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Monday, September 2, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Basketball

Weight of the world leans on U.S. team

The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — The United States has been good at the FIBA World Basketball Championship.

Not great. Good.

Good was good enough during the first three days of Earth's biggest basketball tournament. The World's Only Remaining Basketball Superpower is 3-0, having clobbered Algeria before struggling somewhat against Germany and China.

Things get tougher from here.

The World Championship, a tournament that transfixes Europe and South America but to which North America and local basketball fans have turned a blind eye, resumes today with the beginning of the second round.

The Americans' schedule looks easy:

• Today: Annihilation of Russia.

• Tomorrow: Eat Kiwis.

• Wednesday: Don't cry, it's only Argentina.

"We don't even expect to win that game. There are more important games for us, like Germany and China," Argentina forward Emanuel Ginobili said.

Do not believe Ginobili. When he says the game against the U.S. team is not important, he is merely being overly respectful.

The international basketball community has learned a lesson from Vlade Divac, who was honest yet bold enough to pronounce the Americans beatable. After watching the Americans in action for the first three days of the tournament, any neutral observer would have to agree.

The U.S. team has flaws.

With Reggie Miller sidelined by a sprained ankle, there has been no perimeter presence outside of Paul Pierce and Michael Finley. Baron Davis and Andre Miller have been ordinary at point guard.

As Shaquille O'Neal sits out this tournament and extends his national-team absence to six years, the front-line crew of Jermaine O'Neal, Ben Wallace and Elton Brand had its hands full with the likes of China's Menk Bateer and Germany's Dirk Nowitzki.

"Let's not get too carried away. We know the U.S. is heads and shoulders above everyone else," New Zealand's Sean Marks said. "But they can't afford to slip up, and I'm sure they won't. I'm sure they're looking at Argentina and saying 'They're playing well. They're a good team.' "

The United States (3-0) is one of four teams advancing to the second round with unblemished records. Argentina, Spain and Brazil also made it through the first three days unscathed.

If the Americans have someone to be wary of before the medal round, it might be the high-scoring, fast-paced team from Argentina.

Yugoslavia came into the World Championship regarded as probably the only team that might be able to threaten the U.S. team.

Now, however, the list of would-be threats has grown.

The team from Spain, with its all-out defensive intensity combined with the inside-outside offensive threat of Pau Gasol, cannot easily be dismissed.

Brazil and Puerto Rico, with their three-point prowess, would not be helpless if they meet the U.S. team in the medal round.

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