BARCELONA (Olympics) - The United States flexed their muscle in Manchester, England, on Thursday night when beating Olympic hosts Great Britain, 118-78.
After having to grind out an 80-69 win over Brazil in Washington, D.C., earlier in the week, the Americans travelled to the United Kingdom and played like the team that most expect to win the gold medal in London.
More experienced foes are next on the agenda for Mike Krzyzewski’s USA team.
In Barcelona’s famous Palau Sant Jordi, where the United States Dream Team took the world by storm 20 years ago, the Americans will go up against Argentina on Saturday and Spain on Tuesday.
“It seems like each game the competition progresses a little bit more,” said USA point guard Chris Paul, a gold-medal winner in 2008 in Beijing.
“We’ve had three great games so far, but we have to keep getting better because we know when we get there and play against Argentina and Spain, they’re going to be great games.”
The USA also beat the Dominican Republic in Las Vegas last week.
Argentina, the No 3 side in the FIBA Rankings behind Team USA and Spain, won silver at the 2002 FIBA World Championship and then gold at the 2004 Olympics.
They claimed bronze four years ago in Beijing.
Many of the players are still in the team like NBA stars Manu Ginobili, Andres Nocioni, Luis Scola and Carlos Delfino.
There are less celebrated players, too, who on their day can be very dangerous against any team at the Olympics.
One of them is sharpshooter Leo Gutierrez, arguably the best shooter to ever play in Argentina’s Liga Nacional.
His philosophy about the Olympics?
“We want to keep winning things,” he said.
“We don’t look at what we’ve accomplished.
“That's what this team is like. And the new guys feel that too.
“Argentina is great because everyone gives something to keep winning.”
Argentina, who captured the gold medal at last year’s FIBA Americas Championship in Mar del Plata, also have Pablo Prigioni.
Regarded as one of the best point guards in international basketball for a long time, there will be plenty of interest across the Atlantic in his performance against the Americans.
Prigioni just signed a one-year contract with the New York Knicks at the age of 35.
Spain, who are No. 2 in the FIBA Rankings behind the United States, are a team the Americans know well.
Team USA beat the Spanish in the gold medal game in Beijing, 118-111.
They know Spain, also, because like Argentina, they have a huge presence in the NBA.
The Gasols, Pau and Marc, are two of the biggest stars in the league.
While Pau is a teammate of Kobe Bryant’s with the Los Angeles Lakers, Spain’s Serge Ibaka plays alongside Team USA’s Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City.
Rudy Fernandez, Juan Carlos Navarro, the EuroBasket 2011 MVP and Jose Calderon have either played or still compete in the NBA.
The most exciting Spanish player in recent times is Ricky Rubio of the Minnesota Timberwolves but a serious knee injury prevented him from playing this summer.
“They are a great team,” Team USA’s LeBron James said.
“They’ve been together for a long time.
“They have a great chemistry, and they have great inside-outside depth and we look forward to playing against them.”
Bryant is keen to stress that the Americans do not have a perfect, unbeatable team.
“I mean, we definitely have weaknesses that teams can take advantage of, and I think this trip to Barcelona is going to be very big for us because you are playing Argentina and Spain,” Bryant said.
“So, we’ll get a good look at that.”
Brazil could end up being the best team the Americans will face in the build-up.
In 2010, they nearly beat the USA, falling by just two points in the Preliminary Round in Istanbul.
Brazil were within striking distance at the very end against the USA in Washington earlier this week.
“Well, we had a big test against Brazil, a team that has big guys (Tiago Splitter, Nene and Anderson Varejao),” Carmelo Anthony said.
“Argentina will definitely be another test for us.
“Then of course everybody wants to see the Spain match-up, so we’re getting prepared for that.”
There is one certainty about the games coming up in Barcelona.
The crowd will be buzzing, just as it was on Thursday night in Manchester.
"What a great atmosphere," USA coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the win over the Brits.
"Thank you people of Great Britain for providing such a great crowd.
"We felt very welcome in this amazing environment, really, to play in.
“I’m glad to see that basketball evokes that type of enthusiasm in Great Britain.
“Now we’ll see if we can do well against Argentina and Spain in the exhibitions.”
As for the next opponents, Coach K said: “They’re so many good teams. We respect every team.
“There is a common thing like people say a wake-up call. We are awake.
“We’ve never been asleep. And if we play poorly at times, it’s not that we’re not ready, it’s just that the other team is that good.”