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FIBA hopes to lure NBA stars to WCup qualifiers

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FIBA hopes to lure NBA stars to WCup qualifiers

GENEVA (AP) Basketball's governing body will try to lure NBA stars to play in some World Cup qualifiers after creating a new format with more matches in their home countries.

The path to the revamped 2019 World Cup includes round-robin qualifying groups played in six separate fixture windows over a 14-month span starting November 2017.

``Having the home and away games brings basketball back to the countries themselves,'' FIBA secretary general Patrick Baumann told The Associated Press in an interview. ``Eventually this will benefit the whole sport around the world.''

The U.S., which has not played competitively at home since the 2002 worlds hosted in Indianapolis, will be guaranteed six home qualifiers in each World Cup cycle.

Baumann acknowledged that having NBA stars regularly on national team duty was ``something we would love,'' but that players will decide how much time to commit.

World Cup qualifiers in June and September 2018 would be most attractive to top players, he said. FIBA aims to schedule matches in late-June to avoid clashing with NBA playoffs.

Baumann said the governing body has good relations with the NBA, and kept the league and franchise owners informed ``since day 1'' of a two-year project to improve the existing calendar.

FIBA agreed a new competition schedule at the weekend that removed some continental events from a packed four-year tournament cycle.

``NBA owners were making it relatively clear that it was not a situation they would continue to support,'' Baumann said by telephone from Shanghai. ``We were really filling the calendar so much that we felt players were either not at the top (of their form) or had to choose which summer to play.''

During Spain's rise as top challenger to the United States, Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol was selected to an Olympic Games, world or European championship every NBA offseason since 2006.

Spain will host the next worlds in 2014 as a 24-team event, before the rebranded World Cup is introduced with 32 countries in September 2019.

Baumann said skipping a year meant ``getting out of the shadow'' of soccer, which will host the World Cup in June-July of 2018.

``Countries like Greece and Russia have never seen their national team play in the last decade at home,'' Baumann said.

FIBA hopes increased exposure will help countries develop more players rather than relying on its one or two with NBA experience to carry the load.

``It is about growing new talent, which is as good as the NBA talent,'' said Baumann who is an International Olympic Committee member. The new World Cup will be the main route to the 2020 Summer Games, sending seven of the likely 12-team Olympic lineup.

Baumann also believes that the World Cup can create new rivals to test the U.S., as Spain has pushed the ``Dream Team'' at the Beijing and London Games.

``For FIBA, the best way to make sure that the best players play in our competitions is to ensure that the rest of the world can measure against them (the U.S.), `` he said: ``And hopefully improve and at some point beat them.''

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5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

After losing three straight, the Capitals battled back in Game 6 on Monday. With their 3-0 win, Washington forced the Eastern Conference Final into a decisive Game 7 on Wednesday.

Here is how the Caps did it.

Braden Holtby matched Andrei Vasilevskiy save for save

Andrei Vasilevskiy was just as great in this game as he was in the three previous, but one of the major differences in this one was that Holtby was just as good. He may not have been tested as much (Vasilevskiy made 32 saves, Holtby 24), but he was big when the team needed.

In the second period with the scored tied at 0, Holtby made one of the most critical saves perhaps of the entire season when he denied Anthony Cirelli with the toe on a 2-on-1. When the Caps took the lead, Holtby really shut the door in the third period with 10 saves to cap off what was his fifth career playoff shutout and first shutout of the entire season.

T.J. Oshie’s timely goal

Over halfway into the game, it looked like it was just going to be one of those nights. Caps fans know it well by now. Washington outplays their opponent, they get chance after chance and develop a whopping advantage in shots, but they run into a hot goalie and a random play suddenly turns into a goal for the other team, game and season over.

Vasilevskiy was on his way to having perhaps his best performance of the series. Considering how he played in the three games prior to Game 6, that’s saying something. The Caps were doing everything right, but he continued to make save after save. Then on the power play in the second period, John Carlson struck the inside of the post, the horn went off and the roar of the crowd gave way to dismay as the referee waved his arms to indicate there was no goal and play continued. Just seconds later, T.J. Oshie gave the Caps the 1-0 lead.

You have to wonder if doubt was starting to creep into the back of the minds of the players when that puck struck the post as they wondered what else they had to do to beat Vasilevskiy. Luckily, that feeling didn’t last long.

Special teams

Braydon Coburn’s tripping penalty in the second period gave Washington its only power play of the night and its first since the second period of Game 4. They had to make it count given how well Vasilveskiy was playing and they did.

Washington now has a power play goal in each of their three wins against the Lightning and no power play goals in their three losses. So yeah, it’s significant.

Tampa Bay had two opportunities of their own, but Washington managed to kill off both power plays in the penalty kill’s best performance of the series.

Washington’s physical game plan

On paper, the Lightning are better than the Caps in most categories. One area in which Washington has the edge, however, is physical play and it was clear very early that they intended to use that to their advantage in Game 6. Tampa Bay was pushed around and they seemed to struggle to recover.

Ovechkin was a one-man wrecking ball out there hitting everything that moved. The energy he brought with every hit was palpable and both the team and the crowd fed on it.

Washington was credited with 39 hits on the night compared to Tampa Bay’s 19. Ovechkin had four of those as did Nicklas Backstrom while Devante Smith-Pelly contributed five and Tom Wilson and Brooks Orpik each led the team with six.

Fourth line dagger

Tampa Bay’s fourth line was the story of Game 5, but Washington’s fourth line sealed the deal on Monday with its third period goal.

Chandler Stephenson beat out an icing call, forcing Braydon Coburn to play the puck along the wall. Jay Beagle picked it up, fed back to Stephenson who backhanded a pass for the perfect setup for Devante Smith-Pelly.

Smith-Pelly scored seven goals in the regular season. He now has four in the playoffs.

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

WASHINGTON -- Juan Soto, the youngest player in the majors at 19, hit a three-run homer in his first career start as the Washington Nationals defeated the San Diego Padres 10-2 on Monday.

Mark Reynolds had two solo home runs for the Nationals, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Bryce Harper had a homer and an RBI double.

Soto's drive highlighted a five-run second inning for Washington. The promising outfielder, who played for three minor league teams this season, hit the first pitch from Robbie Erlin (1-3) over the Nationals bullpen in left-center field. Soto also singled.

Soto's homer traveled an estimated 442 feet at Nationals Park. He earned a standing ovation from the crowd and the teenager responded by taking a curtain call. Per Baseball-Reference.com, Soto became the first teenager to hit a home run in a major league game since Harper on Sept. 30, 2012.

Called up to Washington on Sunday, Soto became the first 19-year-old to make his major league debut since Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias in 2016. He entered that game in the eighth inning as a pinch-hitter and struck out.

Washington's starting left fielder began the season at Class A Hagerstown. He hit a combined .362 with 14 homers and 52 RBIs in his three minor league stops.

Gio Gonzalez (5-2) allowed two runs and two hits in seven innings.

San Diego's Franmil Reyes, playing in his seventh career game, also hit his first career home run.

Trea Turner hit a pair of RBI doubles for Washington. Reynolds had three hits.

Erlin surrendered six runs and seven hits over four innings in his third start of the season. San Diego had won three in a row.

Reyes connected for a two-run homer in the fourth inning, but the Padres' lineup generated little else against Gonzalez, who allowed one run over six innings in a no-decision at San Diego on May 9.

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?
- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.