LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers) tallied 16 of his game-high 26 points in the second quarter to help the USA Men’s Senior National Team (7-0/6-0) blow open a 10-point first quarter lead and run away with a 118-79 victory over Uruguay (2-4) in the FIBA Americas Championship 2007 Wednesday at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nev. The win marked the 33rd consecutive win for the Americans in Olympic qualifying games.
The USA is set to conclude second-round action at 9:00 p.m. (PDT) on Thursday against also undefeated Argentina (6-0) in a battle that will determine the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds into Saturday’s semifinals.
Following the conclusion of the second round, the USA will advance to the all-important semifinals. The winners of the two semifinal games on Saturday will earn the Americas zone qualifying berths to the 2008 Olympic Games. While the USA’s specific opponent in the semifinals will remain unknown until the outcome is known from Thursday’s final second round games, the winner of the USA - Argentina game will claim the No. 1 seed, and the loser earns the
No. 2 seed. From there things get cloudy, but both Brazil and Canada have their fate in their own hands. If both claim wins Thursday, Brazil plays Uruguay and Canada meets Puerto Rico, then Brazil would claim the No. 3 seed and Canada the No. 4 seed.
“The main thing is to keep getting to know each other,” said USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski. “Although we were together last year, we didn’t have Jason or Kobe and Chauncey and Deron Williams, these guys really like, even more than like, they really respect one another and respect each other’s games. With LeBron, he doesn’t have to score a point. He’s not even looking for points. He’ll take what’s there. His voice out on the court is the most important thing, his leadership and his enthusiasm. LeBron’s enthusiasm for this team and for the game has really elevated our team.”
Uruguay, helped by 10 points from Atlanta Hawks forward Esteban Batista, kept the game close during the first quarter and even held a 14-12 lead with 4:52 to play in the first period.
But the advantage would not last. With 4:40 on the clock, Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers) dished to James who connected on a 3-pointer that launched the U.S. on a 19-7 scoring run to finish off the opening quarter and propel the Americans to a 31-21 lead after the first period.
James went on to score 16 more points in the second quarter and Bryant added eight to help the red, white and blue carry its momentum all the way through to the halftime buzzer when Amaré Stoudemire (Phoenix Suns) drained a
3-pointer just as the horn sounded to up the U.S. lead to 66-38 at halftime.
Twenty-two of the USA’s 35 points in the second quarter were scored by either Bryant or James during a five minute spree that James launched with a dunk at 6:25 and Bryant capped with a fancy up-and-under finish at 1:30.
“Today was great,” James said. “I think we want to continue to improve. We don’t want to take a step backwards. We want to continue to get better as a team, offensively and defensively. We did that today, it was another great showing by us today.”
In just 14 minutes, all of which were collected in the first half, James was a perfect 11-of-11 from the field, including 4-of-4 from deep. He set a U.S. Olympic qualifying record for single-game field goal percentage, while equaling the existing marks for field goals made and 3-point percentage.
“He’s on fire,” Bryant said. “LeBron is one of those players, man, when’s he’s hot, he gets to be on fire. Going to the basket, getting a lot of transition buckets.”
With Jason Kidd (New Jersey Nets), James, Bryant and Dwight Howard (Orlando Magic) resting the entire second half, and the USA’s leading scorer Carmelo Anthony (Denver Nuggets) not playing at all due to a bruised right heel, the remaining U.S. squad outscored Uruguay 29-26 in the third period, and the scoreboard read 95-64 headed into the final stanza.
The USA held Uruguay to 6-of-21 shooting (26.8 percent) in the fourth period while outscoring the opponent
23-15 to reach the final tally of 118-79.
“Just so you know with Carmelo, he will be ready to play tomorrow, he had a little bit of tenderness in his heel and the back of his leg, and after playing night after night, it was precautionary,” Krzyzewski said. “At halftime we decided to give a couple of guys who had been playing dominate minutes and dominate roles an opportunity to get ready for tomorrow. Overall I was pleased, and we should be at full health tomorrow. The next four days, we have to come together. We’re very excited to play.”
James added four assists and two steals to his 26 points; Stoudemire scored 19 points and grabbed seven rebounds and three steals; Deron Williams (Utah Jazz) contributed 14 points and six assists; Tayshaun Prince (Detroit Pistons) added 13 points, six rebounds and four assists; and Bryant tallied 13 points, four rebounds and three assists. Also contributing to the U.S. effort were Mike Miller (Memphis Grizzlies) with eight points and three assists; Tyson Chandler (New Orleans Hornets) with seven points and six boards; and Chauncey Billups (Detroit Pistons) and Kidd with four assists apiece.
Statistically, the USA was strong as well, shooting 64.0 percent (46-72 FGs) from the field, including 13-of-26 from 3-point, dishing a total of 31 assists and racing to 37 fast break points.
In today’s other action, Canada (3-3) handled Mexico (1-5) 97-80, Puerto Rico (2-4) downed Venezuela (1-5) 92-63 and Argentina (6-0) needed overtime to beat Brazil (3-3) 86-79.