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Defending champion Murray reaches Brisbane final

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Defending champion Murray reaches Brisbane final

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) Andy Murray is back where he kicked off his breakthrough 2012 season and his working partnership with Ivan Lendl, only one win away from successfully defending his title at the Brisbane International.

The reigning Brisbane, Olympic and U.S. Open champion advanced to the final when fifth-seeded Kei Nishikori retired with an injured left knee when trailing 6-4, 2-0 in their semifinal Saturday.

Still in his way is Grigor Dimitrov, the 21-year-old Bulgarian who is starting to live up to his reputation as a star-in-the-making by reaching his first ATP Tour final with a 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (5) win over 2006 Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis.

The women's final pitting Serena Williams against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova was set for Saturday night.

Both Murray and Dimitrov have an eye on the Australian Open, which starts Jan. 14, but both are conscious of the early-season interest in a showdown between a member of the fabulous four and a player in the up-and-coming group determined to break the domination that Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Murray and Rafael Nadal have had in the majors.

Murray knows what is at stake Sunday, recalling his first ATP Tour final against Federer - he lost at Bangkok in 2005 - as an opportunity to go for his shots with nothing to lose.

The top four men are constantly asked about players who are capable of being in the next generation of champions. The 25-year-old Murray is now including Dimitrov on his list.

``From my point of view, I hope that there isn't people coming through because it means that I'll be one of the ones that's losing out on a spot,'' he said, only half joking. ``There are loads of guys that are very, very tough players, all with different games.

``Grigor plays with a lot of variety. He can play a lot of shots. He's one the few guys coming through that's got a single-handed backhand as well, so he uses a lot more slice than the others.''

Putting them to the test, in the regular tournaments and the more physically demanding majors, is ``when you'll find out about them,'' he said.

Murray lost four Grand Slam finals, including consecutive championships at Melbourne Park in 2010 and `11, but turned that around after he started last January to work with Lendl, who lost four major finals before going on to win eight.

A year on from their first practice sessions in Brisbane, Murray is a Grand Slam winner - ending that 76-year drought for British men.

He was down 4-1 against the fifth-seeded Nishikori before hitting his stride, winning the next seven games before the Japanese player called it quits two games after receiving medical treatment.

``I'm playing OK. A bit up and down,'' Murray said. ``I've moved better every single match. Returning could have been better, and my groundstrokes, with more matches I'll start it hit them cleaner.''

Dimitrov, the youngest player in the top 50, has quickly found the spotlight in 2013 with wins over second-seeded Milos Raonic, the big-serving Canadian, and seventh-seeded Jurgen Melzer en route to his first final.

He raced to a 3-0 lead in eight minutes to establish the only break of the first set and then was up a break in the second before No. 38-ranked Baghdatis hit back to take the match into a third set.

Baghdatis saved a breakpoint to force a tiebreaker and then was stunned when he received a time violation penalty - losing his first serve - when he was down a mini break. The ATP has modified its rules for 2013 to make it easier for chair umpires to caution players about slow play and Baghdatis had already been warned for taking too long between service points.

He fought back in the tiebreaker but Dimitrov came up with a stunning backhand which ultimately turned the match.

After reaching semifinals at Queen's, Bastad and Gstaad in 2012, Dimitrov switched coaches for the off-season and has been working in Sweden at an academy run by Magnus Norman, Nicklas Kulti and Mikael Tillstrom. Together, they set a target of reaching the final in the first week of the season.

``We were actually pretty serious about it, and now that it happened, I was in the locker room and my coach was like, `Well, I told you so,''' he said. ``Definitely every tournament I play of course I want to be in the final.''

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Jonas Siegenthaler earns first NHL point and plays like he belongs in win over Carolina

Jonas Siegenthaler earns first NHL point and plays like he belongs in win over Carolina

The Capitals released the unfortunate news on Friday that defenseman Christian Djoos is out indefinitely after undergoing a surgical procedure in his left thigh. It is rare that a team can lose one of its top-six defensemen and not miss a beat, but if Friday’s game is any indication, the Caps will be just fine with keeping Jonas Siegenthaler in the lineup.

“He’s got a pretty calm mentality and I think he’s found ways to ramp it up a bit to play in the NHL level,” Braden Holtby told reporters Friday. “It’s a good quality to have.”

Siegenthaler turned in another strong performance in Friday’s win over the Carolina Hurricanes, just the sixth NHL game of his career. He also recorded his first career point, a primary assist on Alex Ovechkin’s first goal.

The rookie defenseman grabbed the puck at the blue line in the first period and skated in. Ovechkin turned his body to face Siegenthaler and held his stick up waiting for the one-timer. Siegenthaler fed him the puck which Ovechkin rocketed past goalie Scott Darling.

Ovechkin made sure to grab the puck as a keepsake for the rookie on his first point.

The assist was Siegenthaler’s only point of the night, but he was also instrumental in setting up Ovechkin’s second goal of the game.

Ovechkin held the puck near the blue line, closely guarded by defenseman Dougie Hamilton. Siegenthaler crossed in front of Ovechkin and knocked into Hamilton which opened up plenty of space for Ovechkin to make a play.

To be fair, the call could have easily been called for interference and Carolina head coach Rod Brind’Amour voiced his displeasure to the referees over the no-call on the bench. At best it was a pick play, but considering the erroneous holding penalty Ovechkin was called for earlier in the second which resulted in a goal for the Hurricanes, things certainly leveled out.

Siegenthaler’s play on Ovechkin’s second goal was notable because that is more of the type of impact you can expect to see from him. He is a physical presence on the ice and he’s not afraid to show it despite only being a rookie. Just as importantly, however, is that he also is not reckless with it.

Young, physical players can often make the mistake of being too timid when they enter the NHL, thus negating a strength of their game, or they can be reckless with throwing their body around leading to mistakes such as taking bad penalties or playing out of position to make a hit. Siegenthaler has done neither since getting recalled and his steady demeanor on the blue line certainly has caught the attention of his netminder.

“He doesn’t panic or anything and he’s making quicker plays now too,” Holtby said. “He’s got an NHL talent, that’s for sure. He’s still extremely young and the way he’s playing, he’s going to be a really good D-man. He’s already there. He’s filled in really well.”

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Wizards Trade Timeline: Sorting through details of scrapped Trevor Ariza trade

Wizards Trade Timeline: Sorting through details of scrapped Trevor Ariza trade

The Washington Wizards’ attempt at upgrading their defense by acquiring veteran forward Trevor Ariza in exchange for key reserves Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers fell through. Various reports on how the three-team trade with the Phoenix Suns and Memphis Grizzlies fell apart includes contradicting details.

The subsequent noise and chaos created confusion over what transpired. As of Friday night all we knew for sure was the no trade was ever reported to the league for approval. Here’s what NBC Sports Washington has learned as of early Saturday morning from league sources.

Quick recap: The Wizards were in talks to add Ariza, who played two seasons with Washington (2012-2014), along with a pair of second-round picks coming from Memphis. Oubre would land with the Grizzlies while the Suns would receive Rivers, Memphis guard Wayne Selden and player with the last name Brooks.

Trade news popped moments after the Wizards’ 125-118 loss at Brooklyn. Washington fell to 11-18 after a fourth consecutive loss. Another lost moment soon followed.

Everything blew up because the Suns believed they were acquiring Grizzlies guard Dillon Brooks, a second-year player, while the Grizzlies claim the trade involved journeyman MarShon Brooks. Deals are torpedoed at the last minute from time to time. That happened here except reports leaked publicly with the details, including the Brooks confusion, all of which led to a wild night on social media.

- The Wizards entered into discussions about Ariza over the last 2-3 days. By that point, the Suns and Grizzlies were deep into conversations about a potential move with Memphis concerning Dillon Brooks. The two sides talked at least a half-dozen times over 7-10 days including at least one directl chat with owners of both teams.

With Dillon Brooks currently sidelined by a knee injury, the Suns requested the guard’s physical from the Grizzlies. Enough information and dialogue were exchanged during the process between all three teams that there was clear understanding of the players involved, at least for the Suns and Wizards. It’s possible what all witnessed was a bad case of nerves by the Grizzlies at the buzzer.

Other reports offer similar details, but Memphis general manager Chris Wallace countered the notion of Dillon Brooks’ involvement from the start, according to ESPN.

- As for what comes next, its conceivable talks are revived. ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowksi reported Saturday morning that the Wizards and Suns "were exploring whether a deal could be made between the two teams that included Ariza, Oubre and Rivers" with the Grizzlies perhaps still involved.

Players signed as free agents during the offseason, including Ariza, could not be traded until Saturday regardless. Ariza signed a one-year, $15 million contract with Phoenix in July.

- That the deal fell through opens the door for other teams interested in Ariza. The Los Angeles Lakers were thought to be among the teams in the mix before Phoenix agreed to the three-way trade. Even if Washington hopes to find a new path, other teams now know the price and could counter with their own offers. 

Wojnarowski reported that the Lakers and Rockets were among the teams now “pushing the Suns” for a trade involving Ariza, who reportedly desires a trade to his native Los Angeles.

- Washington’s interest in Ariza comes on multiple fronts. The 6-foot-8 forward, who would start alongside Otto Porter, is one of the better 3-and-D players in the league, though his shooting numbers were off with the Suns this season. In 26 games this season, Ariza shot a solid 36 percent on 3-pointers, but only 37.0 percent overall while averaging 9.9 points and 5.6 rebounds.

Don't panic over Ariza’s shooting numbers for now.  The 5-25 Suns are perhaps the lone team in the league without a true point guard. In Washington Ariza would once again play with Wall, a five-time All-Star and one of the league's top passers. Factor in the presence of Bradley Beal and Porter and Ariza would find himself open on the perimeter often.  

The Wizards rank 29th in points allowed this season with 117.2 points per game. Ariza, 33, proved formidable on the perimeter during the last four seasons with the Rockets. Houston, a Western Conference finalist in 2018 with Ariza, has fallen to 13-14 this season in part because of their defensive shortcomings.

- Washington would reduce its luxury tax payment for the second time in the last week. Salaries for Rivers, another expiring contract, and Oubre combined for approximately $860,000 less than Ariza’s $15 million deal. That works out to around $2.1 million savings. Washington previously saved around $4.7 million by trading Jason Smith. The Wizards would have remained $5 million over the luxury tax in this failed scenario.

The trade would not shed major long-term salary, however. The Wizards are currently over the projected 2019-20 salary cap with only five players under contract. The Ariza deal would help the team keep playoff hopes alive this season and save some money in the process.

- Lastly,  the Wizards are expected to practice Saturday. We’ll see what happens.

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