Balanced U.S. wins straight at world championships
SAPPORO, Japan - One day Carmelo Anthony leads the U.S. in scoring. The next game, it's Dwyane Wade's turn.
Wade scored 26 points Sunday night to lead the U.S. to a 121-90 rout of Yao Ming and China, the Americans' second victory in as many games at the FIBA world championships.
Someone else may lead the way against Slovenia on Tuesday.
This is how the Americans were assembled. Unlike many teams in the world championships, they don't have to rely on one or two stars to carry the scoring load.
"We have to be unselfish because of the caliber of players that we have," captain LeBron James said. "There's no reason for us to be selfish. Guys can make shots. Guys can make plays at any given moment of the game. I go out there to be unselfish and it kind of rubs off on everybody else. That's the kind of team that we have."
James averaged 31.4 points per game last year for Cleveland. He's averaging 13 in the first two games here.
"The dimensions we have on our team, I don't need to score at all," said James, who has eight assists in two games.
The Americans have averaged 116 points against lightweights Puerto Rico and China. And they haven't relied on any single player.
Anthony scored a team-high 21 points in the opening 111-100 victory over Puerto Rico, and nine of the 11 Americans who played scored at least two baskets.
On Sunday night, Wade had 26 points on 9-of-13 shooting. And he didn't even start.
The U.S. spread the ball around from the start. Shane Battier, who took only two shots in the opener, opened the game with a 3-pointer from the corner, then drove for a basket.
Dwight Howard made two free throws. Then Anthony and Chris Paul each hit 15-footers.
The only starter who didn't score in the first four minutes was James.
"We've got 12 guys on this team who can make shots," Anthony said.
It certainly looked like that Sunday night. The only players who didn't score were Chris Bosh, who missed two shots, and Brad Miller, who didn't shoot.
With so many options, it makes the Americans tough to stop. As Slovenia prepares its game plan, will it try to neutralize Anthony or Wade• Or will it focus on James, who has yet to put up the big numbers he's capable of• But it can't ignore Paul, who is 8 for 15 from the floor and is averaging 12 points.
"For one, you can't key in on one player," James said. "You've got to play team defense. You can't just worry about a Dwyane Wade or a Carmelo Anthony or a big man like Dwight Howard or myself. You've got to try to key in on everybody and try to stop us, which is very hard to do."
For many of the Americans, the team-first attitude represents a change from the NBA.
"There are a lot of individuals out there, especially on their respective NBA teams," forward Elton Brand said. "So we're trying to be a team out here and get assists and do the extra things."
Although the U.S. has been potent in the first two games, it has been plagued by poor long-range shooting. The Americans have posted the two worst 3-point shooting percentages in Group D's first six games.
The U.S. shot 33 percent (9 for 27) from 3-point range against Puerto Rico. The U.S. was even worse from beyond the arc Sunday night, shooting 30 percent (6 for 20).
Anthony and Paul have each gone 2 for 7 from 3-point range. James and Wade are each 0 for 3.
"Three-point shooting is a funny business," said Battier, who has hit two of five 3-pointers. "We have guys who can make those shots, obviously. We're not concerned about that.
"The quality of the 3-point shot has been good for us," Battier said. "It's a whole different ballgame if we take shots under contest and under duress. We've had wide-open shots, and our guys will hit them."
Yesterday, there was no reason for the Americans to shoot from long range. They were at their best when they were attacking the basket against the overmatched Chinese, especially when Yao was on the bench. He played 27 minutes before fouling out with a team-high 21 points.
As the blowout wore on, the U.S. brought the otherwise sedate Sapporo Arena crowd to its feet with a series of slam dunks. Howard dunked so hard in the fourth quarter that the ball bounded off Anthony's head.
"We take the shots the defense gives us," Battier said. "We want to attack."