Capitals

Cavaliers C Varejao still out with bruised knee

Cavaliers C Varejao still out with bruised knee

CLEVELAND (AP) A bruised knee. A couple games.

That was the diagnosis and estimate of how much playing time Cavaliers center Anderson Varejao would likely miss when he first went down Dec. 18 with what appeared to be an insignificant injury.

Turns out, it's much more than that.

Varejao still has not been cleared to practice or play and will miss his 11th straight game Wednesday night when the Cavs host Atlanta. The NBA's leading rebounder, who banged his knee in a game against Toronto last month, had been expected to practice Tuesday. However, the hustling Brazilian was not on the floor and disappointed coach Byron Scott said Varejao is not ready.

Scott, who is typically upbeat, seemed for the first time to indicate Varejao's injury is more serious - and potentially season-ending.

``I'm still trying to be very optimistic that he'll be able to play, I just don't know when,'' said Scott, whose young, struggling team is 8-28. ``I hope I'm not talking like it's long-term or for the season. I'm still optimistic he'll be able to play this year until the doctors tell me something different.''

The 6-foot-11 Varejao was having an All-Star-caliber season before he got hurt. After he injured his knee, the Cavs rested him and even chose to keep him home on road trips so he could get extra treatment on his knee. The team's doctors originally thought Varejao would only miss a few games, but the injury has lingered and could be something more severe than a bruise.

``I'm not a doctor and I'm not going to speculate on what it is,'' Scott said. ``I'm just hoping he can get healthy and he can play. Right now, my thoughts are with Andy. Forget basketball, I'm just hoping he's OK.''

It's the latest medical setback for Varejao, who is averaging 14.1 points and 14.4 rebounds.

Varejao has played his entire career with a reckless abandon, but his all-out hustle has caused two serious injuries. He missed 41 games last season after breaking his wrist. Two years ago, he tore a ligament in his foot while running in practice and missed 51 games.

Without him in the lineup, the Cavs have been exposed inside and gone 3-7. Because of an assortment of injuries, Cleveland has had its full roster available for only seven games.

On Monday, guard Daniel Gibson missed his fifth game with a concussion and Luke Walton was excused from the game at Chicago to attend to a ``personal matter.'' Also, C.J. Miles sat out Tuesday's practice with back spasms.

Star point guard Kyrie Irving, who missed 11 games with a broken finger and continues to wear a protective mask over his broken jaw, said it's been tough not having Varejao as an offensive option, rebounder and defender.

``It's disappointing,'' Irving said. ``Obviously for the second season in a row for me, I don't have the big man that I started with. We miss his effort. And more or less his intelligence as a basketball player. When he's not out there, we lose a little bit of leadership, but most importantly, we lose effort. We got 14 (points), 14 (rebounds) from him every single night. We miss that right now.''

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Vitek Vanecek will play in NHL's round robin, but Capitals' Stanley Cup hopes rest with Braden Holtby

Vitek Vanecek will play in NHL's round robin, but Capitals' Stanley Cup hopes rest with Braden Holtby

Brought up to replace the injured Ilya Samsonov, Vitek Vanecek's first taste of NHL hockey will come inside the bubble in Toronto. Not exactly the best of circumstances. 

But Vanecek plays an important role on a Capitals team with Stanley Cup aspirations. Should Braden Holtby struggle or get hurt during the playoffs, Washington will need its young back-up goalie to keep their team afloat and let his talented skaters take it from there.

That's why NBC Sports Washington analyst Alan May, during an appearance with The Sports Junkies Tuesday, looks forward to seeing Vanecek play a little bit in the round-robin portion of the NHL restart. Ideally, though, it stops there.

"[Vanecek] probably will get one of these games, [the Capitals] said that from the start," May said. "But I hope he doesn't play once they get to the playoff rounds. I think it would be wise to play him in [round robin] games, it's not the end of the world what the seeding is in this. He's a good size goaltender, I think he's about 6'2, and with the training that he's had, he's worked on the fundamentals of his game, he's gotten his conditioning up. He looks very similar to Holtby in net, He's gotten a lot of good reps in American Hockey [League] just like Holtby did around the same age."

And what's the reason why no Caps fan should want to see Vanecek in the postseason? It's simple really. Because this team's best chance at another title revolves around Holtby being a steady and stifling presence between the pipes throughout the playoffs. 

RELATED: PHYSICALITY THE KEY FOR CAPITALS IN PLAYOFFS

"I think the big thing with this is you really don't want to see [Vanecek] in the net after the round robin," he said. "If they're going to win this thing, it's gonna have to be Braden Holtby getting 16 wins. To me, the most important thing is that Holtby plays in the playoffs, the guy's dynamite, no leaky goals out of him."

This could be Holtby's last playoff run with the Capitals as he enters a contract year. The Caps already committed long term money to Nicklas Backstrom this season, they have an Alex Ovechkin extension to worry about and the flat salary cap certainly won't do them any favors either. Not to mention the presence of Samsonov after a stellar rookie season. 

So if this is it, if this is Holtby's last dance in Washington, he at least looks ready to play his best hockey when it matters most.  

"He looks focused and dialed in, and he wants to make sure if he's going out and won't be a Capital anymore he wants to go home with a victory in his last game."

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With the way Alex Smith has looked so far, Ron Rivera 'can envision' him being in the quarterback mix

With the way Alex Smith has looked so far, Ron Rivera 'can envision' him being in the quarterback mix

Positive reports about Alex Smith's early training camp performance came out over the weekend, and on a Tuesday morning Zoom call with the media, Ron Rivera echoed those reviews.

"He's looked good, he really has," the head coach said. "I'll be honest, I was pleasantly surprised to see how far along he is. It's been exciting to watch his progression."

According to Rivera, Smith has been working off to the side with Washington Football Team trainers at the Ashburn facility and is mirroring what Dwayne Haskins and Kyle Allen are doing, too. Coordinator Scott Turner and QBs coach Ken Zampese are apparently involving Smith as much as they can, and Smith is looking "very fluid" so far.

"It's a tribute to who he is, it's a tribute to his trainers and his doctors who have helped him get where he is today," Rivera said.

That all, of course, is wildly encouraging. The fact that the 36-year-old is in a place where he can check off those boxes and do those activities is astounding. That can't be pointed out enough, either.

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Yet it's also fair to note just how different mimicking a starting signal caller and actually serving as the starting signal caller are. So, is there any real chance of Smith transitioning from that first phase to the second before the season? 

With what he's seen from the veteran so far, Rivera certainly believes there is.

"I can envision it," he said. "The big thing is if he can do the things that we need him to do, that he needs to do to help himself on the football field, he'll be part of the conversation most definitely. He did some really good things last week. He went through all four workout days, had no residual effect the next morning, which is always important because the next day usually tells.

"We'll see how he is this week and we'll go from there."

As Smith continues to rehab and try to make his way off PUP, the challenges are solely physical. Rivera is not worried at all about the veteran having to adjust to a new scheme or dealing with any other mental task; instead, the primary concern is ensuring that Smith can handle the contact that'll come if he makes it back into live action.

"I believe he already knows probably 75-percent of our playbook," Rivera said. "So for him, it's really just a matter of can he do the movements he needs to do? Can he protect himself when he's on the field?"

It feels like every time Smith is brought up, he's taken another step. The next one, however — going from the PUP list to the huddle — is particularly daunting.

But at this point, it's gotten pretty difficult to imagine anything being particularly daunting for Alex Smith. So don't be that floored if he makes it happen. Rivera clearly won't be. 

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