TORONTO (Reuters) - Team USA will be without many star players in Rio due mainly to concerns over Zika and injuries, but such is the depth of the country’s basketball talent that they are expected to cruise to a third consecutive gold medal.
The lengthy list of American players opting to skip the Aug. 5-21 Rio Summer Games for one reason or another is a who’s who of the basketball world and includes such titans like LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook.
But while the Rio-bound men’s roster may not match up with the U.S. “Dream Team” from the 1992 Games that included 11 future Hall of Fame players, they possess everything needed to reach the top of podium again without much of a challenge.
The field of 12 for the men’s tournament has been set and the United States, powered by Olympic gold medalists Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony, are in Group A along with France, Venezuela, Serbia, China and Australia.
While that may present a tougher set of group games for Team USA compared to most years, they still appear too deep to be upset by perennial contender France, led by Tony Parker, or pesky Australia, powered by Andrew Bogut.
Spain, runners-up at the last two Olympics, are expected to dominate Group B play and perhaps represent the toughest challenger for the United States, a team they have pushed on several occasions.
But the current squad does not appear as dominant given a decline in form of 36-year-old power forward Pau Gasol and the absence of his younger brother Marc, 31, who was unable to recover from a broken foot in time.
That could open the door in Group B for Croatia and Lithuania.
In the women’s competition, the U.S. team will look to cap a two-decade run of domination by seeking a sixth consecutive Olympic gold medal.
Since settling for bronze at the 1992 Barcelona Games, the Americans have gone on a 41-game winning streak and own the longest gold medal streak in any women’s Olympic team sport.
The United States have won seven of the 10 gold medals in women’s basketball at the Olympics — the other three were won by the Soviet Union/Unified Team — and will be powered in Rio by four-times Olympic gold medalists Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird and Tamika Catchings.
Editing by Nick Mulvenney