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Czechs take 2-1 lead over Spain in Davis Cup

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Czechs take 2-1 lead over Spain in Davis Cup

PRAGUE (AP) The Czech Republic won the doubles Saturday to take a 2-1 lead over defending champion Spain in the Davis Cup final, moving one victory away from its first title as an independent nation.

Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek rallied to beat Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez 3-6, 7-5, 7-5, 6-3 to take the edge going into Sunday's reverse singles.

Berdych and Stepanek improved their Davis Cup doubles record to 12-1 by converting their third match point in front of more than 13,000 fans at the O2 Arena, who blew trumpets, beat drums and cheered loudly between points.

``It's incredible,'' said Berdych, who closed out the match with an overhead volley. ``It's just one point; we'll do everything for that.''

The sixth-ranked Berdych can clinch the best-of-five series in the first reverse singles Sunday with a victory over David Ferrer.

``It will be as difficult for us as for them,'' Spain captain Alex Corretja said. ``We need to win both. We cannot make a mistake.''

Ferrer is wrapping up the best season of his career in which he won a tour-best seven tournament titles. He has a 5-3 career record against Berdych. Stepanek takes on Nicolas Almagro in the final match.

``I'm ready to do it tomorrow,'' Berdych said. ``I'll try to come with my strong game, and with the crowd on my back it would be a good combination to make it.''

The Czechs are seeking to complete a rare double just two weeks after the women secured the Fed Cup title in the same arena. No country has won both competitions in one year since the United States in 1990.

Spain is looking for its fourth title in five years, while the Czechs' only victory came in 1980 as Czechoslovakia, which split in 1993.

The Czech pair broke Granollers for the first time to seize a 5-2 lead in the fourth set when the Spaniard netted a volley.

``I served well until the (fourth) set,'' Granollers said. ``But I couldn't put in the first serve in that game.''

Since they teamed up for the doubles in 2007 in a playoff against Switzerland, Berdych and Stepanek's only defeat in the Davis Cup came in a 5-0 loss to Spain in the 2009 final.

``We know what we are capable to do in Davis Cup,'' Stepanek said. ``And we also know that the doubles points matter and we played together so many times, so we have all the experience we can have.''

Coming off a big title at the ATP finals Monday, Granollers and Lopez took control early. Stepanek double-faulted twice for the Czechs to be broken in the second game of the opening set to trail 1-4. Granollers served it out at love.

The Czechs turned things around in the second set, breaking Lopez for a 3-1 lead, and then converted their fourth set point with a forehand volley from Stepanek.

Lopez was broken for the third time in the 12th game of the third set when Berdych converted a second set point with a backhand volley at the net.

Stepanek struggled with his serve again after five double-faults in the first set of his loss to Ferrer on Friday. Berdych than needed almost four hours to overcome Almagro in five sets to tie the series.

``Tomas (playing) after a four-hour game finishing at midnight and coming so strong today, it just show the desire and hunger we have for the trophy,'' Stepanek said. ``Hopefully we can make it tomorrow.''

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Redskins OC Matt Cavanaugh takes you inside Vernon Davis' touchdown against the Panthers

Redskins OC Matt Cavanaugh takes you inside Vernon Davis' touchdown against the Panthers

With NFL RedZone, All-22 footage and GamePass, it’s literally never been easier to access information about your favorite teams and players. Still, nothing can quite beat the actual players and coaches, especially those who drew up those plays in the first place.

Redskins offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh was happy to share some insight on the touchdown pass Alex Smith threw to Vernon Davis to kick off the scoring against the Panthers in Week 6. 

The Redskins took over possession after a Carolina turnover, and the offense was ready to strike quickly. Smith found Davis wide open in the end zone and connected with his longtime tight end to give the ‘Skins an early 7-0 lead.

Interestingly, as Cavanaugh points out, the play was designed to clear out space for the team’s top tight end, Jordan Reed. Instead, the Panthers safety rolled towards Reed, who is generally seen as the more likely receiving threat. You can see in the video of the play that Smith does look towards Reed first, and then noticed the rolling safety leaving Davis wide open down the seam.

Cavanaugh also emphasizes how vital it is for the offense to be ready to go at a moment’s notice.

“When we’re not on the field and the defense creates a turnover and all of a sudden we’re back out there, we gotta be ready to score, particularly when we get the ball in that great field position. It’s huge, it obviously set the tone for the rest of the game for us.”

A one play, 22-yard drive certainly does show off an offensive unit ready to score quickly and without the benefit of a long possession to get into rhythm.

Hopefully Cavanaugh doesn’t give away too many of his X’s and O’s secrets, but it’s always fascinating to experience a behind-the-scenes look at important plays. It’s even more fun when those plays are of Redskins touchdowns, and it’s the most fun when those plays are of Redskins touchdowns that come in Redskins victories.

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Five observations from the Wizards' loss to the Toronto Raptors, including Bradley Beal's historic shot

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USA Today

Five observations from the Wizards' loss to the Toronto Raptors, including Bradley Beal's historic shot

The Washington Wizards lost 117-113 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Saturday night. Here are five observations from the game.

Rough start 

Those bad losses that defined the Wizards' fateful 2017-18 season, the ones against undermanned teams on what look going in like schedule losses; yeah, those are still a thing.

Through two games this season, the Wizards have suffered two of them. They fell to the Heat, who were down a host of rotation players and were playing on a back-to-back, in their opener. And on Saturday, they lost to the Raptors, who where missing Kawhi Leonard and Delon Wright and who had just played the Celtics the night before.

The Wizards may be without Dwight Howard, but it's hard to excuse those types of defeats. They are the ones that teams kick themselves for later in the season when playoff seeding is determined. They are the ones that keep teams from winning 50 games and reaching their full potential. Unfortunately, this all sounds too familiar.

The good news is that it's extremely early. The bad news is that the Wizards now head out on the road to play away games at the Blazers, who finished third in the West last year, and then the Warriors, who are gunning for their third straight championship. If they are to bounce back soon, it will have to be against one of the best teams in basketball.

Beal made history

Bradley Beal accomplished something on Saturday that was a long time coming. He entered the season just seven threes away from the Wizards/Bullets franchise record, and in the fourth quarter, he got there.

With his fifth three of the game, Beal knocked down his 869th career triple. That bests Gilbert Arenas, who hit 868 in a Wizards uniform. 

Beal, who is only 25, is only getting started. He's probably going to double that number, it's just a matter if all of them will come with the Wizards because he's got a long career ahead of him.

Speaking of threes, the Wizards took 39 of them. That tied a new franchise mark for three-point attempts in a game. They weren't joking about committing more to the long-ball this season.

Howard still out

The Wizards were without Howard once again due to his piriformis muscle strain, which has now been a storyline for going on a month. On Saturday, he got a lengthy workout in before the game, but didn't seem all that close to playing, despite the fact the Wizards insist he is a gametime decision.

Head coach Scott Brooks was asked before the game if Howard would definitely play on the upcoming five-game road trip and he stopped short of saying he would. That could be pure gamesmanship. He may be just keeping his opponents guessing. 

But if he does, say, miss Monday's game against the Blazers, it will become harder to believe that he's as close as the team keeps saying he is.

Howard's absence was felt once again on the glass. Much like in their first game, the Wizards were absolutely worked on the boards, this time to the tune of 52-to-37.

Howard will help their rebounding cause a lot when he comes back, but clearly the rest of the team has some issues there, at least early this season.

Brooks, by the way, was ejected in the third quarter. After Beal got a technical, Brooks charged towards halfcourt and got T'd up twice. It's not often we see Brooks get that hot.

Porter was more selfish early

There has been so much talk about Otto Porter Jr. needing to shoot more often that it's clear Brooks, John Wall and Porter himself are tired of being asked about it. Brooks has been resigned in recent days to some blunt honesty about it mostly being Porter's problem, that he needs to be more selfish in looking for his own shot.

The message apparently got across because Porter was much more assertive early against the Raptors. After shooting only seven field goals in the season opener on Thursday, he had seven by the end of the first half. And after not attempting a single three against the Heat, Porter had three shots from long range in the first four minutes.

The problem is that Porter then disappeared. He only had two shots in the second half and one was on a final heave at the buzzer. Porter had 11 points and one rebound. Not great.

Raptors are going to be a problem 

We knew the Raptors would be good and potentially even better this season with Leonard in the place of DeMar DeRozan. As good as DeRozan is, and he's very good, Leonard is even better.

What many may be sleeping on is the potential of the rest of their roster. Danny Green was a nice pickup in the Leonard trade and they have a host of young guys who continue to get better. O.G. Anunoby is a rare athlete who already makes a big impact on defense and has an improving feel for the game on offense. 

Fred Van Vleet, now with a new contract, can change games with his quickness and smarts. Already a force on defense, Pascal Siakam is starting to develop some clever offensive moves. 

Siakam had one play in the fourth quarter that was particularly surprising. He got the ball in the slot, drove to his left and threw down a two-handed, and-1 posterdunk.

The Raptors may be deeper than they were last year because they have so many young players on the rise and they were one of the deepest teams in basketball in 2017-18.

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