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The biggest team they'll ever be on

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The biggest team they'll ever be on

LONDON (AP) -- The U.S. men's Olympic basketball team is favored to win again, and some think it's a matter of the players just showing up.

If that's the case, they could be in real trouble.

Showing up anywhere has been difficult for the Americans, whose traveling woes have nothing to do with a call by the referee.

Friday they arrived nearly 20 minutes after the scheduled start for their opening press conference, making anxious photographers wait extra long for that first click when LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and the rest of the reigning gold medalists walked in.

"Two days we've had nothing but issues with transportation. No one's fault in particular, just general," USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said. "We've been through so many neighborhoods, when this is over we're going to be able to do a little history on the city of London."

The bus carrying the U.S. team Friday drove to the wrong gate, which when the heightened security is factored in at an Olympics venue, may as well be the wrong city. The team had a similar problem on its first trip to see the basketball arena Thursday, along with going to the wrong place after its arrival in London from Barcelona, Spain.

U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski joked that he wants his team to be as consistent with its shooting as the team's bus drivers have been with their loss of direction.

"So far we've gotten lost on every one of our bus trips, so right now it feels chaotic," he said.
They'll hope to have an easier time figuring out the route to the gold medal podium.

Before arriving in London, things had been going more smoothly for the Americans. They fit in five exhibition victories around the casinos of Las Vegas, a meeting with President Barack Obama in Washington before taking a day off to enjoy the sun and shops of Spain on Wednesday.

U.S. guard Russell Westbrook looked like he had just come from Barcelona, wearing shower shoes along with his U.S. basketball warmup suit.

The Americans aren't quite the megastars they were four years in Beijing, where basketball was wildly popular. Still, they're different than almost all the other athletes here, that being reinforced when the communications official reminded media that the press conference time shouldn't be used for player autographs or personal photos.

But the players are trying to act like regular Olympians, touring the athlete's village Thursday and meeting fellow American competitors such as sprinter Tyson Gay and swimmer Jason Lezak.

"It got crazy, it got hectic, but in a fun way," forward Carmelo Anthony said. "Everybody wanted pictures. We was out there just having fun, mingling with the other athletes, not just from the U.S. but from other countries. It feels good to be loved around the world."
Chris Paul said it's a mutual lovefest.

"I was explaining to (Westbrook) and (Kevin Durant) what's so cool about the Olympics is they are on the biggest team you'll ever be on," Paul said. "You see all the athletes with USA T-shirts on ... we're all teammates."

They begin play Sunday against France, a medal contender led by Spurs All-Star Tony Parker that features six NBA players, trailing only the U.S. for most in the field. The French are in a group of teams along with Spain, Argentina and Brazil -- all of whom lost to the Americans in exhibition play -- who could challenge a U.S. team that believes it's better than it was in 2008 but recognizes that its opponents are, too, and won't take anything for granted.

"I think there's always a target on our back and every team, their biggest game is against us," swingman Andre Iguodala said. "I feel like some teams are happy with just losing by less than 10. We had exhibition games where teams, they lost, but they were just happy it wasn't a 50-point game. And then sometimes even back home, like, we can't be arrogant. We have to be humble and we have to go in every game, play hard, play respectful, because anything done the wrong the way on our end will be blown out of proportion. So we're kind of, that microscope has been put on us."

The Americans were never threatened in 2008 until the gold-medal game, when they pulled away in the final two minutes to beat Spain by 11. They had some difficult stretches in exhibition play, trailing Brazil and Spain after one quarter and having a 20-point lead cut to four in the final minutes by Argentina, so they aren't assuming a simple path back to gold.

"I don't think anything's going to be easy," guard Deron Williams said.

Not even the bus rides.

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Marcin Gortat's emotional return ends with a loss and personal vindication

Marcin Gortat's emotional return ends with a loss and personal vindication

CAPITAL ONE ARENA -- The “Polish Machine” who now plays for the Los Angeles Clippers didn’t quite land the Hollywood movie script ending in his return to Washington.

Don’t fret for Marcin Gortat. Sure, the Wizards, his former team, fought back from a 24-point deficit for a 125-118 win. He’s good with his new scene. Gortat also has thoughts on his former situation and the turmoil brewing.

Gortat made his first appearance in the arena he called home for five seasons Tuesday night since a June 26 trade sent him to Los Angeles for Austin Rivers. He wasn’t sure of how the local fans would react. His journey in Washington ended bumpily, but the overall ride coincided with a positive turn for the franchise. The Wizards reached the playoffs in four of his five seasons.

“Well, obviously a very emotional moment,” Gortat said of his return. “Bottom line is that we came here to get a win. Unfortunately, we lost today. …It was great to be here.”

His arrival in 2013 following a trade with Phoenix led to the franchise’s first playoff appearance since 2008. Three more postseason trips followed as did Mohawks and fabulous quotes. Gortat provided the power just before the NBA veered away from hulking frontcourts. His fame and fortune increased in Washington. His affable and oversized personality attracted fans.

Fans that watched the 6-foot-11 screen-setting center consistently provide double-doubles graciously applauded for the ex-Wizard during pre-game introductions. Gortat, who started 400 of 402 games played in Washington, appreciated the gesture.

“It was weird to sit on that side of the court and play against your guys,” Gortat said. “It was tough, very emotional and weird, but it’s business.”

Gortat wasn’t immune to criticism from fans and teammates during his time in Washington. Part of the reason he now plays for the Clippers is that the relationship with former pick-and-roll partner John Wall soured. When disapproval only went so far up the Wizards’ player hierarchy, it often stopped with the man in the middle.

The Wizards entered Tuesday’s game flailing. Many of the same players from prior seasons remained. Not Gortat, meaning any blame must land elsewhere. With drama engulfing the Wizards, Gortat proudly felt vindicated. He waited for the pack of reporters to clear before expressing such thoughts.

“Listen, the way I was traded out of that team, it looked like I was the cancer of the locker room,” Gortat told NBC Sports Washington. “I think that thing was verified and it was complete [expletive]. It is what it is now.”

Pregame Gortat wondered if the Wizards would join the ranks of teams creating tribute videos for returning players. He would be left wanting.

Rivers, the son of the Clippers head coach, received one in October upon his first arrival back with the team he played for over four seasons. Gortat remembered.

As the formal postgame scrum ended, the ex-Wizard made it clear he had thoughts to share and asked to be asked about the lack of a video tribute.

“Well, what do I think about that? A lot of guys around the league are getting tributes. It ’s obviously up to the organization, but I guess Austin Rivers did enough to get his tribute, but I didn’t do enough to get a tribute here,” Gortat said to NBC Sports Washington. “A few guys around the team understand. It was kind of weird.”

Taking the court with his former teammates was more different than weird, but ultimately cordial and competitive.

“Brad (Beal) fouled me a few times. He admitted he fouled me, but I didn’t get a call,” a chuckling Gortat told NBC Sports Washington. “John, yeah, we had our ups and downs, but at the end of the day, there’s no bad blood. We spoke at the end of the game, said good luck, stay healthy.”

Ultimately, Gortat made peace with his time in Washington. The fond memories outweighed the knocks. Members of the Wizards organization stopped by the Clippers locker room for a chat and a laugh. Gortat bear hugged Wizards equipment manager Jerry Walter to the ground.

The loss stung. Los Angeles does the stinging most nights. The Clippers entered with a five-game winning streak. Their 11-6 record puts them among the Western Conference elite. Gortat’s minutes are down (18 per game). Such limits would have bothered him in Washington. 

At 34 and knowing his NBA life could be fleeting with his contract expiring this summer, Gortat is cool with his new world.

“I’m great. I’m great where I am,” the 12-year veteran said. “I get to play and help the team as much as I can either on the court, off the court, in the locker room. I’m going to try to help my team and lead us as much as I can. We have great chemistry and a great team.”

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Former Raven Ed Reed takes step closer to Hall of Fame enshrinement

Former Raven Ed Reed takes step closer to Hall of Fame enshrinement

To the surprise of no one, former Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed is one step closer to Hall of Fame enshrinement.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced Tuesday that Reed was named one of the 25 semifinalist for the 2019 class. Reed, cornerback Champ Bailey and tight end Tony Gonzalez are the only first-year eligible players that made the cut.

An obvious first-year ballot Hall of Famer, the next step in the selection process for Reed will take place on Thursday, January 3 when the semifinalist are cut down to 15 Modern-Era Finalist.

Finalist then must receive 80% positive vote from the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee on "Selection Saturday," one day prior to Super Bowl LIII. No more than five Modern-Era Finalist can be elected in a given year. The finalist will be formally enshrined Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019 in Canton, Ohio.

The Ravens selected Reed in the first round of the 2002 NFL Draft, and he would go on to play 11 seasons with the organization. During those 11 seasons, he was voted to the Pro Bowl nine times, was a five-time First-Team All-Pro and started 159 of 160 games. 

On the field, Reed had 61 interceptions for 1,541 yards and seven touchdowns. In addition, the safety raked up 11 forced fumbles and 13 fumbles recovered for 152 yards and two touchdowns. Not to forget a Super Bowl XLVII championship.

Reed's enshrinement would make him the third Raven in the history of the organization to be enshrined in his first-year of eligibility alongside linebacker Ray Lewis and offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden. 

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