Saturday Sports: SheBelieves Cup, Enes Kanter NPR's Tom Goldman discusses the sports stories that grabbed his attention this week - including the SheBelieves Cup.
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Saturday Sports: SheBelieves Cup, Enes Kanter

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Saturday Sports: SheBelieves Cup, Enes Kanter

Saturday Sports: SheBelieves Cup, Enes Kanter

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now a sober, contemplative look at sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: The U.S. women's soccer team takes on England today - no Brexit once they get on the field. And the Portland Trail Blazers are the latest to light up the NBA. NPR's Tom Goldman joins us. Morning, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: The SheBelieves Cup is underway - U.S. women's national team plays England today in Nashville. Earlier this week, team USA opened the cup. They had a 2-2 tie against Japan. England beat Brazil 2-1. I know, Tom, this is a sensitive topic in your family, but is Enguland (ph) favored? And notice I pronounced that with a U in the middle.

GOLDMAN: Is that how I'm supposed to pronounce that?

SIMON: I believe so, yes.

GOLDMAN: Well, done from now on. Yeah. In answer to your question, I don't think any team playing the top-ranked U.S. is the favorite going in. But England is sitting atop the SheBelieves Cup standings. And Phil Neville, the English coach, is sounding like he wants the Lionesses, as they are called, to act like they're the favorites. He wants his team to emulate the swagger of the U.S. And that U.S. swagger is because, Scott...

SIMON: Rrr (ph).

GOLDMAN: ...Once again, it is a very - roar - it is a very talented American team, especially on offense. Now, defense needs to shore things up before the World Cup, which is coming up - just a little over three months away. In that draw against Japan that you mentioned, the U.S. gave up the lead twice due to some defensive miscues. And U.S. coach Jill Ellis says it's critical the back line and the goalkeeper start building cohesion. We'll look to see if they make strides today.

SIMON: NBA - the Portland Trail Blazers lost to the Toronto Raptors by just two points last night at the last second in Toronto. And that left Portland fans crying in their Willamette Valley pinot noirs.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter).

SIMON: Portland center Enes Kanter has been on this show. He's welcome back any time. He couldn't go to Canada because he's an outspoken critic of the repressive regime in his native Turkey. He could have made a two-point difference, right?

GOLDMAN: You know, Portland fans like to think so, and they may have a case. In his four games since joining the Blazers from the Knicks - lucky him - Kanter has averaged nearly 13 points and seven rebounds a game as a backup center. It might have helped but not to be. Kanter couldn't play because he says outside the sanctuary of the U.S., he's worried that he could be harmed by Turkish agents - which he told you in January - or else nabbed due to what's called a red notice, which Interpol uses to locate and arrest a person pending extradition. After the game, Kanter tweeted (reading) man, freaking hate that #DictatorErdogan.

Guaranteed a lot of Blazer fans feeling the same way. Although, there probably are better reasons to feel that way beyond basketball.

SIMON: Beyond - right. Beyond...

GOLDMAN: Yeah (laughter).

SIMON: ...Basketball. The Trail Blazers are on a five-game winning streak. Where did this come from?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Well, Kanter's been a big part of this post All-Star Game surge that's starting to turn NBA heads toward the remote Pacific Northwest with its very nice red wines. The knock on Portland has been if you stop its great guards, four-time All-Star Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, you stop the Blazers. But suddenly with Kanter and starting center Jusuf Nurkic of Bosnia and others on the team playing well, Portland's become less predictable and tougher to handle. Now, no one's talking championship, Scott, as long as Golden State walks the Earth. But Portland could be tougher in the playoffs.

SIMON: And it's - this league is a team in Portland that looks like it will stay together for a while.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, it does. It's a small market with a very loyal fan base in Portland. And Damian Lillard is the team's leader. And he has endeared himself even more with his recent comments about being happy in Portland and not thinking about leaving for a super team. You know, that's been the rage in the NBA in recent years. The speculation continues about which other stars will join LeBron in LA to form a super team, you know, that can challenge Golden State. But there are players, like Lillard or Bradley Beal in Washington, Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City, who've stayed committed to their non-championship winning teams. And the fans seem to love them even more for it.

SIMON: Bryce Harper, $330 million to join the Phillies - good idea?

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) Anytime you signed a six-time All-Star, yeah. That's a good idea. I'd say so.

SIMON: It's not a clown question, bro?

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: That's a Bryce Harper quote. NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

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