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Friday, August 3, 2012
Magic Johnson lauds London squad

By Marc Stein
ESPN.com

LONDON -- The biggest victory in Dream Team history was a 79-point pounding of Cuba before the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

The current Team USA, of course, just trumped that rout with its 83-point runaway Thursday night against Nigeria.

So what do the Dream Teamers make of the 2012ers now?

Reaction to the 156-73 win is just starting to trickle in, but ESPN.com has spoken to two of the original Dreamers, both of whom showed little interest in fanning the flames of the recent verbal sparring between Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.

Said Dream Team legend Magic Johnson when reached by phone Friday: "I want to congratulate the guys on their continued dominance in London. This is starting to look a lot like our 1992 Dream Team. I look forward to watching them continue to drive for that gold medal and bring it home for the USA."

The initial quippy reaction from Charles Barkley, meanwhile, when reached by ESPN.com: "That's probably how many points they'd beat the '92 team by ... if we played today."

The Dream Team's biggest victory in Olympic play was 68 points in its 116-48 triumph in the opener over Angola.

The 2012ers have actually been more dominant in London through three games than the 1992 squad, averaging 121.3 points in wins over France, Tunisia and Nigeria compared to 110 points per game for the Dream Team in its opening three victories.

The degree of difficulty, however, is about to spike significantly for the 2012ers, who face two teams in the top five of the FIBA world rankings -- No. 5 Lithuania and No. 3 Argentina -- in their final two games of pool play in Group A.

"When we're out there on the basketball court, we're not thinking about what the 1992 Dream Team did or anything like that," said Team USA forward Carmelo Anthony, who led the way against Nigeria with a U.S. Olympic record of 37 points -- including 10-for-12 shooting on 3s -- in just 14 minutes of court time.

"We respect those guys and we understand what those guys did. We understand the standards that those guys set. But we're playing for ourselves right now, for our country, for this moment. We're not out there on the basketball court making plays and making shots and playing defense and saying, 'This is (like) the '92 Dream Team.' Those guys did what they did in 1992 and now we have the chance to do something special."

Said Team USA guard Chris Paul, who had 11 of his team's record 41 assists: "It's a good feeling. We always try to make our mark, somehow, some way, and this is all well and good, but the mark that we want to leave is to leave with another gold medal."

When Team USA was in Spain last month and Bryant was asked if he regretted his initial claim about the 2012 squad being able to beat the original Dreamers, he told ESPN.com: "People who think we can't beat that team for one game, they're crazy. To sit there and say we can't, it's ludicrous."

Asked then if that's a viewpoint he planned to share directly with Jordan the next time they crossed paths -- after Jordan said last month that opening up this back and forth was "not one of the smarter things [Bryant] ever could have done" -- Bryant answered: "He knows. They got beat by a college select team once. Doesn't mean we're a better team than them, but s---, we can beat them one time."

The trouble, of course, is not only that we'll never know the truth, but also the reality that Team USA's many injury casualties in 2012 (starting with Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade) have drained much of the steam out of the debate. Despite its early success in group play, USA Basketball did not take anything close to the best team it could have fielded to London.

After Thursday's record-setting performance, though, Bryant declined the opportunity to say that his team's ability to eclipse the Dream Team's biggest-ever victory had re-opened the debate.

"I don't think so," Bryant said. "This is just something, being a part of history, but that's where it stands."

Referring to the procession of Team USA players that stood up during the fourth quarter to slap hands with all the coaches after Andre Iguodala's 3-pointer with 4:37 to go nudged the United States past the previous single-game record of 138 points set by Brazil at the 1988 Olympics, Bryant said: "We understand that there have been a lot of great teams that have come through here and I think it was just kind of an acknowledgment to each other that it was a job well done in terms of being a part of it."