Ravens

Panthers look to regroup as 2-game road trip looms

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Panthers look to regroup as 2-game road trip looms

PITTSBURGH (AP) Pitt freshman guard James Robinson plays with a serenity that belies his age. Robinson simply doesn't get rattled, one of the big reasons coach Jamie Dixon didn't hesitate to immediately throw Robinson into the starting lineup when the season began two months ago.

Yet even Robinson, it turns out, has a breaking point.

Driving down the lane in the first half on Monday against No. 14 Cincinnati, Robinson rose for a lay-up when he was smacked Bearcats guard Sean Kilpatrick. When the referee's whistle blew, Robinson snarled ``it's about time'' after spending the first 10 minutes of the game getting pushed, prodded and provoked by Cincinnati without the benefit of a foul.

Call it Robinson's ``Welcome to the Big East'' moment.

``It was a learning experience,'' Robinson said.

And the Panthers hope it also served as a wake-up call. Pitt led by eight at the half before fading in a 70-61 loss, wearing down under the Bearcats' relentless pressure.

``We've executed very well but we haven't finished some games down the stretch and that's what we realize,'' Dixon said. ``But we know why we haven't and that's what we have to address.''

The 24th-ranked Panthers (12-2, 0-1) likely need to do it quickly or face the prospect of falling into another early hole that could be difficult to escape. Pitt begins a two-game road trip on Saturday at Rutgers (9-3, 0-1) before playing No. 15 Georgetown on Tuesday.

Anything less than a split would have Pitt in a 0-3 hole in conference play a year after the Panthers lost their first seven Big East games en route to missing the NCAA tournament for the first time on Dixon's watch.

Dixon believes his team is better - and healthier - than the one that stumbled out of the gate last winter. He's also not quite ready to label this swing as crucial, perhaps because every road game is crucial regardless of where it falls on the schedule.

``Every year everybody in our conference looks at the schedule and they go `Where are the gimmes?' And there aren't any and it's just the way it is,'' Dixon said. ``We're used to that and we've had a good history of that but we know this is going to be a tough team, win or lose.''

Though Pitt is unbeaten at the Rutgers Athletic Center since 2001, the Scarlet Knights came into the Petersen Events Center and drubbed Pitt 62-39 a year ago. It was the lowest point in a season filled with more than a few valleys. The Panthers shot just 21 percent from the floor and ended up with more turnovers (15) than made baskets (12).

This will be Rutgers' first home game since coach Mike Rice returned from a three-game suspension. The Scarlet Knights went 3-0 without Rice, who also coached at Robert Morris. Rutgers lost at No. 7 Syracuse, 78-53, in his return.

Pitt forward J.J. Moore - whose 10 points led Pitt on that miserable night last year vs. Rutgers - insists he's not out looking for revenge.

``We try not to think about it a lot and let the past be the past,'' Moore said. ``We're playing better this year and we're just trying to go back and get this win on the road.''

No team has been more formidable in their away jerseys over the last decade-plus than the Panthers, who have the Big East's best road record (53-40) over the last 12 seasons. Yet they've gotten on a plane just once so far this year, splitting a pair of games in New York in the NIT Season Tip-Off.

The loss came to still unbeaten Michigan, 67-62, in a game Pitt managed to keep close all the way through.

That didn't quite happen against the Bearcats, who outscored the Panthers 44-27 over the final 20 minutes, controlling things at both ends of the floor. Pitt was outrebounded by nine (20-11) in the second half and couldn't hit a shot, missing all 10 of its 3-point attempts.

Dixon can deal with the misses. Getting pounded on the boards, however, is another matter.

``We did the things you want to do as far as taking care of the ball and getting pretty good shots,'' Dixon said. ``We guarded well for a period of time but wore down the second half ... we just didn't get it done, we simply didn't get it done. We need to gain from that, learn from that.''

The players maintain the soft December schedule - six games against teams from leagues that traditionally get just one bid to the NCAA tournament - wasn't an issue. Neither was the eight-day layoff before facing the Bearcats. Still, they understand there can't be another letdown if they want to make some noise in their final Big East season before heading to the ACC next summer.

``Our intensity has to get stronger, get better, because it was just one game,'' Moore said. ``We don't want to hold our head down just for one game in the conference. Our intensity in the practice is getting way higher.''

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Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP

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The Future is Bright: How the Ravens' 2018 draft class performed

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The Future is Bright: How the Ravens' 2018 draft class performed

Just like that, they're all grown up.

Ozzie Newsome put a bow on top of his 22-year career as general manager of the Ravens when he drafted 11 rookies in the 2018 NFL Draft.

He found the franchise a new quarterback, a couple tight ends and help along the offensive line.

Now that their rookie seasons are over, let's look at how the 2018 draft class performed.

Hayden Hurst

The 25th overall pick missed the first four games of the season after getting surgery on his broken foot during the preseason, and in 12 games never hit his full potential.

Hurst finished the 2018 season with 13 receptions for 163 yards, averaging 12.54 yards per reception and one touchdown. With Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams both free agents, Hurst's 2019 could be huge.

"I really don’t think I was at my best," Hurst said on if fans have seen his potential . "The surgery set me back a good ways. But like I said, the offseason will be huge for me. I’ll be able to get healthy, get stronger and come back ready next year.”

Lamar Jackson

We all know how the 32nd overall pick's season went.

Completing 99 of 170 passes for 1,201 yards and six touchdowns in 2018 on top of 695 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns, Jackson will enter the 2019 season as the Ravens' quarterback of the future. En route to leading the team to their first postseason appearance in three seasons, the QB finished the 2018 season with a 84,5 QB rating.

The Ravens have begun shaping their offense around Jackson's run-heavy style of play, while they'll look to improve his ball security and accuracy.

Orlando Brown Jr.

Brown Jr.  ended up becoming a vital piece of the Ravens' O-line. 

Appearing in all 16 regular season games and starting 10 for an injured James Hurst, the third-round pick didn't allow a single sack in those starts and helped the offense rank second in the league in rushing at 152.6 yards per game. 

 “It’s really been hard-fought," Brown Jr. said on his rookie season performance. "I played against a lot of great players. I think I played well for a rookie, not for a sophomore. I want to be one of the greats in this league. It’s going to take a lot of work to get where I want to be – obviously, that’s All-Pro and being as consistent as I can be for as long as I can be.”

Mark Andrews

Andrews ended up being the tight end to make the biggest impact for the Ravens this season.

Finishing 2018 with 34 receptions for 552 yards, averaging 16.24 yards per carry and three touchdowns, Andrews' 68-yard touchdown Week 16 against the Chargers was the teams longest offensive score of the season. The rookie out of Oklahoma also finished the season ranked as Pro Football Focus' 13th overall tight end in the league.

Anthony Averett

The cornerback out of Alabama served as a backup in 11 games this season, finishing with five tackles.

If the Ravens decide to move on from veterans Jimmy Smith or Brandon Carr in the offseason, Averett could find a more prominent role in 2019.

Kenny Young

The rookie made his presence known early in the season after filling in for an injured C.J. Mosley during the Ravens' Weeks 2 and 3 matchups. 

Young played in all 16 games in 2018, finishing the season with 40 tackles, 2.5 sacks and one forced fumble. If the Ravens part ways with Mosley, their future still looks bright with Young on the come up. 

Jaleel Scott

The fourth-round pick was placed on injured reserve prior to the start of the season after suffering a hamstring injury.

Jordan Lasley

The fifth-round pick was a gameday inactive since Week 1.

DeShon Elliott

The sixth-round pick was placed on injured reserve at the start of the season with a fractured forearm suffered in the Ravens' preseason game against the Miami Dolphins. 

Greg Senat

The sixth-round pick was also placed on injured reserve prior to the start of the season with a foot injury.

Bradley Bozeman

Bozeman proved his value as a backup offensive lineman appearing in 14 games for the Ravens, including their Wild Card playoff loss.

Zach Sieler

Newsome's final draft pick appeared in two games for the Ravens this season. Inactive most gamedays, Sieler posted a tackle against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 9. 

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2019 NBA Trade Deadline: Will the Wizards be buyers, sellers, or standing pat?

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2019 NBA Trade Deadline: Will the Wizards be buyers, sellers, or standing pat?

The Wizards are in the midst of their best basketball of the season. That only makes the upcoming decisions surrounding the Feb. 7 trade deadline more challenging.

With Bradley Beal’s elite play fueling a surge before the team’s trek to London, Washington went 3-2 in five games against NBA contenders. Even one of the losses, Sunday’s double-overtime thriller against the Eastern Conference-leading Toronto Raptors, provided hope for a playoff push and a bit more should the Wizards qualify.

The Wizards, 18-26 and two games back of a playoff berth entering the week, must pass three teams for the eighth seed. Six teams are currently jockeying for the final three spots in the Eastern Conference horse race. With a Secretariat-level kick, Washington could gallop all the way to sixth.

Remain bullish and perhaps the Wizards seek help rather sell off assets. Pulling that off without adding to the luxury tax bill would make team president Ernie Grunfeld quite the contortionist. If reaching the postseason for the fifth time in six years remains the goal, get twisty.

Now for some reasons why the organization might choose another path despite the ample pluck shown by the active players.

Since the 2012-13 season, a team sitting two or more games back of the eighth seed as of Jan. 1 reached the playoffs only three times, according to the website Basketball-Reference.

The idea of trading away players, namely those on expiring contracts, isn’t appealing for those focused solely on the current season’s potential. Doing so accomplishes several goals: 

  • Acquiring draft picks and player assets for a franchise with only five players under contract for the 2019-20 season and without a second-round selection until 2023. 
  • Potentially increase the team’s 2019 NBA Draft lottery odds. Washington currently has the sixth-best odds at the No. 1 overall selection. Landing that pick likely means selecting Duke’s runaway top prospect, Zion Williamson. 
  • Targeted trades could create future salary cap space. Washington’s projected 2019-20 salaries total $111 million, eclipsing the $109 million salary cap and leaving little wiggle room below the $132 luxury tax line. Of the five players under contract, only Beal, John Wall and Otto Porter are established building blocks. 
  • Eliminate some or all of this season’s entire $8.6 million luxury tax burden. Erasing the luxury tax altogether keeps the Wizards a bit further away from paying a higher tax rate as a repeater tax squad.

The key for league observers is proper self-evaluation, including fair expectations for Wall coming off another surgery. The latest occurred this month as repairing bones spurs digging into his left heel ended the five-time All-Star’s season.

Making moves for coveted first-round draft picks means taking on future salary, a likely scenario for most deadline trades involving rentals like Trevor Ariza.

“I don't think you can worry about clearing money for next year. You just need to avoid the tax,” a former NBA general manager told NBC Sports Washington. “If taking on money next year means getting close to (avoiding) the luxury tax threshold this year I'd be comfortable with that because I think they're more than one year away from fixing this. I would start to accumulate assets as quickly as I could.”

Whatever the future thoughts, there are current realities ranging from that luxury tax payment to season ticket plan renewals.

“Can’t separate basketball from business,” a current NBA team executive said. “We don’t play the game of basketball. We’re in the business of basketball.”

There’s also the playing of basketball. Try telling Beal the Wizards should regroup for next season when hopefully a healthy Wall returns and assets acquired at the trade deadline mature.

Beal, sensing external expectations dropping immediately after Wall’s surgery news, suggested doubters should stay tuned.

“I’m trying to shoot for the playoffs,” Beal said.

Since then he has recorded his second triple-double of his career with 45 points, 10 rebounds and 15 assists in 55 minutes against the Raptors. Beal is averaging 30.2 points over his last nine games.

This isn’t a one-man effort. Guard Tomas Satoransky also recorded a triple-double over the weekend while Ariza fell a rebound shy against Toronto. Big moments for Otto Porter, Thomas Bryant and Jeff Green come regularly.

Beal’s hopes and forewarning for doubters won’t stop many outside the organization from focusing on the allure of salary cap flexibility and asset gathering above all. Both sides have merit. Washington can only make substantive moves in one of those directions before the Feb. 7 trade deadline.

Winning a seven-game playoff series is a lofty goal for a team yet to win more than three games consecutively all season and currently poised for the draft lottery. However, as state lottery promotions might say, you also cannot win if you don’t play.

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