The United States men's basketball team looked nothing like the Dream Team as Puerto Rico pounded them, 92-73, in Sunday's preliminary round game. This was the third ever loss for the American men in Olympic basketball competition. However, the American team bounced back to beat host country Greece in their second preliminary round match.
The Americans still hope to win the country's fourth consecutive gold medal since professional basketball players began playing at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. However, the road to gold will not be easy as Puerto Rico showed the international competition has improved.
Coming into Sunday's game, the United States had beaten Puerto Rico five times since last July. But the Americans were 3-24 from the three-point range during the game which did not help their cause.
Guard Dwayne Wade is confident that the team will bounce back in their remaining games.
"We really don't think about the pressure that everyone has outside of us," he said. "We know that we're a young team learning how to play together and we still got a lot of basketball left to play even though we lost for the first time, but I don't think we really worry about it. We just worry about getting better everyday."
Head coach Larry Brown said he was not humiliated by the score, but rather because his players did not play as a team, something they have been struggling since the team was put together.
Coming into Athens, the Americans won five of six games on their pre-Olympic tour. After losing the first game to Italy, the margin of victory was slim with just one win by more than 20 points.
Brown, 63, said the international players are very committed to their national teams and spend more time playing together than the Americans, which has helped narrow the talent gap between the U.S. and the rest of the world.
"We've become a global sport," he noted. "We've got kids from Asia and South America and Europe and Africa playing in our league and making an unbelievable contribution. And you can tell now through each of the previous Olympics that teams are getting better."
Team captain Allen Iverson knows the Americans will face more tough competition in the tournament, but said they will succeed if they play as a team, something they did not do against Puerto Rico.
"We understand that a lot of things are going to go against us and we got to know that going into the game, we got to understand that we are going to get some bad breaks, things are not going to go our way a lot of times, but if we stick together and play defense, we got a chance to win basketball game," Iverson said.
While all 12 members of the Olympic team have either high school or college experience and are currently playing in the National Basketball Association, they will all be making their Olympic debut.
Iverson is joined by fellow guards LeBron James, Stephon Marbury and Dwayne Wade, forwards Carmelo Anthony, Carlos Boozer, Richard Jefferson, Shawn Marion, Lamar Odom, Emeka Okafor and Amaré Stoudemire and center Tim Duncan.
In the 1992 Barcelona games, the inaugural edition of the Dream Team dominated the Olympic tournament winning all eight games on their way to gold. In Atlanta, the Americans again dominated, winning their second consecutive gold medal.
At the 2000 Olympics, the Americans won all eight games on their way to the gold medal, but struggled beating Lithuania in a preliminary game by only nine points.
Since Sydney, the American men have been far from dominating. At the 2002 World Championships in Indianapolis, Indiana, they won six games and lost three finishing sixth. They also finished fourth at the 2003 Pan American Games in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
The Americans still have a shot for the gold medal as the top four teams from each of the two groups advance to the quarterfinal round. The United States has three round-robin games left against Australia, Angola, and 2000 Olympic bronze medalist Lithuania.