Team USA leans on D, tops Canada in Paris tuneup

LAS VEGAS — Team USA had plenty of miscues in its first dress rehearsal for the Olympics on Wednesday night. But after a comfortable 86-72 victory over Team Canada in front of a record-setting crowd of 20,756 at T-Mobile Arena, all Anthony Davis was focused on was Team USA’s defensive potential.

“Unbeatable,” Davis said when asked how the U.S. will fare if it defends and runs the way it did Wednesday. “Offensively we were, to keep it frank, we were pretty terrible. But it’s a good terrible in the sense of we were trying to make the right plays. … [But] if we’re worried about offense, I think we’re in a good spot.

“Where we hung our hat tonight was defensively.”

Anthony Edwards led Team USA with 13 points off the bench, and Davis had 10 points, 11 rebounds and 4 blocks, as the Americans overcame a cold start to put the game out of reach early in the second half.

Team USA missed its first six shots and committed eight first-quarter turnovers. But as the game wore on, the Americans began to kick into gear, eventually pulling away to win by double-digits against one of their biggest rivals for the gold medal next month despite playing far below their best.

The Americans, who were playing in front of a raucous crowd that also included former President Barack Obama, held Canada to 33.8 percent shooting overall, including just 7-for-33 from 3-point range. Canada’s star-studded backcourt of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jamal Murray went a combined 5-for-18 from the field.

“Good first game for us,” Team USA coach Steve Kerr said. “We are just starting with four days of practice. You could see the rust on us offensively early. We had a lot of turnovers in the first half, [but] I loved the defensive intensity, and the work on the glass. It was a good first effort on how we want to establish play moving forward.”

In addition to establishing a style of play, one of the main questions looming over Team USA is who will fill the five spots in Kerr’s starting lineup.

Three of those spots seem destined to be filled by Stephen Curry, LeBron James and Joel Embiid. On Wednesday night, the other two spots went to Jrue Holiday, who seems like a natural fit alongside Curry in Team USA’s backcourt as arguably the world’s best perimeter defender, and Devin Booker, who might have been filling the spot left open by Kevin Durant, who sat out for a fifth straight day with a calf strain.

The second unit, meanwhile, of Tyrese Haliburton, Edwards, Bam Adebayo, Jayson Tatum and Davis dominated play, looking like a unit that could be very effective throughout the next few weeks should Kerr opt to keep it together.

Naturally, Kerr, who famously doesn’t like to talk about lineups, said there wasn’t anything to read into based on his lineup decisions in Wednesday’s opener.

“You can’t go wrong picking a starting line up with this group,” Kerr said. “I’m going to do something different in the next two games. We will look at a few different combinations before we settle on anything. We wanted to establish Joel early in the game knowing Canada didn’t have any size. We wanted to play Bam and Anthony Davis with the second group. We wanted to experience what that looked like.”

Embiid, playing for the first time in a Team USA jersey, looked rusty, finishing with five points, six rebounds and five fouls in 13 minutes.

He and Kerr had talked during the past few days about him ramping up his conditioning and activity levels after recovering from a knee injury late in the regular season and playing through it in his Philadelphia 76ers’ first-round playoff loss to the New York Knicks. Embiid said he still has a ways to go, as does Team USA.

“We could have been much better,” Embiid said. “We didn’t take care of the ball. Defensively, we were pretty good. So that’s where we’re gonna hang our hat, and offensively it’s gonna come.”

It also was the first time Curry and James played together on Team USA, after Curry was part of two world championship-winning teams in 2010 and 2014 and James won gold with Team USA in the Olympics in 2008 and 2012.

They’ll get several more chances moving forward. Team USA — which was missing both Durant and Derrick White, who replaced Kawhi Leonard on the team earlier Wednesday — prepares to leave Thursday for Abu Dhabi, where it’ll face Australia and Serbia in a pair of exhibition games next week on the next leg of its pre-Olympics world tour.

“It’s pretty amazing that we’re at this point of our careers and we’re able to showcase our talent and do what we love to do and give a little bit back to the fans,” James said of playing with Curry. “So it’s an absolute treat to play with one of the greatest to ever play this game and I’m looking forward to the rest of the summer.”

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