SAPPORO, Japan -- Puerto Rico was scoring so easily against the United States, maybe the Americans should have considered playing six against five.
Actually, they tried that, too.
The US eventually overcame a slow start that included a strange sequence in which Carmelo Anthony inbounded the ball despite being out of the game, settling down to beat Puerto Rico, 111-100, yesterday in the opening game of Group D in the World Championships.
Anthony led the US with 21 points. LeBron James and Kirk Hinrich each added 15 for the Americans, who found things to be much tougher than they were during a 45-point rout in an exhibition game at Las Vegas earlier this month.
``We got a slow start but we picked it up in the second half," James said. ``It doesn't matter how many points you win by, as long as you get a win."
Carlos Arroyo of the Orlando Magic scored 23 points for Puerto Rico, which looked capable for much of the first half of a second straight major upset of the US in international play. The Puerto Ricans shocked the Americans, 92-73, in the opening game of the Olympics two years ago in Athens.
Anthony, James, and Dwyane Wade, the three US captains, were there for that loss, which sent the Americans on their way to a disappointing third-place finish.
Anthony was the central figure in the most bizarre sequence of yesterday's game. After picking up two quick fouls, he went to the bench, but chose to stand in front of his chair instead of sitting.
When a ball went out of bounds near the US bench, both the nearest referee and US guard Hinrich didn't seem to realize that Anthony wasn't in the game. So the official handed the ball to Anthony, the closest player to him, and with no other US players coming back for it, Anthony simply passed it in, giving new meaning to the term ``sixth man."
``The referee threw me the ball, so I just threw it inbounds," Anthony said. ``He didn't even know."
The ref eventually figured it out when Anthony didn't run up the court with the rest of the players, and a technical foul was called. Arroyo hit both free throws to tie the game at 17, and an irate coach Mike Krzyzewski loudly scolded his players sitting on the bench.
``I'm used to that after four years at Duke, so I knew where he was coming from," Shane Battier said.