Team USA, Durant gets off to winning start vs. France


Team USA, Durant gets off to winning start vs. France

By Tom Withers
LONDON -- Hardly dreamy, still dominant. Kevin Durant scored 22 points, LeBron James added eight assists and the U.S. Olympic men's basketball team opened tournament play with a rough-and-ragged 98-71 win over France on Sunday. Seeking a second straight gold medal to match the one they won in Beijing four years ago, the Americans expected a tough test from a French team featuring San Antonio guard Tony Parker and five other NBA players. The U.S. was never in real trouble, and after overcoming some major foul issues and sloppy play, the superstar-laden squad finally put France away in the second half. Kobe Bryant had said this team could beat the 1992 Dream Team that changed international hoops forever at the Barcelona Games. That matchup is mythical, but the London Games aren't and this U.S. team will have to play much better in upcoming games if it plans to maintain American dominance. With first lady Michelle Obama on hand to cheer on the U.S., Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler added nine rebounds apiece Kevin Love finished with 14 points for the Americans. The U.S. will next play Tuesday against Tunisia, beaten 60-56 by Nigeria in the tournament opener. As they left the floor, the U.S. players stopped to hug the first lady. Parker, playing with goggles to protect a surgically repaired left eye, scored 10 points but France, which trailed by just one point after the first quarter, fell to 0-5 in Olympic competition against the USA. Ali Traore led the French with 12 points. With the U.S. leading 52-36 at halftime, Durant opened the second half with a 3-pointer, Bryant dropped one from long range and after James dunked an alley-oop pass from Deron Williams, the Americans led 64-43. Au revoir, France. The U.S. team's lead ballooned to 78-51 after three quarters, allowing coach Mike Krzyzewski to rest Bryant, James and Durant for most of the fourth quarter. With the game well in hand, Krzyzewski even gave 19-year-old Anthony Davis, the top pick in June's NBA draft, his first taste of Olympic play. Unlike his peers, Krzyzewski has the luxury of a deep bench and he was forced to go it early and often in the first half, when the Americans racked up fouls. After the U.S. started the game by missing its first six three-point attempts, Bryant, James and Durant started finding the range from beyond the arc. The trio finished the game a combined 6 for 12 from three-point range while the rest of the U.S. went 2 for 13. Parker nearly missed these Olympics. The 30-year-old recently underwent surgery after he was hit with broken glass during a nightclub fight in New York. Parker was not involved in the bottle-throwing melee between R&B singer Chris Brown and members of rapper Drake's entourage. He was able to break down the U.S. defense early on, but once the Americans forced the ball from his hands, the French had no one else to turn to. American's multimillion dollar conglomerate of hoop talent came out of the locker room singing on the way to the floor for pregame warmups. Their chants caught the attention of several Brazilian players still doing interviews following a tight opening win over Australia. As Bryant, James and Durant filed onto the hardwood, some of France's players turned to take a look. The U.S. players weren't nearly so jovial at halftime following a sloppy, foul-filled first half in which the Americans were whistled for 18 personals and complained about some calls. Anthony and Russell Westbrook spent the final six minutes of the second quarter on the bench after picking up their third fouls. A few days ago, France's Ronny Turiaf likened the U.S. team's ability to play big or small to a two-faced beast. "That team is like a Gemini," said Turiaf, who will play with Paul and the Clippers next season. "They have two faces, a nightmare-nightmare." But the U.S. team was its own worst enemy in the first quarter. Too often, the American settled for jump shots rather than driving to the basket. The Americans missed all six 3-pointers in the opening period, and when France's Yannick Bokolo drained a 3 in the final second, France was within 22-21. James opened the second quarter with a 3 and the U.S. quickly went on an 11-0 run before it was slowed down by a rash of fouls -- several of them needless. Fortunately for the Americans, the French made only 1 of 11 3-pointers and missed seven free throws, allowing the U.S. to take a 52-36 halftime lead.

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Wizards focus on posting up Wall, Beal against smaller guards

Wizards focus on posting up Wall, Beal against smaller guards

Sporadically, John Wall would post up smaller guards last season. It didn't become a staple of his game, however, and Bradley Beal didn't do much of it either when he was being defended by them. 

Scott Brooks is trying to change that immediately. In seven preseason games, that was one of many focal points for the offense.

Wall is a big point guard at 6-4 and physically strong. Beal isn't exceptionally big for a shooting guard, but he has gotten more size and grown an inch taller than his backcourt mate. When 6-footers such as Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors have to switch onto Beal, the Wizards are getting the ball to him quickly at the rim to force a rotation from a second player to help or clear out for Beal to go to work. 

“As we all evolve we’re going to have to push ourselves to play different spots on the floor. John has great size at his position," Brooks said. "For him to post up and be a playmaker from that spot, defenses are not used to that. There are not a lot of pure point guards who can post up. He has the strength and he has the quickness and obviously he has the passing ability. With Brad, they have to make a decision. Are they going to put a bigger guy on John? We’re going to have that opportunity with Brad also."


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Brooks, Beal impressed with Wizards' passing this preseason

Brooks, Beal impressed with Wizards' passing this preseason

With their regular season opener set for Thursday (6:30 p.m. on CSN), Wizards head coach Scott Brooks was asked after practice this week what has impressed him the most about his new team now that their seven-game exhibition schedule is over. Brooks was quick to point out what has been an established strength for the Wizards in recent years.

"If I had to pick, our offense and our passing has been really, really good," Brooks said. "We're a very good passing team. I thought throughout this exhibition season that has been displayed."

The Wizards have ranked no lower than seventh in assists per game among NBA teams in the last three seasons. It certainly doesn't hurt to have John Wall at the helm of their offense. Wall, 26, has averaged at least 10 assists per game in the past two years. He ranked third in basketball last season with 10.2 per contest.

Wall, in fact, is seventh all-time in career assists per game (9.0) among players with at least 400 NBA games logged. Four of the six ahead of him on the list - Magic Johnson, John Stockton, Oscar Robertson and Isiah Thomas - are Hall of Famers. The other two - Kevin Johnson and Chris Paul - are also good names to be associated with. 

Paul, for one, will likely join the others in the Hall someday. He's the only NBA player with more assists than Wall since the latter entered the league in 2010.

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Brooks spoke glowingly about Wall's abilities and his rare his combination of speed and court vision.

"It's uncanny, his speed with the basketball and that he's able to make good decisions at that speed," Brooks said. "He sees it slow motion as he's going fast and that's very rare."

Wall isn't the only one passing the rock, of course. Brooks hopes shooting guard Bradley Beal can get more involved in the cause. Beal has a 3.0 assists-per-game average in his career, but his new coach thinks Beal can average four or five.

That may come naturally, given Beal's thoughts on the subject. He believes the Wizards' offense reached a new level this preseason.

"That's probably the best we've passed since I've been here," Beal said. "That's just everybody having fun and not caring about who scores, just getting the best shot available. When we play like that, it's fun for everybody. It's fun for coaches, it's fun for the players, fun for guys coming in the game with momentum and energy."

The Wizards as a team notched 33 assists in their preseason finale against the Raptors in Friday night. Beal alone had nine of them and no turnovers, to boot. 

That's exactly what Brooks likes to see and he hopes it carries into the regular season.

"We have to continue to trust the pass," he said. "I think our passing has been impressive. We need to continue that."

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