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T-Wolves' Rubio set for 1st practice in 9 months

T-Wolves' Rubio set for 1st practice in 9 months

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) For Ricky Rubio, the waiting has been the hardest part.

Now that Minnesota's dynamic young point guard is achingly close to playing in his first game in nearly nine months, Rubio says it's important to be patient with his recovery from torn ligaments in his left knee. He was cleared to return to full-contact practice this week and is expected to practice this weekend, but it's still too soon to tell when he will be able to play in a game for the Wolves.

``I don't want to think about dates, `cause I don't want to rush it,'' Rubio said Friday after the team's shootaround before a game against the Milwaukee Bucks. ``I want to feel like (I can) practice, and (worry) nothing at all about my knee. When that time comes, I will be ready.''

Rubio tore the ACL and LCL in his left knee late in a game against the Lakers on March 9, derailing a thrilling rookie season for the Spanish import that helped make the Timberwolves relevant again after years of wallowing at the bottom of the Western Conference. He had surgery on March 21, and started the first significant rehabilitation program of his basketball career. The laborious process took the fun and creativity away from a game that's consumed him since he was a young boy.

``I think the most difficult part is being patient,'' Rubio said. ``You can't do more than they say because you can get hurt. Being patient is hard. It's hard, but it is what it is. You just have to work as hard as you can and that's it.''

Rubio has been participating in non-contact work with the Wolves for the past two weeks. He says the mobility in his knee is just about 100 percent, and he's anxious to see how it responds to his first practice, which could come as soon as Saturday.

``I think I feel great, but what they're saying is once you're playing basketball it's different,'' he said. ``You can do whatever you want. You can run a lot. But then practice, it's just different. In the game, it's just different than everything else you do. They were saying I have to do running, do sprint, and after a couple things I will be exhausted, but I want to feel that.''

The Timberwolves have been adamant throughout the process that they won't rush Rubio back. He's too important to the long-term health of the franchise to risk further injury for the sake of an extra win or two in December.

That said, the sooner he's back on the court zipping behind-the-back passes and alley-oop lobs before an adoring fan base, the better for a Wolves team that has struggled to find a consistent offensive flow without him. Luke Ridnour and JJ Barea haven't been able to get the ball moving from side to side as freely and easily as it did when Rubio was pulling the trigger.

They've also played at a much slower pace than coach Rick Adelman has historically preferred, turning games into grind-it-out affairs based heavily on the pick-and-roll in the halfcourt. With Rubio last season, the pace was much quicker, baskets were easier to come by and his defense on the perimeter made a huge difference as well.

Injuries to Kevin Love, Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger, Nikola Pekovic and Barea have also factored into the change in approach. But Rubio is the straw that stirs the drink in Minnesota.

So when will he play in a game?

The Timberwolves hosted the Bucks on Friday night, followed by three days off before a back-to-back in Philadelphia and Boston next week. The team has yet to announce a practice schedule, but they are expected to workout at least twice before hitting the road, and quite possibly on all three days as they try to get Rubio back up to speed.

The chances of Rubio playing in the back-to-back next week would seem slim given the team's stated approach of easing him back into things. That means a possibly playing a home game against Cleveland on Dec. 7, or perhaps a home game against Denver on Dec. 12 after four more days off.

``After the first or second practice, I will know more where I'm at,'' Rubio said. ``Because right now I can practice, but I don't know how I will feel after my first practice.''

Timberwolves president of basketball operations David Kahn said Rubio likely will start out with about 16-18 minutes of action in his first few games. Rubio knows that's probably for the best, but he doesn't have to like it.

``That's what the doctors said, that the first games we'll have to limit the minutes, which I say OK,'' Rubio said. ``But once I'm out there, I don't think I can handle that. But it's going to be coach's decision to put me on the court.''

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Follow Jon Krawczynski on Twitter:http://twitter.com/APKrawczynski

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5 keys for the Caps to win Game 7 and advance to the Stanley Cup Final

5 keys for the Caps to win Game 7 and advance to the Stanley Cup Final

It all comes down to this.

The Eastern Conference Championship is on the line Wednesday as the Capitals take on the Tampa Bay Lightning in Tampa. Here are five keys for how the Caps can win and advance to face the Vegas Golden Knights for the Stanley Cup.

Score first

Game 7 is in Tampa Bay, the Lightning are deeper offensively and defensively and have a goalie capable of shutting down an offense.

Oh, and the Lightning are 8-1 when scoring first this postseason.

The Capitals are at their best when they are dictating the play. They want to play physical, trap the blue line and counter against the Lightning. None of those are particularly great strategies for chasing a game.

That makes the first goal critical.

The Lightning fans have seen their team lose twice at home already this series and fail to close out the Caps in Game 6. They have watched their team reach the conference finals two straight years in 2015 and 2016, fail to win the Stanley Cup in either year and fail to even make the playoffs in 2017.

Not only does playing with a lead better suit their game plan, but if Washington scores first that crowd is going to get very uncomfortable very quickly.

Gauge the referees

The Caps were very physical in Game 6 and they found success with that game plan. You would expect them to have a similar approach to Game 7, but they need to be careful.

In Game 6, it was clear the referees had put away the whistles. There were a few questionable plays on both sides that the referees let go. In a Game 7, you would hope the referees take the same approach, but they may not.

Tampa Bay’s power play is very good and the Caps cannot afford to give them many opportunities, but Washington will still want to play a physical style. It’s a fine line to walk so the Caps will need to quickly figure out how strictly the referees are calling the game and adjust accordingly.

Win the goalie matchup

In this series, Andrei Vasilevskiy has had two bad games and four good ones. He lost both of his bad games and won three of his good ones. He did not win the fourth, however, because he was outplayed by Braden Holtby.

Vasilevskiy was great in Game 6, but Holtby matched him save for save as both teams battled to get on the board. When the Caps finally did, Holtby shut the door to make sure the Lightning could not climb back. Vasilevskiy allowed just two goals on 32 shots, but Holtby turned away all 24 of the shots he faced for the shutout.

This is Game 7. There is no Game 8 just because you run into a hot goalie. If Vasilevskiy is on his game again on Wednesday, Holtby will have to be just as good if not better to make sure the Caps win.

Beat the fourth line

Playing at home in Game 6 allowed the Caps to get away somewhat from the Alex Ovechkin vs. fourth line matchup the Lightning have found success with. At 5-on-5, Chris Kunitz played 6:55 against Ovechkin, Ryan Callahan played 6:22 and Cedric Paquette played 6:12, considerably less than the 13:04, 13:46 and 13:42 each respectively logged in Game 5.

With Game 7 in Tampa, Barry Trotz will not be able to get away from that matchup. That means Ovechkin will just have to beat it.

That does necessarily mean he has to score a hat-trick. Ovechkin was one of the team’s top performers in Game 6 despite not logging a point as he helped establish a physical tone that ignited the team. But he has to make sure at the very least that his line is not outscored by the fourth like it was in Game 5 when Paquette and Callahan each scored.

Have a short memory

If you have a bad game in Game 1, you know you can bounce back in the series. A Game 7, however, is winner take all. If there’s a bad bounce, a bad call by the referees, a bad play, a missed save, whatever it may be, the Caps have to be able to put it out of their minds quickly.

There is no room for the “here we go again” mentality on Wednesday. The fate of this season will be determined within 60 minutes. If Holtby is not on his game, the Caps will have to battle through it. If Ovechkin has a bad night, the Caps will have to battle through it. If the referees decide they are going to call everything down to the letter of the law, the Caps will have to battle through it.

If something goes against them, they cannot allow it to bog them down mentally as we have seen at times in Game 7s of the past.

Likewise, if things go well they need to put that out of their heads as well. Desperation will grow among the Lightning as the game goes on. This is not the time to sit on a lead or circle the wagons.

Washington can’t let mistakes or success go to their head until the clock hits 00:00.

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Need to Know: What to look for at Redskins OTAs

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Need to Know: What to look for at Redskins OTAs

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, May 23, 65 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

What to look for at OTAs

Redskins OTAs started yesterday. The no-contact drills are the first time during the offseason program that the offense and defense are permitted to line up against each other. The-no pads aspect of it does take off a lot of the edge but the reality is that this will be the closest thing to football we will see until training camp starts in late July. 

Here are some things that I will be looking for during today’s practice.

Who’s in? Jay Gruden told us earlier that we should expect to see some injured key players not participating as they continue to recover from 2017 injuries. Specifically, OT Trent Williams (knee), OT Morgan Moses (ankles), and TE Jordan Reed (hamstring/toe) will only be spectators if they are at Redskins Park at all. Other players who may sit out or participate only in light drills are RB Chris Thompson (leg), and ILB Mason Foster (shoulder). The Redskins have been relatively healthy the past few offseasons so we will see how they deal with the aftermath of the injury scourge that hit the team last year. 

Seven-on-seven—Sure, it’s fun to watch the full team drills with 11 on each side but since blocking and tackling is limited by the rules about contact, there isn’t much to be gleaned from watching an off-tackle run. But when they eliminate the guards, tackles, and interior defensive linemen it’s all passing and then we can watch how well Alex Smith and his receivers are connecting. One thing I’ll keep in mind is that Smith decided not to get the receivers together for a “passing camp” before the offseason activities started. He said that he wanted to get to know the playbook first. Because of that they can be forgiven if they are not quite as sharp as they might be. Also, how natural does Derrius Guice look coming out of the backfield to catch passes? His primary job will be to carry the ball, but if he is a legitimate pass-catching threat, the whole offense will be harder to defend.

Rookies vs. pros—In rookie camp two weeks ago we saw Trey Quinn putting defensive backs on the ground with some moves and Troy Apke showing great makeup speed on some long passes. But those tryout defensive backs and quarterbacks are no longer around. How will Quinn look against veteran Orlando Scandrick or second-year corner Josh Holsey? Will Smith’s ball placement negate Apke’s speed? In the one-on-one pass blocking drills, which emphasize technique over power, can Daron Payne get past Brandon Scherff?

The big guys—With Williams and Moses out, who will line up along the offensive line? Does Payne line up at nose tackle or is he used more as an end with Tim Settle in the middle? Is Ziggy Hood in the middle or will he work outside? How is Phil Taylor looking after a quad injury ended his season in training camp? As noted, the rules make it hard to tell much about linemen before Richmond but we try to glean what we can. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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My reaction to this tweet from the NFL illustrating the changes to the kickoff rules:

Timeline  

Today’s schedule:Redskins OTA practice 11:30; Jay Gruden and Alex Smith press conferences, players available coming off the field, after practice, approx. 1:30

Days until:

—Minicamp (6/12) 20
—Training camp starts (7/26) 65
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 79

The Redskins last played a game 143 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 109 days. 

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