U.S. beats China, remain champions

Brian Mahoney and Brian Mahoney

SAPPORO, Japan – Yao Ming is back, and the United States was ready for him.

Using a swarming defense and their huge advantage in depth to make life miserable for China and its All-Star center, the Americans rolled to a 121-90 victory Sunday night to remain unbeaten at the world championships.

“We knew that they wanted Yao to be a big factor, so we wanted to take him out and make them take difficult shots,” U.S. forward Antawn Jamison said.

Dwyane Wade scored 26 points for the Americans, who needed less than four minutes to build their first double-digit lead and led by as many as 36. Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard had 16 points each and Chris Paul 13.

LeBron James, Joe Johnson and Elton Brand all had 11 points while Paul added eight assists and Howard 11 rebounds.

“We were trying to share the basketball, share the defensive rotation and just be a team,” Brand said. “There are a lot of individuals out there, especially on their respective NBA teams. We’re trying to be a team out here, get assists and do the extra things.”

The Americans, averaging 116 points through two games, next play Slovenia on Tuesday. They headed into Group D’s off day tied with Italy at 2-0 for first place. China (0-2) is tied with Senegal at the bottom. The top four teams in the six-team pool advance.

Yao led China with 21 points, but the Americans made him work for all of them. He had only one field goal in the first half, when the game was decided, and finished 5-of-8 from the field before fouling out with 6:08 remaining.

“We worked very hard to defend Yao,” U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He’s a terrific player.”

Yao didn’t play in the Americans’ 119-73 victory in this month’s exhibition game at Guangzhou, China, because he was recovering from a broken left foot. His return in time for this tournament gave plenty of hope to the Chinese, who had a large contingent of fans at the game waving flags and holding large pictures of Yao.

The 7-foot-5 center predicted China would advance out of pool play – he was quoted in a story in the China Daily before the tournament as saying, “China will enter the last 16, I promise.” Then he scored 30 points in China’s opening loss to Italy.

But the U.S. never let him be a factor when the game was still in doubt, delivering a couple of hard fouls when he had a clear path to the basket and even playing two centers together at times. Still not fully fit, Yao didn’t even make it across midcourt at times after Chinese turnovers.

“It is a little bit different from playing Yao in international ball than NBA ball,” Howard said. “Yao is the main focus for the Chinese team. Playing with him in America he has Tracy McGrady on his team, so Yao kind of gets some rest.”

After coming off the bench in the Americans’ victory over Puerto Rico in the opener, Howard drew the starting assignment Sunday and responded underneath.

“Dwight would take any center from any team,” Krzyzewski said. “The guy who’s been our best center has been him.”

Meanwhile, the Americans displayed the balance that makes them one of the tournament favorites, with Krzyzewski using all 12 players in the first half.

Leading by 14 points midway through the second quarter, the Americans used a 12-0 run to break open the game and build a 54-28 lead.

Wade then scored the Americans’ final 11 points of the half, including a drive just before the buzzer that gave the U.S. a 63-38 lead. China had more turnovers (12) than baskets (11) in the first 20


China coach Jonas Kazlauskas said all teams facing the United States have the same problem: “Turnovers, transition and rebounds – and we had the same problems today.”

The Chinese finished with 25 turnovers – an improvement from their 34 in the exhibition game – which helped the Americans to a 29-8 cushion in fast-break points. The U.S. outscored China 20-3 on


Yao hit a jumper to open the third period and Wang Shipeng scored the next eight points as the Chinese pulled within 63-48. But James scored seven points during a 10-3 surge that pushed the lead back to 22, and the Americans were never threatened again.

The United States improved to 5-0 in world championships play against China, the Asian champion. Wang added 17 points for China, which next plays Puerto Rico.