Redskins

Thunder beat Rockets 120-98 in Harden's return

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Thunder beat Rockets 120-98 in Harden's return

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Kevin Durant matched his season high with 37 points, and Oklahoma City beat the Houston Rockets 120-98 on Wednesday night in James Harden's first game back in Chesapeake Energy Arena since being traded by the Thunder before the season.

Harden scored 17 points, but was limited to 3-for-16 shooting. He had six shots blocked by the Thunder.

Patrick Patterson scored 27 points and Omer Asik had 17 points and 12 rebounds to lead the way for the Rockets, who began the day by attending the funeral of coach Kevin McHale's daughter in Minnesota.

Harden missed his first nine shots, and by the time he made one, the Rockets were down by double digits in the second half. They never got closer than 10 after that.

Harden, the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year as Oklahoma City made it to the finals last season, was unable to agree on a contract extension with the Thunder and was traded just before the season started.

He then agreed to a maximum contract worth $80 million with Houston.

Harden was at the center of a heated first-half incident that got Thunder backup center Hasheem Thabeet temporarily ejected. Thabeet and Harden exchanged words after Thabeet blocked two consecutive shots by Harden. Thabeet then bumped into referee Marc Davis and pushed him away, resulting in an ejection. But Davis went to instant replay and downgraded the punishment to a single technical foul.

Fans gave Thabeet a standing ovation when he returned to the court, and booed lustily as Harden made his free throw. It was Harden's first point of the game and one of only two in the first half. Harden missed all eight of his shots from the field as Houston fell behind 57-45.

Harden's return was only part of an emotion-filled day for the Rockets.

After blowing out Toronto on Tuesday night, the Rockets flew to Minnesota and arrived at the team hotel between 1:30 and 2 a.m. They were back up by 8 for a team brunch and a scouting report in suits and ties before they went to the funeral.

Acting coach Kelvin Sampson said McHale and his wife, Lynn, were arranging candles near some photos of Sasha and didn't immediately see the team walk in.

``We didn't know what to do or say, so we just waited for them to get finished, then they turn around and at the same time they looked at us,'' Sampson said. ``Really, really, really emotional.''

McHale hugged everyone in Houston's traveling party and shared a few words with each person. He took a leave of absence from the team on Nov. 10. Sasha died Saturday at age 23 of complications from lupus.

``Just to see our faces, I think, kind of gave him some kind of joy. Just to show him that we were there, our whole entire organization was there just to support him,'' Harden said. ``No matter if it was for 5 minutes or 30 minutes, he just wanted to see our faces. I'm glad we got that opportunity to go out there and share that moment with him.''

The team then flew to Oklahoma City, arriving at the arena less than 5 hours before game time. Sampson said about half of his players were in the locker room with towels over their heads, trying to squeeze in a nap during the afternoon.

He wasn't sure whether to expect them to play ``lights out'' or play tired.

``I think our guys understand that there's something far more powerful and more important that happened today than their routine, and that was supporting a coach that lost a daughter,'' Sampson said.

Daequan Cook, also involved in the Harden trade, scored 18 points while starting in place of injured Rockets forward Chandler Parsons (shoulder).

Serge Ibaka scored 23 points and blocked six shots. Kevin Martin, the centerpiece of the trade from Oklahoma City's standpoint, had 17 points.

The Thunder flashed a welcome back message to Harden, Cook and Cole Aldrich - the three players involved in the trade - on the overhead scoreboard with about 11 minutes left in pregame warm-ups'. Harden got a warm ovation when his name was announced with the starting lineups.

Harden and Cook both greeted coach Scott Brooks and others on the Thunder bench just before tipoff, but then started slowly. Harden missed his first four shots - getting a jumper swatted from behind and out of bounds by Westbrook, and a fast-break layup blocked as Ibaka followed him to the basket - and committed two early turnovers. Cook also missed his first three shots, but then hit a jumper and a 3-pointer for a 19-14 Houston lead.

Oklahoma City surged back ahead with an 18-4 run, including the first nine points of the second quarter, to go up 36-25 before Thabeet and Harden had their run-in.

The lead grew to 49-33 after Harden's foul allowed Durant to convert a four-point play. By that point, Oklahoma City had scored 15 points off of 10 Houston turnovers. The Rockets were without a point in that category.

Notes: Sampson formerly coached at Oklahoma for 12 seasons. ``The circumstances that I took over this position with, I just don't feel comfortable talking about me. I talk to Kevin every day. I talked to him the day his daughter died. I'm really, really close to Kevin and I'm holding the fort down until he comes back.'' ... Parsons hurt his right shoulder late in Houston's win against Toronto on Tuesday night. ``I don't think it's a joint. I think it's more soft tissue, but he can't get his elbow past 45 degrees,'' Sampson said.

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The Redskins are going to draft the best available player, unless they aren't

The Redskins are going to draft the best available player, unless they aren't

When their turn comes up in this draft, the Redskins are going to pick the best available player on the board. Unless they’re not. 

That is the mixed message delivered on Tuesday by Doug Williams, the team’s senior vice president for player personnel during his pre-draft press conference on Tuesday. 

Williams was asked what nearly every NFL personnel executive has been asked during this round of draft press conferences: Will the Redskins take the best player on the board or would they draft for need?

And Williams gave an answer similar to the ones that all of the other personnel guys gave. 

“You hear this cliché all the time, it’s always going to be the best player available, because at the same time if you’re looking for a need, the player you’re looking for a need might not be graded as high as the guy that’s on that board,” he said. 

That makes some fans crazy as they believe that you must fill needs in the draft. But reaching to fill needs is a good way to have a mediocre, disjointed draft. 

But there are times when the best available player is not the player the Redskins will pick. The topic of injuries came up and Williams talked about the situation at offensive tackle. Morgan Moses and Trent Williams currently are rehabbing from injuries and they won’t take the field during OTAs and minicamp. 

Doug Williams said that both players should be ready for training camp. He didn’t mention it but Trent Williams and Moses are signed for the next three and five years, respectively. That means that there is no need for a tackle in at least the first two rounds, and Williams agrees. 

“We can’t go into the draft drafting tackles, you know,” he said. 

So if, say, offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey of Notre Dame has the highest grade on the Redskins’ board when pick 13 comes up, they will not be taking the player with the best grade. They will “reach”, perhaps only slightly, to take a player at another position. 

The Redskins have a similar situation at quarterback. They are committed to Alex Smith for at least three seasons and it would be foolish to spend a high pick on a quarterback. Williams said that the Redskins are not in the quarterback business this year. If there is a top QB still on the board at pick 13, it’s likely that Williams and Bruce Allen would be looking for phone calls from teams that want to trade up and get their signal caller. 

The true test of how the team chooses needs vs. best available could well come this year. Let’s say that Da’Ron Payne, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Tremaine Edmunds are all on the board when the Redskins’ pick comes up. While each team has its own grades, you probably won’t find many that don’t have Fitzpatrick and Edmunds a clear cut above Payne. The Redskins have needs on the defensive line, not so much at inside linebacker or in the secondary. Picking Payne at that point could be interpreted as reaching to fill a need while leaving more talented and more versatile players on the board. Going best available would almost surely mean choosing between Fitzpatrick and Edmunds. 

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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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2018 NBA Playoffs Wizards-Raptors Game 5: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

2018 NBA Playoffs Wizards-Raptors Game 5: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter and the Washington Wizards battle Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Serge Ibaka and the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday night in Game 5 of the 2018 NBA Playoffs.

Here is all you need to know: TV, live stream and radio info, tip-off time, plus three things to watch:

GAME 5: WASHINGTON WIZARDS AT TORONTO RAPTORS

Series: Series tied 2-2
Where: Air Canada Centre
Tip-off: 7:02 p.m. (earlier tipoff than usual)
TV: NBC Sports Washington (pregame coverage begins at 6 p.m.)
Live stream: NBCSportsWashington.com
Radio: 1500 AM

Pivotal game

The Wizards have done their part in winning both games at home to even up this series at 2-2. Now comes Game 5, which could very well determine who takes this series.

Winners of Game 5 in a seven-game series tied at 2-2 hold a 164-34 (.828) record all-time. That means teams that lose Game 5 come back to win the final two games and the series only 17.2 percent of the time.

The Wizards need to get this one and they know all too well why. Last year they were in this same position in their second round series against the Boston Celtics. They went down 0-2, won the next two games but then lost Game 5 and ultimately the series in seven games.

Road warriors

The Wizards will also have to do something they have yet to do in a while in Game 5 and that is win on the road. Though they have won eight straight home postseason games, they have lost their last six on the road. It goes back to that Celtics series when Washington lost all four games in Boston. The last time they won on the road in the playoffs was Game 6 last year against the Hawks.

The Raptors are particularly tough in Toronto. They were 34-7 this season at home, tied with the Houston Rockets for the best record in the NBA. 

The recent historical odds are also in Toronto's favor. Since 2003, the home team has won each of the first four games in a seven-game series 35 times. In those series, the home team has held a Game 5 record of 22-13 and a series record of 26-9. If the Raptors get Game 5, history will be on their side to go on to win the series.

Can Otto get going?

Games 3 and 4 in Washington saw All-Star Bradley Beal break out to score 28 and 31 points. Will we see the same from Otto Porter before this series is over?

Game 4 seemed to suggest that is possible. After scoring only one point in the first half, Porter erupted for 10 points in the third quarter alone. Though he only scored 12 points in the game overall, it was the most aggressive we have seen him all series.

Porter is averaging just 10.3 points per game through four playoff games. He is shooting 50 percent from the field and 55.6 percent from three, and as long as the Wizards are winning he won't complain, but Porter can do much more than that on offense. If he starts scoring more, the Wizards will be tough to stop.

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MORE FROM WIZARDS-RAPTORS SERIES:

WALL HAS REACHED PEAK FORM AMAZINGLY QUICK

WALL IS BOYCOTTING DRAKE'S MUSIC DURING SERIES

OUBRE IS HELPING THE WIZARDS WIN IN MANY WAYS

For more on the Wizards-Raptors series, check out or latest Wizards Tipoff podcast: