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

829671.png

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.

Quick Links

Anthony Rendon homers in third straight game, but Nationals fall to Mariners in series finale

Anthony Rendon homers in third straight game, but Nationals fall to Mariners in series finale

WASHINGTON -- Nelson Cruz greeted reliever Jacob Turner with a go-ahead, three-run homer in the sixth inning, and the Seattle Mariners beat the Washington Nationals 4-2 Thursday to stop a five-game losing streak.

Gio Gonzalez took a 2-0 lead into the sixth, when Jean Segura singled leading off and Guillermo Heredia took a called third strike. That prompted Seattle manager Scott Servais to complain from the dugout, which led to his ejection by plate umpire Adam Hamari.

Robinson Cano singled, and Washington manager Dusty Baker brought in Turner (2-3), despite Cruz having just one hit in 15 at-bats against Gonzalez. Cruz drove a belt-high slider over the fence in left-center for his 12th homer this season and a 3-2 lead. Cruz leads the AL with 40 RBIs.

Cano added an RBI single off Turner in the seventh. Seattle scored multiple runs for the first time since May 18.

Ariel Miranda (4-2) allowed two runs, three hits and three walks in five innings. Edwin Diaz, Seattle's sixth pitcher, threw a one-hit ninth that completed a six-hitter. Diaz got his first save since May 9 and has eight in 10 chances overall.

Gonzalez gave up two runs, three hits and four walks in 5 1/3 innings, striking out eight.

Washington's Anthony Rendon homered in the fifth, his ninth this season and fourth in the three-game series. Jayson Werth added an RBI single later in the inning.

FAMILY FIRST

Baker will be leaving the Nationals for their weekend series against San Diego Padres to attend his son Darren's high school graduation in Northern California and will rejoin the team Monday in San Francisco.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Mariners: LHP James Paxton (forearm strain) could return to the rotation in the first or second game of a homestand that starts Wednesday, Servais said. ... 1B Danny Valencia was in the lineup for a second straight day after sitting out three games with a wrist injury.

Nationals: Baker may continue to use an eight-man bullpen. Baker said the decision depends the progress of INF Stephen Drew's rehabilitation from a hamstring strain. Drew is at extended spring training.

UP NEXT

Mariners: RHP Yovani Gallardo is 2-2 with a 5.28 ERA against Boston, where Seattle begins a three-game set on Friday.

Nationals: RHP Max Scherzer (4-3, 3.02) has allowed two runs or fewer in his last three starts against San Diego, which opens a three-game series in Washington on Friday.

Quick Links

Josh Norman critiques Roger Goodell, fires warning shot about coming penalties

Josh Norman critiques Roger Goodell, fires warning shot about coming penalties

Josh Norman is great talker. He almost always has something provocative to say, and his Bleacher Report interview published Thursday didn't buck the trend. 

Norman's sneering at NFC East receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Dez Bryant drew immediate, look-what-he-just-said attention.

But let's not gloss over the larger theme of this interview: Norman thinks the NFL is headed down the wrong path. The timid path. 

In his five seasons, the Redskins corner has been on the receiving end of flags and fines for taunting and excess contact. And yet he told Bleacher Report that he's never once met commissioner Roger Goodell. 

Asked how he would handle the commissioner job differently, Norman started with interpersonal basics. 

"First, I would change how I handle people. For one, you don't show up anywhere. You don't show up where the players show up. So how are you going to know what they want?"

"If this is the guy who is your commissioner, who makes all these rules, wouldn't you think you'd want to see him other than when you get in trouble?" he continued. "Why would I see you if I'm in trouble—what's the point? Why wouldn't I see you before then so you can eliminate that?"

MORE REDSKINS: Scouting each opponent on the Redskins' 2017 schedule

But Norman's criticism morphed from finding fault with Goodell to dissatisfaction with the overall evolution of the league.

You're going to recognize this argument. It starts with defensive players lamenting how NFL rules have moved to limit contact, turning guys timid. 

"Now you have to stop and think about it before you actually hit somebody or you're going to get fined," Norman said. "But where's the offense getting fined?"

Then comes the nostalgia for the old days when football players were tough, as opposed to today, when everyone is Mary's little lamb. 

"Playing the way people used to play it in the old days. Like Mike Haynes. Those kinds of guys. Lester Hayes. People who played it with violence and ruthlessness," Norman said when asked what kind of legacy he wants to leave. "Lockjaw. No pussyfooting around. No inching off. None of that softness."

It's that soft mindset of the modern world that's diluting football, and the young guys are part of the problem. 

"We have too many soft guys, too many guys coming up saying, 'I don't know....' Playing their little off, soft technique," he complained. "That's how the soft mind-set of this world has us thinking now."

MORE REDSKINS: Trent Murphy trying to move on from 'gut-wrenching' suspension

This line of reasoning should be very familiar so far, but most that espouse it stop short of saying what they're going to do about it.

Not Norman. 

"You can't touch guys after five yards. ... Screw that! Hands on. Call it if you call it. So what. You're going to have to call it all game."

"I want him to see me with my hands in his face. That's what I want you to see. In their chest, their breast plate, so they cough up air. They skip a beat in their heart kind of thing," Norman said. 

So ... expect some rule-stretching this season? Perhaps against NFC East opponents?

"Trust me when I tell you, it's going to be bad blood this year," he warned. "There's going to be a lot of fines and maybe some suspensions. I'm going to be honest with you: This s--- is going to get really ugly. Because I do have a safety that don't give a f--- and I definitely don't."

"I'm letting all hell break loose."

Well, then. Noted. We'll let the league – and the Redskins – decide how to feel about this plan. 

MORE REDSKINS: Redskins’ Norman confident that changes will improve defense