Capitals

Lakers beat Cavs 113-93, snap 6-game skid

201301132242817710011-p2.jpeg

Lakers beat Cavs 113-93, snap 6-game skid

LOS ANGELES (AP) Dwight Howard had 22 points and 14 rebounds in his return from a three-game injury absence, and the Los Angeles Lakers snapped their six-game losing streak with a 113-93 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday night.

Kobe Bryant scored 23 points for the Lakers, who finally earned their first victory of 2013 while ending their longest skid since February 2007. Howard went 9 for 11 despite his injured shoulder while leading Los Angeles to a comfortable victory over the lowly Cavaliers, who beat the Lakers last month.

Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters scored 15 points apiece for Cleveland, which has lost seven of nine. Alonzo Gee added 14 points for the Cavaliers, who fell behind by 19 points in the first quarter of their second stop on a five-game West Coast road trip.

Cleveland (9-30) is barely ahead of Washington (6-28) for the NBA's worst record.

Steve Nash had 10 points and nine assists for the Lakers, whose skid has been severe enough to cause fans to worry about this star-packed roster's playoff chances even in mid-January. After Oklahoma City ran the Lakers out of Staples Center on Friday night in a 116-101 victory, a downbeat coach Mike D'Antoni told his players that ``our season starts Sunday.''

Opening day went well for the Lakers, but much bigger challenges loom - including the Miami Heat's visit on Thursday.

Pau Gasol missed his fourth straight game for Los Angeles with a concussion, while top backup Jordan Hill is likely out for the season with an injured hip. Earl Clark had another solid game in the starting lineup with 13 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots, while Antawn Jamison added 16 points and hit four of the Lakers' 13 3-pointers.

Howard injured the labrum in his shoulder earlier this month during a game against the Clippers, and he aggravated the injury last Sunday while grabbing a career high-tying 26 rebounds against Denver. He sat out for the past week to rest the injury, but didn't appear limited while patrolling the paint against the Cavs despite committing seven turnovers.

Although struggling Cleveland seemed to be an ideal slump-buster, the Cavs beat the Lakers 100-94 last month in Cleveland, Los Angeles' third straight road loss in the series.

Before the game, Cavaliers coach Byron Scott declined to follow the lead of fellow `80s Lakers greats Magic Johnson and James Worthy in hammering the current Lakers for their defense and Mike D'Antoni's coaching. Scott understandably has bigger concerns than his ex-teammates-turned-pundits who have mercilessly ripped D'Antoni, Howard and even Bryant in recent weeks.

Los Angeles looked sharp early, taking 37-18 lead in the final minute of the first quarter on a 3-pointer by Bryant. But the Lakers committed turnovers on six straight possessions late in the second half, allowing Cleveland to trim their lead to nine points.

The Lakers still scored 57 points in the first half with 17 assists on their 20 field goals.

NOTES: Nash hit three free throws, improving to 18 for 18 this season and increasing his minuscule lead on Mark Price for the best free throw percentage in NBA history. ... Cleveland continues its road trip in Sacramento on Monday night against the Kings, who have lost four straight. ... The Lakers won despite 22 turnovers, including 18 by their starting lineup.

Quick Links

Alex Ovechkin's evolution as a player was on full display in Game 6

Alex Ovechkin's evolution as a player was on full display in Game 6

We all know that Alex Ovechkin is a world-class goal scorer. He is the best goal scorer of his generation and perhaps the best of all time. He tallied another two goals Monday in Game 6, but that’s not what really impressed head coach Barry Trotz.

While Ovechkin's career is full of highlight reel goals, it was the ugly plays that really caught Trotz's eye on Monday.

"[Ovechkin's] evolved in areas of his game," Trotz said after the game. "He’s not just at that dot. He’ll go to the front of the net, he’s not scared to do that. It’s just adding layers to his game."

Ovechkin's first goal of the game was not pretty. It won't make any Top 10 lists, it won't be shown throughout the U.S. and Canada. It was an ugly rebound goal...and it was beautiful.

Just four minutes after Nick Foligno tied the game, Ovechkin put the Caps back ahead with a rebound goal. He had parked himself in front of goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and was in perfect position when Bobrovsky made a kick out save to backhand the rebound into the empty net.

Those are the type of plays we did not always see from the Great 8 and it didn't stop there.

As Washington tried to close out the game, Ovechkin went all out trying to help his team preserve the lead as he blocked a shot from Ryan Murray with less than three minutes to go.

"I’m probably as proud of him right at the end of the game blocking shots and doing that type of thing," Trotz said. "That’s full commitment. When that was necessary, that’s where you get your street cred with your teammates. You’ve got to block a shot when it’s necessary and get a puck out when it’s necessary. I’d probably give him more props on that than even scoring goals because that’s what you really expect of him."

Few expected a 32-year-old Ovechkin to rebound from a 33-goal season, but he did just that with 49 goals in 2017-18 to win his seventh Rocket Richard Trophy as the league-leader. The reason why was on full display on Monday. It is because he has evolved his game. Instead of relying just on the quick rushes, pretty one-timers and incredible dekes, he has committed more to getting to the contested areas and scoring those dirty goals.

That commitment on offense seemed to translate to the defense as well as he was there blocking shots with the rest of his teammates.

"Those are the necessary things, those necessary details that allow you to win," Trotz said. "If you don’t have them, then you’re not going to win."

MORE CAPITALS: Pens again: Capitals to face Penguins in NHL Playoffs for third consecutive year

Quick Links

Capitals to face Penguins in NHL Playoffs for third consecutive year

Capitals to face Penguins in NHL Playoffs for third consecutive year

The Caps are headed to the 2018 NHL Playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinals to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins… again.

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before.

Yes, for the third time in three years, the Capitals will play the Penguins, hoping to take down the defending Stanley Cup champions and advance out of the second round of the playoffs and to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since the 1998 season, when the team made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.

The Capitals are riding momentum from their first-round series win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, where they fought back from an 0-2 series hole to win the series thanks to a 6-3 victory in Game 6 Monday night in Columbus.

That momentum coupled with home-ice advantage — should they choose to capitalize on that this time around — could create an ideal atmosphere for the Caps to take a 2-0 series lead before heading to Pittsburgh for Games 3 and 4.

A perennial problem, Sidney Crosby enters this series playing some of his best playoff hockey. In their 4-2 series win over the Philadelphia Flyers, the Pens’ captain scored six goals in six games, including a hat trick in the opening matchup.

But he’s not the only one creating havoc for goalies. Center Jake Guentzel is tied with Crosby at the top of the league in goals and points in the playoffs. The pair each had six goals and seven assists against the Flyers, as well as 17 shots on goal apiece.

Is it possible they’ll get stonewalled by Braden Holtby, who — despite not starting initially in the first two games for the Caps against the Blue Jackets — is rocking a 93.6 save percentage and ranks fourth in the league with a 1.66 goals against average among goaltenders who have played more than one postseason game.

If the Caps can find a spark in their offense with Holtby staying strong in goal, perhaps this could be the year they finally slide past the Pens.

However, history isn’t exactly on Washington’s side. In the second-round series from the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, the Pens hold an 8-5 record over the Caps, eliminating them both years on their way to back-to-back Stanley Cups.

Pittsburgh leads the Caps in the overall playoff game record, 38-24, and they’ve met for 10 series in the postseason, dating back to 1990-91. Four times the series was pushed to a Game 7, but the Caps never came out on top.

The one and only time the Caps have ever eliminated the Pens from the playoffs was in the 1993-94 season, when they beat Pittsburgh 4-2 in the first round before losing to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

But hey, this year could become the second time in franchise history the Caps take down the Pens.

The NHL has yet to announce when Game 1 of the Capitals vs. Penguins series will take place, but with the Wizards playing Game 6 of their NBA Playoff series at home on Friday, the likliest start date is either Thursday, April 26 or Saturday, April 28.