Dream Team opens with 'wake-up call'

August 05, 1994|By Frank Lawlor | Frank Lawlor,Knight-Ridder News Service

HAMILTON, Ontario -- Well, no, it wasn't quite deja vu.

Tip-off didn't bring a supernova's worth of camera flashes and the whine of countless rewind mechanisms. The other team's players didn't gape at their heroes in red, white and blue. Heck, there were 5,000 no-shows.

And while Dream Team II won its 1994 World Championships opener last night, 115-100, over Spain, it was hardly the walkover that was expected.

The Spaniards actually took a first-half lead after having trailed by double digits. Although that edge lasted mere seconds, more than one American took notice.

"It was a good wake-up call," said Dream Team guard Reggie Miller. "A lot of these teams have pride just like we do. They're not going to bow down."

Miller finished with 20 points, one fewer than team leader Joe Dumars. Spain had the game's top scorer, swingman Jordi Villacampa, who scored half of his 28 points from the foul line.

Spain was still within 59-54 early in the second half. Then the United States began a 19-1 run that featured five three-point shots, three by Dumars and two by Miller. Shaquille O'Neal, who had been hampered by early foul trouble, filled in the rest of the blanks and Dream Team II had a comfortable lead.

Still, "comfort" wasn't exactly the watchword after the game.

"We can't expect to walk out and beat everybody by 30 points just because we have USA on our jerseys," said guard Dan Majerle, who scored 11 points.

Point guard Mark Price put the best spin on it.

"It might be better than if we had won by 40," he said. "Now, we can't go into the rest of the tournament thinking it's a cakewalk."

In the context of these World Championships, the United States' first-half struggles were conspicuous. The Spanish are hardly medal favorites here. They finished 10th at this tournament in 1990 and eighth at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. Their best finish at the World Championships was fourth in 1982, the only year they ever beat the United States.

So last night, the Spaniards worked the only angle they could, spreading the floor and taking three-pointers until they stopped falling. Their 7-foot center, Ferran Martinez, hit two of them and scored 10 points in 20 minutes in the first half. His counterpart, O'Neal, played only nine minutes before picking up three fouls, two below the international limit.

The United States spent the first half, and the game, living on its outside shooting. Dumars led the halftime scorers with 12 points, and Miller and point guard Kevin Johnson scored 10 each.

The run early in the second half saved the United States from some late-game hot water, but it had less to do with scoring than defense, which had been lacking in the first half. Indeed, Spain became just the fifth team to score 100 points or more against the United States in 98 World Championships games. (The 100 points were 15 more than anybody scored against Dream Team I.) Spain managed to turn the ball over four fewer times by game's end.

"We can outscore anybody, but it's all about defense for me," said Miller. "We've just got to force more turnovers. Who cares about scoring?"

Of course, everybody seems to. Because this Dream Team is considered a shoo-in for the gold medal, all the attention will be paid to its winning margins. The mark of comparison will be the 43.7 points per game by which Dream Team I won its gold in the Olympics.

But that Dream Team trained in Monaco, this one in Chicago. That team made its debut in Barcelona, this one in a place called Copps Coliseum, an hour's drive from Toronto.

That one dominated so thoroughly as to inspire awe.

This one hasn't. Yet.

"We're a better team than that," said center Alonzo Mourning, who fouled out late in the game, "and we're going to prove it as the days progress."

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