NBA Playoffs Wizards Zap Pacers Clippers Blast Thunder

The second round of the NBA playoffs opened as the first round did: With the road teams displaying poise and guile in seizing the home-court advantage.The Washington Wizards went into Indianapolis and rocked the Pacers, 102-96, and the Los Angeles Clippers, seemingly coming together after the Donald Sterling racially charged drama, pounded the Thunder in Oklahoma City,“Our goal from the beginning of training camp was just to make the playoffs, but after a while, you kind of build a little confidence and feel like you belong,” Washington point guard John Wall said after registering 13 points and nine assists for the Wizards, who have won nine of their last 10 games.They played like they belong against Indy. Washington won a second-round playoff game for the first time since 1982 — before all but three members of the team were born — and snapped a 12-game losing streak in Indiana, dating from April 11, 2007.“We know this is a tough building to play in. We haven’t won here in a while. Why wouldn’t this be the best time to come in here and get a win in the playoffs?” forward Trevor Ariza said after going 6 for 6 from the three-point range, matching his club record.Meanwhile, second-year guard Bradley Beal became the first player in NBA history to have three playoff games with at least 25 points before his 21st birthday. He had 25 Monday night.“The way I think about it, I’m 20 years old, playing in the playoffs, something I always dreamed about, so why not embrace it? Why not accept that challenge?” Beal said after also contributing seven rebounds, seven assists and five steals. “I’m just having fun on a great team. Whenever we play together and play the right way, it motivates me to be the best player I can be.”Meanwhile, in a matchup of two of the best point guards in the NBA, Chris Paul bested OKC’s Russell Westbrook in a big way. Paul led the Clippers with 32 points, making eight three-point shots, as they destroyed the Thunder from start to finish. Paul made all six threes to open the game.“When somebody’s got it going like that,” LA’s Blake Griffin said of Paul, “you just try to stay out of the way as much as possible, but also help keep that fire going.”The Clippers’ collective fire burned all night. They never let OKC back in contention. Westbrook had 29 points, but also six turnovers. Kevin Durant added 25. But the Thunder’s problem was more on the defensive end.“We have to get more physical,” Durant said. “I’m not talking about hard fouls, I’m talking about jamming the lane, fighting through screens and not letting guys run free. We just have to be more physical.” read more

The Rockets Are Finally Playing Their Game In The Playoffs

It’s unlikely that the Rockets will play the rest of the series at the level they played Game 1 — the 27-point loss was the worst of the Spurs’ season. But however the series plays out, it’s progress that the Rockets have finally brought Rockets basketball to the playoffs. The biggest change has been in the number of threes the team gets. Over the previous three seasons, the Rockets led the league in 3-point attempt rate (the share of field-goal attempts that are 3-pointers) during the regular season before seeing significant dropoffs in the postseason. That’s particularly unusual, considering the playoff field as a whole had a higher rate in this span than the leaguewide regular-season rate.This season, the Rockets have seen a similar slide toward the mean. But they began with such an overwhelming cushion that although they’ve gone from 46.2 percent of their attempts being threes during the season to 40.3 being so in the playoffs, that 40.3 number would have led all teams during the regular season.It’s especially promising for the Rockets’ identity that they’ve continued to put up shots even though they haven’t been falling. In the Oklahoma City series, Houston shot 28 percent from three over five games and 169 attempts, including 6-for-37 in the series clincher. This was somewhat because of good coverage — the Thunder held the Rockets to 10 uncontested2No defender within 6 feet. threes per game, five fewer than their regular season average — but mostly it was just a cold spell that seems to have corrected itself. Against the Spurs in Game 1, the Rockets got 14 wide-open threes, right around their season average.Houston’s free-throw rate (a team’s number of free-throw attempts per field-goal attempt) hasn’t seen as consistent a downturn in the playoffs as its 3-pointers, but it’s fluctuated. The team has finished in the top two in each of the last four regular seasons, but the fouls dried up in its 2014 and 2016 playoff campaigns. Through six games this postseason, however, the team is drawing free throws at by far the highest rate in the field. The strangest thing about the Houston Rockets’ 126-99 dismantling of the San Antonio Spurs on Monday night wasn’t the final score, or the Spurs’ bloodless play, or even the 50 3-pointers (and 22 makes) that Houston threw up in the game. Those were all unusual, but in the way that any one-off game in a seven-game series might be. For Rockets fans, however, the big change was that for once in the playoffs, the Rockets looked like the Rockets.Over the last four seasons,1The period for which we have player-tracking data for the league. Houston general manager Daryl Morey has built the NBA’s model of efficiency. The Rockets of the regular season adhere to the fundamental tenets of Moreyball: shooting threes, driving for layups and drawing fouls. Then the playoffs begin. That’s when Houston has gone off script and played the sort of inefficient basketball it’s built to avoid. read more

How The Pelicans Lost a Star But Became More Dangerous

So that’s the reality of the Pelicans’ situation for the moment. They have one of the game’s great talents and play at an annoying, breakneck pace. New Orleans has good individual defenders who are perfectly fine as a unit during the regular season. The club might even fare decently against a juggernaut like Houston because the Rockets are guard-oriented, much like the Blazers.But if there’s a ceiling on these Pelicans, and there still seems to be one, it’s that their arms can stretch only so far when trying to contest a Durant fall-away jumper. And until New Orleans acquires a couple of wing stoppers the way Houston did last season, a team like the Warriors will likely continue to give the Pelicans headaches come postseason. Few NBA teams in recent memory have been on the sort of roller coaster the Pelicans are just getting off of.There was the excitement that accompanied the shocking deal for DeMarcus Cousins (while the 2017 All-Star Game was being played in New Orleans, no less). A year later, there was the January night in which the Pellies carried a six-wins-in-seven-games streak into a nationally televised contest with the Rockets, only to have the eventual victory marred by Boogie rupturing his Achilles tendon. The club, perceived by many as unable to contend without Cousins, reeled off 10 straight wins — tied for the best in franchise history — from mid-February to early March. A month and a half later, Jrue Holiday went Super Saiyan in the first round of the NBA playoffs and helped the Pelicans sweep No. 3-seed Portland in eye-popping fashion. Then their season ended in May at the hands of the Warriors, who not only won the title but also shocked the entire league by signing Cousins away from the Pelicans for just $5.3 million.With the dust settled now, it’s fair to wonder where the Anthony Davis-led squad stands. Is New Orleans anywhere near as great as it looked during its win streaks, or during that domination over the Blazers? And if so, what’s the team’s ceiling after putting Cousins in the rear-view mirror for good?A handful of things will definitely be worth watching with the Pelicans — some of which we saw for decent stretches after Boogie’s injury. In particular, the pace of play picked up considerably, and New Orleans finished the season as the fastest team in the league — something that likely wouldn’t have happened with a healthy Cousins in the lineup each night. And the Nikola Mirotic pickup undoubtedly meant that there was more space available in the lane, which Davis took full advantage of in the postseason. (Davis managed to take about 47 percent of his shot attempts from the restricted area in the playoffs while sharing the floor with Mirotic, according to NBA Advanced Stats. That number shrank to just 33 percent of his shots when Mirotic was on the bench.)The Mirotic-Davis pairing is one the Pelicans are looking forward to based on the vast success it had toward the tail end of last season, when the team’s net rating with Davis on the court went from plus-3.8 per 100 possessions without Mirotic to plus-10.3 per 100 possessions with him.1Davis played about 600 minutes in each setting after the trade for Mirotic. For some context, Davis and Cousins together produced a net rating of plus-4.2 in 2017-18, which was a decent improvement from the plus-2.5 they logged the season before.Still, it’s impossible to overlook what would have seemed unthinkable back in January: that the Pelicans would let a player of Cousins’s caliber walk, even after a devastating Achilles injury that often spells the beginning of the end for many of the best NBA players. New Orleans is a small-market franchise — one that has a front office desperate to win but is also capped out and, for the meantime, has no other means of landing a superstar to pair with Davis. The club needs to keep Davis happy, given that he’s entering his prime and is eligible to sign a supermax deal next summer, which could keep him under contract until 2025. Cousins, who’s about to turn 28 years old, had found a rhythm and comfort level playing next to Davis and was logging 25 points and nearly 13 rebounds on career-best true shooting and assist numbers. There hadn’t been any reports of problems with him in the New Orleans locker room, and prior to suffering his own injury, Cousins provided something of a security blanket in case Davis got hurt — a constant concern for the franchise.Boogie’s inside-out game is something that few players in the league can replicate. Still, the Pelicans likely will benefit by moving on from him. First, it’s unclear when, or in what condition, he will return. But on the floor, New Orleans figures to save a handful of possessions a game without him: Cousins turned the ball over five times a night, which was the highest rate in the league — more than either James Harden or Russell Westbrook, who in 2016-17 rewrote the NBA record books with how many miscues they committed. (At 6.7 giveaways per 100 possessions, Cousins lost the ball more than the next two-highest rotation Pellies in usage — Davis and Holiday — did combined last year, per Basketball-Reference.com.)Beyond that, the club signed former Laker forward Julius Randle, who’s capable of plugging some of the gaps that Cousins left behind. By no means is he the shooter that Cousins is, but he’ll almost certainly fit the team’s uptempo style far better. Randle is highly aggressive in transition, often calling his own number after grabbing a defensive rebound and taking possessions coast to coast in a matter of seconds. Only a handful of elite players — Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and DeMar DeRozan — have scored more efficiently2In terms of quantified Shooter Impact, which measures the value a player adds to shots above what an average player would be expected to accomplish on the same attempts. in the first seven seconds of a transition possession,3At least 100 plays since 2015-16, with three or more dribbles, on an unassisted two-point attempt. according to data from Second Spectrum.The Pelicans have a made a few other alterations around the margins this summer, losing veteran Rajon Rondo and replacing him with Elfrid Payton, another guard known for his inability to shoot (and, until recently, his hair). But the question facing this club — one it didn’t address despite being exposed on this front during the playoffs — is whether the team has anywhere near enough defensive wing depth.New Orleans is decent defensively — both Davis and Holiday were on the All-Defensive First Team. But in a league where length is being more and more prioritized, the Pelicans often played lineups with three guards who were shorter than 6-foot-5. Rondo, Holiday and E’Twaun Moore played 1,146 minutes together during the regular season and then logged 203 more minutes in just nine playoff games, according to NBA Advanced Stats.As such, New Orleans — which may have fewer rotation wing players between 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-9 than any other club in the NBA — was essentially dead on arrival when it drew the Warriors. The Pelicans had no one to match up with Durant, who not only shot better than 50 percent for the series but also took a whopping 19 shot attempts in which he enjoyed at least a 5-inch height advantage, per Second Spectrum. (Aside from James, who took 26 such shots in the playoffs, no other player had as many shot attempts with such mismatches in the entire postseason as Durant had in those five games against the Pelicans.) The club trotted out 6-foot-7 Solomon Hill and 6-foot-8 Darius Miller in hopes of adding some length against the Dubs, but they combined for just 40 points on 38 shots in the series.4The team originally had Tony Allen — a player Durant has historically struggled against — on the roster. But he struggled to stay healthy, and the Pelicans eventually traded him to the Bulls as part of the deal for Mirotic. Chicago then waived Allen, and he is currently a free agent. read more

Marc Gasol Is Joel Embiids Kryptonite

To put it another way: Against average competition, Embiid rivals Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden as the most prolific scorer in basketball in terms of points per 100 possessions. But when he’s guarded by Gasol, he essentially turns into Dewayne Dedmon.At 7 feet tall and 250 pounds, Embiid can usually bully smaller defenders and tactically position himself in the post. But Gasol is too big to be pushed around, and it’s forcing Embiid out of his sweet spots. Throughout the series, Gasol has refused to cede ground to Embiid, denying the entry pass into the post and forcing Embiid to catch the ball outside of the paint. During the regular season, Embiid averaged 7.4 touches in the paint per game. Against Gasol and Toronto in the playoffs, Embiid is averaging just 4.2 touches in the paint per game.Another factor contributing to Embiid’s lack of paint touches is the crowd that’s been forming right around the basket. Fellow Sixer Ben Simmons can’t shoot outside of 10 feet and so positions himself near the rim, which brings his defender to effectively provide help defense when Embiid is in the post. That’s a problem especially when the help defender is Kawhi Leonard, the player who has guarded Simmons most of the series.To make up for his lack of paint touches, Embiid has had to rely on his jump shot to generate points. But that’s not his strong suit. In the regular season, Embiid shot 34 percent on jumpers. In this series, he’s just 10 for 37 (27 percent) on those shots. Gasol is forcing Embiid to do what he does least well, and it’s working to the Raptors’ advantage.The fact that Gasol has given Embiid trouble shouldn’t be all that surprising. Even at 34 years old, Gasol can still play like the defensive player of the year he once was. Just ask Nikola Vucevic: Gasol neutralized the All-Star center during the Raptors’ first-round series against the Magic. Vucevic scored just 17 points per 100 possessions when Gasol was the primary defender — a far cry from Vucevic’s season average of 32 points per 100 possessions.When Gasol was brought to Toronto in a midseason trade, it was reasonable to wonder whether the big Spaniard had enough in the tank to make a difference on a contending team. Those doubts have been put to rest, in part because Gasol has chiseled out a perfect role for himself. In Toronto, Gasol doesn’t need to anchor a defense while also serving as a primary scorer, like he was forced to do in Memphis. Instead, he’s able to focus on what he does best, which is lock down the opposing team’s best big man.In all fairness to Embiid, he’s reportedly battled through injury on top of illness during the playoffs. And if we’ve learned anything from his monster Game 3, it’s that a healthy Embiid can live up to his self-proclaimed title. The only question is whether he can do it consistently against an elite defensive stopper like Gasol.Check out our latest NBA predictions. Joel Embiid has described himself as the “most unstoppable player in the league” — and for good reason. When he’s at his best, like in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, he can make defenders look downright foolish as he pump-fakes his way into windmill dunks. But so far in Philadelphia’s series against Toronto, Game 3 has been the exception. The Raptors have all but shut Embiid down on the offensive end, thanks in large part to Marc Gasol — the man who has perfected the art of stopping the league’s most unstoppable player.Through five games of the series — which the Raptors lead 3-2 — Gasol has matched up with Embiid on 201 possessions, holding him to just 21 points per 100 possessions. That’s a significant dip from Embiid’s season average of 37 points per 100 possessions.If you think those numbers are obscured by Embiid’s recent upper respiratory problem, consider this: Over the past two seasons (which is as far back as the NBA’s matchup data goes), Gasol has played against Embiid on nine separate occasions (including the regular season and this year’s playoffs). During that stretch, the two have matched up on a total of 379 possessions. Embiid averages just 19 points per 100 possessions when Gasol is his primary defender, by far his lowest average against anyone who has guarded him on at least 100 possessions. read more

This Years NCAA Mens Tournament Might Be The Most TopHeavy In 15

As my boss, Nate Silver, wrote in his introduction to FiveThirtyEight’s March Madness predictions, 2014-15 was not a college basketball season defined by parity. For starters, Kentucky enters the bracket undefeated and — according to the Simple Rating System (SRS) — is the strongest pre-tournament team that the NCAA has seen in a while: But even beyond Kentucky, most of the other top teams this year are unusually strong, according to their SRS ranking. Wisconsin’s rating is about average for a second-ranked pre-tournament SRS team since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, but Arizona is the eighth-best No. 3 in that 31-tournament period. Duke is the seventh-best No. 4. Villanova is the fifth-best No. 5. Virginia is the fourth-best No. 6. And Gonzaga and North Carolina each rank fifth among teams ranked No. 7 and 8, respectively. And 2015’s field only gets more impressive the deeper you dig:That’s why, if you look at the average SRS rating of the top third of teams in the field, the 2015 tournament ranks as the most top-heavy in more than a decade. Starting in the early 2000s, college basketball seemed to be trending toward a more even distribution of talent across the tournament, with fewer truly dominant teams at the top. Between Kentucky and its other unusually dominant peers, this season bucks that trend in a big way.Now, you might be tempted to think this is a case of the NCAA’s selection committee doing a better job of including the top teams according to statistical power ratings such as the SRS. And the sea of salmon-colored rows that make up Ken Pomeroy’s top 44 seems to lend credence to this theory. But in terms of average SRS, this year’s field features a pre-tournament rating of +11.7 — essentially no different from the +11.4 field average of a year ago.This season’s crop of tournament teams simply appears to be jam-packed with talent at the top, which we can only hope leads to an exciting month of basketball.Check out FiveThirtyEight’s March Madness predictions. read more

Detroit And Minnesota Are Saving Thanksgiving Football This Year

This year’s Thanksgiving slate of NFL games is … not great. Only the game between the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings has some juice to it. As you’ll see in the video above, that’s surprising! The Lions are usually the team holding Thanksgiving football back, not making it exciting.Check out our latest NFL predictions.

Alabamas Offense Is Now As Terrifying As Its Defense

92016Baker MayfieldOklahoma91.8 12018Tua TagovailoaAlabama97.8 For years, Alabama’s offensive blueprint seemed like a relic from the 1980s: Run the ball on the first few downs, attempt a short- to moderate-length pass, and move the chains or punt to play the field-position game. It was a Ritz Cracker offense that, at times, appeared premeditated to suck the entertainment out of the sport entirely. It worked: Alabama has had 11 running backs/fullbacks and 13 offensive linemen drafted over the past 12 years. RKSeasonPlayerTeamTotal QBR Tagovailoa vaulted into Alabama lore last season when, as a freshman, he was inserted into the national championship game after halftime and led the Tide to a come-from-behind win over Georgia in overtime. Now the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy, Tagovailoa has performed like a video game character in his sophomore campaign, accounting for 1,033 passing yards, 14 total touchdowns and zero interceptions. He can feather a ball onto the chest of a full-sprint receiver 40 yards downfield and Houdini his way around would-be tacklers bearing down on him in the pocket — execute and improvise. ESPN has been calculating Total Quarterback Rating, which seeks to value quarterback play on a 0-to-100 scale while adjusting for the strength of opposing defenses faced, since 2004. The left-handed Hawaiian is in line to produce the top single-season figure ever — by nearly four points. 82008Sam BradfordOklahoma91.9 52018Dwayne HaskinsOhio State93.7 32011Russell WilsonWisconsin94.1 72017Khalil TateArizona92.0 22018Kyler MurrayOklahoma95.6 Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group Tua is on historic paceSingle-season leaders in Total Quarterback Rating, 2004-18 The engine powering college football’s pre-eminent outfit over the past decade has typically been a blue chip-laden, pressure-oriented, versatile defense. In Tuscaloosa, where Nick Saban has helmed the Alabama Crimson Tide since 2007, that engine has only gained steam in recent years. The winner of 87.2 percent of its games and five national titles since the diminutive kingpin’s arrival, Alabama is the only program to qualify for the College Football Playoff in each of the first four years.Much of that sovereignty is attributable to the historically great fortresses that Alabama closes off its end zone with. There have been six instances since 2007 of a team holding opponents to five or fewer rushing touchdowns over an entire season. Alabama accounts for four. Some have even claimed the team’s stockpile of 18- to 22-year-olds could be competitive on Sundays. Baseless claims notwithstanding, the Tide have sent more talent to the NFL than any other team over the past decade. Since Saban’s arrival, 41 members of the Crimson Tide have been selected in the first two rounds of the NFL draft. More than 60 percent of that pool came from the defensive side of the ball. All 11 defensive starters in Alabama’s 2016 season opener were selected in the past two drafts.However, four games into the 2018 season, all anyone can talk about is the Crimson Tide offense — and for good reason. Saban, it would appear, finally has an offense as ostentatious and dynamic as his defense, a horrifying development for the rest of the country.Spearheaded by starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and under the direction of first-year offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, the Tide offense is crashing down on its competition like a tsunami. Alabama has outscored its four opponents by an average margin of 41 points. The Tide have played 16 quarters of football and failed in just two to put more points on the scoreboard than their opponent, and in both cases it was the fourth quarter of a blowout.1A 7-7 fourth-quarter tie against Louisville when Alabama led 44-7 entering the fourth, and the final frame of its blowout win over Texas A&M, when it ceded a touchdown while leading 45-16.Locksley’s offense has been so devastatingly effective that Saban, a well-established curmudgeon who cares not for style points, beseeched the press to “look at some of the things we didn’t do so well” following Saturday’s 22-point win over then-No. 22 Texas A&M. One can only be so sated by a unit averaging 53.8 points and 539.5 yards, after all.Alabama’s offensive efficiency — a metric graded 0 to 100 that controls for quality of opponent and “garbage time” — scores a 98.02. That’s the top mark of any team measured by ESPN Stats & Information since Saban’s arrival. Its defensive efficiency of 94.24 ranks a lusterless fourth since 2007, behind the current Georgia team and two other versions of Bama. According to College Football Reference’s Simple Rating System, Alabama is 49.71 points better than the average Football Bowl Subdivision team this season. However, in Saban parlance, “our team needs to do a lot of things to improve.” 102014Marcus MariotaOregon91.3 42010Andrew LuckStanford93.8 2012Johnny ManzielTexas A&M91.3 62017Baker MayfieldOklahoma92.3 However, that bland cadence hasn’t manifested under Locksley. Considering the second half of Alabama games have largely been a formality — the Tide have outscored opponents 148-20 in the opening 30 minutes — let’s assess first-half play calling. Alabama is taking to the air on 53.9 percent of plays, which ranks 38th nationally. That mark is 13.9 percentage points higher than last season’s average, which ranked 110th nationally. On first and second downs, Alabama’s pass percentage is 40.5 percent, up from 34.5 percent a season ago. Compared with previous seasons under Saban, this year is a clear aberration, like the Indiana Pacers suddenly learning the value of the three-point shot.“(Locksley) really is doing a good job of mixing up the run, the pass, the play-action screens,” tight end Hale Hentges said. “And he’s making a very natural flow to all of our plays and that’s what has made us have success. … He’s an offensive genius.”What once were almost always Mark Ingram carries on second down have been replaced by deranged sequences of Tagovailoa evading a pass rush to heave a cross-body rocket to the back of the end zone for a touchdown.Alabama has already attempted 17 passes that traveled at least 20 yards downfield, in line to finish the regular season with 51, according to data provided by TruMedia. Last season, the team accounted for 50 in 14 games. Only Hawaii (with 27) has accounted for more passing plays of 20-plus yards this season than Alabama’s 25. In turn, the Tide rank third in expected points added on passes (79.34) and second in adjusted offensive expected points added (98.2), according to data provided by TruMedia.“We feel like as a group, collectively, when we go out, we’re unstoppable,” wide receiver Henry Ruggs III said.Unstoppable isn’t far off. Alabama has scored a touchdown on 48.1 percent of its drives, the top mark of any SEC team. Locksley’s unit has only gone three-and-out eight times, in line to produce the lowest three-and-out percentage (15.4 percent) by an Alabama offense since Saban’s arrival by nearly three percentage points, according to data provided by ESPN Stats & Information.The onslaught of points hasn’t gone unnoticed by pundits like Kirk Herbstreit and Tim Tebow, who knows a thing or three about leading an explosive offense in the SEC. Both have posited that this year’s Alabama offense has the makings of the best in program history. Alabama no longer just suffocates its opponent with defense; in 2018, its offense brings the reckoning. read more

Blue Jackets fire coach Ken Hitchcock

The Columbus Blue Jackets fired head coach Ken Hitchcock Wednesday in the midst of a disappointing season that has seen Columbus fall from a playoff contender to an also-ran.Hitchcock, who assumed head coaching duties mid-season in 2006, compiled a 125-123-36 record in his time with the Jackets.Addressing the media, new interim coach Claude Noel, who looked poised and eager, sat next to Jackets general manager Scott Howson, who looked very much like a man who had just fired someone.“We’re all responsible for the performance of this team,” Howson said. “It has become clear, that despite the efforts of ‘Hitch,’ the coaches and the players to find a solution, it wasn’t working. The team was not responding to the message.”When asked about the timing of the firing and whether or not it could have come earlier before the season was lost, Howson rejected the notion that he had given up on the playoffs.“We don’t consider the season lost. We’re going to play hard and see what happens,” Howson said. “We all felt that ‘Hitch’ deserved the opportunity to try and work out of this. We wanted to be patient and we kept hoping he’d find the solution.”It was clear that Hitchcock’s job security was tenuous at best for some time now. The change started to manifest itself right after Christmas, according to Howson.“That’s when I started really thinking seriously that this isn’t going to happen for us, but you keep hoping,”  Howson said. “If you look at the [Los Angeles] game and you look at Wednesday night (a 5-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche), there just wasn’t much pushback.”‘Not much pushback,’ corporate-speak for a lack of heart, nearly always falls on the coach’s shoulders.Much was made about the young players on the club and Hitchcock’s tendency to not allow them to play through mistakes. His gruff style was often at odds with a younger team supposedly finding its way.“The young players have to take some accountability,” Howson said. “Claude is going to try to get them to do that. Try to get them excited because some of them have lost confidence and the hope that they had coming into the season.”Noel has a tough job ahead of him. He has been an assistant coach with Columbus since 2007, after spending four seasons as head coach of the Milwaukee Admirals in the American Hockey League.He sounded up for the task.“At the end of the day, you want to be proud of the way of you play,” Noel said. “The players are going to want to give me their best, because I’ll be making assessments. I can’t wait for training camp, I have to look at each day who didn’t play well and who’s coming out.” read more

Mens Hockey No 5 Ohio States 7game home win streak snapped with

Red Shirt junior goalie Sean Romeo (30) dives for a save in the shutout against Michigan tonight Jan. 26, 2018 at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus, OH. Credit: Ethan Clewell | For The LanternSpecial teams could not save the No. 5 Ohio State men’s hockey team (18-6-4, 11-6-1-0) in a 6-3 loss to an aggressive and balanced Michigan State (10-17-1, 4-13-1-1). Saturday night’s loss snapped a seven-game home winning streak and split the weekend series at the Schottenstein Center.Ohio State’s special teams went 3-for-5 on the power play and a perfect 4-for-4 on the penalty kill, but the Buckeyes’ 5-on-5 play struggled against the Spartan defense.“That’s the difference. You look at the stat sheet here, when you win the special teams’ battle, you’re gonna win that game most of the time,” Ohio State head coach Steve Rohlik said. “That tells you how bad we were defensively, and it tells you how good Michigan State was.”  The Spartans came out flying, potting two goals in the game’s opening 10 minutes.Michigan State sophomore defenseman Butrus Ghafari feathered a wrister from center point through traffic to get past redshirt junior goalie Sean Romeo.Then Spartan freshman forward Austin Kamer gathered the puck along the half-wall and threw a simple shot on goal past the glove hand of Romeo.Throughout the first period, Michigan State pinned the Buckeyes in their own zone using its aggressive forecheck. The Buckeyes had a chance late in the period on the power play, but that aggressive Spartan forecheck took the puck from behind Romeo, resulting in a short-handed goal off the stick of sophomore forward Patrick Khodorenko to stretch the Michigan State lead to three goals.“They came out and worked extremely hard like they do, we knew that was coming,” Rohlik said. “We just made some untimely mistakes, again you can’t give good teams like that and spot them a lead like that.”  The Buckeyes totaled 30 shots on goal, but it could’ve been more with the Spartans getting in front of the shooting lanes, frustrating shooters for the Buckeyes.“We know they always put their body on the line,” senior forward Matthew Weis said. “Like coach [Rohlik] said, they are a good team. We just didn’t play our best tonight.”   Midway through the second period, Michigan State freshman forward David Keefer took the puck across the crease and appeared to roof it over a sprawling Romeo for his second goal of the season.Confusion surrounded whether the puck crossed the goal line, which led to a lengthy review that eventually confirmed Keefer’s goal. Rohlik was appalled by the officials’ indecision.“I really don’t even know what to say anymore, to be honest with you,” Rohlik said. “We’ve got video replay to have someone make a call, not say, ‘Well, we’re not sure.’”    The Michigan State attack continued with a goal from senior defenseman Carson Gratt to give his team a 5-1 lead, which ended Romeo’s night. Romeo finished the game with 12 saves on 17 shots. Freshman goalie Tommy Napier took over for Ohio State and made all six saves.The Buckeyes could not seem to get out of their own way, handling the puck poorly, and it cost them three points in the Big Ten standings.“The problem tonight was we had some momentum going, all of the sudden, there was a breakdown the other way,” Rohlik said. “Next thing you know, they’ve got a guy behind our ‘D’ and walking in on the goaltending. We just had too many defensive breakdowns tonight for our team.”   Next week, the Buckeyes will travel to face No. 2 Notre Dame for a crucial Big Ten weekend series. The puck will drop at 7:35 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m. Saturday. Both games will be played at the Compton Family Ice Arena. read more

Hatton Garden guvnor Brian Reader loses bid to cut jail term

first_imgValuables worth up to £14 million, including gold, diamonds and sapphires, were taken. Two-thirds of them remain unrecovered.Mr Justice Flaux said the sentencing judge at Woolwich Crown Court was “well aware” of Reader’s serious health problems and this was reflected in the sentence imposed.Dismissing Reader’s case, he said: “In our judgment, despite the submissions addressed to us as to why we should show mercy, the reality is that this elderly offender with health problems chose to commit this extremely serious offence in 2015.”Reader’s sentencing was delayed after he suffered a stroke in Belmarsh Prison.Judge Christopher Kinch, when imposing the sentence of six years and three months, said he took into account the fact that Reader was “seriously unwell” and needed daily assistance with a number of routine tasks.He said Reader had a range of medical problems which were “potentially very serious indeed”, but added: “I’m satisfied that you were rightly described as one of the ringleaders and involved in regular meetings.”Judge Kinch pointed out that while Reader was not present on the second night of the raid, he was there the first night and during “at least one dry run”.Reader’s previous convictions go back more than 60 years, including one for burglary in 1950. Holes bored through a half-meter thick concrete wall drilled to access a vault in a safe deposit centre in Hatton Garden Holes bored through a half-meter thick concrete wall drilled to access a vault in a safe deposit centre in Hatton GardenCredit:AFP/Getty Images But Mr Justice Flaux and Mr Justice Edis rejected Reader’s application for permission to appeal against his sentence.Mr Justice Flaux said: “The sentence passed was not in any sense manifestly excessive.”Reader, of Dartford, Kent, had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit burglary.The Hatton Garden gang carried out the meticulously planned crime over the Easter weekend last year.They ransacked 73 boxes at Hatton Garden Safe Deposit after using a drill to bore a hole into the vault wall.center_img The oldest member of the Hatton Garden jewellery raid gang has failed to win a cut in his jail sentence.Brian “the guv’nor” Reader – one of the ringleaders of what is said to be the biggest burglary in English history – was given a prison term of six years and three months in March for his role in the £14 million break-in.At the Court of Appeal in London two judges were urged on behalf of the 77-year-old to show “mercy” and reduce his sentence following a “dramatic” deterioration in his health. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily  Front Page newsletter and new  audio briefings.last_img read more