NEWARK, N.J. (AP) Essence Carson scored 20 points and Cappie Pondexter added 14 to lead the New York Liberty past the last-place Washington Mystics 79-73 on Saturday.Kara Braxton had 14 points, including eight in a decisive 11-0 run in the second quarter, to help New York (10-16) snap a three-game losing streak. Carson shot 8 for 13 from the field and also had six assists. The Liberty moved into a tie for fourth place in the Eastern Conference with Chicago, which played at Indiana later. Atlanta is 3 12 games ahead in third."Every game is crucial at this point," said Carson, who got a rare start after usually being the Liberty's first player off the bench. "We have to think that we need every game. We had to win a game like this, especially with the situation we're in."Pondexter, bothered by sore Achilles on both feet, believes New York has to win seven of its final nine games to secure a postseason berth."If we want to make the playoffs, that's what we need to do," she said. "We also have to count on others to lose. Destiny is not in our own hands. We have a chance to make up the difference and get in."Pondexter knew that she wasn't feeling well and tried to play through the pain, but shot just 6 for 18."It was great that Essence stepped up," Pondexter said. "I'm happy we got the win. It's more important than me getting 20 points. I just wanted to give as much effort as I could."Liberty head coach John Whisenant was pleased with the team effort."We told them that it didn't matter who we were playing, that we had to play hard," Whisenant said. "Essence came back and played well. She got more minutes. We shook the starting lineup around a little, not for any reason. It seemed to work."Monique Currie scored 20 points, Crystal Langhorne had 19 points and eight rebounds, and Jasmine Thomas added 18 for Washington (5-21), which lost its fifth straight."In the second quarter we got stagnant with the offense and scored only 12 points," Mystics coach Trudi Lacey said. "Down the stretch we had a couple crucial turnovers, but for the most part we competed very hard. They're big, they're physical and we it took us a little bit out of our game."The Mystics took a 20-15 lead with about 2 12 minutes left in the first quarter on two consecutive drives by Langhorne and a power move from Thomas. The Liberty responded with the final seven points of the period, taking a two-point lead on Pondexter's three-point play with 23 seconds remaining.New York increased the lead to 29-24 on Leilani Mitchell's 3-pointer with 6:49 to go in the second quarter.The Liberty then went on its 11-0 run with Braxton taking over in the paint, making four baskets from close range to take a 40-26 lead with 3 12 minutes left in the first half.Carson had 11 points in the opening 20 minutes and Braxton scored 10 to give New York a 45-32 lead at the break. Langhorne had eight to lead the Mystics."We had some periods when we weren't executing and weren't scoring," Currie said. "New York was able to take advantage of that."Pondexter, who shot just 2 for 8 in the first half, found her touch in the third quarter. She scored nine points in the quarter as the Liberty extended their lead, with the biggest advantage at 55-37. New York led 63-50 heading to the fourth.Washington pulled to 68-60 on a driving basket from Thomas, but the Liberty held off the charge. Thomas' 3 with 7 seconds left provided the final margin."We still have to win the games we have left," Whisenant said. "Nothing is an easy win. It was good that we got a win when we didn't have to count on Cappie."Especially with Carson now playing well, after recovering from a shoulder injury."I'm starting to feel a little better now," Carson said. "I think I'm returning to my old form and put the pedal to the metal. We can't always count on Cappie."
The Eastern Conference standings are so closely bunched as of today that the third-place Cleveland Cavaliers are only 1 1/2 games ahead of the sixth-place Philadelphia 76ers. With roughly a dozen games remaining for each NBA team, much can and likely will change over the next several weeks.
That is common for this time of the year, but a closer look suggests we could be in for some chaos in the final stretch. There are lopsided remaining schedules and impending personnel changes which could all contribute to one of the wildest regular season finishes in recent memory.
The Wizards are smack dab in the middle of the East playoff race and have their own circumstances to navigate. Let's take a team-by-team look at the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, knowing the top two seeds are all but locked up by the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics...
3. Cleveland Cavaliers (41-29, 12 games left)
Monday was a crazy day for the Cavaliers. First, they announced their head coach Tyronn Lue is taking a leave of absence to deal with an undiagnosed health issue. He will be replaced by associate head coach Larry Drew in the interim as he hopes to heal up before the playoffs.
Then, news broke they were getting Kevin Love back from a broken wrist after missing 21 games. Love returned to put up 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks in a big win over the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Cavaliers will be without their coach for an undefined period of time, but now have their second-best player back on the court. That makes their final part of the season extra fascinating.
The Cavs are the team to watch of this group. Even though this season has been filled with turmoil, they still have LeBron James. He and Love have helped form the core of the last three Eastern Conference champion teams. If they pick things up, it's not crazy to consider them among the favorites to get out of the East again.
4. Indiana Pacers (41-30, 11 games left)
The Pacers are mostly healthy as they only feature a slew of minor injuries to big men Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. But Indiana's remaining schedule is unusually tough and it could make the difference in where they end up.
With only 11 games remaining, the Pacers still have to play the first-place Toronto Raptors once and the Golden State Warriors twice. Six of their last eight games will be on the road. They also see the Heat, Pelicans, Nuggets and Clippers.
The Clippers are currently ninth in the West and battling to make the playoffs. The Pacers will play them twice.
Keep in mind the Wizards own the season series over Indiana and will have a playoff seeding tiebreaker if they end up with the same record. Also worth noting is the Pacers have been much better at home (24-13) than on the road (17-17) this season.
5. Washington Wizards (40-30, 12 games left)
Though the Wizards' schedule is finally letting up soon from the 13 straight playoff teams stretch they have had to endure dating back to February, they too have a tough road ahead. The Wizards still have to play the Spurs (twice), Rockets, Cavaliers, Celtics and Nuggets. Four of their last six games are on the road and they have three back-to-back sets in their final seven games.
That's brutal. They may not have to see the defending champions twice like Indiana does, but the Wizards don't exactly have it easy.
The Wizards will, however, get John Wall back at some point. The five-time All-Star is slowly but surely working his way back and could participate in a full practice by the end of the week. Ideally they will get some games under his belt before the playoffs, but any time an All-NBA player is coming back to your team it's a good thing.
The problem is that there is little room for error in the standings and head coach Scott Brooks will have to reinsert Wall into the lineup during a tough schedule and while Wall is on a minutes restriction. It will be a tricky task to balance his lineups.
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6. Philadelphia 76ers (39-30, 13 games left)
The Sixers may have the most ideal road ahead of these four teams, at least in terms of their schedule. They still have the Timberwolves, Nuggets, Cavs and Bucks. But none of those teams are the juggernauts that Golden State, Houston and Toronto are. And of their final 13 games, the Sixers will play nine against teams outside of the playoff picture.
Philly also does not have to reincorporate a major piece into their rotation, like the Cavs do with Love and the Wizards with Wall. Their biggest injury is to Markelle Fultz, the 2017 No. 1 overall pick. If he does return this season, it will likely be in a minimal role, at least to start.
What could work against the Sixers is their inexperience and recent struggles against good teams. The Sixers are relying on very young players who have never been here before to carry the way. And since Valentine's Day, Philly has just one win against a team above the .500 mark, when they beat the Cavs on March 1. During those 14 games since Feb. 14, they have beaten up on the bad teams but lost to the Wizards, Bucks, Pacers and Heat (twice), basically all the teams surrounding them in the standings.
Philly also lost their season series against the Cavs and Pacers, tied with the Wizards and are down 2-1 against the Bucks with one game to go. They may go to the finish line without a playoff tiebreaker against all the teams they would want one against.
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It looks like Ryant Grant has found his new home, again.
After a failed physical with the Ravens, James Jones of NFL Network reports Grant plans to sign with the Colts.
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Grant originally agreed to a four-year, $29 million deal with the Ravens, before the team pulled the offer citing an ankle injury that dated to the Redskins' final regular-season game, according to reports.
Baltimore eventually signed Michael Crabtree to a three-year deal, while Grant had visits with the Colts and Raiders.
His agent, Rocky Arceneaux, says Grant has been working out, running routes, and his ankle had been cleared by Dr. Robert Anderson in a second opinion.
In 2017 with the Redskins, he appeared in all 16 games, with 45 receptions for 573 yards and four touchdowns.
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