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Arkansas' Hamilton making most of opportunity

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Arkansas' Hamilton making most of opportunity

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Cobi Hamilton knew he was stepping into an already crowded wide receiver position when he came to Arkansas. By the time his career is finished, Hamilton could be the one all other Razorbacks receivers look up to.

Hamilton has made the most of his long-awaited opportunity as the go-to receiver this season for Arkansas, leading the Southeastern Conference with 73 catches and 1,149 yards receiving. The senior has already set the school's single-season records in both categories, and he's within striking distance of the career marks.

He'll face no easy task in reaching those records in the Razorbacks (4-6, 2-4 SEC) final two games, beginning at Mississippi State (7-3, 3-3) on Saturday. Regardless of whether Hamilton sets the career records, he has already proven he's more-than capable of being a No. 1 receiver rather than just a talented understudy.

The Texarkana, Texas, high school star signed with Arkansas despite the presence of three talented receivers who were already on campus. Those three - Jarius Wright, Joe Adams and Greg Childs - are all in the NFL now.

Hamilton could have gone to any number of other schools, including Auburn, Texas or Oklahoma State. However, he chose Arkansas and welcomed the competition with the already established trio - each of whom was selected in the fourth round of April's NFL draft.

Their departures opened the door for the 6-foot-3, 209-pound Hamilton, who worked tirelessly throughout the offseason to prepare for the lead role.

``This is the year that I expected to have,'' Hamilton said. ``... I put a lot of time being behind all those great receivers, just learning the little things from them. I'm really excited I have this one year to showcase my skills and what I learned from those guys.''

Hamilton was used as a jack-of-all-trades during his first three seasons while backing up Wright, Adams and Childs. His job was to know everybody's job, from slot receiver to wideout, and he excelled in each, primarily running deep routes.

Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson said Hamilton was often referred to as ``the 200-meter guy'' because his top-end speed was better than his acceleration off the line of scrimmage. Aware of his need to improve, Hamilton worked on his initial burst and has become Wilson's most reliable - if not his only, at times - target.

``He's done such a great job in the last six months of figuring out how to get off the line so much quicker than he has in the past,'' Wilson said. ``That's made him such a dynamic receiver because we can get the ball to him quicker.

``It allows him to get in passing lanes and windows quicker and stretch the field a little quicker, this being able to get the ball to him and him being able to make some big plays.''

Hamilton has 51 more catches than the Razorbacks' second-leading receiver this season, tight end Chris Gragg. Like many on Arkansas this season, Gragg has battled injuries throughout the season - leaving Hamilton as the focus of both the offense and opposing defenses.

The double-teams and other specialized coverages, however, haven't slowed Hamilton.

Hamilton broke the school's single season receptions record during an 11-catch, 177-yard performance against Tulsa on Nov. 3. He bested Wright's former mark of 66 catches, and he eclipsed Wright's single-season yardage mark during a loss to South Carolina last week.

``He was always fast, but now he's gotten himself quick,'' Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said. ``He has quick feet, too, and he has the ability to stop and get in and out of his breaks. That's usually what separates the good from the great is who can get separation at the top of their routes and get in and out of their breaks.''

Now in Hamilton's sights are the school's career records. With 158 catches, he's 10 behind Wright. And with 2,668 yards, he's 266 behind his former teammate and current Minnesota Vikings wideout with the visit to the Bulldogs and a home game against LSU remaining.

Hamilton said he was unaware of the records, insisting he'd prefer two more wins and bowl eligibility for a fourth straight season. He also said it's been difficult this season to balance his personal success with the disappointment of the Razorbacks, who began the season ranked in the top 10.

``It's been like a roller coaster ride, just up and down,'' Hamilton said. ``... I'm just ready to finish this season off as a team.''

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Alex Ovechkin in the lineup shows just how important Wednesday vs. Toronto really is

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USA TODAY SPORTS

Alex Ovechkin in the lineup shows just how important Wednesday vs. Toronto really is

The Capitals have one last piece of business to tend to before the All-Star break. They head to Toronto to take on the Maple Leafs Wednesday (7:30 p.m., NBCSN) in an absolute must-win for Washington.

Here’s what you need to watch.

Alex Ovechkin is in

Because Ovechkin decided not to participate in the All-Star Game, he has to serve a one-game suspension. The team had the option of Ovechkin missing the last game before the All-Star break or the first game back. Ovechkin was asked after the game Tuesday if he would be playing against the Leafs and he said yes. Head coach Todd Reirden confirmed that he would indeed be playing Wednesday. So, coming off a hat trick performance, Ovechkin will be back in the lineup Wednesday in Toronto.

The decision comes as no surprise. The Caps desperately need a win Wednesday or they will head into the All-Star break on a seven-game losing streak which will fester until the team finally returns to the ice after the bye week.

Ironically enough, the last time Ovechkin played in Toronto was on Nov. 25, 2017, the famous Alex Luey game in which Ovechkin also tallied a hat trick.

By playing Wednesday, Ovechkin will have to sit out the team’s first game back from the break on Feb. 1 against the Calgary Flames.

Who will play in net?

With the high stakes of this game, could we see Braden Holtby back between the pipes despite playing Tuesday? It’s possible.

Reirden said after Tuesday’s game that he had not yet reached a decision on which goalie would play in Toronto. On the one hand, this is a game the team really needs to win so it would make sense to play your top netminder especially before the prolonged All-Star break. On the other, Holtby has really struggled in his past two outings giving up four goals to Chicago on just 11 shots and seven goals to San Jose on 43 shots. Holtby’s break will also be shorter given that he will be participating in the All-Star festivities.

Pheonix Copley has been a dependable backup this season, but he certainly seems to be showing some cracks the last few games. He has given up 14 goals in his last three appearances, one of which was only half a game in Chicago.

It’s been a long time since Washington has lost seven straight

The last time the Caps lost seven straight games was in January 2014.

From Jan. 12 to Jan. 24, the Caps went 0-5-2 in Adam Oates’ second and last season behind the bench. That streak was particularly messy as Washington had three goalies on the roster -- Holtby, Philipp Grubauer and Michal Neuvirth -- and all three played during that stretch.

What should concern Caps fans the most is that not only was that the last time Washington lost seven straight, it was also the last time it missed the playoffs.

Toronto could really use this game too

For any optimists out there thinking maybe the Leafs will be looking ahead to the break and may just mentally take this game off, that’s not going to happen. Toronto needs this game about as much as the Caps do.

The Maple Leafs have lost four of their last five and seven of their last 10. Given what hockey means in Toronto, you can guess what the mood is like in that city. To say people are panicking would be grossly underselling it.

When the puck drops on Wednesday, two desperate hockey teams will be facing off.

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Bradley Beal doesn't care if he's named a 2019 NBA All-Star starter

Bradley Beal doesn't care if he's named a 2019 NBA All-Star starter

The 2019 NBA All-Star starters are set to be announced on Thursday and Wizards guard Bradley Beal is not optimistic he will be chosen. That is despite a growing number of supporters in the media, but Beal understands their votes only count for 25 percent of the equation.

Fan voting makes up 50 percent and NBA players the remaining 25 percent. With Beal in a distant 10th among Eastern Conference guards in the fan voting rounds that have been made public, he has set his expectations accordingly.

"I'm not going to be a starter so it doesn't matter," he quipped after Wizards practice on Wednesday. "I'm positive. Let's just be honest. Right? We all can be honest, right?"

Beal, who made his first All-Star team last season as a reserve, will almost certainly be an All-Star again this year one way or another. Coaches vote on reserves and those will be announced on Jan. 31.

But Beal has a solid case to be a starter despite his Wizards sitting at just 20-26 and outside of the playoff picture. He is posting career-highs in points (24.7), rebounds (5.0), assists (5.0), steals (1.3) and blocks (0.9). He has appeared in all 46 of the Wizards games this season while many of his teammates have been absent due to injury.

Boston's Kyrie Irving appears to be a lock for one of the two starting guard spots in the East. He has a strong case with his numbers, his team's success and has fared well in fan voting. But the second spot has no clear favorite.

Ben Simmons has played well for a good Sixers team. Victor Oladipo of the Pacers also has a case, though due to injuries his numbers have fallen off.

Kyle Lowry has helped the Raptors post one of the league's best records. Kemba Walker of the Hornets has had the best season of his career and plays for the hometown team with the game taking place in Charlotte.

There is also Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat, a future Hall of Famer who might be a starter if it were based solely on fan voting. If he gets support from players or media votes, he could get in as a legacy pick given this is the final season of his legendary career.

Basically, Beal has a lot of competition. He gets it and insists he isn't losing sleep over the pending announcement.

"Even then I don't let it consume me. It's not like a goal of mine like 'oh, I've gotta be an All-Star.' If I am, it's great. It's even more motivation to continue to get better. Even if I'm not an All-Star, I'm not going to be mad or upset," he said.

Beal said his No. 1 goal is winning and mentioned how the Wizards remain six games under .500 despite reeling off seven of their last 10. Washington happens to be hosting the defending-champion Golden State Warriors on Thursday night, so he has plenty on his plate.

Beal will likely be an All-Star representing the Wizards in the Feb. 17 showcase. But it doesn't sound like he will be doing any of the other festivities.

Beal has participated in the three-point contest twice in his career and both times was a runner-up. He has not been invited yet to this year's contest and probably won't participate even if he is asked.

"I would probably take a break this year because it was definitely a lot last year, just all the off-court stuff," he said. "I'm not saying I won't do it for the rest of my career, but I don't think I'm doing it this year."

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