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Dominant U.S. team not about to underestimate foes

Although they sport a 45-game win streak, Team USA is well aware that winning a gold medal in Rio not a lock just yet

POSTED: Aug 5, 2016 8:12 PM ET

By John Schuhmann

BY John Schuhmann


USAB Arrives in Rio

The US Olympic Men's and Women's Basketball team arrives in Rio de Janeiro and prepares for the games to begin.

— The United States' position at the top of the basketball world hasn't felt this strong in 20 years. The U.S. has won four straight major international tournaments and 45 straight games by an average of 31.5 points per contest. Only three of those 45 games were single-digit victories.

In the years the U.S. hasn't brought all of its best players, it still dominated. Kevin Durant was enough in the 2010 World Championship and he wasn't missed at the 2014 World Cup. The U.S. not only has the 10 best players in the world, it has more depth at every position than any other country. Ten of the 12 players on this year's U.S. roster are first-time Olympians and that probably won't matter.

"It's a testament to a pipeline of talent that we are blessed within the United States," USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo said Thursday. "It's been very successful in every age category in men's and women's basketball. We're very fortunate to have a wealth of talent."

We'll have tough competition here. We always do, whether it be in the world championships or the Olympics.

– U.S. team coach Mike Krzyzewski

When the 2016 Olympics open, the U.S. Men will be the heavy favorite to win their 15th gold medal in their 18th Olympic appearance, even though seven of the top 10 players in Kia MVP voting (all 10 were Americans) elected not to be here. It would be a shock if the U.S. wasn't standing atop the medal stand on Aug. 21 with another gold medal and a 53-game winning streak in hand.

But when pool play is done and eight teams remain, they won't be playing best-of-seven series to determine a winner. The Olympics are a single-elimination tournament, and the games are only 40 minutes long, giving an underdog a better chance at pulling off an upset.

Yet there are teams here that will have more than a puncher's chance against the United States.

GameTime: USAB Men's Team in Rio

Vince and Smitty look ahead to the expectations for the US Men's Basketball team in Rio.

Spain has given the U.S. a scare in each of the last two Olympic gold medal games and still has most of its veteran core intact. France has more versatile NBA talent than its European rival and the world's best rim protector (Rudy Gobert). And both Lithuania and Serbia have the ability to muck things up to knock the U.S. off its rhythm.

The U.S. arrives in Rio having played four of its five exhibition games against the three worst teams in the Olympic field. It has yet to be tested and has yet to give any lineup combinations extended time together. So it will need pool play to keep building its identity.

"Every single game is a chance for us to get better," Kyrie Irving said. "We have to find out lineups, we have to find out just what rhythm we want as a team. And, going in, what we want to expect from one another. In order to do that, we have to play high level games and against other great countries."

Still, the U.S. wouldn't see Spain, Lithuania or host Brazil (the team that has come closest to beating the U.S. over the 45-game winning streak) until elimination play, when one bad stretch can put them on the brink of a streak-busting loss.

Our whole mind set is that every game that we play, we're going to play it like it's our last.

– DeMar DeRozan

Over the last 10 years, Colangelo and USA coach Mike Krzyzewski have built a program that is better equipped for a one-and-done tournament against opponents they've never faced and who have been playing together a lot longer than whatever squad the Americans have put together in a given summer. Since their loss to Greece in the semifinals of the 2006 World Championship (after which Krzyzewski identified the Greek players by their uniform number), the U.S. has improved its scouting.

"It's not like our guys just put on their uniforms and they go out there and just blow through people," Colangelo said. "That's not true. We have to make adjustments. We have to be prepared. We take each opponent very, very seriously."

Even if they do just that, there's always a chance that they have an off night against a team that can take advantage. And without a point guard who will keep the ball moving, this team may be more susceptible to a bad shooting night.

Anthony, Jordan Address the Media

Carmelo Anthony and DeAndre Jordan address the media.

But as talented as the U.S. teams have been under Krzyzewski, they've always been better defensively than offensively. Their speed, athleticism and versatility can make them near impossible to score on. Having 10 players who've never been on the Olympic stage could be a good thing. They are hungry to stand atop the medal stand and are guys who don't want to be on the team that drops the ball.

"Our whole mind set is that every game that we play, we're going to play it like it's our last," DeMar DeRozan said. "As long as we keep that mentality and not try to wait on anybody else [to push them] .... As soon as that ball is tipped, it's on us to take advantage of everything we need to do."

"We know how to handle pressure," Klay Thompson added. "We're all very competitive and we raise the level of intensity in situations like this."

GameTime: USAB Exhibition Recap

Vince and Smitty look back at the US Men's Baskeball Team's exhibition games while Matt and Grant look ahead to Rio.

The streak is going to come to an end at some point. And though the U.S. could still have a winning percentage of better than 95 percent in Olympic competition (they're currently 130-5) after these Olympics, it would take only one loss for their position atop the basketball world to look a lot less comfortable. There's a thin line between dominance and disappointment.

"We'll have tough competition here," Krzyzewski said. "We always do, whether it be in the world championships or the Olympics.

"You say, 'Well, you've won by this much.' But, there are games that are very, very close. Lithuania almost beat us in London. We've had two incredibly difficult games against Spain for the gold medal. Even in Istanbul, Turkey was very, very difficult for us, and Brazil actually almost beat us in the pool play there. We've had tough games. So, whenever anyone says it is going to be easy, we don't believe that."

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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