The road to a fourth straight gold medal, at least at the outset, has been rocky for Team USA’s men’s basketball team.

It sets up an intriguing Olympics 2021 for the United States, which has lost four of its last five games dating to the 2019 World Cup, in which the Americans finished seventh.

This group, coached by the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich, was not supposed to struggle to finish first in Tokyo. Popovich is flanked by key assistants such as: Jay Wright of Villanova, Steve Kerr of the Warriors and Lloyd Pierce, an assistant coach with the Pacers.

Despite the ominous early signs, however, there’s every chance the U.S. team will be fine — they’re still a -350 favorite, according to SportsBetting — with so much high-end talent on hand.

Here’s a breakdown of the Olympics 2021 men’s basketball tournament

Team USA schedule

The 12 teams are broken into three groups of four. The top two teams from each group, along with the two best third-place finishers, advance to a single-elimination quarterfinals. Team USA is in a group with France, Iran and the Czech Republic. Each team plays three games in the group stage.

Sunday, July 25: Team USA vs. France, 8 a.m. ET (streamed live on Peacock, replayed on NBC after 12:15 p.m.)

Wednesday, July 28: Team USA vs. Iran, 12:40 a.m. ET (streamed live on Peacock, replayed on NBC at 3 p.m.)

Saturday, July 31: Team USA vs. Czech Republic, 8 a.m. ET (streamed live on Peacock, replayed on NBC at 4 p.m.)

The challengers

Nigeria and Australia can’t be discounted after taking down Team USA in exhibitions.

Nigeria has eight NBA players, the most of any team other than the United States, and Australia features NBA sharpshooters Patty Mills and Joe Ingles. Other nations to watch include Slovenia, which qualified for the first time behind Mavericks phenom Luka Doncic; France, featuring NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert as well as Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina and Clippers forward Nicolas Batum; and Spain, which included the Gasol brothers, Pau and Marc, along with point guard Ricky Rubio.

Who will win the gold medal? 

The rules

The international game is different from the NBA.

The games are shorter — 40 minutes instead of 48 — although overtime is the same five-minute period.

Players are only allowed five fouls and a technical foul counts as a personal foul.

The 3-point line is shorter: 22 feet, 1.75 inches at the top of the arc (23 feet, 9 inches in the NBA) and 21 feet, 8 inches in the corners (22 feet in NBA).

All manners of zone defense are allowed. There is no defensive three seconds.

Lastly, there is no such thing as basket interference. After it hits the rim, it is fair game.