Posted Aug 10, 2012By Michael C. Lewis The Salt Lake Tribune
London • LeBron James didn’t want to talk about it. Neither did Kevin Durant. Chris Paul said he didn’t care, that he’s not “losing any sleep” over it, and Kobe Bryant spoke almost in a whisper at times, as if he didn’t want any of his teammates to hear the joy in his voice.
But if the superstars on the U.S. men’s basketball team had drastically different feelings about the blockbuster trade back home that delivered all-star center Dwight Howard to Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, they sure didn’t show it on the court at the London Olympics.
Each one of them took turns getting hot against Argentina in a semifinal game at the O2 Arena on Friday night, with Bryant lighting the fuse on a 109-83 victory that put the Americans into a gold-medal rematch against Spain on Sunday.
“This is the matchup everyone wanted to see,” forward Carmelo Anthony said.
For now, anyway.
In a couple of months, the world will tune in to see if the Lakers can dethrone James and the defending champion Miami Heat during the NBA season, now that they have added Howard in a stunning four-team deal consummated just hours before the game.
The tentacles of the deal twist all through the tournament here, with Andre Igoudala actually part of the trade — he’s heading to the Denver Nuggets – and every other player on the American team (as well as several players on other teams) with a stake in it, as rivals for the NBA title.
Even Spain’s Pau Gasol, who will try to beat the Americans in the gold medal game after settling for silver at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, has a role. The ability for the Lakers to add Howard without losing him is seen as a staggering accomplishment for a team that already was among the best in the league.
“You look at history, all the great centers that have come to L.A.,” Bryant said. “Now, he’s the next in line. He could not be in a better position than to be with this type of organization. I’m very excited for him and he’s excited.”
Bryant picked up against Argentina right where he left off in scorching Australia during the quarterfinals two days earlier, burying three quick three-pointers and scoring 11 of the American’s first 18 points.
Right from there, the Argentines could not keep up.
Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola and Carlos Delfino tried to keep them in it — the trio combined for 48 points — but each time they drew closer, the Americans found a new superstar to push them even further ahead, in the third straight Olympic semifinal meeting between the teams as well as the third meeting in 17 days.
After Bryant, it was James, scoring seven straight points in the second quarter.
Durant hit four three-pointers in the third, with James still seemingly everywhere. And in the fourth, Anthony blew up again, putting the game away with three straight three-pointers — one deeper than the next as he moved from the corner to the angle to the top of the arc.
Durant finished with 19 points, while Anthony and James each had 18 as the Americans turned the fourth quarter into another running and gunning extravaganza.
“You have three scorers on this team who get blistering hot if they make two shots in a row,” Bryant said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Forgive his teammates if they don’t share his enthusiasm, just now, even if coach Mike Krzyzewski said they all handled news of the trade “professionally.” Igoudala was “fine,” the coach reported, and the former Philadelphia 76er politely answered questions about it after the game.
But his suggestion that playing in Denver wasn’t any worse than playing in Alaska might have betrayed some bruised feelings, and Bryant acknowledged that he has heard that his teammates are “pissed off” at him for landing Howard.
Durant, meanwhile, looked nothing like a player who just earned a shot at a gold medal for the first time, sitting sullenly at a press-conference podium answering a question about the deal that pushes his Oklahoma City Thunder down a peg after losing in the NBA Finals to James and the Heat.
“I really don’t care,” he said.
So they have one game left, against a Spain team that did not look good in the first half of the other semifinal, before pulling out a 67-59 victory over Russia, which will play Argentina for bronze. One game left to get a gold medal that everybody expects them to win. One game left, before they go home and start getting ready to beat up on each other again.
“It’s only right,” James said. “Everyone said that this is the game they wanted to see. We look forward to it. We’re happy as a team we’re able to be back in this position.”
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