Angola team still in there trying vs. U.S.

Team USA likely to face zone in matchup with smaller team

Men's basketball

Beijing 2008

August 12, 2008|By Mark Heisler | Mark Heisler,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BEIJING - With the U.S. men's basketball team determined not to overlook anybody, what can the Americans come up with for tonight's opponent, Angola?

How about, they don't discourage easily?

With all the reversals the U.S. has suffered in recent international competition, there was always some team it could beat, not to mention beat on.

The Dream Team made its debut against Angola in Barcelona in 1992, winning, 116-48, although the 68-point victory margin isn't what it's remembered for.

Nor was it because of the 46-1 run the U.S. went on with the score tied, 7-7, making it 53-8.

If most Americans would prefer to forget it, it's remembered for the elbow Charles Barkley threw into the narrow chest of a frail, 170-pound Angolan forward named Herlander Coimbra.

Coimbra brushed Barkley as Charles laid the ball up on a fast break for the 30th and 31st points in the U.S. run. On Barkley's way back up the floor, he passed Coimbra and elbowed him.

Barkley received a flagrant foul, which hardly impressed him, noting afterward, "You hit me, I'll hit you; even if it doesn't look like he's eaten in a while."

If Coimbra did hit Barkley, the surprise was that Charles felt it. The next day at a news conference, Barkley, being Barkley, said: "I thought he might have a spear."

Nevertheless, the Angolans not only didn't take any offense, they seemed flattered to be part of the incident.

After the game, Coimbra found Barkley, who posed for a picture with him.

"We know Charles Barkley," Angola coach Victorino Cunha said then. "No problem. He does this 10 times a year in the NBA."

This is Angola's fifth straight Olympic appearance, having played the U.S. twice since 1992, losing by 33 in 1996 and by 26 in 2004.

Once again, Angola is a prohibitive underdog. The U.S. is relatively small for an American team, with only Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh over 6 foot 9, but the Angolans are tiny, with no one over 6-7.

Even if size hasn't helped bigger teams against the U.S., like China with its three 7-footers, it's definitely not a good idea to go small on the Americans.

The U.S. didn't practice yesterday, but on USA Basketball's Web site, it posted a scouting report by Tony Ronzone, the team's director of international player personnel, who predicted Angola will play zone defense all game.

"That's a great thing," Ronzone wrote. "The experience against zone defense will prepare us for our upcoming games against Greece and Spain in pool play and even some of the teams in the other bracket down the road, like Lithuania. I think in this tournament, we are going to see zone a lot."

If the U.S. doesn't turn it up after missing 14 of its first 15 three-pointers against China, it may never again see a man-to-man defense.

Nevertheless, playing a zone figures to matter more against Greece and Spain than Angola. Let's just hope no one gets anything hurt in this one but their feelings.

Mark Heisler writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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