August 11, 2012 / 6:00 PM / in 5 years

Basketball: Spain looms as toughest test for U.S.

Carmelo Anthony of the U.S. celebrates after a made three-point basket against Argentina during their men's basketball semifinal match at the North Greenwich Arena during the London 2012 Olympic Games August 10, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Segar

LONDON (Reuters) - The U.S. men’s basketball team expect their toughest test in what could be a match-up nightmare for the reigning champions when they face Spain on Sunday in a replay of their 2008 Games final.

It promises a contrast of size versus speed, with a close-knit team of brothers on the two-times running European champions from Spain going against a fast-bonding group of NBA All-Stars representing the United States.

Led by LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant, the U.S. men have won their first seven games by an average of nearly 36 points, but they know the quality of a Spanish team that took them to the wire before falling 118-107 in Beijing.

“It’s a Game Seven,” Durant said, likening the gold medal clash to a climactic end of a best-of-seven NBA championship.

“It’s going to be tough. We all know what’s on the line. Spain is going to be a tough opponent. They’re going to come out and give us their best shot. We got our work cut out for us.”

Spain’s strength, their towering trio of big men in Pau Gasol and his brother Marc Gasol along with Serge Ibaka, in direct counter-point to a U.S. team short on tall players to clog up the middle.

“It’s going to be a battle of wills,” said Marc Gasol, a center on the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies.

U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said after their victory over Argentina in the semi-finals that he was well familiar with Spain’s strengths.

“I do know they have one of the top five players in the world on their team in Pau Gasol,” Krzyzewski said, adding that the Los Angeles Lakers’ All-Star got a large helping of additional support under the basket from his brother Marc, Oklahoma City Thunder’s Serge Ibaka and Felipe Reyes.

”Those four guys really give them the best rotation of big guys in the tournament. They have a deep bench. When (guard Sergio) Lull comes off the bench he’s dynamite. He’s such a fiery good player.

“They’re a team that definitely can beat us. We respect them, and we’ll prepare really hard and hopefully have a great game against them.”

Krzyzewski said Spain’s size and experience, having played together as a team for most of a decade, were their biggest assets.

Pau Gasol said the Spanish team were like family.

“We’re just a group of guys that love to play basketball. We respect each other, we have fun together. Most of the time, we’re just friends, hanging out. It just happens that we play basketball,” he said.

“We have been through a lot, with many championships. It’s something that we don’t take for granted. And one day we’re going to look back and we’re going to say we did some amazing things in our life.”

Durant said the U.S. team, full of explosive scorers including LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Melo Anthony, had come together.

”LeBron, myself, Melo and Kobe, we’re not averaging what we average with our teams,“ three-time NBA scoring champion Durant said. ”Guys are sacrificing their shots and minutes for the betterment of the team.

“We’ve been passing the ball very, very well. Nobody has an ego. You’re not seeing anybody come to the bench mad because they didn’t get a shot. Whoever shoots the ball, if it goes in we’re going to clap for him and get back on defense. I think we’re a really tight team.”

Pau Gasol said he and his team mates understood how difficult it would be to defeat the Americans but said they all appreciated getting another chance at winning the gold.

“It’s a huge opportunity,” said Gasol, who has won two NBA titles with the Lakers. “Very few people get a chance to compete in an Olympic final in their career. We are so fortunate that we have our second chance.”

Editing by Jason Neely

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