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White embraces Jones, still Atlanta's top gun

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White embraces Jones, still Atlanta's top gun

ATLANTA (AP) Roddy White could've pouted, could've complained, could've stirred things up in the locker room.

He did none of that.

White knew he was still the go-to receiver for the Atlanta Falcons, no matter who lined up on the other side.

``Roddy knows he's a very good player,'' said Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. ``He's got a lot of confidence in himself. But he's also one of the most unselfish guys on our team. It's rare for one of your superstars to be like that in this day and age.''

Even though the Falcons (4-0) made a blockbuster deal during the 2011 draft to land Julio Jones - and there's every indication that now, in his second season, he's on his way to becoming one of the NFL's top receivers - White continues to shine brighter than any of Ryan's targets.

Since the start of the 2007 season, when White - at his mother's urging - quit partying so much and dedicated himself to fulfilling his enormous potential, he's had more catches (498) than anyone in the league other than New England's Wes Welker (579). No one has more yards receiving during that span than White (6,835), according to STATS LLC.

At age 30, after five straight 1,000-yard seasons and well on his way to another, White still feels like there's room to improve.

More important, he's willing to share the ball with Jones, Hall of Famer-to-be tight end Tony Gonzalez and whoever else the Falcons want to get involved in the passing game.

``I expected a little bit of a change because we've got so many big players on our team,'' White said. ``But I'm excited just to go out there and be consistent. I pride myself on going out there and being consistent week in and week out. That's what I want to do. No matter what it takes to help this team to win, I want to continue to win.''

Going into Sunday's game at Washington, the Falcons (4-0) have matched the best start in franchise history and built a commanding lead in the NFC South. They and the Houston Texans are the only unbeaten teams left in the league, and looking very much like a squad that can challenge for a Super Bowl championship.

White is sure doing his part. Again. He ranks fourth in the league in yards receiving (413) and is tied for fifth in catches (27).

But, according to Ryan, White's value goes beyond the numbers.

``Physically, he's got everything you want,'' the quarterback said. ``He's strong, he's physical, he's got great top end speed, he's quick out of his cuts, he's got very good hands. But I think his best attribute is he's an incredible competitor. He wants nothing else but to play well and to win. You'd love to have tons of guys like that.''

In last week's thrilling victory over Carolina, Ryan was especially impressed by White's unselfishness on a screen pass to Michael Turner. The running back caught the ball about the line of scrimmage and zigzagged down the field on a 60-yard touchdown, getting a key block from White.

``Roddy is on the end of the run, diving out there, full extension, to try to hold up (Panthers cornerback) Captain Munnerlyn for an extra second,'' Ryan said. ``And he did that.''

But White saved his biggest play for the end.

With the Falcons trailing 28-27 and backed up on their own 1-yard line with just over a minute remaining - and no timeouts - Ryan dropped into the back of the end zone and launched it about as far as he could, a towering throw that might've scraped the rafters of the Georgia Dome. White knew it was coming his way, having worked on just such a play with Ryan during the offseason, but it took him a few seconds to pick up just where the ball was, plummeting out of the maze of lights that ring the roof of the stadium.

``Actually, I kind of looked at the defender and tried to find him, then I looked up and looked for the ball,'' White explained. ``He was kind of backing up into it, so I wanted to get over him and have an opportunity to catch the ball. I kind of saw it through the lights.''

The key, he said, is locating the point of the football as it's spiraling toward him. He leaped up to make a 59-yard catch, setting up the Falcons for a winning field goal with 5 seconds remaining.

``That's what you aim to catch, especially on deep balls and stuff like that,'' White said. ``That's kind of where I take my eyes to - the point of the ball - and try to locate it and figure out where it's going to drop. I've been doing it for a long time now. It's been working.''

White insists he was never worried about his place in the offense, even after the Falcons gave up a good chunk of their future for the chance to draft Jones with the sixth overall pick last year. General manager Thomas Dimitroff talked of wanting to be more explosive, of wanting to break more long plays, which could have been taken the wrong way by White, who was coming off a career-best 115 catches for 1,389 yards.

He didn't see it that way. He embraced Jones, made him feel like part of the team right away.

``He does nothing but benefit and help us on offense,'' White said. ``He's an explosive player. He's going to be a great player in this league. When you add additional parts like that, you can't feel bad about it. You're only going to get better, too. As long as you get better and everything's rolling like you want it to go, everything's all good.

``You can't be a selfish player in this league,'' he added.

The benefit of having two game-breaking receivers isn't lost on Jones, either. He also went deep when Ryan threw that long pass to White, making things extremely tough on the Carolina secondary, even when everyone in the building knew the Falcons had to go long.

``We're trying to put a lot of stress on that safety, you know? Make him make a decision,'' Jones said. ``And he was going to be wrong regardless, because we feel like we're better athletes and we've got better ball skills against safeties when the ball is in the air. Roddy went up and made a big play.''

Nothing new there.

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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Ovechkin’s hat trick keeps Capitals rolling in 6-2 win against Red Wings

Ovechkin’s hat trick keeps Capitals rolling in 6-2 win against Red Wings

Capital One Arena — The stars came out for the Capitals on Tuesday night. 

There was Alex Ovechkin continuing his marvelous age-33 season with a hat trick, his first since Nov. 25, 2017. Nicklas Backstrom had four more assists. That’s his second four-point game in six games. T.J. Oshie returned from an 11-game absence (concussion) and scored on the power play. Evgeny Kuznetsov set up two goals. 

Anything else?

It all added up to a 6-2 win against the Detroit Red Wings and Washington is rolling. With that kind of firepower why wouldn’t it be? The Caps have won 11 of their past 14 games. At 18-9-3 and with 39 points, Washington is in first place in the Metropolitan Division and has a chance to build on that lead with five of its final eight games of 2018 at home. 

It didn’t hurt that the second-place Columbus Blue Jackets coughed up a 2-1 lead to the Vancouver Canucks at home Tuesday, allowing two goals in the final five minutes to lose 3-2 in regulation. The Blue Jackets are stuck on 34 points and suddenly the Capitals have a five-point lead in the division. 

“The season is all progress,” Backstrom said. “You keep building your team getting all the roles intact. Lately the last couple of games we’ve been playing good hockey, we’ve been playing with a lot of speed, we’ve been playing quick. That’s when we’re hard to play against, I think.”

The recent hot streak starts with Ovechkin, in the midst of one of the best stretches of his career. It was his 126th multi-goal game and he passed former Washington forward Dino Ciccarelli (125) for the 11th-most in league history.

“I’ll take it,” Ovechkin said. “Couple lucky goals.”

Ovechkin has points in 12 straight games (13 goals, six assists) and 18 of his 19 points during that stretch have come at even strength – with admittedly a few empty-net tallies tossed in for good measure. He extended his NHL lead to 25 goals – four ahead of Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine and Tampa Bay’s Brayden Point (21).  

If Ovechkin records a point against the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday he will tie his career best of 13 games set between Dec. 30, 2006 and Feb. 1, 2007. That was the year before this incredible run of sustained success began with Washington’s first playoff berth in the Ovechkin era. They didn’t even wear red uniforms back then. Ovechkin ranks eighth in points (38) in the NHL through 30 games. 

“I don’t watch much hockey so I can only go off the years I’ve been here but he’s playing outstanding,” Oshie said.

“At that level that he got himself to last year right at the start of the year … he’s really just kept building off that. It’s fun being on this side of that when Big O is going like that. It’s a privilege to play with him out there and you think maybe there are not other ways he can kind of amaze you and wow you but there was another example tonight.”

Last year, he didn’t get to 39 points until Dec. 30, which was game No. 40. He had three assists that night against the New Jersey Devils and ended that game at 41 points. He didn’t get to 25 goals until a Jan. 2 game against Carolina, which was Game No. 41. Ovechkin finished with 87 points (49 goals, 38 assists) and is well ahead of that pace and halfway to his magic number of 50.   

“The age he's at to still continue to not only want to get better, but to be able to,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said.

“After just the way he's played the game with such a physical presence and the energy he has and the size he is, it's not easy. He's been great in our room, the leadership is really stepped up for me, the best I've seen him lead in our room during the regular season. And then his overall play is following right along with it. I know some other years statistically have been better, but for me it's his best two-way hockey that he's played.” 

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The anatomy of Kelly Oubre Jr.'s follow-dunk and pose

The anatomy of Kelly Oubre Jr.'s follow-dunk and pose

Kelly Oubre Jr. didn’t know precisely what the moment required. The hops and charisma are always on standby regardless.

In one of his more controlled performances of the season, the Wizards’ forward managed to stand out in Monday’s road loss at Indiana. Not solely for his 23 points, even though it established a new season-high. Not just for a rim-rattling follow dunk, though props for the aerial work.

What came after the slam is what got social media jumping. It’s why his popularity surpasses his production. It’s why his critics sometimes cannot help but smile.

Two days after turning 23, the birthday boy explained how the jam and viral video pose went down.

It started with two aspects not always associated with Oubre’s game: Passing and court awareness.

Washington already trimmed Indiana’s 25-point lead to eight as the clock moved closer to the nine-minute mark of the fourth quarter, and the Wizards executed a play.

Teammates Bradley Beal and Markieff Morris ran interference for Oubre as he dribbled toward the right elbow.  Despite openings for a drive or shot, the player who passes with the frequency of a wishbone quarterback stuck with the plan. He looked for Morris rolling toward the basket.

“I just looked at the situation. The play was for Keef to roll and be open. He was open,” recalled Oubre.

Enter Myles Turner. The Pacers’ center dominated the paint throughout, finishing with 12 rebounds and five blocks. Oubre’s dribble brought Turner his way, but on the pass, the mobile big man quickly shifted across the paint. Morris created space and lofted a half-hook. Turner’s wingspan, on display with ferocity all night, altered the shot.

Oubre thought it might. Standing alone and with a clear path to the basket, the sleek forward made his move. Quick and light steps positioned out front if a miss bounced his way. It did.

“Myles is a great rim protector," said Oubre. "I just figured that since he’s been altering shots all game. I’d at least jump to give myself a chance to follow it up.”

Morris’s banked shot went short off the glass, sending the ball off the front of the rim. Oubre read the carom’s angle like geometry major. He rose with ease and hammered dunk the miss with two hands.

“Perfect timing, the stars aligned.”

Then the personality popped.

Before Oubre touched back down, the smile began to form. He stuck the landing like a 6-foot-7 Kerri Strug, though with two good ankles. As the grin enveloped his face and Oubre looked out into the crowd of non-well-wishers, both hands attached to his hips, forming a perfect pair of isosceles triangles. 

Oubre: “The pose was just me having fun. Their fans was talking crazy [expletive] though. I was just smiling at them the whole game.”

Just posing would have put a nice capper on the high-rising moment. Ever the showman, Oubre added a final flourish.

As the megawatt smiled remained, he went with a full head nod toward the crowd. He knew what they witnessed and that they didn’t love it. Regardless, they had to appreciate the style and let them know he felt the same.

“I don’t really look around when I’m playing," said Oubre. "It was really just because the fans didn’t want us to do good.

“I just have a lot of personality, you know? It was a good time, man.”

Oubre’s highlight reel includes a new entry. Such moments wow fans and keep scouts intrigued. If only Oubre could hone the rest of his game, they think. He’s shooting under 30 percent on 3-pointers since January. His shot selection and struggles with team defensive concepts cause exasperation.

Some team might fall in lust regardless and offer the 2015 first-round pick a hefty contract when he hits restricted free agency this coming summer. The Wizards can match any offer. Considering their salary cap concerns and Oubre’s uncertain trajectory, they might not.

Oubre wants more and says he works to improve his game daily while pushing free agency thoughts aside.

“Just getting better every day. Just taking it one day at a time, trying to live in the moment,” Oubre said. “Not necessarily looking at the future because the future will happen if I take care of now. Today I got better. Tomorrow is a new game, a new opportunity.”

Tomorrow comes Wednesday when the Wizards host the rival Boston Celtics.

“The Celtics have a lot of guys who are talented basketball players, and I’m a competitor,” Oubre said. “I’m looking forward to going to play against them.”

When it comes to the entertaining Oubre, even those head-scratching doubters probably feel the same.

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