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Top-ranked Louisville prepares for No. 6 Syracuse

Top-ranked Louisville prepares for No. 6 Syracuse

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Louisville's No. 1 concern heading into its showdown with Syracuse is attacking the Orangemen's signature 2-3 zone defense.

How well the top-ranked Cardinals can penetrate and create easy scoring opportunities will determine who takes control of the Big East.

Louisville coach Rick Pitino says No. 6 Syracuse presents a different challenge because of its effectiveness in limiting opponents' shooting and passing options.

Then again, Louisville (16-1, 4-0 Big East) also presents defensive problems for Syracuse (16-1, 4-0). With their man-to-man defensive pressure, the Cardinals rank in the top three nationally in several categories, including turnover margin and steals.

But ending a two-game losing streak to Syracuse and retaining the school's second-ever No. 1 ranking depends on Louisville's ability to penetrate the Orangemen's zone.

``Teams just never shoot a real good percentage against Syracuse,'' Pitino said Friday. ``They don't give you a whole lot, they create a lot of steals, they get out on the break and not too many teams are as good at stealing the ball in the zone as they are.''

The coach added that his team has attacked zones well this year, noting the Cardinals' 49 percent shooting against Missouri in November.

``But again, nobody shoots a real high percentage against Syracuse; that's not how you're going to beat Syracuse,'' he said.

Opponents are shooting 35 percent against Syracuse and just 32 percent from 3-point range. A big reason for those stats are Orangemen guards Brandon Triche (6-foot-4), Michael Carter-Williams (6-6) and Trevor Cooney (6-4), who are quick and long.

If Louisville guards Peyton Siva and Russ Smith are lose with their passing or ball handling, it will lead to turnovers and the Orangemen will be off and running the other way. Smith (18.9 points per game) and Siva (11.8) will also likely have to have good games shooting from the perimeter to help break down Syracuse's defense.

One of the reasons the Cardinals have fared better against zones recently has been the play of 6-11 center Gorgui Dieng. He could play a vital role against the Orangemen, who will be without forward James Southerland. He has had some academic issues and was declared ineligible by the NCAA last Saturday.

Even without Southerland the Syracuse presents the Cardinals' biggest test since losing to then-No. 5 Duke in the Battle 4 Atlantis final on Nov. 24.

``One thing I know is we can't make a lot of mistakes and think we're going to win the game,'' said Dieng, who has posted double-doubles in three of his past four games. ``We just need to be really focused and play every position.''

Louisville has won 11 straight and enters the game ranked second in turnover margin (plus-7.5 per game) and third in steals (11.4). The Cardinals figure to use their trademark pressure often against the Orangemen, winners of six straight.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim is just as impressed with Louisville's offense, which was suspect in the teams' two meetings last year. He also said the experience of reaching last year's Final Four - an eight-game run that followed a 58-49 loss to the Orange in western New York - has given the Cardinals more confidence.

``They do everything well,'' the longtime Syracuse coach said. ``They can press you and do it well, their halfcourt defense is very good and their matchup zone is too. They can play man-to-man and are pretty effective at that.

``Offensively, they have inside scoring and outside scoring. They really don't have a weakness when you look at this Louisville team. You take a team that went to the Final Four last year and improved over the course of the year, and now those guys are just that much older and better.''

Louisville players have used that seasoning to earn the school's first No. 1 ranking since March 15, 2009, but Pitino said their attitudes haven't changed. Picked to repeat as conference champions and considered a favorite to return to the Final Four, Monday's ascent to the top spot is something the Cardinals knew could happen if they kept on winning.

And as big as Saturday's game looks from a records and rankings standpoint, the Cardinals view it as the first of many they expect to face with their lofty status.

``If you have something that everyone likes and wants to have, you have to take care of it,'' Dieng said of the ranking. ``We're going to try our best to take care of it and try to be No. 1 at the end.''

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Bradley Beal says he played the role of Wizards recruiter at All-Star Weekend

Bradley Beal says he played the role of Wizards recruiter at All-Star Weekend

CHARLOTTE -- Wizards guard Bradley Beal enjoyed every part of All-Star weekend in Charlotte. He met countless fans at charity events and autograph signings. He mingled with rapper J. Cole and actor Chris Tucker at the All-Star Game. He dropped 11 points for Team LeBron and threw down a big two-handed dunk.

Beal had a lot of fun. But he was also there with business on his mind. He recognized an opportunity, being in the locker room and on the floor with 25 other All-Stars, to do some recruiting.

Yes, Beal wants some help in Washington and believes he may be able to find it by selling other stars on the Wizards' future. After trading Otto Porter Jr. and Markieff Morris, the Wizards could have some money to play with in free agency and Beal wants to help them use it.

"The recruiting process is really going alright. It's going alright. I'm trying," Beal said. "This is new for me. I'm definitely getting some ears and seeing what guys are looking for."

Beal wouldn't name names for fear of reprimand from the league. But he did share some details about how those conversations went.

He said he asked players about their situations and whether they were happy playing where they are. And to his surprise, some players came up to him and started the conversation themselves. Some asked about his situation, likely wondering if he would want to leave.

But it sounds like some may have inquired about what it would be like to play for the Wizards.

Beal said he got questions like: "So, what are y'all doing in D.C.?" and "How is D.C.?"

Whenever he was pressed for further details by reporters, Beal brushed the questions off. 

"I'm gonna keep it in my piggy bank, in my back pocket. Hopefully we can do something," he said.

Though Beal could technically have asked players who aren't set to hit free agency, ones that could join the Wizards via trade, it is more likely he was going after those who could sign a contract this summer. 

The point guards can probably be eliminated because John Wall is about to enter a supermax contract next season. That leaves Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, Khris Middleton, and Nikola Vucevic.

The first two can be set aside. Durant said he doesn't want to play at home and Leonard seems to have a good thing going in Toronto.

Thompson has been assumed to be headed for Los Angeles or to stay in Golden State. Though, he would be a fantastic complement to Beal and Wall.

Middleton and Vucevic are the two most realistic options, but may not be perfect fits.

If Beal was seeking out players who might be attainable in trades, Anthony Davis is, of course, the big name. Wouldn't that be something?

Hey, he did say all 29 teams are on his list of trade destinations.

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Capitals at Kings: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, How to Watch

Capitals at Kings: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, How to Watch

The Washington Capitals head to Los Angeles to take on the Kings on Monday at 10:30 p.m. ET. The Caps are second in the Metropolitan Division with a record of 32-19-7, while the Kings are scraping along the bottom of the Pacific Division with a record of 23-29-6. The Caps also beat the Kings (quite recently) 6-4 on Feb. 11.

The Kings are hoping to break out of their season slump and put an end to their four-game losing streak against the Capitals during Monday evening’s 10:30 p.m. ET game.

Here is everything you need to know about Monday’s late-night matchup, which will begin at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Washington.


CAPITALS at KINGS HOW TO WATCH

What: Washington Capitals at Los Angeles Kings, Game 60 of the 2018-19 NHL Regular Season
Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, Calif.
When: Monday, Feb. 18, 10:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: The Capitals at King game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (Channel Finder Link)
Live Stream: You can live stream Capitals at Kings on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and on the NBC Sports App.
Radio: Caps 24/7 Radio, 106.7 The Fan FM

CAPITALS at KINGS TV SCHEDULE

9:30 PM: Caps Faceoff Live
10:00 PM: Caps Pregame Live
10:30 PM: Capitals at Kings

CAPITALS at KINGS INJURY REPORT

Capitals: 
Lars Eller -- lower body as of Feb. 1

Kings: 
Alec Martinez -- upper body as of Feb. 15
Sean Walker -- face as of Feb. 15
Jonny Brodzinski -- shoulder as of Sept. 20

CAPITALS at KINGS PLAYERS TO WATCH

Evgeny Kuznetsov, F, Capitals (15 goals, 39 assists, 54 points): Last time the Caps faced the Kings (which was only one week ago), Kuznetsov contributed two goals and two assists to the Caps’ 6-4 victory. His timely goal finished out the game, essentially securing the Caps’ victory, NBC Sports Washington’s J.J. Reagan reported. In the two games that have happened since, Kuznetsov has given the Caps one assist and one point. 

Alex Ovechkin, F, Capitals (39 goals, 27 assists, 66 points): Ovi is just shy of 40-goals and played a key role in the Caps’ latest game against the Kings. He led the team with eight shots on net, and the team captain gave the Caps the first point of the game.

CAPITALS vs. KINGS SERIES HISTORY

Number of all-time Meetings: 111
All-Time Series Record: Kings lead 60-38-13
Last Meeting: Caps win 6-4 (2/11/19)

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