to a win.
It seems, at least through the first two games of the campaign, that LeBron and Durant are playing very well with each other. If nothing changes, it looks like yet another easy gold medal for the United States in London 2012.