US narrowly defeats Lithuania


US narrowly defeats Lithuania

LONDON (AP) -- Still unbeaten, but perhaps more importantly, the U.S. is no longer untested. The Americans got a game against Lithuania -- and then some. They got a scare. Two days after running and gunning to a record-shattering 83-point win, the U.S. men's Olympic basketball team had to come back in the fourth quarter for a 99-94 win over a fearless Lithuania team that had the Americans in serious trouble until the closing minutes. LeBron James scored 9 of his 20 points in the final four minutes for the U.S. (4-0), which had looked nearly invincible in thrashing Nigeria 156-73 on Thursday night and breaking several records. But the Americans were reminded that the path to the gold medal is loaded with traps and Lithuania nearly sprang one. Carmelo Anthony added 20 points, Kevin Durant 16 and Chris Paul added seven rebounds, six assists and four of the U.S. team's 17 steals. Linas Kleiza scored 25 to lead Lithuania, which led by 84-82 with 5:50 to play. After the U.S. took a three-point lead, Lithuania would not go away and pulled within 87-86 on Darius Songaila's bucket with 4:12 left. That's when James, who has already won an MVP trophy and NBA title this year, took control. He knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the key, and after Paul stole the inbounds pass, James took a pass down the right side and delivered one of his trademark dunks, a basket that brought the American players off the bench and seemed to restore world basketball order. After a basket by Deron Williams -- on a possession Paul kept alive with an offensive rebound -- James followed a Lithuania turnover with a left-handed layup, giving the U.S. a 97-88 lead and allowed the Americans to remain unbeaten -- though no longer untested as they get ready for Argentina on Monday. This wasn't easy, and that may be good in the long run for the Americans, who couldn't have helped but feel a little overconfident after Thursday's game when they made 29 3-pointers, scored 78 points in both halves and put on a breathtaking 40-minute display of international basketball. Lithuania had lost to Nigeria last month in a qualifying tournament, but that hardly mattered once the ball went in the air. With a roster featuring Kleiza, who plays for the Toronto Raptors, and several players who played collegiately in the U.S., Lithuania, which upset the U.S. at the Athens Game in 2004 and has won three bronze medals, went right at the Americans' star-studded crew from the start. In fact, Lithuania outrebounded the U.S. 42-37 and for long stretches it was the sharper team on the floor. Lithuania also shot an impressive 58 percent (38 for 65) from the field. But with a bench like no other, the U.S. simply wore Lithuania down in the fourth quarter, forcing several turnovers to swing the game in the final minutes. In the morning session, Russia, overlooked by many coming into the tournament, upset medal-favorite Spain 77-74 to win Group B. Afterward, Russia's Andrei Kirilenko, who recently signed with Minnesota, offered a prophetic take on the uncertainty of Olympic tournament play. "One night you can have 156 points, and a different night the ball could start missing," he said. That's exactly what happened to the Americans, who went just 10 of 33 from behind the arc and too often took a ready-fire-aim approach. Within four at halftime, Lithuania scored the first five points of the third quarter and took its first lead when Sarunas Jasikevicius knocked down a 3-pointer to make it 56-55. Lithuanian's lead lasted less than a minute as Durant hit a 3-pointer during a 7-0 run and the U.S. took a 78-72 lead into the fourth. Kleiza's 3-pointer from the left wing tied it 82-all, setting off chants by the Lithuanian crowd, which had been politely asked to stop whistling earlier. The Americans still trailed 84-82 before Paul, one of the only Americans to play well on both ends, made a 3-pointer. On Lithuania's next possession, Jasikevicius got trapped in the corner and flipped the ball blindly over his head, leading to a U.S. fastbreak and basket by Williams. After his squad rewrote a couple record books on Thursday, Krzyzewski canceled Friday's practice, giving his players a second chance this week to get out and to other events and root on their fellow U.S. Olympic teammates. The day off may have cost the Americans a little of their edge as they came out somewhat sloppy. Anthony, who scored a U.S. Olympic record 37 against Nigeria, didn't start but he came out firing as soon as he checked in, draining a corner jumper after being on the floor for all of 10 seconds. When Durant followed with a 3-pointer on the U.S. team's next trip, it seemed as if the high-powered Americans would shift gears and pull away. The Lithuanians, though, stayed close. They weren't intimidated, and with the 6-foot-8 Kleiza bulling his way inside and hitting jumpers, the Baltic ballers actually outplayed their more celebrated opponents for most of the first half. The Americans had some terrible possessions, settling for long jumpers instead of working the ball around. That selfishness nearly cost them and it may still be an issue.

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Grading the Caps' offseason moves: Caps re-sign Tom Wilson

Grading the Caps' offseason moves: Caps re-sign Tom Wilson

The quest for the Stanley Cup doesn't begin on the ice, but during the offseason as general managers build their teams for the upcoming campaign. The Caps have made a number of moves this summer to try to make their team better and get over the playoff hump.

Let's break down and grade each move the team made this offseason to help figure out whether it was the right move for the team.

Today's move: Re-signing Tom Wilson

Not every offseason move involves bringing in someone new. Tom Wilson may have been a restricted free agent, but the Caps still had to make a choice on whether or not to bring him back. The team decided to walk away from fellow RFA Michael Latta, but offered Wilson a qualifying offer and re-signed him to a two-year deal worth $4 million.


In the end, the move was no surprise.

General manager Brian MacLellan made clear after the season that he wanted Wilson to become a Joel Ward type of player.

“It’s on Tom and on us to turn him into that kind of guy that has a net-front presence, that finds loose pucks, finds rebounds, plays good along the wall," MacLellan said. "I think Tom is our answer to that."

But is there room for Wilson with such a crowded roster? If he develops into the player MacLellan envisions, absolutely. The Caps have a need for players willing to fight for those dirty goals and Wilson's physicality and offensive upside makes him an ideal candidate to do just that.

Grade: A-

To truly evaluate this move, let's try to forget where Wilson was drafted. It's clear he's not going to live up to his first round selection. That, however, does not mean he does not still have value for the Caps. It's time now for that value to come from his offense rather than just from his fists.

The best part of this move is not the price, but the clear, achievable goal the team has set before Wilson.

The Caps need a net-front presence. Wilson needs to find his offensive game. Despite what other general managers may think of him, Wilson can and should be contributing more than just seven goals and 16 assists in a season. Now he has a "prove it" deal and a clear, defined goal of what the Caps want to see him develop into.

When the Caps drafted him, they were hoping for a Milan Lucic type of player. That does not look like it's going to happen, but it would still be foolish to give up on Wilson who is just 22 years old. At this point, it doesn't matter where he was drafted. If he becomes a Joel Ward, there's still value in that.


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What Wizards coach Scott Brooks learned during his year off

What Wizards coach Scott Brooks learned during his year off

Much of the attention focused on how Scott Brooks can help the Washington Wizards naturally centers on his time coaching the Oklahoma City Thunder. Here's something to remember: The Thunder fired Brooks after seven seasons. This reminder isn't a knock on the hire, not at all. It's to consider what a person goes through after such an event, how they process the scenario and what changes if any would they make with another opportunity.

The Wizards gave Brooks another shot at coaching. Soon we'll see how the year or so outside the league changed his approach now that he's back. Actually, we don't have to wait for the start of training camp or the 2016-17 season because Brooks was asked about this during an interview with NBA writer Chris Mannix on the Vertical Podcast.

Brooks' answer was less X's an O's but more black and blue.

I know as I was growing as a coach, I understood that the wear and tear on the bodies were important to manage. When he had such a young, dynamic team. Our practices were so much fun and intense and very competitive, but as I grew as a coach, I understood that we have to be efficient in what we do and figure out what’s really important and cut our practices down. The analytics tell you that.

The thing I didn’t focus on: Minutes per game. I focused on minutes per practice. Because you know, you can play a guy 36 minutes per game, and cut it down a minute, but still practice them for two-and-a-half hours and still have an hour and twenty minute shootaround, that minute is really nothing.

Seeing some of the training camps, I was fortunate Coach Pop [Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich] let me come for three or four days, and I saw how he did it. There was a lot of similarities in practice plans and how we did things, but I really pinpointed his as being really efficient. They weren’t long, they were to the point, they were very competitive, and they moved on quickly."

Other factors contributed to the Wizards missing the playoffs last season, no doubt, but injuries derailed the campaign. Injuries have remained a consistent and unwanted part of Bradley Beal's four-year career. John Wall played through pain most of last season and required knee surgery after the campaign ended. Ex-coach Randy Wittman struggled dealing with any type of minutes restrictions for his players. He often played his main contributors heavy minutes even in games decided well before the final buzzer. Soon after the season ended, the Wizards parted ways with their head trainer. 

Injuries, finding ways to curtail them is a main plot point heading into the upcomng season. That would have been the case regardless of the next head coach especially since Beal just signed a five-year, $133 million extension and Wall, a three-time All-Star remains the straw that stirs the drink. That this topic is top-of-mind for Brooks when it comes to what he learned during his gap year works just fine.

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Finlay: Excited to take over as Redskins Insider

Finlay: Excited to take over as Redskins Insider

It’s an exciting day for me to take over the Redskins beat from Tarik El-Bashir. As a native Washingtonian, it’s not an exaggeration to say I’ve wanted this job since I was a kid. 

In fact, in sixth grade, after months of writing nothing but Darrell Green stories and turning them in for English homework, Miss Girard said I was no longer allowed to write about the Redskins. Who got the last laugh, Miss Girard?

Working with Tarik and Rich Tandler covering the Skins at CSN the last few years helped me learn a lot, as did my earlier work with Mr. Irrelevant, SB Nation DC and the Washingtonian. My approach to the beat will be to cover all the angles relevant for fans, and try to look ahead to what might happen and find stories that fall under the radar. In an era of information overload, readers expect more than just stats and quotes from coverage, and I know I will be able to deliver that experience.

This beat means a lot to me. I’ve watched the Redskins my whole life, I’ve cheered for them for most of it. One of the things I hate to hear is when somebody moves to the D.C. area and says ‘nobody is from here.’ 

I’m from here. My wife is from here. My friends are from here. Go to a Redskins game any Sunday, and thousands and thousands of people will show you, loudly, they are from here too. 

If you can, follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat (jpfinlay3) and Facebook. I think social media is a vital part of covering a team, and I will be very active across all platforms. 

Most of all, I like to have fun. I recognize not everyone gets to watch football for their job, and I want to enjoy all of it. I’m open to talking with readers, even disagreeing here and there, so feel free to reach out. 

And before I forget - thank you. Thanks for reading, for arguing on Twitter, and please keep it coming.