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Expectations soar as Pacers embark on new season

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Expectations soar as Pacers embark on new season

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Indiana finally won a playoff series, had a chance to eliminate eventual NBA champion Miami last spring and strengthened its bench.

The locals expect bigger and better things this season, and so do the Pacers.

``We do have high expectations and with that comes a different kind of burden,'' said swingman Danny Granger, who has been slowed throughout the preseason with a patella tendon injury in his left knee. ``With the guys coming back, I feel like we're further along than we ever have been.''

For the Pacers, it's been a steep climb back in a state where basketball has traditionally been the king of the sports universe.

Following the 2004 brawl in Detroit, Reggie Miller retired, there were other problems off the court, two years without a playoff appearance and a six-year span without a playoff series win. Donnie Walsh, architect of Indiana's last legitimate title contender, left a tattered team behind when he went to New York and former coach Larry Bird was tasked with rebuilding the team he coached to the 2000 Eastern Conference title. Frustrated fans stayed away from games, creating a decline in attendance and team owner Herb Simon renegotiated his deal with the city.

At times, it seemed things couldn't get any bleaker.

But Bird changed everything for the better and the fans, well, they seem to be coming around.

``We know we have a lot of work to do, there's a lot of expectations and we're ready for it,''All-Star center Roy Hibbert said. ``We have veterans who are working hard and rookies who work hard. I think we're going to take it real far this year.''

Walsh is back, replacing the retiring Bird and the franchise looks completely different.

Back then, Granger was just beginning to emerge as a team leader and potent scorer but hadn't yet been to an All-Star Game. Forward David West was a star in New Orleans. Hibbert and guard George Hill hadn't been drafted yet and swingman Paul George was still in high school.

Today, the Pacers call those five their starters - the same group that led them past Orlando in the first round of last year's playoffs and gave them a 2-1 lead over Miami in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

What's changed since the Heat won those last three games to knock Indiana out of the playoffs?

Walsh returned as team president, general manager Kevin Pritchard decided to re-sign Hibbert and Hill to big contracts, keeping the core of this young team intact, and the Pacers revamped their bench. Indiana traded guard Darren Collison to Dallas for center Ian Mahinmi and used its first-round draft pick on Miles Plumlee, with an eye toward giving Hibbert some help.

The new management also brought in point guard D.J. Augustin to back up Hill and signed forward Gerald Green. With forward Tyler Hansbrough already an established force on the bench, the addition of rookie guard Orlando Johnson and the possibility Lance Stephenson emerges in a key role this season, Indiana could have one of the deeper rosters in the league.

``This team has got ability, there's not been a lot of change,'' coach Frank Vogel said. ``My approach is just the understanding that this team is a year further along with experience and the bench is deeper.''

Stability should help the Pacers, too, who would like to reach the NBA Finals for the first time since 2000.

``We want to grow. From looking at a playoff standpoint, we got to the second round last year, so we're hoping to get further than that. We got a third seed in the regular season and we're hoping to do better than that,'' Vogel said. ``Those are probably the first steps in terms of taking that next step as a franchise. We finished the season last year feeling like we were good enough to win the championship and we're a team that sets our sights high and we shoot for the moon.''

All the Pacers have to do now is prove they can handle the hype and keep winning - right through the playoffs.

``We have something special here,'' George said. ``That makes it even more exciting knowing that everybody's on the same page.''

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Wizards have big questions to answer coming out of All-Star break

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Wizards have big questions to answer coming out of All-Star break

On the latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast presented by Greenberg and Bederman, Chase Hughes and Chris Miller look ahead to the biggest questions the Wizards need to answer after the All-Star break. They also explain why Bradley Beal proved a lot in his first All-Star Game appearance.

They also unveiled a new segment involving guessing Wizards players based on their social media captions.

You can listen to the episode right here:

You can download the podcast on Apple Podcasts right here and on Google Play. If you like the show please tell your friends!

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Capitals place Taylor Chorney on waivers, which could signal something, or nothing

Capitals place Taylor Chorney on waivers, which could signal something, or nothing

When the Capitals acquired defenseman Michal Kempny on Monday, that put the team at the maximum of 23 players on the roster including eight defenseman.

Another move seemed likely and the Caps made it on Tuesday by placing veteran blueliner Taylor Chorney on waivers.

Teams now will have 24 hours to potentially claim Chorney. Should he clear at 12 p.m. on Wednesday, it is expected that he will be sent to the Hershey Bears of the AHL. Whether he is claimed or sent to Hershey, his entire $800,000 cap hit will no longer count against the Capitals' salary.

One important thing to note, however, is that placing Chorney on waivers was not required in order for Washington to remain under the salary cap.

Having eight defensemen would mean scratching two every game — assuming the team does not dress seven and after that failed experiment in last year's playoffs, why would they — which means it would be a struggle to make sure everyone gets consistent playing time in the final weeks of the season.

Perhaps placing Chorney on waivers is the team trying to get him more playing time to keep him sharp in case the team suffers injuries on the blue line and he is called upon in the playoffs.

Or perhaps it could mean something else.

RELATED: RANKING THE CAPITALS' TOP PROSPECTS

Chorney played on Feb. 15, but that was during the mentor's trip. Barry Trotz's policy for those trips is to get everyone in at least one of those two games. Before that, Chorney had not played since Jan. 2. It certainly seems like the team was comfortable with him being the designated No. 7 and was not all that concerned about getting him regular playing time before now.

When asked if the Kempny trade would mean any roster moves, Trotz said Monday that he was not sure and hinted that perhaps more moves could be coming from general manager Brian MacLellan. Moving Chorney's salary off the books does not clear much cap room, but it does clear some.

Perhaps MacLellan has another move up his sleeve before Monday's trade deadline.