Capitals

Clippers roll past Celtics 106-77

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Clippers roll past Celtics 106-77

LOS ANGELES (AP) Matt Barnes tied his season high with 21 points off the bench, Chris Paul had 11 assists and the Los Angeles Clippers defeated Boston 106-77 on Thursday night, becoming the first team to win 15 consecutive games since the Celtics four years ago.

Fellow reserve Jamal Crawford added 17 points, Blake Griffin had 15 points and Caron Butler 14 to help the Clippers improve the NBA's best record to 23-6.

Kevin Garnett scored 16 points for Boston, which never led in dropping to .500 at 14-14 with its fifth loss in seven games. Paul Pierce and Jeff Green added 12 points each to go with 10 apiece from Jason Terry and Rajon Rondo.

Boston's winning streak extended to 19 games in 2008-09.

Barnes had the Clippers' first five points in a 9-0 run that opened the fourth quarter and boosted their lead to 90-67. Willie Green briefly played; otherwise the Clippers' other starters rested to close out the game.

The Celtics were held to 10 points in the final 12 minutes.

Garnett had six points in the third when the Celtics were narrowly outscored 22-20, but still trailed 82-67. The Clippers' 9-0 run pushed their lead to 21 points before Boston went on a 10-4 run, including 3-pointers by Courtney Lee and Rondo to end the quarter.

The game got chippy at times. In the third, Jared Sullinger was called for a flagrant-1 foul for grabbing the front of Griffin on his way up to dunk. Then Butler and Pierce emerged from a big mass both holding onto the ball, leading to a jump ball. In the first, Rondo was lying on the ball and Paul tried to take it out from under him on the sideline, leading to a testy moment.

The Celtics cut their deficit to four points early in the second quarter - the closest they came after the opening quarter - with consecutive 3-pointers by Terry and Lee before the Clippers' second unit rebuilt the double-digit lead the starters had created. Crawford scored 13 points for Los Angeles, highlighted by a fast-break floater and a rainbow 3. He scored the final four points to keep the Clippers ahead 60-47 heading into halftime.

The Clippers came roaring out of the opening tip, outscoring the Celtics 24-9.

NOTES: The Clippers are assured of finishing December as their best month ever with two games remaining, including the second half of a back-to-back at Utah. They've already surpassed the franchise record for most wins in a month, bettering the old mark of 12 shared by the 1974-75 Buffalo Braves and the 1991-92 Clippers (which included Celtics coach Doc Rivers). ... Boston fell to 5-9 on the road. ... The Clippers' last loss was on Nov. 26 at home against New Orleans. ... Justin Bieber (who had Paul's young son sitting on his lap), Billy Crystal and Olympic 200 sprint champion Allyson Felix were among the Clippers' 67th consecutive sellout crowd.

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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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