Nationals

Dunlap preaches patience amid 16-game losing skid

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Dunlap preaches patience amid 16-game losing skid

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) It would be easy for Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap to tear up the blueprint amid a 16-game losing streak and come up with an entirely new plan.

But Charlotte's first-year coach has no plans for any such radical paper shredding.

Instead he's preaching patience.

When Dunlap looks at his team's struggles since opening the season 7-5 he recalls the growing pains Kevin Durant, Michael Westbrook and the rest of the Oklahoma City Thunder endured a few years ago before becoming Western Conference champions.

``Durant and Westbrook took a pounding in those first two years,'' Dunlap said. ``My point is I look around the league and see how those seeds were born, what those guys did and how did that culture take off? Well it didn't take off right away, so I remind myself and my staff of that. It's incumbent on us to stay the course.''

So Dunlap will stick with playing youngsters like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kemba Walker, Byron Mullens and Jeffery Taylor. They will make mistakes. They will learn on the job.

Dunlap will also continue to stress things like pressuring the ball, help defense, pushing the ball up the floor, getting to the basket and drawing fouls as staples of the foundation he hopes to build.

Sure, the 16-game skid isn't fun.

The Bobcats know all too well about lengthy losing streaks.

They lost their final 23 games of last season to finish 7-59 under former coach Paul Silas. They added Ramon Sessions, Ben Gordon and Brendan Haywood during the offseason, bringing some veteran experience to an otherwise young team.

After an offseason where Dunlap stressed conditioning during marathon three- and four-hour practices, the Bobcats came out of the gates winning seven of their first 12 games matching last season's win total.

But things have gone downhill ever since a 45-point shellacking at the hands of the Thunder on Nov. 26.

It was a game the Bobcats said going in would be a great measuring stick for how far they'd come. But reality threw them for a loop and Dunlap's gang has struggled to get back on ever since.

Sixteen games. Sixteen losses.

They've lost them in a variety of ways, once blowing a 17-point lead with less than six minutes to play. They've been blown out of a few games, but for the most part have remained competitive.

The one consistent during the stretch is the lack of defense. The Bobcats have allowed 109 points per game during the losing streak.

``That's not good, is it?'' Dunlap said, pointing out the obvious.

Dunlap said the problem revolves around a lack of ball pressure and poor rotation.

``In the NBA you have to cover guys that are getting beat off the dribble,'' Dunlap said. ``The only way you can do that is to leave your man and that is a hard habit to break at this level because you're depending on the trust factor. If you lose games there is an undermining of `Should I leave my man or not?' There are question marks in the eyes.''

Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said things aren't as dire as they might seem in Charlotte.

In fact, he sees plenty of promise in what Dunlap, president of basketball operations Rod Higgins and general manager Rich Cho are building with the Bobcats.

He said it's only a matter of time before the Bobcats are turning close losses into wins.

``It's always tough when you're going through a year like they are,'' Spoelstra said. ``But they are getting great experience for the young players. Their players are as good as anybody's in the league - they just don't have as much experience. But they can hurt you on any given night. The thing is they compete and play hard. You notice that on film.''

On Tuesday night, the Bobcats hung with the defending champion Heat for three-and-a-half quarters. Charlotte trailed by two points with 7:16 left in the game before Miami went on a run and pulled away for a 105-92 victory.

Of Charlotte's 21 losses, 12 are by 10 points or less. That's a far cry from last year's team which wasn't even competitive, losing more than one-third of their games by 20 points or more.

Dunlap said he sees ``promise amid the adversity.''

Still, Walker doesn't take much satisfaction the Bobcats are more competitive.

``Losing is losing,'' said Walker, the team's leading scorer. ``Hopefully we can stop it soon. But it's no different at all from last year. We lost last year and we're losing this year and it's not a good feeling at all.''

Walker realizes the Bobcats don't have a roster with a ton of proven NBA experience, but he refuses to use that as an excuse.

``We have young guys, but at the same time it's the NBA,'' Walker said. ``So we have to find a way to win. That's what we're going to try to do - find a way.''

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Astros players plan to make a team statement on sign-stealing scandal during Spring Training

Astros players plan to make a team statement on sign-stealing scandal during Spring Training

The Houston Astros' sign-stealing scandal has rocked MLB and left a dark shadow over the league during offseason. Up until this point, despite a fired general manager and on-field manager, the players at the root of the scandal have remained silent on the subject and avoided questions from the media.

That will all change in Spring Training as the Astros players plan to make "a strong statement as a team," according to Astros' owner Jim Crane. 

"When we get down to Spring Training, we'll all get them together and they'll come out with a strong statement as a team and apologize for what happened and we'll move forward," Crane said in a media scrum.

Over the weekend the team held their annual winter FanFest where several players had to face the music as many players met with the media for the first time. Jose Altuve, who is one of the players who allegedly benefited from the sign-stealing, dodged the question as best he could. The Astros shortstop's comments coincide with Crane's, saying “I think the time to comment about that will come. It’s a little early for me to say something about it.” 

Outside of their FanFest event, there is little that has come out of the clubhouse. Their owner acknowledged the lack of communication from the players and said the players were advised to stay out of the conversation. 

"The players have been beaten up a little bit and they've been all spread out. They've just kinda getting [sic] advice to take it easy."

Already Spring Training in West Palm Beach is going to be awkward between the two teams that made the World Series last season. The Nationals, who won the World Series whether or not the Astros used their system to gain an advantage, have their facilities next door to Houston's.

And if the Astros sign former Nationals' manager Dusty Baker to the same position in wake of A.J. Hinch's firing, there will be even more tense situations at Spring Training this year. 

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Jay Gruden reportedly to join Jaguars as their offensive coordinator

Jay Gruden reportedly to join Jaguars as their offensive coordinator

Just four months shy of his last appearance on the NFL gridiron sidelines, Jay Gruden may already have his 2020 gig lined up, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero.

Gruden was head coach of the Washington Redskins for six seasons, beginning in 2014 and going 35-49-1 in his burgundy and gold tenure. Gruden pushed the Redskins to their first postseason appearance since 2012 in his second year with the team, as well as back-to-back winning seasons in 2015 and 2016, not seen in Washington since 1996 and 1997. 

In March 2017, Gruden signed a two-year extension with the Redskins. He was fired after beginning the 2019 season 0-5. 

Recently, Gruden confirmed to Rapoport that he was "itching for something to do" and seeking employment before Jacksonville brought him in to interview for the OC role. 

After playing four years at the University of Louisville and and eight more in various football leagues, Gruden held many offensive roles, offensive coordinator for the Florida Tuskers and Cincinnati Bengals. 

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