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Weakened United States team aims to take hold of world basketball title

BILBAO, Spain -- The bad news just kept coming, the only difference whether the culprit was injury or interest.

Some stars couldn't play. Others wouldn't. Then the losses really started piling up for the U.S. national basketball team.

Kevin Love pulled out while awaiting his recently completed trade to Cleveland. Paul George broke his right leg in a horrific collision that shook up teammates and perhaps the future of international basketball. Finally, Kevin Durant, the Americans' best player and the NBA's MVP, changed his mind about taking part in the FIBA Basketball World Cup.

The U.S. team that remains is good enough to win but vulnerable enough to lose — perhaps to the Spain squad that was so close against much more powerful Americans in the last two Olympics and could get a third shot on its home court.

“We still have a goal and that's to win gold, and we can't (say), 'Oh, Kevin dropped out, Paul got hurt, so this is going to be tough for us,'” U.S. center Anthony Davis said. “We hear everybody saying that. We're trying to prove that wrong.”

The former world basketball championship begins Saturday at four sites throughout Spain and the Canary Islands. The Americans start a fairly benign group here in Basque Country against Finland, with Spain facing the most powerful pool in Granada, joined by European champion France, Brazil and Serbia.

Eight teams will advance to Barcelona and the other eight to Madrid for the knockout rounds. The gold-medal game is Sept. 14 in Madrid, the only time the U.S. and Spain could meet.

The Americans held off the Spanish in Olympic thrillers in 2008 and 2012, fueled by LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony. It would now be up to a much younger U.S. squad — its youngest featuring professionals — led by Davis, Stephen Curry, Derrick Rose, James Harden and Kyrie Irving.

And if they win, USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said it would be even sweeter than the Olympic victories.

“When you have expectations based on what you think you had, and you get dealt those blows and you recover and you're able to still get the job done, it's sweet,” Colangelo said. “That's why I said what I did.”

Other contenders are also short-handed.

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In this Jan. 20 photo, Brooklyn Nets' Andray Blatche, left, tries to move past New York Knicks' Tyson Chandler during an NBA basketball game in New York. The veteran center is an NBA free agent at the moment but currently has a job as the man in the middle for the Philippines, at the FIBA Basketball World Cup. (AP)

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