BY DON MARKUS
THE BALTIMORE SUN (MCT)
WASHINGTON – There has been much discussion in recent days about how this year’s U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team stacked up against its most famous predecessors, the Dream Team of 1992.
There has been a good deal of trash talking too by legendary trash talkers Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley, not to mention Kobe Bryant.
What happened Monday night at Verizon Center is bound to keep those aging Hall of Famers yapping about how much better they were.
What was supposed to be a rousing send-off for the U.S. team playing its last game on American soil before continuing its pre-Olympic tour later this week in England turned into an embarrassing first quarter during which Brazil took a 10-point lead amid an assortment of missed dunks, errant jump shots and porous defense by their more famous counterparts.
The U.S. team was scheduled to play Great Britain on July 19 in Manchester, England.
There might have been a long list of excuses – treating the exhibition as an All-Star game rather than a tune-up, playing in front of President Barack Obama or perhaps dressing in the lowly Washington Wizards locker room – but the United States regained the lead late in the second quarter and regained some level of respect in the second half.
Led by LeBron James, the result was a less-than-impressive 80-69 victory for the United States coming off a 54-point demolition of the Dominican Republic last week in Las Vegas.
The sloppy win came against a team that included three of its NBA brethren but is not expected to contend for a medal in London next month.
James, who during opening introductions received his first rousing ovation in what has long been unfriendly territory, led the Americans with 30 points on 11-for- 20 shooting. The reigning NBA Most Valuable Player was about the only U.S. player to live up to his gaudy reputation.
Asked whether it was good for his team to be “humbled” by Brazil, U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said: “I don’t think our team needs to be humbled. I think they are. They’re not going on the court thinking no one else is going to show up against them. They have deep respect for Brazil’s team.”
It was a tough night for the U.S. team’s two players with local roots. Carmelo Anthony missed all four shots he took in the first half and finished the game with three points on 1-for-7 shooting.
Kevin Durant of Prince George’s County, who might have been the only player to receive more applause than the president, missed five of his first six shots and finished with 11 points on 5-for-13 shooting.
“We had open shots off the pick-and-roll; we just weren’t making them,” Durant said. “We’ve just got to keep working. Their defense didn’t do anything different. We just missed shots, layups, dunks. We’ve just got to fight through it. We’ve got to stick with it and we’ll be fine.”
‘Held our own’
Anthony didn’t seem concerned about the fact that he didn’t make a shot until early in the fourth quarter or that the Americans were out-rebounded 38-30 by a bigger Brazilian team that featured Cleveland Cavaliers forward Anderson Varejao (12 points, 13 rebounds) and Wizards center Nene.
“We did a good job against a team with two or three bigs and held our own,” said Anthony, who had four rebounds and seemed to be out of sync after early foul trouble.
After a first quarter in which Brazil jumped out to leads of 10-4, 17-7 and 27-17 at the end of the 10-minute period, a stretch that included Russell Westbrook missing a breakaway layup and Tyson Chandler mishandling a lob on an alley-oop pass (the New York Knicks’ center would also blow a lob dunk in the second quarter), the Americans took over midway through the second quarter.
Kudos for defense
The United States tightened its defense and went on a 16-2 run to start the quarter and take the lead. A steal under the U.S. basket by Chandler, and a subsequent layup, gave the Americans a 30-29 lead with 3:20 left in the half. The Americans stretched their lead to 37-32 at halftime despite shooting only 15-for-39 in the half, including 1-for-12 on 3s. The United States finished the game 6-for-24 on 3s.
“I felt our defense won the game,” Krzyzewski said. “It was outstanding for three quarters because we didn’t hit shots. We missed dunks. I like the mental toughness of our team. We kept reminding them, ‘We’re not doing it on offense. Don’t let it affect our defense.’ And I thought it didn’t.”
In the opening game of the doubleheader, the U.S. women’s team defeated Brazil, 99-67. Lindsay Whalen led the Americans with 21 points. Angel McCoughtry scored four points in a little under 11 minutes.