Nationals

Washington's 4-0 Pac-12 start all because of D

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Washington's 4-0 Pac-12 start all because of D

SEATTLE (AP) Even in the past when they were pretty good defensively, the Washington Huskies' fast-paced athleticism on the offensive end always got the attention.

It's easy for defense to get overshadowed when future NBA players like Brandon Roy, Nate Robinson, Quincy Pondexter, Spencer Hawes, Isaiah Thomas and Terrence Ross are cycling through your program.

But the reason Washington has turned around a stumbling start this season and won 10 of its last 12 games is because of the effort and improvement being made on the defensive end. After Wednesday night's 64-54 win over Colorado, the Huskies improved to 4-0 in the Pac-12 and are allowing just 56 points per game in conference play.

Granted it's still early and the Huskies have yet to see any of the ranked Pac-12 squads - Arizona, Oregon and UCLA - but coach Lorenzo Romar has his team on pace to be the finest defensive squad in his tenure.

``It's both our attitude and us figuring things out,'' Washington guard Abdul Gaddy said. ``We take pride in our defense, we don't like when people score on us. We're really starting to jell, which is the main thing.''

Romar has preached defense since coming to Washington and it has often been a struggle. Yet this group has figured out the principles needed to be successful at that end.

For the season, the Huskies are giving up 64.9 points per game, which would be the lowest in Romar's tenure by nearly five points. Teams are shooting just 41 percent and only 37 percent in Washington's four conference games thus far. The Huskies have held seven of their last nine opponents under 40 percent shooting. They've accomplished that in each of their first four conference games, only the second time under Romar that the Huskies have held four straight opponents under the 40 percent mark.

Now in his 11th season, Romar has never had a team that has allowed less than 66 points per game in Pac-12 play or lower than 42 percent shooting. Even in their best seasons, when Washington reached the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament - 2005, 2006 and 2010 - the Huskies still allowed around 70 points per game.

It might be a little ugly as compared to Washington teams of the past, but Romar doesn't mind.

``You can color it any way you want to color it,'' Romar said. ``I just know that when you go out and you play two games in a row and you have single-digit turnovers, you hold four teams to under 40 percent from the field, you outrebound three out of the four, you're beginning to do things right.''

The defensive improvement this year has many layers and much of it starts at the other end of the floor. Washington made the transition in the offseason to using a high-post offense as its primary set. It was very choppy at the beginning of the season, to where Romar reverted to the motion offense for stretches, but has become more efficient of late. The net result of running an offense that requires more passing, more precision, is that the Huskies are putting up fewer shots and running more of the clock.

Washington is attempting seven fewer shots per game compared to last season. In turn, games are played at a slower pace and they are defending for fewer possessions.

Additionally, the Huskies have figured out how to use their length to cause defensive headaches. The Huskies will never be mistaken for a team filled with towering bodies, but guards C.J. Wilcox and Scott Suggs are 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-6, respectively, with long arms and the ability to make passing lanes shrink.

Then there is 7-footer Aziz N'Diaye in the back. N'Diaye has improved his lateral speed and become very good at coming from the opposite side of the lane to alter shots. N'Diaye has 10 blocks in the last four games and he's stayed away from foul trouble.

``We always knew we could play good defense, and we came into the season saying that that is what we needed to do,'' Wilcox said. ``It just took some time to get through our heads that that is what we needed to do and we're starting to learn that, and get better game by game.''

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Scott Boras: Davey Martinez gave ‘a real lesson’ in how to believe in his players

Scott Boras: Davey Martinez gave ‘a real lesson’ in how to believe in his players

When the Nationals stumbled out to a 19-31 start to last season, Davey Martinez didn’t panic.

He was only in his second season as an MLB manager, but Martinez had a roster of players far more talented than what its record was leading others to believe. Amid swirling rumors about his job status and the future of the franchise, Martinez trusted that his players would be able to turn things around.

Five months later, those very same players took down the Houston Astros in seven games to win D.C. a World Series title for the first time since 1924. Longtime baseball agent Scott Boras, who represented several stars for Washington such as Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg, was among those who was particularly impressed with the way Martinez kept his clubhouse together.

Boras talked with NBC Sports Washington’s Todd Dybas and Chase Hughes on Friday’s episode of the Nationals Talk podcast about what stood out to him when it came to Martinez’s approach.

“I really credit Davey Martinez because the one message he kept giving everyone was a true lack of concern for the moment and trusting very much about who all those players were,” Boras said. “Every player brought that to my attention at the end of the year, where this was not a compromised manager.

“This was not someone who questioned who we were. It was not someone who showed up and was really making more out of the future other than, ‘Be who you are today and go forward.’”

LISTEN TO THE FULL INTERVIEW ON THE NATIONALS TALK PODCAST

With sports pushed to the side while the world grips with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, fans have a lot of more important things on their minds than baseball right now. Yet Boras felt that Martinez’s approach was something everyone should try to emulate when dealing with the uncertainty that the future holds.

“It’s a real lesson for a lot of people,” Boras said. “I think particularly when you’re in an environment, ironically that’s in Washington, D.C., [with] what we’re going through with this pandemic and the focus on our leadership and our country…we really have to make sure that we’re looking about what’s within and not looking about the vague aspects of what the future may bring.

“The Washington Nationals represented their city and our country really well with that message.”

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Nationals' championships rings filled with flash and memories

Nationals' championships rings filled with flash and memories

Salivating and awe came first. Distribution will have to wait.

The Nationals revealed their jewel-laden championship ring during a slow-moving, hour-long telecast Sunday night which was originally supposed to include select players receiving their rings. After pushback from the players -- who wanted to receive the rings together when it was safe to do so -- the night was converted to more of a reveal than reaction.

The ring itself included several nods to the D.C. area, markers from the championship season, and specific personalizations.

Here’s a blow-by-blow:

-- The ring is 14-karat white and yellow gold

-- The “W” logo is made from 30 rubies to represent the 30 runs the team scored in the four World Series game

-- Around the logo are 58 pavé-set diamonds

-- Above and below the logo or the words “World Champions” set over the ring via 32 sapphires. This number represents the sum total of the team’s 2019 walk-off wins (7), shutout wins (13), longest winning streak (8 games), and playoff rounds won (4).

-- An additional 108 diamonds are featured along the ring top, representing the number of regular season and postseason wins (105), plus one diamond for the World Series title and two diamonds for the locations -- Washington and Montreal -- of the franchise.

-- The top and bottom of the ring have 12 rubies to represent the total number of postseason wins

-- On the left side in yellow gold is the player’s name

-- Beneath the name is a flag, the Capitol Building and the Roman numerals MMVI to represent the year the Lerner family purchased the franchise

-- The player’s number is in diamonds on the bottom left side

-- “Fight Finished” is on the right side

-- The interior of the ring is engraved with a shark symbol holding a yellow gold trophy. So, yes, a nod to “Baby Shark” has made it onto the rings

-- Also on the interior are the team logos of each opponent the Nationals defeated in the postseason

-- “Go 1-0 every day” is also engraved inside

-- In total, the average championship ring contains 170 total diamonds, 32 custom-cut sapphires, 31 custom-cut rubies, and 24 princess-cut rubies for a precious total stone carat weight of 23.2 carats.

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The lead up of the ring reveal included congratulatory messages from a slew of people associated with the Nationals in the present and past.

Former closer Chad Cordero and catcher Brian Schneider started the video messages. Denard Span and Adam LaRoche followed. Redskins quarterback Alex Smith, former Redskins player Brian Mitchell, chef José Andrés and Dr. Anthony Fauci were among several others to send congratulations.

In a post-reveal show, the players emphasized they were looking forward to receiving the rings in a group.

“I think the only thing better than seeing it is going to be wearing it,” Howie Kendrick said.

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