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BEIJING 2008 / Mark Heisler / ON THE NBA

Dream team laps up the luxury, as usual

July 29, 2008|Mark Heisler

MACAO -- Cards turning. Dice rolling. Posh theme hotels with replicas of world landmarks -- would you believe Fisherman's Wharf Macao? -- and the obligatory faux volcano.

The U.S. men's basketball team is home, all right.

Leaving nothing to chance, Coach Mike Krzyzewski and his players opened the Asian phase of their preparation Monday -- 11 days before the opening ceremony in Beijing -- in the usual style.

According to the Eleventh Commandment handed down in 1992 when NBA players began Olympic play, no U.S. team can ever be out of sight of a five-star hotel, a casino or, preferably, both.

The original 1992 Dream Team trained in Monte Carlo before the Barcelona Games. This team, which hopes to recover the glory that has been lost since, trained in Las Vegas for five days before flying here, to the Vegas of Asia.

Or, given the booming economic climate in the East, maybe Las Vegas is the Macao of the West.

Las Vegas is reporting declines in hotel capacity, the price of rooms and gambling revenue. In China, with growth projected at 10% annually and no gambling on the mainland, Macao is running so hot, the central government tightened restrictions on visas to limit stays for Chinese citizens.

The U.S. team is at the Venetian Macao, the first of 13 luxury hotels on the Cotai Strip -- itself a replica of yet another landmark, the Las Vegas Strip -- across the street from two more giants under construction, the Four Seasons Macao and the City of Dreams.

Aside from replicas of St. Mark's Square, the Doge's Palace and three indoor canals complete with gondolas and singing gondoliers, the Venetian Macao also has an in-house 15,000-seat arena, steps from the reception desk, not to mention the casino.

The Americans will practice there for four days before exhibitions against Turkey on Friday and Lithuania on Saturday.

The U.S. team took a 13-hour nonstop flight into nearby Hong Kong, arriving at about 5 a.m. Monday, then had to wait for more than three hours to board a plane to Macao, arriving at the Venetian at about 10 a.m.

Then everyone grabbed a nap before Krzyzewski, managing director Jerry Colangelo, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade were obliged to say a few diplomatic words at one of those international news conferences where all the questions and answers are repeated in another language.

Then they held a light practice. Nevertheless, everyone felt fine, they said.

"I feel great," said Krzyzewski. "I slept 10 hours on the plane. That's more than I sleep at home. I'm trying to get a plane in my home so I'd sleep better. Get that chair in my home, I think I'd be a better man.

"By the way, Carmelo broke the record. He slept the entire flight. No one in the history of U.S. basketball has ever slept the entire flight. We're hoping it's not the only record he breaks on this trip."

In the big, or only, news aside from the fact that the U.S. team arrived, James, who missed the first exhibition, Friday in Las Vegas, because of a sprained right ankle, said he's fine and will play in the exhibitions here.

Of course, in typical LeBron fashion, he dealt with it succinctly, saying only, "I'm healthy."

Not that this was enough for the eclectic press corps gathered here, including a correspondent from the French news service, Agence France-Presse, who later asked Krzyzewski for "a synopsis" of James' ankle.

"He's going to play," said Krzyzewski. "And I'm going to play him a lot and make him work real hard, which he always wants to do, anyway.

"He's fine. Aren't you fine?"

"Good," replied James, sticking to his man-of-few-words act.

"He's good," reported Krzyzewski. "I'm sorry, he's not fine, he's good. I think that's better than fine."

Of course, it's early, like 11 days before anything real happens, but the U.S. team is fine. Or good.

--

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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