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AN EXPERT'S VIEW // CRAIG MILLER

Craig Miller is assistant executive director of USA Basketball. He shared his thoughts on the Olympics with Times staff writer John Romano.

It is pretty obvious the United States goes into the Games as the heavy favorite. From listening to others talk, the only possibility of an upset is if someone like Toni Kukoc or Dino Radja has a superhuman effort and carries their team past the United States.

We saw in the 1992 Olympics that the starting five for the United States doesn't necessarily wear teams out, but the second five does. Opponents can stay with the United States early because they're pumped up and they're making shots. But other teams have a drop-off in their second unit, and the United States does not.

Next to the United States, the three European teams look the strongest: Yugoslavia, Croatia and Lithuania. Yugoslavia may not be as strong as it was in the early 1990s, but it took top honors at the European Championships last year. Croatia earned medals at both the 1992 Olympics (silver) and the 1994 World Championships (bronze) and Lithuania finished second in the 1995 European Championships.

On the next tier, there are a couple of teams that could advance with the right wins at the right time. If Oscar Schmidt goes for 40, he might push Brazil into the medal round. The same goes for Andrew Gaze and Australia.

The only real quirks the United States will see are big men who can shoot from the perimeter _ like Arvydas Sabonis of Lithuania _ and zone defenses.

Players in the NBA don't see the zone defense and it slows things down for them. So what the United States did last time was have Reggie Miller stand outside and hit some threes to destroy the zone and force opponents to play man to man.

What will be fun is seeing how U.S. coach Lenny Wilkens uses his players. If there's a similarity between this team and the original Dream Team, it is the versatility of the players. You could use David Robinson as a power forward or Scottie Pippen as a point guard because they have so many skills.

Most of the top players from other teams will be familiar to NBA fans, like Kukoc and Radja from Croatia. One player U.S. fans might not be familiar with is Juan Espil of Argentina. The 6-4 guard is one of the top three-point shooters in the world. Although, as we saw in the '92 Games, some of these stars have difficulty when they go against bigger and stronger U.S. players.

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