Americans Get Rematch With Argentina
The United States got the only team it really wanted in the semifinals, the last team to defeat it on the Olympic stage. Four years ago in Athens, Argentina delivered the final salvo to a flawed U.S. team that featured Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson, no point guard, no perimeter shooters and a coach who had checked out after a debut loss to Puerto Rico.
That the Americans even made it to the Olympic semifinals in 2004 still amazes LeBron James. "We didn't play well," James said this week. "We got to the semifinals, but we didn't play well. We didn't have a leader. We just wasn't a good team and we got to the semifinals, still, because of our individual abilities."
Argentina defeated the U.S., 89-81, in 2004 before eventually winning the gold medal. It was the first nation to beat a team of American pros in the 2002 world championship and reveled even more in the Olympic victory. Afterward, point guard Pepe Sanchez said the Americans needed to quit making excuses about why they lost to Argentina, "It's always something. It's the officials. We didn't send our best players."
Now that they meet for the rematch, there is no doubt about the quality of this U.S. team, which has won its first six games by an average of 32 points. The Americans are again an overwhelming favorite, but this time, it appears to be justified by the effort on the court and not the (hard to spot) names on the back of the jerseys.
Argentina isn't necessarily expecting a repeat of 2004 on Friday. "We know they are, by far, the best team in this tournament. We are going to try to have our best game and try to go for a miracle," Manu Ginobili said. "They have enough talent, strength and desire, after what happened in the last tournament, to win it. But we're going to have to play a perfect game and that's probably not going to be enough. They are going to have to play a bad game, too. We're going to try to do our best."
Ginobili appears to have recovered from the sore ankle that limited him during the San Antonio Spurs' playoff run. And while Argentina has several other current and former NBA players on the team - Andres Nocioni, Fabricio Oberto, Luis Scola and Carlos Delfino - its team is much different. Sanchez and Walter Hermann retired from the national team, limiting Argentina's depth. But it has won five in a row since losing its debut in the Olympics against Lithuania.
The U.S. has already avenged a world championship loss to Greece, thumped world champion Spain and brushed back the only team to challenge it in exhibition games, Austraila. But Argentina is a team the Americans have targeted for some time, even after beating the team in the bronze medal game in 2006. "We are fired up for this game and we are fired up because it's the game before the gold medal game. We're one step closer," Carmelo Anthony said. "I can't wait to get over that hump. To be a champion you have to beat a champion. They still have the gold medal, no matter who won the world championship in '06. We have to go out there and take that from them."
U.S. Coach Mike Krzyzewski warned about fans getting overconfident following the Americans' lopsided wins this tournament. "You know as well as I do, anybody can lose. Our guys do not feel that way. When you start saying easy (wins) and impossible to lose, we're going back to those few years ago where we're arrogant, we don't respect and we don't know. We're past those times."
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