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Dwight Howard out vs Wolves with shoulder injury

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Dwight Howard out vs Wolves with shoulder injury

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Dwight Howard is sidelined again with an ailing shoulder and disgruntled Pau Gasol is back in the Los Angeles Lakers' starting lineup, where he believes he should have been all along.

Howard was scratched from Friday night's game at Minnesota with a sore right shoulder, and he returned to Los Angeles to receive platelet-rich plasma treatments. It's the same injury that kept Howard out of three games in January.

The All-Star center is day to day and planned to rejoin the Lakers in Detroit on Sunday. For a team struggling to scratch back into the Western Conference playoff race, it's the last thing Los Angeles needed.

``We got ourselves in this hole and we're the only ones that can get us out,'' coach Mike D'Antoni said. ``There's going to be some bumps along the way and this is a big one. But we have enough guys where we can win games and we have to do that.''

Howard's arrival from Orlando before the season was hailed as a return to championship contention for a Lakers team that was aging with Kobe Bryant and Gasol still the focal points. But Howard hasn't been his overpowering self very often this season. He was slowed early on while recovering from a back injury that occurred last season and is now hampered by a torn labrum that isn't going away anytime soon.

``It's always going to be there,'' D'Antoni said. ``Even if we shut him down for two months, it's still going to be there. Once he gets hit, it's going to hurt. It's a pain thing.''

Howard is still averaging 16.5 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game, but his level of intimidation and athleticism in the paint is not the same.

And the Lakers haven't been the same, either. They entered Friday night's game at 20-26, 10th in the Western Conference, and fresh off a loss to the lowly Suns.

The air of invincibility is not there, and Gasol's waning production is a big part of that. One of the most gifted post players of the last decade has been marginalized since D'Antoni replaced the fired Mike Brown, a process that culminated with Gasol being moved to a reserve role for the first time in his career.

Usually measured and level-headed in his public remarks, Gasol has not hidden his disappointment with D'Antoni's decision.

``Mike's been trying to get his philosophy through us and try to get our team to do it,'' Gasol said Friday. ``At the same time our personnel is a little different than probably what would fit best for that kind of system. It's a work in progress. We're all trying to get a feel for each other. We're all trying to figure things out. We're all trying to win. At the same time, it's been a struggle.''

Gasol is averaging a career-low 12.8 points while shooting a career-worst 44.8 percent. He's been bothered by tendinitis in his knees, bursitis in his left elbow and a concussion.

D'Antoni has been trying to diffuse the situation with his trademark tongue-in-cheek humor.

``I know he wants to start. I've just kind of got to coach the team the way I think is better,'' D'Antoni said. ``It's not a personality conflict. It's not a dance contest. I like him. My dance card's open.''

D'Antoni has been using Earl Clark as the starting power forward alongside Howard. He said he likes how the Lakers start with a smaller lineup.

``I still consider myself one of the best out there,'' Gasol said. ``It's a game that you can't be too self-centered and selfish. You have to put team first and have to make it work somehow. That's what we're trying to do. We're trying to make it work and I try not to be a negative influence at all.''

Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio defended his fellow Spaniard on Thursday, joking that if the Lakers don't want Gasol, the Wolves would take him. D'Antoni fired back, saying when Rubio coaches a team he can make those decisions. And Bryant took it a step further when asked about some of the criticism Minnesota All-Star Kevin Love has received this season.

``You can send him our way,'' he said.

Asked what he can do to keep Gasol from letting the disappointment affect his play, D'Antoni cracked: ``Pay him $19 million. Y'all figure it out. That should help. I think it's fine. He wants to play. I've got it. And he's going to play. He's always going to be in there in the end of big games.''

For one night at least, it wasn't an issue. Gasol was in the starting lineup and Bryant said it was imperative the Lakers figure out a way to get him back to being a featured part of the offense.

``We haven't used him to his full potential, everybody knows that,'' Bryant said. ``That's something we're trying to figure out and something we'll have to do a much better job at if we want to reach our full potential as a team. We have to use him more.''

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Follow Jon Krawczynski on Twitter:http://twitter.com/APKrawczynski

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Michal Kempny already promoted to top-four at Sunday's practice

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USA TODAY Sports

Michal Kempny already promoted to top-four at Sunday's practice

After two games, it looks like Michal Kempny is already moving up in the lineup.

At Sunday’s practice, Kempny played on the team's second defensive pairing, lining up on the left of John Carlson. Previously, the Czech defenseman had been playing on the right of Brooks Orpik. The move to the left allows him to play on his natural side as he is a left-handed shot.

Here are the pairs from Sunday’s practice:

Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen
Michal Kempny – John Carlson
Brooks Orpik – Christian Djoos
Jakub Jerabek – Madison Bowey

Acquired on Monday from the Chicago Blackhawks, Kempny has played in two games for the Capitals and has received glowing reviews thus far.

“He's a really good pro, that's what sticks out,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “He takes care of himself, he works at his game off the ice and with the guys, he has fit in very well.”

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“I've gotten to play a little bit with [Kempny] the last couple games,” Brooks Orpik said. “I think he's a guy that, he moves pretty well and he moves the puck pretty well and likes to keep things pretty simple. He's very consistent and predictable so he's very easy to play with.”

When the Capitals first acquired Kempny, it seemed like the best fit for him would be alongside Carlson. It’s a natural fit with Kempny being a left-shot and Carlson a righty. It also bumps down Christian Djoos to a third-pair role which is preferable to having a rookie in the top-four come the playoffs.

Should Kempny play well with Carlson, that would likely solidify Washington’s top two pairs. The Orlov-Niskanen pair was not going to be changed and Carlson was going to be on the second pair. The only question was who would ultimately play with him in the postseason?

The third pair, however, remains a work in progress.

The Caps will have to wait at least another day for the debut of their second recent acquisition as Jakub Jerabek cannot yet play due to visa issues and will miss Monday's game, reports Isabelle Khurshudyan.

Considering the issues Washington has had on defense, they would not have brought in another defenseman just to be a healthy scratch. He will get his shot to earn a spot in the lineup.

With two new defensemen in tow, obviously the team will need to experiment over the next few days and weeks to find the right combinations.

“We're going to have to probably spend at least the next 10 to 12 games doing that and then we'll have to sort of settle in,” Trotz said. “With eight defenseman, you sort of want to see which guys you’re going to play and who to play as partners and sort of a little bit of ranking. If someone goes down, who's filling that extra role?”

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2018 Big South Tournament Bracket, How to watch, Dates, Preview, Location

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2018 Big South Tournament Bracket, How to watch, Dates, Preview, Location

The Big South conference had a surprising start to their league play this year with preseason favorites UNC-Asheville and Winthrop losing two of their first three games.  Since, things have settled down in the Big South with those two squads separating themselves from the pack late in the season.

This 2017-18 season, the Big South is a single bid conference but does have opportunities to get a couple of teams into the NIT. Depending on how this tournament plays out, there may be two or three teams in the second biggest tournament in the country.

READ MORE: NCAA TOURNAMENT BUBBLE WATCH

Like always the tournament will be hosted at multiple sites. The first round will be on campus-sites with the No.7 and No. 8 teams hosting their respective games. From there, the remaining teams will head to Asheville, NC for two rounds as the Bulldogs earned the No. 1 seed. The highest remaining team will then host the championship game.

Home-court advantage will clearly be a factor for which ever team hosts, but it has also been a theme of the Big South. Combined, the entire conference is 88-38 at their home court. Only Liberty has a winning record on the road at 5-4. The host of the quarterfinals and semifinals, UNC-Asheville, is 13-1 at Kimmel Arena. The lone loss being against Liberty.

Only one year in this format, Winthrop won the championship in 2016-17 as the hosts.

TOURNAMENT INFORMATION:

When is the Big South Tournament?

The Big South Tournament will be Tues. Feb 27, March 1-2, and the Big South championship is on March 4.

Where is the Big South Tournament?
The Big South tournament will primarily be hosted at Kimmel Arena in Asheville, North Carolina. The higher seeds will host the first round match-ups. The Big South Championship will also be at the highest seed’s home court.

How to watch the Big South Tournament?

The Big South Tournament will be televised as a part of ESPN’s family of networks, excluding the first round. The first round can be seen on the Big South Network, the quarterfinals and semifinals will be streamed on ESPN3, and ESPN will televise the Big South Championship.

Who is the defending Big South Champion?

The Winthrop Eagles won the 2016-17 Big South Championship after hosting the main portion of the tournament. It was the Eagles 11th Big South Championship in their history, the most ever in the Big South.

2018 BIG SOUTH TOURNAMENT BRACKET:

First Round – Tuesday, Feb. 27

No. 9 Presbyterian at No. 8 Charleston Southern 7:00 pm (Big South Network/ Roku)
No. 10 Longwood at No. 7 High Point                     7:00 pm (Big South Network/ Roku)

Quarterfinals - Thursday, March 1

7/10 Winner vs. No. 2 Radford                     1:00pm, at Asheville, NC (ESPN3)
No. 6 Gardner-Webb vs. No. 3 Winthrop   3:00pm, at Asheville, NC (ESPN3)
8/9 Winner at No. 1 UNC Asheville              7:00pm, at Asheville, NC (ESPN3)
No. 5 Liberty vs. No. 4 Campbell                  9:00pm, at Asheville, NC (ESPN3)

Semifinals - Friday, March 2

TBD vs. TBD                          6:00pm, at Asheville, NC (ESPN3)
TBD vs. TBD                          8:00pm, at Asheville, NC (ESPN3)

Big South Championship - Sunday, March 4

TBD vs. TBD                          1:00pm, higher seed host (ESPN)

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PREVIEW:

Even as the No. 3 seed and losers of their last two games, Winthrop is probably still the favorite heading into the tournament. Their offense is one of the highest scoring in all of college basketball (80.7 ppg), with Xavier Cooks scoring 17.6 ppg (3rd in Big South). However, the Eagles’ offense is not powered entirely behind three-point shooting, it is done with balance on both sides of the ball. They have the best two-point shooting percentage in the league (47.3 percent), lead the Big South in rebounding averages, blocks, and field goal defense. In addition, their guards’ three point shooting ability is pretty good too at 37.5 percent and making 9.5 deep balls a game.

However, when they go quiet from long range or another team matches their three-point shooting for a contest, they are susceptible. Also as defending champs, they have been here before and are motivated to get back to the NCAA Tournament.

As the Big South tournament hosts, UNC Asheville will have a leg up on the competition, but they have not been as dominant as a top seed should be. The Bulldogs are one of the most consistent teams in the conference with all five starters scoring in double figures each game. If one is betting, they are the safe bet to win it all based on what is mentioned above.

While Radford was a pleasant surprise throughout league play, do not anticipate that they will be a contender. They are eighth in scoring in the conference (68.2) and around the same mark when it comes to shooting. Their defense has bailed them out as probably one of the top defensive units in the league, but their leading scorer is a post player, Ed Polite Jr.  (13.6 ppg) and if shut down in the paint, there is no offense.

Liberty is the darkhorse in the Big South Tournament. The do boast the best defensive numbers in the conference (64.0 points against per game) and have a high-powered offense, although it is spotty.  Two players are shooting well above 40 percent or better from behind the arc. Dominating the boards, they limit other team’s second chance opportunities. Do not bet against the Flames in a one-on-one contest.

PICK: No. 3 Winthrop