Capitals

Smith's baseline jumper at buzzer beats Suns 99-97

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Smith's baseline jumper at buzzer beats Suns 99-97

PHOENIX (AP) J.R. Smith sank a baseline 21-footer at the buzzer after a Phoenix turnover with a second to play, giving the depleted New York Knicks a 99-97 victory over the Suns on Wednesday night.

Smith's tough jumper from 15 feet had tied it at 97 with 10.6 seconds left. Then, after the turnover, Jason Kidd inbounded to Smith, who got the shot off as he sailed toward the out of bounds line. Smith scored 27 and Kidd 23.

Jared Dudley had a career-high 36 for Phoenix, including two free throws that put the Suns ahead 97-95 with 34.5 seconds to go.

New York was without the NBA's No. 2 scorer Carmelo Anthony (hyperextended knee) and Raymond Felton (sprained finger), both hurt in the Christmas day loss to the Lakers in Los Angeles.

The Knicks said X-rays on Felton's right fifth finger revealed a fracture and the next course of action will be determined after his return to New York.

The Suns lost Goran Dragic in the final seconds of the first half when he was undercut by Smith on a layup attempt and fell hard to the floor. Dragic had bruises to his hip, back and wrist. Smith was called for a flagrant foul on the play.

Chris Copeland and Tyson Chandler added 14 points apiece for the Knicks.

Dudley, whose previous high was 33, was 11 of 17 shooting, 5 of 8 on 3s, and 9 of 9 at the foul line. Marcin Gortat added 13 points for the Suns, who lost their third in a row.

New York led 54-44 at the half and stretched it to 68-54 when Smith made a fadeaway, falling-down 19-footer with 7:13 left in the third. Dudley responded with a 3-pointer and the Suns were off on a 20-4 outburst. Another 3 by Dudley tied it at 72 with 2:10 to go, and Shannon Brown, who made just one of his first 7 shots, scored on a fast-break layup to put Phoenix ahead 74-72 with 1:23 left in the quarter.

It was knotted at 76 entering the fourth.

Dudley was fouled by Copeland on a 3-point try and made all three free throws to put Phoenix up 90-86 with 5:19 left, but Smith scored the next four, Kidd sank a 3 and Copeland made a 21-footer in a 9-0 spurt that had the Knicks up 95-90 with 3:34 left.

After a scoreless 1:28, Sebastian Telfair made a 3, then Brown sank a 20-footer to tie it at 95 with 1:15 remaining.

Smith missed a jumper from the top of the key 52 seconds from the finish and the Suns got the ball. Dudley was fouled on a drive to the hoop and made both free throws to make it 97-95.

But Smith, with P.J. Tucker all over him, sank a fade-away from just outside the free throw line with 10.6 seconds remaining to tie.

Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry called a 20-second timeout but the play broke down and, when Telfair tried to hit Marcin Gortat for a back-door layup, the ball was knocked back into the backcourt. Telfair chased it down but wound up stepping out of bounds with a second on the clock.

After a timeout, Kidd tossed the inbounds pass to Smith, who got the shot off, again over Tucker, from just inside the 3-point line. It went in and he was mobbed by his teammates.

The Knicks were missing a little over 43 points per game without Anthony and Felton, the first game this season that New York had been without both of its top two scorers. Rasheed Wallace also was out with a sore left foot.

Notes: The Knicks complete their brief three-game trip west at Sacramento on Friday. ... New York has lost two in a row only once this season. ... Michael Beasley, a big part of the second-half surge, missed Sunday's home loss to the Clippers due to illness.

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Tom Wilson’s suspension reduced to 14 games by neutral arbitrator

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USA TODAY Sports

Tom Wilson’s suspension reduced to 14 games by neutral arbitrator

Tom Wilson’s 20-game suspension has been reduced to 14 games by a neutral arbitrator meaning he is eligible to return as early as Tuesday against the Minnesota Wild. Elliotte Friedman was the first to report the arbitrator’s decision.

Wilson was suspended 20 games for a hit to the head of St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist in the preseason. The suspension was announced on Oct. 3 and upheld by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on Wilson’s first appeal.

Though the second appeal was technically successful in getting the suspension reduced, the lengthy process ended up costing him an extra two games as the Caps are already 16 games into the season. The good news for him is that he will recoup $378,048.78 of the over $1.2 million he was originally due to forfeit as a result of the suspension.

This marks the second suspension that Shyam Das, the neutral arbitrator, has reduced this season. Nashville Predators forward Austin Watson was suspended 27 games for domestic assault, but had his suspension reduced to 18 games after taking his appeal to the neutral arbitrator.

Tuesday’s ruling may mark the end of Wilson’s suspension and of the appeals process, but it hardly marks the end of the entire saga and controversy surrounding Wilson and his style of play. A 14-game suspension is still significant and should not be seen as vindication that Wilson did nothing wrong in the eyes of the league.

If there is another suspension, it will be longer and neither Wilson nor the Caps can afford for that to happen. Wilson still must change the way he plays or everyone is going to end up going through this entire process again and nobody wants that.

The Caps will have a morning skate at 12:30 p.m. ET which should provide more clarity on whether Todd Reirden intends to play Wilson immediately and where he could slot into the lineup.

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What do the Capitals do with Jakub Vrana?

What do the Capitals do with Jakub Vrana?

You don’t have to watch Jakub Vrana very long to realize just how talented he is. Unfortunately for him, you also don’t have to watch very long to realize how turnover prone he can be as well.

Carelessness with puck management has been one of the glaring issues for the Caps in the early season and Vrana, as he has been for much of his young career, is certainly guilty of that.

Vrana’s combination of talent and penchant for on-ice mistakes presents a problem for head coach Todd Reirden as he has to find the right place plug him into the lineup. That challenge has thus far proven difficult.

Vrana entered the Nov. 3 game against the Dallas Stars on the top line.  After a minus-three game and a turnover in overtime that led to Dallas’ game-winning goal, he found himself on the fourth line the very next game with barely eight minutes of ice time.

“We'll continue to try to remove those glaring turnovers or defense mistakes from his game,” Reirden said recently. “I think it's something that has improved compared to prior years which is why he spent the majority of the time up with those top-six guys, but it's sometimes good for a reset with some of the bottom-six guys and then start slotting him back in.”

At 22-years-old, mistakes on the ice are to be expected. But Vrana may take that to the extreme.

Not only does Vrana commit a lot of careless turnovers, he is also guilty of taking far too many penalties. Vrana ranks third on the team with 14 penalty minutes.

Mistakes by a forward are not nearly as glaring to a coach as those by a defensemen considering the mistakes tend to happen in the offensive zone and are less likely to result in a goal for the other team. When those offensive zone mistakes lead to offensive zone penalties, however, that’s a different story.

But Vrana is simply too skilled to bury in the lineup or take out altogether. With four even-strength goals, Vrana is tied for the third-most on the team behind only T.J. Oshie (7) and Alex Ovechkin (6). Of all the forwards Reirden has cycled into the top line in Tom Wilson’s absence to play with Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, Vrana was the player who seemed to fit the best. He does not provide the same sort of defensive balance to the top line as Wilson does, but no one has been able to step in and adequately fill Wilson’s spot thus far. Vrana added an extra element of speed and offensive skill to an already dangerous line and seemed to show chemistry with Kuznetsov especially.

“There's some really good things that he's showing,” Reirden said. “The speed he plays with, the release of his shot, the chances he's getting, you've got to try to find ways to get him out there more.”

But Wilson will soon return to fill his top line role and Reirden will soon get his full lineup for the first time this season. Yet, almost a quarter into the season Vrana still makes it hard to find the right spot for him.

Putting Vrana on a line with Nicklas Backstrom and Oshie – if Reirden reunites Ovechkin and Kuznetsov – seems like the best fit. Backstrom and Oshie can make up for Vrana’s defensive issues and Vrana can provide speed on an otherwise slower line.

But at some point, Vrana has to cut back on the turnovers and the penalties.

“You've got to continue to show him,” Reirden said. “Continue to show him, continue to `remind him, continue to teach and help him grow and get better. That's a young player trying to become a top-six full time.”

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