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Wolves' Williams staying patient through DNPs

Wolves' Williams staying patient through DNPs

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) The minutes have come and gone for Derrick Williams this season. Truthfully, they've been mostly gone for almost a month now.

The former No. 2 overall draft pick doesn't pout or whine behind the scenes. He just keeps working in hopes that his chance will come with the Minnesota Timberwolves sooner rather than later.

``Just try to keep working,'' Williams said on Monday after practice. ``Just because you're not playing, you can't stop working. Just pushing myself a little harder.''

The highest draft choice in franchise history has not played in four of the last nine games for the Wolves, with coach Rick Adelman preferring the veteran Dante Cunningham as the primary backup to All-Star Kevin Love at power forward. That hasn't prompted him to demand a trade or grouse publicly about his situation.

He was the only player on the team to play in all 66 games of the lockout-shortened season last year, but his inconsistent performances didn't sit well with coach Rick Adelman. Williams went to work in the offseason, slimming down and reshaping his body in hopes of moving from power forward, where Love gets most of the minutes, to small forward.

But the team signed Andrei Kirilenko in the offseason to be the starting small forward, and Williams' playing time has suffered for it. He was in the starting lineup on opening night and for much of the first month of the season while Love recovered from a broken right hand. He had 23 points, seven rebounds and four blocks in a loss at Golden State on Nov. 16, but hasn't played more than 16 minutes in a game since.

Not coincidentally, that is the last game Love missed because of his injury. Adelman was blunt when Love returned that some players were going to see their minutes go down. So far, that player has been Williams.

And so far, Williams is taking it in stride.

``I'm a patient player,'' he said. ``I just have to do with what I have. If I get 10 minutes, I get 10 minutes and I just try and do what I can with that.''

Adelman has long had a reputation for favoring veterans over young players, and it's clear that Cunningham's steady play and hard-nosed defense has won the coach over early this season. Williams started this season slow offensively, struggling to knock down shots at a consistent rate. But he showed flashes of much-improved defense against some of the better offensive power forwards in the league, including Indiana's David West and Chicago's Carlos Boozer. He also helped shutdown Orlando's Glen Davis, who had entered their third game of the season with some gaudy statistics.

Coaches are pushing him to be more aggressive on both ends of the court - to put up a bigger fight on pick-and-roll defense and not settle for jumpers on offense. So, as he has since he arrived in Minnesota last summer, Williams has consistently been one of the last players to leave the practice court every day.

``I'm not the coach. I don't control the minutes,'' said Williams, who is averaging 9.0 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. ``I just control whatever I can control. Show up in practice, keep working hard, staying after practice and lift weights, things like that. That's what I've been doing.''

He said he can't blame Adelman for leaning more on Love and Kirilenko in the frontcourt. He just hopes to be a bigger part of the game plan, eventually, and does think there is room in Minnesota for everyone.

``They're both good players. It doesn't mean I'm not a good player or anything like that,'' Williams said. ``It's coach's decision whether he plays me or not, whether he plays anybody. I try not to look at it like that. With Kevin and AK back, it makes our team a little bit better. I'm not going to complain about who is going to play and who is not going to play.''

And despite his name again surfacing in trade rumors surrounding Pau Gasol last week, Williams made it clear Monday he has not requested to be moved.

Team president David Kahn said last week he wanted to wait until point guard Ricky Rubio returned from a torn ACL before making any major personnel decisions. It is possible that the slick-passing Rubio could give Williams a boost as well. The two seemed to click well, especially on alley-oops, last season.

Adelman said on Monday there is still not a definitive timetable for Rubio's return. He will practice with the team again on Tuesday, and Adelman seemed hesitant about the possibility of him playing against Denver on Wednesday.

``I think he could go out and play some right now, but again, is that the smart thing to do?'' Adelman said.

They have a stretch of four games in five nights starting on Friday at New Orleans, which may make the home game on Saturday against Dallas a more realistic possibility.

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Follow Jon Krawczynski on Twitter:http://twitter.com/APKrawczynski

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Burakovsky is back in for Game 6

Burakovsky is back in for Game 6

Coach Barry Trotz indicated that Andre Burakovsky’s benching wouldn’t last long.

And it didn’t.

The 23-year-old winger will return to the lineup on Monday night as the Caps look to stave off elimination in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final.

During the morning skate, Burakovsky skated on the third line with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly—a trio that’s enjoyed some success in the past.

It’s been a difficult postseason for Burakovsky, who has not recorded a point in six games. He missed 10 contests after suffering a hand injury in Game 2 of the first round that required minor surgery.

What he found out upon returning was this: coming back from injury in the regular season is hard...and it’s exponentially tougher in the playoffs.

“It’s definitely tough to jump in in the semifinal,” he said. “When you’re out, you just want to get in and help the team and do what you’re good at—score goals and produce.”

“What I realized is that it’s not that easy,” he added. “I really thought I could jump in and just play like I did before I got injured. 

But obviously it didn’t work out as well I thought it would.”  

Burakovsky also said that he’s planning to work with a sports psychologist this summer in an effort to maintain an even keel when things aren’t going as well as he would like. It’s a problem that he said he’s struggled with since his childhood.

Asked what he hopes to see from Burakovsky in Game 6, Coach Barry Trotz kept it simple: offense.

The Caps have scored just two goals in each of the last three games, with Evgeny Kuznetsov contributing 50-percent of that total.

“He’s a guy that’s given us some good offense all through his time here,” Trotz said of Burakovsky. “We think that he can add some of that.”

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5 keys for the Caps to win Game 6 and force a decisive Game 7 against the Lightning

5 keys for the Caps to win Game 6 and force a decisive Game 7 against the Lightning

The more you look at Monday's Game 6 between the Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning, the more you realize this game is the most important game of Alex Ovechkin's career.

This is the first time Ovechkin and Co. have made it to the conference finals and it is the first time this postseason in which the Caps face elimination.

Here are the keys for the Caps to staving off elimination and forcing a Game 7:

1. Get off to a better start

It took Tampa Bay just 19 seconds to score in Game 5 and the score was 3-0 nothing before the Capitals really began to show any signs of life. They cannot allow the Lightning to jump all over them in the same way and take the crowd out of the game early.

With the game being in Washington, the Caps will have the crowd on their side. Use it.

The Caps have been at their best this series playing the trap, holding their own blue line and countering against Tampa Bay's aggressive defensemen leading to odd-man breaks. That's a hard gameplan to run if you're playing from behind. Scoring first would go a long way for Washington.

2. Stay out of the penalty box

Washington has given up six power play goals to Tampa Bay on just 15 opportunities in this series. That means the Lightning's power play is producing at a blistering rate of 40-percent. That's an insanely good power play rate and that may be putting it mildly.

So far, the penalty kill has had no answer for how to shut down a Tampa Bay unit that features Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov setting up for one-timers and being quarterbacked by Victor Hedman. That's a formidable cast.

If you can't beat it, then there's only one solution: Stay out of the box.

Despite everything that went wrong in Game 5, the one thing the Caps did right was not give up many penalties. They took only one on the night and even that one was avoidable as Brett Connolly got caught holding Brayden Point trying to get around him to get the puck.

3. Win the top line matchup

The Lightning have found success matching their fourth line against Ovechkin. Of his six points this series, only two of them (one goal, one assist) have come at 5-on-5. That's not good enough.

It's gut check time. The Caps need their best players to be at their best and that means Ovechkin has to win the matchup against Chris Kunitz, Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan. In Game 5, Tampa Bay's fourth line actually outscored Ovechkin's line in 5-on-5 play 2-0.

Washington will not win this game if the fourth line outscores Ovechkin's line. It's just that simple.

4. Take advantage of the power play opportunities

The Caps scored at least one power play goal in Game 1 and Game 2, both wins. They have not scored any since and have lost all three games since. They scored on three of seven opportunities in the first two games and zero of seven opportunities in the last three.

Not a coincidence.

Granted, they did not draw any penalties in Game 5, but it seems unlikely the Lightning will stay out of the box for another sixty minutes. At some point, they will take a penalty and when they do, Washington must take advantage.

5. Win the goalie matchup

Not much attention has been paid to Braden Holtby in this series. The Caps are not facing elimination because they have been getting bad goaltending, but when the Lightning needed Andrei Vasilevskiy to steal them a win and up his game to get them back into the series, he responded.

Vasilevskiy has been brilliant the last three games as he has turned aside 100 of the 106 shots he has faced for a .943 save percentage. For the series, Holtby has a save percentage of only .883.

Again, Washington is not down 3-2 in the series because of goaltending. Holtby has faced far fewer shots than Vasilevskiy and has been just about the only thing that has worked against Tampa Bay's lethal power play.

But as one of the team's top players, the Caps need Holtby to step up the way Vasilevskiy has. Game 6 will be about winning by any means necessary. If that means they need a hat trick from Ovechkin so be it. If that means they need Holtby to steal it for them, so be it.

Holtby has to be just as good as Vasilevskiy in Game 6, if not better, for Washington to come out on top.

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