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Durant scores 24, US Olympic team wins exhibition
LAS VEGAS — New role, same old result for Kevin Durant.
And even with another loss from its roster, the U.S. Olympic basketball team just keeps on rolling along.
Durant picked up where he left off in international competition, scoring 24 points and grabbing 10 rebounds to lead the Americans to a 113-59 victory over the Dominican Republic on Thursday night in an exhibition game.
The MVP of the world basketball championship two years ago, Durant came off the bench to shoot 9 of 11 from the field, making 5 of 6 3-pointers in 22 minutes. He said coach Mike Krzyzewski told him shortly before the game that Carmelo Anthony would start alongside LeBron James at forward, and he adjusted just fine.
"It felt good to me," Durant said. "It was cool to come off the bench for the first time. Wherever they need that spark, I'm going to try to come out and give them that spark. So I was looking forward to having different roles playing with USA, so it was kind of fun for me, actually."
And it worked perfectly for the Americans, who continue to shake off their lack of size by throwing together lineups that negate any height disadvantage. Durant came in the first time for center Tyson Chandler.
"The way we're playing is exactly the way we should play, I think, with this group of athletes and with the depth that we have," Krzyzewski said, adding that Durant would remain a reserve for at least the next game. "We have good depth, especially on the perimeter."
Andre Iguodala added 18 points and Anthony had 13 for the Americans, who were without All-Star forward Blake Griffin. The Los Angeles Clippers announced Thursday night that he would need surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left knee and would miss the Olympics.
It's another loss up front for the Americans, already without Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh. But James, Anthony and Durant can all play power forward or perhaps even center in the international game.
"They're big," said Dominican Republic coach John Calipari, who won the national championship with Kentucky in April. "They're bigger than you think."
Despite those losses, the Americans still consider themselves the best team in the world - and apparently, ever. Bryant created a stir when he said he thought this young, athletic U.S. team probably would have pulled out a game against the Dream Team, which didn't sit well with his Hall of Fame elders.
"I absolutely laughed," Michael Jordan said before playing in a celebrity golf tournament in Charlotte, N.C. "For him to compare those two teams is not one of the smarter things he ever could have done."
Bryant wasn't bothered.
"I'm not really tripping," Bryant said. "The fact is they've got (Patrick) Ewing and (David) Robinson, those big guys. I mean it's tough. But if you're asking me if we can beat them one game, hell yeah we can beat them one game. You didn't ask me if we could beat them in a seven-game series. One game, we could get them, no question about it."
The Americans believe they can be better than the team that won the gold medal four years ago because of Durant, the NBA's three-time scoring champion who seems even more dangerous in international competition. The 3-point line, just over 22 feet away, is an easy shot for him, and at 6-foot-9 he can play any frontcourt position - he entered the game the first time for center Tyson Chandler.
Durant set U.S. tournament records two years ago in Istanbul with 38 points in a game and an average of 22.8 for the championship, leading a young U.S. team to its first gold medal in the event since 1994. He has transitioned easily to this veteran squad that returns five players from the gold medalists in Beijing.
The Dominicans nearly joined the Americans in London, losing to Nigeria in the third-place game of the Olympic qualifying tournament last Sunday. Had they won, they would have claimed the 12th and final place in the field.
Now they know what they favorites would have looked like.
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With Duke's Krzyzewski on the U.S. bench and facing Calipari for the first time in seven years, the coaching matchup was worthy of an NCAA Final Four. The scoreboard was more representative of a No. 1 vs. No. 16 game.