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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS

Dream Team Starts to Put People to Sleep

Basketball: Barkley makes no trouble in 87-54 victory over Angola, which keeps it closer than '92.

July 23, 1996|MARK HEISLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — Two games into the Games, the Dream Team hasn't eaten anyone for lunch, but look at the bright side:

There hasn't been a single international incident.

For old times' sake, the Americans met Angola on Monday night, giving Charles Barkley a chance to reprise his famous elbow to the chest of 170-pound Herlander Coimbra from the Barcelona Games. In a rare but applaudable show of restraint, Barkley let the little guy alone and the United States cruised to a 87-54 victory.

Taking no bows, Barkley said "those idiots in the press" hyped it into an issue four years later, a totally correct assessment for once in his life.

"If it wasn't for that incident," Barkley added, "no one would have watched this game. So NBC should thank me."

He had that one right too. In the absence of actual news, suspense or anything, Barkley was asked continually about this "rematch." Typically, he enlivened many stories, suggesting he might do it again.

"I play like that," he said a few days ago. "I play hard and physical and aggressive. That '92 Angolan team started a brawl a few days later."

He also allowed that Shane Heal, the Australian tyke he bowled over and then bumped chests with in a recent exhibition, "was a talkative little fellow."

Said Barkley, summing up: "I'm pretty consistent. I'll hit anybody."

Coach Lenny Wilkens said he was thinking of having a talk with Barkley but decided against it, possibly on the theory that he might act up just to prove he's still the same guy. But Barkley was on his best behavior. He played 18 minutes, scored seven points, took nine rebounds and laid out no Angolans.

The game was so subdued, the crowd of 30,831 in the Georgia Dome resorted to doing the wave to pass the time.

The Angolans wisely ran down the shot clock to keep the Americans from fastbreaking and dunking, and it worked. The 33-point margin was 35 fewer than in the 1992 game, a 116-48 disaster, and suggesting that if foreign teams haven't actually cut the gap in half, they have learned basic strategy.

"They don't want to get beat by 60," John Stockton said. "They circle the wagons by slowing it down, by being very patient. I don't know that it helps their chances of winning, but it's going to keep the deficit smaller.

"At Barcelona, they were so thrilled just to be out there, I don't think their concentration level enabled them to do anything but that. But guys have seen the Dream Team before, they're not all that struck by us anymore, so we have to go out and we have to go out and play and do the little things."

It looked like a classic mismatch, at least. The Angolans started a front line that went 6-6, 6-5, 6-3 against Shaquille O'Neal, Karl Malone and Grant Hill. The American starting lineup had only one player--Mitch Richmond--shorter than the Angolan center, David Dias.

However, the Angolans hung in. With 9:01 left in the first half, they were within one point, 22-21. At Barcelona, only one team--Croatia in the gold medal game--stayed that close to the Dream Team for that long.

"Like the game the other day against Argentina," Barkley said of the 96-58 victory, "they don't want to take pictures with us before the game anymore. They're not out there asking for autographs.

"They want to come out there and try to beat us. You notice the last two games, they're not shaking or anything like they did in the past. They want to beat us."

Of course, the U.S. players aren't supposed to say it, but on nights like this, boredom is the great challenge.

"Well," Gary Payton said, "you know, I don't know, we're supposed to be excited about everything. We're excited because we're here.

"We know we have a good chance of winning it all. We know we'd have to have a terrible game to lose--everybody'd probably have to foul out or something. Still, it's a pride thing. We just got to go out there and play hard, no matter what. If we don't win by 30 or something, you guys think we're struggling."

To stay awake, at least.

Fortunately for the Americans, their next game is against Lithuania with Arvydas Sabonis and Sarunas Marciulionis, two players they actually know. The Lithuanians aren't exactly red hot--they were upset Monday by Argentina--but at this point, the U.S. players are happy to have any reason to concentrate.

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