By DOUG FEINBERG LONDON (AP) -- Tina Charles and Candace Parker each had double-doubles and Angel McCoughtry provided a spark off the bench to help the U.S. women's team overcome a sloppy performance Saturday to beat Croatia 81-56 in their Olympic opener. Coach Geno Auriemma had said he was hoping that the Americans could play a style of basketball that would be entertaining and help grow the women's game internationally. That didn't happen Saturday. The U.S. struggled for the first three quarters before pulling away to win their 34th consecutive Olympic contest. The victory was far different than the 54-point pounding the Americans gave Croatia a week earlier. Despite missing its first 14 shots, Croatia hung tough for the first 30 minutes before the Americans finally could pull away. The U.S., which has dominated its opponents en route to the last four gold medals, only led 53-49 early in the fourth quarter before a 16-0 run put the game out of reach. McCoughtry started the burst with consecutive layups and Tamika Catchings capped it with a three-point play that made it 69-49. Swin Cash, who hadn't played in the first few quarters also had a three-point play in the spurt. McCoughtry finished with 13 points. Charles had 14 points and 10 rebounds; Parker finished with 11 points and 13 boards. Jelena Ivezic scored 22 points and Marija Vrsaljko added 19 for Croatia, which was making its Olympic debut. Vrsaljko missed the previous contest last Saturday as she was getting married. While the Americans had their way on offense in that contest, they struggled Saturday. The U.S. built a 9-0 lead early on as Croatia missed its first 14 shots. The Americans could have been up a lot more, but missed a lot of easy shots and turned the ball over. The U.S. finished with 21 turnovers. Vrsaljko finally got the Croatians on the board with a lay-in with 2 minutes left in the first quarter. The U.S. built its lead to 21-9 and looked poised to take command early before going cold from the floor. Croatia scored the next 14 points, capped by Luca Ivankovic's lay-in that gave the team it's first lead of the game, 23-21. Ivezic's 3 minutes later made it 26-23. Diana Taurasi had seen enough, hitting consecutive 3s to restore the Americans' advantage. The U.S. led 31-28 at the half. It was the second straight Olympics that the Americans struggled in their opener. They trailed the Czech Republic 13-2 before winning by 40 at the Beijing Games. The U.S. men's basketball team, who are also heavy favorites to win the gold, didn't make the women's opener. They had practice at the same time. The two teams marched together in the opening ceremonies and are staying in the same hotel Next up for the U.S. is Angola, which lost to Turkey 72-50 in its first Olympic debut. The Americans will also face China, Turkey and the Czech Republic in pool play. The U.S. beat the Czechs in the finals of the 2010 world championship to qualify for the London Games. The Czech Republic lost its pool opener, falling to China 66-57. In other early games Saturday, Russia rallied past Canada 58-53. Brazil played France and Australia met Britain later Saturday night.
With the big-ticket item put to bed with Bradley Beal’s max contract, the Wizards are entering a dead period where little will take place leading into Sept. 27 training camp. But there still are key issues to be decided and one is filling out the roster.
By league rule, they can carry as many as 20 players during the offseason at one time. While they still have two spots open for the 15-man regular season roster, it's unlikely the Wizards will pay more players to attend camp.
So when they are said to have "signed" players from this point forward to a "training camp deal," it'll strictly be what's called a "make good" deal. In other words, it's non-guaranteed and the only way that player gets the money is if he makes the final 15.
The reason for this is because the Wizards have locked in Jarell Eddie, Danuel House, Sheldon McClellan and Daniel Ochefu on deals with partial guarantees -- basically payments to bring them into training camp so if they don't make the cut they'll walk away with something -- that total about $400,000. Although the sum still is relatively small it does count against the $94 million salary cap. Any quality players still looking for a place to attend camp are more likely to go somewhere they have a better chance to make the cut or take guaranteed money now to go abroad like Aaron White did Friday.
Micheal Eric played for the Wizards at Las Vegas summer league and was their best center. Even though he has had an invite on the table from the Wizards, the 28-year-old appears unlikely to accept because he wants money to attend, league sources tell CSNmidatlantic.com.
For the Nationals to bring in Jonathan Papelbon last July in a trade with the Phillies, he had to first waive the no-trade clause in his contract. He accepted the move to leave Philadelphia with the understanding he would be the closer in Washington. Drew Storen was moved to the eighth inning and, for a variety of reasons, the trade blew up in the Nationals' faces.
Now they have done the same to Papelbon. They traded for All-Star closer Mark Melancon on Saturday in order to solidify the ninth inning and Papelbon has been replaced.
The question now becomes not only what the Nats do with their embattled reliever, but also how he reacts. As evidenced by his comments last July right after he was traded to the Nationals, being a closer means a lot to him:
''For me I'm getting up there on the all-time closing list and that's important to me. When Theo (Epstein) had me as a young kid in Boston and he wanted to start to me and I said, `No, I'm a closer, that's what I want to be, and that's who I am.' This is what I envisioned. I envisioned chasing Mariano. I've told Mariano that at many All-Star games, `I'm coming after you.' So that's part of it," Papelbon said.
''Ego may be a part of it or whatever you want to say, but for me it's a path that I started 11 years ago and now I'm trying to do everything I can to continue that and win championships as a closer."
Until Papelbon speaks on the subject himself, there's no reason to believe he won't accept the demotion. And truthfully, there are plenty of reasons why he shouldn't have a problem with it.
For one, it is just for a few months. He is an impending free agent and will be able to seek a closer role with another team. If Papelbon turns his season around and becomes an effective setup man or seventh inning guy, he could be paid handsomely this winter.
Papelbon does also kind of owe the Nationals one, doesn't he? For all they put up with last year with the Bryce Harper incident and the suspension and contract grievance that followed, the Nationals have treated Papelbon much better than many teams would if presented the same circumstances. They brought him back this season as a reclamation project and until Saturday had shown plenty of patience with his actions both on and off the field.
Exactly how they will use Papelbon is unclear. Whether the Nats trust Papelbon more than other options like Shawn Kelley, Blake Treinen and Sammy Solis is hard to tell. And whatever their plans are, the Nats may not outline them publicly, as manager Dusty Baker has been reluctant to discuss specific bullpen roles this season.
A Papelbon-Melancon combination doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, but the potential is there for a lethal eighth and ninth inning duo, if they choose to go that route. Both would bring experience and toughness to the pennant race and beyond.
Papelbon still provides value and the Nats can very much still use him. What they do and how he feels about it, though, are real questions at this point.
[RELATED: Nats may have gotten a steal with Melancon]
SCROLL DOWN FOR MORE NATIONALS STORIES
Blue Jays 9, Orioles 1
WHAT WENT WRONG: Yovani Gallardo walked three batters in the fifth inning. Three of them scored in a seven-run inning.
Gallardo walked five, allowed five hits and threw 96 pitches in 4 1/3 innings.
After two decent starts, Gallardo took a step back. He’s now gone six starts without a win.
Mychal Givens allowed two runs in the fifth, and Odrisamer Despaigne two in the seventh.
The Orioles (58-45) have their second five-game losing streak of the season, and surrender first place to Toronto (59-45)
WHAT WENT RIGHT: Pedro Alvarez hit his first home run of the season off a left-hander to give the Orioles a 1-0 lead.
PUNCHED THEM OUT: J.A. Happ, who allowed three hits in seven-plus innings, struck out 11.
SLUMPING ORIOLES: Jonathan Schoop (1-for-20) Mark Trumbo (2-for-28), Chris Davis (3-for-39) and Matt Wieters (2-for-25) are concurrently slumping.
LEAVE CANADA: In the Orioles’ last four games in Toronto, they’ve given up 36 games.
ONDRUSEK DEBUTS: Logan Ondrusek, who was signed before Friday’s game, pitched a perfect sixth inning.
UP NEXT: Chris Tillman (14-3, 3.27) faces Aaron Sanchez (11-1, 2.72) on Sunday afternoon.