Kobe takes in Team USA scrimmage from sideline

Updated: August 6, 2006, 2:14 AM ET
Associated Press

LAS VEGAS -- Kobe Bryant grabbed a seat about five rows behind the basket, close enough to admire the powerful dunks Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard threw down in the third quarter.

Problem is, Bryant wanted to be playing with those guys, not watching them.

Knee surgery put that plan on hold. Instead, he had to settle for observing the U.S. national team's debut Tuesday night. And he came away impressed.

"It's amazing, it's fun to watch," Bryant said. "They come at you in waves. It's nonstop, the pressure that they put on fullcourt, quick hands, quick feet that they have."

If the Americans play as well as they did at times Tuesday, they might not even miss Bryant.

Even without the NBA's leading scorer, the U.S. had several impressive spurts during a four-quarter scrimmage against Puerto Rico. Scores were reset at the start of each period, otherwise the Americans would have won 116-82.

U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski stressed earlier Tuesday that the scrimmage was nothing more than a practice, but he found his players took it more seriously than that.

"I like the fact, I think it meant something," Krzyzewski said. "I thought actually a couple of guys were nervous in a good way. That means it means something. I thought they tried to play every possession."

The U.S. held a Puerto Rican team that included Orlando guard Carlos Arroyo without a point for more than 3 minutes to open the second quarter. The most impressive stretch came during the third period, highlighted by baskets from LeBron James, Wade and Howard right in front of Bryant.

The scrimmage marked the first time the teams were together since the Puerto Ricans routed the Americans 92-73 during preliminary round play at the 2004 Olympics.

Carmelo Anthony was on that U.S. team, and hasn't forgotten about his Olympic debut.

"I remember like it was yesterday," he said after a morning practice. "I can't forget that ... whipping."

He guaranteed a competitive atmosphere, then went out and was the best player on the floor. He scored 23 points and shot 10-for-13 from the floor while helping spearhead the strong defensive effort to begin the second quarter.

Anthony said the plan was to build on a strong finish to the first quarter by the previous unit. Krzyzewski played seven players in the first and third quarters, and the other eight in the other two.

"We tried to learn from their mistakes and I think it helped us in the second quarter," Anthony said.

James added 20 points. All 15 players scored for the Americans.

Arroyo scored 17 points for the Puerto Ricans, including a desperation 3-point shot just before the buzzer at the end of the second quarter. Rick Apodaca, who played at Hofstra, added 13 points.

The teams meet again Thursday night in an exhibition game, and face each other in their opening game at the world championships on Aug. 19 in Sapporo.

Bryant could be there; he said he wasn't planning to travel to Asia while continuing to rehab his knee, but USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo said Nike would like Bryant to make a promotional appearance in Japan.

Still, he'll have to wait at least another year before he can do anything other than watch his teammates. He also had to pull out before the 2004 Olympics while dealing with a sexual assault trial -- and Tuesday night reminded him how much he wanted to be a part of this team.

"It's tough, it's really tough," Bryant said after the game. "Especially coming, seeing guys playing, competing and doing what they did today.

"I've been looking forward to this. Since I spoke with Mr. Colangelo on the phone I've been looking forward to it, coming out here and playing and competing. It's very upsetting."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press