In final preliminary, U.S. has fun at Angola's expense

Duncan scores 15 in 13 minutes, as Americans roll to 89-53 victory

Men's Basketball

Athens 2004

August 24, 2004|By Steve Springer | Steve Springer,LOS ANGELES TIMES

ATHENS - Where's Charles Barkley when you need him?

Without Barkley to create an international scene with his old friends from Angola as he did in the 1992 Olympics with a vicious elbow smash, there was nothing to distinguish yesterday's men's basketball game between Angola and the United States from all those runaway laughers back when the U.S. Dream Team really was a dream team.

Tim Duncan softly laid the ball into the hoop to begin the game, the U.S. team raced to a five-point lead and it was never caught, running up a 40-point advantage at one point before cruising to an 89-53 victory at the Helliniko Indoor Arena.

The United States took the court for its final preliminary game with a 2-2 record, but secure in the knowledge it had already qualified for the medal round. The Americans will face Spain on Thursday night in the quarterfinals, with the winner going on to play the winner of Argentina vs. Greece.

Duncan had the team high in points with 15, but played only 13 minutes. Carlos Boozer led in rebounds with nine on a night when coach Larry Brown emptied his bench in a dress rehearsal for the crucial games ahead.

"This was a fun game because we got to play a lot of people," Brown said.

The whole Olympic experience was not a lot of fun for Angola, which failed to win any of its five games, but coach Mario Palma gains his satisfaction from Angola even playing in Athens.

Angola has been ravaged by civil war since gaining its independence from Portugal in 1975. And even though an unsteady peace has now come to Angola, these are still troubled times.

"Basketball is just not an important thing in our country right now," Palma said. "We are concerned with education, food, refugees. To do what we do in basketball with all that is incredible."

Those who do play must often learn the game on outdoor, concrete courts.

"We are also small," he said, "because most of the tall players are in the southern part of our country where there is still fighting."

And as if all these factors weren't limiting enough, Angola played with three injured starters.

"How can we beat the United States?" Palma said. "It is impossible. No way. If we had our injured players back, maybe we would lose by only 20."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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