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US, Greece Face Off in Olympic Men's Basketball - 2004-08-17

The U.S. men's Olympic basketball team will try to bounce back from an upset loss in their opening group match against Puerto Rico with a match-up against host Greece.

U.S. basketball fans are going to have to get used to the idea that their Olympic team is no longer invincible. That was made clear before this tournament began when the team suffered a lopsided loss to Italy in an Olympic warm-up match.

But virtually no one expected the kind of performance the U.S. men put on in their opening group match here against Puerto Rico. They made only 11 of 35 shots from the field and were thoroughly outplayed, 92-73. It's true this so-called Dream Team is nothing like the one that first got that nickname when NBA players were allowed into the Olympics in1992. That Barcelona squad featured the likes of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.

But even without current NBA stars Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady and Jason Kidd, this Olympic team still has some pretty good players, like two-time league Most Valuable Player Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson and rookie of the year Labron James.

Each basketball team plays five games in the first round, and the U.S. men will try to get in the win column against host Greece, which opened with a 22-point win over Australia (76-54).

Kosnos Vernikos is a passionate Greek basketball fan and he spoke with VOA Sports about the match-up.

"Tonight it will be a strong game, of course," he said. "According to our opinion, the United States team is the favorite for the game. We are awaiting a great performance from the Greek team, because if you have a strong opponent you can play better, and it will be a great game for all fans of basketball in the world."

Vernikos added that he still believes the American men are the favorite for the gold medal.

"We don't' think this is the real person [character] of the United States basketball team," he said. "We think that day by day they will be better, because they know to be better they must play as a team, because the first game they played individually, not like a team. And I think every day they will become better, of course. Their abilities are strong, and they are the first option for the gold medal in the Olympic games in Athens."

The Olympic teams play five group games, with the top four teams in each of the six-team groups reaching the knockout quarterfinals. Certainly the Americans will have to defeat Greece to prove they have a realistic shot of defending their gold medal.

The other teams in Group B which the U.S. team will face are Lithuania, Angola and Australia.