US NBA stars wary of Argentina

With a different superstar finding his scoring touch in every game, the US Olympic NBA Dream Team has made an unbeaten run into Friday's semi-final against familiar foe Argentina look relatively easy.

But the defending basketball champions are cautious about the South American squad, a veteran lineup that won Olympic gold in 2004 led by NBA San Antonio Spurs star Manu Ginobili and NBA Houston Rockets big man Luis Scola.

"It's not going to be easy so we've got to come out there and play hard from the beginning to give ourselves a chance," US sharpshooter Kevin Durant said.

"It's going to be a chippy game. We are a physical team as well. We know what those guys do but we've just got to focus on us."

The winner will advance into Sunday's gold medal final against the winner of Friday's other semi-final, which matches reigning European champion Spain and Russia, which upset the Spaniards in a preliminary round match.

The Americans edged Argentina 86-80 in a pre-Olympic exhibition last month and rolled over them 126-97 in a group stage game last Monday.

In 2004 it was Argentina that upset the US team in a semi-final to ensure the end of the US NBA dynasty, which came back revamped in 2008 and beat the Argentine squad in a semi-final at Beijing on the way to gold.

"It's somewhat of a rivalry," US guard Chris Paul said. "This will be our third time playing them in the last three weeks. We've got to get out to a good start. We've got to come out and impose our will."

The US squad has been nagged by sluggish starts, although it went wild in scoring an Olympic record 156 points to beat Nigeria and has seen a US Olympic one-game record of 37 points for Carmelo Anthony and a first-ever "triple double" of 11 points, 12 assists and 14 rebounds for Miami star LeBron James.

"LeBron was magnificent. But he has been magnificent the whole time," said US coach Mike Krzyzewski. "He is so unselfish. His rebounding and passing were incredible. He is the best basketball player right now."

James, Anthony, Durant and Kobe Bryant have each taken turns at hot-handed shooting streaks in the second half to help seize command of games.

"We don't have any weaknesses," Anthony said.

But the US multi-millionaire lineup has looked vulnerable at times, such as when Australia scored the first 11 points in the second half in a 119-86 quarter-final loss.

"I think it is possible to beat the USA," Argentina's Juan Pedro Gutierrez said. "Victory is possible."

But, says Argentine NBA standout Andres Nocioni, it will take flawlessness.

"We need to play a perfect game. That's for sure," he said. "They are an athletic team, they play hard. They're great shooters. Durant killed us with threes before. But it's five-on-five. Anything can happen."

Physical play helped take the US NBA stars out of their game when the teams met last month but in the rematch a blow to the groin of Anthony aroused the ire of the entire US squad, helping them find their top form at the end.

And with the gold quest's end nearly in sight, the Americans dangerously warn that they have not yet played their best.

"It's scary that we can be better," US reserve Andre Iguodala said. "A lot of teams have peaked and they are probably not going to get any better. If they make shots, you know what you are going to get.

"But with us, you still can get better, which is really scary. It's up to us to put the effort forth, knowing that when our defense is on our offence is excellent."


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