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Heavy gold medal favorite USA continues Olympic hoops tourney vs. Australia

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Following two lopsided wins, Team USA could encounter something resembling resistance when they play Australia for top spot in Group A in Olympic men’s basketball on Wednesday.

Team USA, led by the Golden State Warriors’ Kevin Durant, has had no problem winning their first two games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil by an average of 50.5 points. On the Olympic men’s basketball gold medal board at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com, the Americans’ odds have come down to -2000 (wager $2000 to win $100).

Coming into the tournament, one concern from Team USA was a lack of three-point shooters. To wit, they shot only 38.8 percent on threes during their top lopsided wins. Durant, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and Jimmy Butler have thrived at attacking the basket, and their depth should almost certainly win the day.

However, Team USA is facing a 2-0 Australian team that is limiting opponents to 40 percent shooting and includes post defenders from the NBA in recent Dallas Mavericks acquisition Andrew Bogut and Detroit Pistons C Aron Baynes.

Still, the Americans are heavy 29-point betting chalk on the Rio Olympics odds for the game.

One element the Americans are hoping to develop during the tournament is their contributions from the guards. The likes of DeMar DeRozan, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson have taken a back seat to the forwards.

Australia came into the Olympics under the radar, but have won decisively against opponents from the deep FIBA Europe region, dispatching France (87-66) and Serbia (95-80). Matthew Dellavedova, who was with the Cleveland Cavaliers during their NBA title run, is averaging 11.5 assists, while the San Antonio Spurs’ Patty Mills is first in scoring at 23.5 points.

Team USA, through pre-Olympic play and the first two games in Rio, has stuck to pushing up the pace in order to wear out opponents with shorter benches. That increases the possibility of the total going over at the sportsbooks.

The nature of the FIBA game, where referees tolerate more physical play, also makes it difficult for an underdog to control the tempo. If both teams get into a good run of perimeter shooting, it could be a high-scoring contest.

The Americans’ next action is against Serbia on Friday, and it will conclude group play against France on Sunday. The gold medal game is on August 21.

Cavaliers, Warriors clear leaders on NBA Conference odds boards

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While oddsmakers have an expectation that the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors are on a collision course for a third consecutive NBA Finals clash, there is some interesting movement among the challengers.

Just more than a week out from the start of the playoffs, the Cavaliers are the -300 betting favorites on the Eastern Conference futures while the Warriors’ odds are -250 atop the Western Conference board at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

While LeBron James and the defending champion Cavaliers had a losing record (6-10 straight-up) in March, their victory against the Boston Celtics on Wednesday put them in a good position to finish first overall in the East and have home-court advantage for the first three rounds.

The Celtics (+425), led by PG Isaiah Thomas, draw in as the biggest challenger on the Eastern side. Boston is 20-10 SU over its last 30 games, slightly better than Cleveland’s 18-12 SU mark over the same number of games.

The Cavaliers clearly do have issues, particularly with tightening up their defensive play. An opponent could pounce early in the playoffs before James and Kyrie Irving find a groove.

Both the Washington Wizards (+900) and Toronto Raptors (+1200) are neck-and-neck to earn the No. 3 seed, which might mean playing Boston in the second round. The Wizards have great leadership from PG John Wall. The Raptors will have to rely on their defense – that’s why they got PF Serge Ibaka at the deadline – until PG Kyle Lowry, who’s just back from wrist surgery, is 100 percent.

On the Western Conference board, the Warriors’ odds are slightly better than the -333 they were listed at in late February. The absence of Kevin Durant (sprained MCL), who’s expected back just prior to the playoffs, has enabled SG Klay Thompson to rediscover his all-star form, while two-time MVP Steph Curry has also gone a hot streak.

Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs (+325) are seen as posing the biggest challenge to Golden State, as their price has come down from +500. The red-hot second half that MVP candidate James Harden and the Houston Rockets (+750) have put together has led to their odds dropping from +900.

Oddsmakers see the Western Conference as a three-team race, at most, with the Los Angeles Clippers (+2500) and Utah Jazz (+2500) each drawing very long odds on the NBA betting futures at the sportsbooks.

Archdiocese lets girls back on boys’ CYO hoop team after threats

Jessica Remo/NJ Advance Media via AP
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CLARK, N.J. (AP) — Two girls have been cleared to rejoin a boys’ Catholic youth basketball squad in New Jersey after church officials reversed an earlier decision that the fifth-grade team could not be coed.

Archdiocese of Newark Cardinal Joseph Tobin announced the change Wednesday.

The boys on the St. John’s team in Clark had decided to give up their season rather than play a game without their female teammates. The rest of their season was then forfeited.

The archdiocese had said that Catholic Youth Organization rules state that teams should be boys or girls only. However, NJ.com found that the league rules do not mention whether the teams in St. John’s division — the JV black league — can or cannot be coed.

Archdiocese spokesman Jim Goodness said Tobin believes that the team shouldn’t have been penalized for mistakes that adults responsible for following league rules might have made.

According to Goodness, Tobin asked CYO officials to “study the current league rules regarding participation and team makeup in all age groups” and reinstated the team’s 7-3 record.

Rob Martel, coach and father of one of the girls, fought back tears when he told the team that its season was going to continue and they would be going to the playoffs.

“This is all we ever wanted,” assistant coach Keisha Martel said. “This was never about being defiant or wanting to break, bend or change rules. It was about fairness for these 10 year olds, about finishing the season the way they started — together.”

Tobin said he wanted the children to play for the reasons CYO sports were established. “To provide a source of both recreation and reaffirmation of our Christian faith,” Tobin said.