James, Durant star as U.S. men take on France

5:08 PM, Jul 29, 2012   |    comments
Photo courtesy AP
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(USA TODAY) --  It's one thing to have six NBA players, including an All-Star, on an Olympics roster.

It's another thing to have 10 All-Stars, including two MVPs (guard Kobe Bryant and forward LeBron James) and possibly a third someday (forward Kevin Durant), on an Olympics roster.

So while some of the French players can compete against U.S. players, it is difficult for France, as a team, to hang with the USA for four quarters.

After a tight first quarter, the USA pulled away from France and easily won its Olympic opener 98-71 Sunday.

France had few solutions for the 1-2 combination of James and Durant, possibly the best two players in the world who finished first and second in the 2011-12 NBA MVP voting.

James did what he almost always does - a lot of everything, extremely well. He had nine points, five rebounds and eight assists, and Durant did what he does so well - score. He had 22 points.

And the USA also received an unexpected lift off the bench from forward Kevin Love, who had 14 points. Love had an uninspired exhibition performance. He didn't get many minutes in the first four exhibition games, but he played well against Spain last week in the USA's final exhibition game.

USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo told USA TODAY Sports late last week that Love had not been playing to his capability but was encouraged by his game against Spain. It was probably encouraging for Colangelo and U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski to see Love play the way he did against France.

"In the second half, he really built on how well he played in our exhibition game in Barcelona," Krzyzewski said. "He is 23, so he is still learning. He was strong physically, and he plays with emotion, which is great."

The USA will need Love's size and rebounding throughout the competition, especially if he plays like he did Sunday.

"I had been playing the way I probably should have been," Love said. "Hopefully, this will be an omen, at least for me, heading forward and I can continue to play at a high level. ... I needed a game like this under my belt."

Bryant had 10 points, and forward Carmelo Anthony added nine points and nine rebounds for the USA.

The USA delivered another early example of what teams will see: Durant and James leading the way offensively. It's hard to beat either guy with his NBA teammates. Now, they're teamed up with no pressure on James to score.

"Kobe and Melo and KD are the three of the best scorers any of us have ever seen," James said. "We ride them offensively and do the other things."

Like he does so often in the NBA, James dominated offensively without an impressive scoring effort.

"LeBron was great seeing the floor. ... There are so many mismatches because he has bigger guys guarding him," Durant said. "He's finding everybody on the wing for threes and guys in the paint for dunks. He's a phenomenal player, a phenomenal passer and just a joy to play with."

It was far from flawless basketball - too many jump shots, silly fouls, poor shooting - but the U.S. men's basketball team wore down France with its talent, depth, speed and strength in the first half.

The USA shot 43% from the field, including 32% on three-pointers. But it outrebounded France 56-40 and held France to 39% shooting.

Even in a 27-point victory, U.S. players critiqued their game. They were not happy with the defense in the first quarter, and they committed 26 fouls, resulting in first-half foul trouble.

"We were a little too aggressive on the defensive end," Anthony said. "Sometimes, we have to scale it back and just pick our moments when we want to be aggressive."

France's Tony Parker, who had 10 points, gave the USA trouble with his penetration and scoring and had help from Florent Pietrus. But even with six NBA players, France had trouble staying with the American talent.

The USA took a 52-26 lead into halftime, outscoring France 30-15 in the second quarter. The lead increased to 78-51 after three quarters.

"It's frustrating to lose, and to lose by such a large deficit is disappointing," France center Ali Traore said. "But we've not lost confidence. ... Our story hasn't ended tonight."

(USA TODAY)

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