— 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 also 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 busy yapping about how much better they were than the young guys.
What was supposed to be a rousing sendoff 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 that saw Brazil take a 10-point lead amid an assortment of missed dunks, errant jump shots and porous defense by their more famous counterparts.
There were an assortment of possible excuses — treating the exhibition as an All-Star game rather than a tuneup, playing in front of President Barack Obama or perhaps dressing in the lowly Washington Wizards lockerroom — but the U.S. 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 U.S. 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 of 20 shooting. The reigning NBA MVP was about the only U.S. player to live up to his gaudy reputation.
Asked if 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 team. 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 only 3 points on 1-of- 7 shooting. Kevin Durant, who might have been the only player to receive more applause than the president, missed 5 of his first 6 shots and finished with 11 points on 5-of-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."
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 outrebounded, 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 only had four rebounds and seemed to be out of sync after early foul trouble.
After a first quarter that saw Brazil jump out to leads of 10-4, 17-7 and 27-17 at the end of the 10-minute period, a stretch that saw Russell Westbrook miss a breakaway layup and Tyson Chandler mishandle a lob on an alley-oop pass (the New York Knicks center would also blow a lob dunk in the second quarter), the U.S. took over midway through the second quarter.
The U.S. 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 first half. The U.S. stretched its lead to 5 points, 37-32, at halftime despite shooting only 15 of 39 in the half, including 1 of 12 on 3s .
The perimeter shooting, which is supposed to be a strength of this year's U.S. team, shook off its cold half and came out firing. Threes by Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul, along with more traditional 3-point play by James and Paul, extended the U.S. lead to 13 points, 49-36, four minutes into the second half. But the Brazilians cut their lead back to six, 57-51, with a little under a minute left in the third quarter.
Taking a 59-51 lead into the final quarter after a Durant drive in the closing seconds of the third quarter, the Americans built their lead back to double-digits with a two-handed slam by the Oklahoma City star and two-time reigning NBA scoring champion. Anthony followed with his first basket of the night, taking a pass from Durant in the lane and scoring.
"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."
The Brazilians, with a roster than includes Wizards center Nene, San Antonio Spurs center Tiago Splitter and Leandro Barbosa, a 10-year NBA veteran who finished last season with the Indiana Pacers, would not go quietly. They cut the deficit back to seven, 66-59, a stretch that was punctuated by a missed two hand-slam by James.
If the sight of James banging a dunk off the back rim brought many out of their seats, so did the sight of the leader of the free world smooching his wife. After President Obama and his wife got booed for unknowingly ignoring their images on the Kiss Cam earlier in the night, they were treated to a wild ovation when he and the First Lady locked lips.
It might have been a bigger ESPN moment than anything the U.S. team provided. Let the yapping begin.
In the opening game of the doubleheader, the U.S. Olympic women's team defeated Brazil, 99-67. U.S. players scored in double figures, with Lindsay Whalen leading the Americans with 21 points and former Connecticut star Diana Taurasi finishing with 16 points, seven assists and six turnovers. Angel McCoughtry (St. Frances), who didn't get in until late in the third quarter, scored four points in a little under 11 minutes. The 6-1, 160-pound guard was 0 for 2 from the field and missed on a dunk in the closing seconds.