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LeBron James and Team USA Basketball began the defense of their gold medal on Sunday with a win over Tony Parker and Team France. James made 8 assists in a 98-71 win.
For Team USA the Olympics are a chance to not only win another gold, but put themselves firmly alongside the 1992 Dream Team of Jordan, Bird, and Magic in the conversation for best team of all time.
James inserted himself in the great unsolvable debate this week, backing up Team USA teammate Kobe Bryant in saying the current Olympic squad could top the Dream Team. "The ’92 Dream Team paved the way for all of us," he said.
"We understand what they did for our game, but we also are big-time competitors as well, so if we got the opportunity to play them in a game we feel like we would win, too."
But before battling the past, Team USA must get through present. Their first game was against a tough French squad. France has the more current NBAers on its roster than any other team besides the US, led by San Antonio point guard Tony Parker and former Heat center Ronny Turiaf.
James was without his Miami Heat teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, both of whom are rehabbing injuries this summer. But when the Olympic team also includes the likes of Bryant, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, and Carmelo Anthony, it is not that tough to make up for the loss of Wade and Bosh.
In their final pre-Olympic tune-up, Team USA bested Spain 100-78 in Barcelona, with James scoring 25 points and Anthony adding 27 points off the bench.
"We got better. We got better and at the end of the day that's what it's all about," James said of the pre-Olympic schedule. "We've got to continue to improve and it was a good test."
Team USA will also face Tunisia, Nigeria, Lithuania and Argentina before the knockout rounds commence on August 8. They will likely be favored in each game, and anything less than a 5-0 record in the round-robin stage will seem like a disappointment.
In fact the biggest test for Team USA will not involve James as much as its somewhat maligned big men. With Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin at home because of injuries, Tyson Chandler, Kevin Love, and NBA rookie Anthony Davis will shoulder the load at the center position.
According to NBA.com, Team USA played markedly better in exhibition play when one of those three were on the floor. The center position may be becoming obsolete in the NBA (the Heat were able to win a title with Bosh - a power forward - playing center in the Finals), but in international play, the center remains a focal point.
If James and Team USA want to be placed alongside the Dream Team in the annals of basketball history, they will need to win an win big. The competition has improved markedly since 1992, when the Dream Team won its games by an average of 44 points. But if USA can breeze to a gold against its competition, it will certainly be in the conversation for years to come.