Capitals

Parker leads balanced Spurs past Rockets 114-92

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Parker leads balanced Spurs past Rockets 114-92

SAN ANTONIO (AP) Tony Parker had 17 points and seven assists, and the San Antonio Spurs never trailed in a 114-92 victory over the Houston Rockets on Friday night.

The Spurs had six players score in double figures while matching their season high with 33 assists.

Tiago Splitter scored 15 points and Gary Neal, Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills and Tim Duncan each added 12. Duncan also had a game-high 12 rebounds.

James Harden had 29 points, and Patrick Patterson and Toney Douglas each scored 10 to lead Houston.

It was Harden's first game in San Antonio since helping the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Spurs last season in the Western Conference finals. The fans certainly remembered Harden, who was booed heartily during pregame introductions and every time he shot a free throw.

It was clear early that Harden wouldn't help the Rockets to a similar result against the Spurs.

Parker keyed a quick start, scoring eight points and picking up two assists as San Antonio took a 10-point lead in the first 5 minutes.

Jeremy Lin had difficulty keeping up with Parker, who raced by him for three layups in scoring eight of the Spurs' first 10 points. Parker also made a pair of free throws during the run after being fouled by Lin on a layup attempt.

Lin finished with four points, four assists and two turnovers.

Harden kept the Rockets in contention early, scoring 13 points in the first quarter after being shut out in the opening 4 minutes. His 3-pointer pulled Houston to 14-13, but the Rockets never tied it.

Harden fueled another rally in the second half, scoring nine points to help Houston pull to 66-58 with 7:27 left in the third quarter. The Spurs responded with a 15-0 run, holding the Rockets scoreless for 4 minutes to essentially seal the game.

San Antonio outrebounded Houston 50-37 and outscored the Rockets 60-38 in the paint.

NOTES: Neal set a career high with his eighth start of the season. . Spurs swingman Stephen Jackson (broken right pinkie) and F Kawhi Leonard (left knee) both sat out with injuries. . Duncan had the 742nd double-double of his career. . Houston has lost 10 straight road games against Southwest Division opponents since a 91-89 victory at New Orleans on Feb. 27, 2011. ... Houston's Chandler Parsons went 0 for 4 from 3-point range, snapping his streak of making at least one 3 at 23 games in a row.

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The Dougie Hamilton-Alex Ovechkin drama continued in Game 6 and the internet has thoughts

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NBC Sports

The Dougie Hamilton-Alex Ovechkin drama continued in Game 6 and the internet has thoughts

Alex Ovechkin's assist to Brett Connolly in Game 5 started when Carolina Hurricanes defender Dougie Hamilton shied away from Ovechkin's imminent check.

To start Game 6, Ovechkin tried to ram Hamilton along the boards again, but Hamilton sidestepped him to get the puck to safety.

After Ovechkin tumbled to the ice when he missed the hit, he made his way back to the bench, when he appeared to, well, you decide.

Ovechkin's mocking did not go unnoticed by the broadcast crew on NBC Sports Network or by fans on Twitter. "And there it is, that's what Eddie was talking about," chuckled Pierre McGuire as Ovechkin appeared to raise his arms like a clucking chicken.

The Hurricanes would respond with a goal to even the game 1-1, but Ovechkin answered back at 15:12 of the first period on an assist from Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen to make it 2-1 Capitals.

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The baffling exclusion of John Carlson from the Norris Trophy finalists

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USA TODAY Sports

The baffling exclusion of John Carlson from the Norris Trophy finalists

The finalists for the Norris Trophy – awarded to the defenseman who demonstrates the greatest all-around ability in the position – were unveiled on Sunday. Somehow, John Carlson was not among them.

This is the second consecutive year Carlson was a deserving candidate and the second year he will not even be among the top three.

The Norris Trophy is voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association -- of which I am a member so I guess you can blame us -- but make no mistake, this is a snub in every sense of the word and a major oversight that Carlson cannot get the recognition he deserves.

Ballots will be made public after the awards are given out. Until then, we are not supposed to divulge exactly how we voted, but I will tell you that Carlson was in my top three, and he absolutely should have been a finalist this year.

If you had asked me prior to the 2017-18 season who the most important defenseman on the Caps was, I would have told you it was Matt Niskanen. I saw Carlson as an offensive-heavy player whose skills in his own zone were lacking. I had to eat those words later as Niskanen was injured in mid-October and missed the next month of the season. During that month, Carlson averaged 27:47 of ice-time per game, which led the entire league. He showed he could contribute offensively, defensively, on the power play and penalty kill. There was nothing he could not do.

Suddenly, the Caps’ top pairing of Dmitry Orlov and Niskanen was replaced by Carlson and whoever he was paired with. That continued into this season.

But while Carlson has reshaped his image in Washington, his reputation as an offensive first player instead of an all-around defenseman persists, and it cost him.

There is no set standard every voter sticks to when it comes to evaluating players for the Norris. You can look at whatever stats you want whether it is Corsi, Fenwick, points, PDO, defensive zone starts, high-danger chances for -- the list goes on. Here’s why Carlson was in the top three of my ballot: Not only did he play exceptionally well, but the Capitals relied on him more in more situations than any other team relied on a single defenseman.

Carlson finished the season ranked eighth in the NHL in time on ice per game at 25:04. Burns finished just ahead of him with 25:06. Both Giordano (24:14) and Hedman (22:46) played less.

Carlson was among the top 40 defensemen in shorthanded time on ice per game with 2:35, something only Giordano (2:40) could boast among the other finalists. Carlson was also first among all defensemen in power play time on ice per game with 4:05, significantly more than Hedman (3:19), Giordano (3:19) or Burns (3:17).

There is no situation in which the Caps are not comfortable putting Carlson out on the ice and no situation in which he is not expected to play heavy minutes. He has taken a bigger role defensively as the team’s top shutdown pair of Orlov-Niskanen has had a down year. Despite the heavier defensive workload, Carlson still managed to finish in the top four in points among defensemen with 70, a career-high.

I am not here saying that Burns, Giordano or Hedman are not deserving of being finalists. In fact, Carlson did not finish first on my ballot. It seems crazy to me, however, that he did not finish in the top three this season or last. All three finalists had strong seasons, but Carlson’s season was just as good and he was more heavily relied upon. He is one of the top offensive blueliners, but that’s not all he is.

Until he manages to overcome that reputation, which persists through no fault of his own, he will continue to be on the outside of the Norris race looking in. And that’s a shame considering how good he has been.

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