US men rout France 98-71 in Olympic basketball

The hiccups outnumbered the highlights, and for a while the U.S.

racked up fouls faster than points.

The opener wasn’t artistic.

However, it was enough – easily enough.

Kevin Durant scored 22 points in his Olympic debut, Kevin Love

added 14 and LeBron James had eight assists as the American men’s

basketball team overcame some sloppy moments with a 98-71 win

Sunday over France.

”We know everybody else expects us to win by 40 points,” said

Carmelo Anthony. ”For us, a win’s a win. We expect every game to

be like this one.”

Seeking a second straight gold medal to match the redemptive one

they captured in Beijing four years ago, the Americans expected a

tough test from a French team featuring San Antonio guard Tony

Parker and five other NBA players. And although the U.S. was never

in real trouble – it only led 22-21 after one quarter – there were

enough flaws (14 turnovers, 26 fouls) to keep coach Mike Krzyzewski

and his staff busy and this superstar-laden squad from feeling too

comfortable.

”It wasn’t perfect,” said James, who only took six shots while

setting up his teammates. ”We’ve still got room for improvement.

We had too many turnovers, too many fouls and we had a couple of

defensive rebounds we could have come up with. But overall, we

played a pretty good game for as close to 40 minutes as

possible.”

Kobe Bryant had said this team could beat the 1992 Dream Team

that changed international hoops forever at the Barcelona Games.

That matchup is mythical, but the London Games aren’t and this U.S.

team will have to play much better in upcoming games if it plans to

maintain American dominance.

”We know we have to keep going for 40 minutes and play hard,”

said Bryant, who only played 12 minutes.

Afterward, Parker, who nearly missed these games after

undergoing surgery for a freak eye injury, didn’t want to concede

anything to the Americans. But when asked if the U.S. team can be

beat, he took a contemplative pause before responding.

”They’re going to be very, very tough to beat,” Parker

said.

At times, the Americans’ offense was erratic. The U.S missed its

first six 3-pointers and settled too quickly for jump shots instead

of driving to the basket. But France wasn’t able to capitalize as

the U.S. turned up its pressure on defense and forced 18

turnovers.

With first lady Michelle Obama on hand to cheer on the U.S.,

Durant, Anthony and Tyson Chandler added nine rebounds apiece for

the Americans, who will next play Tuesday against Tunisia, beaten

60-56 by Nigeria in the tournament opener.

As they left the floor, the U.S. players stopped to hug Mrs.

Obama, who can report back to her commander in chief husband that

his favorite team has taken its first step toward gold.

Parker, playing with goggles to protect a surgically repaired

left eye, scored 10 points but France fell to 0-5 in Olympic

competition against the USA. Ali Traore scored 12 points to lead

France, which got few uncontested looks from the outside and missed

20 of 22 3-pointers.

”They pressured us from the start until the end,” said France

coach Vincent Collet.

With the U.S. leading 52-36 at halftime, Durant opened the

second half with a 3-pointer, Bryant dropped one from long range

and after James dunked an alley-oop pass from Deron Williams, the

Americans led 64-43.

Au revoir, France.

The U.S. team’s lead ballooned to 78-51 after three quarters,

allowing Krzyzewski to rest Bryant, James and Durant for most of

the fourth quarter. With the game well in hand, Krzyzewski even

gave 19-year-old Anthony Davis, the top pick in June’s NBA draft,

his first taste of Olympic play.

Durant had struggled to score during a recent exhibition tour,

prompting James to give his close friend and teammate a pep

talk.

”I told K.D. to be himself,” James said. ”We need the K.D.

who scores. We don’t need the K.D. who defers.”

Unlike his peers, Krzyzewski has the luxury of a deep bench and

he was forced to go it early and often in the first half, when the

Americans got into four trouble. They were called for 18 personals

and complained about some of the calls. Anthony and Russell

Westbrook spent the final six minutes of the second quarter on the

bench after picking up their third fouls.

”There were a lot of calls that didn’t seem right,” Anthony

said. ”One time down the floor they called it this way and one

time they called it that way.”

Along with the questionable calls, the Americans took some

curious shots early on, and when France’s Yannick Bokolo drained a

3 in the final second of the first quarter, France was within

22-21.

Nicolas Batum, who plays for Portland, thought the U.S. might

”panic.”

But James opened the second quarter with a 3, the U.S. quickly

went on an 11-0 run and by midway through the third, Bryant and Co.

restored order.

As the U.S. reserves scored on dunk after dunk in the fourth,

James and Bryant lounged on the bench.

They know there will be tougher games ahead.

The first one, though, was over.

”We knew this game wasn’t going to be easy,” Durant said. ”We

know even if we don’t start well we can finish.”