Nationals

Rings, a banner, a win: Heat top Celtics 120-107

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Rings, a banner, a win: Heat top Celtics 120-107

MIAMI (AP) LeBron James limped off with leg cramps two times in the second half.

He wasn't worried about the outcome. By now, he knows the depth of the Miami Heat roster. And on ring night, there was no way the reigning NBA champions were going to have their party spoiled.

Dwyane Wade scored 29 points, James finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds despite spending parts of the third and fourth quarters hydrating in the locker room, and the Heat beat the Boston Celtics 120-107 Tuesday night in the season opener for both teams.

``A night that we won't forget,'' James said.

That's true, for a lot of reasons.

There were actual fireworks before the game to close the ceremony where the Heat got their championship rings and raised their title banner. There also were plenty of figurative fireworks late, first with Boston almost digging out of a 19-point hole and, after the outcome was decided, Rajon Rondo flagrantly fouling Wade by wrapping his arms around his neck on a drive.

In the end, though, the first Celtics-Heat matchup of this season was like the final one of last season - with Miami winning.

``It was good to cap this night off with a win,'' Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

Chris Bosh was dominant late, finishing with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Allen scored 19 points - needing only seven field goal attempts - in his first game with the Heat since leaving Boston over the summer.

Allen got chants from the Heat crowd, which is nothing new. Except this time, they were positive.

``Never thought I'd hear that here,'' Allen said.

Paul Pierce scored 23 points, Rondo finished with 20 points and 13 assists, and Leandro Barbosa scored 16 for Boston. The Celtics, who lost to the Heat in last season's Eastern Conference finals, were not on the court for the ring ceremony.

They almost wrecked the festive mood with a late comeback.

An 11-2 run late in the fourth quarter got Boston within 111-107 on Courtney Lee's layup with 2:09 left. That was the last Celtics' hurrah - Bosh scored the game's next seven points, sealing it for Miami.

``I thought they were the aggressor the whole game,'' Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. ``They got on the floor where they wanted to get on the floor. They took us out of stuff that they wanted to.''

Rashard Lewis scored 10 points for Miami, which held on even while James, last season's MVP of both the regular season and NBA Finals, dealt with cramps, first in his right leg and then his left.

``It's not an all-the-time thing,'' James said. ``I'm not too worried about it.''

The Heat got their championship rings from owner Micky Arison before the game, then watched the banner get hoisted to the rafters. More emotion came late, when Wade drove past Rondo - and the Celtics guard grabbed Wade around the neck. Wade appeared as though he was ready to throw the ball at Rondo in retaliation, and stopped himself.

``I thought he hooked me,'' Rondo said.

Wade had a different opinion.

``It was a punk play by him,'' Wade said. ``The league will take care of it. He clotheslined me, with two hands.''

While Rondo raised eyebrows by putting hands on Wade, Kevin Garnett made news by not offering his hand to Allen.

As Allen entered the game for the first time, he trotted toward the Boston bench, exchanging a handshake, embrace and a few words with Rivers, who hasn't hidden his displeasure about his former shooting guard's decision to sign with Miami and didn't sound certain before the game how he would react when he saw Allen in Miami colors. Allen then briskly shook hands with a few assistant coaches.

But when Allen tried to engage Garnett, the mutual pleasantries ended. Allen tapped Garnett on the shoulder as he sat on the Boston bench; Garnett didn't even flinch, staring straight ahead, refusing to acknowledge the gesture in any way.

``I was just trying to focus as much as I could. I am such an intense person,'' Garnett said. ``It was a blank. Obviously he's on the other side. It's time to play the game, man.''

Allen didn't seem flustered. His first shot in a Miami uniform was - what else? - a corner 3-pointer, which swished.

``He was by himself in the corner,'' Rivers said. ``You'd think we'd know better.''

The first Heat angst of the season came in the third quarter, when James walked slowly to the bench after a timeout with 4:40 remaining, favoring his right leg and then headed out the tunnel toward the locker room.

When he left, Miami led 79-70.

When he returned to open the fourth quarter, the lead was 93-76. The Heat scored the final eight points of the third, with Bosh, Allen, Mario Chalmers and Lewis all scoring in the final 2:17 to give the Heat their biggest lead of the game.

James - who dealt with cramps in last season's NBA Finals - opened the fourth quarter with a jumper to extend the run to 10-0, and Miami seemed well on its way. But he returned to the locker room a short time later, the cramps having flared up again.

``Once you start cramping, there's nothing you can do about it,'' James said.

Nonetheless, the Heat found a way to finish without the MVP.

``This was a great night,'' James said.

NOTES: Wade passed the 15,000-point mark for his career early in the second quarter, becoming the 123rd player in NBA history to reach that mark, according to STATS LLC. ... Rondo had at least 10 assists for the 25th straight regular-season game. ... The Celtics allowed 62 points in the first half; they gave up 62 or more only seven times in 379 regular-season and playoff games over the past four seasons. ... Miami players wore sneakers with gold somewhere in the color scheme; James' were primarily gold - in honor of the ring - and trimmed in white and red.

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Fantasy Baseball Outlook: Week 8

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Fantasy Baseball Outlook: Week 8

 

It's a fun time of the year in fantasy baseball. Now that we're seven-to-eight weeks into the season, teams are starting to realize they may need the help of their top prospects in order to compete this year, which means lots of young talent getting the call. Plus, many players who began the season injured are getting healthy. Between the prospects and players returning from the Disabled List, fantasy owners should have plenty of options to choose from when it comes to setting their lineups this week.

As always, we're here to help you sort through those painful roster decisions, and we're going to keep it simple to avoid paralysis by analysis. As a reminder, It's your team, and your decisions you ultimately have to deal with, so don't treat this advice as the gospel. That said, it doesn't hurt to gain as much information as you can when making your decisions. Good luck!

NOTE: Don’t expect to see guys like Bryce Harper or Trea Turner mentioned too often. They are clear must-starts every week. Don’t overthink it.

Week 8 (5/21-5/27)

One Nationals pitcher to start: Gio Gonzalez

This is the second week in a row where every Nationals pitcher is only scheduled to pitch once. Last week, we recommended Max Scherzer because duh, and while we still think you should start him, it's also worth using Gonzalez. Gio has had a lot of success this season, sporting a 2.36 ERA in the middle of May, plus the Padres are notoriously poor against lefties (8th-worst batting average and OPS vs LHP in the majors).

Gonzalez isn't a must-start stud, mostly due to his high walk rate and resulting WHIP, but he's good enough to take advantage of the right matchups, and this qualifies.

One Nationals position player to start: Anthony Rendon, 3B

Just in case you're thinking about getting cute and sitting one of your studs, let this be a reminder that Rendon is great at what he does. In the past, we've recommended sitting him when working his way back from injury, but he's gotten enough reps at this point to get back into the swing of things.

It looks like he's struggled recently (one hit in the last seven days), but don't forget the Nats missed five straight days thanks to weather/planned off days. Plus, the Nats are set up to faces lefties in half their games this week, and Rendon has hit better against southpaws all season long.

One Nationals pitcher to sit: Tanner Roark

The Marlins have scored literally the fewest runs in baseball against right-handed pitching this season, and Roark hasn't been bad in 2018, despite the poor W-L record. Still, you're not sitting Scherzer or Strasburg, and we already recommended Gonzalez.

Roark has struggled against the Marlins in past years, as his 5.14 ERA vs the Marlins since 2015 is his 5th-worst number against any opponent, and while this year's Miami lineup looks far worse than in past seasons, and since Roark isn't the type of pitcher who gets enough strikeouts to raise his on a start-by-start basis, it's good enough of a reason for us to sit him this week. 

One Nationals player to sit: Juan Soto, OF

It's always fun when one of a team's top prospects gets called up, and that excitement doubles when the player is a teenager. It's always easy to see the high upside and imagine him taking the league by storm right from the get-go. That said, while it's worth a speculative pickup, we'd strongly recommend leaving Soto on the bench until we see A) how he hits against Major League pitching and B) what sort of playing time he'll get.


That's especially true this week, as his new manager Dave Martinez is already talking about sitting Soto against lefties, and wouldn't you know it, the Nats are scheduled to face southpaws in at least three games this week. It's possible Soto will be worth starting in the near-future, but for now, just be happy to add him to your rosters, not your starting lineups.

Any 2-start pitchers for the Nationals this week?

No. Not all starters have been scheduled yet, but the five-straight days off the Nats had last week threw a wrench into the works for their rotation, and as of now, no one is projected to make two starts.

Any 2-start pitchers worth streaming around MLB this week?

It's a really weak week for two-start streaming options. Beyond the seven or so obvious starts, who are almost certainly owned in your leagues already, there's not a lot to choose from. We'll go with the calculated risk Jake Faria of the Rays. Faria gets two starts at Tropicana Field this week, and he's been much better pitching at home during the course of his career. He'll be facing two scary opponents on paper, but the Orioles have struggled at the plate all season long (with the exception of a recent hot streak, hence the risk), and Faria has already pitched well against the Red Sox this year, allowing just one run over the course of two starts.

This isn't our most confident recommendation, but there are far worse options you could turn to in a brutal week.

One player you might not realize you should pick up: Andrew Heaney, SP (Angels) 

Heaney continued his recent stretch of strong play, as while he allowed four runs and walked on Saturday, none of the runs were earned, and he struck out seven. Heaney is a former top prospect, having once been considered the best left-handed pitching prospect in baseball, and he has a superb 10.5 K/9 this season, to go along with a quality 57 percent groundball rate. That means he's not allowing a lot of contact, and the contact he is allowing isn't doing much damage.

Given his prospect pedigree and strong peripherals to start the year, Heaney is well worth an add if you find him available on the waiver wire. He's not just a speculative pickup, but somebody worth inserting into your starting lineup right away. Hopefully, because he plays on the west coast and isn't a household name, he's still available in some of your leagues.

One player you might not realize you should drop: Robinson Cano, 2B (Mariners) 

If somehow Cano is eligible in a DL spot in your league, and you don't have the spot filled with another star, then you can disregard this one. But, if he's listed in your league as suspended and not injured, then he likely won't be worth holding onto during his time away. 80 games is a lot, obviously, and a guy who's going to miss half the games in a season needs to be sensational in the other half to make up for it. Cano's past his prime, and while when healthy he's obviously still worth starting, he's not the type of guy you tie up a bench spot with, unless you're in the deepest of leagues.

Plus, if you're savvy, you can always remember to pick up Cano again a week or two before his suspension is up, since no one else in your league is likely to snag him in the meantime. For now, though, feel free to use the roster spot on somebody who will contribute over the next three months.

MORE NATS NEWS:

- Too Soon For Soto?: Nats make a bold call-up
- Rankings Update: Where did the Nats fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?

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The Lightning are matching their 4th line against Ovechkin...and it’s working

The Lightning are matching their 4th line against Ovechkin...and it’s working

When the starting lines were announced on Saturday, you may have been surprised to hear Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson were starting against Chris Kunitz, Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan.

Because the game was in Tampa Bay, the Capitals had to give their starters first. That means Lightning coach Jon Cooper saw the Caps’ were starting their top line and decided to put out his fourth.

And it worked.

On Saturday, Paquette scored just 19 seconds into the game and Callahan scored 33 seconds into the second period. Ovechkin’s line did not manage a shot on goal for the first two periods of the game. Ovechkin did finally score, but it came late on a six-on-five with Braden Holtby pulled and it was not against the fourth line.

The fourth vs. Ovechkin matchup is something the Lightning began in Game 2. No three forwards have played more against Ovechkin at five on five in any game since Game 2 than Kunitz, Paquette and Callahan. Prior to Game 5, they matched up against Ovechkin around six to seven minutes per game. On Saturday, however, Cooper went all in.

At five on five play, Kunitz was on the ice against Ovechkin for 13:04, Paquette for 13:42 and Callahan for 13:46. The results speak for themselves as that line outscored Ovechkin's 2-0. In fact, for the series Ovechkin has produced six points and only two of them have come at five-on-five play.

A fourth line vs. a top line matchup is a risky move because it takes time away from your top offensive playmakers. You typically see top lines face each other or a first line against a second line because, when you line match you are letting the opposing coach dictate how much your own players play. With a fourth line matchup getting essentially top line minutes, that takes time away from players like Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

If you look at the five-on-five time on ice for Game 5, Kucherov skated 14:06 and Stamkos 13:37 while Kunitz was on for 14:00, Callahan for 14:45 and Paquette for 14:57.

It is a risky move, but it makes sense for the Lightning. Through four games, the Capitals were the better team five-on-five, but Tampa Bay’s power play was unstoppable. Using the fourth line is a good strategy for Cooper in situations like in Game 3 and Game 4. The Lightning slowed Washington’s five-on-five production and Stamkos and Kucherov still produced enough on the power play even with reduced minutes. It also works for games like the one we saw Saturday.

In a game like Game 5 when your team jumps out to a 3-0 lead, you can afford to roll your lines even if it means giving the fourth line more minutes than the first.

You would think a fourth vs. first matchup would give the Capitals a distinct advantage, but it has not worked out that way. The fourth line has been able to stifle Ovechkin and Co. enough and the Lightning's power play has made up the production lost by the first line's reduced minutes. When the fourth line can score two goals of its own, well, that's just an added bonus.

Ovechkin has to lead his line to a better performance in Game 6. If the Caps’ top line can’t get the better of the Lightning’s fourth, then this series will be over on Monday night.

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