By Steve Keating
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – If living up to the adage, “if you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all,” was an Olympic event the United States men’s basketball team would be standing atop the Rio Games podium on Thursday.
Plenty of platitudes and praise were being handed out but no medals: those will be awarded on the final day of the Rio Olympics on Aug. 21 when U.S. players are expected, as they have at 14-of-17 Summer Games, to bring home the gold.
While this U.S. squad is more ‘B Team’ than ‘Dream Team’ with many top players, including four-time National Basketball Association most valuable player LeBron James and twice reigning MVP Stephen Curry, opting out, they remain the heavy favorites.
If there was any thought the U.S. might be ripe for an upset in Rio, Team USA removed a good amount of that doubt with a dominating run-in to the Games that saw them thrash China, their opening night opponents, by 50 and 49 points in tune-up games.
Asked what he expected from China on Saturday, Kevin Durant, the 2014 NBA MVP, searched for a moment for something positive to say before settling on the well-worn but trusty cliche: ‘they made us work’.
“They played their tails off against us and made us better,” offered Durant in the sincerest tone he could muster. “We won by a lot of points but they made us better.
“I know it is going to be different here. This is the real thing, these guys want to beat us, everybody wants to beat us and we don’t to be that team to have someone beat us.”
Despite Durant’s best attempts to inject some suspense into Saturday’s contest, the truth is the outcome is unlikely to be any different.
Losses have been rare on Olympic hardwood for the U.S. who boast an all-time record of 130-5 in Games competition and will be expected to add to that win column as they chase a third straight gold.
But at a packed news conference on Thursday, Team USA players and coaching staff did their best to convince hundreds of media that danger lurked everywhere up and down the draw.
“We want to win, we want to send a message to the rest of the world we are here on business,” said Carmelo Anthony, a four-time Olympian in basketball. “We are focused on winning and that’s what we care about.
“We don’t want to let anything come in between that.”
(Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)