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For USA Basketball, the long road to Paris gets off to a good start



For USA Basketball, the long road to Paris gets off to a good start

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Stephen Curry drove to the basket, laid the ball in, got fouled and ended up on the floor after drawing the contact.

He noticed he was near the on-court photographers. So, he decided to go viral.

Curry posed for a few seconds — one hand on his hip, the other on the side of his head, while giving those cameras a wide-eyed look — before getting to his feet. The showman put on a show in his debut with the U.S. Olympic basketball team, scoring 12 points in 19 minutes and helping the Americans beat Canada 86-72 in their exhibition opener on Wednesday night.

“Just having fun,” Curry said. “Got to the basket and I slid across. I was trying to get back up, but I got stuck so I just wanted to pose and give myself a second. You know I like to have fun and enjoy myself and it didn’t take long for me to find an opportunity tonight.”

There was a lot to like — and in fairness, plenty not to like — for the Americans in their first tune-up for the Paris Olympics.

First, they won. All 10 available players contributed; they all got between 17 and 21 minutes except for Joel Embiid, who was limited to 12 only because of foul trouble. There were highlights — social media went wild for the Curry pose and a LeBron James chase-down block that led to a 3-pointer for Devin Booker — and there were plenty of mistakes that can be quickly cleaned up.

“We needed to set a tone for how we want to play,” U.S. coach Steve Kerr said. “And I think we did that.”

And now, the real work begins.

The team flies to Abu Dhabi — the next stop on the pre-Olympic tour — on Thursday for a few days of practices and two more exhibitions. Kawhi Leonard won’t be on the flight; the Americans decided it wasn’t in his best interest to try to play this summer, so they replaced him with Derrick White, who’ll be on the way in a few days.

All that went down Tuesday night, as USA Basketball was also celebrating its 50th anniversary with a gala — and President Barack Obama was one of the speakers, telling the team about what it means to represent the country on the Olympic stage.

“It’s always a treat when you get to talk to one of the greatest people this world has ever seen, in my opinion,” James said. “His vision, his mindset, his words are always resonating, in more ways than one. To be able to sit down with a former president, a friend of mine that I really call a dear friend, it’s pretty awesome.”

Obama was there Wednesday night, one of more than 20,000 people at the arena in Las Vegas to watch a glorified scrimmage. It was the biggest crowd for a game in the arena’s history, USA Basketball said. There were “U-S-A! U-S-A!” chants, there were past gold medalists in the crowd, gold-medal-winning coaches like Mike Krzyzewski sitting courtside.

Like Kerr said, the night set a tone. And now the Americans leave the U.S. for a month, looking for a fifth consecutive gold.

“This is always a fun format when you get this collection of guys together,” Curry said. “It’s a test and a challenge to try and figure out the chemistry, just the flow and the rhythm.”

So far, so good.


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