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U.S. turns Brazil into a wannabe, 113-76

Unlike their first three wins, the Americans are tested for a while before a 59-17 run turns it into a rout. Bryant shuts down Barbosa.

August 27, 2007|Mark Heisler | Times Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS -- Finally, a barn-burner. Well, relatively.

After rolling over three warmup acts by an average of 52 points, the U.S. played someone its own size, at least in feet and inches, although it turned out to be more of a pop quiz than a test.

It didn't last long enough to be a test. Brazil was within five points midway through the second period Sunday, when the U.S. went on a 59-17 run that lasted the rest of the quarter and all of the third and won the Tournament of the Americas' battle of Group B unbeatens, 113-76.

The U.S. is 4-0, going into second-round play against Mexico, which finished fourth in Pool A.

Kobe Bryant guarded the cat-quick Brazilian star, Leandro Barbosa, and all but extinguished him. Barbosa came in as the tournament's top scorer at 27 points a game but Bryant and Chauncey Billups held him to four.

Barbosa got off only seven shots and missed six, with his only make on a fastbreak. Bryant followed him everywhere, including the time Barbosa was at the other end of the floor while the U.S. was shooting a free throw, with Bryant leaning on him.

"Trying to let him know, man, it's going to be a long night, I'm going to be with you this whole time, I'm not leaving you one second," said Bryant, who had 20 points.

Brazil represented a step up from the small fry the U.S. had dispatched in the first three games. Barbosa, Nene, two more players with NBA experience -- Marcus Vincius and Alex Garcia -- and San Antonio's No. 1 draft pick, Tiago Splitter, lead Brazil.

With Nene and Splitter, both 6 feet 11, the Brazilians were bigger than the U.S., which starts a smaller lineup featuring Bryant, Jason Kidd and LeBron James.

Splitter had entered two drafts before this year's, withdrawing both times while various NBA scouts described him as anything from a decent prospect to a nobody.

He was somebody Sunday night, scoring 11 of his 13 points in the first half.

Brazil cut an early 10-point deficit to 29-27, hanging in the game with highlight-reel plays such as Splitter beating Dwight Howard off the dribble for a layup and the 6-1 Garcia hurtling through traffic for a dunk.

However, Bryant's post-up layup started a 20-6 run with some highlights the Americans could call their own, including Amare Stoudemire's dunk off a snap pass from James, who had a 40-foot three-pointer at the end of the half.

After that, the U.S. clamped down on defense and roared away on offense, as if Brazil was Venezuela, the Virgin Islands or Canada.

"We had a lot of adversity tonight," said Coach Mike Krzyzewski. "Tayshaun [Prince] sprained his ankle and he might be out a day or two. We had foul trouble early with Carmelo [Anthony] and Dwight. We had to play LeBron at the four [power forward] and we hadn't done that before."

Well, when you haven't had any adversity at all, a little bit seems like a lot.

Running his best back-door cut of the night, and the only one on which no U.S. player hit him, Barbosa ducked out on the media.

"He'll be all right," said Mike D'Antoni, the U.S. assistant who coaches Barbosa in Phoenix. "This is good for him. Make him grow up."

There's always a silver lining after you play the U.S. Now the Americans are someone else's problem.

--

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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