LONDON The United States never longed so much for Nigeria.
The American men's basketball team was closer to crashing than creating more Olympic records, finally sneaking past Lithuania for a 99-94 victory in a preliminary game Saturday.
LeBron James had 20 points and took over down the stretch for the U.S. team, which looked completely unlike the group that set a slew of Olympic and team records in a 156-73 victory Thursday over Nigeria.
There was actually tension in the arena for the first time at a U.S. game. Fans chanted, "U-S-A, U-S-A," as their team trailed 82-80 after Lithuania's Linas Kleiza made a three-pointer with seven minutes left.
Lithuania? The team that was 1-2 before Saturday? With a roster that didn't offer much beyond one NBA player (Kleiza of the Toronto Raptors), a recent ex-NBAer (former King Darius Songaila) and a future NBA player (Toronto draft pick Jonas Valanciunas)?
The U.S. team settled for too many outside shots and misfired from three-point range, making 10 of 33 behind the arc after a 63 percent effort two days earlier.
The Americans also stopped sharing the ball, totaling a puny 13 assists while Lithuania had 21, perfectly executing pick-and-rolls again and again.
But James came to the rescue. He had nine points in the last 3:58, connecting on a three-pointer, dunk and two drives.
A pass-first player in the first three games, he happily reminded reporters after Saturday's game, "I can also score." He was averaging 6.7 points a game, ninth on the team.
Carmelo Anthony had 20 points for the Americans (4-0), who tried to spin the ragged event into an allegedly important development after so many blowouts.
"You want to get tested," James said. "A lot of teams wouldn't have been able to get through that no matter what type of talent you have."
U.S. players tried a little too hard to pass to Anthony, who made 10 of 12 three-point attempts against Nigeria but only 2 of 6 against Lithuania.
"I said a number of times when they came to the bench, 'Just shoot your shots,' " U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Maybe a game like this will help us move to that."
© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.
Read more articles by Mike Bresnahan
What You Should Know About Comments on Sacbee.com
Sacbee.com is happy to provide a forum for reader interaction, discussion, feedback and reaction to our stories. However, we reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments or ban users who can't play nice. (See our full terms of service here.)
Here are some rules of the road:
Keep your comments civil. Don't insult one another or the subjects of our articles. If you think a comment violates our guidelines click the "Report Abuse" link to notify the moderators. Responding to the comment will only encourage bad behavior.
Don't use profanities, vulgarities or hate speech. This is a general interest news site. Sometimes, there are children present. Don't say anything in a way you wouldn't want your own child to hear.
Do not attack other users; focus your comments on issues, not individuals.
Stay on topic. Only post comments relevant to the article at hand.
Do not copy and paste outside material into the comment box.
Don't repeat the same comment over and over. We heard you the first time.
Do not use the commenting system for advertising. That's spam and it isn't allowed.
Don't use all capital letters. That's akin to yelling and not appreciated by the audience.
Don't flag other users' comments just because you don't agree with their point of view. Please only flag comments that violate these guidelines.
You should also know that The Sacramento Bee does not screen comments before they are posted. You are more likely to see inappropriate comments before our staff does, so we ask that you click the "Report Abuse" link to submit those comments for moderator review. You also may notify us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Note the headline on which the comment is made and tell us the profile name of the user who made the comment. Remember, comment moderation is subjective. You may find some material objectionable that we won't and vice versa.
If you submit a comment, the user name of your account will appear along with it. Users cannot remove their own comments once they have submitted them.