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One thing every DC team can be thankful for this Thanksgiving

One thing every DC team can be thankful for this Thanksgiving

The holiday season is a great time for reflection, when everyone gathers with their loved ones and can look back on the events of the year that’s about to come to a close.

It’s been a busy year for the six major professional D.C. sports franchises, some of which finished on top of the world while others became difficult to watch. When the players, coaches, executives and owners of those teams sit down with their families for Thanksgiving dinner, they’ll have a lot to talk about.

But whether or not 2019 has been a year of success or a year of disappointment, every team will have something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Capitals: Their month-long, 13-point streak

The Caps entered play Thursday tied with the Boston Bruins with the most points in the NHL at 39. Their place atop the league standings was fueled by a 13-game stretch in which they went 11-0-2 and jumped out ahead of the rest of the NHL in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy.

It propelled them to their best start through 20 games in Capitals history, giving them an advantage in the standings that’s come in handy with the plethora of injuries (as well as a suspension) that have forced Washington to test its depth.

Nicklas Backstrom and Carl Hagelin have both missed several games as did Nic Dowd, who returned to the lineup against the Florida Panthers on Wednesday. Garnet Hathaway sat the last three contests after being suspended for spitting in the face of an opponent.

The Capitals are 3-2-1 since that streak, which allowed the red-hot Bruins to catch up with them for the top spot in the East. But their big point streak gave them a buffer that’s allowed them to absorb a few losses and remain atop the standings heading into Thanksgiving.

D.C. United: Bill Hamid playing a full season in DC again

When goalkeeper Bill Hamid departed for Europe and signed with Danish club Midtjylland in late 2017, he left a void in the D.C. United defense that proved incredibly difficult to fill. But when playing time became hard to come by for Hamid overseas, Midtjylland loaned him back to D.C. United midway through the 2018 season.

Hamid was an immediate boost for the club, and he carried over his success into 2019. The Arlington, Virginia, native recorded a .750 save percentage that led all keepers (min. 30 starts). He also posted a career high in saves with 128 and tied for the MLS lead with 14 shutouts. His strong season placed him among the finalists for the goalkeeper of the year award, an honor he won back in 2014.

Now a free to sign with any club, Hamid is one of the top priorities for D.C. United this winter and is already reportedly close to a deal that will lock him in the District long term.

Last season didn’t end the way the club wanted it to with a 5-1 extra-time loss to Toronto FC in the conference quarterfinals, but with Hamid back in the fold D.C. United would be in a much better spot to make another run at the MLS Cup.

Mystics: Their first WNBA title

Yeah, this one was pretty easy. Never mind the fact that their WNBA championship win was the Mystics’ first title in franchise history, it erased more than two decades’ worth of disappointment and misery.

This was the team that used to have banners hanging in the rafters that celebrated it as “Attendance Champions.” This was the team that won one playoff series in the first 19 years it existed.

No more.

Names like Elena Delle Donne, Kristi Toliver and Emma Meesseman will forever live in D.C. sports lore after they restored basketball glory to the District. There are certainly many offseason questions left to be answered—including the futures of the three aforementioned stars—but next season a new banner will be raised that won’t have anything to do with how many butts were in seats.

Nationals: Their first World Series title

This District of Champions thing is really catching on. The Nationals followed up the Mystics’ title run with a championship of their own less than two months later. They overcame a 19-31 start, two 100-win opponents and five elimination games to win the first World Series title in D.C. history since the Washington Senators did it in 1924.

So many incredible moments defined their playoff run.

Juan Soto’s go-ahead single off Josh Hader in the Wild Card Game that inexplicably snuck underneath Trent Grisham’s glove. Soto and Anthony Rendon going back-to-back off Clayton Kershaw to tie Game 5 of the NLDS before Howie Kendrick hit the go-ahead grand slam in the 10th inning. Max Scherzer and Aníbal Sánchez both carrying no-hitters into the seventh inning during the NLCS.

And we haven’t even gotten to the World Series yet. The offense scored five runs off Gerrit Cole in Game 1 and dropped 12 in Game 2. Stephen Strasburg pitched a game for the ages in Game 6. Kendrick drove a liner into the foul pole in Game 7. Daniel Hudson struck out Michael Brantley to end it all.

This is never going to get old.

Redskins: Terry McLaurin’s emergence

It’s been a tough year for the Redskins no matter how you look at it, but rookie wide receiver Terry McLaurin has been one of their few bright spots that already looks like a significant piece of their future. He leads all rookies with 638 receiving yards this season on 40 catches with five touchdowns despite the carousel of quarterbacks that’s started under center.

The Ohio State product was drafted in the third round and looks like one of the biggest steals of the 2019 Draft. Having already played with quarterback Dwayne Haskins in college, the Redskins are hopeful that they can further develop their rapport into a winning formula that will last in D.C.

So far, the wins have been hard to come by. But even if Haskins doesn’t pan out for Washington, the Redskins look like they may have found their future No. 1 receiver no matter who’s at quarterback.

Wizards: Bradley Beal signing an extension

When the Wizards began their rebuilding process under new general manager Tommy Shepherd, there was one significant question that would determine how they were going to go about it: How much longer is Bradley Beal going to be in D.C.?

Trade rumors circled for months, but ultimately the star shooting guard signed a two-year, $72 million extension in October that has him locked onto the Wizards until at least 2021-22. It was a shocking move, one that stunned many NBA contenders who hoped they could acquire him at the trade deadline as the final piece for a championship-contending roster.

But Beal believed in Sheppard’s plan for the organization, opting to stay with the only team he’s every known in his professional career. The Wizards still don’t figure to be legitimate contenders for at least another year, but Beal is easily the Wizards’ best player and has taken it upon himself to be a leader both on the court and in the locker room.

With Shepperd leading the front office and Beal calling the shots on the court, there are certainly reasons to be optimistic about the Wizards’ future. But for now, Washington fans can rest easy knowing their All-Star guard isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

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'Small forward' LaToya Sanders limits Liz Cambage in series-clincher for Mystics

'Small forward' LaToya Sanders limits Liz Cambage in series-clincher for Mystics

On paper, LaToya Sanders had a six-point, six-rebound performance as a starter in a crucial game for the Washington Mystics. Nothing too much to celebrate, especially behind Elena Delle Donne and Emma Meesseman’s outings, but it’s what not on the stats sheet that is a reason to laud the center. 

Sanders shut down the talented and game-changing Liz Cambage in Game 4 of the WNBA Finals – at least as much as someone can slow her down. Sanders controlled the outpouring of points from Cambage and did not allow her to once get into a rhythm. 

"Hats off is to LaToya Sanders for absorbing the beating that she has to take defending somebody like Liz in the post," head coach Mike Thibault said postgame.

Cambage, 6-8, entered the game coming off her best performance of the series in Game 3. A 28-point night on 75% shooting by her got the Aces their first victory of the series. The manner in which they did so also left one to question their ability to come back in the series. Headlines though were not from the results, they came from what Cambage said in postgame about her opposition. She took a shot at the Mystics' forwards telling them to get "in the weight room or get out of the post."

One of the primary victims of Cambage’s shot was the 6-3 Sanders who has been the primary defensive assignment.

"Toya has been working her ass off every single night to make Liz's job tough. [Sanders has] played phenomenally. I would choose Toya 10 out of 10 times," Natasha Cloud said after Game 4. "I'd choose my undersized forward any day. [Cambage's comments] added fuel to the fire."

Cambage scored 25 points to lead the Las Vegas Aces in Thursday’s loss. It was evident after the monster game two nights prior, the Aces were going to attempt to run their offense through her. Sanders was going to have a tall task, along with the rest of the Mystics, to prevent Cambage from doing it again.

And the Mystics center did all she could to disrupt Cambage at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. Cambage was left open in the high post, forced to her left and forced to her right. When posting up, she was instantly doubled, sometimes tripled-teamed. Every time, Sanders was there. 

Held to 45.5% shooting, it was Cambage’s worst efficiency night of the series. It was not without a cost though, Sanders fouled out in only 25 minutes of action.

Sizing up to Cambage ties a perfect bow to Sanders’ defense on the season thus far. Throughout 2019, the seven-year veteran has drawn tough matchups, often several inches higher than herself. Essentially she is the only post-defense option for the Mystics with Meesseman as a guard/ forward and Tianna Hawkins coming off the bench. But Sanders was more than up for the task. She fit in perfectly with the Mystics offensive system and was a rock in the post.

"I think action speaks more than words. I think we were already motivated after last game. Obviously, thank you for giving us more motivation. That's what we need." Meesseman said.

Heading into this playoff series, Sanders had limited Cambage to a 13-point average in their three regular season head-to-heads. The playoffs were different, but aside from Game 3, Sanders and the Mystics did an admirable job against one of the league’s best.

Just let this series serve as a tune-up for what’s next. The Connecticut Sun also has a dominant center in Jonquel Jones. She can take over a game just like Cambage. 

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Local teams, stars congratulate Elena Delle Donne on historic second WNBA MVP award

Local teams, stars congratulate Elena Delle Donne on historic second WNBA MVP award

Elena Delle Donne is, once again, the Most Valuable Player in the WNBA.

She's the first player in WNBA history to earn the honor with two different teams.

"I am extremely proud of this honor, but we still have work ahead of us and we’re all focused playing our hardest to bring a championship to Washington," Delle Donne said in a release.

After the announcement of Delle Donne's historic achievement, her teammates and the greater D.C. sports community showered her with praise all over social media.

Delle Donne and the Mystics will take on the Las Vegas Aces in Game 2 of the WNBA Semifinals at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday night.

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