Team USA quiets pre-Olympic panic with rout of Argentina
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The order of the basketball universe has been restored — at least for one night in Las Vegas.
After losing two straight exhibition games to Nigeria and Australia, creating rare Olympic basketball panic, Team USA took out its frustrations on Argentina in a 108-80 rout Tuesday at Mandalay Bay Events Center.
Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant, after shooting 10-for-30 in the two losses, led the way with a 17-point, three-assist outing, draining 6 of 9 shots (3-for-5 on 3-pointers) in 24 minutes. Bradley Beal also scored 17 points and Zach LaVine finished with 15.
Prior to the loss to the loss to Nigeria on Saturday, the United States had a 54-2 record in exhibition games since 1992, when pros began playing on Olympic rosters. So to lose two straight was stunning — even if these are just warm-up contests.
Team USA won’t play its first real game until July 25, when it faces France in Tokyo. France, led by Frank Ntilikina, dealt the U.S. a devastating blow when it beat Team USA in the World Cup in 2019.
The United States faced another Knicks point guard on Tuesday, Luca Vildoza. He had some moments, but not enough. Vildoza finished with nine points on 3-for-8 shooting (3-for-6 from 3).
Team USA still has two more exhibition games — versus Spain and a rematch with Australia. Argentina fell to 0-3 in warmups.
The U.S. jumped to a 15-4 lead, heating up early from the 3-point line. Gregg Popovich’s club hit six 3-pointers and led by 33-19 after one quarter.
In the second quarter, Argentina cut the deficit to 39-30, but that was the last time it was within single digits. Durant ended the half with a buzzer-beating top-of-the-key, step-back jumper over former Net Luis Scola to give the U.S. a 58-42 lead at halftime. Team USA made 20 of its 36 shots in the first half.
In the loss Monday to Australia, Popovich said the club “tired out’’ in the second half. And Damian Lillard admitted the players still aren’t in top condition. But in the second half Tuesday, Team USA extended its lead to as much as 28 points against the smaller Argentine squad.
“We are still working at becoming a team, getting our legs under us and getting in shape,” Lillard said before the game.
Vildoza came off the bench in the first half, but started the second half. The point guard looked a tad slow on defense, losing U.S. point guard Darius Garland, who shook him off and got into the lane for an open jumper.
Vildoza, who signed a four-year, $13.6 million non-guaranteed pact im May, hit a 3-pointer on his first shot attempt, racing the ball upcourt and draining a pull-up. Vildoza is playing behind starting point guard Facundo Campazzo, who had a strong rookie season for the Nuggets.
In a poor third quarter, Vildoza had his shot in the lane blocked by Bam Adebayo, then launched a corner 3 that hit the side of the backboard. Soon after, Vildoza tried to put the ball on the floor and got stripped by Draymond Green. Then he missed another 3-pointer.
But he closed with panache, sinking two straight 3’s to close the third quarter. On the second one, Vildoza put the moves on Garland before draining one right over the Cavalier.
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