LAS VEGAS (AP) – If the Americans play as well as they did at times Tuesday night, they might not even miss the guy sitting behind the basket.

The U.S. team made an impressive debut, winning all four quarters of a scrimmage against Puerto Rico before a Thomas & Mack Center crowd that included injured teammate Kobe Bryant.

Bryant, unable to play in the upcoming world championships after undergoing knee surgery last month, made his first appearance at training camp and sat with USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo about five rows behind the basket.

And watching Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade put on a show reminded Bryant – who also had to pull out of before the 2004 Olympics while dealing with a sexual assault trial – how much he wanted to be a part of the team.

“It’s tough, it’s really tough,” Bryant said after the game. “Especially coming, seeing guys playing, competing and doing what they did today.

“I’ve been looking forward to this. Since I spoke with Mr. Colangelo on the phone I’ve been looking forward to it, coming out here and playing and competing. It’s very upsetting.”

Even without the NBA’s leading scorer, the Americans had several impressive spurts during the four-quarter scrimmage. Scores were reset at the start of each period, otherwise the Americans would have won 116-82.

U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski stressed earlier Tuesday that the scrimmage was nothing more than a practice, but he found his players took it more seriously than that.

“I like the fact, I think it meant something,” Krzyzewski said. “I thought actually a couple of guys were nervous in a good way. That means it means something. I thought they tried to play every possession.”

The U.S. held a Puerto Rican team that included Orlando guard Carlos Arroyo without a point for more than 3 minutes to open the second quarter. The most impressive stretch came during the third period, when James, Wade and Dwight Howard all threw down powerful dunks – at the basket right in front of Bryant.

The scrimmage marked the first time the teams were together since the Puerto Ricans routed the Americans 92-73 during preliminary round play at the 2004 Olympics.

Anthony was on that U.S. team, and hasn’t forgotten about his Olympic debut.

“I remember like it was yesterday,” he said after a morning practice. “I can’t forget that … whipping.”

He guaranteed a competitive atmosphere, then went out and was the best player on the floor. He scored 23 points and shot 10-for-13 from the floor while helping spearhead the strong defensive effort to begin the second quarter.

Anthony said the plan was to build on a strong finish to the first quarter by the previous unit. Krzyzewski played seven players in the first and third quarters, and the other eight in the other two.

“We tried to learn from their mistakes and I think it helped us in the second quarter,” Anthony said.

James added 20 points. All 15 players scored for the Americans.

Arroyo scored 17 points for the Puerto Ricans, including a 3-point shot just before the buzzer at the end of the second quarter. Rick Apodaca, who played at Hofstra, added 13 points.

The teams meet again Thursday night in an exhibition game, and face each other in their opening game at the world championships on Aug. 19 in Sapporo.

Bryant could be there at some point. He said he wasn’t planning to travel to Asia while continuing to rehab his knee, but Colangelo said Nike would like Bryant to make a promotional appearance in Japan.

But he’ll have to wait at least another year before making his U.S. debut.

“It’s really, really tough,” Bryant said. “Just have to do what I have to do, I guess.”

AP-ES-08-01-06 2302EDT


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