Wizards

Top scorer for No. 14 Butler feeling better

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Top scorer for No. 14 Butler feeling better

When the soreness in Rotnei Clarke's shoulders dissipates, Butler's senior guard plans to carry the Bulldogs as far as he can.

For now, all he can do is watch, wait and heal.

The top scorer for the 14th-ranked Bulldogs said Tuesday he is feeling better after a scary crash into a padded basket support, but Clarke still hasn't been cleared to resume contact and Butler has not said how much more time he'll miss beyond this week's two games.

``I'm going to start getting on the bike a little bit and then when the pain in my shoulders starts to leave a little bit with the nerves, I'll be able to shoot and be able to do non-contact stuff hopefully,'' he said, answering questions for the first time since sustaining a sprained neck at Dayton. ``Right now I'm just resting for a couple of days.''

Clarke was injured during last Saturday's victory when he was fouled on a layup, and the contact sent him head-first into a nearby basket support.

He stayed down for eight minutes before being taken away on an ambulance and was transported to a local hospital. He was released later Saturday night and returned to Indianapolis with his team despite complaining of a sore neck and a bad headache.

On Sunday, trainers removed the protective brace from Clarke's neck and allowed him to go through a light workout. On Monday night, though, the Bulldogs (14-2, 2-0 Atlantic 10) issued a statement saying Clarke would be held out of Wednesday night's home game against Richmond and Saturday's home showdown against No. 8 Gonzaga.

Beyond that, the timetable is unclear.

``I'm doing the best that I can,'' Clarke said. ``I'm going to listen to our trainers and our coaches and doctors. I just have to know that they have my best interest at hand and they want what's best with me.''

Clarke was third in the Atlantic 10 in scoring heading into last weekend at 16.3 points per game.

Losing Clarke, a strong 3-point shooter who can drive to the basket, will force the Bulldogs to make changes.

Coach Brad Stevens acknowledged he will spread out the 35 to 40 minutes per game that Clarke typically plays among the rest of his players, and he'll need other players to help make up for the loss of his top scorer. He also expects defenses to make some adjustments.

``They might make some tweaks and some changes, which I do expect from some teams, but I don't know that it's necessarily predictable,'' Stevens said. ``I would assume that we will see some small tweaks, but nothing major, certainly nothing out of the norm of what teams are usually doing.''

But Stevens believes the scary scene at Dayton should raise concerns about potential injuries at other schools and could instigate a debate about where basket supports belong on the court during college games.

``It was obviously a hard foul. I've looked at it. I've seen harder fouls. But it was a hard foul,'' Stevens said. ``I think the bigger question is at what point are we going to start talking about backstops being so close to the floor. That's the bigger question. We saw one of our scarier moments in college basketball in a long time on Saturday.''

The injury couldn't have come at a worse time for the Bulldogs, who face the Spiders (11-6) before playing one of the biggest non-power conference games of the season.

If the Bulldogs beat Gonzaga, it would mark the first time in school history that they have upset three Top 10 teams in one season. They beat North Carolina in Hawaii and handed No. 2 Indiana its only loss of the season last month.

Clarke wanted to be around for Saturday's game, but he will now have to settle for playing the role of supportive teammate and getting himself ready to play as soon as he's cleared.

``I feel very blessed to be walking right now. I feel blessed that I was able to walk out of the hospital,'' Clarke said. ``It puts a lot of things in perspective when something like that happens.''

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Scott Brooks preparing Wizards for much tougher road ahead

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Scott Brooks preparing Wizards for much tougher road ahead

The Wizards entered the All-Star break having won seven of their previous nine games since John Wall went down with an injury, so a natural question to head coach Scott Brooks looking ahead to their first game back on Thursday was how he and his team can keep that momentum going in the second half.

Brooks immediately pointed to the Wizards' schedule, which gets notably more difficult in the coming weeks. They have a stretch of games over the next month-plus that features the best teams in basketball and Brooks knows that will be a big factor in whether they can sustain what they have going.

"Definitely the schedule gets tougher," Brooks said. "We've got a lot of good teams coming up starting with the first one in Cleveland. It's five games in seven nights against really good teams."

PODCAST: BIGGEST STORYLINES COMING OUT OF ALL-STAR BREAK

In the next five weeks, the Wizards will play 15 of 17 games against teams currently holding playoff spots. That includes the Cavaliers, Warriors, Celtics, Spurs (twice), Raptors and Timberwolves. 

That will represent a marked shift for the Wizards, who to this point have the weakest strength of schedule. Though they boast impressive wins over the Celtics, Rockets, Raptors and Timberwolves, they are about to play teams of that caliber more frequently with few nights off to rest. They have four back-to-back sets all in the next three weeks.

The upcoming stretch has been on the Wizards' minds for a while. Several players referenced their tough schedule before the All-Star break, knowing those wins leading up to the time off could prove extra important in hindsight.

The Wizards return to action on Thursday night against the Cavaliers, a team that has already beaten them twice. Both of those games were against the old version of the Cavs before they traded much of their roster at the deadline.

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Gone are Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas, Iman Shumpert, Jae Crowder and Channing Frye. But they still have that guy LeBron James.

"Shoot, they looked good the other time, right? They beat us twice with the other group," Brooks noted. "LeBron is going to go down as one of the best ever. They are younger and more athletic. They're a good team and they still have an All-Star in [Kevin] Love who hasn't played because he's hurt."

The Cavs haven't lost in three games since the All-Star break and that includes road wins over the Celtics and Thunder. They look rejuvenated and, at least so far, improved from the aging, incongruent roster they had just weeks ago.

The Wizards have also been playing better lately, of course, and this upcoming stretch will be a major test for them. Wall has been out three weeks since he had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. He is likely to miss another three-to-five weeks. The Wizards will have to get through this without him.

If they can remain competitive and even beat some of these elite teams, they will only gain more confidence in their potential. That's the way Brooks plans to approach the schedule.

"We still want to be a better team when John comes back," Brooks said. "But the schedule definitely gets a lot tougher."

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Braden Holtby puts loss to Tampa solely on his own shoulders

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Braden Holtby puts loss to Tampa solely on his own shoulders

The mood in the Capitals locker room following a 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday was one of frustration. Forty minutes of strong play from Washington amounted to nothing because of a disastrous opening first period in which the Lightning jumped out to a 3-0 lead.

No one in the locker room was more frustrated than Braden Holtby.

"Obviously you don't want to go down three," he told reporters after the game. "That's on no one else but me. The third goal, especially the third, fourth goal, that's the difference in the game. I thought we played a really strong game against a really good team. We should have got a better result and that's on me why we didn't."

Tampa scored three goals in the first off of only eight shots. For the game, the Lightning managed to pierce Holtby four times off of only 19 shots.

RELATED: WHY THE CAPS LOST TO THE LIGHTNING

Frustration seemed to boil over on the fourth goal when a normally stoic Holtby was visibly upset after allowing Nikita Kucherov to beat him on a breakaway in a play similar to what we saw in the All-Star Game.

See for yourself:

"The key to getting better is learning from your mistakes and obviously I didn't do that," Holtby said. "I was just trying to play it patient. I wasn't trying to cheat towards that move and he came at it a different way. That's on me for not recognizing it. That's not a goal I can give up in that situation after our team battled the way they did, especially in the third."

The frustration Holtby feels likely is not the result of one goal, but the culmination of a recent slump that continues to plague the Vezina winner.

Holtby has lost four straight starts and has given up at least four goals in each of those games.

While Holtby was quick to take the blame for Tuesday's loss, head coach Barry Trotz was quick to defend his netminder.

"No one takes the loss," he said. "We all take a loss. I take a loss, the group takes a loss and Braden's part of the group. ... He's had a little tough stretch. It's no different than, we've got guys that haven't scored in 15, 20 games. It's no different than a player."

The challenge now is overcoming that slump.

For a slumping skater, Trotz could try different line combinations or play someone in different situations over the course of the game. Getting a starting goalie out of a slump, however, is more difficult. Most of the work has to be done in practice with the hope that it will carry over into the next game.

"You analyze how the goals are going in, what you're doing differently," Holtby said. "There's always some stuff that you can't control and stuff that you can and it's focusing on those contrallables that you can make a difference at. Like the first goal in Chicago, the last two goals here, those are goals that I could and should stop. You get to practice the next day and you focus on that and work hard until you figure it out so you don't do it again."

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Part of the problem in Washington is that team defense is the Caps' biggest weakness. For most of the season, and even in years past, Holtby has made up for much of the team's mistakes on the backend. Now that he is slumping those mistakes become much more glaring and costly.

"The goaltenders in this league are erasers," Trotz said.

Lately, Holtby has not been able to erase those mistakes.

But the team has already moved to address the defense. Brian MacLellan added a puck-moving defenseman in Michal Kempny to help the team get the puck out of the defensive zone more quickly. Waiving Taylor Chorney could also signify another move may be coming before Monday's trade deadline.

As for Trotz, even during the slump, he made clear his confidence in Holtby has not wavered.

"He has been a rock since the day I've been here the last four years and he's been an elite goaltender and I look at him that way."