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Thunder send sixth man Harden to Rockets

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Thunder send sixth man Harden to Rockets

Unable to work out an extension with James Harden, the Oklahoma City Thunder traded the Sixth Man of the Year to the Houston Rockets on Saturday night, breaking up the young core of the Western Conference champions.

The Thunder acquired guards Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb, two first-round picks and a second-round pick in the surprising deal. Oklahoma City also sent center Cole Aldrich and forwards Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward to Houston.

The Oct. 31 deadline to extend Harden or allow him to become a restricted free agent next July had been hanging over the Thunder from the moment they reported to training camp.

``We wanted to sign James to an extension, but at the end of the day, these situations have to work for all those involved. Our ownership group again showed their commitment to the organization with several significant offers,'' Thunder general manager Sam Presti said in a statement.

``We were unable to reach a mutual agreement, and therefore executed a trade that capitalized on the opportunity to bring in a player of Kevin's caliber, a young talent like Jeremy and draft picks, which will be important to our organizational goal of a sustainable team.''

The small-market Thunder had already signed Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka to long-term deals, and apparently realized Harden was going to want a bigger salary than they would offer.

The Thunder got back a good scorer in Martin, who has averaged 18.4 points in his eight NBA seasons, and a promising young player in Lamb, the No. 12 pick in the draft who helped Connecticut win the 2011 NCAA championship. He led Houston's summer league team in scoring with 20 points per game.

But Harden was a huge part of Oklahoma City's success and had said he might even be open to sacrifice dollars in order to stay with the Thunder. But they've been unwilling to climb into the luxury tax, which will only become harsher under the new collective bargaining agreement.

Harden averaged 16.8 points and 3.7 assists last season, and joined Durant and Westbrook on the U.S. men's Olympic team. He struggled badly in Oklahoma City's loss to Miami in the NBA Finals, but the Thunder felt good about their chances of getting back there with another year of experience for their young stars, all 24 or younger.

However, Yahoo Sports reported that Harden turned down a four-year contract worth about $52 million, and the Thunder moved quickly to trade him after that.

The Rockets rebuilt their roster in the offseason and hoped to land Dwight Howard. Houston traded or released just about every veteran except Martin, who was in the final year of his contract and due about $13 million this season.

Martin averaged 17.1 points and 2.8 assists last season, his eighth in the NBA and third in Houston. He missed the last 26 games last season with a shoulder injury, though he also developed a rift with Houston coach Kevin McHale late in the season.

The Rockets have until Wednesday to sign Harden to the extension that Oklahoma City couldn't.

``While I never like having to send out quality players like Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb, this trade gives us a chance to make an immediate impact on the future of our franchise moving forward,'' Rockets owner Leslie Alexander said.

``James Harden was part of Team USA's gold medal team at the London Olympics and is one of the most skilled shooting guards in the NBA.''

New Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin also chimed in about the trade on Twitter.

``Really sad to see Kmart and JLamb go,'' Lin wrote. ``...both class acts and great teammates. Welcome Harden, Cook, Aldrich and Hayward to Houston!!''

Houston collected draft picks while it was making a flurry of deals, part of a package to offer Orlando for Howard. The Rockets traded point guard Kyle Lowry to Toronto for a lottery-protected first-round pick, one of Oklahoma City's acquisitions on Saturday night.

The other first-round pick was acquired by Houston when it traded Jordan Hill to the Los Angeles Lakers last March. The second-round pick came to the Rockets in a deal that sent guard Courtney Lee to Boston.

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AP Sports Writer Chris Duncan in Houston contributed to this report.

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How Nicklas Backstrom saved the Capitals 3 different times in Game 5

How Nicklas Backstrom saved the Capitals 3 different times in Game 5

The Capitals found themselves in deep trouble on Saturday.

Game 5 at Capital One Arena provided Washington a golden opportunity to take a 3-2 lead in their 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. A loss -- another home loss -- would have been a devastating blow.

After battling back from a 2-0 series deficit, to lose in Washington would mean facing elimination in Columbus. Game 5 was the game the Caps needed and it would have slipped away from them if not for Nicklas Backstrom.

The Caps’ most underrated superstar -- the one who is constantly overshadowed by the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby -- took center stage on Saturday as he tipped a Dmitry Orlov shot past Sergei Bobrovsky at 11:53 of overtime to seal the victory for Washington.

“It was just a good shot from [Orlov],” Backstrom said after the game. “I thought before he had a chance to block it, and I got a tip on it, and it’s usually what happens in the playoffs. Tip goals or rebound goals. That’s the way it is. It was nice.”

Backstrom’s overtime goal capped off a three-point night for the veteran center, who also scored in the first period and assisted on a goal from T.J. Oshie.

The team ended up needing every one of his points.

From the start, Columbus outplayed Washington. With the series tied 2-2, a best-of-three mentality took over and the Blue Jackets pushed hard for the pivotal Game 5 win.

It is in those very moments that team needs its superstar players to step up. In Game 3, it was Holtby who stole the show to help Washington steal a win in Columbus.

On Saturday, it was Backstrom.

Columbus converted a shorthanded goal to seize a 1-0 lead in what was shaping up to be a dominant first period. A fluke goal from Backstrom, however, made sure the score was knotted up, 1-1, after the opening frame.

With the puck behind the goal line, Backstrom tried to slip a pass through the crease. Bobrovsky got a piece of the puck with his stick, but the amount of spin on the pass forced the puck to carom off the stick, off the back of Bobrovsky himself, and into the net.

“I was trying to make a pass,” Backstrom said. “Honestly, got lucky. I don’t know who came back-door there but I was trying for him. I’ll take it.”

After a back and forth game, the Blue Jackets came out swinging to start the third. Down 3-2, Columbus tied the game just 2:30 in and made a real push to win the game in regulation. Washington was outshot 16-1 in the third and looked like they had no push at all.

But the Caps looked like a different team when they took the ice for the extra frame. What happened in between periods?

“As I was leaving the room after the period, I could hear guys, the right guys, all saying the right things,” head coach Barry Trotz said.

When later asked if one of those guys was Backstrom, Trotz said, “Absolutely. He's one of the leaders on our team. They were all talking about let's make sure we're doing the right things. There's a lot of pride, lot of good leadership in that room.”

Whatever Backstrom and the other leaders said did the trick. Washington made a strong push in overtime leading to Backstrom’s game-winning goal.

This isn’t the first time Backstrom has delivered. Saturday’s overtime tally is the fourth of his career. That’s the most in franchise history and tied for fifth in NHL history.

Through his efforts on the ice, the Caps were able to erase a bad first period and steal the win in overtime. But it also took a big effort off the ice to get the job done.

“If you just look at the scoresheet, that doesn't say enough of about Nick Backstrom, his contribution from in the dressing room to on the ice to key moments to key faceoffs,” Trotz said.

“I've been on his soapbox about how complete a player he is and I never really worry about Nick Backstrom. He's got enough games under his belt, he's got enough stats to back it up and he's played huge minutes and he's one of our leaders. He's a tremendous hockey player.”

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John Tortorella guarantees series will return to Washington for Game 7

John Tortorella guarantees series will return to Washington for Game 7

After losing Game 1 and Game 2 at home, Alex Ovechkin declared "It’s going to be fun when we bounce back and going to tie the series and come back here and play Game 5 at home.”

Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella seems to be taking a similar tactic.

The Capitals won Game 5 in overtime on Saturday in a game that could prove to be emotionally draining for the Blue Jackets in a number of ways.

  • It was Washington's third straight win
  • Columbus was the better team for the majority of the game, but still took the loss
  • The Blue Jackets now face elimination despite holding a 2-0 series lead to start and losing only once in regulation

Tortorella has become famous for his fiery postgame press conferences in the past, including abruptly walking out after Game 4's presser when he declared "We sucked" to the media.

Saturday's was another fun one.

In a presser that lasted less than two minutes, Tortorella twice said, "We'll be back here for Game 7."

After such a draining game, Tortorella was asked how he would get them ready for what is sure to be an emotionally charged Game 6.

"I won't have to say a damn word to them," Tortorella said. "No. We'll be back here for Game 7."

The Blue Jackets will have to win Game 6 in Columbus to make that happen.

Barry Trotz was asked for his reaction after Tortorella's comments.

"What else are you going to say? That's good. He wants to get it out there, he believes in his team just as I believe in my team. It's our job for that not to happen."

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