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In dead of winter, baseball right around corner

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In dead of winter, baseball right around corner

ATLANTA (AP) Play ball!

On a frosty winter day, the Atlanta Braves started getting ready for the rites of spring - tossing around baseballs and jumping into the batting cage to take a few swings at Turner Field.

It may seem hard to believe, but spring training is just a few weeks away.

Among those turning out for the informal workouts Tuesday with temperatures in the low 40s: closer Craig Kimbrel, slugger Jason Heyward and recovering starter Brandon Beachy, who is coming off major elbow surgery but hopes to be ready by June.

As with most teams this time of year, there's plenty of optimism. The Braves will have to make do without longtime star Chipper Jones, who retired, but they're looking forward to adding free-agent signee B.J. Upton to the lineup.

``The sky's the limit for us,'' said Heyward, who seems poised to become the Braves' biggest star now that Jones is gone. ``We feel like it's set up pretty well for us.''

Of course, it was a bit strange to see that empty locker on the other side of the room, the spot where Jones held court in the later years of a nearly two-decade-long career.

``We've been preparing for this day as much as anyone could,'' Heyward said, glancing in that direction. ``But it will feel different. For me, being from Georgia, ever since I've been in Georgia, No. 10 has been on the field for the Braves. That's going to be a different feeling for me.''

But, he added, ``Good things do come to an end. I'm just glad he was able to go out on his own terms.''

Kimbrel had a hectic offseason, getting married the first of December and honeymooning in the Dominican Republic.

``We got back in time for Christmas and New Year's,'' he said, ``and now it's baseball season.''

The right-hander will try to follow up one of the most dominant seasons ever by a closer, becoming the first pitcher in baseball history to strike out more than half the batters he faced (116 out of 231).

Kimbrel also is getting ready to play for his country for the first time. He was selected, along with teammate Kris Medlen, to pitch for the U.S. at the World Baseball Classic in March.

``I'm very excited,'' Kimbrel said. ``It doesn't happen too often, and this is my chance to do it. I'm going to do my best and try to help Team USA win.''

Kimbrel and Medlen aren't the only Atlanta players who'll be suiting up in the WBC. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons will play for the Netherlands, while third baseman Martin Prado is part of the Venezuelan roster.

Those four will have to leave Atlanta's camp in the middle of spring training, but general manager Frank Wren said he would never discourage a player from representing his country unless there was some sort of injury concern. In fact, he thinks the experience might actually help someone such as Kimbrel, who wasn't as sharp as he wanted to be at the start of last season.

Heyward passed on a chance to play for the U.S. team, however, feeling it was better to stay with the Braves throughout the spring.

``He sees the long-range benefit of being in our camp,'' Wren said. ``He feels like working consistently with our guys will help him during the season.''

Heyward was a rookie star in 2010, homering in his first big league at-bat and drawing praise as the future of baseball from no less than Hank Aaron. After struggling through injuries and mechanical problems in his sophomore season, he bounced back nicely last year - 27 homers, 82 RBIs and 21 stolen bases.

He feels his career is back on track.

``The biggest thing that's different is I don't feel like I'm searching for anything,'' he said. ``Baseball is a feel game. You need to know what you're looking for. You need to have the right feel for how your swing is broken down: timing, tempo, just things as simple as your stance. I feel like all those things I have now.''

Beachy is taking a different approach this spring, since he's still in the middle of a yearlong recuperation from reconstructive surgery on his right elbow.

For him, the normal routine of spring training won't come until a couple of months into the season.

``I'm not too thrilled about that,'' said Beachy, who was the Braves' most effective starter before he went down. ``I want to feel part of the normal routine as soon as possible.''

For everyone else, it will get here soon enough.

Sure, the Super Bowl is still more than a week away. But the Braves' pitchers and catchers will be reporting to camp in Florida on Feb. 11.

Yep, it's almost time to play ball.

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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Game 58: Capitals at Blackhawks Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

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USA TODAY Sports

Game 58: Capitals at Blackhawks Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Chicago Blackhawks

Where: United Center, Chicago, Ill.

When: 8:30 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Blackhawks will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Blackhawks game on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

You can also stream the game online with no cable TV subscription on fuboTV (try for free!).

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-BLACKHAWKS GAME?

The Capitals (33-17-7) take on the Blackhawks (24-26-8) Saturday, February 17 at 8:30 p.m. ET in Chicago.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-BLACKHAWKS GAME ON?

The Capitals-Blackhawks game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage kicks off with Capitals FaceOff at 7:30 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 8:00 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington for Caps Extra following the game, Caps Overtime at 11:30 p.m. and Caps in 30 at 12:30 a.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

7:30 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
8:00 p.m. — Caps GameTime
8:30 p.m. — Capitals at Blackhawks
11:00 p.m. — Caps Extra
11:30 p.m. — Caps Overtime
12:30 a.m. — Caps in 30

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTED LINES FOR THE CAPITALS-BLACKHAWKS GAME?

Here are the projected lines for the Caps-Blackhawks game:

Forwards
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Alex Chiasson - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie
Brett Connolly - Lars Eller - Andre Burakovsky
Chandler Stephenson - Jay Beagle - Devante Smith-Pelly

Defensemen
Christian Djoos - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Madison Bowey

Braden Holtby starts with Philipp Grubauer as backup

Scratches: Jakub Vrana, Taylor Chorney

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-BLACKHAWKS GAME?

The Capitals-Blackhawks game, as well as Caps GameTime and Caps Extra, is available to stream live here through NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and is available to authenticated NBC Sports Washington subscribers on desktops, tablets, mobile devices and connected TVs anywhere in the United States.

The game is also available to stream, along with all the pregame and postgame shows, on fuboTV (try for free).

CAPITALS-BLACKHAWKS OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.

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2018 NBA All-Star Saturday night: TV and live stream info, things to watch for dunk contest, three-point contest

2018 NBA All-Star Saturday night: TV and live stream info, things to watch for dunk contest, three-point contest

The 2018 NBA All-Star Saturday Night is here with the three-point contest, dunk contest and skills competition set for Los Angeles.

Here is all you need to know: TV and live stream info, tip-off time, plus three things to watch:

2018 NBA ALL-STAR SATURDAY NIGHT

Where: Staples Center
Tip-off: 8 p.m.
TV: TNT
Online with no cable TV: fuboTV (try for free)

PODCAST: ALL-STAR WEEKEND PREVIEW, WIZARDS AT THE BREAK 

Skills competition

Participants: Lou Williams, Clippers; Jamal Murray, Nuggets; Al Horford, Celtics; Spencer Dinwiddie, Nets; Joel Embiid, Sixers; Buddy Hield, Kings; Lauri Markkanen, Bulls; Andre Drummond, Pistons

What to know: This year's crop has a fascinating mix of guards and big men and don't sleep on the seven-footers. Embiid in particular has a unique skillset for his size. Still, it's tough to beat the guards. Watch out for Dinwiddie, who is the best passer of the bunch.

RELATED: BETTING ODDS FOR DUNK CONTEST, THREE-POINT CONTEST

Three-point contest

Participants: Klay Thompson, Warriors; Eric Gordon, Rockets; Devin Booker, Suns; Paul George, Thunder; Wayne Ellington, Heat; Bradley Beal, Wizards; Kyle Lowry, Raptors; Tobias Harris, Clippers

What to know: Thompson and Gordon enter the contest as past champions, as Thompson won it in 2016 and Gordon took it home last year. Thompson has the best three-point percentage among the group and is the favorite, but watch out for Beal, a past runner-up, and George who has the second best percentage. Also, Booker is one of the game's best young players and has a very smooth stroke from three.

RELATED: WIZARDS/BULLETS HISTORY ON ALL-STAR SATURDAY NIGHT

Dunk contest

Participants: Dennis Smith Jr.; Mavericks; Donovan Mitchell, Jazz; Larry Nance Jr., Cavaliers; Victor Oladipo, Pacers

What to know: This is all about the rookies, Smith and Mitchell, who most are predicting to win. Oladipo has been in the contest before, but didn't win. He's also the only All-Star of the bunch. Nance is the only guy who isn't a guard and his father won it back in 1984. It will be interesting to see if he does some sort of nod to his old man, now 34 years later.

RELATED: LATEST NBA POWER RANKINGS