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FEATURE US basketballers undefeated, but still far from being a Dream Team By Florian Luetticke, dpa

Europe
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What‘s up with the US men‘s basketball team? They‘ve won all five pool games but have clearly had to struggle. Superstar Kevin Durant admits that this is a team that will have to be ready to "grind it out" to try to win gold again.

Rio de Janeiro (dpa) - Not unexpectedly, the US men‘s basketball team went undefeated in five games of preliminary group play at the Rio Olympics. But what was unexpected was the thin margin of victory as the team often had to struggle for their wins.

The US magazine Sports Illustrated complained "this clearly is no Dream Team" after the US narrowly edged France 100-97 in the last preliminary round game. "After another close call ... USA Basketball will need to fix a number of problems if it‘s going to win gold in Rio."

Before the narrow win over France, the US was pushed hard in its 98-88 victory against Australia, a game that was closer than the final score indicated. Then came a razor-thin 94-91 decision over Serbia.

"USA has not played cohesively or attentively," Sports Illustrated said. "Its superior talent hasn‘t been imposing or intimidating to respectable competition."

Basketball experts had already agreed before Rio that this US team was lacking in star power, what with such NBA superstars as LeBron James, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook all deciding not to make the trip to Rio.

This left Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony as the only holdovers from the 2012 gold medal team, joined by ten players making their Olympic debut.

At the same time, other teams competing in Rio have a fair number of established NBA players as well as those playing internationally, especially in Europe.

So the margin of talent and experience between the US and its opponents has narrowed.

US coach Mike Krzyzewski said some of his young players had been surprised by the tough physical style of play by Australia and Serbia.

"They (the opponents) all play international basketball. We are just now learning," he said.

Especially disconcerting was seeing how its players have often looked overmatched, losing the ball too often, committing too many fouls and especially showing weaknesses on defence.

Durant, who was the top scorer when the US beat Spain in the final in London, concedes that this team has its work cut out for it.

"We‘re going to have to grind it out," he told the international basketball federation FIBA website. "Every team is going to come at us, so at the end of the day, we‘re just trying to win."

The new Golden State Warriors star also pinpoints the main area that the Americans will have to improve as they head into the quarter-finals on Wednesday against an as-yet undetermined opponent.

"We‘ve still go to do a better job on covering each other on the defensive end," he said.

And, Durant says the team knows what it is now at stake. "It‘s Game Sevens from now on."

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