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A year later, some like Christmas NBA start better

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A year later, some like Christmas NBA start better

NEW YORK (AP) Doc Rivers left home for the holiday, lost the game, and loved every minute of it.

``That was perfect,'' Rivers said, recalling the Boston Celtics' 2011-12 season opener. ``I just think it was awesome.''

A year after the NBA started its season on Christmas out of necessity, Rivers and others think it's something the league should consider doing regularly. The 2011-12 schedule consisted of 66 games, and while even the advocates for the later start aren't certain how many should be played, they believe it's something worth exploring.

``I think starting on Christmas Day would be better and then going later into July, I think that would be better so the start of our season wasn't overshadowed as much by NFL football and college football,'' ABC and ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy said. ``If you did that, obviously you'd have to extend into July a little bit. But I think 66 games, the only bad thing about that would be people losing some money and so because of that, no one's ever going to do that. It would certainly be better for the product.''

A normal 82-game schedule was impossible last season when owners and players couldn't agree to a new labor contract in time. The lockout dragged into November before a tentative agreement was struck on Thanksgiving weekend. It was ratified two weeks later, abbreviated training camps opened Dec. 9, and teams had a little more than two weeks to prepare for the start of the season.

After the expected complaints about lack of preparation and possibility of injury, the season opened with hype that's rarely there for the usual start around Halloween. The first game was in New York, where the Knicks withstood a last shot by Kevin Garnett to hold off the Celtics.

``I thought that game - I thought it was so anticipated, lot of fun. The buzz in Madison Square Garden was amazing,'' Rivers said. ``I really did, I thought it was absolutely wonderful, the timing with football almost over, people ready for basketball.''

With football king, even the NBA seems to realize it should lie low in the fall. ABC doesn't begin its national TV schedule until its Christmas doubleheader, and the league and its TV partners kick the hype machine into gear leading into the holiday, with statistics galore about who's played most often, who's played best, who's wearing what uniform, and anything else that can help build the buzz.

It works. ESPN scored its highest-rated Christmas tripleheader for Tuesday's games, and the Knicks-Lakers matchup that opened ABC's doubleheader generated a 5.9 overnight rating, highest ever for an ABC game in that slot.

Rivers thinks it could be even bigger, proposing adding to the fun with some kind of season-opening spectacle, similar to the popular college tournaments.

Minnesota coach Rick Adelman agreed the later start was fine, but like Rivers said there were too many games crammed in afterward. The league finished only about a week later than its regular schedule, forcing teams to play on three straight nights at least once to fit everything in.

Problem is, the return to the regular schedule hasn't offered much relief.

Coaches are still bemoaning the lack of practice time, the frequency of back-to-back games, and other inconveniences that they've had to readjust to this season.

``Of all years I've ever coached, I don't feel like a human being very much. I just feel like a basketball coach,'' Denver's George Karl said. ``That's all I do is watch film, prepare scouting reports, have meetings, go to practice and then travel.''

The demands of the schedule and the challenges of navigating it were highlighted when San Antonio sent four top players home before a nationally televised road game in Miami for extra rest, earning a $250,000 fine from an angry Commissioner David Stern.

The Spurs were playing their fourth road game in five nights, which was just as rough as anything that arose out of the lockout schedule.

``I think the schedule of some of these teams is outlandish to me, a lot of it just to get games in,'' Van Gundy said. ``To put teams on national TV on the fourth game in five nights seems counterproductive. I know people will say, `Oh, the arenas are booked,' and they'll give you many excuses.

``But when you're paying as much as our fans are paying for tickets, to me ... you have to really search out how you can give them the best product, and playing four games in five nights is unfortunately almost ensuring that somebody is not going to be at their best.''

More than two weeks ago, Karl was already pondering a brutal holiday schedule that had the Nuggets playing the Clippers in Los Angeles on Christmas night, returning home to host the Lakers the next night, then completing a stretch of four games in five nights with a back-to-back at Dallas and Memphis on Dec. 28 and 29.

``Merry Christmas,'' he said, hardly sounding jolly.

Playing fewer games is the easy answer, but financially the most unlikely. Neither owners nor players would be interested in giving up a couple hundred games of revenue, which is why Stern quickly brought up the money aspect of it when asked about shortening the schedule during a trip to New Orleans this season.

And going into July would mean completely rearranging the summer schedule, starting with free agency and the Las Vegas summer league.

Plus, the current schedule isn't actually any tougher than normal. The average number of games on back-to-back nights (19.2), and maximum number for any club (22), are at or below their totals in each of the last four full seasons, as are the figures relating to four games in five nights.

But with fewer games last season, marquee matchups seemed to come more frequently, leading to higher TV ratings and nearly unchanged attendance. If the league could figure out how to spread the games out better, the shorter season could be a long-term improvement.

``It was too many games that we played after that in that stretch,'' Rivers said, ``so if there was some way we could figure it out, start off Christmas Day having a tournament or something like the college preseason tournament and start it there, I don't know. But it would be awesome.''

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Wizards' 2019 top prospects rankings: Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr. lead the way

Wizards' 2019 top prospects rankings: Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr. lead the way

Though the maturation of the G-League has brought the NBA closer in line with MLB and its minor league farm system, there has been one noticeable element missing for those of us who follow the two sports closely. In baseball, multiple media outlets publish top prospect lists both league-wide and team-specific, yet the equivalents are nowhere to be found in basketball.

Prospect rankings are a great window into the future and they are fun to revisit years later to see who was right and who was wrong. But, so far, they haven’t become widespread in basketball.

The reason why may be rooted in semantics. Generally, basketball players are considered prospects before they are drafted. After they join teams, they just become regular players.

Part of that perception is simply because NBA players can impact their teams at a much younger age. While it is very rare to see a 19-year-old in the majors, it is commonplace in the NBA.

The Wizards, though, may be the perfect team to get this started with. They have a collection of players that are now out of college but have yet to establish themselves in the professional ranks. They are essentially prospects by baseball's definition.

So, in the interest of doing something new here, let's rank them...

1. Rui Hachimura, F

Age: 21
Strengths: midrange shooting, offensive versatility
Areas to improve: three-point shooting, passing

The ninth overall pick this past June, Hachimura is the highest draft pick the Wizards have selected since Otto Porter Jr. in 2013. He is 21, but young in basketball years because he didn't pick up the sport until Age 13. Yet, with three years of college under his belt, he comes in with the experience to likely make a difference right away. And with the Wizards' current roster state, he should have a big opportunity for minutes and shot attempts as a rookie.

Hachimura appears to have several NBA-ready skills, particularly on offense. He makes smart decisions with the ball in his hand and can score at all three levels. His outside shooting needs to be more consistent, but he can knock it down enough to be a threat. Defensively is where he will need to grow the most, but the potential seems to be there for him to develop until a versatile player on that end of the floor. 

Passing is another area he can improve. He didn't record many assists at all in college or in the Summer League. 

2. Troy Brown Jr., G/F

Age: 19
Strengths: rebounding, passing
Areas to improve: outside shooting, turnovers

Though Brown was drafted one year before Hachimura, he is still a year-and-a-half younger. He also didn't crack the Wizards' rotation until late in his rookie season. That makes him still very much a prospect as he enters his Age 20 campaign looking to make a much bigger impact in his second season than he did in his first.

The good news for Brown is that the minutes should be there. At this point he looks like at-worst the second small forward behind C.J. Miles and he should have a chance to battle for the starting job in training camp. With Isaiah Thomas' checkered injury history (he only played 12 games last year), there is a good chance Brown sees time at point guard as well, maybe even some starts there. We'll see.

Brown's passing and rebounding are up-to-speed for his size and position, but he needs to cut down on the turnovers and improve his three-point shot. Though he dominated in his brief time in the Summer League, he still only shot 40.6 percent from the field. Also, the Wizards could really use a leap from him on defense because he has a relatively high ceiling on that end of the floor and most of their players do not.

3. Moe Wagner, C

Age: 22
Strengths: outside shooting, free throw shooting
Areas to improve: defense, rebounding

The path to minutes isn't quite as clear for Wagner, who is probably going to be stuck behind Hachimura, Davis Bertans and Thomas Bryant in the frontcourt. But the way he can crack the rotation is by hitting his threes, something he was not able to do as a rookie for the Lakers last season or in the 2019 Summer League for the Wizards.

Wagner presents intriguing long-term upside because of his shooting and his knack for getting to the rim off pump-fakes. But he needs to learn how to affect more shots around the rim, even if he can't block shots. And his rebounding could use some improvement, as his 9.8 rebounding percentage last season wouldn't even stand out for a wing player, much less a seven-footer.

4. Admiral Schofield, F

Age: 22
Strengths: outside shooting, team defense
Areas to improve: defense against taller players, ball-handling

The expectations should be low for Schofield in his rookie season, despite the fact he played four years in college and has an NBA-ready frame. Most second round picks don't make much of an impact early on and he is slotted to be on the outside of the rotation looking in.

Schofield's fastest way to NBA playing time is through his defense and three-point shooting, the two biggest reasons the Wizards drafted him. If he can provide toughness and an edge in the midrange, it will give the Wizards something they have lacked in recent years. And he shot at both a high percentage and for volume from three at Tennessee, and you can't have enough perimeter shooting these days.

5. Justin Robinson, G

Age: 23
Strengths: outside shooting, passing
Areas to improve: finishing around rim, turnovers

Like Schofield, Robinson is probably going to spend a good deal of his time with the Capital City Go-Go this season. But working in his favor is the team's lack of depth at point guard. They have Thomas, who again has some injury concerns. And they have Ish Smith, but there appears to be an opening at the third point guard spot.

Brown could fill the void and so could Jordan McRae. The Wizards could even give Bradley Beal more of an extended look running the offense. But the door seems to be open for Robinson to make an impact and early. He needs to focus on taking care of the ball, playing physical defense and making his open threes. The Wizards don't need Robinson to be a big-time scorer, but he can add spacing if he shoots from three as he did in college.

Honorable mention: Garrison Mathews, Isaac Bonga

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Orioles Roundup: O's fall to Nationals in opening game of Beltway Series

Orioles Roundup: O's fall to Nationals in opening game of Beltway Series

Another night, another loss for the Baltimore Orioles. Tuesday night featured a one-sided affair, as the Nationals beat the O's 8-1 at Camden Yards.

The Orioles fell to 28-66 on this season, while the Natoinals continued their climb to 50-43.

Here are the latest news and notes:

Player Updates:

SP Asher Wojciechowski gave up three earned runs over 5 1/3 innings in Tuesday night's loss. The righty gave up two home runs, with Matt Adams and Juan Soto hitting one deep ball each, while managing to strikeout seven batter and issue no walks on the night. He has now whiffed 21 batters in 15 2/3 innings since joining the Orioles, but also holds a 5.74 ERA.

2B Hanser Alberto was the only offense to speak of for the Orioles on Tuesday night. The utility player had two of the team's four hits and scored their only run after blasting a home run off Austin Voth in the second inning. Alberto has been a breath of fresh air for a struggling O's team, sporting a .306/.325/.402 batting line.

Before first pitch on Tuesday, the Orioles released INF/OF Jace Peterson. The versatile player had a July 15 opt-out in his minor league contract that he decided to exercise in order to find a better opportunity. Through 86 games this season in Triple-A Norfolk, Peterson boasted a .309/.394/.505 battling line with nine home runs, 44  RBI, 12 stolen bases and 55 runs scored.

Also before first pitch on Tuesday, it was announced that DH Mark Trumbo (knee) has resumed baseball activities. Though there is no timetable for his return to the team, the Orioles are optimistic that he will be able to contribute before the end of the season. He has missed the whole season so far due to complications following right knee surgery.

Injuries:

SP Dylan Bundy: Knee, 10-day Injured List

RP Josh Rogers: Elbow, 10-day Injured List

OF DJ Stewart: Ankle, 10-day Injured List

SP Alex Cobb: Back, 60-day Injured List

SP Nate Karns: Arm, 60-day Injured List

DH Mark Trumbo: Knee, 60-day Injured List

Coming Up:

Wednesday 7/17: Orioles vs. Nationals, 7:05 p.m., Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Friday 7/19: Orioles vs. Red Sox, 7:05 p.m., Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Saturday 7/20: Orioles vs. Red Sox, 7:05 p.m., Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Source: Rotoworld

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