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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS | BASKETBALL

This Dream Team Wakes Up Echoes With 133-70 Rout

July 27, 1996|MARK HEISLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — Was this game really necessary?

Do the Chinese know the phrase, "Get a roll of stamps and mail it in?" If so, they could have saved themselves Friday's humiliation. Instead, they showed and had their heads handed to them, 133-70, by the Dream Team, which lived up to its famous ancestor for a night.

A full-throated capacity crowd of 34,417 in the Georgia Dome roared its approval of every dunk and layup as the Dreamers set a record for points by an American team.

Fans have been plentiful and bloodthirsty, although the reception elsewhere has been decidedly mixed. Put it this way: It's a good thing for the Dream Team the Atlanta Games have been so messed up. If not for ACOG, they, not it, might be the most scorned institution in town.

The original Dream Team had so much star power, its routs were deemed interesting. Lacking Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, this one had the further misfortune of arriving here during a burst of $100-million signings, a reminder they weren't your average Olympians.

Even before the Games started, the drumroll did.

"The thrill is gone," said a Sports Illustrated headline.

"Better than a sleeping pill," said the Washington Post.

Dave Kindred, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist, ripped writers for criticizing ACOG and ignoring happy visitors--but even he slammed the Dream Team ("It's ridiculous, even demeaning, to be asked to pay a minute's attention to millionaires we've seen a thousand times who can win every game by 30 points."). Actually, the Americans had been hard-pressed to beat anybody by 30 before Friday, when the schedule offered up China.

The Chinese were not a complete joke; they came in with a 2-1 record, having beaten Argentina and Angola. However, that didn't make them the Americans' peers, either.

For a night, the awe was back. The Chinese didn't slow the game down, as other teams did. They didn't get back on defense, as all teams must. After they took a shot, they milled around as the Americans rebounded and ran to the other end of the floor and lobbed and dunked.

Voila! Instant rout.

Not only that, the Americans started making outside shots. Scottie Pippen made three fast three-point tries. Then Reggie Miller made four--all before halftime. Of the Americans' 27 field goals in the 65-28 first half, seven were three-pointers, seven were layups and eight were dunks.

"I don't think that [slowing the game down] would have made any difference, with regard to the result," China Coach Gong Lu-min said through an interpreter.

"We would lose anyway. In order to improve, we must focus on our own strategy. I don't care about the statistics or the score."

The second half gave new meaning to the words garbage time. During one timeout, Charles Barkley, who didn't play, led the crowd in forming the letters in "YMCA." The Americans had a chance at the Olympic record, 138, but China held the ball for the last 20 seconds.

"Now they figure it out," said someone in the press tent.

When it was all over, the players picked Miller up and carried him off, probably because he was their lightest player. All in all, it was a great night for U.S. basketball.

"Certainly the team is tired of hearing that [criticism], but we don't take that as a challenge for us," Coach Lenny Wilkens said. 'What we want to do is get better as the tournament goes on.

"Tonight the opportunity was there. They didn't slow the ball down as much as the other teams. I just don't think we're that concerned about what the team in '92 did or the team in '94 did. Hey, we're the ones that are here."

On the Dream Team, they have a new motto. When in trouble, send out for Chinese.

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