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Bobcats centering team around improving PG Walker

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Bobcats centering team around improving PG Walker

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) When Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap looks at point guard Kemba Walker he sees the NBA's next coming of Chris Paul.

Sounds like a reach, but that's how much faith Charlotte's rookie coach has in the second-year player out of Connecticut.

Dunlap has repeatedly told Walker ``we're centering our team around you. You're that guy. Now live up to that billing and own what that means.''

The Bobcats parted ways with D.J. Augustin in the offseason, paving the way for Walker to run the show.

The quiet 22-year-old is showing why Dunlap is so high on him. Though Charlotte is just 9-24, Walker has excelled since becoming a starter. He leads the team with 17.9 points and six assists per game and, despite being 6-foot-1, has shown a penchant for fearlessly attacking the rim.

A lot like the 6-foot Paul, who has developed into one of the most respected point guards in the league with the Los Angeles Clippers.

``I've asked Kemba, `What do you think of Chris Paul's game?' And obviously Kemba tells me he has a lot of respect for him,'' Dunlap said. ``I've said to Kemba, `Well, that's where you're headed. That's who you are in this league.'''

Maybe someday, but obviously not yet.

Walker's scoring average may be higher than Paul, but he's also playing on average two-and-a-half minutes per game. Paul's averaging 9.3 assists and 2.6 steals and shooting 48 percent from the field, all of which are well above Walker.

But at 42.7 percent, Walker's shooting percentage - as well as most of his other numbers - has improved dramatically from his rookie season when he shot 36.6 percent and averaged 12.1 points and 4.4 assists per game.

Teams are starting to take notice.

Walker is receiving more attention in games and the Bobcats have been forced to get more creative in pick and rolls in recent weeks to get him the ball moving toward the rim.

``He's an interesting player. He really is,'' Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ``He's built with such a low center of gravity and a great handle and great change of direction and deceptiveness. He's got a great future ahead of him. Sometimes he plays 40-plus minutes and he never seems tired.''

Bobcats owner Michael Jordan pushed his staff to draft him with the ninth pick in 2011 after falling in love with Walker's playmaking ability for the national champion Huskies in the NCAA Tournament two years ago.

Following an NBA lockout which limited his practice time, Walker's impact was fairly minimal last season particularly on a team that went 7-59.

But the Bobcats never wavered in their belief in him.

They let Augustin walk in free agency and when Dunlap was hired he went to work on restoring Walker's confidence to the point where it has been at Connecticut.

He also worked extensively on Walker's ability to get to the basket using his quickness, and then completing plays by dishing and creating shots. Now, despite often finding himself in the land of 7-footers, Walker somehow finds ways to not only get a shot off but use the right English as well to bank in a layup.

And if Walker makes a mistake, that's fine with Dunlap.

``The biggest thing is we've told him you have an absolute green light,'' Dunlap said. ``So whatever happens in that pocket when you're in a crowd, we'll take the negative and we'll take the positive.''

Walker took advantage of that green light Monday night against the Detroit Pistons.

He made a driving layup with 7.6 seconds left in regulation to send the game into overtime whereupon he added two more driving layups for Charlotte's second win in three games.

``I think my finishing around the basket and around the paint is a lot better,'' Walker said. ``Slowing down, seeing defenders and being able to know when to shoot my floater and when to go for a clean layup is big. I'm playing with a lot more confidence than I did last season.''

That's noticeable, teammate Gerald Henderson said.

``He has a knack for a putting it in the basket,'' Henderson said. ``His ability to score with both hands around the rim is pretty special.''

Sometimes Walker even surprises himself.

``I don't know, I really don't,'' Walker said with a laugh when asked how he gets some shots off. ``It's something that you just do. It's in the flow of the game. It took me awhile though. I didn't have that last season.''

Dunlap said it might be four years before Walker gains respect around the league, but believes ``he's on his way to great things.''

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Capitals see series lead evaporate after narrow Game 4 loss

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USA Today Sports

Capitals see series lead evaporate after narrow Game 4 loss

The Capitals brought a 2-0 series lead with them to Carolina. It will return to Washington tied at 2.

The Caps looked much better on Thursday than in their disastrous Game 3 loss, but the result was still the same with Washington coming up short in a 2-1 defeat.

The series now turns to a best of three with Games 5 and 7 in Washington. Game 5 will take place on Saturday.

Here are three reasons Washington lost.

The first minute

After a brutal Game 3, getting off to a good start in Game 4 was a must. The Capitals did not do that.

If a defenseman decides to cheat up into the offensive zone, he has to have support. Matt Niskanen cheated up to close off the wall, but Carolina was able to get the puck out and the rush was on. Niskanen was playing catch up with Jaccob Slavin the entire rush. Justin Williams found Slavin who set up Warren Foegele for his third goal of the series. It came just 17 seconds into the game.

Just 36 seconds later, Jakub Vrana was whistled for charging Jordan Martinook, a horribly unnecessary penalty.

After their worst playoff game since 2013, Washington's initial response one minute into the game was to give up a goal and a penalty. Not ideal.

The final minute of the second period

Despite the brutal start, Washington settled in and was really the better team from midway in the first period through the entire second period. Alex Ovechkin tied the game at 1 on the power play and it looked like the Caps were finally back in control…until the final minute of the second.

As time ticked away in the period, Sebastian Aho had the puck in the neutral zone. He was pressured to the right side by Lars Eller and dropped the puck to Nino Niederreiter who was waiting at the blue line. Inexplicably, Brooks Orpik moved over to the side as well despite the fact that Dmitry Orlov was there in front of Niederreiter. That left the middle wide open. Niederreiter found a streak Teuvo Teravainen and Orpik, who was out of position caught on the wrong side, was not able to recover in time. Teravainen scored to put Carolina up 2-1.

Washington had been the better team the entire period but had nothing to show for it, giving up a goal with 27.9 seconds remaining in the second period. The Caps entered the period down one and left he period down one.

Caps fail to cash in on critical power play

Ovechkin's second period goal snapped a streak of 12-straight power plays without a goal. When handed a critical power play late in the game, however, Washington came up short.

Foegele took a boarding penalty as he cross-checked T.J. Oshie in the back sending him awkwardly into the boards with just over five minutes remaining in the game. With the chance to tie the game on arguably the most important power play of the series, Washington came up short with the extra man. Granted, the loss of Oshie certainly did not help. He did not return in the game.

The Caps finished with one goal on three power play opportunities. Not terrible, but with a chance to tie the game and take back control of the series late in the third, that's a goal you have to have.

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Meet the group of friends saving up for matching Caps tattoos

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NBCSW

Meet the group of friends saving up for matching Caps tattoos

Charlie Sutton’s nails garnered lots of attention at the official Game 4 watch party, as her blue, white and red “LET'S GO CAPS” nails sparkled among the sea of red jerseys.

“I was originally just going to make the nails have the colors and sparkles, but I realized I had enough fingers to write out ‘Let’s Go Caps,’ so that’s what I did!” she said.

Sutton grew up in Idaho following the Steelheads. “We moved to Maryland five years ago because my dad’s in the military and he got stationed here, so when he did I thought, ‘Hey, there’s an NHL team here!’ and started following the Caps then. I've been a huge fan since” she said.

Sutton was at the watch party with her two friends, Hannah Steele and Amye Elfin. Steele’s father worked in Northern Virginia when the Capitals organization started and sold them equipment. “He’s probably the first Caps fan ever,” she joked. Elfin’s father was a sports journalist for the Washington Times when Alexander Ovechkin was drafted, creating a Capitals lineage in their family.

“This has been my whole life,” Elfin said.

The three friends are hardcore Capitals fans, saving enough money to get Capitals-themed tattoos together. Elfin already has three blue and red stars tattooed on her left arm: “I got this done at Tattoo Paradise, where the Caps got their tattoos done!”

“We were way too broke to get that tattoo with her,” Sutton said, laughing with Steele. “But we’ve been coming up with lots of ideas and thinking about placement together.”

The three joked about getting Lars Eller’s abs tattooed on their stomachs, skate laces tattooed over their feet or the entire Stanley Cup tattooed over their spines.

Realistically, though, Sutton said that they plan to get something small to memorialize their favorite team.

“Ovechkin has ‘Sergei’ on his gloves, so maybe I’ll get that on the bottom of my hand where it is on his gloves,” Sutton said. Steele said that she might get the year 2019 for the team’s Stanley Cup victory, or a jersey number or two.

Check in with us when you’re at the parlor!

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