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Bama's defense just as stingy despite NFL exodus

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Bama's defense just as stingy despite NFL exodus

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) That exodus of NFL talent hasn't made Alabama's defense any more generous.

The top-ranked Crimson Tide still leads the nation in run, pass, scoring and total defense - just like last season. In fact, the numbers are all slightly better than last year's national title group that drew speculation about whether it was `Bama's best.

The Alabama's doing it despite losing seven starters - three NFL first-rounders and four first-team All-Americans from the defense.

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said it's just part of Nick Saban's assembly line of talent.

``They change jersey numbers, not guys,'' Dooley said on Monday. ``They sign the same guys every year, just different names. They draft. We recruit. And they get the first 25 picks of the draft.''

The Tide (6-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) undoubtedly faces its biggest defensive challenge in Saturday's visit to quarterback Tyler Bray and the Volunteers (3-3, 0-3). The Vols rank 22nd nationally in total offense and 24th in scoring, compared to average rankings of 69 and 77 among Alabama's first six opponents.

That doesn't make Alabama's stinginess much less impressive, even if the comparisons to past great defenses can wait.

The Tide held Missouri to 3 yards rushing last weekend and has five interceptions and eight sacks in the past two games.

Defensive end Damion Square attributes the success to how well young players like safeties HaHa Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri and linebacker Xzavier Dickson have stepped in for departed stars. Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick, Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw were among the first 35 players selected in the draft.

``Those guys are playing excellent,'' Square said. ``It's not the guys who have been out on the field for a while and played a key role in this defense for a while, it's the guys that stepped in and took the place of Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower. Those guys are playing great football and that's the reason our defense is playing the way it is.''

Linebacker C.J. Mosley and cornerback Dee Milliner are veterans who have moved into starring roles. Mosley had 12 tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery against Missouri to earn SEC defensive player of the week honors. Milliner and Ohio State's Bradley Roby are tied for the national lead with 14 passes defended, including 12 breakups and two interceptions.

The statistical wealth is mostly spread around beyond them. Four players have two interceptions apiece and only Mosley has topped 26 tackles.

``It's been a hard-working group,'' Saban said. ``They've had a really good attitude about what they want to try to do. I still think there's a lot of areas that we need to improve on. We're going to be challenged in a way that we've never been challenged by the quality of the offensive team that we're playing this week in their capabilities in the passing game as well as the balance they have running the ball.''

Collectively, the numbers are more impressive and stack up well to the 2011 group. Alabama has allowed 55.3 rushing yards a game, down from 72.2 last season; 81 passing yards (111.5); 7.5 points (8.2) and 181.1 yards on average (183.6).

Saban said he doesn't care about rankings and would just as soon change the subject, thank you.

``It only matters at the end, what was the whole body of work you could do on a consistent basis,'' he said. ``None of the rest of it matters. We're going to play a lot better teams, and a lot better offensive teams in the future. And we're going to be challenged in different ways. I'm concerned about reacting to those challenges properly. Not what we've done last week or the week before. So I'd appreciate it if we don't have to talk about that anymore. Where we're ranked, what we're doing or what we did. I'm looking at what we're going to do, if that's OK.''

It seems to be OK with Alabama players, who are more outspoken about what they're doing wrong than what they're doing well.

``That's instilled in us that you can always get better,'' linebacker Trey DePriest said. ``We haven't put together a perfect game yet. It's kind of unrealistic that we can put together a perfect game. It helps a lot, so we don't get complacent. There's no complacency. Each week we try to go out there and get better.''

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AP Sports Writer Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Tenn., contributed to this report.

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The Bradley Beal All-NBA Dilemma: How NBA execs would handle the big question facing the Wizards

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The Bradley Beal All-NBA Dilemma: How NBA execs would handle the big question facing the Wizards

“How do you get a player better than Brad if you trade Brad?”

That brain-busting question from a current NBA general manager came before the February 7 trade deadline when rumors involving Wizards guard Bradley Beal swirled.

Another migraine-inducing conundrum is forthcoming whether Beal receives All-NBA honors or not.

Should the league’s upcoming announcement of its first, second and third team include the two-time All-Star, the Wizards may have no choice but to break up the backcourt pairing with John Wall that fueled the franchise’s most sustained success since winning the 1978 title.

This honor comes with a financial reward-- if extended to Beal by the Wizards --  in the form of a supermax contract worth approximately $193 million over four years that would begin in 2021-22. He still has two years and $56 million remaining on the valued five-year, $127 million deal he signed in 2016.

The issue is less about Beal’s hefty chunk of the Wizards’ salary cap, but combining it with Wall’s four-year, $170 million supermax deal that begins next season. Offer Beal the supermax and, should he accept, approximately 71 percent of the team’s future salary cap beginning in the 2021-22 season would be chewed up by two players.

Beal and Wall, when healthy, are All-Stars. They’re not Jordan and Pippen.

NBC Sports Washington spoke with over a dozen league sources in recent weeks including three current or former general managers, other executives, NBA coaches and scouts, about Beal’s contract situation and the Wizards’ overall equation coming off a 32-50 campaign.

Some dutifully tried putting themselves in the mindset of Washington’s next front office leader knowing Beal’s contract status and other limiting or uncertain factors.

The executives shared opinions on whether to boldly hold or sell high on the Wizards’ best player. Regardless of their stance, their initial instinct almost unanimously landed in the same place as this current lead executive: “I have no idea what you would do.”

*****

There’s an incredibly strong argument for doing nothing. How do you get a player better than Brad if you trade Brad?

Several NBA sources largely acknowledge the choice almost gets removed from the Wizards front office should Beal receive the All-NBA nod. Even if Kemba Walker, Klay Thompson or Ben Simmons trump Beal in the voting, events from early February may effectively force the Wizards’ hand.

Washington faced its second consecutive luxury tax payment, diminishing playoff hopes and the knowledge that Wall would miss the rest of the season with a heel injury.

Despite those negatives and salary cap concerns with only five players catapulting the team over next season’ salary cap, big picture hope existed. The headliners -- Wall, Beal and Otto Porter -- previously put the Wizards in a playoff contender mode. “We're not trading any of those players,” Wizards owner Ted Leonsis said at the time.

There’s a good reason to believe Leonsis meant what he said. Then life intervened and forced change.

Wall’s left Achilles ruptured during the first week of February. The recovery time means an entire calendar year and perhaps the full 2019-20 season. Those negatives, especially with the salary cap, were now amplified.

Washington dealt with that financial scenario two days after the Wall status update by trading Porter and Markieff Morris to slide under the luxury tax.

Another life event requiring a financial decision could happen this week.

*****

There’s no debating whether Beal is worthy of the All-NBA accolade. Some believe he is a favorite to snag one of the two guard spots on the third-team.

The dilemma is can the Wizards justify offering a contract with those hefty terms knowing what’s already on the books, plus the upcoming challenges.

Pass and the likelihood of trading Beal at peak value becomes a leading option. Hold Beal regardless and his trade value effectively decreases over the next two seasons with the possibility he leaves as a 2021 free agent without compensation.

“The Wizards is a hard job right now,” a former GM told NBC Sports Washington. “There’s a lot to figure out. Timelines can’t be certain with John Wall in particular. For Bradley Beal, that's a decision… Hard to walk in [to those interviews) with a specific plan.”

Leave the supermax contract off the table and the human element arises. Those familiar with Beal’s mindset do not see a Robin to Wall’s Batman. Co-headliners, cool, but then pay and appreciate accordingly. Maybe folks could start referring to the pair as Beal and Wall once in a while.

Forget the money, which isn’t Beal’s driving motivation. As one source familiar with Beal’s thinking stated, “Brad needs to be in the playoffs. He’s not disruptive...Brad just wants to win.”

The Wizards might not be in playoff position next season even if Beal maintains his All-NBA level. It's a near lock they won't if the 2012 first-round pick is traded.

Beal averaged 30.9 points in February, the same month he dropped a season-high 46 at Charlotte and his All-NBA buzz soared. Beal joined 2019 MVP finalist James Harden as the only players this season to average at least 25 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 1.5 steals.

The wing guard’s leadership kept Washington tangibly in the playoff race until realities of the undermanned roster kicked in.

“I think [Brad is] an all-NBA player in my eyes,” said Wall, an All-NBA selection in 2016. “You know how tough it is to make that team? It’s always tough. The year he’s had speaks for itself.”

How do you trade that player especially one groomed by the organization since selecting him third overall in 2012? You can't -- but the Wizards might not have a choice.

Nobody recognizes this more than Bradley Beal.

"Honestly, I’m here until I’m not here," Beal told NBC Sports Washington earlier this month. "I’m not thinking too strong on it. My personal desire is to be here and see the direction we go. Hopefully, the correct direction.

"I keep hearing the possibility of rebooting, trading Brad and getting assets back. It’s a business. I understand both sides of it. I can’t be mad at it."

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The Stanley Cup Final is set and the Capitals will hand the Stanley Cup off to Boston or St. Louis

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The Stanley Cup Final is set and the Capitals will hand the Stanley Cup off to Boston or St. Louis

With the St. Louis Blues’ victory on Tuesday, the Stanley Cup Final has officially been set. The Blues will face the Boston Bruins as both teams will battle to supplant the Capitals as the Stanley Cup champions.

St. Louis finished off the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday with a 5-1 Game 6 win and will now look to win its first ever Stanley Cup. One has to wonder whether that game was the last time we will see the 39-year-old Sharks forward Joe Thornton on the ice. For the Blues, this is the first time they have reached the final since 1970, snapping a 49-year drought. They made the final in each of their first three seasons as the NHL grouped all of its expansion franchises into a single division.

St. Louis is now the first team in league history to go from last place in the league in January to the Stanley Cup Final.

This season will be a rematch of the 1970 final in which the Blues were swept by the Bruins. That series gave us the iconic moment of Boston great Bobby Orr soaring through the air after scoring the Cup-clinching goal in overtime of Game 4.

The Bruins have been waiting since Thursday to learn who their opponent would be after sweeping the Carolina Hurricanes to win the East. Boston will be going for its seventh Cup and first since 2011. Goalie Tuukka Rask was brilliant in that series with a .956 save percentage and a 1.25 GAA. The long layoff, however, could potentially cool off Rask and the red-hot Bruins.

The New York Islanders and Columbus Blue Jackets both swept their first-round opponents and both lost in the second round. The Hurricanes swept the Islanders in the second round and were then swept by Boston. The Bruins will have to shake off the rust as quickly as possible as the final begins.

Boston will have home ice in the final and will host Games 1 and 2 before the series shifts back to St. Louis.

Here is the final schedule:

  • Game 1 in Boston, Mon. May 27
  • Game 2 in Boston, Wed. May 29
  • Game 3 in St. Louis, Sat. June 1
  • Game 4 in St. Louis, Mon. June 3
  • Game 5 (if necessary) in Boston, Thurs. June 6
  • Game 6 (if necessary) in St. Louis, Sun. June 9
  • Game 7 (if necessary) in Boston, Wed. June 12

 

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