NEW YORK - AUGUST 15: Mickael Gelabale #22 of France drives to the basket past Kevin Durant #5 of the United States during their exhibition game as part of the World Basketball Festival at Madison Square Garden on August 15 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Team USA wants to win all of its preliminary round games. They'll start against a team with some NBA talent in France on Sunday.
Team USA is almost guaranteed to make it to the medal round of the Olympic basketball tournament. But anything less than gold will be a disappointment, as will anything less than a perfect 5-0 record in the preliminary round, which kicks off with a matchup against France Sunday.
Team USA only needs to finish in the top two of a six-team group. That group features perennial international contenders Argentina and Lithuania, a talented French squad, and relative minnows Nigeria and Tunisia. Not attaining a perfect record would technically do very little to hurt the American squad's medal hopes, as its very, very difficult to believe they could drop out of the top two spots in a group. But poor performances in a preliminary round could be a harbinger of poor future performances; see USA-Puerto Rico, 2004. A loss would also obviously permanently render the entire "are they better than the Dream Team" debate moot, which is one of Kobe Bryant's top five nightmares. (Others include a recurring dream about this one time he accidentally passed to Slava Medvedenko and being stuck in an elevator with Shaq.) So Team USA will try to sweep the five-game slate, and do so with style.
The French provide a pretty decent opponent in the first matchup: they're obviously led by Tony Parker, who will be sporting goggles as a result of the Chris Brown-Drake nightclub scuffle that gave him an eye injury. They also feature two Spurs teammates of his in Boris Diaw and Nando de Colo, the latter of which the Spurs selected in 2009. Talented Trail Blazers' wing Nicolas Batum and two NBA centers in Ronny Turiaf and Kevin Seraphin are also in the squad.
The French just won a friendly match against a Brazilian team that gave the US some trouble in the first half in a warmup game, but they'll still be outmatched in depth and talent. The French have one NBA all-Star, the Americans have 10, with the two others being a defensive player of the year and the runaway best player in college. Parker will be the focal point of France's offense, and besides Batum and Diaw, there's nobody decent at shooting for him to kick to. Don't check the career three-point stats of France's two small forwards, Mickael Gelabale and Yakhouba Diawara, they hurt the eyes. Turiaf and Seraphin won't intimidate the US in the post, where the Americans may be weakest. The last time these teams played, in the World Basketball Festival in 2010, the US won by over 30, although the teams were almost entirely different.
Here's the Team USA schedule for the preliminary rounds - all games will be available on NBC as well as streaming at NBCOlympics.com. All times are Eastern.
July 29: USA-France, 9:30 a.m.
July 31: USA-Tunisia, 5:15 p.m.
Aug. 2: USA-Nigeria, 5:15 p.m.
Aug. 4: USA-Lithuania, 9:30 a.m
Aug. 6: USA-Argentina, 5:15 p.m.
For more on Team USA, check out SB Nation's London Olympics hub.