Nationals

Gore, James solid 1-2 punch in 49ers' run game

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Gore, James solid 1-2 punch in 49ers' run game

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Frank Gore quickly gave credit to rookie LaMichael James for an impressive NFL debut - and for taking some pressure off the three-time Pro Bowler in the process.

``He kept me fresh,'' Gore said. ``It's great.''

Anthony Dixon is doing his part for San Francisco, too. Gore and Dixon each ran for 1-yard touchdowns, and the 49ers' versatile running game showed its depth in Sunday's 27-13 victory against the Miami Dolphins. Gore led the way en route to his sixth career 1,000-yard rushing season and 50th touchdown on the ground.

``I said the first week of the year I feel like we have the best backfield in the league,'' Dixon said. ``We have a lot of talent, we are super deep. I know coach has a hard time trying to figure out what to do with all of us. It's a good problem. We just try to feed off each other.''

James, a second-round draft pick this year out of Oregon, was active for the first time all season Sunday and took advantage with eight carries for 30 yards. James' performance helps the Niners (9-3-1) cope with the devastating, season-ending loss of backup Kendall Hunter to an ankle injury suffered at New Orleans on Nov. 25.

Both Dixon and James play key roles on special teams as well.

But James' production and ability to spell Gore down the stretch will be important for the 49ers as they look to make another run at the Super Bowl after falling short in overtime of the NFC championship game against the Giants last January.

``Kendall was a big part of our team, and LaMichael can do similar stuff as Kendall, and that's good,'' Gore said. ``Happy for him. I saw LaMichael when he first got here. The offense was kind of tough for him. Camp was going kind of tough. He wasn't used to playing in small spaces, but he did a (heckuva) job.''

One potential distraction for this close-knit group is gone.

Brandon Jacobs' short time with San Francisco is all but over after he was suspended Monday for the final three regular-season games. It's doubtful he would rejoin the team for the playoffs.

While the 49ers didn't provide a reason for the suspension, Jacobs had become increasingly vocal via social media during the weekend about his frustration over a lack of playing time. He referenced being ``on this team rotting away.''

He has only played in two games this season, managing 7 yards on five carries. Jacobs spent his first seven NFL seasons with the New York Giants, winning two Super Bowl rings.

Coach Jim Harbaugh declined to address Jacobs' comments on Monday, even when asked whether Jacobs is still on the team.

``I'll go with the fifth amendment,'' Harbaugh said. ``Just at this time, at this hour I choose to have no comment on that.''

Now, Harbaugh and his players can move on without having to deal with the disgruntled Jacobs in the locker room - or the sight of the 6-foot-4, 264-pound tailback pounding his fists into the padding of the goal post on game day as his quirky pregame ritual.

After the way he played Sunday, James could get more chances Sunday at New England.

``LaMichael got those touches. Thought he made a real, real good contribution, both in the kick-off return game and offensively,'' Harbaugh said.

Gore certainly likes San Francisco's variety of offensive options as the 49ers head out to face the AFC East-leading Patriots (9-3) in a game that should provide quite the measuring stick for both teams in mid-December.

Not that Gore needs much to go on: His numbers tell the story of his eighth NFL season at age 29. He has 1,035 yards on 211 carries for seven touchdowns, and averages 4.9 yards per carry.

Along with going over 1,000 yards rushing with a 63-yard outing against the Dolphins, Gore matched his mentor, Roger Craig, and late Hall of Famer Joe Perry for the franchise record in rushing touchdowns with 50.

``I always knew Frank was a great running back,'' said quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who led a winning effort in his fourth straight start and fourth ever. ``Being out there on the field and seeing some of the cuts he makes and how he protects in pass protection, I don't think there's another back like him in this league.''

Notes: Harbaugh didn't yet have an update on the status of DL and core special teams player Demarcus Dobbs, who was carted off the field in the first half Sunday with a right knee injury. ``We'll know more when the MRI comes back. We'll see,'' Harbaugh said. ... First-round draft pick WR A.J. Jenkins also made his NFL debut Sunday. While he didn't have a catch, Harbaugh saw plenty of positives. ``A.J. probably was in there eight or nine snaps and had a real nice block on Frank's draw play that nearly scored,'' Harbaugh said. ``Ran a route, didn't get the ball, but ran right past his man.''

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Five baseball books to read while in quarantine

Five baseball books to read while in quarantine

The Nationals Talk podcast has been on a book run lately. Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post stopped by last week to discuss his book, “Buzz Saw”, about the 2019 Nationals season. Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal, and author of “Swing Kings”, joined us for Tuesday's episode. We’re a veritable baseball library.

So, in keeping with the book theme -- and the lack of baseball coupled with extra time -- here’s a list of five baseball books to read during quarantine. The list could include 20 other titles. But, many of these books are the reason this was a personal pursuit in the first place. Feel free to add some in the comments. And happy reading.

The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn

I don’t remember how old I was when I first read Kahn’s book, but I do remember it presented this fairy tale view of baseball in my mind.

Kahn covers his Brooklyn childhood, early reporting days at the New York Herald Tribune and follows the Dodgers to the end of the 1955 World Series. For a kid growing up in the sticks three hours north of New York City, everything about the situation delivered the grandeur you would associate with such a life. And the team was loaded with legendary names: Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Don Newcombe, Johnny Podres (who was from upstate New York).

The era has striking differences to our current baseball one. Kahn was working in a time of baseball-player-as-hero, where emotion, personal interaction and unfettered access colored the presentation of the sport and its players as much as analytics does now. Kahn also knew those players could be incomplete humans, like anyone else, and presented them as such.

This book is part nostalgia, part writing master class and part memoir. Do yourself the favor.

Ball Four by Jim Bouton

What Kahn held in eloquence, Bouton held in -- how to say this -- chutzpah.

The subtitle of the book goes like this: “The controversial bestseller that tears the cover off the biggest names in baseball.” Corny? Yes. Oversell? A bit, or so it seems now. But any time a book written about a specific sports league leads to the league’s commissioner, in this case Bowie Kuhn, speaking out against it, the book clearly sent a jolt.

Bouton’s diary of his 1969 season with the Seattle Pilots (great throwback jerseys) and Houston Astros is also a look back at his time with the Yankees. He spent seven years (1962-1968) in the Bronx, pitched well (3.36 ERA), and paid attention. What distinctly set Bouton’s book apart was his willingness to tell the truth about what happened behind closed doors. From his personal clashes with management to Mickey Mantle’s drinking, Bouton spilled secrets which were -- and would remain -- significant breaches of any “circle of trust.”

For that, Bouton was reviled and revered. Players despised him for it. Critics adored the insight. The book became a hit. Time magazine once listed it among the 100 greatest non-fiction books of all-time.

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Three Nights in August by Buzz Bissinger

This hops us into a more modern look at baseball. Beyond that, it also gives a look into what baseball is built on: the three-game series.

When writers travel to cover the NFL, it’s an in-and-out experience. You arrive in the city on Saturday and sometimes leave as soon as Sunday night. For the NBA, you drop in one place, then go directly to another, easily losing track. Baseball provides a temporary chance to unpack.

And during the settling teams blast through three games. Bissinger chose the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry to write about. Tony La Russa was still running things in St. Louis at the time, and became the central figure of the book. He’s intriguing for the obvious reasons of brand recognition, but also because his bullpen strategy in the late 1980s became the standard and remains paramount today.

Bissinger became famous for “Friday Night Lights” and his background knowledge here about La Russa allows the access to deliver even more insight. Good writing, good figures, good story.

Moneyball by Michael Lewis

This is on the list because if you somehow have not read it, why not?

We won’t spend too much time on one of the most-famous baseball books in history, if not the most well-known, period.

Quickly: The low-budget A’s force math into the equation in order to find a way to win without significant cash resources. General manager Billy Beane is the architect of this approach (and apparently good-looking enough Brad Pitt plays him in the movie).

At its core, the book is about old-school versus new-school thinking and is (gasp) already 16 years old.

The Only Rule Is it Has To Work by Ben Lindbergh

Lindbergh took the Moneyball concept a step further and crossed it with baseball kookiness.

The Sonoma Stompers, part of the independent Pacific Association, allowed Lindbergh and Sam Miller to run baseball operations strictly on advanced analytics.

The book is a functional, real-world application of a consistent baseball argument: do everything by the numbers in order to maximize outcome. So, does it work?

No spoilers here beyond saying the experiment combined with those who populate independent baseball produces a compelling read.

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The Vault: Looking back at Bullets-Sixers Game 5 of the 1986 NBA Playoffs

The Vault: Looking back at Bullets-Sixers Game 5 of the 1986 NBA Playoffs

After a two-week break for paternity leave, it's time to spin the dial, line up the combination numbers and re-open the vault. Earlier in the NBA's hiatus, we looked back at Bullets playoff games from the 1970s and the 1990s. Today, we go to the 1980s and revisit Game 5 of the 1986 first-round playoff series between the Washington Bullets and the Philadelphia 76ers.

Now, this is a game that older Bullets fans likely wouldn't want to relive. The Bullets not only lost the game, they got blown out, and it ended their season.

But it was also an interesting snapshot into an era of the NBA and of Bullets basketball and, in a way, it encapsulated what the Bullets were in the 1980s. They made the playoffs five straight years from 1983 to 1988 and lost in the first round each time. 

In 1986, the Bullets won only 39 games, yet they were the sixth seed. It was an especially bad year in the Eastern Conference, so bad that the Chicago Bulls set an NBA record that still stands as the worst team to ever make the playoffs. They were 30-52.

The Bullets won Game 1 against the Sixers, but fell on the road in Game 5 when basically all of their best players didn't show up. It was a major letdown.

But it was still a basketball time capsule worth looking back on. Here are five takeaways including pictures and GIFs of the best moments...

Bol's network debut

The NBA back then was not even close to what it is now in terms of worldwide reach. It was not far removed from the NBA Finals playing on tape delay and very few games were broadcast nationally. Usually, those national games featured teams like the Lakers and Celtics, not the Washington Bullets.

So this particular game marked the first time Manute Bol played on network television. The Bullets rookie was a person of intrigue because at 7-foot-6, he was the tallest player in NBA history at the time. Remember, this was before Gheorghe Muresan, Shawn Bradley and Yao Ming. 

Bol was also a fascinating player because as a rookie he led the league in blocked shots with a ridiculous average of 5.0 per game. He averaged more blocks than he did points (3.7). 

Bol playing in his network debut was a big part of the broadcast with color commentator Tommy Heinsohn remarking pregame that "when [Bol] first joined the NBA, a lot of people thought it was for freak value." Heinsohn, though, went on to twice compare Bol's rim-protecting prowess to Bill Russell.

Heinsohn also said later in the game the Bullets training staff put the roster through a strength exam and Bol tested at the level of "a child." He was tall, but extremely skinny, listed at just 200 pounds. And his thin frame was a major disadvantage against Sixers superstar Charles Barkley.

Despite being a foot shorter, Barkley absolutely dominated Bol in this game with his strength and low center of gravity.

Bol had zero points, two rebounds and one block in the game.

Bol had a song

To further illustrate the spectacle that Bol's network debut was, CBS aired a music video for him at halftime. It was called 'Bol-tending' and it was the type of video that was for some reason commonplace around sports in the 1980s and 90s.

Custom rap songs about teams and players were all the rage back then and even as a rookie, Bol had one complete with a killer saxophone solo.

The 80s were in full force

The Bol video was just one example of the remarkable 80s-ness of this game and the broadcast. There were so many things that may have been cool at the time that just aren't that cool anymore.

Like, this starting lineup graphic. It looks like a Prince album cover.

There were also a few hairstyles you just never see in today's NBA. There was the let-it-flow male pattern baldness of Gus Williams:

There was also Jeff Ruland's full and glorious mustache, which made him look like a cop who went undercover as an NBA player:

And you had Tom McMillen's moppy gray hair that made him look like a middle school science teacher:

It seems worth noting that Just For Men didn't come out until 1987, the year after this game was played. And this was actually McMillen's final NBA game. He had already announced his retirement and made it known he was going to run for U.S. Congress as soon as his playing career was over. They mentioned it twice on the broadcast.

Imagine a current NBA player's farewell tour including that as his next step. McMillen, who was a Rhodes Scholar before playing in the NBA, would win that election and two more to serve three terms in the House of Representatives hailing from Maryland's 4th District.

Sixers were loaded with stars

The Sixers had one of the most star-studded NBA teams ever assembled in 1985-86, though some of those stars were up there in age and not the players they once were. They had a whopping five Hall of Famers. That included Barkley, Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Bob McAdoo and Maurice Cheeks. 

Malone and McAdoo didn't play in this game due to injuries, Malone because of a fractured eye socket (ouch). But the other three had their way with the Bullets in Game 5.

Barkely, in particular, was unstoppable. He had a triple-double with 19 points, 15 rebounds and 12 assists. And he just jumped off the screen as the best player on the floor.

This was a different era where a lot of the players weren't athletic or skilled enough to hang in today's game. But it is pretty obvious Barkley would still be a star. He was just unbelievably powerful and fast in the open floor.

Dr. J still had it

Erving may have been 35 years old, but he was still one of the best athletes on the court. He made a series of plays that were reminiscent of the ageless wonder we see these days in LeBron James.

Erving had a few vicious dunks that did not look like a guy at the end of his career:

And this one play where he leapt over the press section really stood out:

The NBA has come a long way since the 80s, but Barkley and Dr. J were both before their time. And the Bullets may now be the Wizards, but they are still waiting to break through in the playoffs, even decades later.

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