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U.S. Rolls, Clinches Spot in Semifinals

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By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 29, 2007; 2:51 AM

LAS VEGAS, Aug. 28 -- LeBron James buried a three-pointer from the right corner, and then he hit one from the left. For good measure, James hit another three, fading away from the top of the key.

The Cleveland Cavaliers' all-star forward couldn't believe the amount of space Puerto Rico had given him on his jump shot, and wasn't ready to give all of the credit to the wealth of scoring options on Team USA.

"They're definitely not respecting my offensive ability," James said of his opponents. "That was what I've been working on all summer is my jump shot."

After James's surprising three-point barrage in the second quarter of the United States' 117-78 victory on Tuesday, he gave the Puerto Ricans another image that it may be more familiar with. Kobe Bryant dribbled the ball up the floor and fired a 40-foot lob once he crossed halfcourt. James soared toward the rim for two-handed slam that gave the Americans a 31-point lead and the two superstars another excuse to bump chests.

The U.S. had learned its lesson from the night before against Mexico - it wasn't about to let another inferior opponent hang around longer than necessary. Although the Americans beat Mexico in decisive fashion, they were disappointed in their overall effort and in surrendering 100 points. Players blamed everything from tired legs to the sparse crowd at Thomas & Mack Center for their lack of energy.

Monday's game "Was one of those get through the motion games," James said after scoring a game-high 21 points. "I told you all after that game, we wasn't going to have another one. We came out with that aggressive mindset on defense. We made open looks, made the extra pass, got a big lead and kept it going."

The victory secured a spot in the semifinals on Saturday. The Americans will play Uruguay on Wednesday and conclude the second round on Thursday against Argentina, the only other unbeaten team in this tournament.

"Our mindset is that we are not worried about the semifinals," point guard Jason Kidd said. "Every time we take the floor, we want to get better and show the world that we are coming back to be a team that hopefully will be the favorites to win the gold medal."

Puerto Rico gave the U.S. its first loss in Olympic play using NBA players in Athens in 2004. James, Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire were members of that U.S. team, but all three were mostly spectators for that historic loss. James and Anthony were able to exact some revenge in the world championships last summer with an 11-point win in Japan.

Anthony, whose late father was from Puerto Rico, has a tattoo of the Puerto Rican flag near the thumb of his right hand. He said he has scrimmaged and played against Puerto Rico enough times to not get emotional.

"I forget about all that when I'm on the court," said Anthony, who scored 17 points.

Bryant added 14 points and Stoudemire pitched in 12 points and a game-high eight rebounds as the U.S. improved to 32-0 all-time in this Olympic qualifying tournament.


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