- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 13, 2008

BEIJING — After the cheers for LeBron James’ dunks, oooohs for Chris Paul’s passing and screeching for Mr. China - Kobe Bryant - the Chinese basketball fans Tuesday night did the right thing while the Redeem Team was moving to 2-0.

They acknowledged Angola.

“An-gol-a … An-gol-a … An-gol-a” they chanted late in the Americans’ 97-76 victory over the longtime African powerhouse.

The compliments were deserved.

The team played hard. When the score got out of hand, they kept playing. They didn’t seem intimidated. They forced several U.S. errors.

“They have our respect,” Paul said.

While the Americans’ goal was to win and improve their quality of play (more on that in a second), Angola’s goals were less ambitious.

“We didn’t expect to win,” guard Carlos Morais said. “But we wanted the game to be more balanced.”

After losing its three previous Olympic games to the United States by 68, 33 and 36 points, Angola can proclaim it is improving. It won’t win a medal here. It might not even win a game. But when the players and coaches travel home after the games, they at least can say LeBron, Kobe, etc., had to sweat for the win.

Angola’s last lead was 11-9. What it couldn’t prevent was a run by the United States. Down 39-32, Angola allowed the United States to finish the first half on a 12-0 run. Five straight points early in the third quarter cut the U.S. lead to 55-41. But Bryant took over, spearheading an 8-0 run.

But at least Angola wasn’t doubled up.

Back in 1992, when United States first sent NBA players to the Olympics, the Dream Team’s first opponent/victim/sacrificial lamb was Angola, a country that has dominated African basketball for decades.

The Americans started their march toward a gold medal with a 116-48 beatdown.

Armando Costa, a guard on Angola’s team now, was 11 years old and growing up in Portugal.

“I remember Jordan playing well and them being called the Dream Team and the Barkley elbow,” he said.

Joaquim Gomes didn’t watch the game, but he has heard the stories about how little Angola was pushed around by the roster of future Hall of Famers. He was exposed to the NBA game while playing for the University of Valparaiso from 2000 to 2004.

Gomes could only smile when asked whether he was showcasing himself for the NBA.

“I wish I could know that - I hope so,” he said. “The main goal of any player is to play in the NBA, so when you play a game against the United States, definitely everybody will watch you and watching for you to do something. I’m sure my whole country was watching us.”

Gomes was honest when asked whether he had a favorite player on the U.S. team. While it would be a stretch for him to walk around his hometown with a No. 23 or No. 8 or No. 11 jersey, he does watch games on satellite television. He said LeBron, Kobe and Dwight Howard are his favorite players.

“For me, it’s an honor to play against them,” Gomes said. “I don’t know how many players around the world get the opportunity to be here, where I am.”

Where the Americans are is 2-0. But their play is still All-Star Game-like, with each player trying too hard to get others involved with wild passes or alley-oop attempts and pushing the ball up court recklessly.

But where this U.S. team is as good as advertised is on defense. Either because he wanted to put something on film for teams to think about or to put Angola away, when Mike Krzyzewski called for a three-quarter court press in the third quarter, the intensity and execution were right on.

The U.S. defense is gold medal-worthy right now. Its offense remains a work in progress.

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