BEIJING It may not deserve top billing in the minds of many Beijing Olympics basketball fans, but you can bet Thursday's United States-Greece pairing in Group B pool play has the attention of the American players.
That's because Greece is the only team to have beaten the United States since USA Basketball revamped its selection process and secured long-term commitments and involvement from top NBA stars after the bronze-medal fiasco at the 2004 Athens Games.
After two dates of preliminary pool play, the United States and Spain share top spot in Group B with 2-0 records, while Greece is 1-1, having lost to Spain but beaten Germany.
The Greek upset over the United States came in the 2006 World Championships semifinals in Japan, with current Olympians Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade playing on the U.S. squad, also coached by Mike Krzyzewski.
"Greece was really good," recalled Krzyzewski after the United States' practice Wednesday. "In that loss, we were horrible from the free-throw line. We missed at least four dunks. And we missed many wide-open shots. And we still scored 96 points.
"Sometimes your offense can save you when your defense isn't playing well," he added. "On that day, there was no savior."
The loss cost the United States a shot at the gold medal, and Anthony has said he's had Thursday's date with Greece long since circled on his calendar.
"We missed a ton of free throws, and we couldn't adjust to their pick-and-roll game," Anthony said.
The Americans expect more of the same tactics.
"From here on out, we're going to see a lot of pick and roll," said guard Jason Kidd. "You look at Greece two years ago, and they ran it 42 times. We'll have to communicate and make guys aware of where the pick is coming from."
Deron Williams said the American backcourt contingent is up to facing Greece's strong guards.
"I feel we have some pretty good guards as well," he said. "Hopefully, our guards will cancel them out. We plan to pressure them. They're not as deep as us or the guard line. We'll do the same thing that we've been doing and sub in and out frequently, keep the pressure up and try to force turnovers."
Greece guard Vasileios Spanoulis isn't one to live in the past and relish glories gone by. "This is a different game," he said. "The win is in the past. The USA has a team that is better and is focused better."
However, the Greeks aren't awestruck of the athletic Americans."It will be a great game," said Spanoulis. "We respect them, but we are not afraid of them. The key for us is not to have bad moments. We have to be more balanced in the game and have some rhythm."
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