Kobe Bryant, left, Lebron James and the rest of the U.S. men's basketball team embarrassed the Dominican Republic on Thursday, 113-59.
LAS VEGAS — Kevin Durant picked up where he left off in international competition, scoring 24 points and grabbing 10 rebounds to lead the U.S. Olympic basketball team to a 113-59 victory over the Dominican Republic on Thursday night in an exhibition game.
The MVP of the world basketball championship two years ago, Durant came off the bench to shoot 9 of 11 from the field, making 5 of 6 3-pointers in 22 minutes.
Andre Iguodala added 18 points and Carmelo Anthony had 13 for the Americans, who were without All-Star forward Blake Griffin. He returned to Los Angeles for evaluation Thursday after experiencing discomfort following practice Wednesday in his left knee, the same one that bothered him in the playoffs.
Alternate Anthony Davis took his place and was in uniform against his college coach, John Calipari of national champion Kentucky. But Calipari was the on the wrong end of the talent mismatch in this one, calling a few timeouts but probably knowing there was no strategy to stop the onslaught of U.S. fast breaks.
Davis, the national player of the year as a freshman and No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, had been unable to make the 12-man roster after being unable to scrimmage before it was selected while recovering from a sprained ankle. But USA Basketball leadership believes his rebounding and shot blocking could be a good addition to an undersized team in case of an injury, and he scored nine points in 10 fourth-quarter minutes.
Al Horford of the Atlanta Hawks shot 1 of 12 and had seven points and the Dominicans’ other NBA player, Francisco Garcia, missed all three attempts.
LeBron James and Kobe Bryant both had limited duty, playing less than 20 minutes and combining for 11 points.
Durant hit all five shots in the first quarter, including three 3-pointers. He returned early in the second and knocked down another 3 before he finally missed, helping the Americans build a 50-27 halftime lead behind his 21 points. He started the second half.
Griffin could be another loss for a U.S. team that already saw Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh withdraw because of injuries. Chris Paul has been limited during training camp after spraining his right thumb on the first day.
Despite those losses, the Americans still consider themselves the best team in the world — and apparently, ever. Bryant created a stir when he said he thought this young, athletic U.S. team probably would have pulled out a game against the Dream Team, which didn’t sit well with his Hall of Fame elders.
“I absolutely laughed,” Michael Jordan said before playing in a celebrity golf tournament in Charlotte, N.C. “For him to compare those two teams is not one of the smarter things he ever could have done.”
The Americans believe they can be better than the team that won the gold medal four years ago because of Durant, the NBA’s three-time scoring champion who seems even more dangerous in international competition. The 3-point line, just over 22 feet away, is an easy shot for him, and at 6-foot-9 he can play any frontcourt position — he entered the game the first time for center Tyson Chandler.
Durant set U.S. tournament records two years ago in Istanbul with 38 points in a game and an average of 22.8 for the championship, leading a young U.S. team to its first gold medal in the event since 1994. He has transitioned easily to this veteran squad that returns five players from the gold medalists in Beijing.
The Dominicans nearly joined the Americans in London, losing to Nigeria in the third-place game of the Olympic qualifying tournament last Sunday. Had they won, they would have claimed the 12th and final place in the field.
Now they know what they favorites would have looked like.
With Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski on the U.S. bench and facing Calipari for the first time in seven years, the coaching matchup was worthy of an NCAA Final Four. The scoreboard was more representative of a No. 1 vs. No. 16 game.
The Americans barely let the Dominicans get into any sort of offense, limiting them to 32 percent shooting.
About the only thing to question about the U.S. were their uniforms, featuring white tops with the pattern of an American flag faded into the back, and shorts that were white in the front and blue in back, making them look like the home team facing one direction and the visitors from behind.
The Americans head across the country Friday to continue their training in Durant’s hometown of Washington. They will play an exhibition game against Brazil on Monday before finishing their Olympic preparations in Europe.
The Dominicans lost former Louisville guard Edgar Sosa to a leg injury in the first quarter.
IN YOUR DREAMS, KOBE: Michael Jordan said there’s no way Kobe Bryant and this year’s USA Olympic basketball team could’ve beaten the 1992 Dream Team.
Jordan told The Associated Press Thursday that he laughed — “I absolutely laughed” — when hearing Bryant’s comments that the squad training in Las Vegas could take Jordan and company.
Jordan said there’s “no comparison” which team is better.
“For him to compare those two teams is not one of the smarter things he ever could have done,” Jordan said prior playing in a celebrity golf tournament in Charlotte.
Jordan said the 1992 team, which included 11 future Hall of Famers and won its six Olympic games by an average of more than 43 points en route to capturing the gold medal, was a better overall team largely because of the experience it put on the floor.
“I heard Kobe say we were not athletic,” said a smiling Jordan as he sat in a golf cart puffing on his cigar while waiting to tee off. “But we were smart. He said we were too old, but I was 29 and in the prime of my career. Pip (Scottie Pippen) was 26 or 27, (Charles) Barkley was 29, Patrick (Ewing) was 29 and Chris Mullin was 29. Almost everybody was still in their twenties.”
Jordan’s response came after Bryant told reporters in Las Vegas that this year’s team could pull out a win against the Dream Team if they faced each other in their primes. Bryant said this year’s team has a bunch of racehorses, players who are incredibly athletic while the Dream Team consisted mainly of players at the tail end of their careers.”
Bryant’s comments received immediate and sharp rebuttal from some members of the Dream Team, including Barkley.
Jordan joined in on Thursday.
“Most of us were in the prime of our careers, at a point where athleticism doesn’t really matter,” said Jordan, the owner of the Charlotte Bobcats. “You have to know how to play the game.”
Jordan shook his head when asked why he thinks Bryant made the comments.
“I imagine he’s trying to say it to legitimize his own Dream Team,” Jordan said. “But to me it’s not even a question what team is better.”
Jordan said Bryant is certainly entitled to his opinion — even though he said it’s just plain wrong.
“For him to make that comparison, it’s one of those things where it creates conversation,” Jordan said. “I guess we’ll never know. I’d like to think that we had 11 Hall of Famers on that team and whenever they get 11 Hall of Famers you call and ask me who had the better Dream Team. Remember now, they learned from us. We didn’t learn from them.”
KEEPING THE TORCH LIT: For once, it wasn’t raining at a key Olympic moment.
American track star Michael Johnson brought the Olympic flame to Stonehenge on Thursday, holding the torch aloft as the sun’s rays ricocheted off the glowing stones.
Dressed in the white torchbearer tracksuit, the retired gold medalist ran a circuit of the monument before passing the flame to an athlete at the beginning of her sporting career — Amelia Clifford.
The 19-year-old won gold in the European junior championships last year in the 4-by-400 meter relay. She didn’t get selected for the London Olympics, but will try again for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
“It was a great moment,” said Johnson afterward. “The sun’s out, the sun’s rising, clear skies today, running with the torch which is incredible anyway, but running with it around Stonehenge was an incredible moment.”
The sparkling July day was in sharp contrast to the recent weather in Britain, which slogged through its wettest June on record. Many fear that the damp could continue into the games period, which kick off on July 27.