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BEIJING 2008 : Mark Heisler / ON OLYMPIC BASKETBALL

Stunningly, last summer

Storming through its exhibitions, U.S. looks a lot like the scary-good team from 2007 Tournament of the Americas

August 05, 2008|Mark Heisler

SHANGHAI -- If an exhibition season is only that, the undefeated, unchallenged U.S. men's basketball team is 4-0 in its exhibitions, winning by an average of 36 points a game, looking as dominating as it did last summer.

With most of the same players, the U.S. was 10-0 in the 2007 Tournament of the Americas to qualify for the Olympics, winning by an average of 40 points a game.

"The biggest difference between NBA basketball and basketball in Europe is still speed, the speed of the game," said David Blatt, the American who coaches Russia, after Sunday's 89-68 loss to the U.S.

"And throw in the element of athleticism, although there's more and more athleticism in Europe today than any time in the past. But the speed of the game, the speed at which teams attack you, run at you, the speed at which you must react to make plays, both offensively and defensively, is at another level.

"Other than taking the ball and stuffing it under your shirt, you've got to move it around. You've got to play faster, stronger and harder to make plays. . . .

"We did not shoot well, which you must do. When you get shots against the U.S., you . . . better make them. You aren't going to get that many."

Dwyane Wade, who played on the 2006 team that finished third in the world championships, sat out the Tournament of the Americas after undergoing shoulder surgery but came to Las Vegas to watch his teammates anyway.

Wade then sat out 31 games last season in Miami and had to audition for Jerry Colangelo, managing director of the U.S. team, to show he was sound enough to participate this summer.

To this point Wade has been sound enough to lead the team in scoring, averaging 17.3 points -- in 19 minutes off the bench.

"In the three-year commitment that he's made, this is the first time he's been completely healthy, which makes his commitment as good as anyone's," Coach Mike Krzyzewski said.

"It's kind of nice to see that now the Olympics are here and he's 100%. I'm really happy for him because he's worked hard to get here."

Said teammate Carmelo Anthony: "He's back. That's all I can say. He's back."

Kobe Bryant, asked whether he would ever play for a European team, said: "Yes, sure, Italy, Greece, Russia. Forty million a year and I'm there, as simple as that."

Said Krzyzewski: "I wanted him to play for Poland and for Duke."

After three games in four nights, Krzyzewski gave his players the day off before today's exhibition finale against Australia. The team will then fly to Beijing on Wednesday and start Olympic competition in Sunday's game against host China.

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mark.heisler@latimes.com

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