Nationals

Loss of Rondo for year hurts Celts playoff chances

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Loss of Rondo for year hurts Celts playoff chances

BOSTON (AP) The Celtics' grip on the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference already was slipping.

Now they'll have to hang on without Rajon Rondo.

Boston's star point guard will miss the rest of the season and undergo surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. The Celtics won without him on Sunday, beating the Miami Heat 100-98 in double overtime.

But what will the Celtics (21-23) do without him for the remaining 38 games with just a 2 1/2-game lead over the ninth-place Philadelphia 76ers?

``We'll see,'' coach Doc Rivers said. ``Obviously, that's a blow. It's a huge blow for us.''

Rondo had triple-doubles in his last two games, giving him five for the season. He brought the ball up, got it to the right people and even improved his weak shooting so much that his 48.4 field goal percentage was third best among NBA guards.

He was averaging career highs of 13.7 points and 5.6 rebounds along with 11.1 assists this season. And he was chosen as the starting point guard for the Eastern Conference in the All-Star game in Houston on Feb. 17.

Now he's done.

The club said he was hurt late in Friday night's 123-111 loss, also in double overtime, in Atlanta.

``We still like our chances in the Eastern Conference,'' said Paul Pierce, who had his own triple-double Sunday with 17 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. ``Responsibilities definitely go up when you have Rondo out of the game. (I'm) more of a facilitator. (I) have to (do) a little bit of everything for this ball club.''

Kevin Garnett led the Celtics with 24 points and 11 rebounds and they responded well without Rondo. Their other guards - Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee, Jason Terry and Leandro Barbosa - each played at least 25 minutes and combined for 35 points.

``New guys are going to get an opportunity now,'' Pierce said.

The Celtic's prospects were bleak even before Rivers learned about 25 minutes before the game that Rondo wouldn't play. They had lost six straight games, their longest slide in six seasons. The Heat had won their last four and had the best record in the East.

At first, Rondo thought he had a hamstring injury, Rivers said. Then he was ruled out of the game with what the team said was a hyperextended right knee. An MRI was done and Rivers learned about the ACL tear during the game.

``He's known to play through injuries,'' Pierce said. ``If Rondo can suit up, he's going to suit up. So he didn't suit up today and we knew it wasn't good.''

Rivers told his players of the severity of Rondo's injury after the game.

``Everyone was really happy for the win,'' Pierce said. ``It brought a dark cloud in this room when you heard the news.''

Even LeBron James, who led all scorers with 34 points, expressed sympathy.

``As much as I've been a rival with Boston over the years, I never want to see anyone go down,'' James said. ``It's terrible.''

James had a chance to put the Heat ahead after Pierce's 22-footer gave Boston a 99-98 lead with 31 seconds left in the second overtime. But James missed a 12-foot jumper with 6.8 seconds to go. Pierce got the rebound and was fouled.

He sank the first shot. Then, as a fan shouted ``This one's for Rondo,'' he missed the second.

Miami had one last chance, but Shane Battier missed a long jumper at the buzzer.

``They defended that very well,'' Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ``There are about three different options to it, four different options to it. They defended each one of them.''

The Heat also could have won in the first overtime, but Dwyane Wade, who had 17 points, missed a jumper as the buzzer sounded.

Boston could have avoided the first overtime when Pierce inbounded from behind his backboard to Terry with 2 seconds left. But Terry's shot from the top of the key was short. The Heat had tied it on a 3-pointer by James with 7 seconds remaining in regulation after Ray Allen missed a 3-pointer with 15 seconds to go.

This game was Allen's first in Boston since he left the Celtics after five seasons and signed as a free agent with Miami. He scored 21 points.

The crowd gave him a standing ovation when highlights of his career were shown on the video board above center court during a timeout with 5:33 left in the first quarter. At the Miami bench, he raised his left hand in recognition.

``When I saw it, just all those emotions came streaming back from all the great things we did here,'' Allen said. ``I'll always be a Celtic in my mind.''

Allen entered the game about a minute after the tribute and was booed when he touched the ball. The boos came down again when he took two free throws - missing the first, making the second - three minutes into the second quarter.

Now the Celtics have neither member of their starting backcourt from the past five seasons, Allen and Rondo.

Rondo's injury ``puts this team and the rest of the guys in a position to be ready to step up,'' Pierce said. Sunday's win ``was a perfect example. We showed we are capable.''

NOTES: It was Miami's first game in Boston since it won Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals behind James' 45 points. ... James and Chris Bosh each had 16 rebounds for the Heat. ... The last time the Celtics played consecutive double-overtime games was on March 11 and 13, 1951.

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GM Mike Rizzo responds to criticism on Nationals visit to the White House

GM Mike Rizzo responds to criticism on Nationals visit to the White House

After winning their first-ever World Series title, the Nationals visited the White House to meet with President Donald Trump to celebrate the victory.

But recently, General Manager Mike Rizzo has clarified why the team made the trip. Many have accused the team of making a political statement with the visit, and Kurt Suzuki donned a Make America Great Again hat during his speech at the podium.

“We weren’t trying to make a political statement, whatsoever,’’ Rizzo told Bob Nightengale of USA Today. “We just thought that the honor and the tradition of champions being invited to the White House and the office of the president, and especially us being the hometown team in their backyard two miles away from the capital, is something that should be done."

Rizzo also clarified that each player had a choice on whether or not they wanted to visit. Sean Doolittle and a host of others opted out of the visit.

"Obviously, each player could make their own decision whether they wanted to attend, but most of the players were excited by it," Rizzo said. “The office of the president is something that we respect. We felt we should be there. We also felt we should do it with everyone still in town there, or not do it at all."

Rizzo explained that he has voted for democrats and republicans in the past, and that there was no way to win in this situation when it came to visiting the White House.

“You’re in a situation where you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t," Rizzo noted. "I don’t have a political bone in my body. I vote for who I want. I don’t care what the party is. I vote every election. I’m listed as an Independent. My dad was a city worker in the city of Chicago for 45 years. We voted Democrat for the [Richard] Daleys a lot. I voted Republican sometimes."

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Rui Hachimura's fame in Japan is producing big benefits for Wizards, other members of team

Rui Hachimura's fame in Japan is producing big benefits for Wizards, other members of team

WASHINGTON -- Rui Hachimura is a big deal in his home country of Japan and the Washington Wizards are beginning to see the early returns from a business perspective.

Their corporate office took notice within 24 hours of him being drafted in June when Japanese companies started reaching out and when over 40 members of Japanese media showed up for his introductory press conference. Then, they saw the social media engagement, how highlights of his first game set a company record for video views.

That led to the creation of a Japanese wing of their digital media department, a new Twitter account catered towards Japanese fans and a sponshorship with the company NEC. Now, they have two top executives at Monumental Sports, Raul Fernandez and Jim Van Stone, flying to Japan for the second time in six weeks to negotiate more sponsorship deals.

Fernandez and Van Stone have over 20 meetings lined up over the course of a week in Tokyo.

"I think the opportunity for us to go over there and introduce our brand, the Washington Wizards, to Japan is very humbling. Rui has been a phenomenal addition," Van Stone said.

"When you look at worldwide distribution of the NBA, it just continues to grow and blossom. I think Japan is really that next big market and opportunity for us. I think Rui is going to help to really establish that."

Fernandez said the first trip to Japan was an eye-opening experience. They had seen the social media engagement numbers from content involving Hachimura, but it was different to actually go there.

"It was terrific to actually see firsthand in Tokyo the excitement, the energy and the passion and the following for Rui. Clearly, fans in Japan have been following his career in college, but as he's made this transition to the pros, as we look forward to the countdown to the Olympics, there's just an extra level," Fernandez said.

Though the Wizards have international clients, most of them are domestic. Their executives take annual trips to meet with companies in London, UK and the United Arab Emirates.

Japan, though, is a new venture for them and the league and it has the Wizards wondering how far it can go, and whether it can reach the level of other star athletes in their home countries.

"If you think about hockey and Washington, D.C. and how the Capitals came here and began to grow, really the explosion was with a star. It was Ovechkin," Fernandez said. "When people can identify, follow that journey and be part of a journey, that's when I think it becomes viral. That's what we've got with Rui Hachimura here."

Van Stone said he would like the Wizards to become the "team of Japan," not unlike the Houston Rockets and their rise in China due to Yao Ming. Ming was a sensation over a decade ago and as he rose, so did the brand of the Rockets and for individuals on the team. Some of his teammates got shoe and other endorsement deals in China because of the exposure Ming brought.

According to Fernandez and Van Stone, the one member of the Wizards besides Hachimura who has started to catch on in Japan is head coach Scott Brooks. That may be surprising, but it's something the Wizards have noticed.

"Konichiwa," Brooks said when informed. "So, when I go to the 2020 Olympics, I won't have to buy a meal?"

"Basketball in Japan, it's getting bigger right now," Hachimura said. "[Brooks] is always on the TV."

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