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USA Basketball's gold medal path set; Argentina up first

USA Basketball's gold medal path set; Argentina up first

The only undefeated men's basketball team in Rio must remain that way to win gold. That winning team must takedown plenty of NBAers in the process.

USA Basketball enters the knockout stage in the 2016 Summer Olympics as the top seed from Group A after a 5-0 start that ended with far closer games than expected. If Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and crew can make it eight straight wins, the U.S. will return home as champion with the third straight best-of-the-best title.

That run begins against familiar faces. The U.S. and Argentina (3-2), led by NBA notables Manu Ginobili and Luis Scola, meet Wednesday at 5:45 p.m. ET.

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With a victory, Team USA would face Spain (3-2) or France (3-2) Friday. With Pau Gasol, Ricky Rubio and a deep roster, Spain entered the tournament No. 2 in the world behind the U.S., but afterr an 0-2 start, they needed to win their final three games to advance. France lost to the U.S. 100-97 Sunday despite playing without San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker.

Ginobili is one of three Argentine players averaging at least 15 points per game, but 2004 Olympic gold medalists must be at ther most efficient offensively against a U.S. team that is averaging 16.6 more points per game. Former George Washington guard Patricio Garino is a stout perimeter defender, but hi skills will be pushed to the extreme against all of Team USA's perimeter firepower.

Durant, who leads the U.S. with 16.8 points per game in Brazil, scored 23 points during a winning 111-74 pre-Olympic tune-up over Argentina in Las Vegas last month. Don't expect a similar result Wednesday. This proud Argentine team won't go out that way. Don't expect the U.S. to lose ether considering their depth and advantages at every turn. That is, unless a "team" of players that have been together for a generation can undermine a far more talented group put together on the fly. Based on the troubles from the U.S. side over their last three games, with each contest coming down to the final minutes, that's possible. Unless of course the stateside NBAers turn up the defense and turn out the noise. If so, it's a golden three-peat.

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Rui Hachimura's learning curve can be seen on offense late in games

Rui Hachimura's learning curve can be seen on offense late in games

WASHINGTON -- Wizards forward Rui Hachimura has translated so smoothly to the NBA level that it is easy to forget he is still just a rookie with only 31 games under his belt. For a reminder of his inexperience, just look at the fourth quarter.

Hachimura tends to start games hot on the offensive end, like he did on Friday in the Wizards' loss to the Cavaliers when he had eight points by the end of the first quarter. But he scored only nine points after that and went scoreless through seven minutes in the fourth.

That has been a consistent theme for him this season. He averages 4.8 points in the first quarter shooting 48.4 percent from the field, 4.0 points in the second shooting 57 percent and then 4.3 points on 47.9 percent in the third. In the fourth quarter those numbers plummet to 1.9 points on average and 33.3 percent shooting.

Basically, Hachimura often comes out on fire but then slows down considerably once opponents make midgame changes. Against the Cavs, Hachimura said it was because they disrupted passing lanes.

"They are an NBA team. They just adjusted. They didn't want me to catch the ball. They didn't let me just catch the ball. I think that's why," he said.

The Wizards have seen teams switch defensive match-ups midgame to counter Hachimura. Sometimes taking away his midrange jumper will be prioritized. The Cavs seemed to find success playing Hachimura more physically in the second half, bumping him away from his comfort zones.

Over time, Hachimura can improve his ability to sustain scoring throughout games simply by becoming more versatile. The more consistent he becomes at making three-point shots and creating off the dribble, the more difficult it will be for teams to stop him. As long as he keeps improving, he will reach a point where he can stay ahead of the defense with a multitude of counters.

Developing a more reliable outside game and more dribble combinations will take some time. For now, Hachimura believes the key to him keeping up his scoring pace involves working with his teammates, particularly star shooting guard Bradley Beal.

"I just gotta connect more with Brad. Brad is the one everybody is trying to guard. Screens and pick-and-rolls with him, that kind of stuff will help me," Hachimura said.

Hachimura's game against the Cavaliers reflected how the team played overall. After scoring 41 points in the first quarter, they managed only 42 in the second half. They blew a 16-point lead and lost, 113-108.

So, he wasn't alone. And those rooting for Hachimura to round out his game should feel good about his odds. He has a relentless work ethic and is often staying after practice to go over film with player development coach Dave Adkins.

Hachimura is perceptive and driven to improve. In order to take the next step as a scorer, he will have to get better at closing games.

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Tristan Thompson calls Bradley Beal one of the best shooting guards in the league

Tristan Thompson calls Bradley Beal one of the best shooting guards in the league

Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson spoke with reporters after the team's victory over the Wizards Friday night, praising Bradley Beal, who was snubbed from All-Star consideration this season despite averaging nearly 30 points-per-game.

The Cavaliers held the Wizards to just 21 points in the fourth quarter, and Thompson said their main focus was neutralizing Beal.

"The Wizards are really good offensively when they are making their runs," Thompson said postgame. "Bradley Beal is an All-Star in our league. One of the top-three two-guards in our league right now, so we were just trying to make it tough for him."

Beal finished the night with 26 points, but struggled from the floor. Beal shot 9-for-28 from the floor and the Cavaliers' stingy defense was clearly a factor.

Beal and the Wizards will have a chance to get back on track on Sunday night at Capital One Arena when they host the Chicago Bulls for the final time this season.

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