LAS VEGAS (AP) — New team. Same old result.
Full of new star power — and dominant on the inside — the U.S. men’s basketball team opened its bid for a third straight Olympic gold medal Friday night with a 111-74 exhibition romp over Argentina.
A game that was over almost before it began showed the U.S. has to improve its shooting and conditioning. It also showed that there is plenty of talent among a group of players that seem to want to play well for each other and their country despite the absence of Olympic stalwarts Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.
“There’s a willingness from these guys to work on anything we need and to work hard,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “These are very good guys.”
A U.S. team that hasn’t lost a game in 10 years had little trouble with Argentina, which some consider a medal contender in Rio. Paul George scored 14 first-half points, Kevin Durant added 12, and the U.S. blew open the game early before an appreciative crowd on the Las Vegas Strip.
Even with Bryant retired and James taking this Olympics off, there was no real talent drop off on a team heavily favored to win gold once again. The depth of the U.S. showed as coach Mike Krzyzewski rotated players in and out, searching for the right combinations on a team with 10 new players from 2012.
“Nothing is for sure,” Durant said. “We want to get this gold and right now we have a job to do. We have to prepare the right way.”
Count the Argentines among those who were impressed at the first real game for the Olympic team.
“Obviously, they have the best talent and the best size in the world,” Argentina’s Luis Scola said. “That’s a big difference in their favor.”
The game was the first of five exhibitions the U.S. will play before traveling to Rio to defend the gold medal. The U.S. team has spent the last week practicing in Las Vegas in preparation for the tour and the games.
There weren’t any opening night jitters, though the U.S. shot only 45 percent and missed all but 14 of 41 3-pointers. With DeMarcus Cousins pulling down 15 rebounds in just 16 minutes, the U.S. dominated inside, outrebounding Argentina 53-30.
“The big thing is getting in shape and they are not there where they will be,” Krzyzewski said. “But we really have an inside presence on the boards.”
For Durant the game was a chance to play with a pair of his new Golden State teammates, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. It was also a chance for Durant and Carmelo Anthony — the only two players from the 2012 team — to demonstrate that this will be their team in Rio.
Both players cheered from the bench as the minutes were spread around, jumping up to clap for teammates. Every U.S. player got quality time, with Green’s 12 minutes the least played by any American.
“We’re going to have fun and we’re going to enjoy ourselves,” Anthony said. “If it’s not fun it’s not worth it. We’re going to enjoy ourselves but at the same time we’re going to be focused in trying to get that gold medal.”
Durant finished as the game’s high scorer with 23 points, while George had 18 and Carmelo Anthony 17. Andres Nocioni had 15 for Argentina, while Manu Ginobili added 11 for Argentina, which lost to the U.S. in the semifinals of the 2012 Olympics.
Though at times little defense was played, there was plenty of offense to keep the crowd at the new T-Mobile Arena happy. The teams combined to put up 70 3-point attempts, 41 of them from the U.S.
Oddsmakers had made the U.S. a prohibitive 29.5-point favorite in what at times looked a lot like an NBA All-Star game. But while the U.S. team is loaded with 12 NBA players, the Argentines had only three on their roster and the talent difference showed.
While the team is full of new players, the gold medal run will be the last for Krzyzewski, the national coach for the last decade. His teams have lost only one game during his reign, which will end after the Olympics with San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich taking over.