The U.S. and Spain played a pair of classics in the last two Olympic gold-medal games — the Americans winning both — and fans would love to see them meet again in the FIBA World Cup of Basketball.
That could only happen if they both reach the Sept. 14 championship game in Madrid, as the world’s No. 1 and No. 2 teams are on opposite sides of the bracket for the 24-team tournament.
There is plenty of good action in the meantime. Play begins Saturday at four sites throughout Spain and the Canary Islands, with four teams from each site advancing to the single-elimination round that begins Sept. 6.
Count the defending champions among those who will be following the games.
“I don’t know how much we’ll actually get to watch, but definitely keep up with how the pools are playing out,” U.S. guard Stephen Curry said. “Not going to look ahead to who we might play until the end of pool play, but we know there are some big games. Brazil and Spain play against each other, who else, France I think, so there’s some big teams playing against each other.”
Here are some of the games to watch in the group stage:
SPAIN VS. FRANCE, GROUP A. The European rivals meet Sept. 3 in Granada. San Antonio Spurs star Tony Parker is taking the summer off after leading France to last year’s European championship, which ended Spain’s quest for a three-peat. Their dislike was apparent when they met in the 2012 Olympic quarterfinals, with Nicolas Batum winding up and slamming his arm into Juan Carlos Navarro, hitting him in the groin, in the final seconds of Spain’s victory.
TURKEY VS. U.S., GROUP C. Their Aug. 31 meeting in Bilbao on the second day of action is probably the toughest game the Americans will get in pool play, a chance for their big men to test themselves against New Orleans Pelicans center Omer Asik and the tall Turks. It’s also a rematch of the 2010 championship game, which the Americans won 81-64 in Istanbul to claim their first world title since 1994.
AUSTRALIA VS. SLOVENIA, GROUP D. The opening day of action in the Canary Islands gives incoming rookie Dante Exum of Australia an early look at what life is like for an NBA point guard. The No. 5 overall pick of the Utah Jazz will match up against the Phoenix Suns’ Goran Dragic, a third-team All-NBA selection last season who won’t care who is defending him after getting held to six points by the aggressive U.S. defense in the Slovenians’ 101-71 loss in their final exhibition game on the same court they will play on Saturday.
PUERTO RICO VS. ARGENTINA, GROUP B. The rivals from the Americas region meet Saturday in their opener in Seville, which could quickly provide an answer as to how good the Argentines can still be without the injured Manu Ginobili. Puerto Rico has an experienced backcourt with Carlos Arroyo and J.J. Barea, and trailed the U.S. by just five points at halftime of an exhibition game in New York.
BRAZIL VS. SPAIN, GROUP A. Spain’s Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka against the Brazilian trio of Nene, Tiago Splitter and Anderson Varejao in a battle of NBA big bodies. The Sept. 1 game comes a day before the day off in Granada, and these bruisers will surely need it after banging each other around for 40 minutes.
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