No. 4 Notre Dame tries to keep its focus vs Pitt


No. 4 Notre Dame tries to keep its focus vs Pitt

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Fourth-ranked Notre Dame and Pittsburgh are looking to avoid distractions on Saturday.

The Fighting Irish (8-0) tried all week to distance themselves from talk about possibly playing for their first national championship since 1988. They skipped discussions about how the 2002 team stumbled at this same point.

They've done their best to escape the demand for tickets - and their time - that friends and family have created leading up to recent games at Notre Dame Stadium, where the Irish haven't been as dominant as they have been on the road.

It's a problem that perplexes the Irish. Notre Dame's average margin of victory at home is five points and away from South Bend it's 28 points. Coach Brian Kelly said he believes the Irish have to raise the intensity at home.

``I think teams that come into Notre Dame Stadium play their very, very best. We have to match that intensity,'' he said.

The biggest differences for the Irish at Notre Dame Stadium and away are turnovers, penalties and their rushing offense and defense. Seven of Notre Dame's eight turnovers have occurred at home and the Irish have committed 27 penalties at home and 15 away. Meanwhile, the Irish are averaging 110 yards a game more away from South Bend while the defense is holding opponents to 41.5 yards a game less away from South Bend.

``I don't know. That's the same thing we talked about this week. We have to come with the same energy at home as we do on the road,'' Kelly said.

The Panthers (4-4) have a different sort of distraction after leading rusher Ray Graham, leading receiver Devin Street and defensive back Lafayette Pitts were charged Thursday with misdemeanor counts of simple assault and conspiracy involving three other students. The players deny being involved and will play on Saturday.

Left tackle Zack Martin and other Irish players say playing in hostile stadiums might help motivate them.

``When you come out you hear a bunch of people yelling at you, booing you, it amps you up a little more,'' cornerback Bennett Jackson said. ``I don't think that has anything to do with playing home or away. I think people lose mental focus.''

Kelly believes part of the problem is the time demands from parents and friends of players at home, saying he saw several players giving tours of the athletic complex on the day before the last home game against Brigham Young. He's trying to take steps to guard against that.

``We want to make sure that Friday and Saturday is not the Super Bowl, parents asking for tickets. Friends wanting, `Can you take me on a tour,''' Kelly said.

Another distraction is all the talk about Notre Dame possibly having its best season in two decades. Jackson concedes it's hard to avoid the big picture talk because that's what everyone on campus is interested in.

``You can't look at it because if you look at it and you look past something you won't reach the goals you want to reach,'' he said.

The Irish also are trying to avoid the fate of the 2002 team that started 8-0, then was upset by unranked Boston College following a big win at Florida State.

Coming off a big win at Oklahoma last week, Kelly said he didn't plan on talking to his team about that past history. One player who didn't need to be taught a lesson is center Braxton Cave, who grew up a die-hard Irish fan in nearby Mishawaka. He remembers watching the loss to Boston College.

``I think I recall throwing something through a window at the house,'' he said.

But he said he hasn't talked about that game with teammates.

``Because right now this team is focused one game at a time. Everybody knows. Everybody knows it's one game at a time and this is the most important game,'' he said.

Another distraction for Kelly is the team's health. A week ago, tailback George Atkinson III missed the Oklahoma game because he was sick. Kelly said a few more players were ill this week.

``Everybody should dress on game day. We'll see. But it's not an epidemic. It's not going to knock out four, five, six guys,'' he said. ``If one guy is affected by it at all, it will be just minimizing some of his reps.''

Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst also is concerned about another distraction, that his team could get caught up in focusing on the role of being a spoiler.

``All that stuff is really good for the game and you love the interest, but the game stands on its own. We can play this game and it would be a great game if no one was in the stands and they weren't talking about it on all the things. The game still stands on its own,'' he said.

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Rain knocks out another Phillies-Nationals game

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Rain knocks out another Phillies-Nationals game

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals and Phillies are 2-for-2.

Tuesday night's game was postponed following a two-hour rain delay. Monday's game was postponed after a three-hour rain delay.

Tuesday's game will be made up as part of a split day-night doubleheader Sept. 24 at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m., bumping a four-game series to a five-game series. The Nationals and Phillies are scheduled to also play a split day-night doubleheader Wednesday.

The day was not without news. Nationals ace Max Scherzer broke his nose in batting practice when a ball bounced off his bat and struck him in the face. Scherzer was attempting to bunt at the time.

Scherzer's injury and the multiple postponements throw the Nationals' pitching plans into disarray. They're not sure if Scherzer will pitch as expected Wednesday. It appears Austin Voth, who was scratched from his Thursday start for Triple-A Fresno, will be available to pitch in one of the Wednesday games -- should they be played. More rain is expected Wednesday.

The Nationals will bump Patrick Corbin, who was slated to pitch again Tuesday, into a Wednesday spot. Wednesday's other starter is TBA. It could be Scherzer if he is ready. It could be Erick Fedde, and Voth could be used in the bullpen as the 26th man. That would provide Scherzer a chance to pitch Thursday and Strasburg on Friday against Atlanta. 

Or, Scherzer could be provided more time off. There's a lot to sort out once again thanks to the rain.



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Source: Wizards will have competition with teams like Lakers, Clippers for restricted free agent Bobby Portis

USA Today

Source: Wizards will have competition with teams like Lakers, Clippers for restricted free agent Bobby Portis

This summer is shaping up to be lucrative for NBA free agents and big man Bobby Portis is well-positioned to cash in. After spending the final three months of the 2018-19 season with the Wizards, Portis is already seeing a healthy market develop ahead of the June 30 start of the league's negotiating period, NBC Sports Washington has learned.

The Wizards are likely to first extend a qualifying offer on June 30 to make him a restricted free agent. According to, it will be about $3.6 million and that will give the Wizards the right to match an offer sheet from another franchise.

But teams are already indicating they want Portis, who is just 24 and coming off a season in which he averaged a career-high 14.2 points and 8.1 rebounds in 50 games. That market includes 5-10 teams and could grow once free agency opens.

Portis is expected to draw interest from the Lakers, Clippers, Jazz, Bucks, Magic and Knicks among others, NBC Sports Washington has learned.

Despite restricted free agency, Portis has a few things working for him. For one, there are a lot of teams with cap room. Spending won't reach 2016 levels, when the new CBA spiked the salary cap, but there will a lot of money to go around.

Also, guys in Portis' tier will only be helped if the top free agent options continue to dwindle. Klay Thompson looks more likely than ever to stay in Golden State after tearing his ACL. Winning a title could increase the odds Kawhi Leonard re-signs in Toronto, according to reports. And Kevin Durant's torn Achilles has thrown a wrench into the plans of teams with the most money to spend.

There is also the possibility Kemba Walker stays in Charlotte. And Kyrie Irving signing with Brooklyn, if it happens, would leave others exploring backup plans.

Portis isn't directly competing with any of those players, but could benefit if the top options are off the market. His name will only move up the list if that is the case.

Portis also has a unique selling point going for him. He shot 39.3 percent from three this past season and held a 40.3 percent clip to close the year in his 28 games with the Wizards. Three-point shooting is more valuable than ever and he brings that to the table at 6-foot-10.

Portis, who averaged 3.8 three-point attempts per game this past season, was one of only six players 6-10 or taller to shoot at least 39 percent on 3.5 attempts or more (min. 50 G). 

The question for Portis will be whether he gets the money he wants. He turned down an extension with the Chicago Bulls last fall just hours before the deadline to sign one. According to the Chicago Tribune, the deal was worth about $50 million and he wants to be paid in the range of $16 million annually. His asking price was partly why the Bulls traded him to the Wizards in February.

Even if the Wizards clear money, and they are expected to free up some by declining Jabari Parker's $20 million team option by the June 29 deadline, Portis could price himself out of Washington. It might not even take $16 million per year for that to happen.

The Wizards are set to operate through free agency with interim team president Tommy Sheppard at the helm, as the Washington Post reported on Tuesday. Sheppard making the call increases Portis' odds of staying, but that doesn't mean the price will match for both sides.