The US men's basketball team goes for its second straight Olympic gold medal Sunday, with a rematch of the 2008 gold medal game against Spain. LeBron James and Team USA have made a strong case that the current team is as good or better than the fabled 1992 Dream Team, and they have a chance to punctuate their case with a win over their top rival in international play.
"I thought we had the potential to be really good, better than the '08 team, but the '08 team brought home gold, so we've got some unfinished business still left," James said Saturday.
In Beijing in 2008, the US beat Spain 118-107 to capture the gold in a close game. Spain pulled within 4 points with 2 and a half minutes to go, but the Americans put the game away with their explosive offense, which has only gotten better in London this month.
They are averaging 116.7 points a game, just below the '92 team's record of 117.3 per game. The Americans' average margin of victory in 2012 is 8 points above their margin in 2008. Though original Dream Teamers Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley maintain the '92 team is better, this year's squad is winning against much stronger competition than what Team USA faced two decades ago. A record 29 NBA non-American players at the 2012 Olympics are currently on NBA rosters, including 5 for Spain.
Pau and Marc Gasol, along with Serge Ibaka and Jose Calderon, lead a Spanish team many expected to meet the US in the gold medal game before the games began. But Spain has not had as easy a run to the final game as the US, losing twice in pool play, then falling behind Russia in the semifinals by 11 points.
The Americans do not think Spain is as weak as others have claimed this Olympics. "I'm not buying that," James said. "It's the same story you hear from Boston every year. They're hurt, they're old, not going to be able to compete, and then next thing you know finals come around, Eastern Conference finals, and they're right there. So I'm not buying that."
Spain's size will challenge the US, but in James, Kevin Durant, and Kobe Bryant, the Americans have arguably the three best players on the planet in its starting lineup. "We obviously have a lot of talent. Our team here is pretty ridiculous," Bryant said.
James recorded a triple-double in the quarterfinals against Australia, then scored 18 points with 7 rebounds and 7 assists against Argentina in the semifinals. Win Sunday, and the Heat superstar can do something only Michael Jordan has done (in both 1992 and 1996), win an NBA MVP, NBA title, NBA Finals MVP, and an Olympic Gold.
Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski told the AP that this will be his last Olympics, and it could be James' as well. "We won't take this opportunity for granted," James said after the US defeated Argentina in the semifinals. "We look forward to the challenge on Sunday."