Column: New coach, but Lakers still Kobe's team


Column: New coach, but Lakers still Kobe's team

Right after Kobe Bryant made every one of his first five shots, you knew the Lakers weren't going to let new coach Mike D'Antoni lose his debut.

As it turned out, just enough good things happened after that to produce Tuesday night's 95-90 win over the visiting Brooklyn Nets. The Lakers shot the ball well enough from the floor for most of the game, but managed all of three baskets in the final period, and didn't get the first until 4:33 remained. They weren't much better beyond the 3-point arc for most of the game and (6 of 21) and the free-throw shooting was a disaster (19 of 37), owing mostly to Dwight Howard's miserable 7-of-19 performance. Once the Nets figured out the Lakers' new big man was having even more problems than his career free-throw 60-percent mark would suggest, they began fouling him every time his teammates crossed half court with the ball.

``I don't know who's in charge of free throw shooting. Wait until I find out,'' D'Antoni joked afterward. ``It happens some nights. ... They started hacking Dwight and he made one of two (free throws) a couple of times, so that's one point per possession. That's pretty good basketball, especially down the stretch. So it's fine. If they want to do that, that's great. I got no problem.''

On the contrary. The Lakers looked a lot like they did through both the 1-4 start that got his predecessor, Mike Brown, fired, and the 4-1 run under interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff in between. The games always come down to how invested Bryant is, and on this night at least, that was plenty. Often drawing double-teams, but stubbornly shooting anyway, he scored six of his 25 points in the final period, including four free throws in the final 17 seconds.

Asked to describe what's been a brief but eventful season so far, Bryant replied, ``I would say it's been weird, but in Los Angeles, there's no such thing. If you've ever been down to Venice Beach, you know what I'm talking about.

``It's unfortunate every time you see a coach lose his job,'' he added, turning serious for a moment. ``It's always tough.''

D'Antoni has never been in charge of a team this good, and things could get tough for him in a hurry if the Lakers don't start winning consistently and banking style points in the bargain. His recent knee surgery kept him off the sideline until now, but he's run a couple of practices already and the ball movement and offensive flow usually associated with D'Antoni-coached teams was not much in evidence Tuesday. Howard got his points and rebounds - 23 and 15, respectively - and both Pau Gasol and World Metta Peace contributed 17 points. But Los Angeles got clobbered in fast-break points and routinely settled for long- and mid-range jump shots. What saved them was a surprisingly strong defensive effort, especially from the bench players starting the fourth quarter, and the Nets' cold-shooting stretch at the end, missing five of their last six.

If any of that bothered D'Antoni, he wasn't about to let on. He understands he's at the front end of a process that should become considerably easier once he gets point guard Steve Nash back from injury. But even that didn't entirely explain his good mood.

``You've got 15 minutes before the Vicodin wears off,'' is how D'Antoni began his postgame news conference.

You could count on one hand the number of times D'Antoni has coached a team good enough to win with less than their best stuff, but he knows he's got one of those now. Not quite as good as the U.S. Olympic team that took home the gold last summer, though Bryant and Howard were both part of it.

``With this team, there's no reason not to win every game. That's our goal,'' he said. ``It's not, `Let's get two out of three.' We can win every game we play. ... I feel like we're the best team in the league. We've got the most talent, so they can do what they want. We've just got to keep perfecting things.''

Until they get a lot closer, D'Antoni is going to keep leaning on Bryant and let him continue running the team anyway he wants. The Lakers got Howard and Nash in the offseason to take some of the load off Bryant who, considering how many minutes he's already logged, might be the oldest 34-year-old the NBA has ever seen. But Brown couldn't figure out how to ease that burden and considering D'Antoni is on the front end of what already feels like a long season in LA, he's going to have to do his learning on the job in a hurry.

``Obviously, they haven't seen me coach and they should be scared,'' D'Antoni said. ``They should be real scared. It should make them play harder.''


Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at) and follow him at

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Caps prospect watch: Signing season?


Caps prospect watch: Signing season?

The 2018 NCAA Hockey Tournament bracket has been announced and only one Capitals prospect, Brian Pinho, is still in the running.

Providence College was selected as the No. 2 seed in the East Regional and will play No. 3 Clarkson in the first round on Friday, March 23 on ESPNU. The winner will play the winner of Notre Dame-Michigan Tech on Saturday with a chance to advance to the Frozen Four.

The college season is over for the rest of the Capitals' college prospects which begs the question, will any of them sign an entry-level deal with Washington?

In the spring when seasons end for colleges, junior leagues and European leagues, we see a flurry of signings across the NHL as teams sign their prospects and young free agents.

Among the Caps' college prospects, the most likely candidate to sign would be Shane Gersich. Gersich just wrapped up this third season at the University of North Dakota, finishing second on the team in goals (13) and tied for third in points (29). The Capitals will certainly make a push to sign him considering his talent and because if he returns to college for a fourth year, he stands to become a free agent on Aug. 15, 2019.

Brad Elliott Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald reported Wednesday that North Dakota was still awaiting Gersich's decision on whether he planned to return to college.

Quinnipiac defenseman Chase Priskie is in a similar situation, but it he has decided to head back to school for another season.

“That wasn’t a season I’d want to leave on,” Priskie told the New Haven Register. “When I came here as a freshman I saw our senior class, Garteig, St. Denis, Soren Jonzzon, and they left such a legacy that guys still talk about them. Same for Sam Anas and Devon Toews. They were all such great players and some of the best people for our program. When I leave, I want to be talked about like they are.”


Other prospect notes:

  • For Pinho, now a senior at Providence, this marks an opportunity for him to finish his college career the same way he began, with a national championship. “I don’t think I realized at the time how hard it is just to get back to the tournament,” Pinho told the New Haven Register. “So that’s something we older guys have been telling the younger guys. You never know when you’re going to be back and you have to make the most of it when you’re there.” (You can read the full feature on Pinho here)
  • The end of the season may suddenly be near for goalie prospect Ilya Samsonov. Metallurg Magnitogorsk finds itself down 3-1 in its series with Ak Bars in the KHL playoffs meaning their season could be over as early as Friday. Of course, the big news to watch after that is whether or not Samsonov would come to North America. If he does, he would most likely go to Hershey to play for the Bears. With only 10 games remaining on Hershey's schedule, however, the sooner Samsonov's team is ousted from the playoffs, the better. At least from a Washington perspective.
  • All three of Washington's WHL prospects have reached the WHL playoffs. Moose Jaw (Dmitriy Zaitsev) finished with the best record in the league and will play Prince Albert in the first round. Swift Current (Beck Malenstyn) finished second in the East Division behind Moose Jaw and will play Regina. Everett (Garrett Pilon) won the U.S. Division and earned the top seed in the Western Conference. They will play Seattle in the first round.
  • Dmitriy Zaitsev remains out after taking an illegal hit last week. He did not play in either of Moose Jaw's final regular season games, but was a full participant in practice on Wednesday.
  • Adam Carlson has found his groove in Kansas City. Playing for the Mavericks of the ECHL, he won each of his two starts this past week allowing only one goal on 43 shots. He was named the 2nd star of the game for both games.
  • Madison Bowey recorded an assist on Friday and two more for Hershey on Saturday for three over the weekend in his first week back with the Bears. Bowey has spent the majority of the season with the Caps, but the additions of Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek at the trade deadline meant there were just too many bodies up in Washington and not enough playing time to go around. As Bowey is waiver exempt, he became the odd-man out and was sent to the AHL. It would not be surprising to see him recalled by Washington when the NHL playoffs begin.
  • Defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler brought his goal total up to five for the season with two goals against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Monday. The Bears really wanted to emphasize his offensive game this season to see if Siegenthaler could be developed into a two-way player. His strength is definitely is on the defensive end of the ice, but he will be a more versatile player if he can also be a threat offensively as well. You can see the highlights of Siegenthaler's two-goal game here:

  • Forward Hampus Gustafsson was recalled to Hershey last week and did not wait long to make an impact. He scored his first career AHL goal on Friday. He also added an assist making that game his first career multi-point game as well.
  • Tyler Lewington was suspended two games by the AHL for a punch he delivered to Bridgeport's Scott Eansor in Friday's game.

Who are the Caps' top 10 prospects? Find out here in this week's updated rankings 

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Free agency update: What happens next for the Redskins on the defensive line?


Free agency update: What happens next for the Redskins on the defensive line?

The Redskins sure hosted a lot of free agent defensive line visits in the second week of free agency, but so far, no signed contracts. 

Johnathan Hankins came to Ashburn. Sylvester Williams came to Ashburn. Pernell McPhee came to Ashburn. All three left without a done deal, and now for Redskins fans, the question becomes not about when a deal will get done, but if any deals will happen.

Actually, one deal did happen. According to a report, Williams has signed with the Lions. 

Since visiting the Redskins on Monday, Hankins also took a trip to see the Lions. McPhee, who was offered a contract by the Redskins, has since taken a trip to visit the Falcons. 


Keep in mind too, Washington expressed interest in nose tackle Bennie Logan last offseason, and the 6-foot-2, 309 lb., former Chief is again on the market. A visit from Logan would surprise nobody, though it hasn't been reported yet. 

Mother Nature might also be an impediment for the Redskins. A March snowstorm shut the D.C. region down on Wednesday, which could have limited potential free agent visits.

What's clear is between Hankins, McPhee and Williams this week, in addition to Muhammad Wilkerson and Benson Mayowa last week, the Redskins are obviously looking to upgrade their defensive line. Combine that with a contract restructure for incumbent Terrell McClain, and Washington has the flexibility to improve on last season's NFL-worst run defense. 

That doesn't mean, however, the Redskins will absolutely sign one of the above mentioned players. And it doesn't mean outside linebacker Junior Gallete won't return to the Redskins either. 

Many fans wonder if a McPhee signing means the Redskins would move on from Galette. It might, but that's no sure thing. 

Washington went into the 2017 season with five outside linebackers: Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith, Galette, Ryan Anderson and Chris Carter. Right now, the 'Skins only have Kerrigan, Smith and Anderson under contract. The team needs to add at least one OLB, but likely two.

McPhee also carries about 20 extra pounds on his frame than Galette, giving the former Bear and Raven more flexibility to play against the run. Galette is a speed, leverage and moves player, focused on getting to the quarterback. He's capable against the run, but in the same way a sports car shouldn't carry a snow plow, Galette should be used to pressure QBs. 

Point being: McPhee and Galette could both make sense for the Redskins, if the team can work out the cash. 

Money usually matters the most in free agency, and it's clear the Redskins haven't made the type of offers that any of these players felt compelled to immediately sign. Deals could still happen though. Hankins didn't sign last offseason until April and Galette seems to thank Redskins fans via social media with relative frequency. 

Washington also had some success with the patient approach to free agency. The team was able to keep Zach Brown, though it took some nervous days of allowing the tackling machine linebacker to test the free agent market. With that win in hand, don't expect the Redskins brass to change their philosophy. 

Until further notice, it's hurry up and wait season in Ashburn.

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