Wizards use team effort to hand new-look Cavaliers first loss

CLEVELAND — Bradley Beal scored 18 points, Kelly Oubre Jr. added 17 and tried to untie the sneakers of one of Cleveland’s new players, and the Washington Wizards withstood a late assault by LeBron James to beat the new-look Cavaliers 110-103 on Thursday night.

The Wizards nearly blew a late 11-point lead as James scored 14 straight points to pull the Cavs within 106-103. But Beal hit a driving layup and James missed a free throw and committed a lane violation while intentionally missing the second one and the Wizards held on.

Washington is 8-2 since star guard John Wall went down with a knee injury. Tomas Satoransky, who has been starting in Wall’s spot, added 17 points and eight assists.

James, back from winning MVP honours at the All-Star Game, scored 32 _ 14 in the fourth _ for the Cavs, who dropped to 2-1 since acquiring four new players before the trade deadline. J.R. Smith added 15 for Cleveland.

The Wizards spoiled the home debuts for Larry Nance Jr., George Hill, Rodney Hood and Jordan Clarkson, four new faces the Cavs are hoping can get them back to the NBA Finals.

But there are more obstacles in the Eastern Conference than ever and the Wizards could be a much tougher out in the post-season _ with or without Wall. Washington overcame an early 12-point deficit and matched Cleveland’s intensity. Oubre tried to give the Wizards an extra advantage when he reached over during a dead-ball situation and tried to untie one of Hood’s shoes.

The four newest Cavs received warm ovations when introduced, with Nance getting the biggest roar from fans who remember his shot-blocking, dunking dad. Larry Nance Sr. was a two-time All-Star during eight seasons with Cleveland.

Before the game, Nance Jr. announced that the NBA will allow him to wear his dad’s retired No. 22 jersey, which will remain hanging from the rafters in Quicken Loans Arena.

“I’m ecstatic about it,” said the younger Nance, who will switch from 24 to 22 next week.

After making just one 3-pointer in the first quarter, the Wizards dropped four deep shots in a span of 2:24 of the second quarter.

Oubre and Markieff …read more

Source:: Sportsnet.ca – Sports news

      

Russian approval led to attack on U.S. troops in Syria

By Ellen Nakashima, Karen Deyoung and Liz Sly, The Washington Post

A Russian oligarch believed to control the Russian mercenaries who attacked U.S. troops and their allies in Syria this month was in close touch with Kremlin and Syrian officials in the days and weeks before and after the assault, according to U.S. intelligence reports.

In intercepted communications in late January, the oligarch, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, told a senior Syrian official that he had “secured permission” from an unspecified Russian minister to move forward with a “fast and strong” initiative that would take place in early February.

Prigozhin made front-page headlines last week when he was indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller on charges of bankrolling and guiding a long-running Russian scheme to conduct “information warfare” during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.

He is known to have close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, forged when he was a restaurateur in St. Petersburg and expanded through what became Prigozhin’s wide-ranging business empire, including extensive contracts with Russia’s Defense Ministry.

Among his various enterprises, U.S. intelligence believes that Prigozhin also “almost certainly” controls Russian mercenaries fighting in Syria on behalf of President Bashar Assad. The mercenaries, employed by a company called Wagner, comprise ultranationalist Russians and military veterans, some of whom also fought in the Ukraine conflict, according to Russian news reports.

The intelligence reports provide additional information about an incident that remains only murkily described by all concerned, with the Pentagon providing few details and the Russians offering changing accounts.

U.S. intelligence agencies declined to comment on the reports.

What is clear, however, is that the attack marked the biggest direct challenge to the U.S. military presence in eastern Syria since U.S. Special Operations forces began deploying there in 2015 in support of their Syrian allies in the fight against the Islamic State. The episode also raises questions about ongoing U.S. cooperation in Syria with Russia, Assad’s primary backer in a civil war that increasingly has overlapped with the United States’ campaign against the Islamic State.

A senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity about the sensitive issue, described the episode as “worrisome.” The official added that “it’s striking how the Russians themselves have been quick to distance themselves” from what he described as an operation “under Syrian command and in response to Syrian directive.”

“I think [the Russians] realize just how damaging it could be to any further cooperation,” the official said.

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Source:: The Denver Post – News