USA Team 2012

Jul 18, 2012

Team USA’s rough start to its pre-Olympics exhibition schedule might not mean anything. But past Dream Teams have given some hint of their fate in warmup tours before the main event.
Since the first Dream Team formed before the 1992 Summer Olympics, the U.S. men’s basketball team has played 43 exhibitions before big tournaments and won 42 of those warm-up games, by an average of 28.3 points. The 42nd came Monday against Brazil, but it wasn’t easy. Brazil led by double digits, and Team USA didn’t seal the 80-69 win until the final minutes. The U.S. has had its share of close calls, and even one loss, in these exhibitions — and those lapses portended trouble for the team once the real games began.
In 1992, 1994 and 1996, the Dream Team cruised through exhibition games, winning all of those played against other countries — as opposed to various other American squads — by at least 33 points. And those teams won two Olympic gold medals, plus a world championship in between, without losing a game. The 1998 edition, which featured no NBA stars because of the lockout, struggled in exhibition games by its predecessors’ high standards, beating Italy by only five points and Spain by 17 points. And that U.S. team finished with a bronze in the world championships. Then the 2000 team, once again stocked with NBA talent, swept its exhibition games by a minimum of 25 points and went undefeated on its way to the Olympic gold.
That marked the end of dominant U.S. teams, if not the end of the dream or at least the resilient Dream Team moniker. In 2002, despite home-court advantage at the world championships in Indianapolis, Team USA finished sixth. Some signs of vulnerability were clear in the two exhibition games, when the U.S. beat China, at the bottom rung of world-championship teams, by a mere 30, then Germany by 18.
The 2004 team struggled even more in exhibitions, recording the only loss suffered in the two decades of the Dream Team era, when it lost to Italy by 17. That group also beat Germany by three points and won just one of its six warm-up games by at least 20 points. That presaged a disappointing bronze medal at the Athens Olympics.
The 2006 team was much more dominant except for a win over Brazil that was even closer than Monday’s: 90-86. That team also settled for bronze.
The 2008 Olympics team showed it was ready to dominate again when it won all its warm-up games by double digits, then swept to Olympic gold despite a tough championship game against Spain. The 2010 team also managed to finish undefeated at the world championships after a tougher exhibition round that included a one-point win over Spain — a team it avoided playing in the tournament.
Merely comparing exhibition seasons by point margin can mislead: Not all warm-up opponents provide an equally tough test. Just as few Olympic opponents will provide as easy competition as Team USA’s first opponent this summer, the Dominican Republic, which lost by 54 points, Brazil may be one of the biggest threats to the U.S. in London. Team USA also has three more chances to assert its dominance: against host Great Britain and powerhouses Argentina and Spain.
The Brazil scare, then, hardly guarantees trouble. But if the U.S. has another close scrape — or even the second exhibition loss in recent history — then the Olympics could be difficult for the height-challenged favorites.


Post a Comment