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Panthers WR Smith, 33, keeps piling up numbers

Panthers WR Smith, 33, keeps piling up numbers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Panthers receiver Steve Smith said there was a time when he was consumed by his goals, one of them being making the Hall of Fame.

Make no doubt it; he'd still love to wind up there.

But the 12-year NFL veteran has mellowed some, taking a little more time to enjoy the twilight of the NFL career as he quietly strives to become the first player ever drafted by the Panthers to make it to Canton, Ohio.

``When you are so focused on goals you start to miss other things,'' Smith said. ``So I'm enjoying not missing the other things. I'll allow the other things to be discussed when I'm done playing.''

In the meantime, the 33-year-old Smith plans to continue to spin the ball after catches and irritate defensive backs who attempt to shut him down.

That's no easy task.

Smith's latest 100-yard receiving game Sunday against Atlanta was the 43rd of his career, putting him in the top 10 in NFL history.

He currently ranks 26th all-time with 11,277 yards receiving and 32nd in receptions (759). He needs 197 catches and 2,500 yards receiving to move into the top 10 in both categories.

Those around him believe he's more than capable of reaching those marks with a few more seasons playing alongside Cam Newton.

``He still plays like he's 22,'' Panthers coach Ron Rivera said.

Despite being at the tail end of his career, Smith is still Carolina's unquestioned No. 1 receiver.

He leads the Panthers in receptions and enters Sunday's game against San Diego one yard shy of his seventh 1,000-yard receiving season. When Newton needs a big play, more often than not he's looking Smith's way.

And how can you blame him?

``You know what's interesting about Steve is the way he practices,'' Rivera said. ``He still practices so hard and you actually have to ask him to take reps off. ... Then he'll go back in right away and go 100 miles per hour again. It's just who Steve is, and that's why he's had so much success and has lasted as long as he has.''

Chargers coach Norv Turner compares Smith to Henry Ellard, another seemingly ageless receiver who turned in a 1,000-yard receiving season at 35.

``My experience with receivers like Steve is once they get to a point and they haven't slowed down, it seems like they go forever,'' Turner said. ``The thing that Steve has aside from all his athleticism - his great speed, his strength, his ability to cut - is just has that attitude that's so competitive that he's going to go out and be successful.

``And I think when you're getting ready to play against him, you better understand it's going to be a dogfight, it's going to be competitive, it's going to be toe-to-toe for 60 plays and you'd better be ready to meet that challenge.''

Panthers fourth-year cornerback Captain Munnerlyn called Smith is the best receiver he's ever faced ``by far.''

``That's great for me because I practice against him,'' Munnerlyn said. ``It makes the game on Sunday way easier for me.''

Munnerlyn said he hasn't seen Smith lose a step.

He said he's still the quickest receiver on the roster and the toughest to defend.

``He's amazing. Being that age, he can still run.'' Munnerlyn said. ``That's the scary part. Honestly it doesn't seem like he's slowing down anytime soon.''

Former Tampa Bay and Carolina receiver Mark Carrier played in the NFL until he was 32 and can't imagine playing at the level Smith is right now.

Carrier said at some point in time the body begins to wear down, but Smith doesn't seem affected by any of that.

``I think his competitiveness is what drives him,'' Carrier said.

Smith has made plenty of mistakes off the field during his time in Carolina, but he's matured into a team leader and captain.

He continues to pass his knowledge along to the younger receivers on the roster.

``We're all in awe of the way he plays,'' said Panthers rookie receiver Jared Green, a member of the team's practice squad. ``But he also gives us a systematic and academic approach to the game and to our playbook. Without him, I don't think we'd learn all of the things we have as quick.''

As for his own future, Smith said he's not sure how much longer he'll play.

But he's not thinking about retirement.

He still likes playing.

But he loves proving people wrong even more.

``People will say well, he got (1,000 yards) but he's lost a step and he's not that and he isn't this,'' Smith said. ``But there aren't too many 5-foot-9 receivers who are 33 years old that are getting 1,000 yards or were at the Pro Bowl last year.

``So I guess I'm doing OK. Not bad.''

Smith said he'll take time to savor this Sunday's game against San Diego as it serves as a homecoming of sorts. He grew up in inner city Los Angeles, so he'll have a rare opportunity to play in front of his parents and some friends.

As for where he ends up, Smith said that's a discussion for another day.

``When I'm done playing I'll sit on my porch with a little iced tea in my hand,'' Smith said. ``I will see where I end up when the end comes.''

And until then?

``I'm just going to keep spinning that ball,'' Smith said.

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Despite place in standings, Wizards believe playoffs aren't a pipe dream

Despite place in standings, Wizards believe playoffs aren't a pipe dream

WASHINGTON -- This may be the most realistic and self-aware Wizards team we have seen in a while. It wasn't long ago they had a penchant for talking big about what they believed they could accomplish. Nowadays, knowing where they are in the standings, their expectations are much more measured.

They know they are 12th in the Eastern Conference, even after beating the Pistons on Monday. They know their 14-28 record, which is 14 games under .500 and has them on pace to win 27 total games, isn't good.

But the Wizards are allowed to dream and they say making the playoffs is still something they would like to do.

"That's the goal, that's every day for us. [It's] in the back of my mind," shooting guard Bradley Beal said.

"I watch the games, I watch the standings and everything. We're not talking about it," head coach Scott Brooks said. "If that comes into play [we'll see]. The seventh and eighth seeds, the records aren't great."

There is certainly a case for that. The two teams currently occupying the bottom two playoff spots in the East have sub-.500 records. The seventh-ranked Magic are 20-23 and the Brooklyn Nets are in eighth with an 18-24 mark.

Last season, the Charlotte Hornets held up the Eastern Conference playoff bracket with a losing record as the eighth seed. They went 39-43, not good but still a much better pace than the Wizards are currently on. To win 39 games, they would have to go 25-16 the rest of the way.

Though they have shown some positive signs, going 4-4 in their last eight games, that would require going to a completely different level in the second half of the season. Still, there is no harm in maintaining their goals.

Beal, for one, has envisioned a way it can happen.

"Especially once All-Star hits, that second half is just flying. We have to tighten up and try to get some wins here before the break because that's usually the time when teams like to ease off the pedal a little bit. We have to take advantage of [that], that advantage of our schedule, take care of our bodies, and rally together," he said.

If the Wizards really, really wanted to go for the playoffs, they could try to add some pieces before the Feb. 6 trade deadline. But that should not be expected. In fact, this year's deadline for the Wizards likely won't be affected much at all by the playoff picture.

It's hard to envision them being buyers and they may not be able to be true sellers, either, due to injuries and other factors. Also, there is a belief in the front office that keeping a close distance in the playoff race could be a nice incentive for their young players, that having something to work for later in the season could help their development.

If the Wizards did somehow make the playoffs or even get close, that would be quite the surprise and it would say a lot about the direction of the organization. But in the long-term, it would seem to be more beneficial if they continue on their current course and end up with a top draft pick.

The Wizards right now have the fifth-worst record in the league. That would net them a lot of ping-pong balls for the draft lottery.

It seems likely that's where this season will end. But it doesn't hurt to try.

"We just want to play. We just want to finish the second half of the season playing better," Brooks said.

The Wizards are only 4 1/2 games back in the playoff race. Stranger things have happened.

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Yu Darvish lauds Rui Hachimura for 'exceptional' accomplish playing in the NBA

Yu Darvish lauds Rui Hachimura for 'exceptional' accomplish playing in the NBA

Rui Hachimura has attracted the best athletes Japan has to offer in his rookie season in the NBA. 

From Shohei Ohtani to Naomi Osaka, Hachimura has impressed both on and off the floor, including Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish. He stopped by to see Hachimura's Wizards beat the Pistons Monday. 

"That's right," Darvish said to the Wizards' Japanese website. "We are going to dinner after the game so I stopped by."

Darvish and Hachimura are represented by the same agency and are two of the biggest Japanese stars in American sports. Darvish has had two down years with the Cubs in 2018 and 2019, but he's still considered one of the best pitchers to ever come out of Japan. 

Hachimura, while sidelined with a groin injury, flashed plenty of potential as a rookie for the Wizards. Before going down, he was averaging 13.9 points and 5.8 rebounds while shooting 48.2 percent. 

Darvish admitted he didn't know much about basketball, not even what stats are good to use. But he only cares that Hachimura is having fun. 

Selected with the ninth pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, Hachimura became the first Japanese born player to be drafted in the top-10. Japan has produced a number of great baseball players but hasn't been able to produce as many hoopers. 

"You don't have to be tall or big to play baseball," Darvish said. "But when it comes to basketball, you have to be tall and athletic and contribute to the team on a nightly basis. I think what he's accomplishing is more exceptional."

Scott Brooks isn't sure if Hachimura will return before the beginning of February and the team has yet to provide a timetable beyond that. Hopefully, we'll see him back on the floor soon because an entire country outside of the US is watching and can't get enough. 

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