HAMILTON, Ontario -- The cause of freedom, democracy and alley-oops for all was advanced with predictable ease last night, as Dream Team II opened its full bag of NBA tricks to wallop China by 55 points at the 1994 World Championship of Basketball.
The gaudy 132-77 final score helped assuage the malaise felt after the U.S. team's lackluster opening-game victory against Spain.
Among themselves, however, the players predicted a bigger blowout, because they know that margin of victory is how they will be judged against Dream Team I, which rolled to the 1992 Olympic gold medal by an average of 43.8 points a game.
"Today, we wanted to win by 60 or 70," forward Dominique Wilkins said. "We came close."
Shaquille O'Neal led seven American players in double figures with 22 points, hitting 10 of 11 shots. The United States hit 40 of its 52 two-point shots (77 percent) and eight of 19 (42 percent) from three-point range.
Wilkins made all seven of his shots after getting an early call from the bench, and he finished with 15 points. The oldest Dream Team player at 33, he acknowledged having been disappointed in sitting for most of the opener against Spain, after which coach Don Nelson indicated that Wilkins hadn't put out enough effort in a two-week training camp. Wilkins was more than diplomatic after last night's victory.
"We did what we were supposed to tonight, and everybody got action," he said. "That's all you can ask for. I just went with the flow. I was ready to go no matter what happened. It's good to get in early and get going."
The Americans pressed full-court from the start, and got the balloon effect they sought with 12 points in the last minute to push the lead to 71-38 at halftime.
The U.S. pressure came replete with a kind of schoolyard intimidation that seemed to perplex the Chinese more than scare them. Like when Larry Johnson bellowed fiercely at one reedy forward, who promptly broke the full-court press and banked in a layup.
The U.S. highlight film got off on the wrong foot as Shawn Kemp's dunk attempt on the first fast break flew off the back iron. He got it right the next time down the floor, however, and celebrated with a show of outstretched hands just in case nobody noticed.
It should be noted that China is here only because Asia barely plays basketball. At the '92 Olympics, the Chinese lost all 12 of their games. Last night, Nelson was kind enough to call them "the best-passing team in the tournament," but even that was a reach.
The Chinese actually drew blood, from a split lower lip belonging to Kevin Johnson. But that was more evidence of the Americans' newfound resolve, as the Phoenix Suns guard drew a hard baseline blocking foul at the cost of smacking his face into the floor.
"I think we did play a lot harder tonight, but I still think we can play a little better," O'Neal said.
Wilkins, feeling part of the family again, put it more boldly: "We're ready to do some damage now."
DREAM TEAM SCHEDULE FIRST ROUND Thursday U.S. 115, Spain 100
Yesterday U.S. 132, China 77
Tomorrow U.S. vs. Brazil, 4 p.m. (Chs. 2, 4)
YESTERDAY'S OTHER RESULTS Croatia 104, South Korea 53
Australia 93, Cuba 87
Greece 69, Egypt 53
Germany 81, Puerto Rico 74
Russia 95, Angola 57
Spain 73, Brazil 67
Canada 91, Argentina 73