ATHENS, Greece Before the hard part begins against Spain, Tim Duncan and the U.S. basketball team got to experience a taste of what the good ol' days were like at the Olympics.
Finally playing an opponent they were able to handle with ease, the Americans finished off the preliminary round with an 89-53 victory over Angola on Monday.
With the quarterfinals coming up Thursday, Duncan believes the worst is already in the past.
''I'm really confident in the way we've been playing,'' he said. ''I think we've learned a lot through this tournament, and I think we're in a great position.''
The Americans had to wait until Greece defeated Puerto Rico 78-58 in Monday's final game to find out their next opponent, Spain (5-0). China earned the final medal-round spot from Group A by upsetting Serbia-Montenegro 67-66 behind 29 points from Yao Ming.
The other quarterfinal matchups will be Greece-Argentina, Puerto Rico-Italy and China-Lithuania.
The United States finished the opening round 3-2, losing to Puerto Rico and Lithuania, and defeating Greece, Australia and Angola. Under point differential tiebreakers, the Americans finished fourth in their group behind Greece (3-2) and Puerto Rico (3-2).
''We wish we could have won some more and played better against Lithuania and all that good stuff, but we didn't and we're in the position we're in right now, and we're happy with where we're at,'' Duncan said.
After a series a tough games in which he was constantly doubled-teamed, the 7-foot center finally found some room to maneuver against Angola.
In the opening moments of the first quarter, he found just one defender guarding him, and he gladly took advantage, dropping in a shot.
Duncan finished with a team-high 15 points in just 13 minutes, and the Americans dominated the boards Barcelona-style with a 52-17 edge in rebounding as NBA commissioner David Stern watched from a seat 10 rows behind the American bench.
Shawn Marion took the U.S. team's first 3-point attempt 82 seconds into the second quarter and made it for a 28-14 lead, and LeBron James hit another 3 to extend it to 33-14. The U.S. team finished 3-for-6 from behind the arc and 33-of-60 (55 percent) overall.
''The only negative, I thought, was we turned the ball over a lot (12 times) in the first half, which has plagued us a lot in this tournament,'' coach Larry Brown said.
The Americans were up 46-26 at halftime before Duncan scored their first six points of the third quarter. An alley-oop reverse layup by Richard Jefferson off a pass from Allen Iverson got the lead up to 30 less than four minutes into the second half.
It was 75-39 after three quarters, and Emeka Okafor, who had played a total of just two minutes in the U.S. team's first four games, was on the floor for the entire fourth quarter but failed to score.
James and Carlos Boozer had 11 points each, Iverson added 10 and Dwyane Wade, Marion and Amare Stoudemire had nine apiece.
In other games with medal-round ramifications, Italy (3-2) edged Argentina (3-2) 76-75 to finish second in Group A, and Spain outlasted New Zealand 88-84.
Argentina didn't try to lose but wasn't all that upset: Its defeat means it won't have to face the United States on Thursday.
''It's better for us. We didn't want them in the quarterfinals,'' Manu Ginobili said. ''They're not playing well, but they're a very talented group of players.''
The Americans, meanwhile, face a Spanish team that was the class of the two preliminary-round groups.
''I don't know anything about them,'' Duncan said.
If the U.S. gets past Spain, it would play the winner of the Greece-Argentina game in the semifinals. Starting times for the quarterfinal games were not immediately announced.
Angola, Australia, Serbia-Montenegro and New Zealand failed to make it into the quarterfinals, while China's victory was so stunning that coach Del Harris called it the greatest of a coaching career that has spanned 45 years and almost 4,000 games.
Angola (0-5) played well in two of its losses, falling by just five points to Lithuania and three to Puerto Rico. But it was thoroughly outclassed this time by an American team that had yet to experience a blowout except in defeat.
The Americans grabbed 28 of the first 32 rebounds, made their first two 3-point shots and then broke out their highlight-reel material.
''The records are out the door and it's the best team that comes to play,'' James said. ''It's win three games and get the gold. If our best team shows up, we can win the gold.''
Lamar Odom did not score, and Stephon Marbury did not take a shot, keeping his shooting percentage at 20 percent (6-for-30).
Valter Monteiro had 20 points for Angola, which had as many fouls (19) as field goals and shot just 6-for-25 from 3-point range after going 45-for-124 (36 percent) in its first four games.
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