Charles Krupa, File, Associated Press
LONDON — The Americans say they are better than they were four years ago. So do the stats.
But they might not be the only ones.
In the rematch of the gold-medal game that produced a classic at the Beijing Olympics, the U.S. will square off against the Spaniards again.
"Spain is a better team than '08," LeBron James said. "We understand that they're a better team, so it's going to be a good game. So we look forward to it."
Who wouldn't, given the Olympic classic they staged in Beijing.
The U.S. completed its climb back to the top of international basketball with a 118-107 victory, pulling away after Spain was within four points in the final 2½ minutes. The game was 40 end-to-end minutes of all offense, all the time, and the Americans could be even more potent now.
They are averaging 116.7 points — just slightly off the Dream Team's record of 117.3 per game — and set the Olympic record with 156 in an 83-point victory over Nigeria. They are averaging 10 points more than the '08 squad and winning by eight more points per game, and with James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony, the U.S. has enough hot hands to occupy an octopus.
"We obviously have a lot of talent. Our team here is pretty ridiculous," Bryant said.
The rematch between the world's No. 1 and No. 2 teams was widely expected coming into the games, but Spain hasn't always looked up to the challenge in London.
The Spaniards lost twice in the preliminary round, then faced an 11-point halftime deficit against Russia in the semifinals after managing just 20 points — which is about seven minutes worth of work for the Americans.
Spain rallied for a 67-59 victory, saying afterward how rewarding it was just to get to the gold-medal game while facing a number of injuries. And as the players hugged members of the Spanish royal family, then talked about the difficult circumstances they've overcome, they had the appearance of a team whose work was done, more ready for a vacation than another game within 48 hours.
"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."
Nor is Durant.
"They're probably fooling you guys," he said. "They're a really, really good team. They play hard, they're a tough team, competitive, so it's not going to be a walk in the park for us."
Spain brings size the U.S. can't match, with brothers Pau and Marc Gasol, and Oklahoma City forward Serge Ibaka, who has played professionally in the Spanish leagues and became a Spanish national last year. The Americans will be forced to have James or Anthony defend Marc Gasol, who was an NBA All-Star this year and is much more of a threat than he was in Beijing.
"If I have to defend him, I have to keep him off the glass, rebound," James said. "There's also two sides of the court. If I'm guarding him, he's got to guard me."
Good luck with that, Marc.
James can cap off one of basketball's greatest individual seasons with a second gold medal and join Michael Jordan as the only players to win the NBA regular-season MVP, NBA Finals MVP, NBA title and Olympic title in the same year.
Jordan did it in 1992, when the Dream Team toyed with opponents who weren't ready to play basketball at the highest level yet. Things have changed now, yet the victory margins really haven't, the U.S. still clobbering teams who are much better than the caliber of competition guys like Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird faced.
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