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Rivera not sure if strong finish saves his job

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Rivera not sure if strong finish saves his job

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) While Panthers coach Ron Rivera believes a strong finish is crucial for his team's confidence heading into next season, he's not sure if winning three of the last four games will be enough to save his job.

``I think we have to keep going,'' Rivera said.

By that he means it's important the Panthers beat Oakland and New Orleans to finish the season 7-9, which would better last year's record by one game.

Carolina (5-9) enjoyed its first blowout win Sunday, crushing San Diego 31-7. That came one week after a decisive 30-20 upset win over Atlanta.

After Panthers owner Jerry Richardson fired general manager Marty Hurney following a 1-5 start, he told Rivera the team needed to be ``trending upward'' the rest of the way for him to keep his job.

The Panthers are 4-4 since.

However, the latest stretch - one in which second-year Cam Newton has combined for 13 touchdowns in the last five games without a turnover - provides a bit of promise for the future and could convince Richardson to give Rivera another shot.

``This isn't about a couple of good wins or emotional wins,'' Rivera said of his own future. ``It's really about the whole body of work.''

Rivera said Monday that he's under the impression that Richardson, not the team's future GM, will make the decision on the coaching staff's future.

That could also factor into Rivera's corner since often times new GMs like to bring in their own coaching staff.

Rivera, who is 11-20 in two seasons in Carolina, said he's made some mistakes as a first-time head coach.

However, the former Bears and Chargers defensive coordinator believes he's improved in a number of areas, including delegating authority and managing coaches and players.

``I will put myself up against anybody in terms of Xs and Os,'' Rivera said. ``I feel very confident of that. But I've had to learn a lot about managing. When you're managing 26 people and five coaches (as a defensive coordinator) and then suddenly you're managing 61 people and 17 coaches it's a little different... So there's been a lot to learn and grow on.''

Rivera points out that because of the NFL lockout last year he's only had 16 months to get to know his players.

He didn't have the luxury of OTAs or minicamps last season.

Rivera said one mistake he might have made when putting together his coaching staff in 2011 was not hiring anyone with any significant NFL head coaching experience.

``In retrospect to have an older gentlemen that could have looked over my shoulder might have helped,'' Rivera said.

Still, the players remain staunch supporters of Rivera and some believe it would be a mistake to break up the cohesiveness that is beginning to form.

``We really have something outstanding going on here in this locker room,'' receiver Steve Smith. ``If we can continue to do the things we're doing now, we're going to have some great things to look forward to in the future.''

Newton refused to talk about the future, saying he's not done with this season.

``We aren't looking to the end of the season to prove ourselves,'' Newton said. ``We're trying to come out and practice to execute each and every day so come game time we can put a nice product out there on the field.''

Rivera said he believes finishing strong is important when it comes to carrying momentum into the offseason and then next year - even though that wasn't the case last season.

Carolina won four of its last four games in 2011 and seemed to ready to carry that momentum into this season.

Instead, their potent offense sputtered out of the game and the Panthers opened the season 1-6, crushing any hopes of a trip to the playoffs.

``It's a different set of circumstances this time,'' Rivera said. ``I believe this team is maturing a little more than last year. Hopefully going forward we will be able to better manage our expectations as a team. We have to realize that we have not arrived.''

Before the season three-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil even took out a full-page advertisement in a local newspaper promising fans a Super Bowl win.

Rivera said he likes Kalil's confidence, but said next time he'd like to see that kept in house and not made public.

He said it might have added undue pressure.

As for the pressure surrounding his own future, Rivera said ``there are a lot of things I feel good about here. But again, we'll see how it goes in two weeks.''

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Wizards' NBA Bubble Awards: Thomas Bryant was the clear MVP

Wizards' NBA Bubble Awards: Thomas Bryant was the clear MVP

The Wizards closed out their 2019-20 regular season on Thursday with a much-needed win, as they finished the year 25-47 and their time in the NBA's restart bubble 1-7. 

Those final eight games, though, were about much more than wins and losses. The team was evaluating their young players as they look ahead to next season when the expectations will be raised significantly.

Just looking at those eight games, here are some awards and superlatives for what we saw...

Most valuable: Thomas Bryant

This is a very easy call, it was a unanimous vote. Though Bryant wasn't the only young player who looked good in Orlando, he was by far their best player overall.

Bryant leaves the bubble with eight-game averages of 18.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 1.4 steals per game. Those are big-time numbers, even if they were compiled on a team that went 1-7. Bryant took on a larger role in the offense and increased his volume while remaining efficient. He shot 53.2 percent overall and 40.5 percent from three.

Bryant took a big step forward. He was healthy after dealing with a foot problem earlier this season, and delivered. The Wizards have a legitimate starting center they can pencil in for next season, hopefully with the green light to take more threes.

RELATED: WIZARDS FINALLY WIN IN BUBBLE

Most improved: Jerome Robinson

This was one of the more unexpected, yet pleasantly surprising developments for the Wizards in the bubble. Robinson, who had spent his entire career to this point backing up really good players, finally got a chance to spread his wings. And, boy, did he.

Robinson found a newfound level of consistency, averaging 14.8 points while shooting a solid 36.7 percent from three. He reached double figures in scoring in seven of the eight games after only doing that four times in his previous 88 NBA appearances. 

Given the small sample size, and the stakes, it probably isn't enough to truly guarantee him a role going into next season. But he has absolutely earned a chance to compete for the back-up role behind Bradley Beal.

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Most intriguing: Troy Brown Jr.

Brown had a tremendous start in the bubble, but slowed down late as he was thrown into the fire as the starting point guard. Though he struggled in that role, it was an invaluable experience that he can take a lot of lessons from.

Overall, though, Brown made clear improvements in his game. He thrived with a greater share of the play-making duties and was able to showcase his skills as a passer and ball-handler.

It was enough to warrant some focus by the Wizards' coaching staff next season. Though they will have John Wall and Beal coming back, they have to find a way to incorporate Brown's strengths. That may come in a bench role as the primary ball-handler in the second unit.

Needs most improvement: Admiral Schofield

Not all of the Wizards' young players displayed growth in the bubble games and included in that group is Schofield, the team's 2019 second round pick. Unfortunately for him, it was all juxtaposed with the breakout performance of Bol Bol, whom the Wizards passed on to select Schofield out of the University of Tennessee.

Schofield averaged only 2.7 points in 12.6 minutes while shooting 29.4 percent from the field. He looked uncertain on the floor and continues to sort of float between roles with no defined path towards stability in the rotation.

Keep in mind, though, Schofield is just starting out his NBA career. He was a second round pick and those guys take time. He has the physical tools, the work ethic and the smarts to make it in this league. But there is no question this will be an important offseason for the guy.

Best moment: Moe Wagner vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo

The most memorable image from the Wizards' time in Orlando was definitely the ejection of the league's reigning MVP in their penultimate game. Antetokounmpo has since been suspended by the league for it.

He lost his cool and headbutted Wagner, who now has another notch on his belt in his neverending quest to get under the skin of his opponents. He is a pest and an effective one at that.

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Nationals did it first: Dugout dance parties sweep MLB

Nationals did it first: Dugout dance parties sweep MLB

The dancing revolution is underway. After the Nationals hosted dugout dance parties to celebrate home runs on their way to winning the World Series last season, other MLB teams have begun to host dance parties of their own while avoiding high fives and fist bumps.

Though Bryce Harper and the Phillies’ form could still use some work, the trend is starting to spread as the Mets only added the dancing to their home run celebrations this week. It’s no surprise that the Padres, one of the youngest teams in the majors, joined in as well.

Of course, the Nationals have kept dancing into 2020 as well.

As long as baseball is being played, the party will keep on rolling.

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