US narrowly defeats Lithuania

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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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Morning tip: Bradley Beal laments Wizarrds losing so many games in crunch time

Morning tip: Bradley Beal laments Wizarrds losing so many games in crunch time

It's easy to point to the disparity in foul shots or foul calls after a loss, but the Wizards did everything possible to win at the San Antonio Spurs for the first time in 17 years. 

They just didn't. They had plenty of blunders at the end of quarters to keep the Spurs in the picture. 

"We didn't even play a great game," said Bradley Beal, who had a team-high 23 points on 11 shots in limited minutes of a 107-105 loss. "We get tired of saying we played hard, we did enough to win the game. We didn’t win the game."

The Wizards (6-12) had an 11-point lead and had a 43-37 rebounding edge. But they took 15 fewer foul shots (18) than the Spurs, who benefitted from getting nine more fouls called (26) in their favor.

Beal shot six free throws, but his backcourt mate John Wall didn't attempt any despite 37 minutes of attacking the basket rather than settling for jumpers. 

The NBA office determined in its last two-minue report, made public when games are within five points or less in the final two minutes and overtime, there weren't any incorrect or missed calls in the game. 

Beal didn't get to take the last shot. It was called for him, but instead the broken play on the inbounds ended up in the hands of Otto Porter as he had a good look at the rim in the lane that could've forced overtime. 

After just 18 games, Beal sounds a lot like he did towards the end of a 41-41 season in 2015-16. They had Wednesday's game at the Oklahoma City Thunder won, but allowed that to go into overtime in what became a loss for the Wizards, too. 

"We know what to do. We’re just not doing it," he said. "Until we do, we’re going to keep losing."

College Football Playoff projections: Let's not overthink this

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College Football Playoff projections: Let's not overthink this

Did Penn State play their way into the playoff? Michigan has to be in, right? Did Ohio State fall out of top four? Will Washington hang on?

Following all the action on Saturday, there was plenty of debate over who the top four teams should be. Most of the questions surround what to do with the three Big Ten teams contenders.

Ohio State and Michigan are clearly two of the best teams in the country, but neither of them won their division. That honor went to Penn State who also won the conference championship on Saturday, the same Penn State team who beat Ohio State but who also lost twice this season.

For the first time since the College Football Playoff started, there is a real, genuine debate over who the top four will be.

But not really.

SEE THE FINAL COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF PROJECTION HERE

If you're just asking who the committee will put into the playoff, the committee actually tipped its hand last week with its rankings:

  1. Alabama
  2. Ohio State
  3. Clemson
  4. Washington
  5. Michigan
  6. Wisconsin
  7. Penn State

For everyone saying Michigan should be in the top four, well, they weren't in the top four last week, they didn't play this week, none of the four teams ahead of them did anything to hurt their respective resumes, so what makes anyone out there think the Wolverines are suddenly going to vault into the top four? It's not going to happen.

If Penn State were to make the playoff, it wouldn't be over Washington or Clemson who were already ranked ahead of the Nittany Lions and also won their respective conferences on Saturday. Neither team did anything to hurt themselves, so Penn State won't vault over them. Could they jump Ohio State who they beat head-to-head? That seems doubtful considering the committee declared the Buckeyes the second-best team in the country on Tuesday. That tells me the committee sees them as "unequivocally" one the top teams.

So debate away. When it comes to college football, that's what makes it so fun. But really, there's not that much to debate about. The committee showed last week who they thought the four best teams were and there's no reason to think that will change based on what we saw Saturday.

Find out who will make this year's playoff here with the final College Football Playoff projections.