RIO DE JANEIRO — Count Brazilian legend Oscar Schmidt among those eager to see the United States and Spain reunite in Olympic basketball one round earlier than normal.
In a rematch of the last two gold-medal games, Team USA (6-0) meets Spain (4-2) in Friday’s semifinals at 2:45 p.m. ET at the Carioca Arena 1.
“The United States should win,” said Schmidt, who ranks as the all-time leading scoring in men’s Olympic basketball and works now as a TV broadcaster.
“But Spain can win.”
Much will depend on the health of Spanish center Pau Gasol, who, at 36, remains his country’s most important player at both ends. Coach Sergio Scariolo told Spanish reporters Thursday that, because of a lingering calf injury, Gasol’s participation in the game can’t be guaranteed.
The Americans, of course, are convinced they’ll see Gasol in uniform anchoring both Spain’s offense and defense, especially since his brother, Marc Gasol, couldn’t join the national team this summer thanks to his ongoing recovery from foot surgery.
Yet even with Spain fielding only one Gasol, no one will have to convince Team USA that Schmidt is right about the threat posed by the Spaniards. Coach Mike Krzyzewski knows it better than anyone after Team USA narrowly defeated Spain in the last two Olympic title games in Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012.
The Americans achieved those victories by just 11 (118-107) and seven points (107-100), respectively, then dodged a highly anticipated showdown with the Spaniards on Spanish soil — with a weakened U.S. roster — at the 2014 FIBA World Cup when the host country was stunningly ousted in the quarterfinals by France.
“We know who they are,” Krzyzewski says.
“Spain is playing with — they should and they usually do — a great deal of confidence.”
The Spaniards have won their last four games in Rio by an average margin of 25.8 points, dramatically reversing their fortunes after going 0-2 to start pool play with losses to Croatia and the hosts Brazil. To reach the semifinals, Spain pounded France by 25 points in Wednesday’s quarterfinals.
Every single player on the 12-man Spanish roster except Felipe Reyes either currently plays in the NBA, has NBA experience or, at the very least, has been drafted by an NBA team. It’s a highly motivated group as well, thanks to many critics who wrote Spain off as too old to threaten Team USA entering the tournament.
“They were wrong,” Spain guard Ricky Rubio of the Minnesota Timberwolves said of the critics.
Said Spanish teammate Jose Calderon, who has been traded twice since the 2015-16 NBA season ended and will soon join the Los Angeles Lakers: “I think this generation was [written off] eight years ago. And we’re still here.
“We know each other. We know when to support, when to yell to a teammate, when to say the right things. I think that helps us. … I think that’s why we’re better than some teams. Just because of that friendship, relationship, whatever you want to call it.”
The chemistry and continuity Calderon describes have been areas of concerns for the Americans, who are the only unbeaten team in the 12-nation field but endured three straight nervy fourth quarters in pool play against Australia, Serbia and France, with the lack of familiarity on a roster featuring 10 first-time Olympians widely cited as a chief culprit.
Asked what he made of watching Team USA in a few close games already, Calderon said: “Hopefully we’ll have another one.”
Said Team USA star Kevin Durant of the Spaniards: “Just like the Spurs, you can count ’em out as much as you want, but they’re always gonna be there.”
“When have they not been?” Krzyzewski added. “They show up and show up big time. They have their key players from ’08 and ’12. Beating them would be a huge accomplishment for us.”