Spain's basketball team began its warm-up process for the London Olympics with considerable punch on Monday night. Pau Gasol opened and closed the scoring in a 78-74 victory over Great Britain in Valladolid.
Led by Chicago Bulls small forward Luol Deng and boasting such past and present Spain-based stars as Joel Freeland, Daniel Clark and Pops Mensah-Bonsu in its line-up, the Olympic host arrived at the friendly encounter with more training and preparation games under its belt. However, it succumbed to the superior resources of the Spanish squad, headed by Pau and Marc Gasol. The brothers hogged the scoring with 16 points each and shined in a team loaded with talent.
Sergio Scariolo's squad was due to continue its pre-London warm-up against France in Madrid on Tuesday night in the second stop of a tour that will see it travel 3,420 kilometers in a week. Its eighth and final warm-up game will be against the US in Barcelona on July 24.
Spain is looking to go one better than the silver it won at the Beijing Olympics four years ago when it lost 118-107 to the US team in a high-scoring, neck and neck final.
"In fact, Spain should have won four years ago, in the final of the 2008 Games," ex-NBA center and double US Olympic gold medalist Charles Barkley recently told EL PAÍS.
"Spain is a legitimate candidate for the gold medal. Honestly, I think it is the only team that has a chance of beating us. I mean it. Spain is the only team that worries me. The other teams are simply good..."
Spain will certainly be fancying its chances. The US 2012 Olympic team has been hit by a spate of injuries to many of its initial squad of 20 players: Dwyane Wade of NBA champion Miami Heat, Eric Gordon (New Orleans Hornets), Rudy Gay (Memphis Grizzlies) and Anthony Davis (New Orleans Hornets) have recently joined an injury list that already included Dwight Howard (Orlando Magic), LaMarcus Aldridge (Portland Trail Blazers), Chauncey Billups (LA Clippers), and Derrick Rose (Chicago Bulls). LeBron James and Kobe Bryant head the squad of 12 to make the trip to London that includes five players who won gold in Beijing and four who won the 2010 World Championship.
Spain, current European champion, opens its Olympic campaign against China on July 29 in a group that also includes Australia, Brazil, Russia and Britain.