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Pekovic leads Timberwolves over Nuggets 108-105

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Pekovic leads Timberwolves over Nuggets 108-105

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Kevin Love spent the morning backpedaling and Nikola Pekovic spent the evening plowing full steam ahead.

Pekovic had 22 points and 11 rebounds and the Minnesota Timberwolves used a big advantage at the free throw line to overcome Love's shooting struggles in a 108-105 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night.

Love finished with eight points on 3-for-17 shooting and grabbed 14 rebounds on a day he had to explain to Minnesota's owner and his teammates some critical comments he made about the franchise.

The Timberwolves shot under 40 percent for much of the game, but made 30 of 37 from the free throw line. The Nuggets were just 14 of 24 at the line.

Kenneth Faried had 26 points and 14 rebounds for the road-weary Nuggets, who missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer that would have tied the game.

JJ Barea had 17 points, eight assists and five rebounds, and Andrei Kirilenko scored 18 points for Minnesota.

The Wolves led by 11 with less than two minutes to play, but the Nuggets pulled within three and had the ball with 34 seconds to play. Ty Lawson's 3-pointer at the buzzer was short, and the Wolves breathed a sigh of relief.

Lawson had 17 points and 11 assists, and Danilo Gallinari scored 24 for Denver.

Love met with reporters after shootaround to explain some harsh comments he made about the organization to Yahoo! Sports. Love vowed not to discuss his disappointment at not getting a five-year deal from here on out and said he was generally pleased with the direction the franchise was headed.

He addressed the situation with teammates and owner Glen Taylor before the game - then played like a guy with other things on his mind. He missed his first six shots and couldn't contain Faried's boundless energy on the defensive end.

Faried has gone through peaks and valleys this season and entered the night with 22 points total in his previous four games. The Manimal got off to a ferocious start on Wednesday night, scoring 14 points and grabbing five boards in the first quarter alone. He gobbled up rebounds then blew the doors off the Minnesota big men in transition for easy buckets.

That it was coming on the second night of a back-to-back against a Wolves team that had the previous four days off was even more impressive. Then again, the Nuggets have been hardened by a grueling schedule to open this season. They've played just nine of their first 23 games at home and were finishing up a five-game road trip.

``I don't know what George Karl did to Commissioner Stern to deserve this schedule,'' Wolves coach Rick Adelman said.

The last time these two teams met, the Timberwolves sprang quite a surprise on Karl and the Nuggets. Love made his season debut on that night, which came more than a week before anyone expected. His activation wasn't known until about an hour before game time, and Karl wondered if the Wolves might throw Ricky Rubio out there on Wednesday night for his first game of the season.

Karl said he received a text earlier Wednesday that ``guaranteed'' Rubio would not be playing that night. ``That made me even more suspicious,'' he said. Rubio did not play. He's expected to play Saturday night against Dallas.

NOTES: Gallinari entered the night shooting 28 percent from 3-point range. He was 4 for 5 on Wednesday night. ... Timberwolves G/F Josh Howard missed the game because of an illness. ... Wolves SG Malcolm Lee left the game just before halftime with a hyperextended right knee and did not return.

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The Redskins aren't big on analytics but the numbers are likely to influence their top draft pick

The Redskins aren't big on analytics but the numbers are likely to influence their top draft pick

There are always surprises in the NFL draft, but the 2018 edition may be the most unpredictable in years. There are a few factors at play here and they will affect who is available to the Redskins in the first round and who they end up drafting there. 

One factor is analytics. Not all teams have a big analytics department but all 32 are aware of the trends in the game. One is that teams no longer emphasize establishing the run early in games. Teams pass in the first quarter on about 57 percent of the snaps. That run-pass ratio is about the same as it is during the other three quarters. It’s still a passing league from the opening kickoff until the clock hits 0:00. 

So why, then, is Vita Vea, a pure nose tackle who likely will be of limited help against the pass, a possible top-10 pick who the Redskins reportedly would like to take at 13? 

The way it looks now, Vea is going to be one of the best available players with a significant drop off to any players associated with the passing game except quarterbacks—wide receiver, left tackle, edge rusher, and outside cornerback. 

The Redskins might rate Vea as more valuable than other teams because of how weak their rushing defense is. Teams ran at them on 47 percent of first-quarter plays, taking advantage of the weakness. This kept up through all four quarters; teams ran against the Redskins on 46 percent of the plays compared to 42 percent of all plays league-wide. Washington’s vulnerability against the rush may push Vea and probably Da’Ron Payne up on their draft boards even if they are of limited utility in the nickel defense. 

Here is one more example of the numbers and talent affecting this draft. Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick played a variety of positions in Alabama’s secondary. The consensus opinion is that his best NFL fit is slot corner. Traditionally, that is not a first-round position because it’s has been a role, a part-time position. 

But the view is shifting. Offenses take 62.6 percent of their snaps with three or more wide receivers on the field. That number only counts true wide receivers, so you can add a percentage point or two in for when a running back or tight end lines up out wide. As you would expect, a comparable number of defensive snaps (65.3%) are with five or more defensive backs on the field. The Redskins were in line with this. Slot corner Kendall Fuller played nearly 66 percent of the snaps last year. 

Since you will utilize your slot corner on nearly two-thirds of your plays, if you can get a good one with the 13th pick you shouldn’t hesitate just because of the old view of the position. When you add in the fact that Fitzpatrick can play safety and outside corner as well the Redskins could well pull the trigger if he’s still there. 

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Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

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Penguins will be without Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin for Game 1

Penguins will be without Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin for Game 1

As the Capitals and Penguins prepare to open their second-round series, significant injury news came out of Pittsburgh on Wednesday. Head coach Mike Sullivan informed the media that both Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin would not play in Game 1 due to injuries.

The fact that Hagelin would not be traveling with the team suggests that he will miss Game 2 as well, but that has not been confirmed. That also means that Malkin is at least a possibility for Game 2.

Malkin did not play in Game 6 against the Philadelphia Flyers after getting injured in a collision with Jakub Voracek in Game 5. Hagelin was injured in Game 6 on a big hit from Claude Giroux.

So when the series against Washington begins, Pittsburgh will be playing without two-thirds of its second line.

Malkin made a real push for the Hart Trophy this season with 42 goals and 98 points. He was a major factor in last season's Cup run with 28 points in 26 games and was gearing up for another big postseason with five points in his first five games.

But don't celebrate too much, Caps fans. It is not as if either loss will be crippling to Pittsburgh's offense.

Despite not having Malkin for the entire Game 6 and losing Hagelin midway through the second period, the Penguins still managed to put up eight goals on the Flyers in the series-clinching win.

Still, with scoring depth being such a strength for Pittsburgh, the Capitals need to take advantage. The Penguins will be without one of the best players in the NHL and that makes Game 1 crucial. Washington has gone down 0-2 in each of their past two playoff series including last year against Pittsburgh. They lost that series in seven games. They need to have a better start this year and with no Malkin or Hagelin for Game 1, this may be a must-win for the Caps.

Riley Sheahan and Dominik Simon skated with Phil Kessel on the second line at practice on Wednesday and it is a good bet that is how the second line will remain for Game 1. That way, Pittsburgh can keep its third line of Conor Sheary, Derick Brassard and Bryan Rust line together which has been very effective.

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