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Stars align to good effect for Team USA men’s basketball

By K.C. Johnson, Los Angeles Times –

LONDON — Kevin Durant is one of the more polite and accessible stars in the NBA.

Thus, it wasn’t surprising when he patiently listened to a long-winded question from a foreign journalist asking how the U.S. can win Sunday’s gold-medal game against Spain when it’s more a collection of superstars than a true national team that trains together for four years.

What was mildly surprising was how edgy Durant’s answer defending his team sounded.

“Not one guy that you named is averaging what we average with our (NBA) teams,” Durant said, his annoyance palpable. “Guys are coming out and sacrificing shots and minutes and opportunity for the betterment of the team. You’ve seen it the last seven games. We’ve been passing very, very well.

“And nobody has an ego. You’re not seeing anybody come to the bench mad because they didn’t get a shot or mad because they didn’t get an opportunity. Guys don’t care. Whoever shoots, if it goes in we clap and get back on defense. We don’t worry about what people say about us being a team. I think we’re a very tight team.”

The U.S. is also a very good team. It has steamrolled opponents, winning by an average margin of 35.7 points heading into a rematch of the 2008 Beijing Olympics gold-medal game. Vying for its second straight gold medal, the U.S. is confident its speed and shooting can overcome Spain’s size.

“Besides us, we felt they were the best team in the tournament,” Carmelo Anthony said. “They definitely have the size on the inside. But we’ll be prepared for that. We’re not too concerned.”

Russell Westbrook will be a game-time decision after suffering a mildly sprained right ankle in Friday’s semifinal victory over Argentina. Throughout the tournament, U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski has used unconventional lineups emphasizing speed over size, with Tyson Chandler the lone true center on the roster.

Spain features a huge front line in 7-footer Pau and 7-1 Marc Gasol as well as Serge Ibaka (6-10). But the U.S. has fared well in rebounding, particularly on the offensive end.

“Marc is really the big difference,” Kobe Bryant said. “He has improved tremendously since we last played them (in 2008). His confidence has improved. His skill has improved. That’s the one major, major difference.”

Durant is averaging a team-high 18 points. Anthony is next at 17.4, while LeBron James (12.4), Kevin Love (12.0) and Bryant (11.4) also score in double figures. So Durant’s defensiveness in reaction to the question about stars playing selfishly and without cohesion has merit.

The U.S. has willingly shared the ball, with James posting a triple-double in the quarterfinals and Bryant, Durant and Anthony taking turns heating up in the semifinal victory over Argentina.

“It’s a luxury to have,” James said. “The best part is we have 12 unselfish guys who are willing to give the ball up to look for the shooter. When we do that, we’re a really good team. Let’s just say I’m happy I don’t have to coach against us.”

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