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Indicative of the way things were going for the Americans, Russell Westbrook came up with a steal near midcourt and was all alone for a layup that he somehow botched. The Brazilians scored the final four points of the period, taking a 27-17 lead on Anderson Varejao's jumper with 15.5 seconds left.
Brazil coach Ruben Magnano said through an interpreter the goal was "not to focus on the names on the jersey and play the game," and they did it for almost 40 minutes ... head to head against the USA.
"It was a very important challenge to make the team ready for the Olympics," he added.
But the Americans got the tempo they wanted in the second, simply wrestling the ball out of Brazilian hands to create turnovers and fast breaks. A 12-0 run fueled by steals and layups turned an eight-point deficit into a 33-29 lead, and James powered to the basket for the last two baskets of the half as the Americans went into the break with a 37-32 lead.
The Americans expected and got a much tougher game than their exhibition opener, a 113-59 rout of the Dominican Republic last Thursday in Las Vegas. Brazil has loads of NBA size to exploit the Americans' biggest weakness, with Nene of the Washington Wizards, Varejao of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Tiago Splitter of San Antonio, plus experienced guard play.
Garcia scored 14 points for Brazil and Varejao finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds. Marcelo Huertas had 11 points and 13 assists.
Brazil gave the U.S. its toughest game at the world basketball championship two years ago, the Americans pulling out a 70-68 victory when Leandro Barbosa's shot from the lane bounced off the rim as time expired.
Of course, that U.S. team didn't have James or anyone else from the team that won the 2008 Olympic gold medal and are the favorites to repeat. The Americans believe they have a better squad than four years ago and maybe even could have beaten the Dream Team, but perhaps it's time to end that debate.
The Dream Team never found itself in a six-point game with six minutes to go, as the Americans did after Varejao tipped in a miss. The U.S. finally pulled away in the final 4 minutes, started by consecutive baskets by James, a 3-pointer and a bucket in the lane.
"I think we just had a slow start, missing shots, some shots that we make every single day in practice," center Tyson Chandler said. "But the good thing about tonight is they showed us some looks that we haven't seen so far and we're learning defensively from it, and we'll make shots."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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