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Venus, Kastles advance to WTT finals

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Venus, Kastles advance to WTT finals

CHARLESTON, S.C. September 15, 2012 Defending World TeamTennis champions Washington Kastles defeated their arch-rival, the New York Sportimes, 19-15 in the WTT Eastern Conference final, propelling the team into Sundays championship match for the second consecutive year and extending the teams historic win streak to 31 matches.

With the match tied and one set remaining, four-time Olympic gold medalist Venus Williams blasted her way past Ashley Harkleroad 5-1 in women's singles to clinch a spot for the Kastles in the WTT Finals for the third time in four years.

Weve been in this situation before and we knew how to win. There was a lot of pressure on us, but we just knew we had to put the ball in play and go for the shot, said Venus Williams. It shows why we are a great team.

The arch-rival Sportimes had been the Kastles toughest opponent during the regular season, including a thrilling 21-20 Washington win on July 21, when Venus Williams rallied from six games down in the final set to complete the franchise's largest comeback ever.

Next up is the Western Conference champion Sacramento Capitals. They defeated the Orange County Breakers 25-15 on Friday to advance to the WTT championship match. The Kastles defeated Sacramento 21-19 on July 18.

In posting 31 straight victories, the Kastles have the second-longest winning streak in major U.S. professional sports history and are within range of the 33-game streak by the NBAs 1971-1972 Los Angeles Lakers. They have already passed the respective records of 17 straight wins set by the NHL Pittsburgh Penguins in 1992-1993, 21 straight wins by the NFLs New England Patriots in 2003 and 2004, and 26 wins by the 1916 MLB New York Giants.

This years 14-0 regular season by the Kastles marked the first time in major U.S. professional sports history in which a team has had consecutive unbeaten regular seasons. Last season, in addition to winning a second WTT title in three years, the Kastles posted a perfect 16-0 record a first in WTT history.

Kastles closer Bobby Reynolds was named the 2012 WTT Male Most Valuable Player. Kastles Coach Murphy Jensen was selected as 2012 Coach of the Year, the second straight season he has won that honor.

The 37th WTT regular season ran July 9-28. The championship is being played this year in September to accommodate players who participated in the Olympics and US Open.

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Five observations from Wizards' 117-109 win over the Orlando Magic, including Jeff Green's takeover

Five observations from Wizards' 117-109 win over the Orlando Magic, including Jeff Green's takeover

The Washington Wizards beat the Orlando Magic 117-109 on Monday night. Here are five observations from the game...

Two in a row: The Wizards did something on Monday night they had yet to do this season. They won their second game in a row.

Now 4-9 on the season, the Wizards have some work remaining to regain respectability. But there were some encouraging signs. For instance, they won the rebounding margin for just the second time this season. They also made 13 threes.

This win, however, would have been a lot easier if they could lock down the three-point line. The Magic shot 15-for-30 from three. Perimeter defense continues to be a major blindspot for Washington.

Green dominated: Bradley Beal's comparison of Jeff Green to LeBron James all of a sudden doesn't sound so crazy.

Against the Magic, Green wasn't just good, he put the Wizards on his back and took over the game in the fourth quarter with a series of shots and defensive plays to keep Orlando at bay.

Green, who finished with 18 points in just 21 minutes, erupted for 10 points in the fourth quarter. He hit two threes in the frame and went 4-for-5 for the night. One of them bailed out Austin Rivers to beat the shot clock.

Green also had 19 points against the Heat on Friday. The veteran is playing well beyond expectations for the one-year contract he signed this summer. In the Wizards' past several games, he's given them starter production off the bench. 

Though Mike Scott was very good last season, Green is showing how he can do more because of how he can affect games defensively. It's no wonder why head coach Scott Brooks has relied on him in the fourth quarters of the last three games instead of starters.

Beal woke up late: With under five minutes remaining in the third quarter, Beal was ice cold. He had nine points on 3-for-13 shooting from the field and 0-for-6 from three.

But out of a timeout, Beal woke up and, like a button was pushed, took over the game. He began by sinking a tough layup off the glass. Moments later, he got his first three to fall. 

After that, he fed Dwight Howard for an and-1 on a drive set up by a slick behind-the-back move. And seconds later, he stole an errant pass and finished with a rim-bending slam on the other end.

Beal scored seven points in a stretch of about three minutes and almost singlehandedly erased what was a 10-point deficit to take the lead. He did what we saw him do so often last year. Despite struggling for more than half the game, he never wavered and found a way to get the ball in the rim.

Beal made something of his uneven night to post 21 points, eight rebounds and four assists. He proved once again that opposing teams can only keep him in check for so long.

Wall is heating up: Though John Wall has long been criticized for his outside shot, many forget he set a career-high last season by shooting 37.1 percent from three on 4.1 attempts per game. That wasn't bad at all and it looks like Wall may be finding that stroke once again.

After a slow start out of the gate, Wall has been on fire from three recently. He went 2-for-3 against the Magic and is now 16-for-37 in his last seven games. That's good for 43.2 percent.

Wall may never be a lights-out marksman from long range. But he is becoming more than respectable as a perimeter threat.

Mahinmi played again: It appears that Ian Mahinmi has earned his job back. He was benched for three straight games, but has now played in each of the past two. 

Similar to the win over the Heat on Friday, Mahinmi did his part with a minimal, but noticeable impact on the game. He had a nice weakside block in the first quarter. Jarell Martin drove left and got by his man and Mahinmi helped by stepping across the lane to swat it out of bounds.

That's what they need Mahinmi to do, play defense and not get in the way on offense. When he's not affecting games on the defensive end, his other shortcomings become magnified. Through two games, he's done enough to probably stay in the rotation for the time being.

While Mahinmi is back in the rotation, Otto Porter Jr. appears to be in the relative doghouse. This was the third straight game he has sat out the fourth quarter. Markieff Morris was in the same boat for two games, but got the nod against Orlando.

Some of it is simply Brooks rolling with the hot hand. But Brooks must not like something Porter has been doing lately. The best guess is his defense, as Jonathan Simmons, among others, was getting past Porter with regularity in this one.

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Explaining my National League ROY ballot

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Explaining my National League ROY ballot

This was tight. Really tight. A category for the Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr. A category for the Nationals’ Juan Soto.

Sorting through 16 categories showed Acuna and Soto should have split the National League Rookie of the Year award. It also showed me a narrow advantage for Soto, which is why I voted him first, Acuna second and Dodgers starter Walker Buehler third. Once the votes from other members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America were added, Acuna won, Soto was second and Buehler was third. It wasn’t close. It should have been.

First, a thought about the general process here: Writers take this seriously. Once assignments for the awards are distributed, we start to talk about them in the Nationals Park press box. Even non-voters hop in on the conversation. Sympathies are relayed to those who have an extremely tight choice, as I did this season and last when I voted for MVP (I’m big in Cincinnati thanks to my Joey Votto selection).

I outline specific categories, talk to opposing players and managers and watch as much as possible in order to come to a conclusion. The only thing easy about voting for ROY this season was the chance to see the leading candidates often since one played here and the other is in the division.

I used 16 categories to largely determine my vote. They were as follows: OPS, OPS+, Baseball Reference WAR, Fangraphs WAR, Baseball Prospectus WARP, OBP, WRC+, SB, HR, late-and-close OPS, 2 outs RISP OPS, BB:K ratio, WPA, “Clutch”, WOBA, and an overall defensive mark.

There’s no perfect formula here. But, when looking through those, Soto took nine, Acuna six and one, Fangraphs WAR, was even. That, coupled with Soto doing this in his age-19 season as the league’s youngest player (Acuna was just 20, so, like everything else the leader’s advantage here is slight), and talking to others in the league, prompted me to vote for Soto.

Again, the gaps were minute. Baseball Reference’s WAR formula favored Acuna. Fangraphs had them even. Baseball Prospectus put Soto clearly ahead. Soto was significantly better in late-and-close situations. Acuna was better with two outs and runners in scoring position.

If Soto had a distinct lead anywhere, it was via command of the strike zone, which is currently his premier talent. His walk and strikeout rates were both superior to Acuna. When asked about Soto, opponents and teammates alike brought it up.

However, Acuna is the better defender and baserunner. Points back to his favor.

Soto was intentionally walked 10 times signifying what opponents thought of dealing with him. Acuna was intentionally walked just twice (though his spot in the order has some influence there).

This ping-ponging of qualifications could go on.

What the National League East has is two of the best players in baseball. Not just young players at this stunningly low age, but two of the best. Soto was fourth in on-base percentage and seventh in OPS in the National League when adjusted to be among the qualified leaders (an explanation from Baseball Reference: In order to rank the player, the necessary number of hitless at bats were added to the player's season total.). Acuna was eighth in slugging under the same adjustment.

The 2019 All-Star Game is in Cleveland. Expect both to be there and this to be just the beginning of them being measured against each other.

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