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July 13, 2012

Durant scores 24, U.S. Olympic team wins exhibition

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.

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