LONDON -- The U.S. men's basketball team was a little sloppy during their exhibition tour. But they appear to be hitting their stride at the right time after taking apart a talented France team, 98-71, in their Olympic opener on Sunday afternoon at the hoop venue.
Kevin Durant had 22 points and nine rebounds for the Americans, who led by only one point after the first quarter but quickly kicked things into another gear over the final three periods. The U.S. attacked in transition and finished with 22 points on the break. They were credited with 27 assists on 31 baskets. Some generous official scoring, perhaps, but it was an indication of how devastating they were on the run.
"That's one of our goals, one of our strengths," said LeBron James, who had nine points and eight assists in the facilitating role he served four years ago in China. "We have speed and athleticism, so we try to take advantage of that."
France was seen as one of the sleeper teams of the tournament. They have six NBA players on the roster, including star San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker. Parker, playing with goggles after suffering an eye injury when he was caught in the crossfire of a bottle-throwing bar brawl in New York City last month, had 10 points and only one assist.
The U.S. defense was outstanding, challenging every pass and limiting the French to just 2 of 22 shooting from three-point range. The Americans are a bit vulnerable in the paint. Their only proven center is Tyson Chandler. France shot 55 percent inside the arc. But they paid dearly when they forced the issue and tried to defend the U.S. break.
"Our strength is our defense," James said, "getting out in transition and letting our scorers do what they do. I mean, Kobe (Bryant) and 'Melo (Carmelo Anthony) and KD (Durant) are three of the best scorers the league has ever seen. So we kind of ride them offensively and do other things."
That's a scary thought -- James, who averaged 30 points in leading Miami to the NBA title, not counting himself among the top threats. James, asked about the shooting conditions in the arena, said it didn't matter. "I'm not a shooter," he smiled.
Kevin Love, who has struggled in camp, had 14 points in 14 minutes. All 12 Americans played at least eight minutes. All of them scored. The Americans play next at 10:15 Tuesday night against Tunisia.