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BEIJING 2008 : MEN'S BASKETBALL

With Angola, the beat is familiar

August 12, 2008|Mark Heisler | Times Staff Writer

BEIJING -- With the U.S. men's basketball team determined not to overlook anybody, what can the Americans come up with for tonight's opponent, Angola?

How about: They don't discourage easily?

With all the reversals the U.S. has suffered in recent competition, there was always someone it could beat (not to mention beat on).

The Dream Team made its debut against Angola in Barcelona in 1992, winning, 116-48, although the 68-point margin isn't what it's remembered for.

Nor was it because of the 46-1 run the U.S. went on with the score tied, 7-7, making it 53-8.

If most Americans would prefer to forget it, it's remembered for the elbow Charles Barkley threw into the chest of a 170-pound Angolan forward named Herlander Coimbra.

Coimbra brushed Barkley as Barkley laid the ball up on a fastbreak for the 30th and 31st points in the U.S. run. On Barkley's way back up the court, he passed Coimbra and elbowed him. Barkley was called for a flagrant foul that hardly impressed him: "You hit me, I'll hit you; even if it doesn't look like he's eaten in a while."

If Coimbra did hit Barkley, the surprise was that Barkley felt it. The next day at a news conference, Barkley, being Barkley, said, "I thought he might have a spear."

Nevertheless, the Angolans not only didn't take any offense, they seemed flattered to be part of the incident.

After the game, Coimbra found Barkley, who posed for a photo with him.

This is Angola's fifth straight Olympic appearance, having played the U.S. twice since 1992, losing by 33 in 1996 and by 26 in 2004.

Once again, Angola is a prohibitive underdog. The U.S. is relatively small for an American team, with only Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh over 6 feet 9, but Angola is tiny, with no one over 6-7.

Even if size hasn't helped bigger teams against the U.S. -- such as China, with its three 7-footers -- it's not a good idea to go small on the Americans.

The U.S. didn't practice Monday, but on USA Basketball's website, it posted a scouting report by Tony Ronzone, who predicted Angola will play zone defense the entire game.

" . . . That's a great thing," Ronzone wrote. "The experience against zone defense will prepare us for our upcoming games against Greece and Spain in pool play and even some of the teams in the other bracket down the road, like Lithuania. I think in this tournament, we are going to see zone a lot."

If the U.S. doesn't turn it up after missing 14 of its first 15 three-pointers against China, it may never again see a man-to-man defense.

Nevertheless, playing a zone figures to matter more against Greece and Spain than Angola. Let's just hope no one gets anything hurt in this one but his feelings.

--

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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