James delivers on promise as USA stays hot

As usual, LeBron James was a man of his word.

He promised Team USA wouldn’t overlook Uruguay in the march toward Saturday’s semifinals of the FIBA Americas Championship. And he saw to it that his team didn’t slip, scoring 26 points — all in the first half — and leading the Americans to a 118-79 win at the Thomas & Mack Center.

"It was another great showing," James said as the USA improved to 7-0. "We wanted to keep improving, and we did. We didn’t want to take any steps backwards."

The USA faces 7-0 Argentina at 9 p.m. today on ESPN2 (Cable 31) in the second round’s final game. The winner clinches the top seed for Saturday’s semifinals. Both teams have qualified for the semis.

Carmelo Anthony, the team’s leading scorer this tournament with an average of 21.7 points per game, did not play Wednesday, sitting out with a sore left heel. He’s expected to play tonight in the final quarterfinal-round contest.

James picked up the slack for his sidelined comrade and put on a show, mixing in four 3-pointers with a dazzling array of dunks that awed the crowd of 4,494 as well as the Uruguay players.

He shot 11-for-11 from the floor, including 4-for-4 from 3-point range.

"I wasn’t looking to force it," James said. "I just take what they give me. I’m just focusing on what it takes to win, be a leader and take care of business."

Said coach Mike Krzyzewski: "The thing that’s so great about LeBron is he doesn’t have to score a point. He’s not even looking for his points. His most important thing is his voice on the court. His leadership and his enthusiasm for this team and the game has really elevated our team."

Despite Wednesday’s loss, Uruguay can earn a spot in Saturday’s semifinals. But it will have to defeat Brazil today to get in. The other key game is Canada vs. Puerto Rico. If the Canadians win, they’re in. But if Puerto Rico wins by 11 or more and Uruguay loses to Brazil, Canada would be out, and Puerto Rico would get a spot in the semis.

The Americans took longer than usual to get rolling. Perhaps they were out of sync without their top gun, as Michael Redd started in Anthony’s place with James moving from small forward to power forward. Or maybe they were complacent coming out.

The USA trailed 14-12 midway through the first quarter before going on a 12-3 spurt. By quarter’s end, the Americans led 31-21.

Uruguay’s Estaban Batista, who has had a solid tournament, tried to keep his team in it. The 6-foot-10-inch forward who appeared in 13 games with the Atlanta Hawks last season, held his own against the NBA’s elite, scoring 20 points. But his teammates got colder with their outside shooting as the game went along, and he alone couldn’t keep pace with the Americans.

James scored six straight points as the USA finally put distance between itself and Uruguay midway through the second quarter, leading 45-25. By halftime, the USA was comfortably in front at 66-38.

He sat out the entire second half, as did Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd as Krzyzewski played his second unit almost exclusively.

Now, the attention turns to Argentina, which has competed in the FIBA Americas tournament without four key NBA players in Manu Ginobli, Andres Nocioni, Walter Hermann and Fabricio Oberto. Coach Sergio Hernandez never has used the missing foursome as an excuse.

"We will try to win," he said of his team’s mind-set for tonight’s game. " … It’s good to have a victory before playing the USA. You need good spirit."


Argentina, which trailed by 17 points early in the second half, scored the last six points of regulation and beat Brazil 86-79 in overtime Wednesday to remain undefeated in the FIBA Americas Championship tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Argentina (6-0), which had secured a semifinal berth, will close the second round tonight against the unbeaten U.S. team.

Regardless of the outcome, Argentina did what it had hoped to accomplish: avoid the United States in the semifinals. They will finish as the first and second seeds and can’t meet until the championship game.

The top two teams in the tournament will receive berths in the Beijing Olympics.

Brazil’s Leandro Barbosa entered the game tied with Mexico’s Romel Beck as the tournament’s leading scorer with a 23.3 average. Barbosa had 15 points at halftime, but solid defense by Carlos Delfino and foul trouble limited Barbosa to four points in the second half and overtime.

He went 0-for-7 from the field in the final 25 minutes, including missing a 3-pointer at the regulation buzzer.

Canada 97, Mexico 80 — Levon Kendall and Denham Brown, two former Big East players, had double-doubles to lead Canada.

A victory over Puerto Rico tonight would give Canada a semifinal spot.

Kendall, who played in the NCAA Tournament all four of his years at Pittsburgh, finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Brown, who played on Connecticut’s national championship team in 2004, had 11 points and 11 rebounds.

Beck, who played at UNLV, went 1-for-6 from the field and finished with two points.

Puerto Rico 92, Venezuela 63 — Larry Ayuso hit half of Puerto Rico’s 12 3-pointers and scored 25 points in a second-round victory.


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