USA steamrolls Spain in Olympics tuneup: Did Spain tank on purpose?

The US men's basketball team dismantled Spain – supposedly its biggest challenger in London – 100-78 Tuesday in Barcelona. But Spain might still have something up its sleeve.  

Manu Fernandez/AP
Carmelo Anthony of the US Olympic basketball team (c.) dives for the ball against Serge Ibaka (l.) and Pau Gasol of Spain during an exhibition match between Spain and the United States Tuesday in Barcelona, Spain, in preparation for the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Did the Team USA just announce itself as the prohibitive favorites heading into the London Olympics, or was Spain playing possum?

We'll probably have to wait until a potential matchup in the final to find out. And that could be just the way the Spanish like it. 

Based on the evidence from Tuesday's 100-78 thrashing in Barcelona, the Spanish threat to America's gold-medal defense in men's basketball would appear to be something along the lines of a pop gun arrayed against an armored tank unit (LeBron James, of course, being the tank). Then again, all the evidence is that we don't have all the evidence.

Before the game, there were noises that Spain was not going to try to win. American Kobe Bryant barked that Spain would be mad not to take this game on the 20th anniversary of the Dream Team's gold-medal run in Barcelona seriously.

"They're at home, man. They have to play us [hard]. You think they can just come out and lose in front of their own fans?"

The answer to that question, it appears, is "yes." Emphatically. 

It may transpire that the US is better than Spain. Perhaps significantly better. It is hard to imagine, however, that it is 22 points better – in other words, that Spain is go-back-to-Barcelona-with-your-tail-between-your-legs worse. 

Which brings us back to the question of whether Spain pulled its punches. 

By not playing Marc Gasol, who is nursing a minor injury, it certainly pulled at least one.

And it's not inconceivable that there were more.

In truth, what advantage would Spain gain in actually winning this game? There is little doubt that the US is the better team. With its size, Spain can cause the USA problems, but they are not problems without solutions for the American team. The US, meanwhile asks questions that other teams cannot consistently answer.

For instance, who guards James, much less the rest of the US backcourt? 

How do you counter the speed and athleticism of the US defense?

To win Tuesday's game would mean answering these questions, and to answer these questions would be to provide the blueprint for beating the US – and to allow the US coaches and players 2-1/2 weeks of planning to counter it. 

Spain's Pau Gasol hinted at this before the game, saying of Bryant, his teammate on the Los Angeles Lakers: "I'd like to maybe let him win tomorrow and maybe beat him in London. That would be ideal."

The fact is, Spain probably has only a puncher's chance of beating the US  In London.

It is no wonder, then, that perhaps it did not throw that punch in Barcelona. 

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