Thursday, November 30, 2017

NBA Game Preview: Utah Jazz vs. Los Angeles Clippers - 11/30/2017 - 10:38 PM EST

NBA Game Preview: Utah Jazz vs. Los Angeles Clippers - Date: 11/30/2017 Nov 30, 2017 LOS ANGELES -- A pair of teams on three-game winning streaks will meet at Staples Center on Thursday when the Utah Jazz visit the Los Angeles Clippers.Only one team is feeling truly positive about the current state of affairs.The Utah Jazz (10-11) just finished off home victories against the Denver Nuggets, Milwaukee Bucks and Chicago Bulls. Best Sports Picks of the Day. The Jazz won those games by an average of 27.3 points, and could be ready to turn around its 1-7 road record.The Los Angeles Clippers (8-11) are not quite feeling a healthy dose of momentum, however, even though they just defeated their rival, the Los Angeles Lakers. Forward Blake Griffin suffered a left knee sprain in the victory Monday and could be out for as much as two months.It is yet another injury blow for the Cl ippers, who have already lost guard Patrick Beverley for the season after knee surgery. Sports Bettor Leads. They are also without forward Danilo Gallinari (hip) and guard Milos Teodosic (foot).With victories over the Lakers, Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks, the Clippers had to feel like their recent nine-game losing streak was a distant memory.But Griffin's injury returned all those feelings of woe.Yet Clippers coach Doc Rivers was still trying to remain positive through it all."It's not what we came into the season thinking would happen, but there is going to be something out of this that we find that is good -- and I can't tell you what it is," Rivers said after practice Wednesday. "It may be Brice (Johnson), It may be Sam (Dekker), it may be (Montrezl Harrell), it may be someone. Best Bets of the Day. That's the way it goes." The Jazz return to Los Angeles where it already lost to the Clippers this season. Griffin scored 22 points in pacing the Clippers to an 102-84 victory Oct. 24 that showcased L. A.'s early-season commitment to defense.And while the Jazz won't ease up on a depleted Clippers squad, Utah actually did offer some sympathy."It's hard to watch because your heart goes out to guys," Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell told the Salt Lake Tribune. "At the end of the day, being in the NBA is a brotherhood. We're all brothers because there's only 450 of us. So you never want to see anyone hurt, and you never wish injury on anyone." Without Beverley and Griffin, that defense the Clippers showed in October is far less intimidating. The Jazz failed to score 100 points in five of their first six games, including that loss to the Clippers, but Utah is now averaging 112.3 per game during its winning streak.Utah has even done its recent winning with a short-handed roster of its own, so it knows as well as anybody that a reshuffled starting lineup, like the one the Clippers will present Thursday, can be dangerous.The Jazz will be without Rudy Gobert (knee), Joe Johnson (wrist) and Dante Exum (shoulder).Utah also may be without Rodney Hood and Raul Neto. Hood missed Tuesday's game with left ankle soreness and is questionable while Neto is questionable with a sore left hamstring."Injuries are unfortunate," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. "You hate to see that. I think how you handle those injuries, can your team get better and can you get guys back. That tells a lot about how your season could go."


NBA Game Preview: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Boston Celtics - 11/30/2017 - 7:38 PM EST

NBA Game Preview: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Boston Celtics - Date: 11/30/2017 Nov 30, 2017 BOSTON -- Brad Stevens got to do something with his Boston Celtics on Wednesday he hadn't been able to do in over a month.Have a full practice.A rigorous schedule that saw the Celtics play more games than all but one other NBA team through Tuesday meant a lack of quality practice time with days of rest, travel and shoot-arounds dominating the non-game days.After losing to the visiting Detroit Pistons on Monday night, the Celtics actually got in a full practice Wednesday, with the Philadelphia 76ers coming to town Thursday night."A shoot-around is more like a walkthrough, making sure we understand the game," Celtics forward Al Horford said. "But in practice, it's very productive anytime we're able to go out and actually have a good practice." Said Stevens: "It's nice to be back out here. You're obvio usly balancing the opportunity to practice with what's coming ahead. And also the schedule you've just been through."I thought our attention was really good. I thought our purpose was good." There was another factor in Boston's favor.According to Celtics radio voice Sean Grande's Twitter account, when the Celtics catch the Sixers on a back-to-back Thursday, it will end a run of 14 consecutive games in which Boston's opponent had the same or more rest. Best Bets of the Day. The Celtics went 12-2 in that stretch.The Celtics (18-4) had their eight-game home winning streak snapped by the Pistons. On Thursday, they will face a Philadelphia team that will be missing big man Joel Embiid. Sports Monitor. The Sixers beat the Washington Wizards 118-113 on Wednesday night, but Embiid and his legs still aren't ready to play back-to-b ack games."That's not my decision that I'm not cleared yet, but I hope the guys get a win tomorrow," Embiid said.Coach Brett Brown said, "I think Joel has always wanted to play in front of our fans -- like he feels responsibility when we have choices to play in front of our own fans." Valuable 76ers guard T. J. McConnell sustained a shoulder contusion Wednesday, and he isn't expected to play Thursday. Philadelphia rookie guard Markelle Fultz has missed the past 15 games with a shoulder injury.Justin Anderson (shin splints) is also out for the Sixers (12-8).Ben Simmons, whose rookie year was delayed until this season because of injury, sustained an ankle sprain Monday night and was a game-time decision Wednesday.He played against the Wizards, scoring 31 points (despite going just 15-for-29 from the foul line) and grabbed 18 rebounds. Embiid had 25 points and 18 boards. Basketball Handicappers. The win ended a 4-2 homestand for Philadelphia.According to the team, the only other Sixers rookie every to post at least 30 points and 15 rebounds in a game was Hall of Famer Billy Cunningham on January 9, 1966, at St. Louis.The teams played Oct. 20 in Philadelphia, and the Celtics, who lost free agent signee Gordon Hayward for the year in the first quarter of the first game and dropped their first two, started a 16-game winning streak with a 102-92 win. Boston's Kyrie Irving had 21 points and Horford 17 points and nine rebounds in that game.Embiid scored 11 points and hauled down 14 boards in the loss, so his size and strength will be missed Thursday. Simmons collected 11 points, 11 rebounds and five assists in that game.Thursday marks the return to TD Garden of Philadelphia's Amir Johnson, who played the past two seasons with the Celtics before signing with the Sixers as a free agent. He is expected to start in place of Embiid. Johnson is averaging 4.4 poi nts and 5.8 rebounds per game.The Celtics have won all six games against Philadelphia at TD Garden over the past three seasons.


NHL Game Preview: Montreal Canadiens vs. Detroit Red Wings - 11/30/2017 - 7:38 PM EST

NHL Game Preview: Montreal Canadiens vs. Detroit Red Wings - Date: 11/30/2017 Time: 7:30 PM EST Venue: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit, MI, 48201 / DETROIT -- A pair of teams moving in opposite directions meet when the Detroit Red Wings host the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday at Little Caesars Arena. Detroit is winless in its past five games (0-2-3) while the Canadiens are riding a three-game winning streak after a 2-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday night in Montreal. Sports Handicapper Tracker. The Red Wings lost 4-1 at home to the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday." I think if we could have won two of the (recent) games in overtime, we'd have been fine, but we haven't," Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said after the game Tuesday, according to Booth Newspapers. "So now we have tons of urgency on Thursday." The Red Wings are in th e middle of a stretch in which they play 13 of 18 games at home. Sports Handicapper Leads. They are 4-4-4 at Little Caesars Arena. Detroit led 1-0 on Tuesday late in the second period, thanks to defenseman Mike Green's goal in the first period. However, Los Angeles right winger Dustin Brown tied it with 2:17 left in the second, and center Anze Kopitar put the Kings ahead for good with just 6.1 seconds left in the middle period. Los Angeles forward Adrian Kempe scored 58 seconds into the third period." That second, third goal, tough ones, kind of kills the game," said Red Wings center and captain Henrik Zetterberg, who hasn't scored a goal in 18 games. "It's a tough team to be behind against, and they're playing a certain style that's tiring when you're not scoring on your chances ... We have to find a way to be more determined." The 18-game scoring drought is the long est of Zetterberg's career." Hank's a big-time competitor. He's a big-time warrior," Blashill said. "He wants to help this team win. I don't know if it's wearing on him, he's been through lots of this throughout his career. Free Sports Picks Forum. The year I was here as an assistant (2011-12), the first half of the year was a real struggle for him, and he was unreal the second half." He'll keep doing what he does, which is working his (rear) off and competing like crazy, and I think in the end, he'll get results." Zetterberg has seven assists during the goalless stretch." Obviously, it's not fun when you don't score," he said, "so I take big responsibility in that." Goaltender Carey Price made 27 saves for Montreal on Wednesday night, and centers Jonathan Drouin (penalty shot) and Phillip Danault scored 2:18 apart early in the second period. Price has allowed two goals on 102 shots since returning Nov. 25 from a lower-body injury that sidelined him for 10 games." You come into the room, you see how focused he is and you know he's going to have a good night," Drouin said of Price. "He's so composed out there, it's actually kind of crazy to look at. He comes to the bench and he's not sweating almost, just so relaxed, and it's a first for me to see that, but so composed and gives us so much confidence playing." Said Canadiens defenseman Karl Alzner: "You know you can mess up a little bit out there and he's most likely going to back you up, and that's something that feels pretty good. And what a joy it is having him play the puck the way he does. It saves you from getting hit quite a bit." Sportsnet reported that Drouin didn't travel with the team to Detroit postgame, but no other details were available.


NCAAB Game Preview: Notre Dame vs. Michigan State - 11/30/2017 - 7:00 PM EST

NCAAB Game Preview: Notre Dame vs. Michigan State - Date: 11/30/2017 Time: 7:00 PM EST  The last time Notre Dame's basketball team visited East Lansing, Mich., Tom Izzo was a point guard at Northern Michigan University. While two of the elite teams in the country will be meeting for the 97th time on Thursday, they've rarely seen each other for nearly four decades. Winning Sports Gambling. The marquee matchup of two Top 5 teams in the ACC/Big Ten challenge will be just the second time they've faced each other since 1979. No. 5 Notre Dame (6-0) hasn't played on Michigan State's campus since February 1974. Sports Handicapping Monitor. The Spartans' Hall of Fame coach said he has had little success trying to schedule quality non-conference opponents outside of tournaments and made-f or-TV events. Free Sports Picks of the Day. The No. 3 Spartans (5-1) have already played two such games, falling to No. 1 Duke on Nov. 15 and defeating No. 9 North Carolina on Sunday to win their bracket in the PK80 tournament in Portland, Ore." It speaks volumes for our schedule," Izzo, 62, said. "I think it's going to still help us in the long run. You get a better idea of what your team is like. We've definitely seen some strengths of our team and we've definitely seen some warts on our team." The Spartans' defense was airtight against the Tar Heels in the 63-45 victory, holding them to 24.6 percent shooting while forcing 16 turnovers. That allowed Michigan State to overcome 24 turnovers of their own. Michigan State won three games in the tournament despite an ankle sprain to their top player, sophomore forward Miles Bridges. He missed one game and was limited in the other s. He scored 11 points in 26 minutes on Sunday." He wasn't 100 percent," Izzo said. "We'll get him back on track. We've got to get him more involved and we've got to get Jaren (Jackson) more involved in the offense." The 6-foot-11 Jackson, the team's top recruit, is averaging 10.0 points and 7.5 shots per game. He'll draw the toughest defensive assignment, facing senior forward Bonzie Colson. The Player of the Year candidate is averaging 20.0 points and 10.5 rebounds." He's a 6-6 guy that just does a lot of things well and doesn't do anything beyond what he can do," Izzo said. "It will be another challenge for us to guard one of the best in the country. How do you get better practice than doing that at a young age? The kid (Jackson) just turned 18 years old." The Irish are also coming off a major tournament victory, vaulting them into the Top 5. They staged a late rally to defeat No. 6 Wichita St ate 67-66 in the Maui Jim Maui championship game on Thanksgiving." I think it's a big confidence builder when you can win an in-season tournament," Fighting Irish coach Mike Brey said. "We won the Legends Classic last year, but this is the premier tournament. To win the Maui Classic, this is THE tournament. Everybody watches this one." Senior point guard and tournament MVP Matt Farrell made the pivotal play of the game, stealing an inbounds pass and feeding Colson for a layup in the final minute to cut the Shockers' lead to one. Farrell averaged 19.6 points and 5.0 assists in Maui." When you have two guys like that, they make me a better coach," Brey said. "You talk about them being calm -- they're flat-out assassins. They're killers. They're amazingly competitive. They've got that edge."


NCAAB Game Preview: Texas Tech vs. Seton Hall - 11/30/2017 - 6:30 PM EST

NCAAB Game Preview: Texas Tech vs. Seton Hall - Date: 11/30/2017 Time: 6:30 PM EST  NEW YORK -- After making its first appearance in the Top 25 in eight years, No. 22 Texas Tech faces Seton Hall in the first game of the Under Armour Reunion on Thursday at Madison Square Garden. Sports Handicapping Service Leads. The Red Raiders (6-0) were last ranked Dec. 28, 2009, when coach Chris Beard served as an associate head coach under Pat Knight. freepick. This is only the second meeting between Texas Tech and Seton Hall (5-1). Money Cappers. The Red Raiders defeated the Pirates 87-69 in the first round of the NIT in 2010." I'll say this real clearly: I'd rather be in the conversation of the rankings than not be," Beard told the Lubbock Avalanche Journal. "So I think it's a good thing for our program, it's a good thing for our fans. But, really, it means absolutely nothing." You can go back one year ago today and look at the rankings. And I guarantee there were people that were ranked that didn't even make the NCAA Tournament. Or you'll see teams that were ranked 20 that will end up going to the Final Four." That's my friend Frank (Martin, South Carolina head coach). I think expectations are everything." Texas Tech is in the top spot in the Big 12 in scoring defense and ranks inside the nation's top five in scoring defense and defensive field goal percentage. The Red Raiders have held three of their first six opponents to 50 points or fewer. The 49 points against then-No. 20 Northwestern were the fewest that Texas Tech allowed to a ranked team since a 67- 47 victory over No. 11 Oklahoma on Jan. 19, 2004. Texas Tech has started their five seniors during the six-game winning streak. Texas Tech and Mercer are the only two schools to start five seniors in a game this season. Jarrett Culver is the reigning Big 12 Newcomer of the Week after he collected 19.5 points, 4.0 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game during Texas Tech wins over Wofford and Savannah State. He has reached double figures in four of his last five outings, and his 11 points per game are third among Big 12 freshmen. Angel Delgado is averaging 9.3 rebounds and 14 points per game. Delgado is one of four players averaging double-digit scoring for the Pirates. Desi Rodriguez leads the charge with 17.8 points per game followed by Myles Powell (14 points) and Khadeen Carrington (10.2). Carrington's transition to point guard from shooting guard this season has been a success. He led the team with 26 assists, had only nine turnovers and committed only 10 fouls while playing a team-high 174 minutes." He (Carrington) plays like a pure point guard because he sets the tone defensively," Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said. "He just has to get used to having the amount of (defensive) attention he's getting." He's going through the same things Isaiah (Whitehead) went through his sophomore year -- same progressions, same struggles. The only difference is he's playing a much tougher schedule." In the season opener against Fairleigh Dickinson, Seton Hall had assists on 22 of their 33 made field goals, which is the most in a game since Jan. 28, 2015, when the Pirates registered 23 at Marquette. Seton Hall has finished with an even or positive assist-to-turnover ratio in five of six games. Between Delgado, Desi Rodriguez, Carrington and Ish Sanogo, the Pirates entered 2017-18 with the most senior points (3,816) returning in the country:


NBA Game Preview: Chicago Bulls vs. Denver Nuggets - 11/30/2017 - 9:08 PM EST

NBA Game Preview: Chicago Bulls vs. Denver Nuggets - Date: 11/30/2017 Nov 30, 2017 DENVER -- The Denver Nuggets are hurting from another poor road performance, and they hope the elixir is playing host Thursday to the team with the NBA's worst record, the Chicago Bulls.The Nuggets, so good at home this season, have been abysmal on the road. Fox Sports Picks. Their last two games away from Pepsi Center were blowout losses in Houston on Nov. 22 -- a game in which they trailed by as many as 48 points -- and in Utah on Tuesday, a 106-77 defeat.Denver (11-9) led the Jazz 49-48 at halftime and then scored just 28 points in the final 24 minutes. It prompted forward Mason Plumlee to call out his team for its lack of a strong leader."It's going to take some leadership, hold people accountable," Plumlee said after the game in Utah. "Somebody has got to step forward and kind of be a voice and get on people, and it can't just be from the staff. We have to take ownership internally and deal with it." They can start against the Bulls. Chicago (3-16) is riding a six-game losing streak after falling 104-99 to the visiting Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night.The Bulls, who have lost 11 of their last 12, will face an angry Denver team that is 8-2 at home. While the Nuggets are dealing with the issue of road inefficiency and the absence of forward Paul Millsap for a few months, Chicago has drama of its own. Forward Nikola Mirotic addressed the media Wednesday for the first time since he sustained multiple facial fractures when teammate Bobby Portis punched him during a brawl in practice on Oct. 17.Portis was suspended by the team for eight games, and Mirotic has yet to play this season. In a sign that tensions might be thawing between the two, Mirotic gave Portis a fist bump when Portis came to the bench during the Tuesday game.A day later, Mirotic said he has forgiven Portis."We are teammates," Mirotic said after practice Wednesday. "We are on the same team. Obviously we are fighting for this team. We both are going to do what we need to do to make it work. Yeah, I did accept his apology." Mirotic didn't directly answer when he was asked if he had sat down with Portis, and his response when asked if Portis knows he accepts his apology was, "I guess he will know now." The precarious situation between teammates is just one of the issues for Chicago. Hot Sports Handicappers. The Bulls are headed for one of their worst seasons in franchise history. NFL Handicappers. They are dealing with injuries beyond Mirotic: Zach LaVine, David Nwaba and Cameron Payne are also out, forcing coach Fred Hoiberg to use an inexperienced lineup."We're young," g uard Kris Dunn told the Chicago Tribune on Tuesday night. "We have to stick together." That's what the Nuggets must do. They are young, too, but their youth is more experienced, and the expectation is to make the playoffs for the first time in five years. The struggles in going 3-7 on the road so far will be amplified in December, when Denver plays only five of 15 games at home.The daunting schedule is made tougher by Millsap's absence. He had surgery on Sunday to repair ligament damage in his left wrist, and he will miss at least three months. Forward Wilson Chandler is also hurting. He has missed two of the past four games with an ailing back that will keep him out of the Thursday contest.The Nuggets feel their second-half performance Tuesday was unacceptable even with those injuries."We were completely outplayed," coach Michael Malone said after the loss to Utah. "Just an awful, embarrassing night for the Denver Nuggets."


NFL Game Preview: Carolina Panthers vs. New Orleans Saints - 12/3/2017 - 4:25 PM EST

NFL Game Preview: Carolina Panthers vs. New Orleans Saints - Date: 12/3/2017 Nov 30, 2017NEW ORLEANS -- With their eight-game winning streak a part of history, the New Orleans Saints suddenly find themselves in a position to lose their NFC South lead. Sports Handicapping Service Winning Streaks. The Carolina Panthers, who are also 8-3, come into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday looking to avenge a 34-13 loss to the Saints in Week 3. One thing is clear: The NFC South is the most competitive division in the NFL -- third-place Atlanta is 7-4 -- and the last five weeks will determine if one, two or three teams will make the postseason. Carolina coach Ron Rivera said the competitiveness of the division can be traced to the quality of the quarterbacks: Drew Brees in New Orleans, Cam Newton in Carolina and Matt Ryan in Atlanta. "The quarterback (situation)," Rive ra said. "We have three good teams with established quarterbacks. We have a tough, physical, young team down in Tampa Bay. That's why I think our division is good. "If you're fortunate enough to have your franchise quarterback, I think you're fortunate enough to be consistent. I think that's the truth for all of us. I admire what they've done for New Orleans all those years. Drew Brees is (in the Pro Football Hall of Fame on) the first ballot. We know that. Coach (Sean) Payton has done a tremendous job with it and what he's done is establish continuity. I think that's important in this league. When you have some continuity and some familiarity. You can bring players in and plug them in and that's what they've been able to do. " The Panthers have won four straight games to move back into a statistical tie with the Saints atop the division, but the Saints hold a tiebreaker advantage with their victory Sept. 24. Pan thers linebacker Thomas Davis said nothing is assured down the stretch, especially with the three teams bunched at the top. "You look at the NFC South, and there's a chance that three teams actually make the playoffs, which is absolutely crazy to me," Davis said. "I think it really boils down to playing your best ball in November and December. That is when the playoff teams really show up and the really good teams in this league show up in November and December. That's kind of been the message that coach Rivera has driven home to us since he's been here. Under his leadership, we've been really good in those months. " After displaying great run-pass balance during their winning streak, the Saints ran 52 plays in a 26-20 road loss to the Los Angeles Rams -- including only 21 in the first half -- and went 3 for 13 on third down. Brees said the Saints barely missed on several explosive plays and hurt their ball control by committing seven penalties for 112 yards. "Obviously, coming off a loss on the road, we want to rally and get back on the winning track, especially the scenario with the team we are playing being a divisional opponent," Brees said. "They have the same record as us. (We're) both fighting for the same thing. This is a very important game. The situations only get bigger as we go along here and it's everybody's responsibility to be able to step up and make this our best week of preparation and therefore our best game on Sunday. " Brees said the Saints' offense may not be as explosive as it has been in the past, but likes the balance provided by rookie running back Alvin Kamara and backfield mate Mark Ingram II. "I'd say just from sheer numbers and big plays I'm sure that the numbers aren't what they have been in the past, but take a look at what's going on," Brees said. "We've been running the ball extremely well. We&# 39;ve been in games where it hasn't been necessary to take additional shots or chances. We've thrown the ball efficiently to keep the chains moving, to keep drives alive, to go down and get points and possess the ball. It's been a great complement with the run game. " Payton said the Panthers are playing their best ball of the season. "The last four weeks, they're running the ball extremely well," he said. "Their plus-minus in the turnover ratio has flopped entirely. Defensively, you're seeing one of the better defenses in the league right now when you look at total yards, scoring -- pick a number. They're healthy and I think playing with a lot of confidence. The time of possession has been significantly in their favor as well. Certainly, in this winning stretch, they're first in the league. " The Saints held three players out of practice on Wednesday: left tackle Terron Armstead (thigh/shoulder), tight end Coby Fle ener (concussion) and safety Marcus Williams (groin). They got good news when rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore (ankle) and cornerback Ken Craley (abdomen), who missed the Rams game, returned for limited practice. Football Tipsters. The Panthers had six players who did not practice Wednesday: Davis (hamstring), receiver Devin Funchess (toe), running back Christian McCaffrey (shoulder), tight end Greg Olsen (foot), defensive end Julius Peppers (rest) and cornerback Daryl Worley (foot).


NBA Game Preview: Milwaukee Bucks vs. Portland Trail Blazers - 11/30/2017 - 10:08 PM EST

NBA Game Preview: Milwaukee Bucks vs. Portland Trail Blazers - Date: 11/30/2017 Nov 30, 2017 PORTLAND, Ore. -- The Milwaukee Bucks hope they're onto something as they invade Moda Center on Thursday night to face the Portland Trail Blazers in the final stop on a four-game road trip.The Bucks (10-9) enjoyed probably their most complete game of the season in a 112-87 victory at Sacramento on Tuesday, a night after the Kings knocked off the Golden State Warriors at Oakland.Milwaukee shot a season-best 59.2 percent from the field and had 27 assists in 42 baskets in the romp past the Kings."The ball moved," Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. "We didn't just hold it. We didn't back down. We didn't dribble 10 times to take a shot. Our guys trusted one another. Handicappers Free Picks. They executed, did their job at both ends." "We've been wanting to play like this for a while, just moving the ball side to side and getting the best shot, not caring who scores or shoots it," said Milwaukee forward Khris Middleton, who scored 12 points. "We played the right way, and it shows that it works." Forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and guard Eric Bledsoe filled up the boxscore in abbreviated appearances. Antetokounmpo scored 32 points on 11-for-16 shooting and also piled up five rebounds, five assists and five steals in 26 minutes. Bledsoe, acquired from Phoenix three weeks ago, had 21 points on 7-for-10 shooting, including 3 for 4 from 3-point range. Gambling Profit. The point guard also collected five rebounds, five assists and three steals in 24 minutes.Milwaukee's defense allowed the Kings to shoot only 40.3 percent with 16 turnovers. Milwaukee had 13 steals, five in the first quarter."We were just helping one another," Antetokoun mpo said. "In the pick-and-roll, we had high hands. When you have high hands, you help the low man. When the low man is early, you help the fill man, the guy behind you. Sport Handicapping. That's what we did. We trusted one another defensively." Milwaukee, 2-1 on the road trip, goes into the Portland game 18th in the NBA in defensive rating at 105.8. The Blazers, who finished last season with a No. 21 defensive rating, have climbed to second this year at 99.3.The Blazers put it together at both ends of the court while going 4-1 on their recently completed road trip, which ended with a 103-91 victory over the New York Knicks on Monday. The win over the Knicks was preceded by close wins in Washington and Brooklyn highlighted by playmaking down the stretch."It's great momentum for us going forward," said guard Damian Lillard, who led the way with 32 points against the Knicks."The best t hing is our offense is kicking back into gear," coach Terry Stotts said. "(Against New York), we made a lot of good reads. We moved well without the ball, made good passes. With the tempo we're playing, there were a lot of good things." Pat Connaughton will make his fourth consecutive start at small forward. In the last two games, the third-year pro averaged 14.5 points, sinking 11 of 16 shots, including 5 of 7 from 3-point range. Lillard referred to Connaughton as the "MVP of the road trip." "He plays with a lot of confidence, and he's a very smart player," Stotts said. "It goes beyond making shots. He makes hard cuts, he makes team plays, (and) he doesn't make many mistakes. He complements the players he's out there with. He did that when he was coming off the bench, and he's doing that as a starter." The Bucks, who beat Portland 113-110 in Milwaukee on Oct. 21, are looking for back-to-back wins over the Blaz ers for the first time since 2012-13.


NFL Game Preview: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cincinnati Bengals - 12/4/2017 - 8:30 PM EST

NFL Game Preview: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cincinnati Bengals - Date: 12/4/2017 Nov 30, 2017The teams can't pretend it will be just another game when the Pittsburgh Steelers visit the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night in an AFC North showdown. "It's another game, but it's Pittsburgh, and they're leading our division," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "They beat us up there. They're coming here, and it's a big football game for us because we don't get any more do-overs. " The Steelers won the clubs' first meeting in Week 7 at Pittsburgh, 29-14. Both teams are coming off Week 12 wins. Sports Handicappers Rankings. The Steelers (9-2) are currently riding a six-game win streak and have beaten the Bengals (5-6) five straight times. Pittsburgh was on the winning side against Cincinnati eight out of the past nine meetings. Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown enters the game playing at an MVP level. He leads the league in receptions (80) and yards (1,195). Six times this season, Brown eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark, though he did not top 100 yards against the Bengals. Brown has faced the Cincinnati defense 15 times in his career, 14 regular-season games and one playoff game. He went over 100 yards only three times in those contests, most recently in the playoffs after the 2015 season. Brown has just five receiving touchdowns against the Bengals. Handicapping Sports. The 2017 Cincinnati pass defense has been very strong and will look to slow Brown and the Steelers passing attack again. Cincinnati ranks fifth in the NFL in pass defense, only allowing 203. 8 yards a game. The Bengals are 10th in the NFL in points allowed at 19. 5 per contest, so they figure to put pressure on Pittsburgh's offensive line and running back Le&# 39;Veon Bell. Bell leads the NFL in rushing at 981 yards. He is poised to pass the 1,000-yard mark on a season for the third time in his five-year NFL career. Getting a mere 19 yards Sunday shouldn't be a problem as the Michigan State product is facing a Bengals defense that is 28th in the NFL at stopping the run, allowing opponents an average of 126. 6 yards a game. Soccer Picks. The Bengals finally had their own strong showing in the run game last week in a 30-16 win over the Cleveland Browns. Led by rookie running back Joe Mixon, the Bengals churned out 152 rushing yards. Finding that same freedom against the Steelers will not be so easy. The Pittsburgh defense only gives up an average of 96 yards per game on the ground, which ranks sixth in the NFL. The Steelers' defense is ranked fourth in the league points allowed at 17. 5 a contest. If the Bengals are going to win, quarterback Andy Da lton needs to make big plays in the passing game, especially to wide receiver A. J. Green. On paper, Pittsburgh pass defense looks stalwart, ranking third in the NFL by only allowing 193. 4 yards a game. But the Steelers' secondary has been gashed by big pass plays all season. In Pittsburgh's 31-28 win over Green Bay on Sunday, Packers quarterback Brett Hundley threw three touchdown passes of 39 yards or longer. The Tennessee Titans scored on a 75-yard touchdown pass against the Steelers. The Indianapolis Colts scored twice on passes of 60 yards or more, and the Detroit Lions' Matthew Stafford threw for 423 yards against the Steelers with two completions of 40 yards or more. "You can't give up chunks on defense and give yourself chances to win," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said after the Green Bay game. "We were able to overcome those things. We were probably fortunate, but it's also probably a good sign of the group in terms of we&# 39;re a good enough team to kind of overcome those things. "We got enough togetherness to stay on task, but obviously we got to minimize some of those things. Some of those things have been issues for us in multiple games, particularly the big plays of late, so obviously that has to stop yesterday. " While Steelers need to eliminate giving up big plays on defense, the Bengals need Dalton to have a consistent, turnover=free night. The Pittsburgh offense should look to ride the legs of Bell, as the Bengals' defense has fared well at containing Brown. Cincinnati can't allow a different Steelers receiver or Bell to have a big game.


NFL Game Preview: New York Giants vs. Oakland Raiders - 12/3/2017 - 4:25 PM EST

NFL Game Preview: New York Giants vs. Oakland Raiders - Date: 12/3/2017 Nov 30, 2017When the Oakland Raiders drew a home game against the New York Giants this season, all eyes were hoping to see a star-studded affair featuring two strong passing attacks led by solid and established veteran quarterbacks. Free Sports Picks Daily. That, however, won't be the case when the teams meet Sunday in Oakland, Calif. Sports Handicapping Service Units Gained. The Raiders will be missing their top two receivers -- Amari Cooper, who is in the concussion protocol, and Michael Crabtree, who will be serving a one-game suspension stemming from his on-field altercation with the Denver Broncos' Aqib Talib last week. Meanwhile, the Giants will not only be without their top receivers, Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall, both of whom are on injured reserve with ankle injuries, but in a shocking twist announced this week, long-time starting quarterback Eli Manning will be on the bench. Manning's backup, Geno Smith, will make his first start since Oct. 23, 2016, when he was a member of the New York Jets. Manning, who has been the Giants' starting quarterback since midway through his rookie season in 2004, declined an offer by the team to continue his consecutive-games started streak, which will end at 210, in exchange for allowing the coaching staff to get Smith some meaningful game snaps. "I just didn't think that you start knowing that you're going to come out of a game to keep a streak alive," Manning said this week. "That's not fair to me, that's not fair to Geno. " With Smith set to make Giants history as the man who will officially end Manning's iron-man streak, head coach Ben McAdoo is generally pleased with how well the offense is takin g to having the former Jets starter running the huddle. "Geno looked sharp today," McAdoo said after practice Wednesday. "He's working hard at it. The communication part of things is early and . . . when the ball is snapped, he knows where he wants to go with the ball. He's decisive, and I'm excited to watch him play. " Smith, who is taking things one week at a time -- he knows that the organization also wants to look at rookie Davis Webb, a third-round draft pick this year -- said he is excited but added that he is trying not to get too wound up. "I'm not looking too far ahead or behind," he said. "I look forward to this week. I think it's going to be a great matchup with Oakland. They're a pretty good team. They're down a couple guys, but they're still playing tough defense. So, we just got to go out there and execute. " Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said he remembers Smith from the last time the quarterback came to town, that being in 2015 with the Jets. "I know that Geno's an athletic quarterback," Del Rio said. "He's been in the league for a while and has some experience and certainly is capable if you don't disrupt him. " While Del Rio and his staff are trying to figure out how to deal with the Giants' change in quarterbacks, the Raiders also are working feverishly to find a solution to their depleted receiver position. It won't be easy considering the production missing due to the absence of Cooper and Crabtree. The two have combined for 1,001 yards on 84 receptions with 11 touchdowns in the Raiders' 14th-ranked passing offense. Del Rio is turning to some of his younger players to fill the void. "We've got guys that we will be counting on," the coach said. "Cordarrelle (Patterson), Johnny Holton, Seth Roberts, and then we're bringing up Isaac Whitney. So, we'll have our guys ready to go. " Patterson joined the Raiders this season after spending the first four years of his NFL career with the Minnesota Vikings. He has appeared in 11 games with one start for the silver and black. He has 186 receiving yards on 21 catches on the season, with seven receptions for 117 yards coming in his past two games. Holton, a second-year player, saw a season-high 46 game snaps during last week's win over Denver, in which he recorded two catches for 53 yards, giving him four receptions for 161 yards and two touchdowns for the season. Roberts, a third-year receiver, has appeared in 10 games for Oakland this season, with six starts. He has 262 yards on 24 receptions and one touchdown. With the 5-6 Raiders looking to ascend in the AFC West, Del Rio is doing his best to make sure that his new players are in tune with what needs to be done, and also that his full squad is away the 2-9 Giants are not a team to be taken lightly. "I mean, for us, we're just scratc hing and clawing and trying to do everything we can to get the next win," Del Rio said. "Our margin for error has really been eliminated. We've got to play good football. We've got to play as well as we can. "We've got to win. We've got to try and get every win possible, and we've got to find a way to come out of this ballgame with our sixth win. "


NFL Game Preview: Los Angeles Rams vs. Arizona Cardinals - 12/3/2017 - 4:25 PM EST

NFL Game Preview: Los Angeles Rams vs. Arizona Cardinals - Date: 12/3/2017 Nov 30, 2017GLENDALE, Ariz. -- When coach Bruce Arians pulled out the film of the Arizona Cardinals' 33-0 loss to the Los Angeles Rams back in Week 7, he probably wished he just would have left it in London, where the teams played at Twickenham Stadium. "It should be an embarrassment when you watch the film, the way we played," Arians said in preparation for Sunday's rematch between the Cardinals (5-6) and the Rams (8-3) at University of Phoenix Stadium. Football Picks Today. The Cardinals, who have been swept in the season series by the Rams only once in the past 13 years, look quite a bit different than they did six weeks ago. Not only are they on their third different starting quarterback in Blaine Gabbert since losing starter Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton to injur ies, but the oldest team in the league is suddenly leaning on several new, younger faces across the board. Rookie Budda Baker has become a starter at strong safety in place of injured Tyvon Branch. Rookie tight end Ricky Seals-Jones has become a go-to target since earning regular playing time in place of injured Ifeanyi Momah. Second-year running back D. J. Foster has slid into the third-down back role in place of veteran Andre Ellington, who was released. Rookie wide receivers Chad Williams and Carlton Agudosi have also been asked to take on expanded roles. "A lot of new faces, a lot more guys on IR," Arians said. "The win (last Sunday over the Jacksonville Jaguars), I think, helped obviously. But I can't count how many, four or five, guys that were in that (London) game that are now on IR. " The Rams, meanwhile, have managed to keep rolling along in their quest for their first division title since 2003, when they finished 12-4. Unlike the Card inals, who are 2-2 since getting blanked by the Rams, Los Angeles has remained surprisingly healthy and has enjoyed one of the very rare benefits any NFL team can hope for in a season -- none of their starting five offensive linemen have yet to miss a game. Sports Monitor. That's almost unheard of nowadays. "It really is, and we feel very fortunate about that," Rams first-year coach Sean McVay said. "You look at the continuity that they've been able to develop upfront. We've got some great veteran leaders, and I think Aaron Kromer is a great coach. He's a great teacher. "They all understand what we're trying to get done and what we want to get accomplished. Sometimes it's luck. Sometimes it's where they take good care of themselves. " Second-year quarterback Jared Goff has flourished in a brand-new system after looking completely lost at times when he eventu ally became a starter last season as a rookie. He ranks sixth in the league in passing yards (2,964) and his touchdown-to-interception ratio (18 to 5) is among the best in the league. In his last four games alone, Goff is averaging 311 yards and has thrown nine touchdowns against one interception. "He's got him in a system that he fits," Arians said, referring to McVay and Goff. "They do a lot of 'check with me' at the line of scrimmage. They don't huddle. A lot of that is coming from the sidelines to match him up in the best play. " Goff and the Rams' offense, which ranks second in the league in scoring at 29. 9 points per game, delivered once again last week during a 26-20 victory over the streaking Saints. It was the Rams' third win in four weeks and helped them reach eight wins for the first time since 2006. "We've changed a bunch of stuff, but I think ultimately what we have now is a lot of confidence," Goff said. "Our team is playing with a lot of confidence and we don't care who lines up against us. We're going to go out and play our game and execute to the best of our ability. "We believe in the defense, the defense believes in us. We all believe in the special teams and we all believe in each other. " The Cardinals, who have yet to win back-to-back games this season, have gotten five touchdown passes the past two weeks from Gabbert. Though he also has had four turnovers in the same span -- all of them in the fourth quarter -- he has played rather well for a former third-stringer who had spent most of this season running the Cardinals' scout team. Set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season, Gabbert has a chance to become the Cardinals' full-time starter in 2018 and possibly beyond if he continues to play well and Palmer decides to retire. Arians said Gabbert has "a ton" of upside at age 28. "I just try and ge t better each and every week," Gabbert said. "Being so new into this system, new to this team, it's still a learning process. " The Cardinals weren't sure how their rushing attack would look this week considering a neck injury suffered by Adrian Peterson, who rushed for 79 yards on 20 carries in the win over Jacksonville. Peterson needs four rushing yards to pass Pro Football Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk (12,279) for 11th place on the NFL's career rushing yardage list and 37 yards to pass Hall of Famer Jim Brown (12,312) for 10th place. Asked what his running game might look like on Sunday with Peterson and also Kerwynn Williams (cracked ribs) nicked up, Arians said, "I have no clue. . . . I'm not sure who will be available yet. " The Rams once again will be without wide receiver Robert Woods because of a shoulder injury. Woods caught eight passes in back-to-back games before getting hurt. "He'll be out again this week, unfortunately," McVay said. "That's going to require some of those younger guys to step up and have a little bit more opportunities. "


NFL Game Preview: San Francisco 49ers vs. Chicago Bears - 12/3/2017 - 1:00 PM EST

NFL Game Preview: San Francisco 49ers vs. Chicago Bears - Date: 12/3/2017 Nov 30, 2017CHICAGO -- San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo felt pressure in the pocket this week as he prepared to make his first start with his new team. Make that pressure in the pants pocket. "I had to put my phone away for a little while the last couple days," Garoppolo said with a grin. "I'm trying to focus. " The 26-year-old will make his first start for the 49ers and the third of his career when he and his teammates visit the Chicago Bears on Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field. It is familiar territory for Garoppolo, who grew up in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights, Ill. , and played at Rolling Meadows High School before earning a scholarship to play at Eastern Illinois. Major college programs likely feel foolish by now for overlooking the pinpoint passer with a lightning-quick release. Basketball Handicappers. The promotion of Garoppolo generated a surge of excitement during an otherwise dreary season for San Francisco (1-10). The 49ers acquired him from the New England Patriots in exchange for a 2018 second-round pick on Halloween, and Garoppolo spent the past month on the sideline learning the offense under first-year coach Kyle Shanahan. An injury to fellow signal-caller C. J. Beathard last week opened the door for Shanahan to make the change at starter. Garoppolo came off the bench after Beathard got hurt, and he completed both of his pass attempts for 18 yards and a touchdown. Including his time in New England behind future Hall of Famer Tom Brady, Garoppolo has thrown 96 NFL passes without an interception. The NFL record belongs to Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, who threw his first 176 passes before he finally was intercepted during his rookie season in 2016. Chicago (3-8) also has pinned its future hopes on a young quarterback with a big arm and little experience. Mitchell Trubisky will make his eighth start as he looks to rebound from a career-worst 38. 3 passer rating in a 31-3 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Sports Picks Free. Trubisky, 23, has passed for 1,135 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions since the Bears selected him No. 2 overall in the 2017 draft. San Francisco initially owned the No. 2 pick but accepted a generous package of additional draft picks from Chicago in exchange for moving one spot down to No. 3. Is Trubisky peeved that the 49ers traded out of the No. 2 spot rather than draft him as the future franchise leader? "I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be," Trubisky said. "I'm happy to be here in Chicago. This is where I was supposed to be. " Yet the North Carolina product is not happy with his recent performance. He blamed poor footwork fo r his ugly performance against Philadelphia and vowed to improve against the 49ers. He said the Bears' current four-game losing streak was the longest that he can remember enduring on any of his teams at any level of football. Chicago needs a victory to avoid, at least for the moment, its fourth consecutive losing season. "We're just going to have to find a way to get a win this week," Trubisky said. "There's no getting used to it. There's no being content. We've just got to work harder, stick together and find a way to win this Sunday. " Bears running back Jordan Howard, who has 847 rushing yards and five touchdowns in his second year, can help to stabilize the offense. During a 26-6 victory over the 49ers last season, Howard shined with 32 carries for 117 yards and three touchdowns. Chicago ranks No. 29 in total offense and No. 12 in total defense. Defensive end Akiem Hicks leads the club with seven sacks but has not register ed one in the past three games. San Francisco ranks No. 21 in total offense and No. 29 in total defense. Veteran pass rusher Elvis Dumervil has provided a rare bright spot with a team-leading 4 1/2 sacks, and rookie first-round pick Solomon Thomas is tied for second with two sacks. Running back Carlos Hyde leads the 49ers on the ground with 639 yards and four touchdowns. The team's top receiver is Marquise Goodwin, who comes into this weekend with 27 catches for 578 yards and a score. However, all eyes will be on Garoppolo as he takes command of the huddle. A strong finish to the season could only improve the likelihood that he will sign a long-term deal or receive a high-price franchise tag to stay with San Francisco beyond this season. "I'm trying not to think about the future too much," Garoppolo said. "I've learned in the past that when your mind wanders like that -- quarterbacking in this league is hard enough, so when you start thinking about other things, you're going to have a tough time. I'm staying focused on the Bears this week. "I hold myself to a high level. I've been doing that my whole life. That won't stop. "


NBA Game Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Atlanta Hawks - 11/30/2017 - 7:38 PM EST

NBA Game Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Atlanta Hawks - Date: 11/30/2017 Nov 30, 2017 ATLANTA -- One of the Cleveland Cavaliers' most unexplainable losses during their disappointing 5-7 start came at home on Nov. 5 against a rebuilding and injury-depleted Atlanta Hawks team that was riding an eight-game losing streak."That's a question I cannot answer," LeBron James said when asked afterward to explain the lack of early energy and focus in a 117-115 defeat that saw the Cavaliers trail 27-11 after seven minutes. "I was ready to go. A lot of the guys were ready to go." Cleveland plays the Hawks in Atlanta on Thursday night to close November, and the Cavaliers are in a much better place than they were a few weeks ago.James said after the loss to the Hawks that the Cavaliers needed to string together good games to get on track, and they subsequently did just that.Cleveland (14-7) comes to Philips Arena o n a nine-game winning streak and is starting to close in on the Boston Celtics for the best record in the Eastern Conference despite being without Isaiah Thomas, likely until January, and having Derrick Rose and Tristan Thompson injured.The Cavaliers were 0-3 in the second half of back-to-back games during their slow start, but they beat Miami 108-97 in Cleveland on Tuesday after winning 113-91 the previous night at Philadelphia.Cleveland built a big early lead against the Heat and easily withstood the third-quarter loss of James, who had 21 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and five steals before being ejected for the first time in his career.Kevin Love had 22 points in the first quarter, 32 by halftime and finished with 38 points in 25 minutes. He continued his strong play since moving from forward into the middle to replace Thompson.Better defense has been the key for the Cavaliers, who have held four of their past five opponents under 100 points. Cleveland is allowing 99. 8 points per game during its winning streak."Communication has been big," Love said of the turnaround. "We are starting to put things together." The Cavaliers will be playing their third game in four days while the Hawks (4-16) have had a four-day break since a 112-78 home loss to the Toronto Raptors on Saturday.The blowout followed an encouraging 116-104 home victory over the New York Knicks the night before. Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer wasn't happy with his team's commitment Saturday, especially defensively."I felt like our defense -- not just in the paint but everywhere -- was not good enough for an NBA game," Budenholzer said after his team allowed the Raptors to shoot 54.8 percent.Forward Luke Babbitt and forward/center Mike Muscala could play against the Cavaliers. Babbitt (back) has missed the past three games and Muscala (ankle) the past 11.The Hawks were swept by the Cavaliers in the 2015 Eastern Conference finals and again in the 2016 Eastern Conference semifinals.Atlanta won three of four meetings with the Cavaliers last season, however, and the early victory this season gave the Hawks a three-game winning streak against Cleveland."They beat us pretty good, but we're playing much better basketball now," James said. "We'll be ready for them." Cleveland guard Iman Shumpert was unavailable against the Heat after playing seven minutes at Philadelphia, and he is questionable for the Hawks game because of a swollen left knee. He missed three games before returning against the 76ers.


NFL Game Preview: Denver Broncos vs. Miami Dolphins - 12/3/2017 - 1:00 PM EST

NFL Game Preview: Denver Broncos vs. Miami Dolphins - Date: 12/3/2017 Nov 30, 2017MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins combined to win 19 games last season, making them two of the better teams in the AFC. Sports Picks for Today. This year, however, both teams have fallen apart after promising starts and are on lengthy losing streaks heading into their Sunday matchup at Hard Rock Stadium. Winning Sports Handicappers. The Broncos (3-8) have lost seven consecutive games -- their longest skid in 50 years. The Dolphins (4-7) have dropped five in a row. Injuries played a role in the demise of both teams. For Denver, quarterback Paxton Lynch, a first-round pick in 2016, sustained a high ankle sprain last Sunday in a loss to the Oakland Raiders. He was ruled out for this Sunday. MLB Handicappers. Trevor Siemian will start at quarterback for Denver as Lynch will miss two to four weeks due to his injury. Siemian lost his starting job earlier in the season but will now get another chance. "It's been hard on Trevor," Broncos coach Vance Joseph said. "But I'm very proud of Trevor, how he handled the week. " The Broncos have started three QBs this season: Siemian for seven games, Brock Osweiler for three and Lynch for one. Siemian was the most effective of the three, but he has endured 26 sacks and was intercepted 10 times, and both of those numbers speak to his struggles as well as those of his blockers and receivers. The bottom line, though, is that the Broncos are a more respectable 3-4 when Siemian starts and 0-4 when he doesn't. Over at Dolphins camp, there is a similar mess at quarterback. Jay Cutler has been highly unpopular among the fan base, but the Dolphins are 0-2 when backup Matt Moore starts. Cutler, 4-5 as a starter this season, was cleared from concussion protocol this week and is expected to start on Sunday. The Dolphins also have big problems at running back, where Jay Ajayi, who made the Pro Bowl last season with 1,272 rushing yards in just 12 starts, was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles on Halloween. It has been a horror show ever since for the Dolphins, who lost running backs Damien Williams and Senorise Perry to injuries last Sunday in a 35-17 road loss to the New England Patriots. Miami's one healthy running back, Kenyan Drake, lost a fumble against New England, drawing the ire of Dolphins coach Adam Gase. "We need to clean up some things with ball security," Gase said after Drake lost his second fumble in the past five games. "I look at that fumble (on Sunday), and it was completely avoidable, and (Drake) knows it. "He takes a lot of pride in what he does, and he wants to be what we expect him to be. " And what the Dolphins expect is not to fumble, not to give up 196 yards rushing at a 5. 2-yard average as the defense did on Sunday, and not to fail to pick up repeated blitzes. The Dolphins have struggled on the offensive line all season and are without a pair of starters: tackle Ja'Wuan James and guard Jermon Bushrod. In addition, guard Anthony Steen, who has started six games this season, is out. Those three linemen have combined to start 24 games this season, and now that they are sidelined, the cracks in Miami's front wall are even more obvious. Cutler and Moore have taken a combined total of 25 sacks, and the Dolphins rank 30th in the 32-team NFL in points scored. Defense was supposed to be Miami's strength, but that unit is tied for 30th in the league in points allowed. Injuries have hit every facet of the unit, most notably Williams Hayes on the defensive line, linebackers Koa Misi and Raekwon McMillan and defensive backs Tony Lippett and Na te Allen. Meanwhile, the Broncos rank 26th in points scored and 28th in points allowed, so they are in the same proverbial boat or perhaps a sinking ship like the Dolphins. Overall, though, Denver's defense has performed better than the offense. There were two blowout losses -- 51-23 to the Eagles and 41-16 to the Patriots. But no other team has scored 30 on Denver, and the Broncos have held seven teams to 23 or fewer points. In truth, it's been a difficult season for both franchises. The Dolphins had a linebacker (Lawrence Timmons) go AWOL right before their season opener, traded a Pro Bowl running back (Ajayi) for a mid-round draft pick and fired an assistant coach (Chris Foerster) after he was seen, on video, snorting a white, powdery substance. And, oh yes, the fans chanted for the backup QB (Moore) during the home opener. For Denver, offensive coordinator Mike McCoy was fired, the starting quarterback job has been in constant upheaval and a star cornerback (A qib Talib) was ejected after he put his personal battle against Raiders wide receiver Michael Crabtree ahead of any team goals. And, oh yes, Lynch cried on the sidelines after rolling his ankle. Joseph addressed the ejection of Talib, who was suspended for two games on Monday by the NFL. Talib had his suspension was cut in half on appeal, but he will still miss the Dolphins game. "It's unacceptable," Joseph said of Talib's actions. "We can't lose our best players because of personal battles. "


NFL Game Preview: Minnesota Vikings vs. Atlanta Falcons - 12/3/2017 - 1:00 PM EST

NFL Game Preview: Minnesota Vikings vs. Atlanta Falcons - Date: 12/3/2017 Nov 30, 2017MINNEAPOLIS -- The Atlanta Falcons used the NFC North to show there would be no Super Bowl hangover by starting the season with three straight wins against the division. With Atlanta now fighting just to return to the playoffs, the NFC North is standing in its way. Minnesota (9-2) has taken control of the division with seven straight wins as they head south to face the Falcons (7-4) on Sunday. The Vikings lead the North by three games but know they are competing for much more this season. "That is everybody's deal, isn't it? " Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer questioned this week. "Go out and win as many games as you can and try to get in and play as many games as you can at home. But we have to win and we have to take one game at a time. Talking about it doesn't do anything. " A year after missing the playoffs, the Vikings have a chance at home-field advantage. They trail Philadelphia by a game heading into Week 13. "We've yet to accomplish everything we want to accomplish, and we've got a lot of work ahead of us, but we're hungry for it," said Case Keenum, who has earned another start this week at quarterback. "I think everybody in this locker room is hungry. " Keenum's play has helped Minnesota to one of the top offenses in the league. Keenum, who became the starter after Sam Bradford was injured and hasn't yielded to a healthy Teddy Bridgewater, is averaging 7. 5 yards per pass attempt and has 14 touchdowns with only five interceptions and seven sacks. Zimmer isn't making a change at quarterback but hasn't anointed Keenum the starter for the rest of the season, either. "We're just going to one week at a time," Zimmer said. "That's just the way it is. I'm not looking to pull him, but every week is a diffe rent week in this league. " With the Vikings winning and Keenum making plays, Zimmer doesn't need to make a switch or declare any long-term starter. Minnesota is fifth in the NFL with 375. 7 yards per game, just ahead of Atlanta's vaunted offense of 373. 4 yards per game. The Vikings are eighth in scoring (24. 6 points per game) to the Falcons in 11th (24. 1) in the league. Of course, the big difference between the teams -- other than being separated by two wins -- is Minnesota's top-five defense. "When you first watch their tape this year, one of the things I most admire is they're very good tacklers and you don't see a lot of explosive plays due to missed tackles," Atlanta coach Dan Quinn told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week. "They've got a pass rush, an ability to create turnovers with a physical style with the safeties, the corners can really run and tackle. Front to back, they play really good, fundamental footba ll. They've got a good pressure package. " The Falcons have found their explosive offense as the season has progressed. Atlanta has won four of its past five games, and scored at least 27 points in winning three in a row. Wide receiver Julio Jones won the NFC Offensive Player of the Week award after recording 12 catches for 253 yards and two touchdowns in last week's 34-20 victory against Tampa Bay. If there is a team that might be able to handle Jones, it could be the Vikings. Minnesota features shutdown cornerback Xavier Rhodes on the back end and a pass rush led by Everson Griffen's 12 sacks. "It's the same regimen, same thing," Rhodes told the St. Paul Pioneer Press of matching up with Jones. "Go into the game, don't believe in the hype, don't be afraid of the name, just believe in the game. I know he's one of the best receivers in the league, and I've just got to go out and play with the mindset of having confide nce going against him. " The Falcons are likely to get back another playmaker on offense as well, with running back Devonta Freeman cleared from his concussion. Freeman has rushed for 515 yards and five touchdowns this season and has added 19 catches for 137 yards. Freeman was a full participant in Wednesday's practice after being cleared from his second concussion of the year and third of his career, according to the team's website. "It's not something to worry about because I feel like anything that is going to happen will happen," Freeman told the website. "You can't live and dwell on what happens in the past. I'm just moving forward. I'm going to be the same guy when I get back on the field. Still have fun, talk junk a little bit . . . just have fun with it. " Tevin Coleman had rushed for 140 yards and three touchdowns over the past two games in place of Freeman. "We're hopeful of that, yeah," Quinn tol d the Atlanta Journal-Constitution of Freeman getting a full workload. "From a conditioning standpoint, he's in good shape. He's really pushed it in that way, so we're hopeful that we get back to both Tev and Free and use them together. " Two injury concerns for the Falcons are starting cornerbacks Brian Poole and Desmond Trufant. Both left last week's game and did not practice Wednesday. Poole is dealing with a back injury, while Trufant has a concussion. Minnesota's injury report Wednesday was much cleaner. Linebacker Eric Kendricks was out with a hip injury. Right tackle Mike Remmers has passed concussion testing, but was limited with a low back injury.


NHL Game Preview: Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Edmonton Oilers - 11/30/2017 - 9:08 PM EST

NHL Game Preview: Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Edmonton Oilers - Date: 11/30/2017 Time: 9:00 PM EST Venue: Rogers Place, Edmonton, Canada / EDMONTON, Alberta -- Over the next several seasons, there will be one overarching theme whenever the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs get together. Connor McDavid vs. Auston Matthews. McDavid and Matthews will face each other Thursday when Edmonton hosts Toronto. Winning Sports Picks Who You Should Follow. The golden prize of the 2015 draft lottery against the golden prize of the 2016 draft lottery. McDavid, the previous season's MVP, vs. Matthews, the previous season's rookie of the year. Last season, both players led their respective teams to playoff berths, bringing their franchises out of long post-season droughts. For a generation of hockey fans, McDavid vs. Matthews will be an ever-evolving debate. Handicappers Watchdog. This season, McDavid has the edge in points, 30 to 24. But Matthews's Leafs (16-9-1) are enjoying a far better season than McDavid's Oilers (10-13-2). Both players will be looking to get on the scoresheet after not having vintage games Tuesday. While their teams both won their respective matchups, McDavid was held without a point, while Matthews, for the first time in his career, didn't register a shot on goal." He's obviously a real good player, he's got a great shot, I think one of the best in the league just in terms of how fast he can get it off and accuracy," McDavid said of Matthews after Wednesday's practice. "He's a real special player." "Obviously, he can skate," Matthews said of McDavid. "I think he changes speeds better than anybody in the game. Just his hockey IQ, just a mix of everything he can do at a high pace, is obviousl y what sets him apart from everybody else." McDavid knows that the comparisons will come every time the two young superstars face each other. And he knows it's worse for Matthews, who plays in Toronto, the world's media hub when it comes to hockey." Honestly, I try not to pay attention to the media stuff and all that," McDavid said. "But he seems to be handling it well. I don't watch interviews and all that, but you don't really hear anything bad about him or saying anything wrong." Like many star players, Matthews tried to downplay the showdown." It's just another game," he said. "You don't really get too worked up about the whole match-up, individual match-ups, that the media likes to make. It's just another hockey game, two teams going at each other. Obviously, they've got a lot of speed and skill and so do we. Usually that makes for a pretty exciting game, right." Oilers coach Todd McLel lan was behind the bench for the Team North America squad that competed at 2016's World Cup of Hockey, and had McDavid and Matthews as teammates." It was an honor to coach both of them at the same time," McLellan said. "Remarkable athletes, and what I would say about both of them is that their competitive spirit, their fire to be elite is exceptional." McLellan said that when he had Matthews on the Team North America squad, he started camp as the extra forward. By the time the tournament started, Matthews was on the top line with McDavid. Free Pick. The offensive contrasts between the team are stark. The Oilers have only 67 goals in 25 games. The Leafs lead the league with 92 goals in 26 contests. When Matthews recently missed four games to injury, the Leafs went 4-0-0 during that run. Nazem Kadri and James Van Riemsdyk each have 12 goals on the season, which ties them for the team lead wit h Matthews." We always have entertaining games with them, anyway, which will be a lot of fun," Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. "They got a lot of talent so we've got to do a good job and be prepared to play." The Oilers are looking for their third win in a row. The team's current two-game win streak matches their longest victory run of the season; that's a sign of how inconsistent the team has been this season. Edmonton may have to do it without goaltender Cam Talbot. McLellan said Talbot, who has played in 22 of the Oilers 25 games this season, tweaked something in his upper body. Talbot has not been ruled out for Thursday, but if he can't go, McLellan said the team will call up a goaltender. Backup Laurent Brossoit would then be the likely starter. If they need to call up a goalie, McLellan said the roster move might force him to juggle lines for Thursday, as room would need to be made for the third netminder. Rogers Place won't be as hospitable for the home team as it usually is. Whenever the Leafs go on the road in Canada, their legion of fans across the country snap up tickets or buy ducats from their friends. There will be many blue Leafs shirts breaking up the wall of orange in the stands. As of Wednesday, the cheapest tickets on the secondary market near the top of the arena were being sold for $128 US each. Compare that to Tuesday's game against Arizona, where you could have found tickets for less than $40 apiece.


NHL Game Preview: Arizona Coyotes vs. Calgary Flames - 11/30/2017 - 9:08 PM EST

NHL Game Preview: Arizona Coyotes vs. Calgary Flames - Date: 11/30/2017 Time: 9:00 PM EST Venue: Scotiabank Saddledome, Calgary, Canada, T2G 2W1 / CALGARY, Alberta -- Scott Wedgewood will make his fourth consecutive start in net for the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday against the Calgary Flames at the Scotiabank Saddledome. Sports Betting Profit. The 25-year-old rookie has been forced into action because of an upper-body injury that starting goalie Antti Raanta sustained in the first period of a 3-1 home loss to the San Jose Sharks on Nov. 22." I want to be a starter in this league," Wedgewood said after stopping 24 shots in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Oilers at Edmonton on Tuesday. "Right now I have an opportunity to kind of take the role here waiting for Antti to come back. Obviously he's been good for us." Despite giving up the game-winning go al to Edmonton forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins at 4:20 of the extra session Tuesday, Wedgewood liked how the Coyotes played." I think the guys deserved that win," said Wedgewood, who has compiled a 2-3-2 record this season to go with a 2.99 goals against-average and a .901 save percentage. "They played well in front of me and took away a high-powered offense -- kept them to two goals and an overtime goal. We did great defensively. Overall, we walk out of (Edmonton) probably deserving that win if we play that way moving forward." As for when Raanta will return to the lineup, Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet gave the team website an update Wednesday." He'll catch up with us back home," said Tocchet, whose team will host the New Jersey Devils at the Gila River Arena on Saturday before playing a road game against the Vegas Golden Knights on Sunday. "We'll probably know more about (his recovery) on Friday. Scott will play (Thursday) and then we& #039;ll make a decision after that. We have that back-to-back (this weekend). We'll go from there." The Coyotes recalled Andrew Campbell from the AHL's Tucson Roadrunners on Wednesday after fellow defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson left the Tuesday game in the second period because of an upper-body injury." He's still going to be day-to-day, but the injury is a little bit worse than we thought," Tocchet said of Hjalmarsson. Calgary is also dealing with lower-body injuries to right wingers Kris Versteeg and Jaromir Jagr. While Versteeg was placed on injured reserve Wednesday, Jagr practiced with the Flames and could be ready to play against the Coyotes. Sports Handicapping Services. The Flames recalled Garnet Hathaway from the AHL's Stockton Heat on Wednesday, and coach Glen Gulutzan said the right winger, who has 43 games of experience over the past three seasons with the Flames, didn� 39;t look out of place at practice." Even watching him today, he looks a lot more comfortable than he did last year coming up," said Gulutzan of Hathaway, who recorded 11 goals and eight assists in 19 games with the Heat before being called up. "It's a good bolt of energy for us. We'll see where we are with our injuries." After compiling a 3-2-1 record on their six-game road trip, the Flames lost 4-1 to the Toronto Maple Leafs in their return to the Saddledome on Tuesday. Following their game against the Coyotes on Thursday, the Flames will host the Oilers on Saturday before wrapping up their four-game homestand against the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday." We've got a couple games at home, and we've got to bounce back here quick," Flames center Sean Monahan said. Defenseman Michael Stone, who scored Calgary's lone goal against Toronto, said he is glad the Flames don't have to wait too long to put the disappointing lo ss to the Leafs behind them." That's huge when you can learn from the games that you don't play well in and you can get right back in the saddle and build on your game," Stone said. "That's what it's all about."


NHL Game Preview: Dallas Stars vs. Chicago Blackhawks - 11/30/2017 - 8:38 PM EST

NHL Game Preview: Dallas Stars vs. Chicago Blackhawks - Date: 11/30/2017 Time: 8:30 PM EST Venue: United Center, Chicago, Ill., 60612 / CHICAGO -- The road hasn't been very kind to the Dallas Stars this season, but after an impressive performance away from home, coach Ken Hitchcock hopes that trend is about to change. Winning Sports Gambling. The Stars will carry a 4-8-1 road record into the United Center on Thursday when they face the Chicago Blackhawks. Dallas snapped a four-game road winless streak Tuesday when the Stars became only the second visiting team to beat the Vegas Golden Knights at home in a 3-0 victory sparked by 34 saves from Ben Bishop. While the Stars still haven't performed as well on the road as Hitchcock would like, the Tuesday night victory -- fueled by Radek Faksa's first career hat trick -- was certainly a step in the right dir ection." As a coach, you have a feeling it's coming, we can see this in the last two road games that we were starting to put good minutes," Hitchcock told said after the win over Vegas. "I think it's also the verbal message on the bench from the players themselves. Basketball Handicappers. The players are starting to say the right things on the bench that you need to say if you're going to win on the road, and helping each other through difficult periods and correcting themselves on the bench without us doing the work." That's what we saw two games ago, and that's starting to take place on a daily basis, which is a big step if you're going to win in another team's building." Bishop, who notched his 21st career shutout, was a major reason why. He kept the Stars even until Faksa got Dallas rolling offensively. Like the rest of his team, Bishop had struggled on the road before improving his road marks to 3-6-0 with a 3.62 goals-against average and an .887 save percentage. So as the Stars look to put together another strong performance against the Blackhawks, they will do so with more confidence." You want to be better on the road," Bishop told the Dallas Morning News. "I've felt good on the road, but obviously, not getting the results we want to have." The Blackhawks (12-9-3) enter play Thursday tied in the standings with Dallas (13-10-1) at 27 points. Chicago is 6-4-1 at home. Fighting Predictions. The Blackhawks will attempt bounce back from a 3-2 road loss to Nashville on Tuesday when they played the second night of a back-to-back set. Chicago finds itself in a busy stretch. After a day off Wednesday, the Blackhawks will host the Stars on Thursday before traveling to Dallas on Saturday and returning home to host the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday. Before the Tuesday loss, the Blackhawks were 5-1-1 in their past seven games, a hot streak that they hope will resume Thursday against the Stars. Chicago enters the three-games-in-four-days stretch hoping to move past a difficult loss to a division rival in Nashville." We did a lot of good things against (the Predators), maybe just a few lulls in our game," Blackhawks forward Lance Bouma told the Chicago Sun-Times on Tuesday. "(We) just continue on that same path we're going, because we're trending in the right direction."


NHL Game Preview: Vegas Golden Knights vs. Minnesota Wild - 11/30/2017 - 8:08 PM EST

NHL Game Preview: Vegas Golden Knights vs. Minnesota Wild - Date: 11/30/2017 Time: 8:00 PM EST Venue: Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, MN, 55102 / SAINT PAUL, Minn. -- At the midway point of November, the Minnesota Wild were on a roll, having shut out three consecutive opponents behind goaltender Devan Dubnyk's strong play and a sound defensive game. Just two weeks later, however, Minnesota is 3-3-1 in a seven-game stretch in which the Wild have allowed 30 goals, an average of 4.3 per game entering a Wednesday home game against the Vegas Golden Knights." If you're going to do that, you can't win in the NHL," Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said after a 7-2 loss at Winnipeg on Monday, a game Minnesota led 2-0 in the first period. "It's almost impossible for me to think you can get three shutouts in a row and seven games later you allow 30 goals. After those shutouts, we were third in the league defens ively." The Winnipeg loss followed a 6-3 beating in St. Louis that left Dubnyk with 16 goals against in four games and backup Alex Stalock getting the start against the Jets. Between game days, holidays and mandatory off days, full practices have been hard to come by for the Wild (11-10-3). However, Boudreau was able to put his team through the paces Wednesday as Minnesota prepared to face former teammate Erik Haula and the Golden Knights (15-7-1) for the first time." There's a lot of things we went over because we haven't had a chance to go over them, and you could see during the course of those last couple games, especially the last two, that they really started slipping," Boudreau said. "And when you don't practice, and we've called a couple guys up in the meantime, they don't get a chance to really -- you can talk about getting into the systems -- but until you really work it, you don't really know." As reported by T he Athletic's Michael Russo, the Wild will be without top-pair defenseman Jared Spurgeon for at least the next two games as the team evaluates the severity Spurgeon's groin strain. Hot Sports Handicappers. The team also put struggling veteran defenseman Kyle Quincey on waivers. Sport Handicapping. The Golden Knights saw their eight-game home win streak snapped Tuesday with a 3-0 loss to the Dallas Stars. Free Sports Picks of the Day. The shutout loss was the first in franchise history, and Vegas dropped into a first-place tie with the Los Angeles Kings in the Pacific Division. Vegas wound up one win short of breaking the NHL record for most consecutive home wins in an inaugural season, a mark the 1917-18 Toronto Arenas had kept to themselves until this season. The Golden Knights' NH L expansion record-tying five-game overall win streak ended, too. Despite the loss, coach Gerard Gallant was not upset with his team's play." I thought we played a pretty strong game, but we just couldn't get any grade-A scoring chances," Gallant said. "I think a lot of that had to do with Dallas and the way they played." The lack of chances contributed to leading scorer William Karlsson's five-game goal streak ending, but the absence of forward David Perron was certainly a factor in the defeat. Perron, a right winger who is tied for third on the team with 19 points, missed his second straight game after a hit by San Jose's Timo Meier early in the second period of an overtime win against the Sharks on Friday." He's an important player for us, there's no doubt," Gallant said. "He makes our team go some nights, and he's one of our top six forwards, so when you miss a guy like that, it's going to hurt yo u." Gallant said Wednesday he does not expect Perron to make the trip to Minnesota and Winnipeg but added that defenseman Luca Sbisa, out since Nov. 10 with a lower-body injury, would travel with the team.


NHL Game Preview: Vancouver Canucks vs. Nashville Predators - 11/30/2017 - 8:08 PM EST

NHL Game Preview: Vancouver Canucks vs. Nashville Predators - Date: 11/30/2017 Time: 8:00 PM EST Venue: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, TN, 37203 / NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- If the Nashville Predators wish November had another 30 days, it is understandable. After a mediocre October left some questioning if last spring's run to the Stanley Cup Finals screamed fluke, Nashville enters a Thursday night home game against the Vancouver Canucks 10-2-1 in November, tying a franchise record for most points in the month. Sports Picks for Today. The Predators have gone from being a .500 team to one that is 15-6-3 with points in 11 of the past 12 games. Sports Betting Profit. They are winning games in all sorts of ways, prevailing in shootouts, blowouts and defensive-minded contests. Nashville's 3-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday was a little bit of everything. Sports Handicapper Reviews. The teams combined for 70 shots in a typically fast-paced contest, but the Predators prevailed behind Pekka Rinne's 37 saves and their 18th power-play goal -- Roman Josi's slapper at 2:32 of the third period -- in 11 home games." I think we have a lot of confidence in our team right now," Josi said. "I think we have a lot of depth. It's been a really good month for sure, and we'd better keep it up. There's still a lot of things we can do better, and we need to work on those things, too." No team in the league has taken more penalties than the Predators, but they reined themselves in for the most part against the Blackhawks, committing only three minors. And although they have allowed 11 third-period markers in their past seven games, they were able to find a better balance Tuesday ni ght between all-out attacking and all-out turtling. Of course, having Rinne as an eraser on the back end helps. Rinne's age-35 season is starting as one of the best of his career, as he enters Thursday night with a 14-3-2 record, a 2.29 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage." I think the coaching staff does a great job of keeping us accountable," Rinne said. "Every day, we work and go through our five-on-five game. There is always room for improvement. If we want to be one of the best teams, we have to do it consistently. There are no days off." Nashville's variety of skills will be a tough test for a Vancouver team that is staggering to the end of a six-game road trip. After opening with wins in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh last week, the Canucks have dropped three straight, including a 5-2 verdict Tuesday night to the New York Islanders. Vancouver (11-10-4) put itself in a hole by allowing three goals in the first period against the Islanders. It was the seventh loss in 10 games (3-5-2) for the Canucks, who got off to a surprisingly good start under first-year coach Travis Green before the current skid." We've got to go back to how we were playing earlier, frustrating teams and not turning it into a track meet where you're trading chances," Vancouver center Bo Horvat said. "We need 20 guys, we need everybody contributing." Vancouver might go back to Jacob Markstrom (6-8-3, 2.63, .909) in goal after Anders Nilsson (5-2-1, 2.63, .924) coughed up five goals on 36 shots Tuesday night. Nilsson had played well in seven previous starts. This is the teams' first meeting this season, and the Canucks' only trip to Bridgestone Arena. The Predators play in Vancouver on Dec. 13 and March 2.


NHL Game Preview: Los Angeles Kings vs. Washington Capitals - 11/30/2017 - 7:08 PM EST

NHL Game Preview: Los Angeles Kings vs. Washington Capitals - Date: 11/30/2017 Time: 7:00 PM EST Venue: Capital One Arena, Washington, D. C., 20004 / WASHINGTON -- Two teams in midst of mild resurgences will see who gets to extend theirs on Thursday night when the Washington Capitals host the Los Angeles Kings. Sports Monitor. The well-rested Capitals (14-10-1) won their third straight game on Saturday in Toronto, with all three coming since coach Barry Trotz reunited captain Alex Ovechkin with center Nicklas Backstrom on the top line. Sports Tipsters. The Kings kicked off a four-game road trip with their second straight win, a 4-1 decision over the Detroit Red Wings Tuesday night. Captain Anze Kopitar scored twice, including the eventual game-winner, and added an assist. NBC Sports Picks. The Kings (14-8-3) scored three goals in a 3 1/2-minute span bridging the second and third periods. Kopitar leads the team with 12 goals and 16 assists for 28 points. He reached 12 goals in his 25th contest, as opposed to 76 games last season when he finished with 12 goals and 52 points." I'm feeling good this year, and maybe that's the biggest reason," Kopitar told the Los Angeles Times. "I'm feeling, obviously, confident again. I guess a big part of it is confidence too, and having a good start, myself and the team, so it makes it a lot more fun." Jonathan Quick made 23 saves, including phenomenal efforts on Dylan Larkin and Gustav Nyquist in the decisive second period." Some goalies are really good goalies, but to make key saves at key times, he's as good as there is," Kings coach John Stevens told the Times. Quick is 11-8-1 with a 2.28 goals-against average and a .929 save percen tage this season. Against the Capitals in his career, Quick owns a 7-2-0 mark with a 2.39 GAA and .915 save percentage. He'll be tested Thursday night by a Washington team that has scored 12 goals in its last three games. Since re-joining Backstrom, Ovechkin has five goals -- including one on a power play. Backstrom recorded an assist on four of the five, including two on Saturday at Toronto when Ovechkin had a hat trick. The most recent goal marked the 222nd time Backstrom assisted on an Ovechkin goal since Backstrom joined the league in the 2007-08 seasonRounding out the new top line is winger Tom Wilson, known more for his physical play than his scoring." Nicky complements (Ovechkin) very well and O complements Nicky very well," Wilson told the Washington Post. "So, my job is not to mess with that, just to kind of keep it simple and do my thing and create space and create energy." Washington is also getting healthier. Forward Tyler Graovac (upper body) played his first NHL game since Oct. 17 against Toronto. Defenseman Christian Djoos practiced Monday and is nearing a return and forward Andre Burakovsky is slated to return in mid-December, meaning the team has some roster choices to make." To me, it's all about competition," coach Barry Trotz told NBC Sports Washington. "You have to make the decision for the group, not the individual. When it comes to who you're putting in and out of the lineup, it's all about the group." The Capitals have won three straight home games against the Kings. Goalie Braden Holtby is 1-1-1 with a 2.33 GAA and .930 save percentage versus the Kings. Ovechkin has five goals and eight assists in 15 games against Los Angeles. Kopitar has nine goals and five assists in 14 games versus Washington.