Jazz have bigger goals after bolstering weaknesses


Jazz have bigger goals after bolstering weaknesses

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) It may have looked like old times with Jerry Sloan, Karl Malone and John Stockton back at the Utah Jazz arena - albeit for a local Hall of Fame ceremony.

Yet even Sloan wouldn't recognize this year's Jazz team.

The Jazz have two players named Williams, Mo and Marvin, brought in to boost a dreadful 3-point shooting attack that ranked 27th in the NBA last season.

Utah also has perhaps the best set of ``bigs'' in the league in Al Jefferson, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Paul Millsap, with only Millsap remaining from Utah's 2010 playoff team.

``Time catches up with you and at some point you have to change,'' said Tyrone Corbin, who enters his third year as Jazz head coach but first full season after dealing with Sloan's 2011 departure then last year's strike-shortened campaign. ``But we have some people in place to make that transition not as big.''

He also has choices, with the 6-foot-10 Jefferson and a slimmed-down, muscled up 6-11 Kanter available at center, 6-8 Millsap versatile enough to play either forward spot and 6-10 Favors an intense shot-blocker if he can stay out of foul trouble.

With 6-9 Marvin Williams stepping in at small forward, Corbin said fans will notice Utah's overall size.

``One thing about Utah, they have good guys who can score at the block,'' said Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks, who witnessed that firsthand in the preseason. ``Utah has some of the best `bigs' in the league. They can score inside or outside and they can defend.''

Scoring typically wasn't a problem last year as Utah ranked fourth (99.7 points) in the league, but the Jazz gave up nearly as many defensively to finish 23rd - a stat the team is intent on improving.

``I just think we're going to communicate a lot better than we did last year,'' Jefferson said. ``We've got guys who want to play defense, especially on that second unit.''

For now, Favors and Kanter, both No. 3 overall draft picks, anchor that second unit.

Kanter, aka Big Turkey, slimmed down in the offseason to 242 pounds but has boosted his production, leading the team in scoring (12.0 points) and rebounding (9.0) during the preseason.

``What he's doing is real for him,'' Corbin said, noting Kanter has displayed better patience and vision to pass and also is moving better. ``And he's coming in with a sense of purpose ... demanding the ball and guys are getting it to him.''

Utah's inside game should only improve if guys can knock down the outside shot.

The team entered this week leading the league in 3-point shooting at 43 percent, a stark contrast to the 32 percent Utah shot last year in that category.

Third-year wing Gordon Hayward also has worked to improve his perimeter game after showing glimpses in Utah's stretch run last year when he averaged 16.1 points on 50.7 percent shooting in April.

The biggest problem Corbin figures to have is divvying up the minutes, especially with no All-Stars yet four or five players in double figures every night.

``That's who we are. This is a deep ball club,'' Corbin said.

He sees players willing to average 10 or 12 points rather than 15 if it means a victory.

``I think this group will do well (with that mindset), but until you get in it, you don't know,'' he said.

``Guys are going to have to be a little patient,'' Jefferson added. ``I'm pretty sure everybody is going to want to play more minutes than they're playing, but it's a long season and a good problem to have if you're the coach.''

The Jazz were the NBA's third-best rebounding team last year behind Chicago and the Lakers, led by Jefferson (19.2 points, 9.6 rebounds) and Millsap (16.6 points, 8.8 rebounds). And they were fourth in blocks, averaging 5.8 per game.

Those numbers helped Utah sneak into the playoffs as the eighth seed in the Western Conference, with a 36-30 record. Getting swept out in the first round by San Antonio prompted a few changes.

Trades sent point guard Devin Harris packing and bought in Mo and Marvin Williams, while the Jazz added versatile guard Randy Foye via free agency.

Overall, the team has six players drafted in the top 12 on the roster, including second-year guard Alec Burks and Kanter - Jefferson's picks for players to have breakout seasons.

``Burks is really going to step up this year.because of the way he worked this summer and the confidence he added,'' Jefferson said. ``And Big Turkey is going to take his game to a whole new level.''

Jefferson, who like Millsap is in the final year of his contract, likes the overall makeup of the team as well as his role on it.

``They always say you're in the prime at 27, 28 and I'll be 28 in a couple more months,'' said Jefferson, who is entering his ninth NBA season. ``I think this is the beginning of the second half of my career and I'm ready to make the best of it.''

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Nationals set to enter defining seven-game stretch


Nationals set to enter defining seven-game stretch

WASHINGTON -- Most baseball managers try to operate in monochromatic fashion. They see one goal each day, and it only rests in those 24 hours. Some -- like Davey Martinez -- claim they don’t look at the standings in June. His standard message is to “win today” then move to tomorrow.

Human nature often runs interference on compartmentalization. It even crept up on Martinez on Sunday morning when in the midst of an answer about Anthony Rendon and Trea Turner playing daily. 

“For me, this is a big week,” Martinez said. “We have a chance to make up some ground here. I want these guys readily available to play.”

He’s right. The claim of significance is valid for once in mid-June, not a concept drummed up by overzealous television promos or interminable Internet space. 

The Nationals have seven games in seven days against two teams near the top of the division. Damaged Philadelphia arrives Monday. The Phillies’ bullpen is hurting and ineffective. Bryce Harper could miss the All-Star Game for just the second time in his career. Philadelphia is 6-8 in June. Meanwhile, Atlanta is rolling along. Its lineup remains deep, the pitching functional and Dallas Keuchel set to make his debut here in D.C. next weekend. The Braves hold a 2 ½-game lead in the not-so-great National League East. 

“Not thinking too big picture,” Adam Eaton said. “But knowing we have an in-division rivalry, we’ve got to win those games. It’s important. We’re trying to chase at this point. Not to put too much emphasis on it, but we need to play some really competitive baseball. And we shouldn’t beat ourselves these next four games. Play good baseball and not beat ourselves. If we play the brand of baseball we know how to play, and play clean, we have a good chance.”

Washington is five games under .500. Days are clicking off the calendar. Departing along with them are opportunities to chop at an 8 1/2-game deficit in the division. Following this week, only seven games against Philadelphia remain. However, 13 with Atlanta remain on the schedule, including seven in 10 days in September. The question is if those will matter. Sink this week and they won’t. Pull off a deficit-halving six of seven and everything changes. 

This week’s ramifications will first be felt on the phone lines in a month. The non-waiver trade deadline arrives July 31. Drag back to a double-digit deficit this week and plunk down the “for sale” sign. Rocket through the week and perhaps reinforcements will be found.

Monday brings a dreaded series opener. The Nationals are 6-17 in the first games of series this season. No one knows why. It doesn’t make sense. But, here they are, incapable of winning a first game and constantly playing from behind.

Patrick Corbin will be on the mound attempting to counter the trend. He, like the team when a new opponent shows up, has been in arrears the last three games. Corbin’s ERA dipped to 2.85 following a 116-pitch shutout of Miami on May 25. He’s been bludgeoned since. His ERA is up to 4.11, he will start twice this week, and the Nationals need him to right his ills.

Friday, Corbin threw a bullpen session focused on his line to the plate. Pitching coach Paul Menhart describes what they are trying to accomplish to get Corbin back to the version he was earlier this season:

“His lines and his east-west motion have made it very difficult for him to get the ball to where he wants it to be,” Menhart said. “He needs to be more direct to the plate and have more of a north-south rotation with his upper body and being more stable lower-half wise will allow him to do that and have his deception and hide the ball better and keep that tunnel.”

Corbin agreed. He doesn’t watch much video to cure ruts. He also doesn’t want too much information. The team’s analytics trackers have informed him his arm slot remains in a good place. He thinks his body is still in a running at a high level, dismissing any correlation between his struggles and the workload against Miami. He’s also going through the most common element of reduced success: trying not to chew on it too much.

“I think when I’m away from the field, you think about it more,” Corbin told NBC Sports Washington. “You’re frustrated about it a little bit -- what the heck is going on? But when you get here, you just try to work, try to do things to get better. That’s how I approach it. I’m just looking forward to my next start on Monday going out there and trying to get back to how I know I can pitch.”

Philadelphia arrives after being thumped in Atlanta on Sunday, 15-1. Washington had the opposite day in a 15-5 win. Monday night starts a reckoning of sorts for both. The Nationals will send out their three high-end starters during the four games. Philadelphia is trying to right itself and not let the Braves get out of touch at the top of the division. So, even for the one-day-at-a-time crew, the coming seven carry significant weight, and they’re finally admitting it.



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Capitals re-sign forward Carl Hagelin to a four-year, $11 million contract

Capitals re-sign forward Carl Hagelin to a four-year, $11 million contract

WASHINGTON — The Capitals bolstered their forward depth and its penalty kill by re-signing two-time Stanley Cup champion Carl Hagelin before he hit unrestricted free agency next month. 

Washington has officially re-signed forward Carl Hagelin to a four-year, $11 million contract extension, a move that goes a long way toward re-establishing a third line that had some openings entering the offseason. 

Hagelin, 30, was a pending unrestricted free agent. Washington acquired him from the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 21 just four days before the NHL trade deadline. Hagelin played primarily on the third line – although injuries in the Stanley Cup playoffs pushed him onto the second line.

Hagelin had three goals and 11 assists in 20 regular-season games with the Capitals and became an instant staple on the penalty kill. His 47 minutes, six seconds on the PK in those 20 games were enough to rank sixth among all forwards on the team.

Traded twice last season, Hagelin had a total of five goals and 14 assists with the Capitals, Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins in 58 games. He had a sprained knee (medial collateral ligament) with Los Angeles that kept him out for 20 games.  

"[Hagelin] was a good fit,” Washington general manager Brian MacLellan said on April 26. “I thought he fit seamlessly from day one. Really liked him on the third line, the way we used him, we bumped him up obviously with the [T.J.] Oshie injury. Our PK got a lot better. Fits in well with his teammates. It's a really good fit for us, yes." 

The Penguins traded Hagelin to the Kings on Nov. 14. He was a key part of Pittsburgh’s back-to-back Stanley Cup winners in 2016 and 2017, which came at the expense of Washington in the playoffs each time. 

This was the last year of a four-year, $16 million deal that Hagelin signed with the Anaheim Ducks in 2015. He was always viewed as a likely trade chip for Los Angeles, which finished in last place in the Pacific Division and eventually flipped him to the Capitals. 

Even after the disappointing first-round Stanley Cup playoff loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, Hagelin said he was open to re-signing with the Capitals before he hit unrestricted free agency on July 1. His signing follows the trade of defenseman Matt Niskanen on Friday. The NHL Draft is this coming weekend in Vancouver with more moves expected.   

“I liked the fact that I got a good look from the coaches,” Hagelin said on April 26 of his time with the Capitals. “I got to play with good players, I got to play in key situations. I felt comfortable here.”