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Bobcats face long road back to NBA relevance

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Bobcats face long road back to NBA relevance

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Michael Jordan's Bobcats have nowhere to go but up.

That's the glass-half-full approach the Bobcats will take this season after finishing with the worst winning percentage in NBA history last year.

The Bobcats were a woeful 7-59 (.106) and it's hard to imagine them being any worse.

Charlotte lost 20 games by 20 or more points under former head coach Paul Silas and finished the season with 23 straight losses, ironically the same number that once defined greatness and championships for Jordan the player.

The Bobcats were so non-competitive down the stretch last season that opposing teams regularly left their star players at home to rest when coming to Charlotte, knowing they wouldn't need their services to win. In fact, the Boston Celtics left their entire ``Big Three'' back in Beantown and still won.

Although Charlotte had by far the worst record in the league last year, they didn't land the No. 1 overall pick, losing out on the Anthony Davis sweepstakes to the New Orleans Hornets. But they're hoping small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the No. 2 pick, can develop into a franchise player.

The Bobcats have tried to wipe the slate clean.

They've added a new coach in Mike Dunlap, five new players to the roster and even changed their color scheme and shortened the name on the front of their news jerseys to read: Cats.

The team changed its motto, too - Tougher. Faster. Stronger.

Dunlap, a longshot hire who served as an assistant coach at St. John's last season, believes this team has the youth, energy and conditioning to give some NBA teams fits. What the Bobcats don't have in experience or talent he plans to make up for athleticism, conditioning and hustle.

Defensively, Dunlap said he wants to ``pressure the heck out of the ball.''

And on offense the goal is to push the ball up the court on fast breaks, and go to the rim and shoot 3-pointers in half court sets.

``I'm not a big on mid-range jump shots,'' Dunlap said.

Said point guard Kemba Walker: ``It'll be fast-paced with high energy and high intensity.''

Kidd-Gilchrist will work alongside a core of other young players that include guards Walker and Gerald Henderson, forward Bismack Biyombo and center Byron Mullens.

The team supplemented by adding guards Ramon Sessions and Ben Gordon and center Brendan Haywood in hopes of changing the losing culture in Charlotte.

``It's a new season for us,'' said Henderson, who led the Bobcats in scoring last year. ``That last year was a tough thing. It's something that you try to forget about. It'll always be there, but it's a new start.''

Walker is expected to split time at point guard with Sessions, while Henderson and Gordon will both see action at the No. 2 spot.

The vertically challenged Bobcats added the 7-foot Haywood in the middle and he'll split time with Mullens, a solid 3-point shooter with the smooth stroke who tends to struggle on defense. Biyombo, who has a ton of athleticism and talent but is still working on his offensive game, will share time with veteran Tyrus Thomas at power forward.

Kidd-Gilchrist is expected to start right away at small forward and judging by the preseason could have an immediate impact.

Dunlap doesn't believe last year's debacle will affect his team's confidence.

In fact, the Bobcats don't even talk about it anymore with the focus being completely on this season, which begins Nov. 2 at home against the Indiana Pacers.

``We have five new players,'' Dunlap said. ``That's over a third of your team that's new, so they don't have that memory. And second, we had some guys that were injured a lot last year so I don't think that memory is a scarred memory.''

As for the season, Dunlap said his expectations don't so much surround victories but rather developing a solid chemistry and learning the right way to play.

``Coming off a bad season as we did, you never know what may happen as a team,'' Dunlap said. ``But if we're no good this year, it ain't gonna be because we're not working hard.''

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3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Lightning

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USA TODAY Sports

3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Lightning

After a rough start, the Caps battled back to make a game of it against Tampa Bay, but ultimately fell 4-2 to the Lightning. Here's why.

The first period

To put it simply, this game was lost in the opening period. Washington was the better team for the second and third but they could not overcome the 3-0 lead they spotted the Lightning in the first. Beyond the goals, the Caps just did not play well. Even the simplest of plays looked difficult as Washington struggled to get the puck out of their own zone, gave up numerous turnovers and scoring chances and just looked overmatched. Braden Holtby also looked shaky allowing three goals on just eight shots. Usually he is able to cover up some of the mistakes the defense makes it front of him, but he was not there to bail the team out on Tuesday in what was a really rocky start.

RELATED: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS FROM CAPS-LIGHTNING

Taking a penalty 34 seconds into the game

Entering Tuesday’s game, Tampa Bay boasted the second best power play unit in the league. Playing a disciplined game is part of every game plan, but that is especially true against such a dominant unit. Giving up a penalty just 34 seconds into the game was not an ideal start. The call itself was debatable. Brett Connolly was called for interference when he knocked over Dan Girardi in the offensive zone. The puck was just behind Girardi as he had lost control of it in his skates. The sticking point here is that Girardi no longer had possession and Connolly could have played the puck instead of the player. Most referees would probably let that go with the puck so close, but Connolly was not so lucky. Whether it was a good call or not, the Caps found themselves down a man and down a goal soon after as Brayden Point scored the power play tally.

A missed opportunity from Kuznetsov on one end, a goal for Nikita Kucherov on the other

Even after spotting the Lightning a 3-0 lead, the Caps made a game of it. Lars Eller struck on the power play in the second period and Alex Ovechkin pulled Washington to within one with about nine minutes left to play. Just over a minute later, Evgeny Kuznetsov stole the puck away from Nikita Kucherov, the frontrunner for league MVP this season, at the Tampa blue line giving the Caps a short 2-on-1. Defenseman Andrej Sustr was textbook on the play forcing Kuznetsov as far wide as he could go while still covering the passing lane and Kuznetsov elected to shoot from the faceoff dot rather than attempt the pass to T.J. Oshie.Andrei Vasilevskiy made a routine blocker save to deny what looked like a great opportunity to tie the game. As always happens in hockey, a failed opportunity on one end led to an opportunity in the other direction. Less than a minute later, Kucherov made up for his mistake by scoring a breakaway goal to put the game out of reach at 4-2.

MORE CAPITALS: KEMPNY EXCITED TO MOVE FROM LAST PLACE CHICAGO TO FIRST PLACE WASHINGTON

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3 stars of the game: Lightning strike 3 times in the first to burn Caps

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USA TODAY Sports

3 stars of the game: Lightning strike 3 times in the first to burn Caps

The first 20 minutes of Tuesday's game did not go well for Washington. The Tampa Bay Lightning scored three times in the opening frame and rode that lead all the way to the 4-2 win.

With the game heading towards a repeat of their blowout loss to Chicago, the Capitals rebounded in the second period to make a game of it as Lars Eller scored on a power play. Alex Ovechkin pulled Washington within one in the third period, but Nikita Kucherov slammed the door shut with a breakaway goal to extend the lead back to 2.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Brayden Point: Tampa Bay won this game in the first period when they took a 3-0 lead. Point scored two of those three goals. His first came at the 2:30 mark of the game. He retreated to the blue line on the power play believing Jay Beagle would clear the puck. When Beagle turned the puck over, he recognized it and immediately crashed the net, taking a Ryan Callahan pass in the slot and shooting it through the five-hole of Braden Holtby. On his second goal, Anton Stralman saw an opportunity on the Caps’ line change and passed the puck up to Point at the blue line. Point turned on the jets to get behind the defense and went five-hole again on Holtby to make the score 3-0.

2. Alex Ovechkin: After the first period, Washington slowly took this game over for much of the remaining 40 minutes. Ovechkin was a big part of that as he totaled an incredible 19 shot attempts for the game. Nine of those shots were on goal and he found the back of the net in the third period for career goal No. 594.

3. Tom Wilson: Through the first period, the Caps looked well on their way to a repeat of the 7-1 debacle they suffered Saturday in Chicago. They had nothing going in this game until Wilson drew a trip from Vladislav Namestnikov in the second period. Eller would score on the resulting power play giving Washington some much-needed life. The Namestnikov penalty was the 29th drawn penalty of the season for Wilson, which moves him into a tie with Matthew Tkachuk for the most drawn penalties in the NHL.