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Presidentially approved: Team USA downs Brazil


Presidentially approved: Team USA downs Brazil

Exhibition, shmexhibition. From the ultimate power couple sitting courtside to the full-throated crowd packing the Verizon Center, there was no sense of irrelevancy about the United States mens basketball pre-Olympic tune-up against Brazil at the Verizon Center.
There was also no sense the 80-69 winning result for the Americans is indicative of the best this team has to offer the world on its quest for a gold medal later this summer in London. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle sat and eventually smooched opposite Brazils bench, where Washington Wizards center Nene rested in between battling the likes of scoring star LeBron James. Vice President Joe Biden witnessed the still getting acquainted Team USAs defense in its dominating second-to-none mode. The turnover-generating bunch turned an early 10-point deficit into a permanent hold on the lead by halftime. Tonight we learned from being down early and kept fighting, said hometown hero Kevin Durant. We got steals, we got easy layups, we got to the free throw line. We got to continue playing hard and well be fine.James led all scorers with 30 points, 14 coming in the fourth quarter. Durant scored 11 and Chris Paul had 10. James and Paul each had four of Team USAs 19 steals and helped turn Brazil over 26 times.The victory clinched a doubleheader sweep for the U.S. after the women's national team toppled their Brazilian counterparts 99-67.Also headed to the Olympics, the crisp passing Brazilians jumped out quickly for a 17-7 lead and maintained the advantage for much of the first half. Even after falling behind, they kept the game inside single digits throughout of the second half. Brazil held the overall rebounding edge, had their point guard dole out more assists than their opponents combined and held the U.S. to 25 percent shooting (6 of 24) from 3-point territory.Still, it wasnt enough against a deeper squad with talent oozing from all parts of the roster. We tried doing what we could, said Nene, who finished with eight points and six rebounds. We tried to put a lot of emphasis on defense and neutralize the shot. That worked in the first half, but these guys are great.Starting early in the second quarter, Team USAs hallmark defensive pressure took over. Suddenly even crossing half court proved treacherous for the Brazilians, whose roster included four NBA players.After Nenes dunk with 8:39 left in the quarter put Brazil ahead 29-21, the U.S. did not allow another field goal attempt for over seven minutes. In that span, the U.S forced nine turnovers - 12 for the quarter. They closed the first half on a 16-3 run for a 37-32 lead as James tallied 13 points, two coming on a dunk following a Kobe Bryant steal.We didnt shoot the ball really well from the 3-point throw line, but our defense won us that game, said Oklahoma City guard James Harden. Thats what we have to. Even when we dont knock down shots, defensively we have to lockdown, take our defense to another level.Wizards owner Ted Leonsis was in his own building as were local college basketball dignitaries John Thompson Jr. and George Mason coach Paul Hewitt. The event also included a heavy dose of military representation as active and injured soldiers lined up next to the U.S. players during the pre-game introductions. At one point during a break, the jumbotron panned the arena showing various military personal, which led to chants of U-S-A, U-S-A.As for the blue jacket and jeans wearing President of the United States, he too drew roars from the crowd, but in one instance only after he and the First Lady generated playful boos.During an on-court stoppage in the first half, the view from the Kiss-Cam cameras landed on the Obamas, but they smiled their way into declining participation. Later in the game, the kiss-cam returned and this time the Commander in Chief took control, planting one on Mrs. Obama to the delight of the masses.Hey man, PDA is not for everybody, Bryant cracked after he was asked about the President getting it right the second time. But he makes the important positions so its all good.Bryant, joined in the starting lineupby James, Paul, Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler, finished with eight points. Anthony did not score until the fourth quarter and finished with three points on 1 of 7 shooting. Only incoming rookie Anthony Davis did not play for the U.S.side.Cleveland Cavaliers center Anderson Varejao finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds for Brazil. Alex Garcia led Brazil with 14 points and Marcelo Huertas dished out 13 assists, two more than the entire U.S. team.Lindsay Whalen scored 21 points and Diana Taurasi had 16 points to pacefive double figure scorers for the U.S. women's team. Washington Mystics assistant coach Jennifer Gillom serves in the same for the Olympic team.The U.S. mennext plays exhibitions in England and Spain before opening Olympic play on July 29 against France.

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Wizards GM search: Resetting the potential candidates

Wizards GM search: Resetting the potential candidates

The Wizards general manager search reset needs a reset.

We head into the holiday weekend with the local NBA team still lacking a permanent front office leader. Zero reports of interviews of any kind since last week’s meeting with Nuggets President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly.

At least we can cross off the idea of flirting with Portland’s Neil Olshey. The Blazers’ President of Basketball reportedly signed an extension one day after NBC Sports Washington reported interest from the Wizards.

For now, we wait, though be prepared for a hire any day – or not. At this point, here are the names to consider.

Tommy Sheppard – The Wizards VP of Basketball Operations began running the show on an interim basis following the firing of President of Basketball Operations on April 2. That he’s making the calls from inside the house, running the pre-draft process and showing a Wizards world with him in charge gives Sheppard an inside track over all other candidates.

To call him the favorite, however, might be a stretch at this point based simply on the fact that he has not been hired despite his in-house status. Sheppard is well respected around the NBA and league voices would tell frustrated fans they shouldn’t consider him Grunfeld 2.0.

Theory: If Sheppard gets the nod, the Wizards promote Go-Go general manager Pops Mensah-Bonsu to serve as Sheppard’s number two and then promote the benefits of their G-League investment beyond player development.

Troy Weaver –The Thunder assistant general manager met with the Wizards twice. Weaver, long considered a rising front-office star, worked with Wizards coach Scott Brooks in Oklahoma City and flashed his recruiting skills at Syracuse when he landed Carmelo Anthony. The D.C. native still has ties to the area.

Danny Ferry – Like Weaver, Ferry met with the Wizards twice in Washington. Throughout the search process, multiple league sources told NBC Sports Washington that the former Hawks and Cavaliers general manager is the best candidate for the Wizards’ opening even over Connelly. The Hawks won 60 games during the 2014-15 season and reached the Eastern Conference Finals.

Some question the strength of his candidacy based on any lingering controversy stemming from comments he made as Hawks GM regarding Luol Deng’s heritage in 2014, of which an independent investigation stated Ferry's intentions were not racially motivatedThis week former Georgetown coach John Thompson Jr. vouched for Ferry’s character on a local radio show.

Neither Ferry nor Weaver was likely to have heard back from the Wizards since Connelly’s involvement as of mid-week, according to sources familiar with the situation. Like the rest of us, they wait for news. 

Larry Harris – There’s no official reporting linking the Wizards to Golden State’s assistant GM. Washington and New Orleans both used the same consultant, Mike Forde, during their front office searches. Many of the same people have interviewed for both jobs. Harris, the former Bucks GM who joined the Warriors in 2008, met with New Orleans before the playoffs began.

That the Wizards appear patient with their search may suggest they are waiting for someone still in the playoffs.

Masai Ujiri – Speaking of an executive whose team is still in the playoffs… Ujiri’s Raptors are one game away from reaching the NBA Finals. NBC Sports Washington previously reported Ujiri showed interest in Washington. However, expectations of high salary demands and compensation from the Raptors for their President of Basketball Operations stunted any serious movement.

Bonus names -- Bucks assistant GM Milt Newton was part of the Wizards front office from 2003 to 2013. … Celtics assistant GM Mike Zarren was deemed a candidate by the New York Times early in the process. One Boston-based source believes that Zarren would prefer remaining with the team he grew up rooting for rather than pursue most open GM jobs. … Spurs assistant GM Brian Wright, another D.C. area native, just completed his third year with San Antonio. 


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2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: KZ Okpala

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2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: KZ Okpala

The Washington Wizards will have the ninth overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects who could fall around where the Wizards will select...

2019 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: KZ Okpala

School: Stanford
Position: Forward
Age: 20
Height: 6-10
Weight: 210
Wingspan: 7-2
Max vertical: 37 in.

2018/19 stats: 16.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.5 bpg, 46.3 FG% (5.9/12.7), 36.8 3PT% (1.1/3.0), 67.1 FT%

Player comparison: Kyle Kuzma, Gerald Green

Projections: NBC Sports Washington 25th, NBADraft.net 23rd, Bleacher Report 27th, Sports Illustrated 29th, Ringer 41st

5 things to know:

*Okpala is a tall, lanky wing who loves to drive from the perimeter to the rim. He made the All-Pac-12 team this past season after improving his scoring average from 10.0 points as a freshman to 16.8 points as a sophomore. He also increased his rebounds per game average from 3.7 to 5.7.

*He is arguably one of the most athletic players in this class. At 6-foot-10 in shoes, he has great size for a wing player and measured at the NBA combine with a 7-2 wingspan. He also has an impressive vertical leap of 37 inches which would be good even for a point guard. He is also fast in the open court. Teams will be enticed with his ceiling on both ends of the floor.

*Okpala scored a lot in college but has a raw offensive game. He isn't fully there as a ball-handler and has an improving, but still inconsistent outside shot. The fact he made a leap from his freshman to sophomore year as a three-point shooter was a very good sign. His 36.8 three-point percentage on three attempts per game is encouraging but does not offer any guarantees that he can stretch the floor at the next level. His 67.1 free throw percentage doesn't help his cause.

*He is just the third player from Stanford to leave for the NBA before his junior season, joining the Lopez twins, Brook and Robin, who were first round picks in 2010.

*Okpala is the son of two Nigerian immigrants. He had a 4.4 GPA in high school.

Fit with Wizards: Okpala would fill a need for the Wizards in that he is a forward and they don't have many of those under contract for next season. He would also give them a young player with high upside, something they currently lack.

But Okpala also seems to offer decent bust potential. Ever since Kevin Durant came into the league, there have been a lot of players like Okpala to come along, ones that are tall enough to play inside but prefer to work on the perimeter.

Sometimes that can work, like with Giannis Antetokounmpo or Brandon Ingram (sort of). But for every success story, there seem to be a lot of guys like Perry Jones and Thon Maker.

Okpala seems very much like boom or bust, and the Wizards may not be able to afford taking a chance like that.

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