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For Cuba, nightmare all the way U.S. Dream Team cruises, 136-57


PORTLAND, Ore. -- Ah, they should have won by 80.

Pretty soon, the U.S. Olympic men's basketball team will work its kinks out, and the rest of the world will really be in trouble.

As it stands, the Dream Team's 136-57 victory over Cuba yesterday left no room for drama.

The Cubans trained 19 weeks for the Tournament of the Americas, and the game was decided in approximately 19 seconds.

The United States led 67-27 at halftime.

And this was only the first game.

"As we say in Cuba," said coach Miguels Calderon Gomez, "you can't cover the sun with your finger."

It started with Larry Bird backing his man into the basket for a trademark 13-footer and ended with Clyde Drexler completing fast break No. 154 (rough count) with a wicked slam.

The rest was like watching an NBA All-Star Game, except with an Olympic berth at stake and one team doing all the scoring. The top four finishers in this 10-team round-robin tournament qualify for Barcelona.

The U.S. victory was believed to be the most lopsided in major international competition -- unless one counts a 173-14 U.S. triumph over Sudan in the 1979 World University Games.

For its part, Cuba was humiliated but not eliminated. It rallied from a 10-point second-half deficit to beat Canada, 79-78, on a three-pointer at the buzzer Saturday night.

Yesterday's tipoff came 14 hours after that emotional opener, but Calderon sought no excuses. "The U.S. team is the strongest of all time," he said. "We can't get any closer."

Indeed, the Dream Team reached 100 points in less than 28 minutes -- and only two of those came from Michael Jordan, he of the six straight NBA scoring titles.

Jordan finished with six points. The only U.S. player to score fewer was Magic Johnson, who had four.

Charles Barkley led all scorers with 22 points, followed by Drexler with 20, Bird with 17 and Karl Malone with 16.

The Dream Team shot 71.6 percent, with many of its baskets coming in transition. The Cubans committed 26 turnovers and shot 34.4 percent.

Anyone feel sorry for them?

"Kind of," Jordan said. "But you can't be forgiving and aggressive at the same time. We're forgiving now. We feel sorry now. But at the time, we had to maintain our killer instinct."

The problem is, the United States is so deep, it can't help but run up the score. Coach Chuck Daly switched to a zone defense in the second half, but not even that could slow down his team.

Daly started Jordan, Johnson, Bird, Barkley and David Robinson. After eight minutes, he replaced them with Malone, Drexler, Scottie Pippen, John Stockton and Chris Mullin.

The two units remained largely intact the entire game -- Christian Laettner later played with the second group, Pippen with the first. The drop-off, however, was minimal.

Stockton finished with a team-high 12 assists (Johnson had nine). Drexler hit eight of nine shots, delighting the Trail Blazers fans at the Portland Memorial Coliseum.

What could Daly do?

"We've got to play the game," he said. "I suspect we'll have some close games along the way. We have to be careful to keep the same attitude."

The Prince of Pessimism can relax -- although Barkley did stroll into the interview room and announce: "Let's make it quick. I've got a tee time."

Barkley, of course, appeared comfortable in the role he was born to play, the Ugly American. He talked trash. He threw an elbow. When a Cuban tried posting him up, he bounced him out to midcourt.

Asked if he felt guilty about the trouncing, Barkley referred to his recent acquittal on an assault charge in Milwaukee.

"I was found not guilty last week," he said.

Yet, even he felt compassion for his fellow man. "As an athlete, you never want to embarrass other people," he said. "We've all been in those situations before."

Even you?

"I was down 50 this year in Charlotte," the ex-Philadelphia 76er said.

Anyway, next up for the Dream Team is Canada, tonight at 10.

Jordan said his approach won't change.

"I like to feel I respect everyone," he said. "Except for the Detroit Pistons."

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