July 24, 2012; Barcelona, SPAIN; USA guard Kobe Bryant (10) pulls down a rebound between Spain center Felipe Reyes (left) and forward Serge Ibaka (14) during the first half of an exhibition game in preparation for the 2012 London Olympic Games at Palau Sant Jordi. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE

Olympic Basketball 2012: Spain vs. China Preview

Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE

Spain comes into the 2012 London Olympics viewed as less of a threat to challenge the United States for the gold medal than they were four years ago.

In 2008, Spain was looked at as the team with the best shot to knock of the United States who were no longer unbeatable, winning bronze in the 2004 games. The U.S. Redeem Team would come out on top in the 2008 gold medal game beating Spain.

Spain played Team USA earlier this week in an exhibition game and lost 100-78. Spain treated the game as a friendly however and we can expect more competition from them in the Olympics.

Spain opens up the 2012 Olympic Basketball pool play against China today with the tip at 11:45 a.m. EST. Spain is considered the favorite in Pool B and is ranked 2nd in the world by FIBA. China is ranked 10th in the world but still not considered much of a threat against a team like Spain.

Spain brings an impressive cast to London in 2012 led of course by Pau Gasol. Pau will be joined by his brother Marc on the inside as well as Oklahoma City Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka.

Ibaka is able to play for Spain as their one naturalized player because although he was not born there, he became a citizen while playing in their professional league a few years back.

The inside is definitely the strength of this Spain team and the biggest thing that will give them an edge over the U.S. but they also have pretty good balance elsewhere.

In the backcourt they will start Jose Calderon at point guard who was fourth in the NBA last season in assists per game. Calderon will be joined by one of the all-time greats from the Euroleague, Juan Carlos Navarro.

A big loss for Spain in these Olympics is that they will not be playing with Ricky Rubio who suffered a torn ACL last season and is still rehabbing. Rubio first came onto the national scene back in 2008 in the Olympics for Spain when he was just 17 years old.

At the wing positions Spain is solid too led by Rudy Fernandez and Victor Claver. Fernandez has played in the NBA for the past few seasons and made a name for himself as a fearless shooter and scorer while Claver will join the Portland Trailblazers next season.

China meanwhile has much less NBA experience on their roster. They are led by Yi Jianlian who now plays for the Dallas Mavericks. Yi was a high lottery pick in the NBA once upon a time but has jumped from team to team in his short NBA career having a tough time finding a good fit.

Yi only played in 30 games for Dallas last season. His best season was in 2009-10 for New Jersey when he averaged 12.0 points and 7.2 rebounds per game for the Nets.

Yi doesn’t have a ton of help but NBA fans will recognize the starting center for China, Wang Zhizhi. Zhizhi is a stretch bit who played some in the NBA spending most of his time hoisting up threes.

Sun Yue will start in China’s backcourt and is one of their best guards. Yue played for the Los Angeles Lakers one season back in 2008-09 and won an NBA title with them but only played in 10 games.

China will be overmatched by Spain in just about every area on the floor. Spain is an experienced bunch confident that they can compete for a gold medal this year. China will not be a team capable of standing in their way.

Spain will be very concerned with winning every game in pool play and winning by as big of a margin as possible. They want the 1-seed so they can avoid the United States until a potential gold medal game.

In Pool B, Spain has a little competition in Brazil and Russia for the top seed. If somehow there is a 3-way tie at the top of the pool, winning margin becomes the tie-breaker so expect to see Spain going all out to win every game starting today against China.

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Tags: 2012 Olympics China Jose Calderon Juan Carlos Navarro Marc Gasol Pau Gasol Ricky Rubio Rudy Fernandez Serge Ibaka Spain USA Basketball Yi Jianlian

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