Perspective on Beating Angola and China
In that dreadful march to bronze in Athens in 2004, the United States found itself in Angola's group. As you'd expect, Larry Brown's team -- woeful as you want -- beat Angola by 36 points. (This morning, the Americans claimed a 21-point victory over Angola.)
In the 2006 FIBA World Championship -- the tournament in which the United States again finished third, despite remaking the program from the ground up under the guidance of Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski -- the Americans played China in the prelim round. Team USA won by 31 points, the same margin seen in Sunday's Olympic opener.
To suggest that laughers against Angola and China can ever be considered assurance of redeemed American dominance is to ignore the very recent history which indicates otherwise. I personally think Team USA in 2008 is better than its two previous incarnations (ignoring the odd years here). I think that mostly has to do with the development of LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Deron Williams, four players who averaged age 21 in 2006.
We'll see very soon whether the Greeks or the Spanish can challenge Team USA in the group round, or whether Lithuania can strike down the Americans in an elimination game. In the meantime, perhaps we should avoid being shrill in our assessments of the meaning of a win over a team who would lose to some D-League squads.
UPDATE: For a more eloquent defense of this position, please be sure to see Kelly Dwyer's comment here and his Behind the Boxscore column from earlier.