Redskins

Bobcats 1 win away from matching last year's total

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Bobcats 1 win away from matching last year's total

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Michael Jordan's Bobcats are the NBA's most surprising team so far this season.

Charlotte (6-4) has won five of its past six games and is one win away from matching last year's win total.

The turnaround is impressive considering the Bobcats finished last season 7-59 and with the worst winning percentage (.106) in league history. They lost their final 23 games of the season.

But under the direction of defensive-oriented coach Mike Dunlap, they've been competitive and have developed a knack for closing games. Charlotte is 5-0 in contests decided by four points or less - and without much NBA experience on the roster.

That's doesn't bother Dunlap.

``The most important part is to sell your system and what you're doing with a purpose,'' Dunlap said. ``There's nothing like wins to help that out.''

If players had any doubt about Dunlap's style, the six wins have helped eliminated that.

What Dunlap has been preaching is defense, which meant a summer full of intense workouts, some of those lasting as long as four hours.

He knew the Bobcats wouldn't be the most talented and or the most experienced team in the NBA - not even close, in fact - so he wanted to be better conditioned than anyone out there and use his team's young, fresh legs to his advantage.

``I think our defense is getting better and I'm selling that first and foremost,'' Dunlap said. ``We have a ways to go with it. It's far from where it needs to be but it's getting there and we have the numbers to prove that.''

Charlotte is allowing 98.8 points per game, but they rank in the top ten in the league in steals (86) and blocked shots (76). They're forced 14.6 turnovers per game.

``Coach Dunlap, it all starts with him,'' said second-year point guard Kemba Walker. ``He's a real tough guy, really intense. We all feed off him.''

On Wednesday night the Bobcats led Toronto 98-97 with 28 seconds left.

The Raptors had four shots on their final possession, but the Bobcats blocked two of those and withstood a furious final few seconds to win the game.

If Dunlap needed to emphasize a point about defense winning games this was it.

``I think it just shows what kind of toughness we have from the point guard all the way up to the center,'' said rookie guard Jeffery Taylor. ``We have a lot of tough guys who know how to win games.''

The Bobcats are still extremely young, particularly with guard Gerald Henderson out with a foot injury.

Right now their starting five consists of two rookies in Taylor and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the No. 2 overall pick who has had an immediate impact averaging 11.9 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. Forward Byron Mullens, who sat for two years in Oklahoma City before being acquired last year in a trade, is essentially in his second season like Walker.

The only starter with significant experience is center Brendan Haywood, who was claimed off waivers from Dallas.

But the Bobcats are getting quality play off the bench from offseason acquisitions Ramon Sessions and Ben Gordon, two scorers brought in to give the team some needed experience down the stretch in tight games.

Both have provided a huge boost with Sessions averaging 16.3 points per game and Gordon 13 points per game, second and third best on the team.

``It's an interesting group because we are young and I think there's an exuberance and a little bit of being excited about the game of basketball, and I think the veterans have picked up on that,'' Dunlap said. ``It's been a joy to coach them and I think we're learning as we play each game. That exuberance is an intangible.''

That exuberance is evident in Walker, who has developed into the team's leader and flourished working alongside Sessions in practice and down the stretch in tight games.

Walker is averaging 18.8 points and 5.5 assists per game.

Despite being 6-foot, Walker is fearless driving to the basket and has improved in his ability to finish.

``He's our quarterback,'' Dunlap said. ``We're developing him. He's setting the culture for us. There's a lot on his plate, but he can handle it. When he was coming out of college a year ago I thought he was the best player in America.''

Just how long the Bobcats are able to keep things up remains to be seen.

The Bobcats have some quality wins against Dallas, Milwaukee and Minnesota, but have yet to play the league's elite teams like Miami, Oklahoma City and the New York Knicks.

That may be when the true test comes.

When it does, Dunlap hopes the foundation for success has been established and the Bobcats will be confident enough to compete with the best.

``We're trying to build a winning culture here, and every win helps,'' Dunlap said.

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Jay Gruden shown no love in preseason coaches ranking

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USA Today Sports

Jay Gruden shown no love in preseason coaches ranking

Yahoo! Sports ranked all 32 head coaches in the NFL and Washington Redskins fans may not be too happy with where Jay Gruden ended up.

Entering his fifth year as head coach, Gruden was ranked as the No. 27 head coach in the NFL. Here's Yahoo!'s rationale behind his ranking:

"Four years, one playoff berth, one plus-.500 season, one franchise quarterback run out of town."

All that is ... not false, but the whole franchise quarterback being run out of town thing is at least debatable. And even if the ranking is fair, it's still okay to be upset because it's the middle of July, training camp hasn't started yet and the offseason is the perfect time to get irrationally angry about things like these.

Elsewhere in the NFC, Giants head coach Pat Shurmur checks in at No. 23, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett is No. 17 and the Eagles' Doug Pederson is No. 2.

Unsurprisingly, Bill Belichick was ranked No. 1; he may be the greatest of all time when all is said and done, if not already. The top five rounds out with Pederson at No. 2, New Orleans's Sean Payton at No. 3, Minnesota's Mike Zimmer at No. 4 and Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin at No. 5.

MORE REDSKINS NEWS:

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Stroman pitches 7 sharp innings as Blue Jays beat Orioles 4-1

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USA Today Sports

Stroman pitches 7 sharp innings as Blue Jays beat Orioles 4-1

TORONTO (AP) -- Blue Jays right-hander Marcus Stroman gave up hits to the first three Baltimore batters Saturday.

The Orioles got just two more hits the rest of the afternoon.

Stroman pitched seven sharp innings for his second win in three starts and Toronto beat Baltimore 4-1 for its sixth straight victory over the struggling Orioles.

"He started working both sides of the plate with his sinker and I think that threw them off a little bit, especially late in counts," Blue Jays catcher Luke Maile said. "Overall it was just kind of vintage Stroman."

Baltimore right-hander Alex Cobb picked up his major league-worst 13th loss. The Orioles dropped to 1-8 against Toronto this season.

"I absolutely hate seeing that win-loss in parentheses next to my name," Cobb said. "It's sickening."

Stroman (3-7) allowed one run and five hits. He threw a season-high 107 pitches, the first time this season he has topped 100.

Stroman is 3-2 with a 3.03 ERA in five starts since returning from a shoulder injury that caused him to miss more than a month. He went 0-5 in seven starts before the injury.

"Since he's come back from the DL he's been really good," manager John Gibbons said. "I just think he's pitching like he's always pitched."

Stroman said he's focused on forgetting his early season struggles.

"I know I didn't have the first half I wanted but I've always been someone who prides myself on the second half and finishing strong," Stroman said. "That's something I'll look to continue to do this year."

Friend and teammate Devon Travis likes what he's seen from Stroman since the right-hander returned from injury.

"He's got that fire back," Travis said. "He's really under control. I think he's locking in on every single pitch."

Seunghwan Oh worked the eighth and Ryan Tepera finished for his seventh save in 12 opportunities.

Baltimore scored one run or fewer for the 27th time, the most in the majors.

The first three Orioles batters all singled, although Jonathan Schoop was thrown out trying to stretch his hit into a double. After Adam Jones gave Baltimore a 1-0 lead with an RBI hit to right, Mark Trumbo grounded into an inning-ending double play.

The Blue Jays answered with a three-run fourth against Cobb, taking advantage of a key Orioles error.

Justin Smoak opened the inning with a walk and, following a video review, was ruled safe at second after Cobb's high throw pulled shortstop Tim Beckham off the base on at attempted force play.

"That's not it in a nutshell but I can understand why that's the focus, a play we haven't been making," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said.

Randal Grichuk followed with an RBI double, a second run scored on Diaz's double play grounder, and Maile capped the rally with an RBI single.

Diaz had four hits Friday, including the game-winning single in the 10th. He went 2 for 3 Saturday with a pair of singles.

The Blue Jays made it 4-1 in the fifth when Teoscar Hernandez doubled, advanced on a fly ball and scored on Cobb's balk.

Cobb (2-13) lost his sixth straight decision, allowing four runs, one earned, and four hits in five innings. Showalter said Cobb was removed to avoid worsening a blister on his pitching hand.

"I was only going to have a few more pitches going into the sixth so he felt like the risk-reward was not really worth it," Cobb said.

Grichuk made the defensive play of the game, a running catch on the warning track in left center to retire Trumbo for the first out of the ninth.

GOING DOWN?

Jones and Chris Davis got stuck in an elevator at the team's downtown hotel following Friday night's defeat. Jones documented much of the saga on Instagram. The players and fellow passengers were eventually rescued by Toronto Fire Services staff. The sound system at Rogers Centre played a few bars of Aerosmith's `Love in an Elevator' before Jones batted in the fourth inning Saturday.

NO HOMERS

Toronto won without hitting a home run for just the third time in 26 games this season.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Orioles: Baltimore is expected to demote a reliever when RHP Andrew Cashner (neck) is activated off the 10-day disabled list Sunday.

UP NEXT

Cashner (2-9, 4.56) last pitched July 10, when he allowed five runs and five hits in 6 1-3 innings against the Yankees. Blue Jays LHP J.A. Happ (10-6, 4.29) is 0-3 with a 9.75 ERA in three July starts.