MACAU -- Moving up in class, even if it was hard to tell, the U.S. men's basketball team played its best opponent and turned in its most impressive performance.
After crunching Canada by 55 points and Turkey by 32 in its first two exhibitions, the U.S. turned highly regarded Lithuania into another clay pigeon Friday, romping to a 120-84 victory as Kobe Bryant jumped all over Lithuania sharpshooter Sarunas Jasikevicius, helping hold him to nine points.
If revenge is something you get in games that actually count, it was still a dominating performance for the Americans against an old nemesis.
In the Olympic semifinals at Sydney in 2000, with the U.S. still unbeaten in three Olympiads with NBA pros, Jasikevicius had a chance to shock the world with a 3-pointer at the buzzer but missed. Making up for it four years later in Athens, Jasikevicius scored 28 points, making seven 3-point shots, as Lithuania toppled the Americans, 94-90, in group play.
So it wasn't a coincidence when U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski pointed his best perimeter defender, Bryant, at Jasikevicius.
Bryant didn't play him the entire game -- Chris Paul, among others, took a turn on him -- nor did Bryant shut Jasikevicius out, but it was close. Jasikevicius got off eight shots all night, missed six and was charitably charged with only three of Lithuania's 23 turnovers.
"He had some good games against the USA and was real brash about it, trash talked, things of that nature," said Bryant. "So it's my responsibility to bring it to him. ...
"This is what I do. They (the U.S. coaches) reminded me of it so, sic the Doberman on him."
The turning point was the opening tip. In the Lithuanians' first 11 possessions, they got off only six shots, missed four of those and turned the ball over five times.
By then the U.S. led, 18-5, and was just warming up.
The U.S. team will now play two more exhibitions in Shanghai against Russia and Australia before touching down in Beijing on Wednesday.
HARDY WITHDRAWS -- Swimmer Jessica Hardy withdrew from the U.S. Olympic team Friday, four weeks after testing positive for a banned substance at the Olympic Trials. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency announced Hardy's decision, saying she did so "in the best interests of the team."
The 21-year-old from Long Beach could have contested the drug test results before the American Arbitration Association and potentially filed an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which would have kept her first Olympic berth in doubt until the eve of the games that open Aug. 8.
"While some might have chosen to exhaust their legal options to try to force their way into the games, Jessica instead chose to put her team's interests ahead of her own," said Travis Tygart, chief executive officer of USADA. Hardy tested positive for a low level of clenbuterol, a prohibited anabolic agent, at the trials July 4.
ANOTHER GYMNAST WARNED -- Tim McNeill received a warning Friday for getting a prescribed anti-inflammatory shot without the proper clearance from anti-doping authorities, the second gymnast in a month to be punished for that violation.
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency said McNeill tested positive May 24 at the U.S. gymnastics championships for a glucocorticosteroid, a cortisone-like drug that is only allowed during competitions with an exemption. Olympian Morgan Hamm had a positive test for the very same anti-inflammatory that day, and also drew a warning from USADA.
NOTES -- An appeal by Greco-Roman wrestler Joe Warren to reduce his two-year doping suspension was dismissed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency said Friday that a three-person CAS panel turned down the appeal by Warren, of Colorado Springs, who was suspended after testing positive for marijuana. ... The Philippine government is dangling more incentives to the athlete who brings home the country's first-ever Olympic gold medal, with the pot now worth $340,000. The stakes were raised after President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo met Friday with the 15-strong Philippines team for the Beijing Olympics. Presidential spokesman Jesus Dureza said $102,000 has been added to the previously announced $238,000 award offered by the government and private sector for the coveted medal. ... Azerbaijan officials asked the Olympics' arbitration court to remove Spain's women's field hockey team from the Games for doping violations and let the Azerbaijan team compete. ...
Italian fencer Andrea Baldini will miss the Games after testing positive for a diuretic during last month's European Championships in Ukraine. ... Tennis star Roger Federer will carry the Swiss flag at the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.