Team USA, full of NBA stars, has lost both warm-up matches towards the games in Tokyo, which starts on July 23. First it was an 87-90 loss for Nigeria, before the night to Tuesday Norwegian time was a loss with the numbers 83-91 for Australia.
They have been such big favorites in both matches that it has been almost impossible to put money on them at odds. Against Nigeria it was not possible to bet on pure Team USA victory at the odds. The line you could play on was a 29.5-point victory for the Americans. And if you had put 100 kroner on Team USA’s victory against Australia, you would have gotten back seven cormorant kroner.
– They have problems with being a team that is just put together by lots of different players who will work immediately. It often takes some time. There is no guarantee that they will win the Olympics, even though they have done so the last three times. If you play a bad match, you have big consequences, says basketball commentator Arnstein Friling about the last two training matches for Team USA.
The fact that Team USA no longer wins on the almost walk-over is not surprising, but on the other hand a good sign for the sport, says basketball journalist Vegar Fjell.
– Basketball has become more and more international, and many of the players the US now faces are either other NBA players, or players in other leagues that are at a higher level than they were before. Some of the best players in the league are for example Nikola Jokic from Serbia, Joel Embiid from Cameroon, Giannis Antetokounmpo from Greece and Luka Doncic from Slovenia. True, only the latter can be found in the Olympics, but the point is the same. Basketball is a big international sport and the United States, despite being a big favorite stamp, can not just show up and throw the ball to win.
Because where many of the teams they meet in the Olympics know each other well and have a set tribe that has played together for years, the new norm for Team USA has been to meet a few weeks before a championship, often many players who have not played together before . Therefore, we see hints of starting difficulties, Friling believes.
– It has a lot to say for Team USA. And they have three of the players in the squad in the NBA finals now (Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton and Devin Booker), who will be important to them in the Olympics. They come in top form, which will be important for Team USA. Then we have to keep in mind that these are just training matches. It’s something else when they play Olympic matches. But you can not afford wrong cuts, that’s for sure.
“Dream Team” in 1992
To understand the history of Team USA and where they are today, we must go back 29 years. Most people know “Dream Team”, which became famous during the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. That was the first time Team USA sent NBA players to the Olympics.
– Then they won many matches with an incredible amount of points, and were completely superior. They were also during the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, but during the Sydney Olympics they were about to lose the semi-final for Lithuania and the final for France. Then the negative spiral began, says Friling.
During the World Cup at home in 2002, the USA disappointed enormously with an embarrassing 6th place. Two years later, during the Sydney Olympics in 2004, they shockingly lost 73-92 to Puerto Rico in their first group game. Then they raised the old woman and made it to the semifinals, where there was again disappointment. The 81-89 loss to Argentina was followed by a victory over Lithuania in the bronze final, but the bronze medal is a medal none of the Team USA players are particularly proud of, and which several quickly got rid of immediately after the championship.
Even during the World Cup in 2006, there was no full flap. Then there was a loss for Greece in the semifinals. Then the Americans decided that something had to be done. Ahead of the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the best NBA players from the United States gathered to defend the nation’s honor, after three extremely weak championships. The result? Average victory of 32.2 points in the group stage and eleven points victory in the final over Spain.
Then it kicked off – the Olympic gold in 2008 was followed by World Cup gold in 2010, Olympic gold in 2012, World Cup gold in 2014 and Olympic gold in 2016.
– They won these championships mostly without problems, and the victories came with players who had participated in several championships. It was a group that knew each other well, says Friling.
Disappointing China World Cup
Then there was a generational change before the World Cup in China in 2019, where the USA again disappointed greatly and only became number seven, after all of the biggest NBA stars had refused to participate.
When asked what happened in China, Fjell answers:
– Actually much of the same as the challenges before the Olympics in Tokyo. In short, it is about the fact that the international resistance has improved, that stars do not necessarily mean success, but not least that Team USA consists more of individual stars than of a good team. Unlike many of the others in the championships, Team USA has little time to play together as a team. There are so many stars and it really depends on who says yes from time to time, that you can not put one team that plays together over time. The replacements are many.
Although several stars are missing for Team USA during the Tokyo Olympics, such as LeBron James, Steph Curry, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, James Harden and Anthony Davis, many of the players on the team that will defend the country’s honor have established themselves as big stars in NBA.
– It is difficult to say what kind of standing Team USA has for American players, because there are many who say no. Some were probably quite full after the Olympics in 2016, where they over a long period of time had shown that they were the best.
Have Team USA as favorites
But despite the weak results in the last two matches, both Friling and Fjell are clear on one thing: Team USA are still favorites.
– There is probably no opposing team that wants to beat other than Team USA. There is probably a lot of free motivation there for teams like Nigeria and Australia. And they play as a team, and that may be where Team USA’s big stars are lacking. Because there is no shortage of talent at Team USA. No team in the Olympics will be close to the player-by-player level. But so far it looks like many good individual players, rather than a good team with many good players who play each other even better, says Fjell and continues:
– But that is probably also why you play these training matches. It is still time for Americans to adjust and fix their problems. No one is better at it than Team USA’s coach Gregg Popovich. So when it really comes down to it, Team USA will probably be big favorites anyway. Then we will see if they live up to that favorite stamp, says Fjell.
Friling also has Team USA as favorites, and much of the reason for that is the teams that smoked out in the qualifiers.
– The most dangerous competitors smoked out in the qualifiers, which could certainly have been involved and matched Team USA. These are Lithuania, Serbia, Croatia, Greece, Brazil and Canada. Of the countries participating in the Olympics, France is getting scary. They have tough and experienced NBA players. Australia will be good, but Team USA are favorites in the Olympics. I do not want to hear about anything else!
Team USA is in a group with France, Iran and the Czech Republic. They meet France on 25 July at 14.00, Iran on 28 July at 06.40 and the Czech Republic on 31 July at 14.00.