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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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WATCH: Rui Hachimura punishing Spurs interior defense with dunk and two layups

WATCH: Rui Hachimura punishing Spurs interior defense with dunk and two layups

As Rui Hachimura continues to grow and take his lumps at the NBA level, one important point of development for the Wizards' rookie will be finishing through contact at the rim. 

The Wizards play the Hornets on Friday at 7 p.m. EST on NBC Sports Washington.

On Wednesday night against the Spurs, Hachimura hit a nice hook shot over LaMarcus Aldridge and then finished through traffic after attacking a closeout a few plays later. He entered the game shooting nearly 70 percent at the rim, a major reason why he's one of the top-scoring rookies this season. 

Then at the end of the first half, Isaiah Thomas found Hachimura on a back-door cut for the easy slam. Well-timed cuts are a great source of points for young players. 

After the break, the ninth-overall pick flashed a little finesse at the rim for another pretty finish. 

His three-point shooting will have to improve at some point down the line and learning better positioning as a defender is something every rookie has to go through. 

Both of those skills can be improved in the practice gym or in the film room. Finishing at the basket through contact is learned by repetition in-game, so it's a promising sign to see Hachimura take the ball to the rim. 

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When Gregg Popovich thinks the NBA will be ready for a female head coach

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When Gregg Popovich thinks the NBA will be ready for a female head coach

WASHINGTON -- The Wizards hosting the Spurs on Wednesday night brought together two of the 11 NBA teams that currently employ a female assistant coach. The Wizards have Kristi Toliver on their bench and the Spurs have Becky Hammon.

That confluence prompted a question to San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich on the future of women in the NBA coaching ranks and whether a head coaching hire could happen sometime soon. 

The Wizards play the Hornets on Friday at 7 p.m. EST on NBC Sports Washington.

Though it has been five years since he hired Hammon as the first full-time female assistant coach in league history, Popovich is uncertain on exactly when a team will make the leap to hiring a woman to run their operation.

"That depends on people and organizations," he said. 

"It's a process and it doesn't happen quickly. But I think the more women there are [in the game] and as it becomes more commonplace and more the rule, it will then depend on an organization realizing there are women that can do this. Every woman can't, every man can't. But the point is there gotta be enough to choose from and it's gotta be pretty commonplace before I think somebody's gonna pull the trigger."

Popovich believes it will happen, he's just not sure when. The Wizards hiring Toliver last summer was another step in that direction and he believes she and others are showing the basketball world what they are capable of.

"There's no difference between a woman who knows the game and a man who knows the game. It's just another prejudice that probably has to be overcome just like a lot of other prejudices in the world have become less and less as people paid attention to them," Popovich said.

Hammon made the news over the weekend when Popovich was ejected from the Spurs' loss to the Kings and a committee of assistants coached the rest of the game. Popovich was asked why he didn't appoint Hammon to serve in the role for the rest of the game and he told reporters he was "not here to make history." 

Still, though there has never been a female head coach in any of the four major U.S. sports, it seems like the NBA is by far the closest with people like Hammon and Tolliver already knocking on the door.

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