Nationals

Grizzlies eager to build off 2 playoff appearances

Grizzlies eager to build off 2 playoff appearances

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) The Memphis Grizzlies have had just enough success the past two seasons that they are back and craving more.

Much more.

The franchise that simply wanted to win a postseason game two years ago goes into this season with all five starters back and healthy with enough playoff experience to know how much harder they need to work. Knocking off the No. 1 seed as they did in 2011 against San Antonio is not enough anymore, and neither is landing home-court advantage to start the postseason.

``Our expectations are high too,'' Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph said. ``We just want to take one game at a time. ... We don't want to talk about doing this, doing that. We want to take it one game at a time. ... I think we do that and don't look too far ahead, take steps, let it come to us, we're going to be all right.''

The franchise once known for losing an NBA record 12 straight playoff games without a single win has been rebuilt around Rudy Gay, Randolph, center Marc Gasol with Mike Conley at point guard and guard Tony Allen bringing his defensive focus.

Now they want to put together a season where everyone remains healthy to try to see just what they can do together.

``We haven't had everybody together for the start and finish,'' Randolph said. ``I think if we had that, it'd be a big difference. We're going to have it this year and hopefully everybody stays healthy and shows everybody what we're really like when we're healthy.''

Gay missed the Grizzlies' amazing playoff run in 2011 with a shoulder injury that had him cheerleading as Memphis beat the Spurs, then pushed Oklahoma City to seven games in the semifinals.

Last season, Darrell Arthur missed the entire season after tearing his right Achilles last December, and Randolph hustled back after tearing his right MCL in an injury that kept him out 37 games, yet the Clippers knocked Memphis out in seven games in the first round.

The Grizzlies went 41-25, setting a franchise-record 62.1 winning percentage and clinching the No. 4 seed in the West last season. They also led the NBA with 9.6 steals and 17.1 turnovers last season, becoming the first team to lead the league in both steals per game and forced turnovers per game in consecutive seasons since the Seattle SuperSonics in 1995-96 and 1996-97.

Michael Heisley announced in June he was selling the team to California tech company owner Robert J. Pera, a $350 million sale nearing approval by the NBA. Pera has been busy compiling an ownership group including four-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning's wife, Ashley, actor and singer Justin Timberlake, a former congressman and key local businessmen.

General manager Chris Wallace went about trying to fill the Grizzlies' need for a backup point guard and outside shooting.

Wallace let guard O.J. Mayo leave as a free agent to Dallas, re-signed Marreese Speights and Darrell Arthur to give Gasol and Randolph time to rest, signed guard Jerryd Bayless to help back up Conley and traded forward Dante Cunningham to Minnesota for guard Wayne Ellington for some outside shooting help. Center Hamed Haddadi is back as well.

Conley said the key is all the newcomers understanding the Grizzlies' style as a physical team.

``We like to punch first and dive on loose balls, play aggressively,'' Conley said. ``Defensively, they've got to buy into that right away. We know we got great shooters in the guys we picked up and great players. We expect them to come in and contribute defensively just like everybody else.''

The Grizzlies open the season Oct. 31 at the Los Angeles Clippers with their home opener Nov. 5 against Utah, the same team they conclude the regular season against on April 17. They host the NBA champion Heat on Nov. 11 with visits from the Lakers on Nov. 23 and Jan. 23.

Coach Lionel Hollins, who is starting his fourth straight season with the Grizzlies, has heard them talk about how driven they are by the last playoff loss to the Clippers. Now he wants to see what they do about that feeling.

``It can make you more dedicated when you've gone through something like that,'' Hollins said. ``It's definitely a positive, but you still have to go do it. You can talk about it. `I have a sour taste.' You can talk about, `I'm more dedicated.' You have to be that, and you have to go do it.''

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Follow Teresa M. Walker on Twitter at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

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Nationals power through rain delay, come back against Phillies

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USA Today

Nationals power through rain delay, come back against Phillies

WASHINGTON -- Daniel Murphy's two-run single drove in the tying and go-ahead runs in the eighth inning and the Washington Nationals rallied past the Philadelphia Phillies 8-6 on Sunday night to salvage the finale of the three-game series.

Anthony Rendon homered and doubled, Bryce Harper tied a career high with three doubles and Michael A. Taylor and Murphy each had three singles in a game that was delayed 38 minutes by rain in the bottom of the fourth inning.

Rhys Hoskins and Nick Williams homered for the Phillies, who had won three straight.

Pinch hitter Brian Goodwin led off the eighth with a walk against Victor Arano. With one out, right-hander Seranthony Dominguez (1-2) came on to face Harper, who doubled to right, with Goodwin stopping at third.

After Rendon grounded out, Juan Soto was intentionally walked and Murphy lined a 1-2 pitch to shallow right. Taylor's single made it 8-6.

Ryan Madson (2-3) pitched the eighth inning, and Sean Doolittle finished it for his 21st save.

The Phillies took a 6-2 lead in the fifth on a two-run triple by Odubel Herrera and a two-run homer by Williams.

Washington pulled within a run at 6-5 in the sixth with four two-out hits, including an RBI triple by Trea Turner and RBI doubles by Harper and Rendon.

Nick Pivetta went five innings and allowed two runs on eight hits for the Phillies.

Washington starter Jefry Rodriguez was charged with four runs and five hits in four-plus innings.

The Phillies broke on top on Hoskins's two-run homer in the third.

Rendon made it 2-1 with a solo homer in the fourth. The next three hitters singled, tying the game, but with the rain intensifying, out came the tarp. When play resumed, Pivetta struck out three straight to end the inning.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Phillies: C Andrew Knapp left in the seventh with a right knee contusion. ... 3B Maikel Franco slipped on first base and fell hard in the eighth. He stayed in to run, but left after the half-inning. ... INF Jesmuel Valent?n was placed on the paternity leave list and OF Dylan Cozens (left quadriceps strain) was reinstated from the 10-day DL.

Nationals: RHP Jeremy Hellickson (right hamstring strain) allowed 11 runs in 4 2/3 innings of a rehab start at Class A Potomac on Sunday. "I'm more concerned with the way he feels," manager Dave Martinez said, downplaying the results. "We'll go from there." ... RH reliever Brandon Kintzler (right forearm flexor strain) threw a scoreless inning at Potomac. ... RHP Stephen Strasburg (right shoulder inflammation) played catch on the field again. "We'll keep doing his throwing progression and figure out when he can actually throw from the mound," Martinez said.

UP NEXT

Phillies: RHP Vince Velasquez (5-7, 4.82) starts the opener of a series against the Yankees on Monday. He is 0-0 with a 3.24 ERA in two games vs. New York.

Nationals: RHP Gio Gonzalez (6-4, 3.08) opens a series at Tampa Bay on Monday. He is 2-2 with a 5.54 ERA in six games against the Rays.

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Jay Gruden wants excellent play from Alex Smith, but he also expects personal responsibility

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USA TODAY Sports

Jay Gruden wants excellent play from Alex Smith, but he also expects personal responsibility

As June minicamp concluded, Redskins head coach Jay Gruden pulled no punches when asked about expectations for new quarterback Alex Smith. 

"He has got to get it down by the first game," Gruden said of Smith. 

While that might not sound overly demanding, remember this is Smith's first season in Washington. The QB will be playing with new teammates and implementing new terminology. 

Still, Smith is a veteran with a lot of experience, and frankly, it seems like Gruden isn't worried about a transition period. 

"We are not in here to build the team around him, the team is built and he has to lead it like right now," the coach said. "This isn’t a two- or three-year process. This is a one-year process and we have got to win right away."

Gruden made things quite clear. He expects the best from Smith, yesterday. 

Those comments created headlines, but there was something else the coach said about his passer that also stood out. Asked about Smith's veteran presence, Gruden talked about what the quarterback might mean for his teammates. 

"The whole job a quarterback has is obviously getting the most out of the people around you. That’s what I think he does as good as anybody," Gruden said. "He’ll get the most out of the tight ends. He’ll get the most out of the backs."

The coach continued, and things got a bit more interesting.

"He’ll get the most out of the receivers and offensive line because they’re going to want to play for him and they’re going to feel confident that he’s going to make something happen in a positive way or at least give it everything he’s got and take responsibility if something doesn’t work out."

Redskins fans are often a weirdly divided bunch. Many liked former QB Kirk Cousins but plenty did not think he was worth the type of money he was paid the last two seasons. Along the way, some fans will read Gruden's comments about making something happen and taking responsibility as a jab at Cousins. That's probably wrong. 

Remember, Trent Williams played through a serious knee injury last season. Asked why, Williams said he wanted to be out there to protect Cousins. Guys played for Cousins. 

The responsibility comment might mean something else, though. Their was a rather hostile back-and-forth last season between Gruden and Cousins last season, when the QB and coach disagreed about taking more risks with the football. A quick reminder of the scene: Cousins told a reporter that he would throw 20 interceptions if he played like Gruden wanted. The coach responded that while the interceptions might pile up, the QB would also throw 60 touchdowns. (Relive it here)

Throughout his career, Smith has thrown less interceptions than Cousins. But that doesn't mean Smith doesn't take risks or put his receivers in position to make plays. 

It's entirely possible Gruden simply expects Smith, a veteran, to be a responsible player and leader. And it's likely that comment had nothing to do with the Redskins previous quarterbacks. 

The bottom line is that Smith better be ready to go Week 1, and his coach made that clear. And if Smith isn't, Gruden expects his quarterback to take responsibility. 

MORE REDSKINS NEWS:

— Contract years: Redskins face 5 tough decisions 

— Dead Money: Trades, misses and mistakes hurt Redskins salary cap

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