Nuggets hope to break 3-game slide in home opener


Nuggets hope to break 3-game slide in home opener

DENVER (AP) Long after most of his Denver Nuggets teammates had cleared the practice floor, Danilo Gallinari remained out there running a shooting drill he devised back home in Italy.

Each time he missed a shot during the laborious back-and-forth exercise, Gallinari punished himself by starting over again. For nearly 90 minutes, this went on and on.

It's simply his method for breaking out of a shooting slump - and Denver urgently needs Gallinari to find his touch before the team falls too far behind.

For a squad with designs on challenging the top teams in the West, this wasn't exactly the start the Nuggets envisioned: An 0-3 road swing in which their offense looked sluggish at times.

They're hoping to rebound Tuesday night in the home opener against the Detroit Pistons, another team searching for their first win.

``We're not panicking at all,'' Andre Iguodala said.

The Nuggets have been showing steady improvement since opening the season with a clunker in Philadelphia. They played well during the second half in Orlando and then took the Miami Heat to the wire before falling 119-116 the next night.

Although dropping three straight doesn't exactly sit well with coach George Karl, he knew this early portion of the schedule was going to be arduous. After all, his team plays 22 of the first 32 away from Pepsi Center.

``I'm not going to address losing because the first 32 games of the season, we're probably not going to have this flamboyant record that's going to knock people out,'' Karl said. ``But we have to figure out how to win games.''

Part of that involves Gallinari rediscovering his shooting form. The 24-year-old forward missed the first game with a left ankle sprain and then went a combined 8 for 31 over the next two contests.

That's why he stayed so late after practice. Gallinari ran one drill after another, trying to make as many long-range jumpers as he could before the buzzer sounded. He would then take a quick breather and begin again.

Each time he missed, he scolded himself and ran back to start again.

``Got to work on my shot,'' Gallinari said, wiping the sweat from his forehead. ``I feel good. Hopefully, I'll feel the same (Tuesday).''

He wasn't the only player putting in some extra time. In one corner of the practice facility, center Timofey Mozgov worked on his low-post moves, just in case he's cleared to play Tuesday after missing the opening three games because of a sprained left knee.

At the other end, veteran guard Andre Miller practiced his mid-range jumper. Then again, he always stays late, so that's really nothing new.

Any sage advice for his teammates to break them out of this funk?

``You really don't say too much,'' Miller said. ``You've just got to come ready every night to play.''

Especially against a team like the Pistons, who will be looking to spoil the home-opening festivities. Detroit has few recognizable names on its roster, which has Iguodala on high alert.

``Anybody can get it going at anytime,'' Iguodala said. ``They're a scary team.''

The Nuggets also could be scary, once they start clicking. That potential is why many prognosticators selected them to be one of the favorites in the ultra-competitive West. Although the Nuggets are lacking a bona fide star, they do have athleticism and depth.

For now, though, Karl may shorten his rotation. He went with eight players against Miami, mainly because Wilson Chandler didn't suit up for the second night of a back-to-back to save wear and tear on his surgically repaired hip.

Once the Nuggets find some traction, Karl may tinker with his lineup a little more.

``You experiment when you start playing well,'' Karl explained. ``When you're struggling, simplifying is usually the way to go.''

So is joviality, just to keep the pressure off his players.

With his team playing on election night, Karl had a little fun by anointing Iguodala as his team's best politician.

``But the guy that knows what's going on all the time is Andre Miller,'' Karl quickly added. ``I don't know if he could be president, but he could be a mayor of a city. He could make it run better, because he makes us run better.''

Informed that Karl had appointed him the team's top politician, Iguodala just laughed.

``First eight years of my career were in Philly, so you learn how to be politically correct,'' Iguodala said. ``I learned a lot from being there.''

Chief among them, don't fret too much over lackluster starts so early in the season.

``I've been on teams where we started out really slow and we made bursts around January,'' Iguodala said. ``I've been on a few teams where we haven't got it going until after the All-Star break.

``Just continue to do the things we've been doing well and fix the things we've been doing wrong,'' he added.


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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—The best- and worst-case scenarios for the 2018 Redskins

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—The best- and worst-case scenarios for the 2018 Redskins

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, May 20, two days before the Washington Redskins start OTAs.  

Best- and worst-case scenarios for the 2018 Redskins

Last week I took a stab at figuring out what the best-case and worst-case scenarios were for the key players on offense and defense. While individual stats are fun to track, it’s what the team does that really matters. What range of outcomes is realistic for the 2018 Redskins? While anything is possible, here are my thoughts on the best they are likely to be able to do and the worst. 

In both cases, I am assuming that the Redskins have reasonably good fortune when it comes to injuries and that the good and bad bounces of the ball equal out over the course of the season. 

Worst case: 6-10, last in NFC East

This is based mostly on Alex Smith having a tough time adjusting to Jay Gruden’s offense, his new teammates, and the NFC. Thinking he could struggle is not just negative thinking, there is history to back it up. 

Smith was traded from the 49ers to the Chiefs in 2013. In his first nine games, he completed just 59.7 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and four interceptions He had an adjusted net yards per attempt of 5.23. Had he finished the season there he would have ranked 28th in the NFL. His passer rating was 81.4, which would have ranked 25th. It’s safe to say he was off to a very slow start. 

But the Chiefs went 8-1 in those nine games. It is doubtful that the Redskins could survive such a slow start. In the past three seasons, with Kirk Cousins at quarterback, they were 4-17 in games where Cousins’ passer rating was under 90. If you drop the ceiling to 81, the record drops to 0-14. 

Kansas City managed to start 9-0 in 2013 because of a running game that produced at least 100 yards rushing every game and a defense that got at least one takeaway every game and got three or more turnovers in a game five times. 

Could the Redskins duplicate that and survive a slow start by Smith? It’s possible, but this is the worst-case scenario. And there is no guarantee that the Redskins will significantly improve a running attack that was 27thin the league last year or a rushing defense that was dead last. 

Offensively, the hope is that Derrius Guice will improve the running game. But rookies are, well rookies. And being a high draft pick is no guarantee of success. In the past three drafts, 20 running backers were drafted in the first three rounds. Of those players, four rushed for 750 yards or more as rookies. Maybe Guice will be one of the productive players but the odds are not in his favor. This isn’t saying he will be a bust; however, he may not have instant impact. 

One other note about the rushing game. It’s important to remember that both tackles are coming off of surgery, the right guard was injured last year, the center has all of six starts under his belt, and left guard remains up in the air. Maybe everything will hum when the season starts but that seems like a tall order. 

Improvement in the stopping the run also relies at least in part on rookies. Daron Payne will have an adjustment period as will Tim Settle. The inside linebacker spot should be stronger but it’s hard to say that it will be a strength. The rushing defense probably won’t be last again, but it may not climb out of the twenties in the rankings. 

The Redskins haven’t been awful at getting takeaways, but they have not done it at a consistently game-changing level. They have three or more takeaways in a game five times in their last 30 games. I don’t see any reason to think that this will change dramatically. 

To put the 6-10 worst-case scenario onto the schedule, the Redskins could go 2-4 in the division with splits against the Cowboys and Giants and getting swept by the Eagles. Against the NFC South, which had three teams with 10 wins or more last year, they might be 1-3. That leaves a split with the AFC South (two of the final eight teams in the playoffs last year) and of their two other NFC games for a 6-10 record. 

Best-case scenario: 10-6, Wild card, win a playoff game

This scenario doesn’t require a whole lot of explanation beyond flipping the elements of the worst case into more positive outcomes. 

Smith could pick up where he left off last year when he completed 67.5 percent of his passes and was third in the league with 7.2 adjusted net yards per attempt. Maybe the yards per attempt will drop some as he tries to find a consistent deep target.

A healthy Jordan Reed would help Smith out tremendously. If Reed can participate in most of training camp, the two could hit the ground running. Smith’s ability to connect with Josh Doctson on some 50-50 balls also will be important. 

As for the running game, Guice could break out early behind a line that gels quickly. It’s not out of the question for him to gain 1,000 yards (that’s just about 65 yards per game), maybe a little more. A healthy Chris Thompson could kick in over 1,000 yards from scrimmage. 

Jonathan Allen and Matt Ioannidis could pick up right where they left off last year before Allen was lost for the season with a foot injury and Ioannidis missed two games with a broken hand and was hampered by the injury for a few weeks after that. That would let Payne and Settle, well, settle into the pro game. 

The Redskins also would need at least to maintain the solid pass defense they had last year. And they would benefit from fewer turnovers on offense (27 last year, 26thin the NFL) and by adding a few takeaways to the 23 they got in 2017.

So how could they pull this off? The would need to go 4-2 in the division, with a sweep of the Giants and splits against Philly and Dallas. They then would need 2-2 records against the NFC South and AFC South. That part of it is probably the toughest task. To get to 10 they would need to beat the Cardinals on the road in the season opener and then have a good day against Aaron Rodgers and get a win over the Packers. It’s not an easy road but if enough pieces fall into place it’s not out of the question. 

A 10-6 record should be good enough for a wild-card spot. If they get through their fairly tough schedule with double-digit wins, they should be good enough to go on the road and take out the three or four seed. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Days until:

—Minicamp (6/12) 23
—Training camp starts (7/26) 68
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 82

The Redskins last played a game 139 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 113 days. 

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Niskanen takes the blame for all three Lightning goals

Niskanen takes the blame for all three Lightning goals

There was no tougher critic on Matt Niskanen’s Game 5 performance on Saturday than Niskanen himself.

Niskanen and his defensive partner, Dmitry Orlov, were on the ice for all three of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s three goals in the Capitals’ 3-2 loss. That was striking given the Orlov-Niskanen duo is typically Washington’s best defensive pair.

That was not the case on Saturday and Niskanen took full responsibility afterward.

“First three goals are all my fault,” Niskanen said. “I had a tough first 20:30 so I've got to be better next game.”

Pretty much no one played the first goal right.

The goal came just 19 seconds into the game. Orlov turned the puck over in the neutral zone and Evgeny Kuznetsov looked like he could have gotten the puck, but instead played the body of Cedric Paquette. Niskanen stepped up at the blue line, but the Lightning got the puck past him creating a short rush that beat Braden Holtby who was way too far back in the crease.

Yes, Niskanen got caught a bit high, but he was just as at fault as Orlov, Kuznetsov and Holtby.

The second goal happened because Steven Stamkos tripped Orlov to create a turnover and it wasn’t called.

Niskanen got in between Ondrej Palat and the puck, but Palat beat both him and Holtby on the shot. Not sure I would put this one on Niskanen.

The third goal…well, that one was a bad play by Niskanen.

When you go one-on-one with a player, a defenseman cannot allow that player to turn the corner. That’s especially true when that player is defenseman Anton Stralman who is not exactly gifted with blazing speed. This was just a complete misplay.

Regardless of how many goals were strictly on Niskanen, that’s not the point. This was a message not so much to the media but to the team. That message was this: This one’s on me, I will be better next game.

Leaders always take responsibility. Niskanen is taking the blame here and saying he will be better in the hopes the team around him will be better as well.

They will need to be to win Game 6.

“A lot of people counted us out when we were down 0-2 in the first round,” Niskanen said. “Things got hard in the last series where we could have melted and we just kept playing. So that's what we've got to do again, bring our best effort for Game 6 at home, win a game and then we'll go from there.

“But we're focused on bringing our best game of the season for Game 6 and we'll be ready to go.”