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Phoenix Suns pick Lindsey Hunter as interim coach

Phoenix Suns pick Lindsey Hunter as interim coach

PHOENIX (AP) The Phoenix Suns have turned to a man with 17 years of experience as an NBA player, but none as a coach, to take over the flagging team that hasn't been this bad halfway through a season in a quarter century.

Lindsey Hunter, the team's player development director, was picked as its interim coach Sunday, two days after the Suns and Alvin Gentry parted ways in what the organization said was a mutual agreement.

Hunter got the nod over more experienced options - assistant coaches Elston Turner, Dan Majerle and Igor Kokoskov.

``I think the simple answer is that the organization needed a jolt,'' general manager Lance Blanks said. ``We needed something that would shock the system of us, the players, and risk trumps safety in this business. We felt this was the right person to take the risk on.''

Hunter, 40, is the coach for the remaining 41 games of the season.

After that, Blanks said, ``we'll open things back up and at that time select the best candidate, which may or may not be Lindsey.''

``But he believes he can get us to the end of the season and do the things that we need done as an organization and most importantly for these guys on the floor,'' Blanks added.

Hunter joined the Suns in the scouting department last year and this season took over the team's new player development department.

As a guard with five NBA teams, Hunter averaged 8.5 points, 2.7 assists and 1.2 steals in 937 games, 438 as a starter. He won NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2002 and the Detroit Pistons in 2004.

``I'm a little overwhelmed right now,'' he said after leading the team through practice Sunday. ``I'm tired, but today was fun. If you don't know by now, I'm a basketball junkie, so my ideal way to function daily is to be in the gym. It was a good day, the first day of practicing, and I think the guys enjoyed it.''

Hunter retired in 2010 and served in a player development job with Detroit before coming to Phoenix. As a finalist for the Orlando head coaching job last offseason, Hunter mentioned learning from the likes of Larry Brown, Doug Collins and Phil Jackson.

``I've always, since high school, considered myself a coach on the floor,'' Hunter said. ``I've always had really tough coaches who demanded that, and I embraced it and I actually enjoyed it.''

The Suns, with nine new players on their roster this season, have lost 13 of 15, including four straight at home, and at 13-28 have the worst record in the Western Conference. They don't play again until Wednesday, when they face the Kings in Sacramento. Hunter's home debut will come Thursday night against the Los Angeles Clippers, who have the West's second-best record at 32-9.

Hunter said his goal for the team is ``just getting better.''

``If we can get better, then I'm not looking at wins and losses,'' he said. ``And I know this job is judged by that. I'm not a stranger to that, but realistically looking at it I want our team and our guys to find their confidence and just go out and play with passion. That's basically what I'm trying to do now.''

The emphasis, Hunter said, will be defense.

``I'm a defensive guy,'' he said. ``That's the identity that we're going to try to create, is being a tough, nasty, defensive-minded team, and we'll go from there. I'm not going to try to build Rome in a day. We're going to take it one step at a time and solidify our defense, make sure everybody understands what's going on, and then we'll hold them accountable from there.''

Backup point guard Sebastian Telfair, a big supporter of Gentry, said he wasn't surprised when Hunter got the job.

``Lindsey's going to hold everybody accountable,'' Telfair said. ``He was a player. The players respect him, so I'm anxious to see how this goes.''

The players know Hunter will bring a frank, no-nonsense approach.

``Even when he was a development coach, every time I talked to him, if I make a mistake, he tells me straight to my face,'' Goran Dragic said, ``and you know I think that's good, that everybody knows what is their role and what he is expecting from the players.''

Gentry was Phoenix's coach since Terry Porter was fired at the 2009 All-Star break. His time included a run to the 2010 Western Conference finals in 2010, his first full season as coach. But the team failed to make the playoffs the last two seasons. Then Steve Nash departed to the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Suns, under the direction of team president Lon Babby and Blanks, overhauled the roster.

Meanwhile, owner Robert Sarver has had to face dwindling crowds at US Airways Center.

Gentry tried a series of lineups to develop some sort of chemistry and consistency with no success, and he acknowledged that he understood it was time for a change.

Gentry tweeted Sunday morning that he was ``already bored.''

``Need some suggestions as to what to do to fill the day,'' he wrote. ``Let's hear some good ones.''

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Follow Bob Baum at www.twitter.com/Thebaumerphx

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How the Caps turned a sure loss into their first home win in under 90 seconds

How the Caps turned a sure loss into their first home win in under 90 seconds

WASHINGTON -- Another sloppy defensive performance looked like it would doom the Capitals, but a furious three-goal rally in the second period turned what looked like a sure defeat into a stunning 4-3 victory, their first at home this season, over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday.

Toronto took an early lead off a short-handed goal from Kasperi Kapanen. Jonas Siegenthaler then was slow to react to a streaking Ilya Mikheyev who torched him to put the Leafs up 2-0. Jakub Vrana made it 2-1 late in the first, but Toronto looked like they had this game well in hand.

But the Caps rallied and completely turned things around in a stretch of just 1:18 in the second period. Here's how.

Brilliant skating by Kuznetsov

Kuznetsov passed the puck up to the offensive blue line. A skating Carl Hagelin tapped it to John Carlson who entered the zone, pulled back and handed it off to Kuznetsov who took over.

When Kuznetsov gets the puck there are three Maple Leaf players in front of him. He pumps the legs once and then glides in on net and somehow he is behind all three players and in alone on Michael Hutchinson.

Kuznetsov’s speed virtually never changes during the play. There’s no frantic, choppy acceleration, just a smooth glide that allows him to skate in, wait out Hutchinson and tuck the puck around his outstretched pad all in seemingly one fluid motion.

The forecheck pays off 11 seconds later

T.J. Oshie beat out Morgan Rielly in a footrace for the puck in the offensive zone. He circled in the corner to protect the puck with his body from Rielly. He was able to find Nicklas Backstrom in the high slot and Backstrom snapped the puck in.

In a period of just 11 seconds, the Caps had changed the score from 2-1 Leafs to 3-2 Caps.

The flustered Leafs

Momentum is a real thing. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. That was on display in the second period when the Leafs were on their heels after coughing up two quick goals. Just 18 seconds after Backstrom’s goal, Nicholas SHore was called for interference on Oshie.

Do you know how you get two goals and draw an interference penalty in less than a minute? By keeping possession of the puck. Toronto could not get its hands on it at all until Cocy Ceci did on the penalty kill...and promptly threw the puck into the crowd on an attempted clearance from the defensive zone resulting in a delay of game penalty.

A 5-on-3

Ceci’s penalty came just nine seconds after Shore was booked resulting in a two-man advantage for 1:51. The Caps were too hot at that point to not convert. The power play moved the puck very effectively and, critically, managed to retain possession after every shot. The Leafs just could not get there in time to clear it allowing the Caps to take their time, set things up and attack.

The power play shifted with Carlson making his way over to the Ovechkin spot. Ovechkin was fed the puck at the point, faked the slap shot and instead tapped the pass over to Carlson. Carlson did his best Ovechkin impression and fired the one-timer past Hutchinson. That goal made the score 4-2 and capped off an incredible 1:18 stretch in which the Caps turned a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 lead, thus ultimately snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Toronto would score a late goal in a comeback attempt but ultimately fell short.

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Capitals score three goals in 90 seconds to take the lead over Toronto

Capitals score three goals in 90 seconds to take the lead over Toronto

The beginning of Wednesday's clash with the Maple Leafs was not pretty for the Capitals.

A pair of goals by Toronto gave them an early lead midway through the first period. But a snipe by Jakub Vrana towards the end of the first frame cut the deficit in half entering the first intermission.

But during the second period, all of a sudden, a switch flipped for the Capitals attack. Washington found the back of the net three times in under 90 seconds, turning a one-goal deficit into a two-goal lead.

The first came from Evgeny Kuznetsov, who finished with a beautiful move to sneak the puck past Maple Leafs' goalie Michael Hutchinson's glove.

Just 11 seconds later, Nicklas Backstrom found the back of the net on a beautiful wrister from T.J. Oshie to put the Capitals ahead.

To complete the trifecta, John Carlson's one-timer from Alex Ovechkin went right in between Hutchinson's legs, giving the Capitals a 4-2 lead. 

At the end of the second period, the Capitals hold the same 4-2 lead. Just 20 minutes separate the Capitals from their fourth victory of the season.

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