Fever-Sun Preview


Fever-Sun Preview

The Connecticut Sun made quick work of their first-round opponent. The Indiana Fever are hoping the Sun's lengthy layoff heading into this best-of-three Eastern Conference finals series will play to their advantage as they were just pushed to the limit.

Meeting in the postseason for the first time in five years, Connecticut and Indiana will play Game 1 on Friday night at Mohegan Sun Arena as both teams continue their bid for a first WNBA title.

Making their second consecutive playoff appearance, the top-seeded Sun swept New York in the semifinals for their first postseason series win since defeating Washington in the opening round of 2006.

Tina Charles, the league MVP and top rebounder with 10.5 per game, averaged 21.0 points and 8.5 boards against the Liberty, while Asjha Jones totaled 30 points and 17 boards and Kara Lawson added 23 and 15, respectively, while making six 3-pointers in 14 attempts.

"Our three All-Star players stepped up," Connecticut coach Mike Thibault said after Saturday's 75-62 Game 2 victory. "It was terrific, but we had great performances from a lot of people."

The Fever, the No. 2 seed, are well aware of the Sun's talent after losing three of four meetings in the regular season, including both in Uncasville, but they're hoping Connecticut won't be able to carry over the momentum.

"They're a fine team," Indiana coach Lin Dunn told the team's official website. "They're going to start at home. They're going to be rested. Let's just hope that they are over-rested.

"I think, at the end of the day, if we can defend at a high level, continue to do what we've done on the boards and be balanced in our scoring, then we have a chance to steal this series."

The Fever make their second consecutive conference finals appearance - and fifth in eight years - after knocking off Atlanta, the two-time defending East champs. The only home team to lose its playoff opener, Indiana ended the Dream's five-game home winning streak in Game 2 on Sunday before advancing with Tuesday's 75-64 victory.

Seven-time All-Star forward Tamika Catchings, the defensive player of the year, will likely be a key to this series, as will former Sun Katie Douglas, but the Fever will need contributions from others if they're going to reach their second WNBA finals and first since 2009.

Dunn said Briann January is playing as well as she's ever seen after the fourth-year guard averaged 16.7 points and 5.0 assists in the opening round. Fever forward Erlana Larkins, who hadn't started until two games left in the regular season, also picked a good time to step up her game, totaling 43 points and 32 rebounds against Atlanta.

"In the years past, it's always been Tamika having to spearhead that blue-collar mentality," Douglas said after Larkins totaled 16 points and 20 boards in Game 3. "And I think it takes a little pressure off of Tamika. (Larkins) can go down there and bang. It really loosens things up for us."

Having former Sun guard Erin Phillips in the starting five could do the same thing. A 43.8 percent 3-point shooter in the regular season, Phillips was added to the starting lineup after Game 1 - as was Larkins - and hit 3 of 5 from long range in the series while scoring 20 points.

Lawson averaged 18.3 points and hit 10 of 27 from beyond in the arc against Indiana in the regular season, while Charles scored 12.3 points and 10.5 rebounds per game in those contests.

Jones scored 30 in the first three games against Indiana in 2012 before chipping in with four off the bench in a 73-67 home win Sept. 19 - her first game after missing 14 with a strained Achilles' tendon.

This is the third postseason series between these clubs, and first since Indiana won the 2007 conference semifinals.

The Sun swept the Fever to reach the WNBA finals in 2005 to make their most recent finals appearance.

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10 Questions in 10 days: What is Kevin O’Connell's new role in Redskins offense?


10 Questions in 10 days: What is Kevin O’Connell's new role in Redskins offense?

With Redskins Training Camp set to begin July 26th, JP Finlay takes a look at 10 of the most pressing questions for the Burgundy and Gold. 

No. 10: Major questions at linebacker on Redskins depth chart 

No. 9: What is Kevin O’Connell's new role in Redskins offense?

It might be hard to remember now, but there was a week late last season for the Redskins where most informed people considered Kevin O'Connell on his way out. The talented young quarterbacks coach was being pursued by Chip Kelly to be offensive coordinator at UCLA, and the smart money suggested O'Connell would take the job. 

Except he didn't. 

O'Connell decided to stay with the Redskins and continue to work on Jay Gruden's staff. In turn, Washington promoted O'Connell to passing game coordinator, a new title that likely means much more involvement in game-planning. 

Working for Gruden comes with some perks. Sean McVay ran the offense for Gruden for a few seasons and landed a prime head coaching job with the Rams. McVay has plenty of his own talent, but throughout the NFL, Gruden's offense is widely respected. 

How will O'Connell's influence shape things this fall?

Consider that he deserves some credit for Kirk Cousins improved play out of the pocket in 2017. Now combine a coach that schemes plays for QBs on the move with new Washington passer Alex Smith, a strong runner and serious athlete, and this offense could look much more mobile in 2018. 

Gruden still has the final call on gameday, but O'Connell's voice will matter this year, more so than before. Bill Callahan and Matt Cavanaugh retain their roles and prominence in the offensive game-planning, for sure, but as Washington imports more run-pass option plays and QB movement, know that O'Connell is playing his part. 

Things will look different with Alex Smith running the Redskins offense than they did with Kirk Cousins at the helm. 

Just remember, O'Connell didn't turn down a job in Hollywood for no reason. 



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Need to Know: The best receivers the Redskins will face in 2018

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Need to Know: The best receivers the Redskins will face in 2018

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, July 17, nine days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

The five best pass catchers the Redskins will face in 2018

This week we’ll be looking at the best of what the Redskins will face during the 2018 season. Today the pass catchers are up. They are roughly ranked 2017 receiving yards, although I did some juggling based on offseason moves and other factors. Prior to this, we looked at the best teams and quarterbacks

Julio Jones, Falcons—Somehow the perception is that he had an off year in 2017 even though he still had 1,444 yards receiving. His touchdowns were down; his total of three TDs was a career worst for a full season. Still, he’s a beast to try to cover and even if you have him perfectly covered he can still make the catch on you. 

DeAndre Hopkins, Texans—Despite working with some shaky quarterbacks, Hopkins has managed to gain over 1,100 receiving yards in three of the last four seasons. He is a highlight show regular and his 13 touchdowns led the league in 2017. 

Michael Thomas, Saints—The third-year player doesn’t have high name recognition outside of New Orleans and maybe fans of the other NFC South teams. Defensive coordinators certainly don’t sleep on him. Thomas is as consistent as they come, posting nine games with 80 or more receiving yards last season. 

Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals—I keep wondering when he will show signs of his age (he’ll be 35 before the season starts). He didn’t last year, posting 109 receptions despite the fact that his quarterbacks were an aging Carson Palmer plus journeymen Blaine Gabbert and Drew Stanton. 

Mike Evans, Buccaneers—At 6-5, he is able to physically beat most cornerbacks. Evans will turn 25 just before the season starts and he got a five-year, $82.5 million contract extension. He is worth every bit of it. If Jameis Winston gets a big contract (something that is up in the air right now), he owes a good chunk of it to Evans. 

Best of the rest: T.Y. Hilton, Colts; Davante Adams, Packers; Alvin Kamara (RB), Saints; Zach Ertz (TE), Eagles

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 9
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 23
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 46

The Redskins last played a game 198 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 54 days. 

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