Wizards

Anthony's 28 points lead Knicks over Celts, 89-86

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Anthony's 28 points lead Knicks over Celts, 89-86

BOSTON (AP) Carmelo Anthony scored 28 points and won his rematch with Kevin Garnett as the New York Knicks ended an 11-game losing streak in Boston with an 89-86 victory over the Celtics on Thursday night.

It came 17 days after a verbal clash between the All-Star forwards led to Anthony's one-game suspension following Boston's 102-96 victory in New York.

Anthony was booed frequently Thursday but there was no sign of hostility with Garnett. At one point, Anthony even extended his hand to a fallen Garnett and helped the Celtic to his feet.

Rajon Rondo led the Celtics with 23 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists. Garnett had only eight points but finished with a game-high 12 rebounds.

There were 17 lead changes in the game but none in the fourth quarter.

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GM Tommy Sheppard so far proving he is good at exactly what Wizards need

GM Tommy Sheppard so far proving he is good at exactly what Wizards need

There is an argument, and I've made it before, that John Wall's contract and injury situation combine for one of the biggest roster-building obstacles in NBA history. Never before has a player making as much money as he is suffered an injury as serious as his ruptured left Achilles. He takes up 35% of the salary cap, is not playing this season and has no guarantees of returning to his All-Star form once he comes back.

Even if Wall does return to his prime form, and there's reason to be hopeful he can, his contract includes a lot of money for the Wizards to work around. And that has created a scenario where making small moves count matter even more than they otherwise would.

The Wizards have to maximize all of their other resources, much like the Brooklyn Nets did when they ultimately overcame the disastrous 2014 trade with the Boston Celtics that left them paying a debt of high first-round picks for years. Brooklyn worked around their draft pick blackhole by hitting on late-round selections plus minor signings and trades. And they built a foundation along the way that made them surprising heavyweights in free agency. 

The Wizards have plenty of work to do, but first-year general manager Tommy Sheppard is already proving his worth in peripheral transactions, the types that turned the Nets around. They may be less-heralded acquisitions, but they can also become major separators between GMs.

Sheppard has been running the Wizards front office for less than a calendar year, yet he already has an impressive list of marginal moves. Just recently he turned Isaiah Thomas, who was a glaring detriment on the defensive end, into Jerome Robinson, the 13th overall pick just 20 months ago.

Last offseason, his first as GM, he flipped Aaron White, a former second-round pick who was stashed in Europe, for Davis Bertans, who has become one of the best shooters in the NBA. He also turned cap space into Moe Wagner and Isaac Bonga, two guys with intriguing potential. Wagner, in particular, has emerged as a building block.

There are other minor moves Sheppard has made that stand out as good ones. He may have found something in Garrison Mathews, a rookie on a two-way deal who can light it up from three. Anzejs Pasecniks and Gary Payton II have been nice surprises as end-of-the-roster guys. And signing Ish Smith for less money instead of retaining Tomas Satoransky has proven to be smart decision.

Sheppard continues to nail the smaller moves but he has also hit on some of the bigger ones. He drafted Rui Hachimura ninth overall in June and he has exceeded expectations thus far. Sheppard also re-signed Bradley Beal to a contract extension in October, a move few saw coming.

What will ultimately be the story of Sheppard's tenure as GM are decisions even bigger than those. There will also be some level of luck between the draft lottery, injuries and other factors.

But the best signs for what the Wizards should hope they get from Sheppard are already there. They need someone who can maximize all roster-building opportunities and work within the tight space of their remaining salary cap.

So far, Sheppard has done just that.

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The Caps aren't leading the Metro Division for the first time since Oct. 19

The Caps aren't leading the Metro Division for the first time since Oct. 19

For the first time since Oct. 19, the Capitals do not sit in first place of the Metropolitan Division. The Pittsburgh Penguins jumped Washington with a 5-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday ending a streak of 122 days in which the Caps sat atop the division.

Pittsburgh won despite Evgeni Malkin missing the game due to illness. It was a fitting way to take first place given how the Penguins have overcome a number of significant injuries this season. Anthony Angelo played in Malkin’s place and scored his first NHL goal. Jason Zucker also scored his third goal in just his fourth game with the Penguins after getting acquired by Pittsburgh in a trade.

Pittsburgh has now won six of its last eight with its only two losses coming against the red-hot Tampa Bay Lightning.

By contract, the Caps have lost four of their last five. Since Dec. 23, no team in the Metropolitan Division has earned fewer points than Washington which has gone 11-11-0 during the stretch, allowing Pittsburgh to close the gap in the standings.

The Caps and Penguins appear to be two teams headed in different directions. The good news for Washington is that it is February and there is still time for them to rally. With three games left to be played between the Caps and Pittsburgh this season, Washington will have ample opportunity to reclaim supremacy of the division. For now, however, the Penguins certainly look like the team to beat within the Metro.

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