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Opening statement: USA hoops crushes Puerto Rico

8/4/2006 - NBA

LAS VEGAS -- The United States emphatically reasserted its
dominance over Puerto Rico.

Coming soon: a chance to reclaim its old spot on top of the
basketball world.

Using a sensational defensive effort to overcome a slow start,
the Americans overwhelmed the Puerto Ricans 114-69 on Thursday
night in their lone exhibition game on home soil before the world
championships.

"Puerto Rico played a great first quarter and they made
adjustments to go against our pressure defense. They were really
good," U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Then our guys made some
adjustments, not overextending themselves, and we were really
good."

Carmelo Anthony scored 18 points, Antawn Jamison added 16 and
Dwyane Wade had 14 for the Americans, who will meet Puerto Rico
again on Aug. 19, in the opening game of the world championships in
Sapporo, Japan.

Hours before departing for Asia to continue training for that
event, the Americans showed their defense seems at championship
level already.

A 31-2 run spanning halftime blew open the game and sent the
U.S. on its way to avenging a 92-73 loss to Puerto Rico at the 2004
Olympics -- perhaps the most embarrassing moment in U.S. basketball
history.

The Americans ended Puerto Rico's hopes for another upset with a
suffocating defensive effort, continuing to contest shots long
after the outcome had been decided.

"We know what kind of team they have,"said Puerto Rico guard
Carlos Arroyo, who plays for the Orlando Magic. "They are
definitely a different team than what they showed two years ago at
the Olympics."

LeBron James and Joe Johnson each added 10 points for the U.S.
while teaming for one of the game's highlight plays.

It was a mostly impressive effort from the U.S. team, put
together by a revamped USA Basketball after disappointing
performances in the last two international competitions: a
third-place finish in '04 following a sixth-place showing in the
2002 worlds.

Cheered on by a group of flag-waving fans at the Thomas & Mack
Center, Puerto Rico pulled ahead 33-29 while the Americans went
scoreless for more than 3 minutes to open the second quarter. But
the U.S. held Puerto Rico to one field goal over the final 7
minutes, closing the half with a 19-2 surge to take a 48-35 lead.

"I thought our defense was the turning point in that second
period," Krzyzewski said. "Our guys were so excited to play ...
they were too excited. We just settled down, the next group settled
us down."

The Americans had a whopping 21-1 advantage in points off
turnovers at halftime over the Puerto Ricans, whose jerseys
featured the Burger King logo.

Getting easy baskets after turnovers, the Americans opened the
second half with a 12-0 run, highlighted when James dunked and drew
a foul after a steal by Johnson, to open a 60-35 bulge with 8:12
remaining in the third quarter.

Wade added his own dunk after a steal a few minutes later -- then
saluted a group of troops sitting in the front row along the
sideline.

Getting mostly dunks, the U.S. shot 70 percent (14-of-20) in the
third quarter to build an 83-48 lead. After allowing 26 points in
the first quarter, the Americans gave up a total of 22 in the
middle two.

The U.S. started James, Wade and Anthony -- who all played in
Athens -- along with Chris Bosh and Chris Paul. Anthony sparked the
Americans to a quick start, scoring seven points as the U.S. opened
a 9-2 lead. But Puerto Rico regrouped and was down only 29-26 after
Rick Apodaca's 3-pointer with under 3 seconds left in the period.

The Puerto Ricans have slipped since their upset in Athens,
splitting their eight regional qualifying games last year and
needing a wild-card invitation from FIBA just to make it to Japan.

But they came out seriously Thursday. Coach Julio Toro was hit
with a technical foul barely 1½ minutes into the game after arguing
a carrying violation.
The game closed the second of two training camp sessions for the
U.S. team on the campus of UNLV. The Americans were scheduled to
depart Friday for China, where they will play exhibitions next week
against China and Brazil, followed by additional training and two
more games in South Korea.

The U.S. team is bringing 14 players to Asia after Amare
Stoudemire was sent home earlier Thursday to continue rehabbing his
knee and attend to the impending birth of a child. The roster must
be reduced to 12 before the start of the world championships.

Game Notes
The teams scrimmaged on Tuesday night. Scores were reset at
the end of each period, otherwise the Americans would have won
116-82. ... Among the sellout crowd of 18,218 were Julius Erving,
Pat Riley and Olympic gold medalists Scottie Pippen and Clyde
Drexler. ... Perhaps stemming from Duke's upset victory over
undefeated UNLV in the 1991 Final Four, U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski
drew quite a few boos during pregame introductions.