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  • 03:50 PM ET  08.15

 

Saturday's preliminary group meeting between the United States and Spain means nothing and means everything.

The Americans and the Spanish are the lone teams in Group B to have already clinched quarterfinal berths, entering Saturday's contest (10:15 a.m. ET, NBC) with identical 3-0 records. So the result itself means practically nothing. When the final buzzer sounds, both sides will march forward with gold medal hopes intact.

But from a perception standpoint, is there a bigger must-see game during the group stage? America has the world's best players from the world's best domestic league. But Spain earned the title of world's best team at the 2006 FIBA World Championship, and came within a basket of adding a European Championship to its silver case last September.

Spain and the United States have entered the late 2000s as the world's preeminent basketball powers, following the former's steady breaking away from the European pack and the latter's rise from the ashes of its own institutional implosion. And since these countries appear headed for a collision course for the Aug. 24 gold medal game, the modest stakes of Saturday's meeting would belie its true significance.

Here are three of the meatiest plotlines going into the "meaningless" contest:

Stern faces: The contest will set a record for most players with NBA ties on the same court during an Olympic game. More than half of the players on the Spanish roster have benefited from, or are about to begin, tours in the world's premier hoops league. Pau Gasol (Los Angeles Lakers), Rudy Fernández (Portland Trail Blazers), José Calderón (Toronto Raptors) and Marc Gasol (Memphis Grizzlies) will report to their NBA squads after fulfilling their national duties in Beijing. Meanwhile, Jorge Garbajosa (Toronto Raptors), Juan Carlos Navarro (Memphis Grizzlies) and Raül López (Utah Jazz) have opted to return to Spain following NBA stints. On one hand, the sight of 10 former or current NBA players on the court Saturday will represent a watershed moment in this sport's globalization. On the other, it's proof positive Spain has the requisite depth to give the stacked U.S. team a proper challenge.

Kid dynamite: In addition to Spain's better-known exports, NBA scouts are frothing at the mouth over Ricky Rubio, the 17-year-old child prodigy many observers have deemed the best European guard prospect since Drazen Petrovic. Rubio has averaged 5.0 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists in just 15.7 minutes as Calderón's understudy at point guard. But the youngster enjoyed his best outing of the tournament in Tuesday's victory over Germany, chipping in seven points on 3-for-5 shooting to go with five rebounds, three assists and two steals. "He plays few minutes but whenever he does, he changes the game completely," five-time Olympian and Brazilian hoops legend Oscar Schmidt said in an interview with FIBA.com. "Ricky changed the game against China and he changed the game against Germany. He is special."

Tale of the tempo: Greece upset the United States in the semifinals of the 2006 FIBA World Championship by slowing the tempo to a relative crawl and employing the pick-and-roll to use Team USA's defensive pressure against it. By limiting the game to 75 possessions, the Greeks forced the United States to play defense for extended stretches and engineered the 101-95 upset despite allowing the Americans to shoot 50 percent from the floor. In Tuesday's rematch, Team USA disrupted Greece's methodical approach and forced a more frenetic pace through constant defensive pressure. This time, the teams exchanged 81 possessions -- a notably faster pace -- and the Americans coasted to a 23-point victory. But here's the rub: Spain also likes to get out and run. Will the Spanish play outside their preferred style to try to remove the Americans from their comfort zone? Or will Spain coach Aito Garcia Reneses fight fire with fire and try to beat the Americans at their own approach?

Spain has matched America's undefeated mark but revealed its vulnerability along the way, needing overtime on Tuesday to dispense of China. Meanwhile, Team USA has blown the doors off the competition in Beijing, winning its three games by an average margin of 25 points. It's approached this tournament with a focus and concentration unparalleled by any recent U.S. national teams -- and the results have matched the effort. "Of course, you can have a bad day and one day you lose, and if that day is the quarterfinals or semifinals, you lose the championship," Schmidt said. "But we can already see that [Team USA] is ready to win. If you just look at them during the national anthem, you see that they are into it."

Will Team USA roll to another runaway victory against the Spanish? Or have the Americans finally met their match after feasting on inferior competition so far? Does the fact that the U.S. team has yet to play a hard-fought game concern you? Weigh in with your thoughts below.

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  • 07:58 AM ET  08.14

Full time: And that's a wrap from Wukesong Indoor Stadium in Beijing, where Team USA has passed its first real test of the Olympic tournament, clinched a berth in the medal round starting next Wednesday and avenged its 2006 FIBA Worlds semifinal upset at the hands of Greece. Kobe Bryant and Chris Bosh finished with 18 points apiece to pace the Americans. But game ball goes to LeBron James, who added 13 points, six rebounds and a game-high six assists -- a do-everything effort which ensured Greece would never pull within striking distance after the first quarter. Next up for Team USA: A Saturday clash with reigning world champion Spain at 10:15 a.m. ET. 

0:44.0, 4th: Deron Williams hits a trifecta to open a 92-67 edge -- Team USA's largest lead of the contest at 25 points. 

1:16, 4th: Michael Redd cans a three-pointer from the corner to put the U.S. ahead 89-67. Hey, has anybody seen Dwight Howard?

3:03, 4th: Bourousis puts down another cosmetic basket for the Greeks to cut the lead to 84-64.

5:23, 4th: Carlos Boozer checks into the game for the U.S., and quickly gets into the scorebook with a lay-up to open the lead to 82-57. Each of Team USA's 12 players has gotten some burn today.

7:33, 4th: Yet another turnover near midcourt for the Greeks, who have really struggled with Team USA's formidable half-court press. With the result no longer in doubt, it'll be interesting to see how Coach K handles the endgame. Leave in the preferred team and send a message for a potential rematch in the medal round? Or call off the dogs?

8:52, 4th: Another missed three-pointer for Greece. They're 3-for-17 from beyond the arc by my count -- the kiss of death for a team which relies on the long-range jumper when their interior offense is neutralized.

End, 3rd: The U.S. is shooting a perfect 50.0 percent from the floor through a half hour: 28-for-56. Kobe Bryant leads all scorers with 18 points but it's Dwayne Wade's 16 points which have really given the U.S. a boost off the bench from the second quarter onward.

0:01.3, 3rd: Wade receives a pass from Paul and slashes toward the goal, depositing a lay-up as the whistle blows. He sinks the foul shot to complete the three-point play and open a commanding 74-54 edge.

0:37.3, 3rd: Dwyane Wade just drove the baseline and tried to get acrobatic, but drew heavy contact and went to the line for the pair. He split the foul shots to open a 71-54 lead with the third quarter winding down.

3:08, 3rd: LeBron James and Kobe Bryant pin a pair of shots against the glass to interrupt a Greek fast break, but Spanoulis manages to bring in the ball and draw a foul from Deron Williams. He sinks a pair of free throws to cut the deficit to 65-49 -- but a quick four-point run re-opens the American lead to 20. 

5:56, 3rd: Kobe Bryant just drilled a three-pointer in the face of his defender to extend the U.S. lead to a game-high 23 points. With about 16 minutes remaining in regulation and the Greek offense continuing to stall, it may be curtains. 

7:35, 3rd: Papaloukas nails a three-pointer to cut the U.S. lead to 17 points. The inability to make long-range jumpers has really hurt Greece today, and they'll need the three-pointer if they reserve any hopes of cutting into this significant deficit.

8:06, 3rd: The Greek team makes its first three-pointer of the game on a set drive-and-kick play, but Kobe Bryant counters with a basket on the other end.

9:31, 3rd: Harrassed by the American defensive pressure, Greece settles for a low-percentage shot on their first possession of the quarter. Not a promising start for a team which really lost grasp of its game plan when the first half started spinning out of control for them.

10:00, 3rd: Ceremonial point guard Jason Kidd is back on the court for the U.S. to start the third quarter -- though if he keeps hacking away at today's pace, he'll have fouled out just before the nine-minute mark.

Halftime: The Americans overcame a strange start -- three fouls for Jason Kidd in less than a minute-and-a-half? -- before getting their sea legs and throttling the Greeks on both ends of the court. They've opened a 23-13 advantage on the boards and have made better than half of their shots from the floor, shooting 20-for-39 (or 51.3 percent). Chris Bosh leads all scorers with 12 points on 4-for-5 shooting, exploting the size advantage to full effect. He's given the team an important burst of energy off the bench against the undersized, overmatched Greek frontcourt.

0:02.0, 2nd: Bosh gets stuck on an island defensively on the final possession of the first half, guarding Spanoulis about 22 feet from the basket. But when the Greek guard pulls up for a three-pointer, Bosh times his leap perfectly and stuffs the shot, with the horn sounding just seconds later. The play punctuates a nearly perfect second quarter for Team USA, who outscored Greece by a 31-16 margin to take total command of the contest.

1:30, 2nd: Chris Bosh attacks the goal and puts down a basket while drawing a foul. He completes the old-fashioned three-point play to give the U.S. a 49-30 lead. The scoring play extends a 22-8 run for Team USA.

2:05, 2nd: Team USA's furious half-court press forces another turnover. The ball pops free, LeBron sprints away from his assignment, picks it up mid-sprint and throws down a vicious two-handed reverse dunk to open a 46-30 lead. It's starting to get away from Greece during the last minutes before halftime.

2:52, 2nd: Kobe Bryant drains a three-pointer to open an 11-point lead -- Team USA's largest of the game. Kobe leads all scorers with 11 points on 4-for-10 shooting.

3:45, 2nd: Carmelo Anthony looks sloppy running the one-on-three fast break. But while his twisting driving lay-up attempt draws iron, LeBron James was trailing to throw down the carom. The two-handed dunk. As adamant and intelligent as Greece has looked on offense at times today, some of their turnovers have looked headscratchingly silly. But maybe that's a credit to Team USA's ratcheted-up pressure.

5:29, 2nd: Team USA has surrendered two easy scores to its opponent on back-to-back possessions. But while they've lapsed on defense -- and they have demonstrated a tendency to lose concentration on the defensive end from time to time -- they've really heated up on offense. Dwyane Wade just banged a three-pointer to open a double-digit lead for the first time today. It's 36-26.

6:23, 2nd: You can nitpick their flaws to death, but Team USA is really a marvel in the open court. They change from defense to offense so quickly, it's no surprise they prefer an up-tempo contest. Just there, LeBron received a pass from Chris Paul on the break and drove the lane while drawing a foul. The shot missed the mark but LeBron made one of two fouls to open a 28-22 lead.

7:05, 2nd: Ionnis Bourousisis is fouled by Chris Bosh while attempting a dunk. He splits a pair of fouls to cut the USA lead to 27-22.

7:28, 2nd: Chris Paul just picked up his second foul for Team USA, but he'll stay in the game even though Kidd is on the bench with three fouls. 

8:43, 2nd: LeBron James gets into the open court off another Greece turnover and throws down a beautiful one-handed breakway jam. Team USA with its largest lead of the game at 26-18. The American defense really seems to be clicking right now. Greece is no longer dictating their preferred offensive pace.

9:26, 2nd: Dwyane Wade, careening out of bounds, manages to fire a picture-perfect alley-oop pass to Kobe Bryant, who flushes through a ferocious slam dunk to ignite the Beijing crowd.

9:46, 2nd: Papaloukas, who demonized Team USA with his eight-assist performance in the semifinals of the 2006 FIBA Worlds, just fired a pass into the sixth row on Greece's first possession of the second quarter. Team USA ball.

End, 1st: The Americans overcame a lackadaisical and foul-plagued start, closing the first quarter on an 11-3 run to stake a 20-16 lead through 10 minutes. Kobe Bryant leads all scorers with six points on 2-for-4 shooting.

1:03, 1st: Dwyane Wade, the sixth man par excellence during the Olympic tournament thus far, slashes into the lane and puts in a lay-up. The score extends an 11-1 run for Team USA.

1:46, 1st: Chris Bosh completes a three-point play by sinking a free throw, after missing the first but getting a second chance on a lane violation.

2:25, 1st: Kobe Bryant puts down a basket, extending a quick 6-0 spurt for the Americans. Team USA has used the run to pull back in front at 15-13.

4:06, 1st: Chris Paul slips in the lane, coughs it up and a half-dozen blue and white shirts crash to the floor. Intense atmosphere early. The Americans haven't have a fight on their hands quite like this against China or Angola.

5:56, 1st: Vasilopoulos just grabbed the rebound off his own missed free throw and despoited it into the goal for two points, completing an unorthodox three-point play. Anybody want to box out? Greece is doing an excellent job of asserting the tempo in the opening stages. Team USA looking flat early. 

6:15, 1st: Carmelo Anthony cans a three-pointer from the baseline off a Chris Paul assist to take the lead back for the Americans.

6:54, 1st: Antonios Fostis scores to give Greece their first lead of the game at 6-4. Seems like a pro-Greece crowd.

7:39, 1st: Vasileios Spanoulis just drew an unsportsmanlike foul from Kobe Bryant, which means two foul shots and the ball under FIBA rules. That's five team fouls for Team USA already, meaning Greece will be shooting free throws on every foul for the rest of the first quarter.

8:10, 1st: Dwight Howard just picked up a foul -- the fourth of the game for the Americans in less than two minutes of regulation. They're calling it very tight early.

8:35, 1st: Jason Kidd's disappointing Olympics continue. The veteran point guard just picked up his third foul in the first 85 seconds of the contest. Chris Paul enters the game.

9:28, 1st: Kobe Bryant, who's struggled with his jumper in Beijing, opens the scoring with a 15-footer. Good sign for the U.S.

10:00, 1st: We're ready to get going from Wukesong Indoor Stadium in Beijing. Jason Kidd, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard are starting for the Americans, who are wearing white. Dimitrios Diamantidis, Vasileios Spanoulis, Antonios Fotsis, Panagiotis Vasilopoulos and Andreas Glyniadakie for Greence, who are wearing blue.

* * *

It's been 713 days since Greece upended Team USA in the semifinals of the FIBA World Championship in Saitama, Japan. After nearly two years, the Americans get a shot at revenge this morning at Beijing's Wukesong Indoor Stadium.

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  • 08:00 AM ET  08.12

Full time: Team USA got a nice workout today, shaking off the rust early before coasting to a 97-76 victory over nine-time African champion Angola. But whether they'd be able to afford such an uneven opening on Thursday against Greece is something Mike Krzyzewski would much rather not find out. On the positive side: Today was a complete team effort, with 11 of Team USA's 12 players getting into the scorebook (with only Jason Kidd not logging points). Game ball goes to Dwyane Wade, who paced four U.S. players in double figures, scoring 19 points on 6-for-8 shooting. But it was Dwight Howard who softened up the Angolans with body blows early, finishing with 14 points on a perfect 6-for-6 clip. Check back Thursday morning at 8:00 a.m. ET for another live blog as the U.S. looks to exorcise their demons against Greece -- the unheralded group which upset the Americans in the semifinals of the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Japan. 

0:40.3, 4th: Angola continues to add cosmetic buckets to their total ... but the scores aren't completely without meaning. Overall point differential is a tie-breaker for teams at the conclusion of group play, so there's a chance every basket could count.

3:34, 4th: The United States goes back up by 30 points as Eduardo Mingas is whistled for goaltending on a Tayshaun Prince shot attempt. Team USA is closing in on the century mark for the second straight game -- no small accomplishment given the 40-minute regulation time under FIBA rules.

6:16, 4th: As the U.S. gets playful with an 87-59 lead -- with Kobe Bryant's behind-the-back pass careening out of bounds -- Doug Collins brings up perhaps the lone alarming statistic from America's consecutive Olympic-opening blowouts: the haphazard outside shooting. Enjoying success against truly elite international opponents like Spain, Argentina and Greece will depend upon Team USA's ability to knock down the jumper. Higher quality opponents with deeper benches will be able to play 2-3 zone defenses and force the U.S. to live or die by the jumper. Will the U.S. be ready for the challenge?

8:55, 4th: Chris Bosh flushes home a dunk for his seventh and eighth points off a pretty long-range feed from Chris Paul. The American lead has ballooned to 30 points with just under nine minutes remaining.

End, 3rd: Just 10 minutes separate the U.S. team from a 2-0 start to this Olympic tournament. Dwayne Wade leads all scorers with 19 points on 6-fot-7 from the floor.

56.6, 3rd: The U.S. isolates Chris Bosh in the post out of a half-court set. Bosh pivots, pivots again and tosses up a wild shot which misses the rim completely. Chris Paul, charging the lane and realizing the urgency with the shot-clock winding down, rushes toward the ball and lofts a teardrop jumper in one swift motion. The ball falls through to make it 79-51.

2:00, 3rd: The Angolans continue to work hard on offense, hustling to create open shots and appearing determined to keep the margin respectable.  

3:14, 3rd: The U.S. is actually getting beaten on the boards by a 26-22 margin. But when you're shooting 29-for-48 from the floor as a team -- or better than 60 percent -- a little rebounding concession isn't exactly a deal-breaker.

3:28, 3rd: Deron Williams cans a three-pointer to open a 72-48 lead. Game, set, match?

4:14, 3rd: Every time Angola puts together a modest run, the U.S. has been quick to extinguish the momentum with an emphatic offensive play. This time, it was Dwyane Wade, whose ferocious slam dunk out of the half-court set makes it 67-48.

7:07, 3rd: Kobe Bryant gets into the scorebook with a quick bucket. On the ensuing possession, the Angolans cough it up and the ball is punched upcourt to Kobe, who deposits a 360-degree jam to ignite the Chinese crowd. So much for the Angolans holding Kobe scoreless.

8:30, 3rd: Let's not go overboard here -- because the U.S. is winning by 16 points -- but some of these shooting numbers may concern the Redeem Team fatalists. Kobe Bryant is 0-for-6 on the day, mostly on outside jumpers. Perhaps even more alarming, LeBron just missed a pair of foul shots to drop the U.S. to 9-for-17 from the line today.

9:20, 3rd: Eduardo Mingas opens the scoring in the second half with a 14-foot baseline jumper.

10:00, 3rd: It's Kidd, Wade, Kobe, Melo and Howard for the U.S., and Carlos Morais, Armando Costa, Eduardo Mingas, Leonel Paulo and Joaquim Gomes for the Angolans. 

Halftime: The United States closes the half on a 16-5 run -- highlighted by nine points from LeBron James -- to stake a 55-37 advantage at the break. Dwight Howard and LeBron James have dominated the Angolans, combining for 23 points on 10-for-10 shooting from the floor. Wade extends his perfect clip from the field -- he hasn't missed a shot from the field in Beijing -- with 11 points on 3-for-3 shooting. For the Angolans, Carlos Morais has carried the load with a team-high 13 points, but he's gotten very little from his teammates through 20 minutes. Look for the U.S. to deliver the knockout blow during the third quarter.

1:14, 2nd: Wade, running the point, gets a little flashy at the top of the key and tries to shake his defender. He ends up drawing a foul while attempting a three-pointer, making two of the three shots to extend the U.S. lead to 53-34. Things getting a little dicey for the Angolans approaching halftime.

2:26, 2nd: Just like that, Dwyane Wade nails a three-pointer -- and LeBron James follows up with a pair of quick baskets -- to rip off a 7-0 run and re-open a double-digit advantage. On the few occasions the U.S. has needed a bucket since this team has come together, Wade has been the guy to go out and get it for them.

3:59, 2nd: Don't look now, but Carlos Morais sinks three free throws -- after getting fouled while attempting a shot from beyond the arc -- to extend an 8-0 run for the Angolans. The spurt pulls the underdogs within 39-32.

4:58, 2nd: LeBron James emphatically blocks a Fellzardo Ambrosio shot out of bounds. Doug Collins says some think you should attempt to keep the ball in bounds under any circumstances, but sometimes it's important to send a message by knocking the ball as hard as you can out of bounds. But it's worth mentioning the Angolans get points out of the possession -- on an Armando Costa lay-up -- to pull within 39-29.

5:27, 2nd: Another three pointer from Carlos Morais -- his second in the last minute -- to close the marging to 39-27.

6:48, 2nd: Howard scores again. He's 5-for-5 on the day, creating enough space to score almost unmolested. Nobody on Angola can stop him.

7:28, 2nd: A horrible turnover finds its way into Michael Redd's hands, who runs an impromptu fast break and feeds to Dwight Howard for his third dunk of the game.

8:58, 2nd: Carmelo Anthony counters with a three-pointer off a Deron Williams assist. When the United States is making their three-pointers, they're almost impossible to beat.

9:04, 2nd: Carlos Almeida drains an NBA-length trey from the top of the key to keep the African champs within striking distance. The U.S. remains in complete control of the contest despite holding just a nine-point lead.

9:22, 2nd: Howard splits a pair of free throws to open a 30-18 lead.

10:00, 2nd: It's Kidd, Williams, Wade, Anthony and Howard to start the second quarter for the Americans.

End, 1st: The United States has made 11-of-17 shots --a red-hot 64.7 percent clip -- to stake an 11-point lead through 10 minutes. 

0:07.3, 1st: Bosh makes a pair of fouls to open the U.S. lead to 29-18.

0:40.0, 1st: Wade brings the ball up the court, gets stuck in the lane, and finds Prince in the corner but he misses. Angola with the ball looking to get back within single digits.

1:52, 1st: After Carlos Almieda hits a three-pointer to close the deficit to 21-16, Tayshaun Prince counters with a trey, a steal near midcourt and a breakaway dunk within a seven-second span to open the margin to double digits for the first time today.

3:29, 1st: Chris Paul, Chris Bosh, Tayshaun Prince and Deron Williams into the game for the U.S. Will Angola be able to handle the second wave of U.S. players?

4:09, 1st: Dwyane Wade continues his perfect shooting run in Beijing, canning a three-pointer from the top of the key to open the largest lead of the game for the U.S. at 17-11. Good ball movement to set up the shot.

5:00, 1st: Dwight Howard is devouring Gomes on the interior, scoring three buckets -- including a pair of dunks -- in the last two-and-a-half minutes. Gomes, who played in a pair of NCAA Tournaments during a four-year career at Valparaiso University, will have his hands full with the former No. 1 overall pick today.

6:38, 1st: Eduardo Mingis drives the lane, pump fakes to leave Dwight Howard hanging mid-air and bravely deposits a lay-in to give Angola a 9-8 lead. 

7:31, 1st: Kobe Bryant missed a three-pointer from the elbow but Dwight Howard sucks in the offensive rebound and easily flushes it home to put the United States ahead 8-7. Angola, wearing white, looking plucky early.

8:42, 1st: Bad sign for Angola with Joaquim Gomes picking up his second foul of the game. The post man Gomes is one of Angola's prime offensive options and an important space-filler on the defensive end.

9:20, 1st: Carlos Morais bangs a three-pointer for Angola to open a 5-2 lead. It looks like Angola is going to try and run with the Americans. Perhaps not the most sound strategy.

9:30, 1st: ...and LeBron James ties the score seven seconds later with a slash into the lane.

9:42, 1st: Angola getting on the board early with the first points of the game...

* * *

This ain't your big brother's Angola, the hapless group the Original Dream Team famously lambasted in a 116-48 rout on their way to Olympic gold in Barcelona. The south-central African country has improved considerably in the 16 years since the '92 Games, winning nine of the last 10 FIBA Africa championships while ascending to the fringe of the top 10 in the FIBA world rankings. But they've still got a long way to go before joining the international elite -- and the U.S. team looks to ensure Angola doesn't get the signature victory they need today in their second game of group play

Mostly because of their famous 1992 meeting, these two countries are inexplicably linked in the international hoop consciousness. (When asked his thoughts about upcoming opponent Angola back in '92, Charles Barkley famously semi-quipped: "All I know about Angola is, they in trouble.") But they've actually met two other times in the Olympics, with the U.S. winning 87-54 in 1996 and 89-53 in 2004. 

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  • 10:09 AM ET  08.10

Full time: The U.S. only led by 12 points at the half but exploded out of the locker room, outscoring their hosts 25-11 in the third quarter before coasting to a 31-point triumph. Craig Sager talks with LeBron James, who finished with 18 points, six rebounds and four assists. LeBron says this is the biggest stage he's ever played on -- far bigger than the NBA Finals -- and he's happy to be a part of the U.S. quest to reclaim international supremacy. On the Chinese side, Zhu Fangyu complemented Yao Ming nicely in the frontcourt, finishing with 11 points and eight rebounds. Despite the lopsided scoreline, there's a lot of positives China can take away from today's game and it will be interesting to see where they go from here. As for the United States, they've got nine-time FIBA Africa champion Angola due up Tuesday. Check back at this space for another live blog as SI.com tracks the Redeem Team on their quest for Olympic gold.

0:32.2, 4th: Michael Redd's baseline trifecta pushes the U.S. over the century mark. 

2:12, 4th: Zhang Quinpeng hits a three-pointer. Yi Jianlian throws down a dunk and follows it up with a jumper, cutting the hole to 89-64. The result has long been decided but there's Yao Ming standing on the sidelines, shouting and waving his arms trying to pump up his teammates. Yao knows this tournament is a long road and China's goal of advancing to the medal round is still intact. The six-time NBA All-Star is wise to stoke the confidence of his teammates.

4:41, 4th: Yao leaves the game to enthusiastic applause, pumping a fist to the disappointed but upbeat crowd. He exits with a team-high 13 points and a game-high nine rebounds.

5:45, 4th: No matter where you're from, you've got to love Yao Ming. What a gamer. Down 35 points, he's banging in the paint, taking punishment from the collapsing U.S. defense, drawing a foul and converting the fouls. 

6:47, 4th: Michael Redd finally gets into the scorebook with a three-pointer which inflates the U.S. lead to 34 points -- and sends George W. Bush to the aisles.  

8:53, 4th: The uneven jumpers hoisted by the Chinese players show their fatigue. It's the U.S. team's depth which, more than anything else, makes them prohibitive favorites to win the gold in Beijing. While teams like Spain or Argentina are better equipped to control the tempo and limit this advantage, it's hard to imagine the second- or third-tier teams in this tournament engineering an upset against the deep, talented American side.

End, 3rd: The U.S. outscored China by a 25-11 margin during the third quarter to open a commanding 26-point lead. Fifteen of America's 27 baskets have been dunks. 

1:02, 3rd: A Kobe Bryant breakaway dunk opens a 23-point lead for the Americans. 

2:14, 3rd: Dwyane Wade sinks a pair of fouls to open the U.S. lead to 68-48. Wade has enjoyed a perfect shooting day in his Beijing Olympics debut, sinking 6-of-6 shots from the floor and 5-of-5 from the line for 17 points. Yao Ming has exited the game for China.

3:05, 3rd: Chris Paul drives the lane and kicks to LeBron James on the baseline, whose three-point dagger opens America's largest lead of the game at 63-45. The U.S. has entered cruise control mode with just over 13 minutes remaining in this one.

4:24, 3rd: Yao Ming drops a pair of foul shots to cut the lead to 15 points. The U.S. coughs it up and Zhu Fangyu lays it in, cutting the U.S. lead to 56-43.

5:45, 3rd: LeBron James drives the length of the court -- evading a shoulder check from a Chinese player -- and throws down another rim-rocking dunk. China trails 55-39 approaching the midpoint of the third quarter and they're looking emotionally spent. 

8:18, 3rd: As the NBC announcers dish out heavy criticism about Yi Jianlian's commitment to becoming a better player and teammate, the New Jersey Nets post man interrupts  with a ferocious tip jam off a Yao Ming missed three-pointer. The dunk cuts the U.S. lead to 51-39. 

9:40, 3rd: Kobe Bryant opens the second half with a dunk out of the half-court set. Twelve of the U.S. team's 22 baskets today have been dunk shots. It's gut-check time for the Chinese right now.

Halftime: The U.S. holds a 49-37 lead at the half and the big story is Team USA's red-hot shooting. They've made 21-of-36 shots from the floor, a scorching 58.3 percent clip, aided no doubt by 11 dunks. Dwyane Wade leads all scorers with 12 points off the bench on 5-for-5 shooting. But it's LeBron James' do-everything performance -- 11 points, four rebounds and a game-high four assists -- which has powered the U.S. thus far.

0:03.7, 2nd: Liu Wie holds the ball for the final shot of the half, eventually driving the lane and picking up the foul while shooting. He splits the free throws to cut the deficit to a dozen.

1:30, 2nd: The U.S. has used a 16-3 burst to stake a 45-32 lead. The game is starting to get away from the hosts a little bit.

2:35, 2nd: Chris Bosh puts down a lay-up out of the half-court offense. On the subsequent possession, the U.S. pushes the ball downcourt off a China miss and LeBron James throws down a thunderous dunk while getting fouled. The Cleveland Cavaliers star misses the free throw but the scoring play still opens the largest lead of the game for the Americans at 41-32.  

4:30, 2nd: Kobe Bryant deposits two dunks during a 10-second span -- capping a six-point U.S. burst over 30 seconds -- to put America back in front by a 35-29 count. China calls timeout to calm the troops. Craig Sager interviews Jerry Colangelo during the break, who talks about the design behind Team USA.

6:00, 2nd: Sun Yue bangs a three-pointer to tie the score at 29-29 and send the crowd into histrionics. China is 7-for-11 from beyond the arc to open the game, or 21 of their first 29 points.

6:40, 2nd: Yao Ming's beautiful right-handed hook shot in the lane to cut the U.S. advantage to 29-26. The Chinese are hanging around thanks to a patient, methodical half-court game. 

8:14, 2nd: LeBron James pins a Chinese shot against the backboard with two hands, falls to the floor and fires a 60-foot outlet pass to Kobe Bryant for a breakaway slam dunk. U.S. leads 26-21. The top highlight of the game so far.

8:48, 2nd: Zhu Fangyu opens the second quarter with a three-pointer from the baseline to cut the U.S. lead to 20-19, but the Americans come back on the other end and counter with a Wade baseline dunk (after extending the possession with an offensive rebound). Yao Ming just re-entered the game after getting a puff to start the second frame. A thought: Where is Michael Redd?

End, 1st: A Dwight Howard dunk -- America's third flush in the last 4:46 of this quarter -- opens a 20-16 lead for the U.S. with 10 minutes down and 30 minutes to go. With the deep, NBA-laden American roster start to wear down the Chinese in the second quarter, which has traditionally seen the U.S. play their best? Or can China sustain their torrid shooting pace from downtown after making 4-of-4 from downtown to open the game?

1:04, 1st: As Wade drains a pair of foul shots to give the U.S. a 18-16 lead, the camera pans to national team director Jerry Colangelo sitting with George H.W. Bush in the crowd. 

2:28, 1st: Dwyane Wade opens the U.S. edge to 16-11 -- America's largest lead of the game. But China rattles off five straight points on a Liu Wei three-pointer and a Chen Jianghua lay-up. China is 4-for-4 from beyond the arc in the early going and they probably couldn't imagine a better start to this one. The fans at the Wukesong Indoor Stadium are amped up and it's obvious the Chinese team is feeding off them.

4:22, 1st: First, LeBron James flushes a beautiful fast-break dunk off a Chris Paul assist to tie the game at 11 apiece. Then, the U.S. takes a 14-11 lead off a China turnover when Kobe Bryant deposits a three-pointer.

6:00, 1st: A fast tempo early with China matching the Americans blow for blow. We've also got our first subs of the game -- Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul enter for the U.S. team -- as Mike Krzyzewski looks to push the tempo to a breakneck pace.

9:30, 1st: And Yao Ming opens the scoring for the Chinese with a three-pointer from the top of the key! It's China with the early 3-0 lead.

10:00, 1st: We're ready to get going from Wukesong Indoor Stadium in Beijing. Jason Kidd, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard are starting for the Americans, while Sun Yue, Liu Wei, Wang Shipeng, Yi Jianlian and Yao Ming.

* * * 

The United States opens its quest for Olympic gold tonight in Beijing -- and this morning in New York -- with presidents George W. Bush and Hu Jintao expected to be in attendance. Tonight's Group B opener has been billed as one of the most anticipated Olympic basketball games in history, though it's worth mentioning the result itself means little. Each country need only finish among the top four in its six-team group to advance to the medal round, so this is hardly win-or-go-home territory for the host nation or the heavily favored American side. But the world will be watching to see how the so-called Redeem Team looks in their first Olympic outing -- and whether the Chinese can feed off the emotion of their raucous home crowd and possibly engineer the upset.

I ranked the United States second and China ninth on my pre-Olympic power rankings on Friday. But home-court advantage is a tricky intangible -- and it's not like the U.S. team has overperformed on the international stage since their last first-place finish in a major world tournament (at the Olympics in 2000). It will be interesting to see whether the U.S. sprints out and looks to register a first-round knockout or whether they sit back and let the game come to them.

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  • 02:21 PM ET  06.29

Full time: The final whistle has blown and the Spanish players storm onto the pitch to celebrate Spain's first major championship in 44 years -- and its second of all-time. You've got to feel sorry for Michael Ballack, who finishes his 2007-08 season with runner-up finishes in the Carling Cup, English Premier League, Champions League and, finally, the European Championships. But you've also got to feel satisfied knowing the most industrious side won. Spain generated more chances, logging a 14-4 advantage on shots and 8-3 on shots on goal. And what a season for Fernando Torres, who scores 24 of his 33 goals in Premiership games to break Ruud van Nistelrooy's record for most league goals by a foreigner in a debut season -- and turns around to score the opportunistic winner in the final of the European Championship. Well done.

90+1': Three minutes of stoppage time. 

90': Germany launches one more desperate counter-attack in the 90th minute. Capdevila may or may not have fouled Mario Gomez in the box but Germany doesn't get the call, despite much protest from Ballack & Co.

88': Another yellow card, this time for Kuranyi. The hysterical Spanish fans are starting to believe. 

85': Kuranyi commites a foul directly in front of the goal outside of the area. Spain has a golden opportunity here to put this match away. It's unclear who's taking the free kick, with four Spanish players congregation behind the ball. Xavi ends up taking the kick, placing it somewhere in the 23rd row behind goal.

81': Marcos Senna comes agonizingly close to putting this game out of reach -- as a Spanish combination falls at his foot near the front of the goal -- but the Brazilian native can't punch it home. Another scary moment there for Germany. Spain continues to force the issue, refusing to sit back and play defensively during the last 10 minutes.

78': Aragones makes his third and final substitution, inserting Dani Guiza for Fernando Torres. Low also makes his third sub, plugging in Mario Gomez for Klose. 

76': Spain looking organized in counter-attack ... Xavi ... to Torres ... and Spain wins another corner. A second goal here would prove fatal for the Germans. 

74': Ballack whistled for offsides as Germany continues to press. Fernando Torres booked on the other end for ... well, we're really not sure why. Torres knocked heads with a German defender on a 50-50 ball but didn't seem like the aggressor. 

70': Jansen earns a crucial free kick here when Sergio Ramos commits a foul just outside the area on the left corner. Big opportunity here for Germany.

68': The Spanish get two very dangerous shots on goal in a 45-second span. First, Sergio Ramos almost heads home the second goal off a free kick. Then, Spain nearly scores on the subsequent corner.  

66': Spain makes another sub as Villareal's Santi Cazorla comes on for David Silva.

64': Aragones makes his first sub: Liverpool's Xabi Alonso on for Arsenal's Cesc Febregas. We've got another flash point here involving Lukas Podolski. Ballack looks irate, screaming in the ear of Italian referee Roberto Rosetti hoping to get David Silva sent off for an apparent head butt. Doesn't look like much from the replay.

62': And the Germans look to strike back. Casillas is just on time to punch away Ballack's perfectly placed cross for Kuranyi. Germany really pushing the tempo here, with Schweinsteiger revealing himself following an invisible first hour.

58': Low makes his second sub of the game: an appropriately offensive switch with Hitzlsperger exiting in favor of Schalke 04 striker Kevin Kuranyi. Germany will revert to a 4-4-2 formation, as ABC commentator Andy Gray astutely observes.

55': Torres just won another foot race for the ball near the outside of the area, but Lehmann scoops up the ball.

54': Two shots toward the far post in the past two minutes for the Spanish. They're really knocking on the door now, knowing a 2-0 lead could spell curtains for the Germans. 

51': German striker Miroslav Klose, a semifinal hero and the 2006 World Cup top scorer, got shaken up just there and walks toward the sideline.  

49': Questionable no-call there as Torres is taken down by his German marker in a one-on-one situation. 

46': Germany's Joachim Löw makes the first substitution of the match as Germany's Marcell Jansen replaces semifinal hero Philipp Lahm.

Halftime: A singular moment of brilliance from Fernando Torres is all there is to separate these two sides through 45 minutes. Germany staked a slight advantage during the first 15 minutes -- attributable perhaps to their big-game experience? -- but Spain has really forced the issue for the past half hour and looked like the better side.

43': A bit of a flash point here as another Ballack foul incites a storm of Spanish protest. Ballack and Casillas end up getting booked with yellow cards. 

42': ... Hitzlsperger sets up for a volley but a Spanish defender leaps in to clear the ball. 

41': Germany looks to equalize on a corner kick. Casillas punches away but the Germans maintain possession and win another corner from the opposite side ... 

39': Ballack comes onto the pitch spilling blood from his right eyebrow and generally looking like a prizefighter. Referee Roberto Rosetti promptly sends him back to the sideline and the trainers frantically look to patch him up.

35': They're working on Ballack on the sidelines after the midfielder knocked heads with Marcos Senna on a 50-50 ball just moments ago.

33': GOAL! Another wonderful through ball from Xavi is lifted by Fernando Torres over Jens Lehmann and trickles slowly into the left side of the goal. It's the vintage something-from-nothing goal which Torres has been scoring all year for Liverpool.

30': We're scoreless through a half hour but the pace has really picked up. I'd be surprised if we're still on zeroes for much longer. 

29': Metzelder breaks up a beautiful through ball to Torres but Spain wins a corner. Possession returned to Germany when Sergio Ramos commits a foul on the corner.

25': The Germans respond with a dangerous chance of their own, when Ballack's right-footed rocket lands squarely in Sergio Ramos' rib cage. We're still level but the tension from the opening minutes has given way to a more offensive-minded game.

22': Sergio Ramos loops a cross into the box. Torres gets up and nearly opens the scoring for the Spanish, but his perfectly executed header rockets off the woodwork. Germany exhales, knowing goalkeeper Jens Lehmann was beaten there.

20': Christoph Metzelder fouls Torres badly on the right side of the area, giving Spain a set piece just 20 yards from the goal. Xavi's free kick finds the head of Torres in the box but bounces harmlessly out of bounds, wide and high of the goal.  

18': Iniesta punches forward an excellent through ball to Torres, who can't quite generate a scoring chance from the left side of the area. Spain looking more and more confident approaching the midpoint of the first half. 

14': Spain gets its first and best chance of the game, when Iniesta receives a goregeous through ball from Xavi and wins a corner when his shot attempt is deflected out of bounds. The Germans have looked slightly more organized and concerted in attack, but Spain seems to be getting more comfortable with the stage.

12': Germany wins the game's first corner after a nifty sequence fails to lead to a scoring chance, but Casillas safely punches the entry away. 

9': Thomas Hitzlsperger uncorks the game's first shot on goal, a right-footed effort from just outside the area which veers directly into the waiting hands of Iker Casillas.

8': Michael Ballack's potentially dangerous left-footed cross floats harmlessly across the mouth of the goal.

6': Kind of a timid opening so far. Both sides seem hesistant to apply pressure, giving the opponent an early opportunity in counter-attack.

3': A terrible giveaway in the back by Spain's Sergio Ramos is intercepted by Miroslav Klose, but the German striker can't quite convert the turnover into an opportunity. Goal kick for Spain.

1': We're underway from Vienna, with Spain sporting their traditional red shirts with black shorts and Germany wearing white shirts with black shorts.

0': Michael Ballack is starting for Germany despite right calf problems. David Villa is not starting for Spain.

Germany: Jens Lehmann, Christoph Metzelder, Arne Friedrich, Philip Lahm, Per Mertesacker, Thomas Hitzlsperger, Torsten Frings, Michael Ballack, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Miroslav Klose, Lukas Podolski

Spain: Iker Casillas, Carlos Marchena, Carles Puyol, Joan Capdevila, Sergio Ramos, Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, Marcos Senna, Cesc Fábregas, David Silva, Fernando Torres 

* * * 

Here's today's Starting Eleven, the 11 things you need to know about the Euro 2008 final between Spain and Germany, a pair of international soccer giants eager to build on proud traditions:

1. Today's fixture is the 20th all-time meeting between Germany and Spain but the first in a major final. In fact, it's the first time the two countries have met in a single-match knockout game in the World Cup or the European Championships.

2. The latest scuttlebutt indicates Germany could be missing captain Michael Ballack, who sat out Saturday's final practice with a right calf issue. That would be a shame. Six summers ago, the Görlitz native also sat out the 2002 World Cup final against Brazil with a suspension, after almost single-handedly carrying the Germans through the knockout stages.

3. Speaking of Ballack: Will Germany's captain finish as a runner-up for the third time this year? His Chelsea side finished second to Manchester United in the English Premier League this season and lost to the Red Devils in the Champions League final in May. A loss today would notch the Bridesmaid Trifecta for the veteran midfielder.

4. Spain's David Villa, the tournament's scoring leader with four goals, is also expected to miss the final with a foot injury. Luis Aragones is expected to respond by going with an extra midfielder, giving Arsenal playmaker Cesc Fabregas his first start of the tournament and shifting from a 4-4-2 formation to a 4-5-1. The tactical change means Fernando Torres would operate as the team's lone striker.

5. Spain hasn't lost since November 2006, a string of 21 matches. The run includes two meetings with reigning world champions Italy: a 1-0 victory in a March friendly and last Sunday's scoreless quarterfinal where the Spanish advanced on penalties.

6. Germany has a silver case worthy of a superpower, with three World Cups and a record three European Championships to their name. But Spain has brought home just one major crown -- at Euro 1964 -- and could double their all-time major trophy count with a victory today.

7. Spain's last appearance in the final of a major tournament was Euro 1984, when La Furia Roja fell to a France side led by Michael Platini. The Spanish eliminated the Germans from the quarterfinals in that tournament with a 1-0 victory.

8. Spain leads the tournament in scoring with 11 goals. Germany ranks second with 10. The numbers would suggest an open, end-to-end match today.

9. Germany and Spain haven't met in a major tournament since the 1994 World Cup, when the countries played to a 1-1 draw at Chicago's Soldier Field in the group stage.

10. Vienna's Ernst Happel Stadium lends the backdrop for today's match, just three days after hosting the Spain-Russia semifinal. It's namesake was Austria's greatest coach, who won a European Cup with Feyenoord and Hamburg and led the Dutch to the 1978 World Cup final.

11. Italian hospital manager Roberto Rosetti is the referee for today's match. Rosetti has overseen three games at Euro 2008 -- the Croatia-Turkey quarterfinal and the Greece-Russia and Switzerland-Czech Republic group matches. He also earned praise for his handling of the Champions League semifinal second leg between Chelsea and Liverpool this past April.

Barcelona's Samuel Eto'o predicted Spain to win this tournament last month. "Spain have always been very good technically," Eto'o said, "but there's a new and impressive hardness about the current Spain team that has been missing in recent tournaments." I couldn't agree with the Cameroonian striker more. You pick against the Germans at your own risk, but I'm counting on this intangible to help the Spanish shed their reputation for coming up small when the spotlight burns brightest. Prediction: Spain 2, Germany 0

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