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Batum, Matthews lead Blazers over Wolves

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Batum, Matthews lead Blazers over Wolves

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews each made five 3s and scored 26 points to lead the Portland Trail Blazers over the injury-depleted Minnesota Timberwolves 102-97 on Saturday night.

The Blazers made a season-high 16 3-pointers and withstood a fourth-quarter rally by the Timberwolves to win for the 10th time in 13 games and finish their four-game road trip with a 3-1 record.

Nikola Pekovic led the Timberwolves with 21 points but left the game in the third quarter because of a left hip strain. Only hours earlier, Minnesota learned it lost star forward Kevin Love to a broken right hand for the second time this season when an MRI confirmed the injury.

The banged-up Timberwolves - who dressed only 10 players - also played without point guard Ricky Rubio, who sat out with back spasms.

Damian Lillard had 20 points for the Blazers.

The Blazers led by as many as 22 before Derrick Williams fueled a 26-8 run with 18 points in the fourth quarter. His two-handed dunk with 1:19 to play cut Portland's lead to 96-94. Williams rebounded a miss from Lillard on the ensuing possession, but J.J. Barea threw the ball out of bounds with 50 seconds left.

LaMarcus Aldridge followed the turnover with a 13-footer to make it 98-94. Williams appeared to score on a tip on the next possession, but the officials waved off the score saying he traveled.

Matthews and Batum each added a pair of free throws to seal the win.

NOTES: Batum has hit at least three 3-pointers in 15 games this season. ... Love re-fractured his third metacarpal bone in the hand during the third quarter Thursday night at Denver. The Wolves said they expect to know more about a timetable for his return after he is examined by a hand specialist in New York. ... Pekovic had his fifth game with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds this season ... The Blazers had not had a winning record on road trip of four games or longer since going 3-1 from Oct. 27-Nov. 2 in 2010.

4.19.18 Rick Horrow The Sports Professor talks with Joe Leccese, Chairman ProSkauer

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USA TODAY Sports

4.19.18 Rick Horrow The Sports Professor talks with Joe Leccese, Chairman ProSkauer

Rick Horrow The Sports Professor sits down for an exclusive interview with Joe Leccese -- and more from the $1 trillion-dollar business of sports in this week's 'Beyond The Scoreboard with Rick Horrow'

About the Guest: Joe Leccese is the Chairman of Proskauer. He is responsible for leading the Firm’s global operations across its 13 offices and co-heads of Proskauer’s renowned Sports Law Group.

By Rick Horrow

Podcast producer: Tanner Simkins

LISTEN HERE

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The Caps' penalty kill has been a major factor in the series turnaround

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USA TODAY Sports

The Caps' penalty kill has been a major factor in the series turnaround

For the Capitals to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets, one of the keys to the series was going to be the penalty kill. 

For the season, Columbus ranked only 25th in the league on the power play at 17.2-percent, but that number did not reflect the massive improvement the Blue Jackets made with their trade deadline acquisitions.

Since the trade deadline on Feb. 26, Columbus ranked seventh on the power play. The Caps were sixth with both teams converting 25.0-percent of the time.

Where Washington did have an edge, seemingly, was on the penalty kill. Unlike the power play, Columbus' penalty kill was consistently poor all season, finishing 27th in the NHL with a kill rate of only 76.2-percent. While not a strength by any means, the Caps were certainly better on the PK with a kill rate of 80.3-percent, good for 15th in the league.

With two power plays converting at the same rate, Washington had to be able to kill off more of the Blue Jackets' opportunities. They struggled to do that in Game 1 and Game 2.

The Caps were called for four penalties and gave up two power play goals in each of the first two games. Washington scored five power play goals in those games, but their advantage on special teams was mitigated by their inability to keep Columbus from converting. 

There are many reasons why the Caps were able to overcome the 0-2 series deficit and now sit just one win away from advancing to the second round. Chief among those reasons is the improved penalty kill. Since Game 2, Washington has not allowed a single power play goal. The PK has successfully killed off 13 straight penalties including five in Game 5.

"I think as a group, they've all stepped up," Barry Trotz said on a conference call with the media on Sunday. "I don't think I can single out anybody. They've all stepped up. The penalty kill is as good as the five guys that you have, your four and your goaltender. They've been very committed there."

In a series that has seen four out of five games go to overtime, it's not hard to recognize the impact even one goal can have on a game and, by extension, the series. Should the Caps go on to win the series, their ability to adjust their penalty kill to stop the Blue Jackets' suddenly potent power play will be one of the main reasons why.

Trotz would not go into specifics as to the adjustments the team made after Game 2, but did acknowledge the penalty kill has been a "major factor" in the Caps' turnaround this series.

But to finish the job, the penalty kill will have to continue adjusting.

"This is the time when we're still trying to tweak things," Trotz said. "They changed some things on their power play a little bit yesterday, so we'll look to maybe tweak a little bit with our PK."