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Short three stars, Americans win first game

8/1/2004

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Reunited, and it feels so ... familiar.

The U.S. Olympic team tipped off its exhibition season with an
easy 96-71 victory over Puerto Rico on Saturday, although the most
intriguing action came beforehand between old sparring partners
Larry Brown and Allen Iverson.

Brown held Iverson, LeBron James and Amare Stoudemire out of the
game for showing up late to a pre-game meeting, a move that brought
back memories of the six fractious seasons The Coach and The Answer
spent together with the Philadelphia 76ers.

"They broke a team rule and we are a team," Brown said. "They
paid the penalty. Nobody wanted to embarrass them, and now we're
moving on."

Brown and Iverson have been down this road before. Their time
together with the Sixers was riddled with disagreements, tardiness
and a general lack of harmony. They claimed to have patched things
up since Brown left after the 2003 season, but in their first
significant reunion, there was trouble.

Iverson claimed he "couldn't have been more than five minutes
late."

"I'm the captain on the team and to be suspended just for being
a couple minutes late just doesn't sit well for me," he said.
"I'm supposed to be one of the leaders of the team, and this is
not a good look."

Almost as upsetting to Brown was the decision by arena officials
to announce the suspensions over the public-address system. A
sellout crowd of about 14,000 fans who don't get to see NBA stars
pop in to Jacksonville too often booed lustily, and Brown glared
over to the scorer's table.

"I was totally embarrassed by the announcement, because it
embarrassed those guys, and it was totally uncalled for," Brown
said.

Midway through the fourth quarter, the crowd chanted
"I-ver-son, I-ver-son," but to no avail. He, James and Stoudemire
spent the entire game watching from the bench in shorts.

"It was a surprise that he made that decision at first," said
James, who claimed he was between five and 10 minutes late. "But
I've got to go with what the coach said."

The other nine players put in a hot-and-cold effort to be
expected from a group that is just getting to know each other and
was further hamstrung by the suspensions.

Carmelo Anthony and Carlos Boozer led the Americans with 16
points each. Dwyane Wade had eight assists, more than half of which
were alley-oops, or sweet, no-look feeds. Tim Duncan finished with
15 points and 10 rebounds. Shawn Marion finished with 12 points and
nine rebounds.

"I thought it was a great exhibition of what we can do out
there," Marion said.

There were rough spots, too.

After getting off to a quick start, the Americans went cold and
got sloppy in the second quarter, possibly in part because they
were playing with only two guards, only one of whom, Stephon Marbury,
was a true point guard.

The U.S. team also has trouble shooting outside, going just
3-for-7 from 3-point range, a problem that existed even before the
suspensions, although one that surely won't be as bad when Iverson
and James return.

If Puerto Rico was the 51st state, Larry Ayuso might have a
chance at making the U.S. roster. Ayuso (19 points) hit five
3-pointers to keep Puerto Rico close in the second quarter, and
when his backcourt mate, Carlos Arroyo, made a steal and layup,
Puerto Rico trailed by just five before halftime.

The Americans tore off 10 of the first 14 points in the third
quarter to go ahead comfortably again, although Brown, who prides
himself on defense and discipline, was less than ecstatic with this
performance.

"We were better in areas we need to improve on, but there's a
long, long way to go," he said. "We turned it over a lot (20
times), the execution wasn't great. But this is only our fifth
day" together.

The United States left Jacksonville later Saturday for Germany,
where it will continue with workouts and exhibitions until the
Olympics, where the Americans will open against Puerto Rico on Aug.
15.

It will be interesting to see how big an impact -- if any -- these
suspensions will have, especially on the fragile relationship
between Iverson and Brown.

Earlier this week, they reiterated that they were getting along
fine since Brown left for the Pistons, but on Saturday, Brown made
it clear he's still the boss.

And Iverson made it clear he wasn't happy with what happened.

"I was surprised at the whole thing," he said. "I didn't know
that if we came late to anything, we'd have to sit out a game. I
didn't know that."