Capitals

No. 7 Jayhawks ease by Washburn 62-50 in tuneup

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No. 7 Jayhawks ease by Washburn 62-50 in tuneup

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) The hallmark of Kansas last season was its ability to win ugly.

The Jayhawks would scrap for loose balls, throw a couple elbows under the basket to grab a rebound, clamp down like a vise-grip on opposing offenses and somehow get out in transition enough to put together the kind of game-changing runs that it takes to win games in March.

Already, it looks like this season's team will be no different.

Ben McLemore had 17 points and 10 rebounds, Elijah Johnson added 13 points and the seventh-ranked Jayhawks overcame 24 turnovers in a 62-50 exhibition victory over Division II Washburn on Monday night.

``There's going to be nights we don't play good. We can still win if we play defense and rebound,'' Kansas coach Bill Self said. ``It's a good lesson you can still win ugly. If last year's team didn't win ugly, we would have won 20 games instead of 32.''

Kansas will try to pretty up its performance on Friday night, when it opens the regular season against Southeast Missouri State, and certainly before a Nov. 13 date with No. 14 Michigan State as part of the Champions Classic in Atlanta.

``We've got to learn something from this. Today could be wasted if you don't learn something from it,'' Johnson said. ``Today I think we learned that you have to win ugly sometimes.''

Despite returning three starters from the team that pushed Kentucky to the limit in last season's national championship game, the Jayhawks have appeared ragged and unpolished through their first two exhibition games against small, in-state schools Emporia State and Washburn.

They needed a 19-1 run to help put away the Hornets last week, and then used a 16-3 run early Monday night before coaxing the game toward its messy conclusion.

``Everybody's thinking too much. There's too many people trying too hard and not just playing,'' Johnson said. ``Everybody is making it too complex, and it's just confusing each other, rather than just rolling with the rhythm and hopping on the same train, building on each play.''

McLemore, who sat out last season as a partial NCAA qualifier, was one of the few players who managed to produce on offense. He combined with Johnson and freshman Perry Ellis to score 29 of the Jayhawks' first 34 points, allowing them to build a 36-24 lead by halftime.

Still, even McLemore gave Self plenty of teachable moments.

One of them came early in the second half, when he gathered in the ball on the wing. With only one smaller defender in his way to the basket, McLemore opted to take a midrange jumper rather than go to the rim, leaving Self to scream halfway across the court for him to attack.

Self wound up calling three timeouts in the first 10 minutes of the second half.

``We weren't executing as well as the first game,'' Ellis said. ``I mean, we weren't pushing it as good as the first game. That's the main thing, I feel. We just weren't pushing it.''

These are the kind of growing pains that Kansas will no doubt experience through the first part of the season, though. Despite being picked to win their ninth consecutive Big 12 title, the reality is they have nine freshmen on the roster, seven of whom could contribute.

How steep has the learning curve been at Kansas? Even the courtside announcer is trying to settle into pronouncing the newcomers' names, half the time calling Anrio Adams with his full name and half the time shortening the freshman guard's first name to simply Rio.

Seven-footer Jeff Withey, one of the nation's premier post defenders, struggled again to get on track. He only had seven points and six rebounds against Emporia State, and had nine points and eight rebounds against the Ichabods, even though he had a massive size advantage in the paint.

Will McNeill scored 13 points to lead Washburn, a school from Topeka, Kan., that went 25-8 last season and was voted No. 2 in the NABC Division II preseason poll.

``I said at halftime that if we could stop this team from going on a run, we can get in this game,'' said McNeill, the biggest reason the Ichabods were within 53-42 with about 5 minutes left.

That's when Withey scored inside, and then made a block at the other to trigger a fastbreak, which Releford finished with a three-point play for a 58-42 lead.

Johnson added a 3 moments later to deliver the knockout blow.

``Kansas is going to be great,'' Washburn coach Bob Chipman said, before adding: ``Man, if we play really hard, we're capable of some great things.''

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Alex Ovechkin in the lineup shows just how important Wednesday vs. Toronto really is

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USA TODAY SPORTS

Alex Ovechkin in the lineup shows just how important Wednesday vs. Toronto really is

The Capitals have one last piece of business to tend to before the All-Star break. They head to Toronto to take on the Maple Leafs Wednesday (7:30 p.m., NBCSN) in an absolute must-win for Washington.

Here’s what you need to watch.

Alex Ovechkin is in

Because Ovechkin decided not to participate in the All-Star Game, he has to serve a one-game suspension. The team had the option of Ovechkin missing the last game before the All-Star break or the first game back. Ovechkin was asked after the game Tuesday if he would be playing against the Leafs and he said yes. Head coach Todd Reirden confirmed that he would indeed be playing Wednesday. So, coming off a hat trick performance, Ovechkin will be back in the lineup Wednesday in Toronto.

The decision comes as no surprise. The Caps desperately need a win Wednesday or they will head into the All-Star break on a seven-game losing streak which will fester until the team finally returns to the ice after the bye week.

Ironically enough, the last time Ovechkin played in Toronto was on Nov. 25, 2017, the famous Alex Luey game in which Ovechkin also tallied a hat trick.

By playing Wednesday, Ovechkin will have to sit out the team’s first game back from the break on Feb. 1 against the Calgary Flames.

Who will play in net?

With the high stakes of this game, could we see Braden Holtby back between the pipes despite playing Tuesday? It’s possible.

Reirden said after Tuesday’s game that he had not yet reached a decision on which goalie would play in Toronto. On the one hand, this is a game the team really needs to win so it would make sense to play your top netminder especially before the prolonged All-Star break. On the other, Holtby has really struggled in his past two outings giving up four goals to Chicago on just 11 shots and seven goals to San Jose on 43 shots. Holtby’s break will also be shorter given that he will be participating in the All-Star festivities.

Pheonix Copley has been a dependable backup this season, but he certainly seems to be showing some cracks the last few games. He has given up 14 goals in his last three appearances, one of which was only half a game in Chicago.

It’s been a long time since Washington has lost seven straight

The last time the Caps lost seven straight games was in January 2014.

From Jan. 12 to Jan. 24, the Caps went 0-5-2 in Adam Oates’ second and last season behind the bench. That streak was particularly messy as Washington had three goalies on the roster -- Holtby, Philipp Grubauer and Michal Neuvirth -- and all three played during that stretch.

What should concern Caps fans the most is that not only was that the last time Washington lost seven straight, it was also the last time it missed the playoffs.

Toronto could really use this game too

For any optimists out there thinking maybe the Leafs will be looking ahead to the break and may just mentally take this game off, that’s not going to happen. Toronto needs this game about as much as the Caps do.

The Maple Leafs have lost four of their last five and seven of their last 10. Given what hockey means in Toronto, you can guess what the mood is like in that city. To say people are panicking would be grossly underselling it.

When the puck drops on Wednesday, two desperate hockey teams will be facing off.

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Bradley Beal doesn't care if he's named a 2019 NBA All-Star starter

Bradley Beal doesn't care if he's named a 2019 NBA All-Star starter

The 2019 NBA All-Star starters are set to be announced on Thursday and Wizards guard Bradley Beal is not optimistic he will be chosen. That is despite a growing number of supporters in the media, but Beal understands their votes only count for 25 percent of the equation.

Fan voting makes up 50 percent and NBA players the remaining 25 percent. With Beal in a distant 10th among Eastern Conference guards in the fan voting rounds that have been made public, he has set his expectations accordingly.

"I'm not going to be a starter so it doesn't matter," he quipped after Wizards practice on Wednesday. "I'm positive. Let's just be honest. Right? We all can be honest, right?"

Beal, who made his first All-Star team last season as a reserve, will almost certainly be an All-Star again this year one way or another. Coaches vote on reserves and those will be announced on Jan. 31.

But Beal has a solid case to be a starter despite his Wizards sitting at just 20-26 and outside of the playoff picture. He is posting career-highs in points (24.7), rebounds (5.0), assists (5.0), steals (1.3) and blocks (0.9). He has appeared in all 46 of the Wizards games this season while many of his teammates have been absent due to injury.

Boston's Kyrie Irving appears to be a lock for one of the two starting guard spots in the East. He has a strong case with his numbers, his team's success and has fared well in fan voting. But the second spot has no clear favorite.

Ben Simmons has played well for a good Sixers team. Victor Oladipo of the Pacers also has a case, though due to injuries his numbers have fallen off.

Kyle Lowry has helped the Raptors post one of the league's best records. Kemba Walker of the Hornets has had the best season of his career and plays for the hometown team with the game taking place in Charlotte.

There is also Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat, a future Hall of Famer who might be a starter if it were based solely on fan voting. If he gets support from players or media votes, he could get in as a legacy pick given this is the final season of his legendary career.

Basically, Beal has a lot of competition. He gets it and insists he isn't losing sleep over the pending announcement.

"Even then I don't let it consume me. It's not like a goal of mine like 'oh, I've gotta be an All-Star.' If I am, it's great. It's even more motivation to continue to get better. Even if I'm not an All-Star, I'm not going to be mad or upset," he said.

Beal said his No. 1 goal is winning and mentioned how the Wizards remain six games under .500 despite reeling off seven of their last 10. Washington happens to be hosting the defending-champion Golden State Warriors on Thursday night, so he has plenty on his plate.

Beal will likely be an All-Star representing the Wizards in the Feb. 17 showcase. But it doesn't sound like he will be doing any of the other festivities.

Beal has participated in the three-point contest twice in his career and both times was a runner-up. He has not been invited yet to this year's contest and probably won't participate even if he is asked.

"I would probably take a break this year because it was definitely a lot last year, just all the off-court stuff," he said. "I'm not saying I won't do it for the rest of my career, but I don't think I'm doing it this year."

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