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U.S. puts clamps on Serbia-Montenegro

8/7/2004

BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro -- The world champs were
inexplicably awful, and the Americans put together an all-around
excellent effort in their latest Olympic warmup.

Perhaps the worst is already in the past for coach Larry Brown's
youngsters.

After breaking open the game with a 14-0 run to begin the second
quarter, the Americans stayed in control the rest of the way and
earned a standing ovation from the crowd after a 78-60 victory
Friday night over Serbia-Montenegro.

"We just keep getting better," LeBron James said. "As time
wears on, we are becoming more of a team."

James had 11 points and shot 5-for-6 from the field one game
after being limited to seven minutes of playing time.

Tim Duncan scored 16 points, Shawn Marion had 10 and Allen Iverson added nine points six assists and four steals in what was
easily the U.S. team's best effort in four exhibition games. The
victory, coming against the team that won the World Championship on
U.S. soil in 2002, should go a long way toward re-establishing the
Americans as one of the favorites for the gold medal in Athens.

When the evening began, they weren't even picked to win the
game. Local betting parlors listed the Serbian team as a four-point
favorite.

"We gave them too much respect at the start of the game. We
were very bad," Serbia-Montenegro guard Igor Rakocevic said.

The Americans took a partisan crowd out of the game by holding
Serbia-Montenegro to just nine points in the second quarter,
showing none of the faults that hampered them in earlier games
against Italy and Germany while shutting down an opponent that
appeared both overconfident and incompetent.

"We played hard and we tried to do what was right, and I think
that was a significant step," Brown said.

The U.S. team went 14-for-14 from the free-throw line and
30-of-60 from the field while holding the Serbian team to 35
percent shooting overall and 1-for-14 accuracy from 3-point range.

Rather than playing a zone as Italy and Germany did almost
exclusively in the Americans' earlier exhibition games, the Serbian
team went with a man-to-man scheme.

The U.S. team also played man-to-man defense, and two of the
game's best one-on-one moves were made by Dejan Bodiroga -- often
called the best player in Europe -- against Carmelo Anthony. The
first was the most impressive, Bodiroga dribbling behind his back
and through his legs before darting around Anthony for a layup.

"It was his extreme desire to play," said Serbia-Montenegro
coach Zelimar Obradovic, who said Bodiroga had a knee injury. "He
got an injection and played and that's it. With the [U.S.] Olympic
team playing in Belgrade, he definitely did not want to miss this
game."

The Americans bounced back after missing their first five shots
and led 20-17 after one quarter.

The game got away from Serbia-Montenegro early in the second
quarter, and the big run brought the American players and coaches
off the bench in jubilation. One of the best sequences was a
blocked shot by Shawn Marion that led to a breakaway, Marion
sprinting downcourt to finish it with a dunk off a pass from
Stephon Marbury.

"We came out and I thought were a little tight, missed some
shots, but we started to defend and pass, pass, pass and play the
right way," Brown said.

It was 42-26 at halftime, and the Serbs' frustration became more
and more evident in the third quarter.

Vladimir Radmanovic, who shot 2-for-8 and played poorly
throughout, spiked a bottle of water to the floor after being
yanked from the game, showering the court with water.

Lamar Odom was the American team's best player in the final
quarter, stopping the Serbian team's momentum with clutch shots
each time they tried to rally.

The home team's last possession ended with a steal by Allen
Iverson, who stuck his tongue out and grinned after making the
play.

"I think it was a good all-around game. We played hard. We
played well at both ends of the court and we were able to get a
win, fortunately, going against a tough crowd like that against
those guys at home," Iverson said.

Igor Rakocevic led Serbia-Montenegro with 18 points, and
Bodiroga -- who did not start -- added 14 . NBA players Predrag Drobnjak and Zarko Cabarkapa did not play as Obradovic gave time to
many of his younger players.

The U.S. team's next game will be against Turkey on Sunday
night.