Zone-hater Larry Brown is changing his ways _ barely

Updated: August 14, 2003, 6:01 PM ET

NEW YORK -- The biggest zone-hater in the NBA, Larry Brown, says he might have the U.S. Olympic qualifying team play something other than its usual man-to-man defense.

Larry Brown? A zone? Given the coach's long-standing basketball philosophy, the admimssion was the sporting equivalent of Barry Bonds expressing a desire to bunt, David Beckham becoming a goalkeeper or Steve Spurrier instituting a running game.

"Being short-handed with size, we might have to go to a zone to protect some big people," Brown said. "I could see us doing it a little bit. Again, though, I want to have man-to-man principles when we do it."

A smattering of zone principles were discernible from the U.S. team as they defeated Puerto Rico in a scrimmage Wednesday.

The final score was 103-76, according to the Puerto Rican coaches. The U.S. federation, at the behest of the coaching staff, would not provide a final score or individual statistics.

Mike Bibby was the only U.S. player with a steady shooting touch, making four 3-pointers -- two from each corner -- over Puerto Rico's tightly packed zone.

The American team made several turnovers when trying to force fast breaks and were often slow to get back on defense in transition.

"For the most part I think guys looked pretty decent. I think we were out of sync a little bit," said Tracy McGrady, who finally found his touch at the end and made two 3-pointers in the final minute.

The American team will play Puerto Rico in an exhibition game Friday night at Madison Square Garden.

More than 16,000 tickets have been sold, and organizers except a crowd much like the one at the U.S.-Puerto Rico game in New York at the 1998 Goodwill Games when an estimated 80 percent of the crowd was cheering for the visitors.

Puerto Rico's team includes Carlos Arroyo of the Utah Jazz.

"Right now they're trying to know how each of them play," Arroyo said of the U.S. team. "They've got to get used to each other. They had a lot of turnovers, that's why. They don't know each other yet."

Brown mixed lineups liberally in the scrimmage, which was officiated by FIBA referees to give the American players an idea of how international basketball is called differently. There was plenty of contact away from the ball, unlike in the NBA where referees are usually vigilant about holding and impeding.

Brown used one lineup that featured Elton Brand at center, Vince Carter at power forward, Tracy McGrady at small forward, Ray Allen at shooting guard and Jason Kidd at the point. That unit appeared to drop into a type of matchup 2-3 zone, with Carter manning the middle spot in the low post to deflect entry passes to cutters.

"Probably 10 percent of the plays we played a little bit of zone today, assistant coach Gregg Popovich said -- an assertion that was disputed by Brown.

"I hate it," Brown said of the zone before conceding that he used it on occasion last season in Philadelphia when he was coaching the 76ers. "My players teased me about it."

Popovich also has been a self-described zone-hater, yet he made repeated use of the zone during the NBA Finals when the New Jersey Nets proved themselves unable to beat the Spurs with the outside shot.

"Yeah, he absolutely did -- and he won a ring. So he's probably right and I'm wrong," Brown said.

Brown's strategy for beating Puerto Rico's zone was to beat them downcourt in transition -- which rarely worked as Puerto Rice dropped several defenders back -- or to run the offense through the low post to take advantage of the packed-in pressure that often resulted in open shots from the wings.

"We're going to have to figure all this out because we don't play against true zones or sagging defenses in the NBA," Brown said.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index