From Comcast SportsNetLOS ANGELES (AP) -- Chipper Jones received a few modest gifts from teammates before taking the field on his 40th birthday and celebrated it the best way possible -- with a home run. Martin Prado wouldn't let it be wasted.Prado had two RBIs including a run-scoring triple in the ninth inning, and the Atlanta Braves beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-3 on Tuesday night."Martin Prado gave me my birthday present. That was the best one of the day," Jones said. "It's been a fun ride, and it's great to have my last birthday in the big leagues turn out the right way. I consider myself pretty lucky to be 40 years old and still playing -- in a lot more limited role, but playing nonetheless. I doubt if anybody really expects to be playing on their 40th birthday. I mean, as a kid, you'd like to think you're going to play forever."Unfortunately, as many miles and as many innings and as many games as I've got on these legs, it's coming down to the end. So it's bittersweet," Jones added. "I'm glad this is it, because my body's starting to let me know on a nightly basis that I'm 40. I'd love to see how it felt to be 31 again."Jones has homered on his birthday on four different occasions since coming up to the big leagues in 1993, including his 24th, 29th (twice) and 36th. He has played on his birthday 13 times, going 21 for 49, and the Braves are 11-2 in those games.Jones found about 30 messages on his cell phone when he awoke Tuesday morning, then grabbed a couple more hours sleep and saw another 30 messages waiting for him."I've got a lot a ton of friends out there, both inside and outside the game that thought enough to say happy birthday," he said. "I can't wait to get back home. I got a real cool message from my four boys this morning, and I miss them. Hopefully we won't get rained out tomorrow, because my wife has a rather elaborate birthday party planned for Thursday. And if we have to play Thursday, I'm not going to make it. So I'm crossing my fingers."Jones, playing in his 19th and final big league season, was 1 for 3 with a walk in what could have been his last game at Dodger Stadium if the predictions of rain for Wednesday's series prove accurate. After the third inning, the left field video board flashed the message: "Happy birthday Chipper. The Dodgers salute your remarkable career," while organist Nancy Bea Hefley played "Think Of Me" from the musical "Phantom of the Opera."The seven-time All-Star, whose 457 career homers are the third-most among switch-hitters behind Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray, hit a towering drive into the Atlanta bullpen in right field on Aaron Harang's first pitch of the fifth to put the Braves on the board. Jones is the fifth player to homer on his 40th birthday, along with Bob Thurman (1957), Joe Morgan (1983), Wade Boggs (1998) and Tony Phillips (1999)."He threw me a couple of off-speed pitches my first at-bat, and I thought he might challenge me in at some point that second at-bat," said Jones, who has 13 homers at Dodger Stadium. "I got one up and got out in front of it. You've really got to put a charge into one to hit it out of here at night."All three of my homers that I've hit this year have been really cool," Jones added. "I hit my first one in my first start in Houston with my parents in the stands, and the second one came in my home opener. And now this one. You always want to do something special on your birthday, and it doesn't get more special than that."Doing it at Dodger Stadium made the experience that much more significant for him."This place has always been special to me because I grew up a huge Dodger fan, so this was my Yankee Stadium," Jones said. "My father was from Vero Beach, where they used to train, so I can remember waking up in the mornings before elementary school, and the first thing I would do is turn on the news to see how the Dodgers did. I feel a little different about the Dodgers now than I did back then, obviously, but this is still a special place for me to play and it's still one of the most beautiful ballparks -- to this day."Tyler Pastornicky greeted Dodgers closer Javy Guerra (1-2) with a leadoff single in the ninth and advanced on a sacrifice by pinch-hitter Jack Wilson. Michael Bourn struck out, but Prado drove a 1-2 pitch to center field and over the head of two-time Gold Glove winner Matt Kemp, who caught up to it in the warning track but couldn't hold onto the ball."He's got pop and he drove the ball. I should have caught it," Kemp said. "I was very close. If it hits the glove, it's got to be caught. There are no excuses. You just have to turn the page and get em tomorrow."Eric O'Flaherty (1-0) pitched 1 1-3 hitless innings for the victory and Craig Kimbrel worked a scoreless ninth for his sixth save in as many attempts.The Braves tied it 2-all five batters after Jones' homer on a bases-loaded groundout by Prado, who has 11 RBIs.Juan Rivera gave Los Angeles a 2-0 lead in the first with a two-out homer against lefty Mike Minor that hooked around the left field pole. It made him the 20th player to homer into the Loge deck at Chavez Ravine and the eighth to do it with the Dodgers. The first was Frank Howard in Game 4 of the 1963 World Series against the Yankees' Whitey Ford.Notes: Rivera left the game with a strained left hamstring after getting an infield single off Minor's leg in the sixth. ... Los Angeles placed RHP Matt Guerrier on the 15-day DL, retroactive to April 19, because of tendinitis in his elbow and recalled LHP Michael Antonini from Triple-A Albuquerque. ... The Braves recalled RHP Cory Gearrin from Triple-A Gwinnett to fill the roster spot left vacant when RHP Jair Jurrjens was demoted to Gwinnett following his loss on Monday night.
The bubble is beginning to burst for some of the Cinderella teams out of the starting gate around the NHL. The Kings have lost four games in a row and look like the offense is again becoming a problem, the Rangers are back to losing after an extended winning streak, and both the Flyers and Stars have dropped three games in a row after decent starts to their seasons amid low expectations.
There are still a few other teams like the New Jersey Devils, Detroit Red Wings, Winnipeg Jets and Vegas Golden Knights, among others, that are bucking expectations and defying convention thus far. It will take a bit more sustained success before people are truly ready to buy in on them this season. Until that happens they remain a nice little story among the true contenders vying for league dominance.
Anyway, without further ado here are this week’s preseason power rankings:
1. Tampa Bay Lightning (regular season record: 15-2-2, rank last week: 2) – The Bolts are on another five-game winning streak, and continue to serve notice that they were the sorta new, sorta old sheriff in the Eastern Conference. First in the NHL in goals scored, second in goals against and second in power play is some pretty amazing performance.
2. St. Louis Blues (14-5-1, rank last week: 1) – Brayden Schenn and Jordan Schwartz are the top two scorers for a Blues team that’s fought their way to the top of the Central Division. While that’s a great story in St. Louis, it does raise questions about how long they can sustain that over the course of a full hockey season.
3. Winnipeg Jets (11-4-3, rank last week: 5) – Three wins in a row and one regulation loss in the last 10 games for a Jets team that seems to finally be getting it. Mark Schiefele has really become a difference-maker in Winnipeg.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs (13-7-0, rank last week: 6) – The Maple Leafs have won five games in a row without Auston Matthews, which is a pretty impressive feat for such a young group. It does appear like it could also be a season of streaks for a Toronto club that’s shown both extremes already this season.
5. New Jersey Devils (11-4-3, rank last week: 7) – The New Jersey home for wayward Bruins has been pretty good thus far with both Drew Stafford and Jimmy Hayes making the most of their next opportunity after varying degrees of success in Boston… very varying.
6. Los Angeles Kings (11-6-2, rank last week: 3) – The Kings have hit a bit of a wall with four losses in a row where they’ve scored a grand total of six goals while looking much more like last season’s bunch of Kings. Jonathan Quick will keep them in those games now that he’s healthy again, but you’re not going to win if you can’t score.
7. Columbus Blue Jackets (12-7-1, rank last week: 8) – The Blue Jackets have bounced back from four losses in a row to win three games in a row where they needed to grind it out with an on-his-game Sergei Bobrovsky. That’s pretty much how it’s going to go for Columbus.
8. Pittsburgh Penguins (11-7-3, rank last week: 4) – Phil Kessel is leading the Penguins in scoring and Sidney Crosby has been merely okay offensively (six goals in 21 games) with a minus-12 on the season. Has the whole world of the Penguins turned upside down or what?
9. Vegas Golden Knights (11-6-1, rank last week: 9) – The long goaltending nightmare is over for Vegas as it appears that Malcolm Subban is approaching a return to the lineup. Credit to the Golden Knights for holding things together while the injuries played out, and continuing to defy the odds of what they could do this season.
10. Nashville Predators (10-6-2, rank last week: 10) – The Predators are 5-1-1 in Music City and once again making that a tough place to play for opponents. Certainly the sight of PK Subban in a cowboy hat during pregame warm-ups is sign that the Predators players are fully buying into what’s going on in Nashville, and that makes them a very formidable opponent.
11. New York Islanders (10-6-2, rank last week: 11) – The Isles have won a couple of games in a row and appear to have hit their stride while slowly moving up the Metro Division ranks. That they’ve done with so-so seasons for Jordan Eberle and Andrew Ladd certainly says plenty about other guys stepping up.
12. Ottawa Senators (8-4-5, rank last week: 13) – Nobody has played fewer games in the NHL than the Senators, and they are just outside a playoff spot after adding Matt Duchene to their lineup. I’d say things are looking pretty good for Ottawa and where they’re set up at this point in the season.
13. San Jose Sharks (10-7-0, rank last week: 20) – The Sharks are the best defensive team in the NHL, and have the second-best penalty kill in the league this season. That’s certainly a change from the past for the Sharks, but they remain, as ever, in the hunt for the playoffs.
14. Detroit Red Wings (10-8-2, rank last week: 19) – It’s less than a week before Thanksgiving and the Red Wings are in a playoff spot. It’s a big question if they can sustain what they’ve built up this far and they do have three or four games on much of their Atlantic Division competition, but they are in a better spot than anybody could have imagined at this point.
15. Minnesota Wild (9-7-2, rank last week: 26) – The Wild have won four games in a row as Devan Dubnyk is starting to get his stuff together, and are once again in the mix in the Central Division as they seemingly always have been over the recent past.
16. Chicago Blackhawks (9-8-2, rank last week: 24) – The Blackhawks have been jolted back to life by rookie Alex DeBrincat pumping up the offense to support the longtime veteran core. They’ve won two of their last three games and scored 15 goals in those three games as well.
17. Calgary Flames (10-8-0, rank last week: 12) – The Flames have won five of their last seven games, but also gave up eight goals to the Red Wings in their last loss. Jaromir Jagr has been pretty okay since getting healthy for the Flames, so the legend keeps on growing.
18. Washington Capitals (10-9-1, rank last week: 18) – The Capitals are 24th in the NHL in goals against and Braden Holtby has been pretty ordinary for the Capitals this season. It sure feels like they’ve lost a little something defensively this season, which doesn’t bode well for their Cup chances.
19. Vancouver Canucks (9-8-2, rank last week: 15) – All three of their leading scorers are young, talented forwards, so at least the Canucks have that going for them…which is nice. But the Sedins have five goals and a combined 15 points in 38 games, and it appears the end may be nearing for the Swedish twins.
20. Colorado Avalanche (9-7-1, rank last week: 21) – It feels like Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon have both played much better since the Matt Duchene train left the station. Maybe that’s a coincidence, but it doesn’t feel like it for whatever reason.
21. Philadelphia Flyers (8-6-0, rank last week: 14) – The Flyers have scored a grand total of one goal in their last three games, which is also a three-game losing streak for the Broad Street Bullies. Who would have guessed that offense would be a major issue for this group?
22. Anaheim Ducks (8-7-3, rank last week: 17) – The Ducks have points in four of their last five games, and finally seem to be pulling things together a month into the season. This isn’t the same team that was a Western Conference powerhouse a couple of years ago, but they can still be a heavy, formidable foe on any given night.
23. New York Rangers (9-9-2, rank last week: 16) – The bad news for the Rangers is that the six-game winning streak is in the rearview mirror. The good news is that Rick Nash seems to have found his game, and is producing offense for a Blueshirts group that needs everything they can get.
24. Boston Bruins (7-7-4, rank last week: 23) – The Bruins, through injuries and major inexperience, are slowly sliding down into oblivion before Thanksgiving, and are going to need to find some things to hang their hat on if they want to survive the month of November.
25. Dallas Stars (9-9-1, rank last week: 22) – The Stars are 2-4-1 in the month of November, and have been outscored 24-7 in the losses this month. It really feels like there is a compete problem in Big ‘D’ where they shouldn’t be getting dominated like that from a talent standpoint.
26. Montreal Canadiens (8-10-2, rank last week: 25) – While it’s good that Charlie Lindgren has stepped up and been pretty good for the Habs in an emergency-type situation, it’s an absolute disaster that Carey Price is banged up again for Montreal. This is a season where everything that could go wrong pretty much has for the Habs.
27. Carolina Hurricanes (7-6-4, rank last week: 27) – The Hurricanes have taken seven of their last 10 points, but it’s not really making much of a dent in the Metro Division. The one truly encouraging sign has been some very good goaltending from Scott Darling and Cam Ward.
28. Edmonton Oilers (7-10-2, rank last week: 28) – The Oilers seemed like they might be pulling out of their early-season funk, but then lost four of their last five games to stick close to the Pacific Division basement. It’s been a rough start for Cam Talbot, and that’s been one of the big differences for the Oil.
29. Florida Panthers (7-9-2, rank last week: 30) – You have to wonder where the Panthers would be if they hadn’t brought in a player like Evgenii Dadonov, who has been one of the best offensive players on the team this year. That’s a nice win for Florida’s management group to get him back in the fold this season.
30. Buffalo Sabres (5-10-4, rank last week: 29) – So many sticks to break for Jack Eichel, so little time.
31. Arizona Coyotes (3-15-3, rank last week: 31) – The Coyotes have gone 3-5-2 in their last 10 games. That is considered a major roll for them, so they have to be getting pretty excited out in the desert.
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When you’re an NBA rookie or early on in your career, there’s so much to learn, especially when it comes to playing defense.
Despite having at least two players with a year or less experience in the starting lineup and at least three or four other rookies who see regular action, Boston’s top-ranked defense has been able to do the seemingly impossible – defend without fouling a lot.
Boston comes into tonight’s game against Atlanta averaging 19.8 fouls committed per game which is the ninth-lowest total in the league.
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Celtics guard Kyrie Irving has some ideas as to how the team has been able to defend without fouling a ton.
“Our length, being able to communicate on the fly, having a system that’s predicated on shrinking the floor, just being very active,” Irving said. “Obviously, we’re going to foul. But the times we don’t foul, we limit teams to some tough shots, some tough two’s or some tough contested threes; I feel we put ourselves in great position. And then when you have guards down there rebounding as well as bigs down there boxing out and staying active it makes all our jobs easier, all five connected out there. We understand the importance of valuing each possession.”
The qualities that Irving talks about make sense when you’re talking about the qualities of an elite team defensively.
But for the Celtics to have so much youth tossed into such prominent roles, it is unusual to see everything seemingly come together so quickly.
“They utilize their length appropriately,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “They’re both long for their positions; that helps. So, you’re not playing Jaylen at the 3 (small forward) as much, and Jayson (Tatum) at the four (power forward) as much. You’re playing them at the two (shooting guard) and three (small forward) a lot. So, they can use that length rather than try and have to battle.”
Irving points out there’s added incentive to play at a high level defensively without fouling.
“If you don’t, you’ll be on the bench,” Irving said. “Brad has made that very clear. If the effort isn’t being put out there, and you’re not paying attention and you’re not preparing the way all of us should be preparing, that goes from the head coach all the way down to the 15th guy, if you’re not preparing the way you should and not perfecting your craft outside the game and that’s being very diligent, understanding what we’re trying to do in strategy, understanding our system, why it works, and why we’re doing it, then why the hell would you expect to play? So, he made it very simple. All the guys understand that. We’re a young team, but what we’re trying to accomplish will take a lot of energy and effort and focus. They understand that at a very young point in the season.”