After getting a scare in their first test in the World Championship, the Americans wouldn't be surprised if they run into Brazil in the medal round.
"I think so. I really do,'' Billups said of anticipating Brazil will get another crack at Team USA, which escaped with a narrow 70-68 victory at Abdi Ipekci Arena.
The Brazilians certainly hope that will be the case. And they feel confident they can beat the Americans after nearly doing so without Cleveland Cavaliers big man Anderson Varejao, who sat out Monday with a sprained left ankle.
Even Kevin Durant's 27 points and 10 rebounds weren't enough to keep the Americans from heavily perspiring down the stretch. With 3.5 seconds left and Team USA up, 70-68, Durant fouled Marcelo Huertas, who stepped to the free-throw line with a chance to force overtime.
Huertas missed his first attempt before bricking the second intentionally. He got his own rebound and passed to Barbosa underneath before the Brazilian guard had his layup rim out at the buzzer.
"I thought it was going to go in,'' Barbosa said. "I was in a good situation, but it didn't go in. It was all good. We played really well. I'm happy the way we did.''
The Americans left happy as well, and not just because they won. This is the type of game the young Americans feel they need to toughen themselves up for the medal round, when they hope to claim gold in the Worlds for the first time since 1994.
"It is particularly good, a game like this, to know that you're not invincible, that you could be beat at any time,'' Billups said. "This team was good enough to beat you and they had their chances to do that, but we came out victorious. (It's good for) the young guys just to know how thin of a line it is.''
Billups, the oldest player on the team at 33, is definitely not one of the young guys. But he looked like a colt in the second half, when he scored eight of his 15 points and was aggressive in going to the basket.
Billups' driving layup with 51 seconds left gave Team USA a 70-66 lead and proved to be the decisive bucket. Barbosa made a layup with 33 seconds remaining to close the deficit to 70-68 before he couldn't convert at the buzzer.
"Everybody talks about how old I am,'' Billups said. "Maybe, I'm not in my prime prime, but I'm still right there. I still play at a high level and do whatever it takes to win. That's what I told coach (Mike Krzyzewski). You don't have to monitor my minutes. I'm not 38.''
Billups was used for 31 minutes. But that was still eight less than Durant logged.
After using Durant for an average of just 22.0 minutes in routs over Croatia and Slovenia to open the Worlds, Krzyzewski mostly forgot he had a bench. Danny Granger and Stephen Curry didn't play, and Eric Gordon, Kevin Love and Tyson Chandler each logged just five minutes.
Krzyzewski knew that wasn't a game to mess around with his reserves. By winning, the Americans raised their record to 3-0 to all but wrap up Group B. They need only to win one of their final two games to clinch, and left on the docket in group play are flyweights Iran and Tunisia on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively.
There were plenty of anxious moments for the Americans. Brazil's largest lead was 30-22 in the second quarter. It was up 46-43 at halftime, when it had shot 7 of 11 from three-point range. But Brazil, which had great success with pick-and-rolls in the first half, finally cooled down after intermission and finished 10 of 28 from beyond the arc.
The score was tied at 62-62 before center Lamar Odom gave the Americans the lead for good on a dunk with 7:14 left in the game. But nobody could relax until the final buzzer sounded.
"Adversity makes a family tougher,'' Odom said. "It could be good for us to have a challenge and be pushed to the limit.''
The result also might end up being positive for the Brazilians. Even though they lost, they gained plenty of confidence in playing the Americans so close despite the team medical staff ruling just before the game that Varejao wasn't quite ready to play. Varejao has yet to play in the Worlds after getting hurt in an Aug. 17 exhibition game but is expected to return Wednesday against Slovenia, a game that likely will decide second place in Group B.
"For sure, Anderson would be a great upgrade,'' said Brazil center Tiago Splitter, believing the result could have been different had his team, which had lost Denver Nuggets big man Nene for the Worlds a week earlier with a leg injury, had one more big man to help him inside. "He is a player who gives us a lot of energy. He rebounds. He runs well up the court.''
Despite not a lot of help in the post, Splitter, who signed earlier this summer with San Antonio, held his own. He totaled 13 points and 10 rebounds, despite playing throughout the fourth quarter with four fouls.
Forward Marcus Vinicius led Brazil with 16 points, hitting 4 of 5 from three-point range. Barbosa added 14 points but finished just 3 of 13 from three-point range after opening the game 2 of 5 in the first half.
Brazil, not taking the ball inside much, shot just 4 of 8 from the foul line. But one miss nearly proved beneficial.
"After I missed the first one, I told Leandro I was going to get the ball on the left side,'' Huertas said of his of intentional misfire -- one that Team USA guard Derrick Rose called a "great miss'' that nearly led to Barbosa making a tying layup.
No big deal. Barbosa wasn't in too bad of a mood when he left the arena Monday.
Like Billups, he fully expects the teams will see each other again next week.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson