U.S. Has No Trouble Routing Brazil

LeBron James (21 points) has a good view of U.S. teammate Kobe Bryant (20 points) diving under Brazil's Leandro Barbosa in pursuit of a loose ball during the first quarter. The U.S. team is 4-0.
LeBron James (21 points) has a good view of U.S. teammate Kobe Bryant (20 points) diving under Brazil's Leandro Barbosa in pursuit of a loose ball during the first quarter. The U.S. team is 4-0. (By Jae C. Hong -- Associated Press)

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By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 27, 2007

LAS VEGAS, Aug. 26 -- The concept of building another Dream Team never really died; it just hadn't been executed properly. If the first four games of the FIBA Americas Championship have proven anything, it's that the United States will get the best results in international men's basketball when it sends its best players.

Brazil, a well-balanced team with three NBA players, was supposed to be the best challenge the U.S. team would face in the preliminary round, but the Brazilians were able to stay close for only about 15 minutes before the Americans used their superior depth and talent to mop up their fourth straight opponent, 113-76.

The United States improved to 30-0 all-time in this tournament, but for the first time in four games, the Americans had to deal with some adversity. Reserve forward Tayshaun Prince, one of the teams' best perimeter defenders, went down with an ankle injury late in the first period, and leading scorer Carmelo Anthony was saddled with foul trouble in the first half, forcing LeBron James to play some minutes at power forward.

But as veteran point guard Jason Kidd said, "Nobody panicked."

How could they? With James and Anthony scoring 21 points apiece and Kobe Bryant shutting down Brazil's leading scorer Leandro Barbosa while pitching in 20 of his own, the Americans enter the second round of this tournament, which begins Monday against Mexico, as the top seed from Group B.

Talk before this tournament that James, Anthony and Bryant wouldn't mesh has been silenced.

"It can work, and it will work. It's not an issue," Bryant said. "The knock on the U.S. [in the past] is that we're not playing together. That's been the emphasis for us."

San Antonio Spurs first-round draft pick Tiago Splitter led Brazil with 13 points. Barbosa entered the game as the tournament's leading scorer, averaging 27 points per game, but he was held to just four points. Barbosa hurt his left ankle in the final two minutes of Brazil's victory over the Virgin Islands on Saturday. Barbosa said he was fine, but he struggled with Bryant hounding him. Early in the first quarter, Bryant forced Barbosa into dribbling the ball off his leg. As Barbosa jogged to track down the ball, Bryant dove after it and skidded across the floor to force the turnover.

"He was just as fast, just as quick," Bryant said of Barbosa. "I'm 20 pounds lighter, too."

Nene started for Brazil for the first time this tournament, but he had just eight points.

Brazil refused to cower after the Americans jumped to a 10-1 lead and closed within two points early in the second quarter. But the game turned when Barbosa went to the bench with 5 minutes 50 seconds left in the half. At the time, Brazil trailed by five. When he returned about three minutes later, the U.S. team had taken a 16-point lead when Michael Redd made a three-pointer from the left corner. James ended the half with a bank shot from just inside midcourt that gave his team a 19-point lead.

"I thought our defense in the second and third quarter was at the highest level that it has been at during the tournament," U.S. Coach Mike Krzyzewski said.

Winning the first four games by an average of 48.5 points, the U.S. team has dominated in a fashion reminiscent of the original Dream Team, which won six games in the Tournament of the Americas in 1992 by an average of 51.5 points.

"Some of the best players in the world are playing with us right now, but we also have role players," said Jerry Colangelo, managing director of the national team. "We have shooters. We have great leadership in the backcourt. So, it's a combination of all of those components.

"But when you see Kobe Bryant diving for loose balls; when you see LeBron and 'Melo, and the work they're putting in; that's impressive. I sensed from the get-go, these guys are really committed."

After the United States finished third in the world championships in Japan with a team built around stars Dwyane Wade, Anthony and James and role players, Colangelo restocked the roster with more stars. The team lost Wade and Chris Bosh to injury, but added first-team all-NBA players Bryant and Amare Stoudemire, point guards Kidd and Chauncey Billups, and a long-range shooter in Redd.

"We had a lot of turnover from last year to this year, but I can reverse that and say, if some of these players had been healthy they would've been in uniform last summer," Colangelo said. "Next summer, it's going to be interesting . . . assuming we qualify."

That doesn't appear to be a problem thus far.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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