With a rare open date during the 11-day, eight-game World Championship of Basketball, Dream Team II played the comparison game Saturday.
With one narrow victory and one blowout behind them, the United States is assured of a berth in the round-robin quarterfinals. Also assured is the certainty that Dream II will be measured against the original Dream Team from the 1992 Olympics."It's very difficult to have 12 All-Star players blend in such a short time," coach Don Nelson said. "After the first game, we had to step back. We had to think of team basketball instead of individual basketball. That's difficult to do when players are used to creating shots on their own."
Dream Team I, especially with Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson as leaders, accepted the team concept more readily than this year's version, but Dream Team II's 55-point rout of China took away doubts that it had a killer instinct.
Logistics dictate that the two teams will never meet on the court, even though Jordan said he would come out of retirement to play against Dream Team II for charity.
A 115-100 victory over unheralded Spain on Thursday night had critics saying that this year's U.S. team would be overwhelmed by the Jordan-led Dream Team, but a 132-77 blitz over China the following night had Dream Team II feeling better about itself.
"I respect them, but I won't ever say they would beat us," said Joe Dumars, the only Dream Team II member who has an NBA championship ring. "I'd play them in a heartbeat."
But instead of a dream game between Dream Teams, the U.S. team plays its next tournament game today against Brazil, which lost to China in overtime and has already been eliminated from contention for championship round.
Nelson admitted Saturday that he slept better Friday night after the easy victory over China and predicted the U.S. team's strong defensive effort would continue through the rest of the tournament.
"In the first game, we weren't patient enough," Nelson said. "We took too many long early shots. But that game was a learning tool for us. We learned we have to play hard for 40 minutes. There is no room for garbage time in international basketball."
Dream Team II also is learning - just as Dream Team I did - that a blowout is expected every time out that a team of NBA stars takes the court. . . . A close game might be more interesting, but it leaves you wide open for criticism.
But a 55-point victory makes the team look like a bunch of bullies.
"My job is to get the guys to play 100 percent the whole way, so if they do that, I can't feel sorry for China," Nelson said.
"It's not enjoyable or fun to beat somebody that bad," swingman Dan Majerle said. "But it's something we're expected to do and something we're going to do."
Dumars said that when USA Basketball committee member Rod Thorn invited him to be on Dream Team II, he knew immediately that he would have to deal with constant comparisons with the 1992 Olympic team.
"I told myself that the second I got off the phone with Rod," Dumars said. "I realized that if we win by 55, it was because we were supposed to. We would have to get some competition to get a true, positive look at how good this team is. But if we play a close game, everyone wants to know what's wrong with us. If I wasn't on the team, I would probably wonder the same thing."
The 100 points allowed against Spain was 15 more than the most the 1992 team gave up in any of its eight Olympic games.
But on Friday night, Dream Team II's 132 points was five more than Dream Team I managed.
Ten of the 12 players scored eight or more points, led by Shaquille O'Neal with 22 on 10-for-11 shooting. Seven players are shooting better than 62 percent from the field and only Mark Price is shooting under 50 percent.
Defensively, the Americans forced 36 turnovers.
"We can outscore anyone in this tournament, but what creates opportunities is defense," Reggie Miller said. "If we play defense like we did tonight, we should beat any team here by 30."