US Gets Past Brazil but Struggles Down Low
On Monday night, the Americans had their first true test of this steamy summer in an exhibition game against the Brazilian national team, which features three 6-foot-11 N.B.A. players.
Although the United States overcame a shaky start for an 80-69 win in front of President Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., signs of weakness in the middle were apparent.
The Brazilians out-rebounded the Americans by 38-30 and led by as many as 10 points in the first half. The United States had only two blocked shots, and Tyson Chandler, the team’s lone true center, had one rebound in 19 minutes.
“I was out of position,” Chandler said. “A lot of times we didn’t get bodies because we had two people rotating at the same time, so we let guys free on the glass. We’ve only been together maybe two weeks now. We’re still learning one another and we’re still learning what our defense is about.”
James led the Americans with six rebounds, but Anderson Varejao of Brazil, who plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers, had a game-high 13.
Brazil’s top big men — Varejao, Nene of the Washington Wizards and Tiago Splitter of the San Antonio Spurs — are each 6-foot-11, taller than every player on the United States roster except the 7-foot-1 Chandler.
“The good thing is we got a chance to get tested against bigs that like to post up, bigs that like to hit the glass offensively,” Carmelo Anthony said.
The American players have said they plan to make up for their lack of size with their athleticism and their ability to score in transition. When Chandler is not in the game, they do not have a traditional center, but for the most part, they will not need one.
In the second quarter on Monday, for example, the Americans had a stretch in which the wiry, 6-foot-9 Durant was their tallest player on the court.
The team’s lack of size was not entirely planned. Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh and Blake Griffin will miss the Olympics because of injuries. When Griffin hurt his left knee at a practice last week, the team summoned Anthony Davis, 20, who led the N.C.A.A. in blocked shots as a freshman at Kentucky before being drafted by the New Orleans Hornets.
Davis is the team’s intriguing unknown. He sprained his ankle in a workout in New Orleans and practiced little at the start of the national team’s training camp in Las Vegas, which began July 6. But Griffin’s injury gave him a new opportunity.
Davis did not play on Monday, despite the chants of “We want Davis” that rang through the sold-out Verizon Center with less than two minutes remaining.
“I think I can rebound,” Davis said. “I think I can rebound, and with my length offensively, tap the ball out. I definitely think I can do those things.”
Varejao gave Brazil a 27-17 lead, its largest of the game, with 15.9 seconds left in the first quarter. With 3:20 left in the second quarter, the United States took a 30-29 lead after a steal and layup by Chandler. It never trailed again, but it did not lead by more than 14 points, either. Afterward, several of the United States players praised their team’s defense, although Brazil shot 50.9 percent from the floor.
At the Olympics in London, the United States will expect contributions in the paint from wing players like James, Durant and Anthony. Otherwise, there could be games that are even closer than Monday night’s.
When asked if other teams might take advantage of the United States in the post during the Olympics, Varejao smiled and shook his head slightly, as if to say he would not stir up trouble with his response.
“I’m not sure,” he said. “We’ll have to see.”
The loudest cheers and jeers of the night were directed at President Obama. When he and the First Lady, Michelle Obama, appeared on the scoreboard’s “Kiss Cam” during a first-half timeout, they declined the chance to pucker up and were lustily booed. But the couple had another chance in the fourth quarter, and this time President Obama planted a kiss on his wife as the crowd roared. … In the first game of a double-header, Lindsay Whalen scored 21 points as the United States women beat Brazil, 99-67. “Every time we come together on the court, our mission is to take care of business,” center Sylvia Fowles said.