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Play begins, and Johnson takes control at Kapalua

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Play begins, and Johnson takes control at Kapalua

KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) The PGA Tour season finally got under way on Monday, and Dustin Johnson wasted no time taking control in the Tournament of Champions.

Johnson had not played the Plantation Course at Kapalua since Thursday. Once he got started, he didn't miss many shots. He had four putts at eagle on the back nine in the second round. He missed only three greens in regulation. And when his 36-hole day ended, Johnson had rounds of 69-66 to take the lead into the final round Tuesday.

Three days behind schedule because of high wind, the season started on the day its first tournament was supposed to finish. Johnson was at 11-under 135, good enough for a three-shot lead over Steve Stricker.

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4 things to watch as the Caps host the Rangers

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USA Today

4 things to watch as the Caps host the Rangers

The Caps return to action Wednesday as they host the New York Rangers (7 p.m., NBCSN) in a Metropolitan Division clash.

Here are four things you should be watching for in this game.

The schedule finally gives the Caps a break

The early season schedule for Washington has been bizarre to say the least. Finally, they will be catching a break on Wednesday as the Rangers will be playing in the second leg of a back-to-back.

That certainly does not guarantee a victory, but it is something the Caps are very aware of and they hope to take advantage.

“I think speed is a big part of the game and for them to be fatigued off the back-to-back is definitely going to help us whether we move the puck a little quicker than we would in other games just kind of knowing they are coming off that back-to-back,” Nathan Walker said.

“We've got to make them skate, we've got to make their D go back for pucks,” T.J. Oshie said. “I don't feel like they're going to look tired at the start of the game, usually that comes towards the end of the game, second half, and so you've got to work to drain them down a little bit and we've got to take advantage of that opportunity tonight.”

Top-line Stephenson

Stephenson was added to the top line on Saturday with no practice other than the morning skate that day. A few days between games has given him a chance to practice with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov and it should pay dividends on Wednesday.

This game also should be a good opportunity for Stephenson who was added to the top for his speed. Playing a tired Rangers team is something he will need to take advantage of.

“It's always tough to play back-to-back and with the travel and stuff like that,” Stephenson said. “For the most part, I think that that's going to be important and just to play a full 60, that's something that we want to get consistent with and we haven't been so far … But for the most part, I think the start will really help us tonight.”

Nathan Walker returns

The Caps made a change to the lineup for Wednesday’s game as Nathan Walker will be in for Dmitrij Jaskin on the fourth line.

When asked why he made the change, Reirden said, “Just a different look. A team that's on a back-to-back, we wanted to really come at them with some speed, tenacity and intensity that we know we always get from Nathan so thought it was a good add into tonight's lineup.

The Caps have got to get more offense from their bottom six and adding the speedy Walker to the bottom six could provide a boost. He has had trouble playing within the system in the past and his play has been more frenzied than controlled at times, but with Tom Wilson still suspended, there’s definitely an opportunity for Walker to earn more playing time depending on how he plays Wednesday.

King Henry remains on his throne

In addition to a tired Rangers team, the Caps are also expected to face a tired goalie.

Henrik Lundqvist started New York’s game on Tuesday and is expected to start again on Wednesday against Washington. That is not confirmed as the Rangers did not have a morning skate because of the back-to-back, but it is believed Lundqvist will play again.

There was a time when Lundqvist was considered the best netminder in the NHL and he is off to a phenomenal start this season with a 1.99 GAA and .939 save percentage in five games thus far.

But how will the 36-year-old goalie handle a back-to-back?

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By the numbers: A beyond the box score stat each Wizards player can improve this season

By the numbers: A beyond the box score stat each Wizards player can improve this season

The Wizards kick off their 2018-19 season on Thursday against the Miami Heat, as they look for much better results than they got last year. The Wizards want to push for 50 wins and get past the second round of the playoffs and in order to do so, will need to improve in a variety of ways.

Here is a look at some stats that go beyond the box score that each Wizards rotation player could improve upon...

John Wall, PG, 1.8 contested threes per game

Bradley Beal is one of the best in the business at contesting three-pointers, at least when it comes to the frequency of closeouts. He was ninth in the NBA last season in the category with 4.1 per game and that was down from 4.4 the year before, when he placed fourth. Wall, on the other hand, has generally averaged less than half of Beal's output. 

Some of that can be explained by the fact Wall is usually guarding the primary ball-handler, while Beal is asked to defend a shooting guard and shooting guards generally shoot a lot of threes. But if Wall could improve in how many closeouts he gets on threes, the Wizards could become one of the best teams at defending the perimeter. They were already good last year at opponents three-point percentage, but could make strides in the amount of threes they allow. Last year they were 12th with 10.2 per game.

Bradley Beal, SG, 30% on pull-up threes

Beal's offensive maturation has been a joy to watch over the years and last season was the All-Star season breakthrough we all expected to arrive someday. But there is still room to grow and for a shooter as good as Beal, he could be better at pull-up threes. Many of the best scorers in the NBA have killer pull-up threes and last year Beal lagged behind, shooting just 30 percent on those plays. 

The good news is that he shot over 37 percent in each of the previous three years. If he gets back up there this season and works it back into his game that now includes an improved attack off the dribble, he will be incredibly hard to stop.

Otto Porter Jr., SF - 0.1 charges drawn per game

Porter does so many things well and is one of the more underrated players in the league. But no one in the Wizards' rotation took fewer charges than Porter. Now, that's easier said than done when LeBron James is barreling down the lane. But small forwards can be some of the most effective charge-takers on the floor because they often operate in the midrange and can step out of traffic to confront guards. Just look at Shane Battier's career.

Markieff Morris, PF, 1.5 screen assists per game

Morris didn't have a ton of opportunities to rack up screen assists last season as he was often playing alongside Marcin Gortat, who was especially good at setting screens and played a central part of the pick-and-roll. But Morris may play some more at the five spot this year in small-ball sets and executing good screens will be one of the biggest determinants of his success.

Dwight Howard, C, 0.5 fastbreak points per game

This one isn't going to be easy for the big man, who will likely be starting many of the Wizards' fastbreaks by rebounding the ball and dishing it out immediately to Wall or another guard. But Howard could get so many of his points this season simply by hustling up the floor in transition. Since he may have to sacrifice some of the post-up opportunities he enjoyed in Charlotte, fastbreak dunks could help him compensate. He just has to keep up with Wall. Sounds easy, right?

Kelly Oubre Jr., SF, 2.7 deflections per game

This number for Oubre is actually pretty good. He was tied for 24th in the NBA in the category and for a guy who doesn't play super-heavy minutes, that's not bad at all. It's just that Oubre has the potential to be one of the very best players in the game at deflecting passes. He has the wingspan, the quickness, and the instincts to wreak havoc like few players can. This is also one of the stats that GMs will notice when they determine how much to offer him next summer. If he finishes, say, top-five in the NBA, that will be a major selling point.

Ian Mahinmi, C, 15.6 defensive rebound percentage

Mahinmi had the best offensive rebound percentage on the Wizards last year, but was fourth on the defensive end. The Wizards want to be better defensively and play with more pace and Mahinmi will be a big key to accomplishing those goals for the bench. They need to get the ball off the rim and out to Austin Rivers and Tomas Satoransky as soon as possible.

Austin Rivers, SG, 36.3 percent on catch-and-shoot threes

Rivers' 64.2 free throw percentage is his biggest area to improve this season, but since the point of this article is to go beyond the box score, let's go with his catch-and-shoot three-point percentage. Rivers was decent last year and has been better in the past, but his ability to space the floor and fire it away quickly off a pass is going to be important for the Wizards' second unit this season. Last year, Rivers was better at hitting threes off the dribble, but will need to knock down shots on catch-and-shoot plays to reach his ceiling playing alongside Satoransky.

Tomas Satoransky, PG, 0.0 percent on pull-up threes

What was true for Rivers is the opposite for Satoransky and to an extreme degree. Despite leading the NBA with a 52.2 percentage on catch-and-shoot threes, he literally did not make a single attempt from three off the dribble. 

Don't believe that? Check his NBA.com splits page. Satoransky is 6-foot-7 and has a high release point. He is also getting more and more comfortable creating off the dribble. The next step for him as a shooter is to diversify how and where he shoots from on the floor. 

Jeff Green, PF, 1.0 deflections per game

Green was one of the best players on the Cavaliers last season at contesting shots, but ranked 12th on the team in deflections. He has the size and athleticism to get in passing lanes, despite playing much of the time around the rim.

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