Team USA news: Blake Griffin out, Anthony Davis in


Team USA news: Blake Griffin out, Anthony Davis in

From Comcast SportsNet
LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Anthony Davis was seated on the court, the best players in the world towering above him. The NBA rookie had just been fouled while making a 3-pointer, falling backward toward the U.S. bench, looking up to see the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant dancing in celebration. The Americans weren't just giddy over the basket. Their joy was in knowing they can count on the kid in the Olympics. With Blake Griffin heading for left knee surgery that will keep him from London, Davis is expected to join the Americans as they chase another gold medal. He got his first taste of playing with them in a 113-59 exhibition victory over the Dominican Republic on Thursday night, which ended about the time the Los Angeles Clippers were announcing the news about Griffin. "Hopefully he gets back quick and has a great season next year because he deserves it," U.S. teammate Kevin Durant said. "You know he played so hard and he's all about the team, and we're going to string Anthony along and hopefully he comes in and fills a void." Durant had 24 points and 10 rebounds for the Americans, who will add Griffin to at least four other players who were knocked out of the Olympics because of injuries. Griffin returned to Los Angeles on Thursday for further evaluation after reporting discomfort in the same knee that bothered him in the playoffs following Wednesday's practice. The Clippers said he will require arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus, and he should be ready for the start of the NBA season. "We're relieved that this does not affect Blake's ability to be ready in time for training camp," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said in a statement. "Missing out on the Olympic experience will be tough for him to take. I know how dedicated he was to doing that. We're glad we can get this fixed now and take advantage of the available time for him to fully recover." USA Basketball officials said following the game they hadn't been told Griffin would be forced to pull out. Once he does, the Americans will be able to replace him on their 12-man roster. Davis, the national college player of the year who had failed to make the roster Saturday after a sprained ankle forced him to sit out scrimmages, was told to return to Las Vegas. He scored nine points in 10 minutes against the Dominicans, who were led by his college coach, John Calipari of national champion Kentucky. "As far as I know I'm still an alternate. I'm not on the team yet, so got to keep working," Davis said. The Americans love Davis' rebounding and shot blocking, but not his youth. Griffin is older and stronger, and coach Mike Krzyzewski noted he's played against Spain center Pau Gasol in the NBA. Griffin was being counted on to play center and looked sharp earlier in camp, throwing down some of his impressive highlight dunks. "Blake is a proven commodity, and if we don't have him, it's a big loss," Krzyzewski said. "He was playing really well for us." The Clippers, who just signed Griffin to a 5-year, 95 million extension, will see another specialist Sunday, and surgery is expected to be scheduled soon. Once it was determined he was leaving, the U.S. staff told Davis to return from Los Angeles, where he had attended the ESPY awards Wednesday and was scheduled to meet with his agent Thursday. And if he sticks with the Americans, Calipari will have to alter his summer plans after the Dominicans finished one win short of qualifying for the Olympics. "If he's on the team and he makes that trip then I'm probably going to have to make a trip to London, anyway," Calipari said. Davis' defensive talents would be a welcome addition on a U.S. team that has New York's Tyson Chandler as its only remaining center. Players can be replaced on the roster in case of injury any time up to 48 hours before the start of the Olympics. The Americans lost two centers, Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh, to injuries before camp, along with Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade. Chris Paul, Griffin's Clippers teammate, sprained his right thumb on the first day of camp and had been sitting out scrimmages. Despite those losses, the Americans still consider themselves the best team in the world -- and apparently, ever. Kobe Bryant created a stir when he said he thought this young, athletic U.S. team probably would have pulled out a game against the Dream Team, which didn't sit well with his Hall of Fame elders. "I absolutely laughed," Michael Jordan said before playing in a celebrity golf tournament in Charlotte, N.C. "For him to compare those two teams is not one of the smarter things he ever could have done." Bryant wasn't backing down, nor bothered by Jordan's response. "I'm not really tripping," Bryant said. "The fact is they've got (Patrick) Ewing and (David) Robinson, those big guys. I mean it's tough. But if you're asking me if we can beat them one game, hell yeah we can beat them one game. You didn't ask me if we could beat them in a seven-game series. One game, we could get them, no question about it." The Americans believe they can be better than the team that won the gold medal four years ago because of Durant, the NBA's three-time scoring champion who seems even more dangerous in international competition. The 3-point line, just over 22 feet away, is an easy shot for him, and at 6-foot-9 he can play any frontcourt position -- he entered the game the first time for Chandler. Durant set U.S. tournament records two years ago in Istanbul with 38 points in a game and an average of 22.8 for the championship, leading a young U.S. team to its first gold medal in the event since 1994. He has transitioned easily to this veteran squad that returns five players from the gold medalists in Beijing, coming off the bench to shoot 9 of 11 from the field, making 5 of 6 3-pointers in 22 minutes. About the only thing to question about the U.S. were their uniforms, featuring white tops with the pattern of an American flag faded into the back, and shorts that were white in the front and blue in back, making them look like the home team facing one direction and the visitors from behind. The Americans head across the country Friday to continue their training in Durant's hometown of Washington. They will play an exhibition game against Brazil on Monday before finishing their Olympic preparations in Europe. The Dominicans lost former Louisville guard Edgar Sosa to a leg injury in the first quarter. Calipari believed he had a broken foot.

Jon Lester says Cubs haven’t done anything yet: ‘Nobody likes second place’

Jon Lester says Cubs haven’t done anything yet: ‘Nobody likes second place’

As Cubs players and generations of fans celebrated Christmas in October, Jon Lester had to be The Grinch for a moment. Sure, the Cubs would party from Saturday night into Sunday morning, probably get “a little bit” drunk and enjoy the franchise’s first National League pennant in 71 years. But the reality of the Cleveland Indians would set in once the Cubs got rid of this hangover.

“We ain’t done anything yet,” Lester said during the Wrigley Field celebration after the Cubs eliminated the Los Angeles Dodgers. “Nobody likes second place.”

There are enough Boston Red Sox connections in this World Series that Lester already knows what to expect, starting with Indians manager Terry Francona, who became a father figure as he dealt with a cancer scare as a rookie.

There are ex-teammates from those championship teams in 2007 (Coco Crisp) and 2013 (Mike Napoli, Andrew Miller) at Fenway Park. There is the accumulated experience from throwing 119 postseason innings (2.50 ERA) and becoming one of the best big-game pitchers of his generation.

“I don’t want to sound like a smart-ass, but we got a long ways to go,” Lester said. “I know that manager on their side’s going to be prepared. I know their coaching staff’s going to be ready. I know their players are going to be ready, just based on one player alone, and that’s Mike Napoli. I know what he brings to the table. He helped transform our 2013 team.

“Come Tuesday, we got to put the gloves back on. We got to get ready to fight and grind and do what we’ve done well all year. We got four more games to win.”

After limiting the Dodgers to two runs in 13 innings, and being named the NL Championship Series’ co-MVP along with Javier Baez, Lester should be a worthy Game 1 starter opposite Corey Kluber, the 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner.

This is why Lester took a leap of faith with Cubs bosses/ex-Red Sox executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer and chairman Tom Ricketts’ family and what had been a last-place team in 2014.

Two seasons into the $155 million contract that signaled the Cubs would be serious about contending – and not just in the Baseball America/Baseball Prospectus prospect rankings – the franchise has won 200 games and four playoff rounds and remained in position to dominate for years to come.

“Theo and Jed and the front office and Tom and all these guys had a belief,” Lester said. “I believed in that belief. The talent here speaks for itself. I didn’t do anything – I came here because I wanted to win in Chicago. I’m just happy to be here and be a part of this and get to this point.

“(But) we’re four hard wins away from doing what we set out to do in spring training.”

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As bright as the future looks on the North Side, Lester will be 33 next season and his left arm has already accounted for more than 2,000 innings during his decorated career. John Lackey turned 38 on Sunday. Jake Arrieta only has one more season before becoming a free agent.

The Cubs built their franchise around young hitters, with the idea that they can figure out the pitching later with free agents, change-of-scenery trades and bounce-back guys. Easier said than done. They have a true No. 1 starter now in Lester, who as a free agent watched a recruiting video that imagined what it would be like when the Cubs win the World Series.

“This isn’t it,” Lester said. “It’s been a tough playoffs for us to this point and it’s only going to get tougher. We’re going to enjoy it. We’re going to show up Tuesday in Cleveland ready to play. We’ll see what happens.”

Three quick fixes for some Bears woes while searching for a turnaround

Three quick fixes for some Bears woes while searching for a turnaround

Positives were difficult to find in last Thursday’s 26-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers. So maybe the place to look for improvement lies in just getting rid of a few negatives.

As far as positives, Leonard Floyd would be the obvious one, with two sacks, one a strip and fumble recovery for a TD. Ka’Deem Carey would be another, with 10 carries for 48 yards, his second straight game with high-impact running; Jordan Howard has been shackled for two weeks, so the Bears have needed another backfield-committee member contributing. Jeremy Langford may have trouble finding work when he comes back from his ankle injury.

But negatives have far outweighed positives, which is how you get to 1-6. Fixing three of those will go a long way toward improving their chances against a Minnesota Vikings team that appeared eminently beatable in losing at Philadelphia on Sunday:

Stop the penalty hemorrhaging

For the third straight game the Bears had 10 penalties walked off against them. This "streak" started after eight infractions in the win over Detroit. The 10 in Green Bay cost the Bears 108 yards in a game where their offense netted just 189. Seven of the penalties were charged to the defense, six of which gave the Packers first downs.

The three offensive penalties were mental. A wide receiver (Alshon Jeffery) lined up offsides. The quarterback (Matt Barkley) drew a delay flag. An offensive lineman (Ted Larsen) was illegally downfield.

All of which point to a discipline problem getting worse, not better. Whether the fault lies with players losing focus or coaches not instilling a mindset is a debate, but meaningless if the problem is not addressed. “There were a lot of penalties out there,” said cornerback De’Vante Bausby, who committed three of those penalties. “We had a good scheme and plan but we just didn’t finish in the second half as a group.”

Stop the dinking

While Brian Hoyer replacing Jay Cutler scaled back the downfield element of the offense, the loss of an emerging Kevin White should not be understated. The de facto rookie may not have gotten in the end zone but he was leading the team in receptions before he suffered a broken leg in the win over Detroit.

Since the loss of White, however, the offense has shrunk. The Bears averaged 7.5 yards per pass attempt through four games with White. Without White the average is 7.0, and that is including the blip in Indianapolis, which stands as a complete anomaly. The average was 5.9 in the Jacksonville loss and 5.0 in Green Bay.

Hoyer’s ball-security orientation has been a positive, but also a limiting factor. Cutler last year had one of the best ball-security seasons of his career, yet the offense was able to average 7.5 yards per attempt.

The Bears scored two of their three rushing touchdowns in games with White, who may not yet be the field-stretcher his 4.35 speed but the prospect of White arguably made for a more threatening offense than even with the contributions of Cam Meredith.

Stop the Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings have suffered injuries at a rate like the Bears’ but have overcome them. Until Sunday in Philadelphia, when the Eagles sacked Sam Bradford six times and hit him more than a dozen other times. The Vikings never sacked Carson Wentz, who wasn’t special but was good enough while Minnesota was self-destructing.

The Vikings have beaten the Bears the last three times they’ve met, the first time that’s happened since 1999 and 2000, which is also the last time the Bears started 1-6. And the Bears have lost three straight.

The Bears were able to end the first three-game skid by focusing on one game: the Lions. The result was shutting down a very good offense, the lowest yardage-allowed (263) of the season and the firmest commitment to the run game (29) attempts.

Morale inside the locker room can only be revived by a win. One game. This game.