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USA Plays a Little Defense

After an embarrassing loss and a close victory, Americans show improvement against Serbia and Montenegro, 78-60.

August 07, 2004|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

A funny thing happened on the way to Athens. The U.S. men's Olympic basketball team, a collection of NBA players who had shown an alarming inability to coalesce into an effective unit, turned into the Detroit Pistons.

At least for one night.

Coached by Larry Brown, who turned the Pistons into NBA champions last season by stressing discipline, determination and defense, the Olympians adopted that philosophy Friday night in beating Serbia and Montenegro in a warmup game in Belgrade, 78-60.

It might have been a tougher test if the Serbians had decided to go with their best. NBA players Predrag Drobnjak and Zarko Cabarkapa did not play because of Coach Zelimar Obradovic's desire to give more playing time to his younger players.

Having lost to Italy by 17 points and needing a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Allen Iverson to defeat Germany in its previous two games, the U.S. team had fallen so far in prestige that it was a four-point underdog before Friday's game.

But against the country that won the world championship in 2002 at Indianapolis, the U.S. established its dominance in the second quarter, going on a 14-0 run and holding the Serbs to nine points.

Unlike Italy and Germany, both of which used zone defenses against the U.S., Serbia went man to man.

Tim Duncan responded with a team-high 16 points, LeBron James adding 11.

"We have a young team and are still learning about each other and, hopefully, that will improve as each of these games goes on," Brown said. "The experience we had playing here was real important for us.... We came out and I thought were a little tight, missed some shots, but we started to defend and pass, pass, pass and play the right way."

The U.S. was 14 for 14 from the free-throw line and shot 50% from the field. The Serbian team shot 35%, making only one of 14 three-point shots.

Igor Rakocevic led Serbia with 18 points, but the frustration he and his teammates felt was demonstrated by Vladimir Radmanovic, who, after being taken out because of poor play, responded by spiking a bottle of water on the floor, showering the court.

The U.S. next travels to Turkey for a game Sunday.

Springer reported from Los Angeles.

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