The thing is new. For the first time, the best player (or MVP, for most valuable player) of the NBA, the flagship North American basketball championship, will face the US national team. In other words, at the World Cup currently underway in China, the one that can be likened to the best player in the world is not in the US team, yet accustomed to dominate the basketball world. In this case, this MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, is Greek. And, facing him and his team, the United States expect to suffer, Saturday, September 7 (14:30 Paris time) for the first game of the second round of the competition.
"He will come to kill us. Without a doubt. He's going to try to pull our heads off, and I'm not expecting anything else. ", warned US pivot Brook Lopez, the club's team mate dubbed the "Greek Freak" on the NBA's floors.
The distant heirs of the 1992 Dream Team know the lanky Greek winger, and are wary of a player determined to prove to the world that he deserves his title of best player in the NBA by defeating the team from this league.
Especially since this team is not at best. Because before facing the Greeks, the American team did not go far from the precipice in the first round. Faced with Turkey, the men of Gregg Popovich miraculously drew from a more than badly embarked situation.
Led by one point within twenty seconds of the end of extra time, they saw their opponents miss four free throws in a row, before reversing the trend on one last action. A warning at no cost to the United States, but a signal for other nations: if it remains favorite on paper, this team seems affordable.
Defeat in preparation for the United States
It seems a long time ago when cohorts of All-Stars came knocking the world out at major international competitions. Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis … the list of absentees has swelled over the summer to end, at the beginning of the World Cup, a recurring question in the American press: is it the weakest squad ever sent to a World Cup by the United States since the NBA allowed its players to participate?
Apart from Kemba Walker and Khris Middleton, the group's only All-Stars, the team is made up of young players with high potential, but in full development. In preparation for the World Cup, Gregg Popovich's players lost to Australia, the first American loss since the 2006 World Cup – it was a defeat against … Greece. What start the competition without certainty.
In addition to an absolutely crazy transfer market having redrawn, in just over a week, the face of the North American League at the end of June, an explanation in this multiplication of absences lies in the domino effect. As the stars threw in the towel, their colleagues were less and less inclined to come.
"I guess the other guys saw it like this:" Why would I potentially want to embody what might be a losing team? ", analyzed the Blazers back, C. J. McCollum – who had announced his absence well before – in early August on ESPN.
While Serbia impressed since entering the World Cup, the United States must, against a back to the wall (a defeat eliminate the teammates of Giannis Antetokounmpo), raise their level of play. But they remain favorites for to succeed to themselves.
"They get wanked after wanking international teams. Why would they be so determined to come?explained Frenchman Evan Fournier before the World Cup. As long as we do not type them … "
For him, as for the majority of participants in the World Cup, only a defeat will bring down the United States of their pedestal. And could motivate their big stars to get involved in the national team.
In 2010, the United States also arrived in a disorganized World Cup, and did not go far, in the group stage against Brazil, to bow (two-point victory). A booster shot for them, which had borne fruit: in the wake of a Kevin Durant revealed leader, the Americans had completed the competition with a beating, winning the title after large wins (+ 37, + 35, + 55 , + 10, + 15 and + 17).
Gregg Popovich's men know this story. The Greeks – and the French, who could cross the world champions from the quarterfinals – are warned.
"This is of course a motivationassured lead Kemba Walker before the competition. We have a group of guys who make fun of being outsiders. No matter who thinks we are the worst team in history, we take it. And that's definitely what motivates us. "
- Follow the live event, on Dailymotion, starting at 2:30 pm (below)