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Knicks return to the right formula in strong start

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Knicks return to the right formula in strong start

NEW YORK (AP) This is how the New York Knicks used to play, before the franchise tumbled into mediocrity and misery.

The superstar wants to be more than just a scorer. The role players are committed to being good defenders and better teammates. The old guys play the game with an old-school mentality. The coach holds everyone accountable for stopping his man, no matter who he is.

Yes, these Knicks are doing everything it takes to be a contender.

``We're playing for something, guys,'' coach Mike Woodson said. ``We're trying to stay at the top, we're trying to win our division, and host first round at home.''

The Knicks used to have similar lofty goals, but that was long ago. Expectations had fallen so low that when the Knicks finally won a playoff game last spring, snapping an NBA-record, 13-game postseason losing streak that lasted more than a decade, streamers rained down from the Madison Square Garden rafters as if they were celebrating a championship, instead of just avoiding a sweep in a first-round series.

Miami eliminated New York a couple of nights later, and the Knicks spent the offseason building a team they felt could compete with the Heat on the court, even if not in the headlines and highlights.

Woodson was given the job full-time after replacing Mike D'Antoni on an interim basis last March. He told Carmelo Anthony to come back in better shape, sent Amare Stoudemire out to expand his game, and asked for veteran players to fill the numerous holes that were on the roster.

The Knicks were ridiculed when they assembled the oldest team in NBA history, adding players such as Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas before Woodson lured the 38-year-old Rasheed Wallace out of a two-year retirement. But look around the locker room, Wallace said Sunday following an 88-76 victory over Indiana. Tyson Chandler and Camby have been Defensive Players of the Year, defense has always been Woodson's specialty and some of the newcomers' strength, so apparently the Knicks knew what they were doing.

``It's just a matter of time before everyone buys into it, and once we all do, it's going to be hellacious,'' Wallace said.

At 7-1, the Knicks are off to their best start since winning their first seven games of the 1993-94 season. The 1990s Knicks were beloved in New York, a rugged team built around Patrick Ewing that worked its way toward the top one defensive stop at a time.

But the Knicks got away from that under Isiah Thomas, who kept adding scorers such as Stephon Marbury, Steve Francis and Eddy Curry while never grasping how to build a team. Former president Donnie Walsh and D'Antoni cleaned up the mess, but neither stayed long enough to finish the job, and D'Antoni and Anthony couldn't make things work last season before the coach resigned.

Anthony seems dedicated to doing more this season, defending bigger players while sliding into the power forward spot in the injured Stoudemire's absence, even diving into the second row trying to save a ball he had batted away in a victory over Philadelphia.

``With the team I have, everybody knows I can score the basketball, that's a no-brainer,'' Anthony said. ``But for me to be able to go out there and say today I'm going to lead my team, I'm going to defend, I'm going to help out, I'm going to sacrifice something out there on the basketball court, that was my motivation, especially coming off of last season and the season before last. To approach this season as a new beginning for me. My focus is extremely high right now.''

Woodson's response to Anthony's defensive light going on?

``He's supposed to play defense. I mean, he's no different from the last guy that comes off the bench,'' Woodson said. ``Everybody's supposed to play defense. I mean it's not just the star. If you're committed and you're all about team, you're supposed to play defense when you're out there. Everybody. It's a team effort.''

D'Antoni never had the proper roster for his system, and Larry Brown and Thomas had mismatched ones before him, but Woodson seems perfect for this group. Thought to be just a placeholder until the Knicks made a run at Phil Jackson or some other big name last summer, he's gone 25-7 in the regular season, and the players seem loyal to him and his values, a welcome change after the Marbury-Brown, Marbury-Thomas, or Anthony-D'Antoni soap operas.

``He's implemented principles and that's what we're going to stand by throughout the year,'' Chandler said.

There will be rough patches. The Knicks will have to fit Stoudemire in at some point when his knee is healthy, and though the old guys haven't looked old yet, check back in the spring. Still, hard-nosed defense and unselfish play have been a winning formula around here before, and the Knicks are seeing the benefit of getting back to it.

``I think we believe in one another. I don't want to say it's a surprise,'' Kidd said of the Knicks' success. ``I think with the knowledge and the understanding of the game and the principles that Coach has put out for us, I think guys have picked it up quickly and it's kind of fun as you can see.''

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NHL Power Rankings: Not every night is a big-time game for the Capitals

NHL Power Rankings: Not every night is a big-time game for the Capitals

There was a lot of excitement to start the season for the Caps. First, there was the home-opener and the banner raising against the Boston Bruins. Then there was a trip to Pittsburgh to take on the rival Penguins. After that, it was a Stanley Cup Final rematch against the Vegas Golden Knights.

And all of that was followed up with a trip to Newark.

CHECK OUT THIS WEEK’S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

With all due respect to New Jersey, given the slate the Caps faced to start the season, it was no real surprise to see the team struggle to get up for Thursday’s game against the Devils, a game in which the Caps were blown out 6-0. Of all the games Washington faced to start the season, the trip to New Jersey was definitely the least exciting.

But not every game is going to be a big rivalry matchup or a playoff rematch. With every team gunning for the Caps, they better make sure they can get themselves ready for the grind of an 82-game season that won’t always feature a big-time matchup.

A trip to Newark may not be flashy or exciting, but it still counts as two points.

The Caps dropped the game in New Jersey and lost a tight contest against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Where do they stand now after two straight losses?

FIND OUT HERE IN THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS

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The five key plays in the Redskins’ win over the Panthers

The five key plays in the Redskins’ win over the Panthers

Every play in an NFL game is important but some matter to the outcome more than others. Here are the key plays in the Redskins’ 23-17 win over the Panthers.

Q1, 10:41—Tress Way punts 51 yards to CAR 21, D.J. Moore to CAR 22 for 1 yard (Shaun Dion Hamilton). FUMBLES (Hamilton), RECOVERED by WAS-Jeremy Sprinkle at CAR 21. Sprinkle to CAR 22 for -1 yard. 

The Redskins did not get off to a promising start on offense as they went three and out on their first possession and punted. Panthers rookie D.J. Moore fielded the punt and tried to find some running room. He found Hamilton, who stripped the ball away and Sprinkle pounced on it. It only took one play for the Redskins to cash in as Alex Smith found Vernon Davis wide open—as in nobody else in the picture open—for a touchdown to put the home team up 7-0. 

Q1, 8:50—Alex Smith pass short middle to Jordan Reed to WAS 45 for 7 yards 

The Redskins were looking to add to their lead on their possession following the Davis touchdown. On third and eight at their own 38, Smith threw for Reed in the middle of the field. The pass was high and inside, forcing Reed to jump, reach back and stab the ball with his right hand. It was a true one-handed catch because he never touched the ball with his left hand. 

The only thing Reed did wrong on that play was to signal for a first down. It was short, but Smith got the first with a sneak on the next play. Some Adrian Peterson runs and a 21-yard pass from Smith to Davis helped get the Redskins down to the two-yard line. On third down from there, Smith found Paul Richardson for a TD to make it 14-0.

Q2, 11:32—Cam Newton pass short middle to Moore to WAS 37 for 17 yards (Josh Norman). FUMBLES (Norman), RECOVERED by WAS -Mason Foster at WAS 33. 

Norman got his first interception since 2016 earlier in the second quarter but the offense couldn’t do anything with the possession. The next time the Panthers had the ball, Newton went to Moore on a crossing Pattern. He had some running room and it looked like the Panthers would advance well into Redskins territory. But as defenders converged on Moore, Norman reached in and stripped the ball out. “He never saw me coming,” said Norman. Foster recovered, and the Redskins drove for a field goal to go up 17-0. 

Q4, 13:43—Alex Smith sacked at CAR 46 for -6 yards (Julius Peppers). FUMBLES (Peppers), recovered by WAS-Trent Williams at CAR 46. Williams to CAR 38 for 8 yards.

The Panthers had rallied to make it a one-score game at 17-9. On third and seven from the Carolina 40, Smith was immediately swarmed by the pass rush. The ball popped out and it fell into the hands of Williams to the left of the scrum. Going on sheer instinct, Williams headed upfield. Starting from six yards behind the line of scrimmage Williams rumbled eight yards for a net gain of two. That’s not much but it was enough to have Jay Gruden send Dustin Hopkins into the game to attempt a 56-yard field goal. The boot just made it over the uprights and Hopkins’ career-long kick had the Redskins up by two scores at 20-9. 

Q4, 0:38—Cam Newton pass incomplete short right to Jarius Wright.

After the Redskins kicked a field goal to go up by six, Newton led a final drive that kept everyone on edge. Starting with 3:15 to play, Newton was sharp, completing six of seven passes for 50 yards to move the Panthers from their own 16 to second and five at the Washington 16. The Washington defense finally stiffened, and Newton’s next three passes fell incomplete. The last one went harmlessly to the ground, not particularly close to Wright or any other receiver. The Redskins and their fans could finally exhale and celebrate. 

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