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Van Gundy lauds Clips; Lakers not 'tied together'

Van Gundy lauds Clips; Lakers not 'tied together'

NEW YORK (AP) Jeff Van Gundy will see both Los Angeles teams on Christmas, and for now he likes the Clippers much better.

Van Gundy also ranks New York ahead of Miami at this point, with everyone looking up at Oklahoma City as the NBA heads toward its marquee holiday schedule.

ESPN will show five games that day on its networks, and Van Gundy will call two of them with partner Mike Breen from Staples Center. The Lakers host the New York Knicks in ABC's first broadcast of the season, and the Clippers will face Denver in the nightcap on ESPN.

The Clippers brought a nine-game winning streak and 17-6 record into their game at Detroit on Monday, and were seven games ahead of the disappointing third-place Lakers.

``Right now, the Clippers have played outstanding basketball. They have star power, they have terrific depth and they're playing very well together, and the Lakers aren't healthy and have undergone a lot of change and just haven't played well, haven't played with the enthusiasm of a team that's truly tied together,'' Van Gundy said.

Beyond injuries to Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, Van Gundy said it's hard to tell without being around them every day what's wrong with the Lakers.

``You can tell by their play that they're just not totally tied together,'' Van Gundy said. ``I think if their health improves that will obviously be a major step forward, but they certainly have to get to where they are really playing for each other and not just with each other.''

Brooklyn will host Boston at the new Barclays Center in the opening game of the day. After the Knicks-Lakers matchup, Oklahoma City will visit Miami in a rematch of the NBA Finals. Houston travels to Chicago in the opener of the night doubleheader.

The Heat beat the Thunder in five games last June, but Oklahoma City has raced to a league-best, 19-4 record while winning 10 in a row. Van Gundy said the Heat probably aren't as happy with the way they've played so far, but that it's good enough to win games and he expects they'll get better as the year goes on.

The champs have been routed twice by the Knicks, who own the best record in the East. So at this point, Van Gundy puts the Knicks ahead of the Heat on his list of teams.

``I'm saying right now. It doesn't imply that somebody is going to be better in a playoff series,'' Van Gundy said. ``I'm saying just to date, there's no way you can say the Knicks haven't played better than Miami, because they have. They've beaten them easily twice and they've been very consistent.''

Van Gundy and Breen will be joined in the booth for a portion of the late game by actor Billy Crystal, a Clippers fan.

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With Burakovsky out, is Chandler Stephenson the next man up?

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With Burakovsky out, is Chandler Stephenson the next man up?

With Andre Burakovsky out for the remainder of the first round at least, someone will have to replace him in the top six. Originally, it looked like Jakub Vrana was the man for the job. Based on Game 4, however, it now looks like Chandler Stephenson is the "next man up" for the Caps.

While Vrana may have top-six skill and a high ceiling, it was Stephenson who stepped into the second-line role on Thursday playing alongside Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. Stephenson finished with two shots on goal in 17:28 of ice time. Vrana, meanwhile, played for only 6:40.

On Friday, Barry Trotz praised Stephenson's hockey IQ for allowing him to adjust to the top-six in a complementary role.

"[Stephenson's] an intelligent player," Trotz said. "He played with [Backstrom] a lot [Thursday]. If you talk with the real top-end guys, he has the ability to think like a top-end guy in terms of play with them. He’s a very intelligent player. He skates extremely well. He’s got some strength to his game. He can complement people. I think his ability to play those different roles and his hockey IQ when you play with those skill guys, he plays more of a give-and-go game than an individual game. When you play with those high skill guys, you’re able to compliment them very well."

Stephenson has spent the majority of the season on the fourth line. He was drafted as a natural center, but has played primarily wing since coming to the NHL. The ability to play both positions gives Stephenson more versatility than most forwards which Trotz credits for helping him see the game so well.

"The great thing about Chandler is he’s played multiple positions over the years. I think it’s allowed him to play a fourth-line role and with high-skill guys. At center-ice, you distribute the puck a little more.  He’s turning into a well-rounded player for us."

On the surface, having Stephenson on the fourth line over Vrana makes little sense. Vrana is highly skilled and has great speed, but he is also prone to giving up turnovers and his production can be inconsistent. Trotz has clearly put a premium on responsible play this postseason which gives Stephenson the edge.

But Game 4 was only one game. If you are going to get top-six minutes, Stephenson will be expected to produce offensively as well. Despite the limited ice time he has gotten, Vrana has shown he can have a major impact on games. In Game 1, he set up the team's only 5-on-5 goal and drew a penalty. In Game 3, he drew two penalties in less than two minutes, giving Washington a two-man advantage.

Stephenson had a fantastic game in Game 4 when he was given the chance to play in the top-six. The next step will be finding a way to have a bigger impact on the game.

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—All-Redskins mock, fast-fading interest in Dez

Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—All-Redskins mock, fast-fading interest in Dez

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, April 21, five days before the 2018 NFL draft.  

The Redskins week that was

A look at some of the most popular posts and hottest topics of the week on Real Redskins and NBC Sports Washington

Should the Redskins pursue Dez Bryant? This topic was one like a meteor, very hot for a short period of time before it quickly faded out. It started to heat up as soon as the Cowboys cut Dez (about a month too late) and when it was reported that he wanted to play against Dallas twice a year it really picked up steam. But then people started to actually think and figured out that signing Bryant didn’t make much sense for the Redskins. Add to that the reports that the Redskins had no interest and would not look into signing Dez in the future and the Redskins fans quickly lost enthusiasm for the topic.

Seven-round Redskins mock draft—I think that most Redskins fans would be happy with this mock. Well, I’ll say some Redskins fans, most is a pretty strong word in this case. 

Is the draft pool deep enough for the Redskins to trade back? There is plenty of talk about the Redskins trading down in the first round to recoup the third-round pick they gave up in the Alex Smith trade. But they need to be careful. Many consider the draft to be top heavy and they may lose their chance to pick up an impact player if they trade back too far. The question then becomes one of quality vs. quantity. 

Three questions as offseason workouts get underway—There will be plenty more questions that we can ask about this team. But we don’t really know what to ask before the draft, particularly when it comes to the defensive line and running back. One the personnel settle into place we will know what we don’t know. 

Tweet of the week

On Chris Cooley’s thought that the Redskins might try to trade back and get Da’Ron Payne in the draft and the use the assets obtained to move up to get Derrius Guice. 

This is related to the questions about trading back. On paper it looks like a good idea, assuming the Redskins want Payne. We’re pretty sure they would like to have Guice but we haven’t heard as much about the Alabama defensive lineman. 

I had many reply that Guice won’t be there in the second round. It’s possible, perhaps even likely, but you just don’t know. There was zero chance that Jonathan Allen would be there at No. 17 last year, right? 

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

Timeline  

Days until:

—OTAs start (5/22) 31
—Training camp starts (7/26) 96
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 141

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