Even with the absence of superstars LeBron James, Kevin Durant or Carmelo Anthony, Team USA is still handpicked by many to reach at least the finals of the 2014 FIBA World Cup of Basketball. They begin their campaign in Group C against Finland and their hordes of fans at the Bilbao Exhibition Center.
Finland qualified after a much debated wild card in the FIBA Basketball but the focus will be on the expected full to the rafters Finns who will cheer on their countrymen against a heavily favored American squad almost expected to win convincingly.
The United States squad is bannered by the liked of Chicago Bulls MVP Derrick Rose, rookie of the year and up and coming superstar Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans and versatile lefty James Harden of the Houston Rockets. Team USA is expected to use their athleticism to pressure the guards of Finland and create opportunities from turnovers and fast breaks. With the likes of Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Drummond, coach Mike Kryzewski can also shift to an inside game to punish the smaller Finns.
However, the team who qualified via a controversial wild card draw will rely on all heart and fan support to make a contest out of the match. Finland failed to qualify in last year's Eurobasket, garnering only the 9th spot. They are the lowest ranked country to be awarded a wild card spot amidst speculations of financial backing. Finnish company, Rovio, the makers of the popular Angry Birds game, has agreed to shell out money for advertising in FIBA if the team was selected.
The team is moving on from all that and what is important is that they have the chance to strut their wares in front of their countrymen. Officials expect at least half of the 16,000 seating capacity be filled by the European country supporters.
"We're here to fight and obviously it's a pretty big mountain to climb (today), but we just try to face one situation at a time and hope after 40 minutes that we get a good game out of it," Finland veteran and former NBA player Hanno Mottola said.
There are also recognizable faces on the Finnish roster. Among them is Erik Murphy, the stretch forward selected by the Chicago Bulls last year but was released in April. He is now a journeyman after being claimed by the Utah Jazz and packaged for salary cap purposes to Cleveland last summer. Other notable players in the squad are point guard Petteri Koponen and Hanno Mottola who are expected to provide some fire power and challenge to the USA squad. Drew Gooden was supposedly scheduled to join the team but his application for dual citizenship did not make the deadline. Gooden's mother is also Finnish.
Still, expect Team USA to dominate the affair and win by a large margin. Given this is the first exposure of Finland in the FIBA World Cup of Basketball expect their fans to go crazy at any hint of competitiveness.
Projected Starting Lineups:
Stephen Curry (Guard)
James Harden (Guard)
Rudy Gay (Forward)
Kenneth Faried (Forward)
Anthony Davis (Center)
Petteri Koponen (Guard)
Mikko Kovisto (Guard)
Shawn Huff (Forward)
Hanno Motolla (Forward)
Tuuka Kotti (Center)
Watch the highlights of the USA's tune-up game against Puerto Rico below:
(Video Courtesy of: Youtube/USABasketball)
Watch the highlights of the Finland's game against Greece in Eurobasket 2013 below:
(Video Courtesy of: Youtube/FIBAEuropeTV)
You can watch the Finland vs. USA live streaming via ESPN.