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Steelers D rallying around coordinator Dick LeBeau

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Steelers D rallying around coordinator Dick LeBeau

PITTSBURGH (AP) There's a look Dick LeBeau gets on his face when the Hall-of-Fame defensive coordinator sees a breakdown on film that Pittsburgh Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton knows all too well.

It's not quite anger. Or frustration for that matter.

Nope, it's way worse than that.

``It's like when a dad gets disappointed with his kids,'' Hampton said. ``He's not mad. He just knows what we're capable of doing.''

And far too often during Pittsburgh's sluggish start, the kids were letting the old man down.

The Steelers (4-3) squandered second-half leads in all three of their losses, letting the likes Tennessee and Oakland - not exactly the 2007 New England Patriots - rally to victory. The front seven couldn't generate any pressure. The secondary couldn't cover anybody and critics woofed the unit featuring seven starters in their 30s was past its prime, its 75-year-old architect included.

``It's just like somebody talking about your pops,'' nose tackle Steve McLendon said. ``So you just want to go out there and show them that pops is a great guy and I guess that's what we've been doing.''

In two short weeks, a defense that struggled to get off the field has returned to its typically efficient self. Pittsburgh held Cincinnati to 185 total yards then drummed the Redskins and superstar-in-training Robert Griffin III in a surprisingly easy 27-12 win last Sunday.

Heading into this weekend's visit to the defending Super Bowl-champion New York Giants (6-2), the Steelers are second in the NFL in yards allowed and first against the pass.

What changed? Not LeBeau. Asked if he's suddenly gotten smarter since a 26-23 loss to Tennessee on Nov. 12 put the Steelers perilously close to falling off the pace in the cluttered AFC, the eternally self-deprecating coach just laughs.

``It's definitely not that,'' he said.

It's not Troy Polamalu either.

The backbone of the NFL's best defense over the last decade has been limited to just two games due to right calf injury. Linebacker James Harrison didn't play the first month while recovering from knee surgery and though he's been solid since his return, he's managed all of one sack.

Then again, Harrison is hardly alone. The Steelers have gotten to the quarterback just 12 times this season and have created only seven turnovers.

LeBeau stresses his players need to create more ``splash'' plays to help out the offense, but the Steelers have gotten by without them simply by eliminating mistakes and doing the little things LeBeau preaches, tackling and playing fast being chief among them.

The Redskins dropped 10 passes in the rain last week, some of them due to sloppy execution, others due to the approaching footsteps of a Pittsburgh defensive back.

It's what the Steelers have always done under LeBeau, who spent 14 years patrolling the secondary with the Detroit Lions, developing a reputation as one of the most physical and cerebral players in the game.

Forty years after retiring, he's still preaching the virtue of doing things the right way.

To LeBeau, that means being a teacher instead of a taskmaster. It's why he doesn't lose his temper when things go wrong, unless you count getting angry at yourself.

``I learned better when people didn't holler at me,'' LeBeau said.

LeBeau gets greater mileage out of a quiet pep talk and a quick pointer than a paint-peeling tirade.

``He's a Hall of Famer, coach and player,'' linebacker Larry Foote said. ``When he talks to you and he pats you on your back, it does a lot more coming from him and his pedigree than a normal coach would.''

And there is little normal about LeBeau. Two generations removed from the last time he suited up in a game, he remains vibrant. He's remarkably fit and insists it's the players that keep him young. He could easily pass for someone 15 years his junior.

If he's gotten predictable, as opponents suggested earlier this season, it's for pretty good reason. The Steelers have finished with the NFL's No. 1 defense four times since LeBeau returned for his second stint as the team's defensive coordinator in 2004 and never finished outside the top 10.

``We're not scared to let you know what we're doing,'' safety Ryan Clark said. ``But when we execute it, you can't move the ball. When we execute it, it's hard to score. And I think that's what's happening.''

Having an offense that monopolizes the ball helps too. The Steelers are second in the NFL in time of possession, meaning the defense is only on the field about 25 minutes a game.

Defensive end Brett Keisel joked he's his best when he's sitting on the bench watching quarterback Ben Roethlisberger go to work, but Keisel and company are also doing a pretty good job of making their trips between the lines brief outings.

The Redskins looked helpless at times trying to figure things out, which Keisel attributes to a prototypical LeBeau approach. On film, LeBeau noticed opponents became so worried about chasing Griffin around they got away from what they do best.

So rather than trick up the defense, LeBeau - in a way - dumbed it down. While adding a wrinkle here or there, the Steelers mostly stayed in their base 3-4 or nickel packages and focused on execution, not exotic coverages.

``Coach LeBeau just stays the course,'' Clark said. ``It's about effort. It's about doing things a certain way. When you get that right, it doesn't matter what you call it.''

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NOTES: RBs Jonathan Dwyer (strained right quad) and Rashard Mendenhall (strained right Achilles) were limited in practice on Thursday. Dwyer expects to play on Sunday while Mendenhall - who has missed the last two weeks - is questionable ... Safety Ryan Clark practiced for the second straight and will play against the Giants. Clark left the Washington game in the third quarter with a concussion.

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Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP

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Anthony Davis trade to Lakers gives Silver Spring's Josh Hart fresh start with Pelicans

Anthony Davis trade to Lakers gives Silver Spring's Josh Hart fresh start with Pelicans

The Anthony Davis trade will have ripple effects across the NBA, not only on teams, but also on the players involved.

Josh Hart, who was traded from the Lakers to the Pelicans as part of the package for Davis on Saturday, could stand to benefit from the move.

First, here's a look at all of the assets reportedly swapped in the deal, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

Now, where does the Silver Spring, Md., native figure in the proceedings?

Hart spent his first two NBA seasons with the Lakers. He averaged 7.9 points in 24.4 minutes per game in his two years in Los Angeles. 

Still, Hart was often the Lakers' third or fourth option at shooting guard behind starter Brandon Ingram and shared minutes with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Reggie Bullock and Lance Stephenson. 

LeBron James and the Lakers' win-now strategy left little room to develop Hart last season.

Now in New Orleans, he is part of a franchise rebuilding around presumptive No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson. The trade gave the Pelicans both a younger roster and a long enough timeline for success to develop players.

That can only be good news for Hart, giving him the chance to start fresh and impress Pelicans general manager David Griffin and head coach Alvin Gentry with his potential. 

Where the Sidwell Friends alum fits into the lineup depends on several factors.

At first glance, the new-look Pelicans could start Lonzo Ball at point guard, move Jrue Holiday to shooting guard, then complete the lineup with Ingram at small forward, Williamson at power forward and Julius Randle at center. 

If both Ingram and Holiday remain healthy, Hart would compete with Stanley Johnson to be the first wing off the bench for New Orleans.

But if Ingram does suffer recurring issues related to blood clots, Hart could press his case to start. 

The only issue complicating his place in New Orleans' plans is the No. 4 pick that was traded from the Lakers.

If the Pelicans keep that pick and draft a wing player like Jarrett Culver, Hart could find himself on the outside looking in again. 

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Pelicans reportedly trade Anthony Davis to the Lakers for a huge haul including Lonzo Ball

Pelicans reportedly trade Anthony Davis to the Lakers for a huge haul including Lonzo Ball

According to a report from ESPN NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski, the Los Angeles Lakers have acquired Pelicans' forward Anthony Davis in exchange for Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and multiple first-round draft picks, including the No. 4 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

The announcement comes less than 48 hours into the NBA offseason, although the rumors and speculation of the deal has been a prominent storyline for months.

The much-anticipated deal gives the Lakers the star they've been trying to pair with LeBron James for some time and gives the Pelicans a young nucleus to build around the presumptive No. 1 pick Zion Williamson. 

According to Marc Stein of The New York Times, the Boston Celtics refused to part ways with promising forward Jayson Tatum in a potential trade with New Orleans.

The Celtics had been in the mix for Davis, but with Kyrie Irving likely headed for the exits, Danny Ainge was unwilling to part with his young assets in exchange for the one year remaining on Davis' contract.

Before the Davis domino fell, NBC Sports Washington's Chase Hughes wrote about how a Davis trade could impact Bradley Beal's value

The Lakers, Knicks and Celtics all appear to want Davis and only one can get him, if he is even traded at all.

If the quest for Davis comes down to those three teams, there will be at least two that lose out.

The Knicks or Celtics now must determine whether trading for Beal is their next-best option behind Davis. 

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