LAS VEGAS — Blake Griffin, Andre Iguodala and James Harden were chosen Saturday to complete the roster for the U.S. Olympic basketball team.
They earned the final three spots that opened after a rash of injuries knocked out at least four players who would have been on the team. They beat out Eric Gordon, Rudy Gay and No. 1 draft pick Anthony Davis of New Orleans, who couldn’t scrimmage this week because of a sprained ankle.
Also heading to London for the defending gold medalists are: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Tyson Chandler and Kevin Love.
USA Basketball Jerry Colangelo acknowledged the adversity the team faced with all the injuries before the players were introduced during a press conference, all wearing their white USA jerseys.
“But as the dust settles, I’m proud to say that we’ve put together in my opinion a terrific team with great athleticism and great versatility and we believe we’re going to be successful,” Colangelo said.
Griffin showed he was healthy again after being slowed by a knee injury during the playoffs, putting on an impressive dunking display following practice Saturday. Harden, the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year with Oklahoma City, gives the Americans more scoring punch off the bench, and Iguodala is a defensive specialist who can guard multiple positions.
The Americans lost Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to injuries in recent months, forcing them to scrap plans to name their 12-man roster on June 18. They asked the US Olympic Committee for a roster extension and added Harden and Davis to their original pool of finalists chosen in January.
Colangelo was intrigued by Davis’ skills, but the national player of the year at Kentucky sprained his ankle last week and was not able to take part this week, robbing him of a chance to show he was ready to handle international competition now.
James, Bryant, Anthony, Paul and Williams were all part of the 2008 Olympic gold medalists. Durant, Westbrook, Chandler and Love played on the world championship team two years ago.
Colangelo said he believed this team was deeper and better than the ‘08 squad, but added that “only time will tell.”
The injuries leave the Americans short-handed at center, where Howard started four years ago in Beijing and Bosh backed him up.
Chandler is the only natural center left, so the Americans will be forced to use some players out of their normal NBA positions.
But what remains is still the most athletic team in the world, with potent scorers at nearly every spot, and the Americans will look to overcome any size disadvantage by punishing teams in transition.
The Americans opened training camp Friday and will practice here through next Wednesday, then play an exhibition game against the Dominican Republic on Thursday.
The players who were not selected will be alternates who could be replacements in case of further injuries up until 48 hours before the July 27 start of the Olympics.
James and Anthony will be playing in their third Olympics for a U.S. team with an average age is 26.1 years.
Ibaka: Spain’s talent matches Olympic favorites U.S.: In Madrid, Serge Ibaka believes Spain’s Olympic basketball team has the talent to match the U.S. squad.
He’s confident the 2008 silver medalists can compete with the 2012 gold medal favorites and world champions during the games.
“They are just like us, they also have players with a lot of talent,” the Oklahoma City power forward said Saturday in his first full day of training with the Spanish team. “They are a different team to 2008, but their players are still very good.”
The 22-year-old Ibaka will make his Olympic debut with Spain, which he helped guide to the European Championship title last summer soon after being nationalized.
Ibaka, who is of Congolese origin, turned up at camp early to prepare for the London Olympics.
“There’s no time to rest, we have to find our rhythm for the competition already for these friendly games we have, see how we feel,” said Ibaka, who helped lead Oklahoma City to the NBA finals in June before losing to the Miami Heat in five games.
Spain has the bulk of its 2008 team — including Pau Gasol, brother Marc and Rudy Fernandez — returning, aside from injured point guard Ricky Rubio.
Russia wins Olympics basketball berth: In Caracas, Venezuela, Russia held off a late surge by a surprisingly strong Nigerian squad to secure a spot in the London Olympic men’s basketball tournament with an 86-77 win on Saturday.
Alexey Shved led Russia with 22 points and six assists, followed by Andrey Kirilenko with 19 points.
“This game was very, very tough. Nigeria fought to the end,” said Kirilenko.
The Nigerians out rebounded Russia 29-24 with Ike Diogu pulling down 14 for the losers. Ike Diogu and guard Ade Dagunduro were Nigeria’s top scorers with 16 points each. Forward Al-Farouq Aminu of the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets had 13.
The Russians built up a 68-53 lead after three periods, but Nigeria fought back with a series of three-pointers and scrappy rebounding.
Russia was the only team to win all four of its games in the qualifying tournament, including a 91-65 thrashing of South Korea and an 84-69 win over the Dominicans.
Nigeria was the big surprise of the tournament, defeating Greece 80-79 and Lithuania 86-80.