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Team USA serves notice

Olympians rout Canada, 120-65, and are ready for their mission of redemption after mediocre bronze effort in 2004 Games.

July 26, 2008|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS -- They scored, they soared, they dazzled and they dunked.

But nothing the U.S. men's Olympic basketball team did Friday evening at the Thomas & Mack Center in winning their exhibition opener over Canada, 120-65, was as meaningful as the simple act of putting their hands together and applauding.

To a man, the U.S. Olympians joined the sellout crowd of 18,498 in paying tribute to a group of U.S. military personnel back from Iraq.

"They are our superheroes," said Air Force senior airman David Stovall. "To see them cheering us was the greatest feeling in the world."

It brought home the point that this group of 12 NBA stars, their respective identities with their individual teams on hold, have become a source of national pride, toy department soldiers on a mission to restore the luster to a basketball program that once ruled the world.

"Thank you for your support," Chris Bosh told the crowd after the final buzzer had sounded. "We will bring home the gold."

If Friday is any indication, it will take a major upset to prevent that. Despite the fact the U.S. team was missing LeBron James, who sat out as a precautionary measure after suffering a mild ankle sprain, it dominated from start to finish, from the backcourt to the frontcourt.

"They are the best team in the world," Canadian Coach Leo Rautins said. "Early in the game, we tried to keep it a halfcourt game, but that quickly unraveled."

Three members of the U.S. team -- Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Michael Redd -- had the game-high total of 20 points.

Kobe Bryant played 23 minutes and scored 15 points, making six of 10 shots.

The U.S. shot 65.7%, Canada just 33.3%. The rebounding department was equally one-sided, the U.S. outrebounding Canada, 38-24.

The U.S. team moved the ball well, handing out 23 assists, but was also guilty of 19 turnovers, a number Coach Mike Krzyzewski is sure to circle for the next practice. Canada had only seven assists, and turned the ball over 24 times.

"After the first quarter," Krzyzewski said, "we were in better sync."

What his team demonstrated was speed and fluidity that can turn games into track meets, unless opposing defenses can find a way to slow them down and frustrate them.

"You can't make any mistakes against them," Rautins said. "They can put the kind of talent and quickness on the floor that nobody else has."

The game capped five days in the Las Vegas heat for the squad, the first four spent practicing and scrimmaging at a local high school.

"You can only do so much in practice," Bryant said. "It was good to get out there."

While the players were pleased to a man with their performance, they know this is only the first small step on a journey that will take them halfway around the world in search of national redemption. A bitter taste lingers in the mouths of players such as Wade and James, who were on the last U.S. Olympic team, the 2004 squad that finished with a 5-3 record and a bronze medal.

"We have high expectations," guard Deron Williams said. "We have a lot to prove for ourselves and our country."

The team departs this weekend for China where it will play two exhibition games in Macao and two in Shanghai before beginning Olympic play against the host nation, China, on Aug. 10.

"Everybody is antsy," guard Chris Paul said, "to get on that plane, get to China and get going."


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