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

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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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Morning tip: Weaker the opponent, weaker Wizards' 1st half defense

Morning tip: Weaker the opponent, weaker Wizards' 1st half defense

The starts have to be better,  or 60-point first halves against the likes of the Orlando Magic, Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers will wear down the Wizards by the end of an 82-game season.

The Wizards (20-19) play the Portland Trail Blazers at Verizon Center where they've won 11 in a row.

They came back from a 13-point deficit to beat the Sixers on Saturday, a 12-win team that put up 56 points in the first 24 minutes.

"We had to play harder. We just let them run their offense the way they wanted to run it," Brooks said of the start. "We didn’t make them play with any duress, and we had to do that. We had to put pressure on the ball, we had to put pressure on all the screens, and we wanted to not only challenge shots but to challenge passes because that buys our backside defense time. I thought the guys did a good job.”

It's a troubling trend for the Wizards, who tend to get off on the wrong foot in first quarters against teams that shouldn't be so offensively potent. They allowed the Sixers to score 30 points, 36 to the injury-depleted Chicago Bulls, 32 to the Brooklyn Nets and 33 for the Miami Heat. 

Against the better teams, the Wizards have more of a tendency to hold them to less than 30. In two meetings, the Houston Rockets were limited to 23-point and 14-point first quarters and 23 and 24 for the San Antonio Spurs. 

The ability to play solid defense is there, but the effort isn't. 


[RELATED: By the numbers: Wizards' home streak reaches 11]

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Need to Know: Redskins' cap room could be a dilemma for McClouthan

Need to Know: Redskins' cap room could be a dilemma for McClouthan

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, January 16, 52 days before NFL free agency starts.

Timeline

Days until:
NFL franchise tag deadline 44
NFL draft 101
First Sunday of 2017 season 237

A six pack of thoughts to start out the week

1. I think that by the end of the week the Redskins will have two new coordinators. It looks like Matt Cavanaugh will be the offensive coordinator. Haven’t heard why Bill Callahan isn’t getting the nod; it’s possible that he likes what he’s doing now and he’s getting paid as well as many coordinators.

2.  For a quick game with the $100 in imaginary casino chips on the defensive coordinator candidates, I’ll make Greg Manusky the favorite at $40 with Mike Pettine right behind him at $35. I’ll put $10 of the rest on Gus Bradley—we’ve heard of an interview with the Chargers but not anything like a hiring—and $15 on the field. The situation is fluid but that's the way it looks right now. 

Related: Redskins offensive coordinator resume: Matt Cavanaugh

3. On November 21, after the results of Week 11, the Redskins were 2.5 games ahead of the Packers. They were also a half-game better than of the Falcons. Those two teams are now playing for the NFC title. It’s not how you start, or even how you do in the middle of the season. It’s how you finish.

4. I’m not much of a hockey guy but I think I’ve got to get down to the Verizon Center to see the Caps. They are blazing hot and you can tell it’s a great atmosphere at the VC.

5. I have a feeling that an announcement about a new stadium for the Redskins is going to happen sometime in the next few months. Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe can’t run again; he is out of office about a year from today. He’s going to want a legacy item and a state of the art stadium in the commonwealth would fill the bill. The process of approval, financing, and construction will take up most or all of the 10 years that remains on the FedEx Field lease.

More Redskins: The Redskins week that was

6. Normally having a lot of cap space to work with is a good thing but it may not be for Scot McCloughan this year. If the Redskins trim some veterans from the payroll they could go into free agency with around $70 million to spend. McCloughan would prefer to build through the draft. But the current situation almost forces the Redskins to spend. McCloughan took some heat for going into the 2016 season with $15 million in cap space and some unfilled needs on the defensive line and at safety. If they have issues again in 2017 and there is, say, $30 million just sitting there the noise will get louder. And it won’t just be coming from fans and the media; plenty of it will come from the offices of Bruce Allen and Dan Snyder.

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Stay up to date on the Redskins! Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page www.Facebook.com/RealRedskins and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.