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Bama, LSU hoping 7 will be lucky number this time

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Bama, LSU hoping 7 will be lucky number this time

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) Maybe the force-field that has shielded the end zone the past two times Alabama and LSU have tangled won't be quite so powerful Saturday night.

The top-ranked Crimson Tide and No. 5 Tigers have smacked right into it the past two meetings at various points on the field, reaching the end zone only once between them.

Alabama (8-0, 5-0 Southeastern Conference) especially has been forced to attempt a cascade of field goals after promising drives screeched to a halt, making either goats or heroes of the kickers.

The good news for the Tide: AJ McCarron and the offense have been far more successful this season in getting points out of trips inside the opponents' 20-yard line, or the red zone. Nearly perfect, in fact. And LSU has struggled both offensively and defensively within that portion of the field.

The bad news: LSU (7-1, 3-1) has a Top 10 defense and easily the most formidable group of running backs Alabama has faced, so neither of those trends are guaranteed to hold up.

Bama kickers Cade Foster (three misses) and Jeremy Shelley (a 49-yarder blocked) became infamous for their troubles in last November's 9-6 overtime loss to the Tigers. Shelley got redemption with five field goals in the national title game

The offense shared the blame in that regular-season meeting - or LSU's defense the credit.

Alabama had four drives inside the Tigers' 30-yard line and was pushed back with two penalties, two sacks and three negative rushing yards. Call that the Crimson zone.

``Oh, we missed a lot of opportunities and that's one thing that we've got to focus on this week, most definitely,'' Tide wide receiver Kevin Norwood said. ``Scoring when we should and scoring when we have to and making every opportunity count.''

Alabama's done that much better through eight games.

The Tide is tied with No. 12 Louisville for tops nationally in red zone efficiency, scoring on 34 of 35 trips with 26 touchdowns. Alabama is also No. 1 in that category on defense, allowing eight scores and six touchdowns on opponents' 15 drives that penetrated the 20.

LSU has managed to overcome rankings of No. 72 offensively in the red zone and 115th defensively - with one exception. Those deficiencies were costly in the lone loss to No. 8 Florida, which scored touchdowns on both its trips while the Tigers settled for field goals in a 14-6 defeat.

``It's execution when we get in the red zone,'' LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger said. ``It's not like we don't want to score down there, we just screw up. We have to get seven when we get down there. Alabama has a very good defense. That's what they do. That's what Nick Saban wants. They have a very sound defense. The opportunity is going to be there for me and my receivers to make a big play. We have to capitalize on these opportunities.''

Saban, the Tide's perfectionist coach, sets a goal of holding opponents to scores on only 60 percent of their red zone visits while getting points 90 percent of the time offensively.

So far, so good.

``You always want to score a touchdown every time you get the ball in the red zone,'' Saban said. ``But I think red zone efficiency is very, very important to being successful.''

Especially in big games featuring strong running games and two of the nation's best defenses, where there's little margin for error.

Alabama settled for field goals by Shelley in its three red zone trips in the national title game though Trent Richardson scored on a late 34-yard run in the 21-0 win.

Tide guard Chance Warmack said last year's team might have been missing the urgent mentality, and this group has it.

``I think we take that to heart,'' Warmack said. ``It's a mentality that you have to have going in, that you have to score every time you're in the red zone.''

Just in case it comes down to the kickers again:

LSU's Drew Alleman has made 12 of 17 field goals.

Alabama's Shelley is perfect on nine attempts, handling the short- and mid-range attempts. Foster has made three kicks in five attempts from 50-plus yards, and is 4 of 8 overall.

``I think both of those guys have improved,'' Saban said. ``They've gotten better each year. Cade's a lot more confident, has more confidence in the technical aspect of what he needs to do to be successful and has had more consistency in his approach to being able to do that.

``Jeremy has always been pretty accurate and continues to be that way.''

That accuracy might come in handy in Baton Rouge.

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NBA offseason grades: With Kawhi Leonard, Raptors shined most in Atlantic Division

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USA TODAY Sports

NBA offseason grades: With Kawhi Leonard, Raptors shined most in Atlantic Division

Here is a look at how the 2018 NBA offseason went for teams in the Atlantic Division...

Toronto Raptors, B+

2017-18 finish: 59-23, 2nd round of playoffs
In: F Kawhi Leonard, G Danny Green, C Greg Monroe
Out: G DeMar DeRozan, C Jakub Poeltl, C Lucas Nogueira

The Raptors had one of the more consequential offseasons of any NBA team this year. First, they fired Dwane Casey, the 2017-18 NBA Coach of the Year, following a season in which they won 59 games. Then, they pulled off the biggest trade of the summer, a deal that featured two perennial All-NBA players. They let go of DeRozan and brought in Leonard in return. If they hadn't parted with DeRozan and Casey, they may have gotten an A. But it's hard to tell how much better they will be following the deal and Leonard does bring with him some concerns based on his quadriceps injury and the fact he has only one year left on his contract. The Raptors do, however, also get points for re-signing point guard Fred VanVleet.

Boston Celtics, C

2017-18 finish: 55-27, conference finals
In: C Robert Williams, G Brad Wanamaker
Out: C Greg Monroe

One year ago, the Celtics flipped nearly their entire roster and brought in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. This year, they mostly stood pat and didn't add much of anything in free agency or trades. Their biggest acquisition was Williams, who they took 27th overall in the first round of the draft. The Celtics will hope they improve from within. They re-signed Marcus Smart and Aron Baynes, and should get Irving and Hayward back from injuries. They should have plenty of talent to compete for an NBA Finals berth, but as far as this offseason goes, they didn't do much.

Philadelphia 76ers, D+

2017-18 finish: 52-30, 2nd round of playoffs
In: F Wilson Chandler, C Mike Muscala, G Zhaire Smith, G Landry Shamet
Out: G Marco Belinelli, F Ersan Ilyasova

Where do we begin? This summer was about as dramatic and bad as it could get for the Sixers. First, they had to fire their general manager because of a burner Twitter account scandal. Then, they struck out miserably in free agency with LeBron James and Paul George, and in trade talks for Leonard. After that, Smith - their first round pick - hurt his foot. And along the way, Ben Simmons has been dating a Kardashian, flirting with the curse that has claimed many pro athletes before him. Philly did re-sign J.J. Redick and Johnson, and the Chandler trade was nice, but all in all it was an offseason that fell way short of the Sixers' expectations. That said, they can still get way better next season based solely on their young players taking another step.

New York Knicks, B

2017-18 finish: 29-53, missed playoffs
In: F Mario Hezonja, F Kevin Knox, F Noah Vonleh, C Mitchell Robinson
Out: F Michael Beasley, G Jarrett Jack, F Kyle O'Quinn

It's been a while since the Knicks had an offseason to write home about and this one is no exception. There was nothing they did that would flirt with an A-grade. However, the early returns on their draft are excellent. Knox and Robinson were both standouts in the Summer League and offer fans a little bit more hope about the team's future. As long as Kristaps Porzingis can return this season safe and sound from his ACL tear, the Knicks could take a step forward in 2018-19.

Brooklyn Nets, C+

2017-18 finish: 28-54, missed playoffs
In: F Ed Davis, F Kenneth Faried, F Jared Dudley
Out: F Dante Cunningham, G Nik Stauskas, C Jahlil Okafor

The best news about the Nets' offseason is that their trade with the Celtics, the one that stripped them of years of first round picks, is finally over. Next year, the Nets will have a first round pick. This summer, they once again didn't add any major pieces in the draft, but seemed to make some smart moves in free agency. The Davis deal is solid and Faried may benefit from a change of scenery. More baby steps for Brooklyn.

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Dmitry Orlov dazzles his hometown of Novokuznetsk with the Stanley Cup

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USA Today Sports

Dmitry Orlov dazzles his hometown of Novokuznetsk with the Stanley Cup

Friday featured Dmitry Orlov and his jam-packed schedule with the coveted Stanley Cup.

The 27-year-old native of Russia decided to take the Cup to Novokuznetsk (located in the southwest region of Siberia) for a meet and greet with fans by the Ferris wheel at Gagarin City Park.

It should be mentioned that Orlov's day with the trophy was nearly derailed after a travel glitch that sent the Cup to Novosibirsk instead of his hometown. 

Thanks to the ultimate assist from a helicopter, the Cup arrived in style and set up one memorable entrance for the defenseman. 

Orlov released this hype video which highlights his entire day on Instagram: 

Дорогие друзья! Огромное спасибо, что разделили с нами наш праздник! Для нас это значимое и большое событие! Ещё раз приносим искренние извинения за задержку с кубком! И спасибо за понимание, мы старались сделать все максимально быстро! Спасибо за тёплый приём! Нашим родным, друзьям, тренерам, отдельная благодарность! Вы сделали наш праздник, наш день! Мы никогда не забудем этот праздник! P.S. Лена @govor_elena , тебе и твоим родным, отдельная благодарность, если бы не ваша помощь, то не известно когда бы кубок был в Новокузнецке!

A post shared by Dmitry Orlov (@orlov_09) on

Talk about a banner weekend for the Washington Capitals. The Ovechkins welcomed their new son, Sergei Aleksandrovich, into the world and Orlov pulled off yet another spectacular day with the Cup.

 

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