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Thunder have the Mavs where they want'em

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Thunder have the Mavs where they want'em

From Comcast SportsNet
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Dirk Nowitzki was hoping for the same kind of friendly bounce that allowed Kevin Durant to put the Oklahoma City Thunder ahead in their first-round playoff series. When Nowitzki didn't get it, the Dallas Mavericks could only settle for another frustratingly close loss and an uphill climb to survive in their first postseason since winning the NBA title. Russell Westbrook scored 29 points, Durant added 26 in an off-shooting performance and Oklahoma City clawed out a 102-99 victory over Dallas on Monday night to take a 2-0 series lead. The Mavs led in the final minute of both games in Oklahoma City but couldn't even manage a split as the Thunder gutted out two wins by a total of four points. "That's what the playoffs are about," Westbrook said. "Toughness." Durant hit two free throws with 50.4 seconds left to give Oklahoma City a 98-97 lead, and James Harden hit four more foul shots to close it out for the Thunder. Jason Terry missed two 3-point attempts from the left wing in the final 5 seconds that could have tied it and set up overtime. "We come away from these two games disappointed but not dismayed. You tip your hat to the fact that they have made some big time plays," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. "Now, we've got to go home and do the same." Game 3 is Thursday night in Dallas. "We're just a couple bounces away from being up 2-0," said Nowitzki, who led Dallas with 31 points but missed both his shots in the final 75 seconds. "It's tough and it's frustrating, but we're going to keep coming. We're not going to lay down. If they beat us, we're going to make them earn it." Durant put the Thunder ahead to stay after salvaging two key points with Oklahoma City inbounding the ball with only 2.6 seconds left on the shot clock. He grabbed the inbounds pass from Harden while headed toward the sideline, and Terry was called for a foul for bumping him. Durant hit both foul shots, and Nowitzki missed his chance to answer with a fade-away 12-foot jumper from the left side. He compared it to Durant's foul-line jumper -- on which he later admitted he couldn't even see the rim -- that hit the front rim and backboard before falling in with 1.5 seconds left to win Game 1. "I've made it 100 times. It bounced, hit every part of the rim and bounced off," Nowitzki said. "That's kind of the way our season's been going. "They get that bounce last game and we don't get it, so that's frustrating." After that, the Mavs were fighting from behind. Shawn Marion fouled Harden on the rebound, and the league's top scoring reserve -- only eight days removed from a concussion suffered as the result of Metta World Peace's elbow to the head -- also converted both free throws. He hit two more with 15.6 seconds left after Terry got the Mavs within one with a driving layup. "We've just got to continue to take that punch from them and do a great job of sticking together," Durant said. "Games like this in the playoffs, they're going to get chippy and we know that. So, we've just got to play through it. This one nearly came to blows, literally. The tension escalated quickly after Serge Ibaka tried to block Nowitzki's jumper midway through the first quarter and smacked him in the left eye on his follow-through, without getting called for a foul. Nowitzki hit another jumper along the baseline on Dallas' next possession before he got shoved in the back by Kendrick Perkins while jockeying for rebounding position on a made 3-pointer by Durant. Perkins followed Nowitzki for a few steps before Nowitzki bumped him away, and Perkins responded by taking a swing at Nowitzki's head with his open hand. Official Zach Zarba stepped in front of Perkins and backed him away, and both were assessed technical fouls. "He tried to bully me and I bullied back a little bit and talked about some stuff, and moved on," Nowitzki said. The Thunder erupted a few minutes later, scoring the final nine points of the first quarter -- all within an 82-second span -- and then carrying over the momentum to build a 46-30 lead with 5:55 left before halftime. When Nowitzki and Perkins finally got back on the court together, the Mavericks' All-Star exacted some revenge while getting his team back in the game. He went on a personal 10-2 run, with all of the points coming while he was matched up against Perkins, to get the deficit down to 50-47. "It's playoff basketball. It's physical. We don't like the cheap shots when they give them, and they don't like them if we give them. That's the nature of competition," Carlisle said. "I love hard-played, clean, competitive playoff series. You throw the ball up and may the best team win. "The dirty (expletive) has got to stop. We don't want anybody getting hurt out there, either way." Notes: After going back and forth responding to each other's comments on how Oklahoma City's defense on Nowitzki was officiated in Game 1, Brooks insisted any dispute with Carlisle wasn't personal. Years ago, the two roomed together while playing in the Continental Basketball Association. "He was a good roommate. He didn't snore," Brooks said. "That's all it takes. Buy me a meal every now and then and not snore, you're a perfect roommate." He later playfully retorted: "If you want it to be personal, I was a better player. How many years did I play in the league? How many years did he play? I played over a decade. He played three." ... Marion hadn't made a playoff 3-pointer since 2007 before making two in Game 1. He had another in Game 2. ... Ibaka, who tied his regular season best with 22 points in the first game, got into foul trouble and scored only two.

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Free Agency Bracket: Noel Acciari vs. Marcus Kruger

Free Agency Bracket: Noel Acciari vs. Marcus Kruger

It is almost time for NHL free agency to begin, and the Capitals certainly have needs to fill and a limited budget. Who would be the best fit? Who would be the best free agent target for Washington to pursue? That’s what NBC Sports Washington wants to find out!

Our experts got together and made a bracket of the 16 best free agent fits. The bracket is divided into four regions: Third line forward, fourth line forward, depth defenseman and Caps’ free agent. Now we want you to tell us who you want to see rocking the red next year!

Every weekday we will match two free agents up against one another and present a case for each player. Then you get to vote and decide who advances!

Check out today’s matchup:

Region: Fourth line forwards

Noel Acciari vs. Marcus Kruger

 

2018-19 stats

 

Noel Acciari (27 years old):72 games played with the Boston Bruins, 6 goals, 8 assists, 14 points, 12:59 TOI

 

Playoffs: 19 games played with the Boston Bruins, 2 goals, 2 assists, 4 points, 13:10 TOI

 

Marcus Kruger (29 years old): 74 games played with the Chicago Blackhawks, 4 goals, 8 assists, 12 points, 10:25 TOI

 

Playoffs: None

 

Hockey-Graph contract projections

 

Noel Acciari: 2 years, $1,180,934 cap hit

 

Marcus Kruger: 1 year, $861,030 cap hit

 

The case for Noel Acciari

Plays a lot bigger than his 5-foot-10, 205-pound frame. A perfect fit at right wing on the fourth line for Washington. The native New Englander, who played at Providence, is a home-grown Bruin and might not want to leave home, but Boston also might not have the cap space to give an obvious fourth-line player a decent raise. The Capitals might not, either, but for now, they really only have to add in RFA Jakub Vrana’s new contract and figure out what they’re going to do with RFA Andre Burakovsky. 

 

Acciari is renowned for his character and toughness. He was a college captain for Providence and helped the Friars win an NCAA title in 2015. There’s never been a shot he’s unwilling to block. Acciari sustained a broken sternum in the second round against Columbus and a blocked shot with his right foot in Game 7 of the Cup Final left him in a walking boot.  

 

Acciari’s offensive upside is limited, but he did have 10 goals in 2017-18. He was a key player for the Bruins in the past two Stanley Cup playoffs and chipped in two goals in this year’s playoff run that came within a game of a championship. Acciari would help on Washington’s penalty kill, too. In 111:52 he was only on the ice for 11 power-play goals against. Only two Boston forwards were on the ice more short-handed.  

 

The case for Marcus Kruger

 

A different skill set here for the smaller Kruger (6-foot, 186 pounds). Don’t expect even double-digit goals from him, either. But Kruger will likely cost less than $1 million and can be a valuable penalty killer, where Washington needs help. That’s huge for a team that is now dealing with an $81.5 million salary cap, which is $1.5 million less than expected. Add in the overage bonus for defenseman Brooks Orpik from last season and you’re in trouble at just over $80 million.   

 

Kruger played seven seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks and one disappointing one with the Carolina Hurricanes. Kruger has plenty of Stanley Cup experience, too, playing for Chicago’s 2013 and 2015 Cup winners. He has 87 postseason games and a triple-overtime game-winner in the Western Conference Final to his name in 2015 in Game 2 of that series against Anaheim. 

 

A defensive specialist, only two Blackhawks forwards played more short-handed minutes than Kruger (132:46) last season. There is risk here. Kruger was traded to Carolina in 2017-18, but was placed on waivers after 48 games and spent the rest of the season in the AHL before being traded to Arizona and then back to Chicago. But part of that stemmed from how much he was making on a $3.08 million cap hit. At a bargain-basement price, Kruger is more palatable. 

 

Who’s your pick? Vote here.

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Rui Hachimura is a 'late bloomer' in basketball, but the Washington Wizards like that

Rui Hachimura is a 'late bloomer' in basketball, but the Washington Wizards like that

Rui Hachimura was introduced to the sport of basketball at 13 years old after spending his childhood on the baseball diamond, emulating Ichiro Suzuki, as many kids in Japan do. Just eight years later, Hachimura has charted his own path as the first Japanese-born lottery pick in the NBA after the Washington Wizards drafted him at No. 9 overall.

That trajectory is important to note when considering Hachimura's age. He is 21 years old, which is on the older side for an NBA draft prospect in the age of one-and-dones. But, you could say he's only eight in basketball years.

That's not a technical term used by NBA front office executives, but the fact Hachimura is a "late bloomer" was one of the biggest selling points for the Wizards. That's how interim team president Tommy Sheppard described him on several occasions the night of the draft and the day after. And even majority owner Ted Leonsis referenced it when asked about the pick in an interview with the Washington Times over the weekend.

While reason may suggest a younger player has higher upside, the Wizards are looking beyond simple age. In Hachimura, they believe they have a player who could benefit from not having the year-round strain of AAU basketball in his past.

"When you come to the game a little bit later, maybe you don't have some bad habits that you accumulate. You don't have a lot of extra miles," Sheppard said. 

"Those kinds of things resonate with us. You have to be healthy to play in the NBA, and there are so many players in this particular draft that for whatever reason, there are a lot of sad faces tonight because I think medical held a lot of people back. He has a clean bill of health, and that's exciting to us."

Sheppard could have been referencing any number of prospects who carried the label as an injury risk into draft night. With the ninth overall pick, the Wizards took Hachimura over Duke's Cam Reddish, who has several red flags, injuries among them. In the second round, they passed on Oregon's Bol Bol, who had a stress fracture in his foot, in favor of Admiral Schofield.

But health isn't the only potential benefit of picking up the game at a later age. Sheppard alluded to the development of bad habits. He thinks Hachimura is more of a blank canvas for the coaching staff and that could work in their favor long-term.

Sheppard made a comparison for Hachimura that was interesting for several reasons.

"With [Raptors forward] Pascal Siakam, you see what happens when guys come to the game a little late and what he was able to do. It's not the same, but if you ask me of someone who's story his reminds me of, it could remind you of something like that," Sheppard said.

Siakam's name was invoked over and over during the pre-draft process but more often to draw a parallel for Sekou Doumbouya of France. Sheppard was more so comparing the development track for Hachimura than the playing style, but it holds some weight.

There have been some famous cases of late bloomers in NBA history. Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan and Joel Embiid reportedly didn't start playing basketball until high school.

Duncan may be a good example of avoiding bad habits, as he is considered one of the most fundamentally sound players of all time. Olajuwon might be the most skilled big man in NBA history, and Embiid has a chance to become an all-time great.

What gives the Wizards hope that Hachimura will reach his potential and someday enjoy breakout success like Siakam has is his work ethic. The Wizards did deep background research on Hachimura, including through discussions with his college coach, Mark Few of Gonzaga.

They believe they found something in Hachimura that other teams may have overlooked.

"The things that you hope for and that you're optimistic about, they seem to be there. So, we're excited about that," Sheppard said. "It's really up to Rui and how bad do you want to be good?"

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