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Team USA captures gold with convincing win

Sep 3, 2007 - 3:13 AM LAS VEGAS (Ticker) -- It was all about pride for the United States on Sunday afternoon.

LeBron James scored 31 points and Dwight Howard added 20 as Team USA captured the gold medal at the FIBA Americas Championship with a 118-81 victory over defending Olympic champion Argentina in the tournament's final contest at the Thomas & Mack Center.

The team's leading scorer, Carmelo Anthony added 16 points for the United States (10-0), which finished this Olympic qualifier undefeated. The Americans punished Puerto Rico, 135-91, on Saturday night to earn a spot in next summer's Olympics in Beijing.

The top two teams here - which includes Argentina - earned an automatic ticket to Beijing.

"I'm very happy, said U.S. star Kobe Bryant, who had five points and eight assists. "It makes you very proud. All you have to do is look around and see our fans cheering us on, and the Argentina crowd singing all game and waving flags. That is what it's about.

"This is what we wanted to accomplish here, play well, and now it's nice to set our sights on Beijing and get ready to take the next step - the ultimate one."

But with its goal already accomplished by Saturday, the United States showed that it was hungry to climb atop the international heap once again.

Winless on that stage since a gold medal at the 2003 edition of this tournament that qualified it for the Athens Olympics the following year, the U.S. has flashed some of that previous dominance that started in 1992.

Ironically, this edition of Team USA displayed the most camaraderie and chemistry since the original "Dream Team" blitzed the competition 15 years ago. Led by Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird, that squad was one of best - and most unselfish - teams ever assembled.

"I've been very fortunate to be part of this team," Bryant said. "We built some great friendships here which will carry on. Some of the guys that have been on this team in the past have told me that there hasn't been this kind of bond.

"We really have a good time with one another. We just enjoy each other's company one through 12. We have the depth and the talent to keep the foot on the gas for all 40 minutes."

James, Jason Kidd and Bryant looked similar to the aforementioned Hall-of-Fame troika - sacrificing their scoring numbers for the good of the team. Arguably the top-performing guard in the tournament, Kidd took just 10 shots over the two-week span.

"This is the best United States team since the 'Dream Team' of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird," Argentina coach Sergio Hernandez said. "I like this U.S. team so much. They have players like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, but they know how to play together. They have good chemistry. They play great defense. And most important for us is that they respect the other teams so much."

James agreed with the praise.

"We all know that a guy like Kobe Bryant is the leading scorer in the NBA nearly every year, and he threw that out the window and deferred to Carmelo Anthony," James said. "A lot of guys on our team threw their egos out the window and came here for one reason, to qualify for the Olympics and win a gold medal."

On Sunday, the Americans set the tone early, outscoring the Argentines, 34-15, in the opening quarter. The United States also continued its prowess from the arc, shooting 20-of-41 on 3-pointers. "We got a chance to learn the European game," American sharpshooter Michael Redd said. "Obviously, the 3-point line is closer. We adjusted to that and to different rule changes.

"We all shot the ball extremely well from the 3-point line. That was the knock on our team, that we couldn't shoot. Hopefully, we can do the same thing in Beijing next year."

James, who has seemingly straightened out his inconsistent jump shot in this tournament, nailed 8-of-11 shots from 3-point range. Anthony was 4-of-8 from the arc.

"I've never been so open to shoot any day of my life," Anthony said. "Usually, when I take a jumper there are two or more people on me. Now, it's back to reality.

Tournament MVP Luis Scola had 23 points on 10-of-21 shooting for Argentina (8-2), which played the tournament without NBA standouts Manu Ginobili, Andres Nocioni, Fabricio Oberto and Walter Herrmann.

Director of USA Basketball Jerry Colangelo already seemed ready to start next summer's competition against the reloaded Argentines and a host of other capable squads from around the world.

"We're going to play one game here (Las Vegas) at the end of our training camp," Colangelo said. "Then we go to Macau (China) for a couple of games. Then two in Shanghai (China) before we go to Beijing. The camaraderie is as good as I've seen it.






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