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Irving, Cavaliers shooting for the next step

Irving, Cavaliers shooting for the next step

CLEVELAND (AP) When he infamously deserted the Cavaliers two summers ago, LeBron James took much more to Miami's glitzy South Beach than just his talents

James robbed a Cleveland franchise of hope.

Kyrie Irving has brought it back.

After a sensational first season, the NBA's ruling rookie of the year is poised to help the Cavs take another step toward respectability - and maybe beyond. And, the 20-year-old Irving, with a polished all-around game that belies his youth, could be on the verge of becoming one of the league's biggest stars.

Irving, though, has another pursuit in mind.

``I want to experience my first playoffs,'' he said. ``It would be Cleveland's first playoffs in three years if we do make it. That's the goal right now, to make the playoffs and go from there.''

Considering where the Cavs were not long ago, Irving's optimism alone is impressive.

In the season after James left and before Irving arrived as the No. 1 overall pick, Cleveland fell from the league's upper echelon down the steps into pro basketball's subbasement. The Cavs set a league record by losing 26 straight games and finished with 19 wins - 42 fewer than the previous season with James.

The future seemed bleak. Irving changed Cleveland's outlook.

He was better than advertised last year. The expectation now is for much more.

``I know what's about to happen,'' said Cavs guard Daniel ``Boobie'' Gibson, who went to the NBA finals in 2007 as a teammate of James. ``The rest of the world should be prepared from something special, because Kyrie is. Very few players come around like him. He's just a special talent that the world will get to see real soon.''

Irving averaged 18.5 points, 5.4 assists and 3.7 rebounds in 51 games last season. He was easily the best thing about the Cavs, who finished 21-45. Of course, losing center Anderson Varejao for the final 41 games with a broken wrist didn't help the final result.

Irving's year carried over into the summer, when he played against the U.S. Olympic team that went on to win a gold medal in London. To some observers in Las Vegas, Irving was at times the best point guard on the floor while playing against Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Russell Westbrook.

Irving even challenged Kobe Bryant to a game of 1-on-1.

He dropped jaws. Byron Scott's wasn't one of them.

``I'd seen it before,'' the Cavs coach said.

Scott understands Irving and his potential better than anyone. He and the kid point guard share a close bond, one that has grown tighter and reminds Scott of the relationship he formed with Paul when the two were in New Orleans. Scott sees other parallels in the way Irving is developing into a leader.

Last season, Irving may have been reluctant to challenge a teammate or raise his voice to demand more of the other Cavaliers. That's no longer the case.

``Kyrie - going into this year - feels a lot better in his position of being one of the leaders on the team and his experience of being here last year,'' Scott said. ``I expect that to grow as well. I expect him to be a great leader.

``As I told him, you have to lead by example.''

Irving's fully recovered from a broken hand he sustained this summer when he slapped a padded wall in frustration at practice. He's struggled with his shooting during the preseason, but Irving has added a post-up game after adding a few pounds of muscle in the weight room.

The bulk should allow Irving to absorb some of the pounding he'll take when he ventures into the lane and takes an elbow or shove.

``He thinks he's Hercules Irving instead of just Kyrie Irving,'' Scott joked.

Irving's hardly a powerful Greek god, and he won't be able to carry the Cavs alone. He'll need help, and the Cavs must find a way to replenish the scoring lost when Antawn Jamison, who averaged 17.2 points per game, left as a free agent. Cleveland needs more production from second-year forward Tristan Thompson, small forward Alonzo Gee, free agent acquisition C.J. Miles and rookie guard Dion Waiters, surprisingly selected with the No. 4 pick in June's draft by general manager Chris Grant.

``We're not looking at one guy,'' said Scott, beginning his third year in Cleveland. ``It has to be done by committee. It has to be two or three guys.''

Waiters came off the bench at Syracuse, but it appears Scott will pair him and Irving. Waiters spent the summer working on his conditioning after putting on some extra pounds before the draft.

Scott pulled Waiters from a preseason game after he failed to run a play called during a timeout. It was some tough love from Scott, who intends to stay on top of Waiters.

``He understands that Coach is going to be hard on him because coach cares about him,'' Scott said. ``I have a unique connection with Dion because I played that position. I told him the reason I'm going to be hard on him is that I played that position and see greatness in him. He's just got to do it every single day.''

Because of his ability to take the ball wherever he wants, Irving will make things easier for Waiters. It needs to work the other way, too, for the Cavs to compete.

Cleveland is probably a year or two away from legitimately moving back into playoff contention. Irving, though, believes the Cavs can make some noise this season.

``You don't know what could happen,'' he said. ``This year we do have the pieces that can fit coach Scott's offense.

``I'm excited for it.''

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Capitals prospect report: Alex Alexeyev reportedly taken to hospital after dangerous hit

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@WashCapitals

Capitals prospect report: Alex Alexeyev reportedly taken to hospital after dangerous hit

Scary news out of the WHL as Capitals prospect Alex Alexeyev had to be helped off the ice and was reportedly taken to the hospital after taking a dangerous hit during Tuesday’s game.

Kamloops forward Zane Franklin checked Alexeyev who fell face-first into the boards.

Luckily for Alexeyev, Red Deer and the Caps, it appears he avoided any major injury. He underwent an x-ray and a CAT scan, both of which were negative and the team considers him day-to-day. A team spokesman said he could play in the team’s game Friday, but that has not yet been determined.

Alexeyev was selected in the first round of the 2018 draft by Washington and has had a phenomenal season to this point with seven goals and 24 assists in 29 games for Red Deer. His 31 points ranks second on the team and tied for fourth among defensemen in the WHL.

Other prospect notes:

·        Sergei Shumakov’s time with the Capitals organization is over. The Russian forward was placed on unconditional waivers Friday and his contract was terminated by the team after he refused to practice Thursday and notified the Hershey Bears he intended to leave the team. According to a team official, the entire incident took the team by surprise. Shumakov was getting top-six minutes and power play time, but that evidently was not enough. A hand injury limited him to just 10 games this season, but he scored three goals and four points. Granted, Shumakov did not leave the KHL – where he scored 17 goals and 40 points in 47 games last season – for an AHL career, but from what he showed in training camp, he was not close to being ready for the NHL. There is also a crowded offensive roster ahead of him on Washington’s depth chart so a call up this season was becoming less and less likely. It was a low risk move for the Caps to sign him and this time, it didn’t pan out.

·        It was expected that Shumakov would return to the KHL, but he instead signed with another AHL team, the Springfield Thunderbirds. Springfield is the AHL affiliate of the Florida Panthers who, reportedly, were among the teams interested in acquiring Shumakov’s services when he first indicated he was coming to the NHL. In three games with his new team, Shumakov has one point, a goal.

·        Ilya Samsonov earned his first win in nearly a month as he saved 28 shots in Saturday’s 6-3 win over Hartford. It is his fourth win of the season and snapped a personal four-game losing streak.

·        How’s this for a weekend? Riley Barber was recalled by the Caps Friday as insurance with the team on the road and T.J. Oshie not quite ready to come back yet. He was a healthy scratch for Saturday’s game in Columbus, was then reassigned to Hershey and scored a goal against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Sunday. The goal was Barber’s ninth power play goal of the season. He has 19 points in 21 games.

·        Tobias Geisser joins the list of Caps prospects who will be representing their countries at the IIHF World Juniors. Geisser will play for Switzerland. Also participating in world juniors will be Alexeyev (Russia) (hopefully) and Martin Fehervary (Slovakia). Kristian Roykas-Marthinsen will be representing Norway in the Division I tournament playing for a spot in next year’s world juniors championship.

·        Shane Gersich has missed the last two games for the Bears due to an upper body injury. It is believed Gersich suffered the injury after a check to the head from David Kase of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Friday. Gersich would finish that game, but has missed both of Hershey’s games since. Kase was suspended two games for the hit. Here’s a look:

·        There were a lot of firsts this past week. Prospects Garrett Pilon and Maximilian Kammerer both scored their first AHL goals in Sunday’s game. Geisser also registered his first AHL point with an assist on Pilon’s goal. Here’s a look at the goal by Kammerer:

·        Colby Williams registered three assists in Saturday’s win over Hartford. It was the first three-assist night of Williams’ AHL career.

·        The AHL issued a two-game suspension to Beck Malenstyn on Tuesday for an illegal check to the head of Hartford forward Ryan Lindgren. He was out Sunday’s game and will not play Saturday in Providence.

·        Tyler Lewington played in his 200th AHL game Saturday and registered two assists for just the second time in his career. He also scored his second goal of the season on Sunday. Through 201 games in Hershey, he has registered a total of 447 penalty minutes.

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How Redskins quarterback Josh Johnson is cramming for his first start in seven years

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USA TODAY SPORTS

How Redskins quarterback Josh Johnson is cramming for his first start in seven years

REDSKINS PARK The surprise has worn off now and the work has begun in earnest for Josh Johnson, who will start his first NFL game in seven years when the Redskins play the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.

That is not something he or the Redskins would have thought possible during the summer. Alex Smith was going to be the new starting quarterback and Colt McCoy was set to be his backup. Then Smith and McCoy sustained broken legs in a nine-day span last month and the unthinkable happened. 

Behind an offensive line decimated by injuries once again, Johnson at least moved the ball when called upon down 40-0 against the New York Giants on Sunday at FedEx Field. Redskins coach Jay Gruden immediately made the decision to give Johnson the start against Jacksonville. A career backup now on his 12th NFL organization will start for a team whose season has cratered during a four-game losing streak. 

Johnson says he’s ready and that his journey around the NFL is part of the reason why. The Redskins had an extended practice on Wednesday with scripted sessions and walk throughs at the beginning and end to get him comfortable with the offense. He’s familiar with Gruden thanks to their time together in Tampa Bay and Cincinnati, when Gruden was the offensive coordinator. But it’s a lot to cram into one week and the playbook will naturally be limited.      

"It has helped because I’ve been around a lot of different quarterbacks, a couple Super Bowl quarterbacks, a Hall of Fame quarterback, first-round picks, fifth-round picks,” Johnson said. “I’ve experienced coaching from numerous coaches and you pick up on some common traits. You pick up on different things where you can apply it when necessary whether it is preparation, performance, mental stability. Everything becomes a full circle, so it’s getting me ready for Sunday."

But prior to Sunday’s loss to the Giants, Johnson last threw a pass in a game on Dec. 11, 2011. Ironically, that came for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers against the Jaguars in a 41-14 loss. Johnson’s last start was the week before that in a 38-19 loss to the Carolina Panthers. 

Cam Newton was a rookie. So was Redskins linebacker Mason Foster, who was Johnson’s teammate that day, too, as a starting rookie linebacker for the Buccaneers. Johnson appeared in two more games with Tampa Bay and then began his journey around the NFL. 

His stops included Cleveland, Cincinnati and San Francisco twice each, Indianapolis, Buffalo, Baltimore, New York with both the Jets and the Giants, Houston, his hometown Oakland Raiders this past offseason and now the Redskins.

“The one thing that I really respect about Josh Johnson is he is a very confident guy,” Gruden said. “He believes in his ability to be a quarterback in the National Football League despite being on [12] teams. He has a skill set that’s pretty good but hasn’t been able to stick anywhere, but still, the game's not too big for him.” 

Indeed, Johnson came on with 5:31 left in the third quarter and his team down 40-0 against New York and completed 11 of 16 passes and had seven carries for 45 yards with a passing touchdown and a rushing touchdown plus two two-point conversions. He didn’t look nervous. 

With Washington’s situation at both left and right guard so disastrous because of injury, there isn’t much Gruden can do to change the playbook. Johnson’s mobility allows the Redskins to use him a little differently than Mark Sanchez, who originally took over for McCoy but struggled against New York and was benched.

Johnson is still grasping the new terminology, though. He was with Gruden in Cincinnati in 2013, a backup on a team that made the playoffs, but much of that wording was changed when Gruden arrived in Washington in 2014. But Jon Gruden – Jay’s brother and the Raiders’ head coach – once told Johnson to keep a manual on what coaches across the NFL are doing when he was between jobs so he’d be prepared if a call came. It did, but this time from a familiar face. They all hope it helps. 

“To come back and kind of experience a similar culture and being in something that I've been comfortable with before, it's kind of a blessing for me,” Johnson said. “Because I don’t really have to go through the rigors of a coach trying to figure me out. It's more of just figuring me in.”

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