Rout of Brazil makes U.S. 3-0, but ghost of Olympics remains Dream Team is II goood for all but I foe

August 08, 1994|By William C. Rhoden | William C. Rhoden,New York Times News Service

TORONTO -- Reggie Miller may be the only one who knows this, but the United States' Dream Team II, despite a 23-point victory over Brazil yesterday, still trails in the competition against the original Dream Team.

While the 105-82 win boosted the U.S. record to 3-0 in the World Championships, it did little to cut into the overwhelming margin of victory recorded by Dream Team I en route to a gold medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

This team has won its three games by an average of 31 points. In 1992, the U.S. Olympic team's average winning margin was 44 points.

The margin of victory has become an underlying theme -- and thorn -- for Dream Team II, which has been attempting to play down comparison with its predecessor since the tournament began last Thursday.

But they started it. Much of the comparisons were fueled by current players -- like the ever-talkative Miller -- who said that this team of All-Stars could beat the team of Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson.

Since a game between the two is unlikely, the only way of determining which team is best is comparing the ease with which each team handles the opposition.

And even that's difficult.

The United States was never in trouble yesterday, quickly building a double-digit lead and doing virtually anything it wanted with Brazil, one of the weakest teams here.

The game ended, fittingly, with a Shaquille O'Neal dunk that brought down the house -- if not the rim -- as time ran out. Joe Dumars stole the ball under the U.S. basket and flipped it to O'Neal at midcourt.

O'Neal measured his steps, drove to the hoop then bounced the ball off the backboard, caught it and dunked. O'Neal raised his arms in acknowledgment of the crowd, which by this time was in hysterics.

"I wanted to end the game with a bang," said O'Neal. "I was going to do a 360, but my knee got stuck."

Still -- the margin of victory was only 23 points.

Miller, who began camp by declaring that Dream Team II was "on a search-and-destroy mission," didn't back away from the statement yesterday. "Definitely," he said. "We're here to have fun and dominate. That's what American basketball is all about."

However, Miller backed away from the talk about matching, or coming close to, the 1992 Olympic team's margins of victory.

"To me a victory's a victory," he said. "The point spread is coming from you guys, not from us."

O'Neal led the United States with 27 points, 14 on dunks. Alonzo Mourning and Shawn Kemp each had 15, and Larry Johnson had O'Neal is dominating the tournament despite constant back pain. He felt pain in his back "all day" yesterday but maintained that he wouldn't consider skipping a game. "Am I concerned? No," O'Neal said. "I've got great insurance."

"His back is bothering him, although you'd never know it by watching this game," U.S. coach Don Nelson said. "We thought it would go away, but it hasn't. We've tried everything, from stretching to massage treatment, and the end result is it's not getting better."

While the Brazilians were impressed with the Americans, those who also played against Dream Team I weren't sure that this team was better -- or who would win if the two teams ever played.

"This team is much stronger than Dream Team I," said Jose Vianna, who had three points yesterday. "But there's something lacking there and I don't know what it is. Maybe a philosophy or approach or character that these guys don't have."

Who does he think would win? "I don't know," he said, "but I'd like to be in the front row to see the game."

Miller said that either way, his team is in an impossible position.

"If we win by 50, people say, 'You're supposed to win.' If we win by 15, they're going to be like 'Why aren't you winning by 50?' So we're in a no-win situation."

4( They won't lose much else this week.

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