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Usain Bolt favored in his three scheduled Olympic events

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For many Olympic fans the Games don’t really begin until athletics is underway – especially when Rio 2016 is the last one for sprinter Usain Bolt and his American foil, Justin Gatlin. Bolt is going for the ‘triple triple,’ trying to win gold medals in the 100 meters, 200 meters and 4×100 relay for the third consecutive games.

However, Jamaica’s national hero has not exactly been blowing away the competition in the past few months, having missed his nation’s Olympic Trials due to a hamstring injury. Bolt also had a relatively pedestrian 19.89-second 200 when he qualified at the longer distance. Of course, Bolt has only one career loss in major international meets, which came when he was disqualified for a false start.

The qualifying for the 100 begins Saturday, with the final on Sunday night. Bolt is the -200 favorite at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com, with Gatlin the only counterpart with low odds at +165. Bolt’s compatriot, Yohan Blake, is listed at +1100. Canada’s 21-year-old Andre DeGrasse is listed at +2200, but it’s more likely his peak will come in four years at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Bolt is listed at -300 in the 200 meters, which will unfold from Tuesday through Thursday. Bolt has vowed to lower the world record of 19.19, but American LaShawn Merritt at +750 has been recording impressive results all season. Gatlin is a nominal second favorite at +325.

The 4×100 heats take place next Thursday, the same day as the 200 final, with the final next Friday. Two-time defending champion Jamaica is the chalk pick at -200 at the sportsbooks. The Americans, who were stripped of their 2012 Olympic silver due to Tyson Gay’s positive drug test, are listed at +185.

Relay success often demands a country have a deep bench, so to speak, of five sprinters, and there probably isn’t anyone to rival the United States and Jamaica. After those two, the board spreads out to Great Britain at +2200.

Bolt isn’t the heaviest favorite on the Rio Olympics odds board for athletics, however. Poland’s Pawel Fajdek and Anita Wlodarczyk (men’s and women’s hammer throw) and South Africa’s Caster Semenya (women’s 800) are all -2000 favorites for their events.

Team USA strong favorite against Spain in Olympic basketball semifinals

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A Spain-USA matchup is expected in Olympic men’s basketball after gold-medal games in 2008 and 2012, but this time it’s taking place in the semifinal in Rio de Janeiro on Friday.

After coming under fire for showing a lack of killer instinct in the group stage, Team USA and Kevin Durant kicked their game up a notch on Wednesday with an 105-78 quarter-final blowout against Argentina, although it took until the last minute to secure a cover.

Team USA is now at -1200 (wager $1200 to win $100) on the odds to win the gold medal in men’s basketball at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com, with Spain listed at +1200. Fellow semifinalists Australia and Serbia respectively stack up at +1300 and +1800.

Team USA is favored by 15.5 points against Spain for Friday, and the total is set at 187.5 points. In those two Olympic finals, their winning margins were 11 and seven points.

The teams’ shooting percentages are near-identical, but the approaches differ. Team USA, which had Durant and Paul George take over the scoring against Argentina, counts on breaking teams down with their athleticism. Spain is more about execution in the half-court, and anyone from Pau Gasol to Rudy Fernandez to Nikola Mirotic can become the go-to scorer.

The game could likely boil down to who does the better job covering their defensive liabilities without overcompensating. Spain, with slow-footed Gasol at center, has suspect low-post defense that the USA guards can attack. The Americans’ defensive intensity has often been lacking, and good passing teams such as Spain tend to take advantage of that.

In those gold-medal games, both teams scored at least 100 points.

Meanwhile, Australia is a four-point favorite against Serbia, with a total of 164.5 points. Through a backcourt combo of Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova and a commitment to rugged defense, Australia has been the second-best team in Rio, and also won 95-80 when it played Serbia in the round-robin.

It is often tough to beat a good team twice in a row, but the Boomers are fully capable. Dellavedova and PG Damian Martin are defensive stoppers who can take a team out of rhythm, and Serbia will need to show a primary scoring option beyond Bogdan Bogdanovic.

The familiarity factor, and the high stakes, might keep the score down. Ultimately, Australia should be the fresher team, since Serbia’s Bogdanovic has carried his team’s offense and it’s fair to wonder how much energy they have left after a grueling quarter-final against central Europe arch rival Croatia.

USA men’s basketball looking vulnerable, still quarterfinal favorite vs. Argentina

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So much for being the only Olympic men’s basketball superpower – Team USA has been less than the sum of their parts after winning their last two games in Rio de Janeiro by only three points apiece.

Team USA’s margin of victory thus is 23.4 points, well below the respective 38.2 and 32.2 of their 2012 and 2008 counterparts. However, with the quarterfinals set for Wednesday at Carioca Arena, the Americans remain the -2000 favorite to win the gold medal at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

The gold medal futures board includes Spain at +1400, Australia at +2000, Serbia at +2200 and Lithuania at +2500.

The Americans are 23-point favorites for their quarterfinal against Argentina, and the total is 190.5. A team with Kevin Durant, Paul George and Draymond Green should win, but a cover might be daunting for a team that has yet to establish continuity. Argentina, bolstered by crafty NBA veterans such as Carlos Delfino, Manu Ginobili, Andres Nocioni and Luis Scola, has potential to stick around for three or more quarters.

Back-to-back silver medalist Spain is a 5.5-point favorite against France in the matchup that will decide who faces the U.S.-Argentina winner in the semifinals. The total is 154.5 points.

With Pau Gasol and Rudy Fernandez, Spain excels at getting and making open looks on offense. They are suspect defensively, and France with San Antonio Spurs PG Tony Parker – whose minutes have been rationed in the tournament – is capable of dictating the pace. With Nicolas Batum and Boris Diaw, France can also play physically.

On the other half of the bracket, Serbia is a 5.5-point favorite against arch rival Croatia, with a total of 157 points. The x-factor might well be Denver Nuggets F Nikola Jokic, who went off for 25 points when Serbia gave Team USA a scare last round. In a matchup of developing bigs, Jokic is just more polished than Croatia’s Dario Saric, who is joining the Philadelphia 76ers after the Olympics.

Patty Mills-fueled Australia is a 3.5-point favorite against Lithuania. The total is 158. Australia has overachieved so far in Rio, whereas Lithuania has underachieved. Mills and Matthew Dellavedova supply the 1-2 punch at point guard that is a necessity in international hoops. Dellavedova will probably be trusted to try and slow up Lithuania PG Mantas Kalnietis.

Each men’s semifinal is on Friday. Team USA has won five of six gold medals since 1992.