Bryant takes pride in his role as defensive stopper

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MACAU --- The Americans are headed for Shanghai. They look ready to go right to Beijing.

With Kobe Bryant defending the way he did last summer and Dwyane Wade soaring again, the U.S. Olympic basketball team has easily won its first three exhibition games.

Two more until they start to count.

"I think we're in pretty good shape defensively," forward Carmelo Anthony said. "Offensively we're tuning some things up. We've got two more games before the real deal starts."

Bryant harassed longtime U.S. nemesis Sarunas Jasikevicius into a miserable night and helped the Americans roll to a 120-84 victory over Lithuania on Friday night.

Jasikevicius was unstoppable in a win over the United States four years ago. So Bryant, who has made it a point to defend the opponent's best perimeter threat since joining the team last summer, blanketed him in the same manner as he did Phoenix guard Leandro Barbosa, of Brazil, in the Olympic qualifying tournament.

"Kobe's our best defender, hands down," forward Carlos Boozer said.

Wade scored 19 points, Dwight Howard had 17 and LeBron James 15 for the Americans, who raced to a big early lead, then pulled away again after Lithuania got within single digits early in the second half. Bryant finished with 13 points, nine during the team's big first quarter.

Wade scored 20 points last week against Canada in his first action since March, when the Miami Heat shut him down so he could rest his surgically repaired knee. On Friday, he punctuated his 7-for-9 night by going high to catch an alley-oop pass from Chris Paul and double-pump before throwing down the dunk.

"He's back," Anthony said. "That's all I can say. He's back."

The Americans, who shot 64 percent, swept their two games in Macau and leave today for Shanghai, where they will play European champion Russia and Australia. The Americans are averaging 118 points in exhibition play.

Jasikevicius hit seven 3-pointers and scored 28 points in Lithuania's 94-90 victory over the United States during Olympic pool play four years ago, and apparently he celebrated too much for one American's liking. So Bryant wasn't going to let that happen again.

"He had a great game against us a few years ago, the U.S.A, and was real brash about it," Bryant said. "So it's my responsibility to bring it to him."

In 2004, the United States rebounded from its loss to beat Lithuania for the bronze medal.

Jasikevicius was 2-for-8 for nine points, along with three turnovers. Rimantas Kaukenas led Lithuania with 17 points.

The United States needed a quarter to warm up in its first two games but was sharp right from the start this time. Howard had three consecutive baskets, James dunked twice, and the Americans were already up by double digits barely 21/2 minutes into the game.

Minutes later, Bryant had two jumpers and a 3-pointer in a quick spurt that made it 24-5.


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