USA Takes Out Venezuela In FIBA Opener

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- With Kobe Bryant joining LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony in the starting lineup, the Americans figured to look impressive in the opener of the Olympic qualifying tournament.
And they did -- eventually.

Anthony scored 17 points, Bryant added 14, and the United States rolled to a 112-69 victory over Venezuela on Wednesday night in the FIBA Americas tournament.

The Americans were dominant for the final three quarters after scoring only 21 points in the first. Bryant, the NBA scoring champion the last two seasons, didn't even score in the opening period.

"We can still improve," James said. "We know we didn't do as well as we could on the offensive end, even though we scored a lot of points, but we're going to get better."

They were still pretty good. The Americans quickly overcame their sluggish start and shot 55 percent from the field while putting seven players in double figures.

"I think tonight we really wanted to be aggressive from the get," Anthony said. "That was real important. I think tonight that was our main goal, to go out there and dominate. Not try to embarrass, but dominate, and I think we did a good job at that."

Michael Redd also had 17 points, Amare Stoudemire scored 16 and Dwight Howard 12 for the Americans, who improved to 27-0 in the regional Olympic qualifier. The Americans face the U.S. Virgin Islands in the final game Thursday night.

"The tournament's going to get a lot harder than we had tonight, but as a team I think we played well," James said. "We shared the ball well. We did everything that we needed to do to win a basketball game."

Bryant was making his long-awaited international debut, while Anthony was the leading American scorer last year at the world championships. They needed a little more than a quarter to show they could be a formidable duo.

Jason Kidd and Howard started along with James, Bryant and Anthony, the three starters coach Mike Krzyzewski had already named. All 12 players saw action in the first quarter, which ended with the Americans up 21-8 after some shaky shooting.

Anthony had only four points in the opening period, but he and Bryant didn't stay quiet for long. Both scored seven points in a 16-6 spurt early in the second quarter that broke open the game and extended the lead to 39-16 on Bryant's 3-pointer with 5:23 left in the first half.

Both players were involved in the highlight play of the game. Kidd leaped to keep a high pass from going out of bounds along the sideline, quickly tossing it back to Anthony. He fired it to a cutting James, who passed behind his back to Bryant for a dunk, drawing a roar from what was otherwise a fairly quiet crowd in a Thomas & Mack Center that appeared less than half full.

"Incredible play," Bryant said. "The public now has a chance to see what's been going on behind closed doors, some of the amazing plays that guys are making."

The Americans led 54-34 at halftime, and the advantage ballooned into the 30s after the starters outscored Venezuela 14-2 to open the third quarter. James' steal and breakaway dunk made it 68-36.

Greivis Vasquez scored 12 points for Venezuela, which will face Canada on Thursday.

The Americans were forced to play in the qualifier after failing to win the world championships last year. They returned this year with a stronger roster, particularly in the backcourt, where Chauncey Billups and Redd joined Bryant and Kidd.

All the U.S. problems haven't gone away, though. The Americans missed seven of their first nine 3-point attempts and were only 20-for-29 from the free throw line, two of their biggest weaknesses in recent years.

Those may not matter much over the next 11 days. The United States has hardly been challenged in three previous appearances, with only one game being decided by single digits, and isn't expected to have any trouble earning one of the tournament's two spots for the 2008 Olympics.

James scored 11 points and Mike Miller, who limped off the floor after committing an offensive foul in the closing minutes, had 10 for the Americans. Kidd, who didn't attempt a shot in 15 minutes, and rebounding and shot blocking specialist Tyson Chandler were the only players not to score.


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