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Dabo Swinney: Clemson closing in on elite

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Dabo Swinney: Clemson closing in on elite

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) Clemson had a landmark season and Tigers coach Dabo Swinney feels his team has closed the gap on the game's elite programs - and that they could go even further next season.

The Tigers (11-2), ranked 11th in the final poll, finished with their most victories since going 12-0 and winning the national championship in 1981. Swinney said Friday his players took a giant step forward with their last-second, 25-24 win over LSU in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl on New Year's Eve.

Now that they have, Swinney believes Clemson ranks alongside the game's very best.

``It just does a lot for our football team knowing we don't take a back seat to anybody,'' the fifth-year coach said. ``We can play and compete with anybody in the country.''

That attitude already has expectations soaring around campus. Swinney laid the groundwork moments after Chandler Catanzaro's 37-yard field goal as time expired gave the Tigers their first bowl win in three years, demonstrating to a national audience that his has national title potential.

Swinney said he'll have just 10 seniors next fall, meaning the bulk of a program that's gone 21-6 the past two seasons will be coming into its prime.

``With that comes an expectation. With that comes a belief,'' Swinney said. ``They understand the commitment that it takes. Those are positive things. That's the kind of culture you want to have.

``They're not hoping to win, they expect to win.''

Not that it will come easy.

On Thursday, Clemson's record-setting receiver DeAndre Hopkins gave up his senior season for the NFL draft. Hopkins had a school-record 1,405 yards on 82 receptions including an Atlantic Coast Conference record 18 touchdown catches.

Swinney thought Hopkins, who received a second-round grade from NFL draft advisors, could've used another year in college to develop. Still, he said he supported Hopkins' choice to leave.

``I think it's going to be tough'' for Hopkins to crack the first round of April's draft, Swinney said.

Coming back are two pieces some might not have expected in offensive coordinator Chad Morris and junior quarterback Tajh Boyd. Morris was linked to several head coaching openings and was interviewed by Texas Tech before AD Kirby Hocutt selected Kliff Kingsbury. Morris, the highest paid assistant in the game at $1.3 million last season, said he was happy to return to the Tigers.

Boyd, the ACC's player of the year, has thrown for 7,724 yards and 69 touchdowns the past two years and was leaning toward turning pro after the LSU victory. However, Boyd said he wasn't ready to leave with Clemson on the verge of even bigger things.

``There are things for us to go out there and accomplish,'' Boyd said.

That began, Swinney said, with a team meeting on Thursday. The typically ecstatic Swinney told his players the book was closed on 2012 and its achievements as everyone prepared to buckle down for next year.

Swinney expects another high-flying offense despite the departure of Hopkins and senior tailback Andre Ellington, who posted his second 1,000-yard season this past fall.

Sammy Watkins, an All-American as a freshman in 2010, will lead the receiving corps with backups like Charone Peake and redshirted freshman Genome Hopper looking for more playing time.

Clemson's backfield will feature Rod McDowell and D.J. Howard, who combined for 588 yards and seven touchdowns in backup roles.

The biggest questions will again come on defense, which struggled much of the season before having its best game against LSU. The Tigers, under first-year coordinator Brent Venables, allowed more than 396 yards and 24 points a game this year, although they forced eight three-and-outs against LSU in the bowl victory.

Two of Clemson's three biggest games next season - an expected top 10 season-opening matchup against Georgia and defending ACC champ Florida State - come at home where the Tigers have lost just once in 14 games the past two seasons.

Swinney likes what he sees down the road, yet understands there are plenty of hurdles to leap long before anyone can think championship.

``The big thing is are they going to have the same type of leadership and accountability,'' he said. ``I know what the 2012 team did. It's well documented. But that's got nothing to do with this team.''

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Rebounding issues arise again in Wizards' season opening loss to the Miami Heat

Rebounding issues arise again in Wizards' season opening loss to the Miami Heat

Realistically, the Miami Heat had no business even being in position to win on Thursday night in the Wizards' 2018-19 regular season opener.

They shot just 39.2 percent from the field, compared to 46.9 percent for the Wizards, and had 19 turnovers. 

The Heat were on the second night of a back-to-back, having lost a tough one to the Magic the night before. They were missing a host of rotation players, including two of their regular starters.

Yet, the Heat pulled out a victory to stun the Opening Night crowd at Capital One Arena simply because they out-hustled the Wizards. They out-rebounded the Wizards 55-40, including a 22-7 margin in offensive boards. Those 22 offensive rebounds were tied for the most allowed by the Wizards since 2012.

"Rebounding the ball is really why we lost the game," Wizards guard John Wall said. "That's really where they killed us."

Miami's advantage on the glass allowed them to put up a whopping 16 more shots. That led to 27 second chance points compared to just 10 for Washington.

It was the central theme of the game, so naturally it played a role in how it was decided. After Wall forced a miss by Dwyane Wade on a fadeaway attempt in the closing seconds, Heat big man Kelly Olynyk was right there to catch the ball and scoop it in for two.

That score proved to be the go-ahead points as just 0.2 seconds remained on the clock. All night, the Wizards made plays on defense, only to have the Heat save themselves with second looks.

The Wizards had no better explanation postgame other than Miami simply tried harder.

"They out-hustled us," forward Jeff Green said.

"Rebounds come down to whoever wants it the most and tonight they wanted it more than we did," forward Otto Porter Jr. said.

It sounds simple, and perhaps it was indeed that easy to explain. But there were other factors at play, some in their control and some not.

For one, the Wizards were missing their best rebounder, Dwight Howard, who sat out with a strained piriformis muscle. Even at 32, Howard remains one of the best rebounders in basketball and would have made a significant difference. 

It would have been nice to have him, a 280-pound giant in the paint to match up with Hassan Whiteside, one of the most physically imposing centers in the league.

With Howard out of the mix, the Wizards turned to Ian Mahinmi and Jason Smith, but they each stumbled into early foul trouble. Head coach Scott Brooks had no other option than to go small with guys like Green and Markieff Morris at the five-spot.

Brooks wants to employ that strategy more often anyways, but not by necessity. And sure enough, it was Green and Morris on the floor when Olynyk broke loose for the final deciding play.

"The last rebound, we definitely need to put most of the ownership on me and Jeff because we were the biggest guys," Morris said. "I think that might have been the easiest layup of the game right there."

"I was surprised I was open," Olynyk admitted afterwards. "It kinda just popped open and I was kinda just standing right there."

Though many factors were at play, the Wizards' struggles rebounding the ball came down to the simple fundamentals of boxing out their opponent. As they learned last year, it's tough to be consistent when you can't take care of the little things that separate wins and losses. 

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After his buzzer beater, Kelly Olynyk is becoming one of D.C.'s top sports villains

After his buzzer beater, Kelly Olynyk is becoming one of D.C.'s top sports villains

Kelly Olynyk has done it once again to the Washington Wizards. 

The Miami Heat center ripped the heart of the Wizards just when it looked like it was going to be a new chapter for the team.

After leading a team to victory over the Wizards once again, he is starting to become one of the biggest sports villains in Washington D.C.

Olynyk hit a go-ahead layup with 0.2. second left to sink the Wizards in their 2018 season opener. Dwyane Wade had the first chance to win it for the Heat. He missed, but Olynyk was there for the rebound and uncontested layup.

For those that need a reminder this is not the first time Olynyk has torched the Wizards. 

Back in Game 7 of the 2017 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Olynyk, then the Boston Celtics backup center, went off for 26 points, 14 coming in a tense fourth quarter. The loss ended the Wizards chance to get to the Conference Finals that year. If would have been the first time they reach that mark in the John Wall-era of the franchise.

Olynyk was also guilty of getting under the skin of Kelly Oubre Jr. The Wizards forward was sent to the floor following a big screen set by Olynyk. Oubre sprang to his feet and shoved Olynyk, leading to a minor scuffle. Oubre was ejected from the game and suspended for the following game.

With a reputation like that, Olynyk is starting to etch his name down on the wrong side of D.C. sports lore.

Who does Olynyk join among the ranks of most disliked athletes inside the D.M.V.? Here's our list:

Sidney Crosby

To the vast majority of Washington, D.C. sports fans, no one will ever be a bigger villain than Sidney Crosby. His rivalry with Alex Ovechkin is a major part of this, but being on the winning side more often than the Washington Capitals plays just as big a part. Crosby's Pittsburgh Penguins eliminated the Capitals in three different Eastern Conference Semifinal series before Washington finally broke through last season.

Also it's Crosby. His incessant whinning and cockiness are overwhelming. 

Jaroslav Halak

At the time he was just an average goalie for the Montreal Canadiens, but by the end of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Jaroslav Halak was public enemy No. 1 in the nation's capital.

Against a Capitals team that won the Presidents Trophy, Halak stood on his head as the No. 8 seed Canadiens faced elimination with the Caps up 3-1 in the series. He had 37 saves in Game 5, an incredible 53 saves in Game 6, and clinched the series with 41 saves in Game 7. He allowed just three goals in those three games, and sent the Capitals packing earlier than expected.

Had it not been for Halak, the first Washington Capitals championship might have happened well before June 2018.

Jerry Jones

He owns the Dallas Cowboys. Need we say more? 

Jonathan Papelbon

For years Jonathan Papelbon was on the Philadelphia Phillies. That alone would be enough to be on the bad side of D.C. sports fans.

Then he came to Washington, as a member of the Nationals, and tried to choke-out Bryce Harper

An insider job? We think so. 

Albert Haynesworth

Albert Haynesworth drew a seven-year, $100 million contract with the Washington Redskins. He ended up playing less than two seasons. 

He was so bad that NFL.com has listed him as one of the worst free agents signings in league history.

There are two things Albert Haynesworth is remembered for in Washington, D.C.
1: Taking a lot of money from the Redskins
2: This video 

Pete Kozma

Only on this list because some believe that Pete Kozma is the sole reason the Washington Nationals did not win a championship in 2012.

Aside from a three-run home run and then the game-winning runs in Game 5 of the NLDS, there has not been another chapter in the Kozma vs. Washington D.C. rivalry.

The real villain in all of this should be the Nats' pitcher, Drew Storen. He had a two-run lead before coming into the ninth in a winner-take-all Game 5. He gave the Cardinals four runs.

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So now that I've gone and despressed your day away, re-living terrible D.C. sports nightmares, just know that Olynyk is squarely on this list and just re-affirmed that with his latest buzzer-beater. 

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