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US puts steady step to title clinch
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No one had ever doubted the determinations of the United States men's basketball team to win the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics. Five matches after that, no one doubted their abilities.

The U.S. recorded a 5-0 run to finish first in the preliminary round, including 119-82 win over world champions Spain and 92-69 win over world runners-up Greece, averaging a 32.8-point victory margin to be the sole unbeaten team in 12 contenders.

They played one of the best defense in the Olympic history with 14.4 steals, forcing out 22.8 turnovers per game, which are the keys to their commanding victories.

All these impressive stats reminded people a lot of the U.S. team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, which was tugged as the only Dream Team by the most,

"They were sending a statement, 'We are for real,' and they sent it loud and clear. They wanted to show everyone they are superior, and they did," said Pau Gasol after Spain lost 119-82 to the U.S. in a potential final matchup.

Could they go on like that, the Olympic basketball tournament will be a sole show of the U.S. which scored 103.0 points, holding their opponents 70.8 points, shooting 64 per cent in the field and 36 per cent from behind the arc averagely.

"We want to make it hard on the other team. We enjoy shutting the other team down," American Carmelo Anthony said.

The superiority will be tested by two more elite teams from the other group, group leaders Lithuania (4-1) and defending champions Argentina (4-1), in the medal round.

Lithuania ran 4-0, including a 79-75 win over Argentina, before they lost to Australia 106-75 in a meaningless game.

There are few impressive stats from the Lithuanians, compared to the Americans, as they have slim advantages over their opponents on rebounds, shooting percentage and five-point winning margin, but Lithuania have one of the most balanced squad in the tournament.

Linas Kleiza of Denver Nuggest, who led the team with 13.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, is a perennial cannon in the fourth quarter, while Ksistof Lavrinovic and Robertas Javtokas are consistent perimeter shooters and have done great job on the defensive end.

Manu Ginobili came out of an ankle injury to lead Argentina by 19.6 points per game in 27:47 playing time as the defending champions proved a class better than most of their preliminary-round rivals except the loss to Lithuania.

Argentina are the biggest obstacle to the U.S. if the medals are on the count as they defeated the U.S. twice in five meetings in the past four years.

The biggest surprise of the preliminary round is the downfall of Russia as the European champions finished fifth with a record of 1-4. They only beat the winless Iran 71-49 in Group A.

China damped Dirk Nowitzki and Germany 59-55 to finish fourth for a berth in the top eight.

(Xinhua News Agency August 19, 2008)

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