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U.S. men's basketball overcomes slow start to beat France, 98-71

Kevin Durant has 22 points for the Americans, who make only seven of 24 shots in the first quarter.

July 29, 2012|By Mike Bresnahan

LONDON — The photographers told the whole story without uttering a word.

Ten minutes before Sunday's tipoff, they were allowed to briefly take photos of Team USA and France from half court. Thirty of them quickly lined up to shoot the U.S. Two opted for the French team.

Welcome to the latest and possibly last version of the Dream Team.

Kevin Durant had 22 points and the U.S. overcame a poor first quarter to beat France with ease in an Olympic opener, 98-71.

The game was played at the Olympic Park basketball arena, but the crowd's interest was obvious.

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is a one-time opportunity," the public-address announcer said. "Let's make some noise for France!"

There was muted response.

Then he asked for noise for the U.S. team. It got louder …quickly.

Hey, as forward Kevin Love said after scoring 14 points, "We have players and coaches that are international stars."

Coaches too? Almost.

U.S. Coach Mike Krzyzewski's name was misspelled on the placard in front of him at a postgame news conference. (The second 'z' was missing.)

"The Polish people would not like that," he quipped.

LeBron James was a pass-first player, finishing with nine points and eight assists. Kobe Bryant had 10 points.

Even though this might be it for the Dream Team concept — NBA Commissioner David Stern keeps hinting at a 23-and-younger age range for future Olympics — there was nothing terribly dreamy about the start for the U.S.

Fans who braved the rain and successfully dodged metal barbs on scores of open umbrellas saw the U.S. take a slender 22-21 lead after making only seven of 24 shots (29%) and missing all seven from three-point range in the first quarter.

But then Carmelo Anthony, Bryant and Chris Paul made three-pointers early in the second quarter and the U.S. was never challenged from there, taking a 52-36 halftime lead.

The U.S. seemed annoyed by many of the referees' calls, the first quarter ending with Krzyzewski protesting a carrying-over violation on Paul.

"We were just trying to figure out how they were going to call the game," Anthony said. "Throughout the course of the game we had no clue."

Each team ended up with 26 fouls. Krzyzewski kindly called the pace "disjointed."

Tony Parker had a numbingly quiet game for France, finishing with 10 points and only one assist. His availability for the Olympics was originally in doubt after he had eye surgery stemming from a nightclub brawl last month. He was cleared to play a few weeks ago and wore protective goggles Sunday.

NBA players Boris Diaw and Nicolas Batum combined for only 16 points for France, which was led in scoring by little-known Ali Traore with 12.

Batum blamed a bad back a week after signing a four-year deal with Portland worth a reported $45 million.

"Going to the opening ceremony killed my back because I was standing up for four hours," he said. "I'm not used to it. I need to take care of it."

France made two of 22 three-point attempts.

James created the highlight of the game, a spinning, twisting bounce pass that traveled almost the length of the court, finding Durant for a dunk that turned into a three-point play after a foul.

"I threw it because I felt like I could get it there to him," James said. "Luckily, he was able to dribble it off the ground and finish it."

The U.S. had assists on 27 of 31 baskets. Its next game is Tuesday against Tunisia, a 60-56 loser to Nigeria on Sunday. Al-Farouq Aminu scored 15 points for Nigeria.

In other games Sunday, Brazil, led by Leandro Barbosa's 16 points, beat Australia, 75-71; Pau Gasol had 21 points and 11 rebounds to lead Spain past China, 97-81; Andrei Kirilenko scored 35 points to help Russia beat Britain, 95-75; and Luis Scola and Manu Ginobili had 32 and 21 points, respectively, to lead Argentina past Lithuania, 102-79.

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

twitter.com/Mike_Bresnahan

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