Friday, July 25, 2008 | 9:21 p.m.
Canada was as outmanned Friday night against Team USA at the Thomas & Mack Center as Steve Wynn was when he said hello to Warren Buffett and Bill Gates.
At halftime, Wynn, the Las Vegas hotel mogul who is worth between $5 billion and $6 billion, exchanged pleasantries with courtside seatmates Buffett and Gates, worth about a combined $120 billion.
The Canadians found themselves lacking resources, too, in their 120-65 thrashing by the U.S. national hoops team before a sellout crowd of 18,498 and a national ESPN2 television audience.
And the red, white and blue did it without LeBron James, who was nursing a sore right ankle that he had sprained earlier in the week during practice at Valley High.
“We were able to smother them,” said guard Kobe Bryant, “and extend the lead.”
The U.S. pulled away from Canada in the second quarter, turning a six-point edge into a 61-38 cushion at the half.
The Canadians actually talked about winning the second half in their locker room at intermission, but Bryant and his teammates belted their foes with a 34-18 third quarter to make the outcome academic.
Buffett and Gates, and UNLV coach Lon Kruger and his wife Barb, had departed by the time the second half started, sparing themselves of further carnage.
Joel Anthony, the former Rebel who starts at center for Canada, scored the first basket of the game. He went 0-for-5 the rest of the way.
A few long shots by guard Jermaine Anderson and a couple of nifty crossover dribbles by Carl English, against Bryant no less, were the only other Canadian highlights.
“We wanted to go out and give our best effort,” Anthony said. “We wanted to compete hard, not back down. Then it kind of got away from us.”
Defense was the key, many from Team USA said before the game. We will not worry about offense. That will come. If we play tight defense, that will create offense.
That was prophetic. The U.S. turned 25 turnovers by Canada into 43 points. Canada got only nine points out of 19 turnovers by the U.S.
And the Americans dominated inside, scoring 48 points to their opponents’ 14.
“I can’t even remember them running a set play,” English said. “They just get out and run tremendously, and dunk on your head. But to them it was just an exhibition, too.”
Michael Redd, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade each scored 20 points, Bryant had 15 and Deron Williams tallied 14.
It was all too reminiscent of last summer’s FIBA Americas tournament at the Mack, where the U.S. blasted it way to the title by winning all 10 of its games by an average of 39.5 points.
That earned the Americans a spot in the Olympics. Team USA, indeed, has enjoyed its three-year training stay in Las Vegas.
“On behalf of USA Basketball, thanks for your support over the past three years,” guard Chris Paul told the crowd after the game. “We’ll go to China and make you guys proud.”
The squad plays four more exhibition games in China before opening the Olympics against the host nation in Beijing at Wekusong Indoor Stadium on Aug. 10.
In Macao, the U.S. plays Turkey and Lithuania. In Shanghai, it goes up against Russia and Australia. Of that quartet, only Turkey will not play in the Olympics.
“They’re not going to show us everything they have,” said Team USA executive director Jerry Colangelo. “They’ll experiment. There’s a lot of strategy in that. They want to get you off guard.”
On the global stage, the Americans have been caught plenty off guard this decade by failing to appear in three consecutive international finals for the first time.
That includes the World Championships in 2002 and 2006, and the Athens Games in 2004. Colangelo was hired to rectify the situation, and he hired Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski to manage the squad.
Friday night, Bryant, who would have played for Krzyzewski if he hadn’t turned professional out of high school, bumped fists with Coach K on the bench late in the game.
Colangelo also convinced a core group of players to commit to the national team for three summers.
English thinks Greece and Spain might give the U.S. its biggest tests in Beijing.
“Those European teams play extremely well together,” he said. “I think the U.S. will get it done, but it won’t be a cakewalk.”