Nationals

Rookie Damian Lillard blazes a trail in Portland

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Rookie Damian Lillard blazes a trail in Portland

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) Damian Lillard usually sticks to the rookie script, rarely showing much excitement.

But when the Trail Blazers' guard sank the game-winning 3-pointer against New Orleans last week, he celebrated by high-fiving a fan seated near the bench.

``I have no idea who it was,'' Lillard said, laughing. ``He was the first guy that I saw.''

Lillard, playing with a veteran's poise and a rookie's humility, is the early favorite for Rookie of the Year.

``I think he's a wonderful player,'' said San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. ``His skills are obvious but I like his demeanor as much as I like his skills. He really plays within himself, he's not afraid of contact and he understands how to take advantage of situations.''

Popovich knows. Lillard dropped 29 points on his Spurs last Thursday in a 98-90 Portland win. Then he hit the game-winning 3 with 0.3 seconds left in a 95-84 victory over the Hornets on Sunday night.

Lillard was the sixth overall pick in the June draft out of Weber State, where he was a two-time Big Sky Conference player of the year. He averaged 24.5 points, five rebounds and four assists as a junior with the Wildcats before declaring early for the draft.

From the start, Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey called him the team's ``franchise point guard.'' Lillard was the key component as Portland rebuilt around LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews after finishing 28-38 and out of the playoffs last season.

``You can break his game down and quantify the shooting, the ball handling, the assist to turnover ratio, the pick-and-roll efficiency. What can't be quantified is his leadership ability and the gravitas he carries himself with as a young player,'' Olshey said.

The 6-foot-3 point guard excelled first in the NBA's Summer League, where he averaged 26.5 points and was the league's co-MVP.

In Portland's opener on Halloween night against the Los Angeles Lakers, Lillard had 23 points and 11 assists. He joined Isiah Thomas and Oscar Robinson as the only players with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in their NBA debuts.

Lillard had at least 20 points in his first three games, matching Grant Hill for the NBA record set in 1994. He is averaging 18.8 points, best by far among the NBA's first-year players, along with 6.3 assists, 3.3 rebounds and a labor-intensive 38 minutes per game.

He is the only Blazer to start in all 23 games and he had at least one 3-pointer in his first 20 pro games, tying an NBA record. Lillard was the league's Rookie of the Month for November.

``It's almost like he glides with the ball. He has a high basketball IQ,'' Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. ``The thing you love about him more than anything else is he plays with a chip on his shoulder. He's one of those underdogs who went to a small school who is out to prove to everybody he's an NBA player.''

The Blazers' last rookie sensation was Brandon Roy, who was the Rookie of the Year in 2007 after averaging 16.8 points, 4.0 assists. He was the third Trail Blazer to win the award, joining Geoff Petrie in 1971 and Sidney Wicks in 1972. Now Lillard is making his case.

Portland has leaned on him of late while the Blazers ride out a wave of injuries. Batum has struggled with back pain. Matthews' streak of 250 straight starts ended because of a hip injury. Most recently, Aldridge sprained his left ankle in the final minute of the victory over the Hornets.

Matthews and Aldridge are uncertain for Thursday night's game against the Denver Nuggets. So the Blazers might have to turn to Lillard again.

Lillard, for his part, just wants to keep it simple.

``My main focus is to keep trying to help us win games,'' he said.

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WATCH: Juan Soto goes opposite field for his first home run of 2020

WATCH: Juan Soto goes opposite field for his first home run of 2020

On August 8th, Nationals star Juan Soto hit his first home run of the 2020 season. In a normal year, that would be extremely concerning for the Washington brass. But 2020 is the least bit normal.

Soto missed the first eight games of Washington's season after testing positive for the novel coronavirus -- one he and many in the Nats organization think was a false-positive. The left fielder returned to Washington's lineup on Wednesday, and three days later, Soto notched his first long-ball of the 2020 season.

In his first at-bat in Saturday evening's contest against the Beltway foe Orioles, Soto stayed back on a 79 mph changeup from Orioles starter Tom Eshelman, a pitch that stayed over the plate just a bit too much.

The 21-year-old squared the barrel up and muscled the pitch 370 feet the opposite way, with the ball landing just barely over the left field wall about a free throw's length to the right of his family cardboard cutouts.

The home run was Soto's 57th of his career, tying Mickey Mantle for the eighth-most of any player before turning 22 years old. That long ball from the Nats' phenom puts him in quite the company.

Washington took a 1-0 lead on Soto's home run, a game the Nationals desperately need after dropping two straight following a three-game win streak.

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For Native American activists, Washington NFL name change not the end of their fight

For Native American activists, Washington NFL name change not the end of their fight

It took decades for the football team in Washington to remove the derogatory name from FedEx Field, giving local Native Americans  - and those throughout the United States who had long pushed for change - a win in what seemed like an endless fight. 

"With Mr. Snyder, what put the pressure on him to change the name? Money talks and that's what he realizes. And he realizes that he's fighting a losing battle. And that's the bottom line," Chief of the Piscataway Indian Tribe Billy "Redwing" Tayac said to ABC News.

Residing in Accokeek, Maryland, Chief Tayac has been fighting for a name change since the 1980s when he said he was one of the first plaintiffs in legal action aiming to force Washington to choose another name. After the franchise's field sponsor, FedEx, put public pressure on the organization to change its name - coupled with the national protests against racial injustices - Snyder finally gave in. 

While Chief Tayac's trailblazing efforts laid the groundwork necessary to get to today, modern activists like Laguna Pueblo and Omaha Tribe member Mary Phillips continue to fight for justice.

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"And so it's always been, you know [difficult], trying to educate people to understand that this word, this team celebrates actually celebrates the color of my skin by saying that it is red," Phillips said to ABC News' Abby Cruz. "In the grander sense of things, it's so evaporating from people's minds that they don't even realize how racist it really is."

Survivors of generational injustices and discriminatory practices from the United States government, both Chief Tayac and Phillips know the fight isn't over just because the NFL franchise in D.C is now called the Washington Football Team. 

"Whether anybody likes it or not, I'd like to say this is our country. This is where God put us there. And nobody is gonna shove off of it," Chief Tayac said.

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