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Italy advances to Olympic quarterfinals, tops Nigeria 80-71

Italy advances to Olympic quarterfinals, tops Nigeria 80-71

Italy is headed back to the Olympic quarterfinals, ousting Nigeria to clinch that spotBy TIM REYNOLDS AP Basketball WriterJuly 31, 2021, 10:10 AM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleSAITAMA, Japan — Italy is headed back to the Olympic quarterfinals. Nigeria is going home, its Olympic experience not what it wanted on multiple levels.Nicolo Melli scored 15 points, Nico Mannion had 14 and Italy used a 14-0 run in the fourth quarter to rally and beat Nigeria 80-71 in the Group B finale for both teams on Saturday.Achille Polonara added 13, Simone Fontecchio scored 12 and Stefano Tonut finished with 10 for Italy (2-1). The Italians trailed by eight in the fourth quarter before finding a way to win.“I think that’s the beauty of it,” Mannion said. “That’s the fun part. If you’re not playing with any pressure, what is there to play for? It’s fun to play with that.”The Italians will play again on Tuesday against a yet-to-be-determined opponent. They finished second in Group B behind Australia (3-0) and ahead of Germany (1-2) and Nigeria (0-3). Germany lost to Australia later Saturday.It’s the fifth consecutive Olympic appearance in which Italy has reached the quarterfinals, the most recent of those coming in 2004 when it won the silver medal at the Athens Games.Chimezie Metu scored 22 points and Jordan Nwora added 20 for Nigeria. The Nigerians opened the summer with exhibition wins over the U.S. and Argentina in Las Vegas, but went no further in their first Olympic appearance under coach Mike Brown.After the game, the 24-year-old Metu expressed frustration with the way he said the Nigerian Olympic Committee handled organizational matters for the Tokyo Games. The basketball teams sent to Saitama had difficulty obtaining proper credentials, and 10 track and field athletes from Nigeria — nearly half the country’s team — were disqualified from competing at the Olympics because the national federation hadn’t ensured they would meet minimum doping test requirements before coming to Tokyo.“They were disqualified and they had nothing to do with it,” said Metu, who plays for the Sacramento Kings. “What there was was a lack of attention to detail and a lack of empathy for the hard work that has been put in by us athletes. … For 60-some athletes to come here and fly halfway across the world and be disrespected and humiliated by our country … it’s a lack of attention to detail by our government.”Some Nigerian athletes who said they were among those who were barred from the Olympics by the AIU protested on the streets of Tokyo this week. They held up signs claiming Nigerian sports and anti-doping authorities were responsible for them not meeting the testing criteria.Brown said four members of his staff who made the trip to Japan — which wound up being a 30-hour ordeal instead of the planned 10-hour flight, another issue that Metu blamed on a lack of organization — were never allowed in the Olympic village because of credential and paperwork issues“I don’t know why it is this way,” said Brown, who started a foundation earlier this year seeking financial help for the men’s basketball program.Habu Gumel, a Nigerian on the International Olympic Committee, did not immediately return an email seeking comment. A call to the Nigerian Olympic Committee also was not answered.Jahlil Okafor scored 14 for Nigeria.Nigeria led 63-56 after three quarters and saw the lead grow before play even resumed. Italy’s Michele Vitali got a technical for trying to slap the ball away before it was inbounded to start the fourth quarter, so before the 10-minute clock even started Nigeria’s seven-point lead increased to an eight-point edge.Nigeria didn’t score for nearly seven minutes from there, and Mannion’s wide-open 3-pointer with 29.9 seconds left sealed the win for Italy. Mannion plays for Golden State; Brown is an assistant coach there, and Brown wished him well postgame.“He’s an amazing coach,” Mannion said.———More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

Slovenia too much for Japan, wins 116-81 to move to 2-0

Slovenia too much for Japan, wins 116-81 to move to 2-0

Rui Hachimura did whatever he couldBy TIM REYNOLDS AP Basketball WriterJuly 29, 2021, 7:41 AM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleSAITAMA, Japan — Rui Hachimura did whatever he could. Blocking shots, hitting tough jumpers, logging big minutes, the best player on Japan’s roster simply held nothing back with hopes of giving his country its first Olympic men’s basketball win in 45 years.Problem was, the other side had Luka Doncic.The Dallas Mavericks star had another impressive performance with 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in 26 minutes, Zoran Dragic scored 24 points and Slovenia remained unbeaten in its Olympic debut by beating Japan 116-81 in the Tokyo Games on Thursday.“It’s not only Luka,” Hachmura said. “They have a lot of guys who can hoop. … They’re a great team. They beat us.”Vlatko Cancar added 16 for Slovenia, which has won its two games in Saitama by a combined 53 points. Slovenia outrebounded Japan 54-33 and had 27 assists to Japan’s 15.“It was a great game for us,” Slovenia coach Aleksander Sekulic said. “I think we showed our power. We played really together as a team. To have 27 assists and 54 rebounds, it says something about this team and I’m really proud of them.”Hachimura finished with 34 points and seven rebounds. Yuta Watanabe added 17 for Japan.“Congratulations to Slovenia,” Japan coach Julio Lamas said. “They played better than us, all the game. … They are a very good team, very complete team with one amazing player.”The Hachimura vs. Doncic matchup got off to a flying start, both players finishing the first quarter with 13 points and Slovenia taking a 29-23 lead after the opening 10 minutes.The margin was up to 53-41 at the half, and Japan still seemed to have a shot early in the fourth down by only 14.And then Doncic returned, ending whatever hope the hosts had.Doncic who declined to stop for questions after the game, didn’t play in the final 5:30 of the third quarter. He grabbed a seat at the end of the Slovenia bench, draped towels over his shoulder and lap and kept them there until he checked back in early in the fourth. His first possession: a stepback 3-pointer from the left wing that dropped, putting Slovenia up 83-66 with 9:14 remaining.“He’s our main guy,” said Dragic, the younger brother of Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic. “But we have so many other players who can play with him. We let him do whatever he wants and the other players are trying to support him. We know what he can do. Obviously, we are very successful like this and we’re just going to keep on going.”Slovenia outscored Japan 20-7 in Doncic’s final shift of the game, and when he checked out for good all doubt was gone — the lead was 100-73.The final games of Group C are Sunday, when Japan (0-2) plays Argentina and Slovenia (2-0) will meet reigning Basketball World Cup champion Spain.———More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/Olympics and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

Basketball diplomacy: US, Iran meet on court at Tokyo Games

Basketball diplomacy: US, Iran meet on court at Tokyo Games

SAITAMA, Japan — The Americans applauded the Iranian national anthem. The Iranians applauded the U.S. anthem. There were a few handshakes before, plenty more handshakes after, and words of sportsmanship between the sides throughout the game.For two hours, it was basketball diplomacy.It’s still somewhat rare for the U.S. and Iran — nations that haven’t had diplomatic relations for more than four decades and often are at vastly different ends of the political spectrum — to get together in anything, from sporting events to nuclear talks. It happened Wednesday at the Tokyo Olympics, the U.S. easily prevailing 120-66 in a result that might soon be forgotten but a scene that may be long remembered.“In general, I think people in different countries get along a whole lot better than their governments do,” U.S. coach Gregg Popovich said.That seemed to be the case Wednesday, anyway.Popovich shook hands with Iran coach Mehran Shahintab and members of his staff both before and after the game, complimenting the way the overmatched Iranians — a group with one former NBA player against a team of 12 current NBA players — performed in his postgame remarks both on and off the floor. To him, there was nothing unusual about exchanging pleasantries.“People are different,” Shahintab said, “and separate from politics.”It’s been 41 years since the U.S. and Iran severed diplomatic relations, a move that came a few months following the Iranian takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran on Nov. 4, 1979 and sparking what became a 444-day hostage crisis. There have been crippling economic sanctions levied on Tehran by Washington and a unilateral withdrawal from the world powers nuclear deal by former President Donald Trump, U.S. flags often being burned at rallies and protests in the streets of Tehran, and accusations in recent weeks that Iran has delayed a proposed prisoner swap to force a quick resumption of indirect nuclear talks.“We continue to believe — and have never held back from noting — that Iran is a bad actor in the region,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said last month. “And they have taken part in and supported and participated in problematic, extremely problematic behavior, in our view.”But sports are often a unifying force.Perhaps the most famous example is what is still known as “pingpong diplomacy” — when table tennis players from the U.S. and China played in the early 1970s and essentially began a major mending of relations between the two countries.The Olympics also tend to create moments that likely wouldn’t happen in the political world. Earlier this week, Shahintab shook hands with the coach of the Czech Republic after a game; that coach, Ronen Ginzburg, is from Israel — a nation that Iran does not recognize.If political leaders from Iran and Israel shook hands, it would be front-page news. At the Olympics, it happened without fanfare.“We’re just here to play basketball,” Iran center Hamed Haddadi said.Even amid decades of political rhetoric, the U.S. and Iran have shown that athletes from those nations can coexist.Wrestlers from the U.S. went to Iran in 1998, where they were surrounded in the streets — in a good way. Wrestling is extremely popular in Iran, so when that group of U.S. wrestlers ventured out to shop they found themselves shaking hands and taking pictures. There have been other wrestling events involving the nations since, all with similar receptions from both sides.“Once you get to the politicians, that sort of thing, it becomes much more complicated: self-interests, ideologies and personal agendas,” Popovich said. “But the people generally get along, appreciate each other, no matter what country you’re talking about. I really believe that. I’ve always believed that.”At least one expert on international sport relations was not surprised that the U.S.-Iran basketball game occurred without incident.“They are being good sports in a highly visible and lucrative sport,” said Dr. Heather Dichter, an Associate Professor of Sport Management and Sport History at De Montfort University in England. “Doing otherwise would likely have been more damaging reputationally in the second most popular sport globally.”Some of the players on the U.S. team knew Haddadi, the Iranian center with past NBA experience. Many of the players hadn’t met those on the other team before, and the Americans didn’t spend any time before the game discussing how the meeting between the nations might be perceived in diplomatic circles.“I guess that’s political, right? We stay away from that,” U.S. forward Kevin Durant said, adding “for the most part we kept it at basketball.”Popovich lauded the system that the Iranian coaches had installed, complimented the way the opponents ran their offense, and wished Shahintab well after the game.He couldn’t have imagined the meeting going any differently.“The Olympics, this is a venue and time where sports transcends all that petty crap between governments,” Popovich said. “There’s no surprise that the coaches enjoyed meeting each other and talking to each other, that the players showed sportsmanship. We just wish this happened in real life.”———More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/Olympics and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

Spain uses 19-0 run to defeat Japan 88-77 at Tokyo Olympics

Spain uses 19-0 run to defeat Japan 88-77 at Tokyo Olympics

They would have talked about this night in Japan for generationsBy TIM REYNOLDS AP Basketball WriterJuly 26, 2021, 2:16 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleSAITAMA, Japan — They would have talked about this night in Japan for generations. Imagine: the country’s first men’s basketball game at an Olympics in 45 years, in an arena just north of Tokyo that would have been filled with thousands of flag-waving fans, against the reigning World Cup champions.The pandemic took away Japan’s chance at having the desired scene.Spain took away Japan’s chance of having the desired outcome.Ricky Rubio scored 20 points and a 19-0 run in the second quarter turned out to be the difference, as Spain went on to top Japan 88-77 on Monday night in the opening game of the Tokyo Olympics for both teams.Victor Claver made all six of his shots and scored 13 points for Spain, the four-time Olympic medalists — three silver, one bronze.Rui Hachimura scored 20 points and Yuta Watanabe added 19 for Japan, which spent some of its pregame meeting time talking to each other about how the country would be watching from places other than the arena.“We talked about it before the game,” Hachimura said. “We actually played here like two years ago, an exhibition game or something. A lot of people came, we were looking forward to it, but it is what it is. Can’t do anything about it, and everybody is watching on TV.”Without fans permitted in the Saitama Super Arena because of the pandemic and the decision to not open almost all venues involved in the Tokyo Games to ticketholders, only a few dozen Japanese people — volunteers and workers, mostly — were there for the game. A few people stood and clapped when the host team was introduced pregame, and another man snapped a photo of the large scoreboard suspended over center court when the video screen displayed the Japanese flag during the national anthem.Otherwise, there was no home-court advantage whatsoever.“The world is going through something very difficult, and I think we all have to go in the same direction,” said Marc Gasol, who scored 12 for Spain. “The fans are making sacrifices and we’re trying to give them something to cheer for and be proud of in these very difficult times. … In the perfect scenario, you would have this arena packed, but we know there’s a lot of people watching us and we’re bringing joy to them from both Japan and Spain.”Japan got down 11-2 after the first four minutes but clawed back slowly, and when Hachimura connected on a 3-pointer with 5:35 left in the half the game was tied at 26.That’s also when Spain was finding its groove.Spain made its final 10 shots of the half — the 19-0 run happening during that stretch — and the lead was 48-28 going into the break.Japan got within 11 points on two separate occasions in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter, but the lead was never in doubt.“It was a great experience,” Hachimura said.TIP-INSSpain: Thursday’s game against Argentina is a rematch of the 2019 Basketball World Cup final, won by Spain 95-75. Spain is 2-0 all-time against Argentina in Olympic matchups. … Alex Abrines scored 11 points and Pau Gasol was 4-for-5 for nine points.Japan: It’s now an eight-game losing streak for Japan in the highest-tier international events — the World Cup or the Olympics — since 2006. … Japan was outrebounded 42-32.HELLO, AGAINSpain improved to 4-0 all-time against Japan in World Cup or Olympics meetings. Spain beat Japan 66-64 at the 1960 Olympics, 87-76 at the 1972 Olympics and 104-55 at the 2006 World Cup — also in Japan.OFF DAYThere are no men’s games at the Olympics on Tuesday. The women have the court all day, with four games scheduled including the opener for the U.S.UP NEXTSpain: Faces Argentina on Thursday.Japan: Faces Slovenia on Thursday.———More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/Olympics and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

US loses to France 83-76, 25-game Olympic win streak ends

US loses to France 83-76, 25-game Olympic win streak ends

SAITAMA, Japan — The final buzzer sounded and France barely celebrated.To them, beating the United States again wasn’t really a surprise. And that might be the biggest indicator yet that the Americans — even after three consecutive Olympic gold medals — are no longer feared by other top international teams.A 25-game Olympic winning streak for the U.S. is over, ending Sunday when France closed the game on a 16-2 run to beat the Americans 83-76 in the Tokyo Games. Evan Fournier’s 3-pointer off a broken play with just under a minute left put France ahead for good, as the Americans simply fell apart in the final minutes.“They are better individually,” Fournier said of the Americans, “but they can be beaten as a team.”That’s been proven with alarming regularity in the last two years. Starting with France’s win over the U.S. in the Basketball World Cup quarterfinals at China two years ago, the Americans are merely 3-5 in their last eight games with NBA players in the lineup.The U.S. missed its final nine shots, five of them coming in a 21-second span in the final minute shortly after Fournier — who led all scorers with 28 points — made the go-ahead 3-pointer. Rudy Gobert wildly missed a layup on that play, but Guerschon Yabusele chased down the bouncing rebound and just before he dove into the U.S. bench he made a desperation swipe at the ball in an effort to knock it into Fournier’s direction.Fournier turned Yabusele’s dive into a dagger, and just like that the Americans are in Olympic trouble.“I think that’s a little bit of hubris if you think the Americans are supposed to just roll out the balls and win,” U.S. coach Gregg Popovich said. “We’ve got to work for it just like everybody else. And for those 40 minutes, they played better than we did.”The Americans lost for only the sixth time in 144 games at the Olympics all-time, and fell to 53-4 in the Olympics with NBA players on the roster. The 2004 team at the Athens Games lost the other three, and won bronze. Every other U.S. team in the era that started with the “Dream Team” in 1992 won the gold and this one still can — but it’s far from a certainty.“When you lose a game, you’re not surprised,” Popovich said. “You’re disappointed.”Fournier had 28 points for France, while Rudy Gobert scored 14 and Nando de Colo had 13. Jrue Holiday had 18 points for the U.S., Bam Adebayo had 12, Damian Lillard 11 and Kevin Durant had 10 for the Americans — who are just 2-3 in their games this summer, the first four of them exhibitions in Las Vegas that weren’t supposed to mean much.The Olympics, they were supposed to be different.They weren’t. They lost, again.“I mean, it’s great,” Gobert said. “But until we have what we want to have around our neck it doesn’t really matter.”The idea of anyone else leaving an Olympics with gold hasn’t been all that realistic in recent years. Now, it’s very real.A 10-point U.S. lead in the third quarter was wasted, and so was a 12-point barrage from Holiday in the opening 4 ½ minutes of the fourth quarter as the Americans went from six points down to start the period to six points up with 5:23 remaining.The U.S. lead was seven with 3:30 left. France outscored the U.S. 16-2 from there, and the Americans missed all nine of their shots — five of them in a 21-second span on the same trip down the floor in the final minute, three of those from 3-point range.“Evan was amazing,” France coach Vincent Collet said. “I don’t want to use big, big, big words, but he made some very big shots.”The loss doesn’t knock the U.S. out of medal contention, but it essentially eliminates the margin for error. The Americans play Iran on Wednesday and then the Czech Republic on Saturday in its final two Group A games; win both of those, and the U.S. will be in the quarterfinals. Lose another one, and the Americans might not even finish in the top eight of this 12-team tournament.The Americans scored three points in a seven-minute span of the third, Durant picked up his fourth foul — the FIBA limit is five with 16:45 left in the game, and that once-comfortable lead was soon gone. De Colo’s 3-pointer with 2:42 remaining in the third put France up 55-54, its first lead since the game’s first four minutes.France led 62-56 going to the final quarter. Holiday — who arrived in Tokyo on Saturday, less than a week removed from helping Milwaukee win the NBA title — did all he could to will the U.S. to a win in the fourth, but simply didn’t get enough help.“He was outstanding,” Popovich said.It was the first time the U.S. and France played since the quarterfinals of the Basketball World Cup two years ago, a game that the Americans lost on the way to a seventh-place finish — the worst ever by a USA Basketball team with NBA players.The U.S. got outscored 22-5 in the final 7 ½ minutes of that game, losing 89-79. This time, the final run was 16-2 in the final 3:17 to lose by seven.That loss in China ended World Cup medal hopes. This one doesn’t end the Americans’ Olympic chances — but another loss almost certainly will.“We have to defend better down the stretch,” U.S. forward Draymond Green said. “And close the games out.”TIP-INSFrance: Frank Ntilikina missed the game, with the French federation saying he continues to deal with “slight muscle discomfort.” … France took the game’s first nine free throws. The U.S. didn’t shoot one until JaVale McGee went to the line with 8:27 left in the second quarter. … Yabusele left the game briefly with 1:30 left in the half after going knee-to-knee with Holiday.USA: Durant had three fouls in the first half, something that’s happened only 10 times in his last 544 NBA appearances. … The U.S. used 11 of its players in the first half, with Jerami Grant the only one who didn’t get into the game.MOVING UPDurant moved into outright possession of the No. 4 spot on the U.S. men’s all-time Olympic appearances list. He’s now played in 17 games, behind only Carmelo Anthony (31), LeBron James (24) and David Robinson (24). There are 15 players with 16 Olympic appearances.UP NEXTFrance: Face the Czech Republic on Wednesday.USA: Face Iran on Wednesday.———More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

Mind the gap: The basketball world is catching up to the US

Mind the gap: The basketball world is catching up to the US

SAITAMA, Japan — When the Dream Team era started in 1992, most of the NBA players in the Olympics represented the United States.David Stern knew what would happen from there.“In time,” the former NBA commissioner predicted in 1995, “that will change.”Stern was right. The number of international players in the NBA has steadily risen since — and the gap between USA Basketball and the rest of the world has tightened as well. There will be more players in this tournament with NBA experience than ever before, with nearly 70 players in the Tokyo Olympics either current or former players in the league. More than four dozen of them played in the league this past season.And only 12 of that group are in Japan to compete with “USA” across their chests.That’s why, when this men’s Olympic tournament opens Sunday, the medal possibilities may be as wide open as they have been since that first team of NBA stars took the court in Barcelona. That group — which featured 11 future Hall of Famers on a 12-man roster — showed the rest of the world how much they had to do to catch the red, white and blue.“The gap is smaller and smaller every year as far as talent is concerned,” U.S. coach Gregg Popovich said.The U.S. is seeking a fourth consecutive gold medal and is the big favorite to do just that according to FanDuel, The Americans are the only team in Tokyo with 12 NBA players. But like Popovich said and Stern anticipated years ago, the talent gap has drastically dwindled.Nigeria, which beat the Americans in an exhibition, has eight NBA players. Australia, which also defeated the U.S. in a warm-up game, has seven. So does France, the first U.S. opponent in this tournament on Sunday and the nation that knocked the Americans out of contention at the Basketball World Cup two years ago. That setback sent the team spiraling to a seventh-place finish, the worst showing in any tournament ever for an American roster composed of NBA players.“I think every team wants to beat us,” U.S. forward Kevin Durant said. “Everybody wants to see us lose, so every game has a little bit more pressure to it.”There’s only one current All-NBA first team player in these Olympics. He doesn’t play for the U.S.Slovenia’s Luka Doncic garnered more first-team votes in the All-NBA voting this season, 55, than the entire U.S. Olympic roster got combined. This is Slovenia’s first time in the Olympics, but with Doncic leading the way, medal talk doesn’t seem misguided.“Slovenians, we know how to fight, man,” Doncic said. “We’re not going to go down easy.”Doncic willed Slovenia to a win in the Olympic qualifying tournament that ended on July 4 and gave the tiny nation a spot in the Tokyo field. And what he’s done in his NBA tenure with Dallas has only shown the world that the buzz he arrived with was more than appropriate.“He’s a spectacular player, as we all know,” Popovich said. “He’s one of the best players in the world. And I emphasize, in the world. He showed himself early on in Europe, and he was a fast study in the NBA for sure. He’s fun to watch. His skills, his competitiveness, his size, his innate basketball IQ is so impressive. You put four hardworking people around him and you’ve got a hell of a team.”Some of what to watch:THE SCHEDULEThere are 12 teams in the field; four will have to wait until Monday for their Olympic openers. Sunday’s schedule has Iran vs. the Czech Republic, Germany vs. Italy, Australia vs. Nigeria and then the U.S. vs. France. The Monday men’s openers are Argentina vs. Slovenia and host Japan vs. reigning World Cup champion Spain.INTERNATIONAL HEATThe Miami Heat have four players at the Olympics, but only one plays for the U.S. The Heat have three players on Nigeria’s roster (KZ Okpala, Precious Achiuwa and Gabe Vincent Nnamdi), with Bam Adebayo playing for the U.S.ONLY ONEThe only men’s team in the Olympic field without a current NBA player is Iran. That roster does, however, have a former NBA player — Hamed Haddadi, who appeared in 151 games over parts of five NBA seasons for Memphis and Phoenix. He last appeared in the NBA in 2013.NOT JUST THE MENThe women’s game is going on the same trajectory as the men’s when it comes to having more international players with WNBA experience in these Olympics than in any previous games. The U.S. has 12 WNBA players on its roster, while Australia has nine current or former WNBA players and Canada has eight.THEY SAID ITSlovenia coach Aleksander Sekulić, on what Doncic does for a team: “Everything looks way easier and he’s making other players good. Also, me, myself.”———More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/Olympics and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

Trio of NBA Finals players finally arrives at Tokyo Olympics

Trio of NBA Finals players finally arrives at Tokyo Olympics

The U.S. men’s basketball team is finally togetherBy TIM REYNOLDS AP Basketball WriterJuly 24, 2021, 4:18 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleSAITAMA, Japan — The U.S. men’s basketball team is finally together.Devin Booker, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday — the trio of U.S. Olympians who were in the NBA Finals and therefore have not been around their Tokyo Games teammates — arrived in Japan on Saturday night, less than 24 hours before the Americans’ scheduled Olympic opener against France.How much they play on Sunday remains unclear. U.S. coach Gregg Popovich has said he would gauge their role based on how they were feeling after the flights.“You’re talking about three true professionals, three extremely, extremely competitive guys that wouldn’t be on their way here if this didn’t mean something,” U.S. forward Draymond Green said Saturday. “They all just finished competing in the NBA Finals, just finished completing an NBA season. … I have a lot of respect for those guys for not only committing to do this but actually keeping their word.”Middleton and Holiday initially flew from Milwaukee to Seattle on Friday evening, making that trip a day after the Bucks had their championship parade to celebrate topping Phoenix in six games for the NBA title. Booker flew from Phoenix to Seattle, getting there Friday night a few minutes after the Bucks arrived.Booker hopped on the plane with Middleton and Holiday, and it took them about nine hours to get from Seattle to Tokyo. They landed shortly before 11 p.m. local time Saturday, or about 22 hours before the U.S.-France game is scheduled to begin.“I have a tremendous amount of respect for those guys for seeing it through, seeing their commitment through,” Green said. “And it’s on us to make sure that we do our parts and making sure that they are rewarded with what with what they ultimately came here for, which is to help us compete and win a gold medal.”It has been an unprecedented period of preparation for the U.S. men in their quest to win a fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal. The 12-player team was formally unveiled on June 28; since then, Bradley Beal (virus-related) and Kevin Love (injury-related) were removed from the roster, replaced by Keldon Johnson and JaVale McGee.The three NBA Finals players have been gone, and U.S. wing Zach LaVine missed the team’s flight to Tokyo on Monday because he was in the health and safety protocols related to the coronavirus. After a number of negative test results was cleared to fly over separately and rejoined the team in time for opening ceremony and Saturday’s practice.Like Green, LaVine said he believes the decision by the NBA Finals trio to come to Tokyo barely a few days after the series and long postseason run ended only speaks to their level commitment.“I think they’ll be ready to go, and we’ll see what happens,” LaVine said. “But as for the team, I think we have to be ready for everything. If they’re not ready to go, then we have to go out there and perform still.”The U.S. wasn’t the only team pulling off a last-second roster maneuver. Spain, which ruled Juancho Hernangomez of the Minnesota Timberwolves out of the Olympics earlier this month because of a dislocated shoulder — only to then put him on the Tokyo roster because it felt he was healing well ahead of schedule — announced that he is not playing after all.Jorge Garbajosa, the president of Spain’s basketball federation, said the Timberwolves would not clear Hernangomez and forced the reigning World Cup champions to replace him. Spain said Xabi Lopez-Arostegui was on his way to Tokyo to take the roster spot.———More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/Olympics and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

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