U.S. team better; tough test looms
LeBron James is emerging as one of the team's best players.
ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- LeBron James has finally made a positive impression on coach Larry Brown, while Carmelo Anthony is on the other end of the spectrum.
Guess who helped the United States defeat Australia? And guess who didn't?
"We don't have them all, but they're starting to care about each other and understand the importance of representing our country the right way," Brown said Thursday following the Americans' 89-79 victory over Australia. "The biggest challenge coaches have today on all levels is for guys to think of coaching as coaching and not criticism."
James played a big part in a 10-0 fourth-quarter run that turned around what had been a lethargic performance by the Americans, while Anthony -- one of three players coming off an NBA rookie season -- sat on the bench for all but two minutes.
"I don't need a guy who doesn't want to buy in," Brown said. "How you play, how you practice and how you act determines how much you play."
Tim Duncan scored 18 points, Allen Iverson and Shawn Marion each added 16 and Dwyane Wade scored 12 for the U.S. team, which shot 57 percent from the field -- 71 percent from 2-point range but only 3-for-17 on 3s.
"I think they continue to improve, but they'd better make jump shots to win the gold in this tournament," Australia's Shane Heal said.
The Americans (2-1) kept their turnovers down, found better shots than in their first two games and realized that the only way to fuel their offense is through defense.
They also moved the ball with much more aplomb than they showed in a 19-point loss to Puerto Rico and a six-point victory over Greece, with one sequence among their sharpest of the Olympics.
It happened when James eyed Shawn Marion's pass coming toward him and made a split-second decision to redirect the ball with a touch pass to Wade for a layup.
The basket broke the last tie early in the fourth, and Australia (1-2) never recovered.
Day 3 of men's basketball included a controversial finish, New Zealand (1-2) benefiting from a questionable late call to edge Serbia-Montenegro (1-2) 90-87.
In other games, Spain (4-0) downed Italy (1-2) 71-63, Lithuania crushed Greece 98-76, Puerto Rico (2-1) edged Angola 83-80 and Argentina (2-1) trounced China (1-2) 82-57.
After a defensively inept first half and a so-so third quarter, the Americans increased their defensive intensity, moved the ball well and put together a few of the showtime moments their Dream Team predecessors took for granted.
Next up is a matchup on Saturday against Lithuania, the toughest team in their group. But the Americans will go into it knowing they're capable -- at least in stretches -- of playing the type of basketball the folks back home expect.
"Everything's not clicking yet, but we're heading that way," Duncan said. "It was a great learning experience today, being able to fight back and staying with each other."
The United States forced four misses and a turnover on Australia's first five possessions of the fourth quarter, and the ball movement was fluid and flashy during the run that put the Americans ahead 75-67.
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