LAS VEGAS &

Just in case the Americans forgot what Puerto Rico did to them in Athens, somebody made the mistake of reminding them.




Three years after its stunning loss in the Olympics, the United States smothered Puerto Rico in a 117-78 victory Tuesday night in the FIBA Americas tournament.




"I think we were focused tonight because coming in there was a little chatter that they thought they could beat us," point guard Jason Kidd said. "But, we wanted to respond not just for that but respond after a bad performance we felt as a whole. And we came back like we played those first four games."




As an added bonus, the victory guaranteed the Americans a spot in Saturday's semifinals, where a win would earn them a berth in the Beijing Olympics.




Coming off their worst performance of the tournament in a victory over Mexico, some U.S. players said they were motivated after hearing that Puerto Rico could win the game. Carmelo Anthony said he didn't know where it originated, calling it "second hand trash talk."




"A little bit of trash talking here and there that we were hearing over the last couple of days just made us get up tonight," Anthony said.




LeBron James scored 21 points and Anthony added 17 for the Americans. Kobe Bryant had 14 and also set up James for a pair of powerful dunks, thrusting his arms in the air like a quarterback who had just thrown a touchdown pass after both. Plus, he even did his own trash talking on the court while jawing with a Puerto Rican player.




"Kobe was working on his Spanish," U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "He speaks more than one language, unlike his coach."




Puerto Rico handed the United States a 92-73 loss, its worst ever, in the 2004 games. Current U.S. stars Anthony, James and Amare Stoudemire were all in Greece and watched Carlos Arroyo and the rest of the Puerto Ricans torch the Americans for 56 percent shooting.




"I don't hold grudges, but I still keep that game in the back of my mind every time we play them," Anthony said. "Even last year when we played them we really wanted to get after them, and tonight we wanted to get after them, also."




The Americans ended any hopes of a repeat with their latest sensational second quarter and remained unbeaten in this event. They finished just about at the 117.6 points they were averaging entering the game.




The United States plays Uruguay on Wednesday before closing second-round play Thursday night against follow unbeaten Argentina. But even with losses in those two games, the Americans would still be guaranteed a spot Saturday.




"Saturday will take care of itself," Krzyzewski said. "Obviously we want to go undefeated and get the No. 1. seed, that's our goal. We'll be ready to play whoever we face."




Arroyo fouled out in the third quarter with 12 points &

half his total that sparked the Olympic upset.




The Puerto Ricans then gave the Americans another tough test last year in the world championships, shooting 54 percent and trailing by only six at halftime of a 111-100 loss. They looked as if they would make things difficult again Tuesday for about 9 minutes, then were run off the floor in the second quarter.




"Puerto Rico is familiar with the United States and has a few pro players who have confidence playing against us," Krzyzewski said. "They controlled the tempo in the first quarter and our defense kind of blew it apart and we stated playing so well in the second quarter."




The United States held the Puerto Ricans without a field goal for 61/2 minutes to open the second period, outscoring them 22-4 to turn an 11-point lead into a 48-19 bulge on Anthony's 3-pointer with 3:47 remaining in the first half. Arroyo made a — about 20 seconds later, ending Puerto Rico's 0-for-8 drought.




The Americans were 7-of-11 from 3-point range in the quarter, limited the Puerto Ricans to just three field goals in 17 attempts, and led 59-27 at the break.




James was 8-of-10 from the field and is shooting a tournament-best 75 percent (36-of-48). He made three of five 3-point attempts &

and his percentage from there actually dropped. He came at 63.6 percent, tops in the event.




James, who said he has been working on his jumper all summer, has clearly been more aggressive offensively as the tournament has gone on.




"I think the defense is seeing what you guys are seeing, that I wasn't scoring as much, that I could be a facilitator," James said. "They're definitely not respecting my offensive abilities so I'm just going out there and just taking what's there."




Krzyzewski returned to the starting lineup he used for the first four games, reinserting Kidd and Dwight Howard in place of Chauncey Billups and Amare Stoudemire. Kidd improved to 40-0 in senior team competitions for the United States.




The Americans also got back reserve forward Tayshaun Prince after he missed Monday's game with a sprained left ankle.




Larry Ayuso scored 13 points for Puerto Rico, which plays Venezuela on Wednesday.




"We played a superior team today with the best players from the NBA," Puerto Rico coach Manolo Cintron said.