Capitals

Rivera to play youngsters amid own job uncertainty

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Rivera to play youngsters amid own job uncertainty

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Panthers coach Ron Rivera isn't overly concerned with his tenuous job security, saying he's committed to playing younger players the next four weeks so he can prepare to coach them next season.

Whether he'll get that opportunity remains to be seen.

With the Panthers 3-9 and coming off a loss to the NFL-worst Kansas City Chiefs, Rivera's clearly on the hot seat.

``People say, `Oh you're just getting them ready for the next coach.' Well, I think I'm getting them ready for me,'' Rivera said. ``I could be wrong but I'm not going to worry about that.''

The second-year coach said his goal is to win the next four games, beginning this Sunday when the Panthers host Matt Ryan against the Atlanta Falcons.

But he's quick to add ``at the same time, we've got to be able to do it with these young guys. If we don't play these guys, we'll go into next season with the same questions.''

Rivera is well-liked by his staff and employees at Panthers headquarters, but his team has struggled to find success particularly in close games leaving questions about his ability to manage games down the stretch.

The Panthers are 9-19 under Rivera overall and are 1-12 in games decided by seven points or less.

When general manager Marty Hurney was fired after a 1-5 start to the season, Rivera said he had a conversation with team owner Jerry Richardson and was informed the team needs to be ``trending upward'' the rest of the season.

But the Panthers are just 2-4 since Hurney's departure and they've suffered some tough losses since, including a 27-21 defeat to the Chiefs.

Kansas City entered the game 1-10 on the season.

Carolina also blew an 11-point fourth quarter lead against division rival Tampa Bay and lost in overtime.

Rivera said he's not had any recent conversations with Richardson, but still expects to at least finish out the season.

``The last time I talked with him things were good in terms of the things I needed to do,'' Rivera said. ``I understood the situation and the circumstances and he's been very fair and open about this.''

Richardson was unavailable for comment Monday.

Rivera started playing rookies more after the team's playoff hopes began to dissipate.

Three rookies - linebacker Luke Kuechly, offensive guard Amini Silatolu and cornerback Josh Norman - have started all season, but in recent weeks defensive end Frank Alexander, cornerback Josh Thomas and defensive tackle Nate Chandler have seen increased playing time.

Second-year defensive tackle Sione Fua is back in the starting lineup and Rivera is giving rookie punt returner Joe Adams a shot after he fumbled away his opportunities earlier in the season.

``We have some good young talent that is playing and developing more and more,'' Rivera said. ``As we go forward you can say yes, we've played a lot of the young guys and seen some good things from them. We know some of these young guys can play as we look forward to next year. So that's a big plus.''

Second-year quarterback Cam Newton, in particular, has impressed Rivera of late.

In the past three weeks, last year's AP Offensive Rookie of the Year has completed 49 of 84 passes for 790 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions.

He had three touchdown passes in the loss to Kansas City.

``His outlook on things, the way he perceives things and the way he's handled himself the last few weeks has been outstanding,'' Rivera said. ``He's played very well and given us chances to win. We have to take advantage of that.''

As for trending up, Rivera said he believes there are some areas that have improved despite the team's record, but clearly more improvement is needed.

``I think there are some positions that definitely have to be looked at and evaluated,'' Rivera said. ``... We have an opportunity to play Atlanta and a chance to play New Orleans in our division and that's a chance to send a message.''

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How does Capitals' Evgeny Kuznetsov get ready for a Game 7? He watches TV

How does Capitals' Evgeny Kuznetsov get ready for a Game 7? He watches TV

Everyone remembers Evgeny Kuznetsov's series-clinching overtime goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2018. That goal now overshadows another series-clinching goal Kuznetsov had in 2015. In Game 7 against the New York Islanders, Kuznetsov scored what would prove to be the winning goal to break up a 1-1 tie. Clearly he knows how to get ready for a big game. His secret? Television.

Kuznetsov appeared on NBC Sports Washington's Capitals Greatest Hits show on Monday to talk about his 2015 performance and the topic of the locker room came up. Both teams went into that game knowing their season was on the line and Kuznetsov was asked if the feeling was any different in the locker room before the game, a question he did not know exactly how to answer.

"I'm never in the locker room," Kuznetsov said. "I'm always by the TV watching TV shows."

Yes, when Kuznetsov arrives at the arena, he apparently likes to watch TV before the game and said he is not in the locker room until only about 30 minutes before warmups. He enjoys watching soccer, but also likes a good movie.

"It's usually soccer games," Kuznetsov said. "If it's not the soccer game, it's whatever the movie's going."

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He went on to say he was thankful for the team subscribing to whatever channel it was that he watches movies on.

If this seems odd to you, there is a method to the madness.

"Usually it's movie because that way I'm not thinking about hockey," Kuznetsov said. "I like to be loose before games."

Hey, if that's what he was doing before Game 7 in 2015 and before Game 6 in 2018, it's hard to argue against it.

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Where does a healthy John Wall rank among NBA's top 10 point guards?

Where does a healthy John Wall rank among NBA's top 10 point guards?

John Wall last played in an NBA game on December 26, 2018. He's expected to come back at the beginning of the 2020-21 season, and once he makes his long-awaited return to the Wizards' starting lineup, he'll find himself in a much different point guard landscape than the one he left. 

The position has changed, traditional point guards are mostly a thing of the past. NBA offenses are either run through multiple ball-handlers who can score and facilitate, or they're one-man shows centered around highly skilled individuals such as James Harden and Luka Doncic. 

Wall has consistently been one of the best in the league at his position, but after missing a year to an Achilles injury, it's hard to forecast where his game will be come next season. With that in mind, let's take a look at the top 10 point guards in the game (all presumed healthy), and see where Wall falls on the list. 

1. James Harden
2. Luka Doncic
3. Damian Lillard
4. Steph Curry
5. Chris Paul
6. Kyrie Irving
7. John Wall
8. Russell Westbrook
9. Kemba Walker
10. Kyle Lowry

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Wall has the talent to be in the top three of this list for sure, though it's difficult to put him anywhere but No. 7 right now. He's probably a tier above Walker and Lowry, while Wall and Westbrook are more comparable players. 

Irving, Curry and Lillard are too good and have been consistently great enough to where you can't put them below Wall, while Paul might be a great inspiration for players like Wall. Paul keeps getting older and keeps getting hurt but he's still so, so good. 

Then you have the two walking offensive systems in Doncic and Harden. Their production and what they do for their teams as primary ball-handlers is mostly unmatched across the eight players listed below them. 

Wall could rise all the way to the top of this list if he plays to his full abilities. The speed, perimeter defense, passing and dribble penetration made him an All-NBA level player. If Wall can improve his accuracy from beyond the arc, take more threes and fewer mid-range jumpers, I don't see why he can't see an uptick in efficiency even if his athleticism isn't what it used to be.

It's not a reach to say the Wizards' contention hopes depend heavily on whether Wall plays back to All-Star form or not. An Achilles injury is incredibly challenging to bounce back from, especially for a player like Wall whose game has had so much to do with speed and explosion in the past. 

The good news is he's had a chance to digest the game from a different perspective and time to fine-tune his jumper, while his Wizards teammates, especially Bradley Beal, are better than when he last suited up. 

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