Tim Lincecum has essentially been benched

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Tim Lincecum has essentially been benched

From Comcast SportsNet
CINCINNATI (AP) -- Left-hander Barry Zito will start Game 4 for the San Francisco Giants if they can extend their NL division series against the Cincinnati Reds.Two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum? He's staying in the bullpen.San Francisco flew in from the West Coast on Monday trailing 2-0 in the best-of-five series. The Reds can finish it off Tuesday night when Homer Bailey (13-10) goes against the Giants' Ryan Vogelsong (14-9).Manager Bruce Bochy wanted to see how the first two games of the series played out before deciding his Game 4 starter. The Reds won 5-2 and 9-0, with Lincecum pitching two innings in relief on Sunday night.Bochy chose Zito (15-8) because of his strong finish to the season. The left-hander won his last five starts and seven straight decisions. The Giants won the last 11 games that he started."He's been really on top of his game, and I think he's earned this," Bochy said. "We all do. I'm glad to be able to tell Barry that he's getting the start. When you win your last 11 games that a pitcher starts, it's a pretty good thing."It was a touchy decision for the Giants. Lincecum pitched their Game 5 World Series clincher at Texas in 2010, but has struggled this season. He lost a career-high 15 games, had a 5.18 ERA and tied his career high with 17 wild pitches.Bochy considered starting Matt Cain, who lost the opening game of the series on Saturday night, if San Francisco gets to a Game 4."Sure, we put thought in it, but this is more a case with rewarding Zito with how he's been pitching and the job he's done, and I think he's earned this," Bochy said. "Instead of pushing a starter back on short rest -- there is a history of that not working too well. And this would have been the first time that we have asked Matt to do it this year."The Reds are unsure whether right-hander Johnny Cueto will be available if there's a Game 4. He started the series opener but left in the first inning with back spasms. If he's unavailable, the Reds could start Mat Latos, who relieved Cueto on Saturday night.Cueto's uncertain status isn't much of an issue with the Reds."Everybody is staying calm, not worrying if Johnny is able to pitch in the future," right-hander Bronson Arroyo said Monday. "We don't even know now, and I don't think anybody is panicked about it because we feel we're deep enough to compete regardless."

Want Kevin Durant on the Wizards? Root for Thunder over Warriors, Cavs

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Want Kevin Durant on the Wizards? Root for Thunder over Warriors, Cavs

That headline isn't clickbait. Anyone who hopes Kevin Durant one day plays for the Wizards -- and that seems like everybody in these parts -- should root for a Thunder win Monday night in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. Then hope Oklahoma City defeats the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals and for reasons other than #NeverLeBron.

If the idea of playing for his hometown team appeals to the kid from Seat Pleasant even a little, then the scoring savant getting a ring is the best hope.

Anytime the idea of KD2DC comes up for discussion on Twitter, talk radio or wherever such talks take place, skeptics state unequivocally Durant won't come to the Wizards because you can't win a title with this organization.

Some note Washington last reached the finals in 1979, the same season it last won at least 50 games. Others mention that even though John Wall and Bradley Beal form a dynamic backcourt, that wasn't enough to make the playoffs this season. Another faction simply views LeBron James as the ultimate roadblock.

RELATED: KEVIN DURANT TAKING HEAT FROM THUNDER FANS AFTER GAME 6 LOSS TO WARRIORS

It's quite possible none of that matters in the summer of 2017 -- yes, 2017 -- especially if Durant already does what Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and Patrick Ewing never could: Win a ring.

The odds of Durant joining the Wizards or any team whose nickname isn't typically paired with lightning are perhaps only somewhat better than getting hit by actual lightning. We're discussing the best path to raise those odds.

Let's say Durant gets it done with the Thunder now, meaning an epic Game 7 road win over the defending NBA champs coming off a 73-win regular season and then defeats the LeBron's. His drive for greatness won't change, but he can breathe easier on the legacy front.

He can then think about different legacy: Leading his hometown team to its first title since 1978 and perhaps helm the first championship among Washington's four major pro sports franchises since 1992.

If Durant banked a title, if he doesn't loathe the idea of dealing with any hassle that comes with a return home, if the West remains the more top-heavy of the conferences, tell me why he would rule out playing for the Wizards.

Realize that adding Durant to Washington or any of the nine teams that finished directly behind Cleveland in the Eastern Conference standings right now would mean instant contender. Yet only of those nine cities has Durant ever called home.

Let's back up and talk timeline. The recent spike in Durant 2016 free agency talk is premature based on current facts.

MORE BASKETBALL: A CAUTIONARY TALE ABOUT ANDREW BYNUM (AND POSSIBLY HASSAN WHITESIDE)

Though Durant's contract ends this summer, many NBA observers have believed he will actually re-up with Oklahoma City with a player option after the 2016-17 season. That means taking advantage of significant salary cap rises over the next two years and perhaps netting an additional $40 million.

That 2017 scenario also matches up with the contract for his fellow Thunder headliner, Russell Westbrook.

If the Thunder win Monday's Game of the Century and subsequently the 2016 NBA Finals, we can safely assume Durant is staying in OKC for at least another year for a chance to repeat plus the financial reasons plus Westbrook.

If money is everything, Durant likely stays in Oklahoma throughout his prime years. Based on the NBA's salary structure, nobody can pay him as much as the Thunder.

If Westbrook signs a long-term extension, good chance Durant does as well barring some falling out between the friends. It would be hard finding a more talented tag-team partner.

If the miser gene doesn't dominate Durant's thinking or Westbrook says he wants out after the 2016-17 season for say a return to his native Los Angeles, the door opens.

If that door opens, Washington, you want an NBA title on Durant's résumé.

Fair or not, all-time players are judged on whether they've won a title. Winning six like Michael Jordan sounds like heaven. For the likes of Barkley, Malone and Ewing, just one would scratch that status itch.

If no championship this year or next, Durant enters 2017 free agency a soon-to-be 30-year-old wondering if he'll ever taste the ultimate on-court triumph. He then might look for a super friend's scenario similar to when James famously decided to take his talents to South Beach.

Who knows what the NBA world will look like by then. Maybe Wall and Beal are ready for real. Maybe Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are still splashing past the competition. Maybe James reaches his seventh straight finals -- or maybe Father Time starts giving him a true fight.

Should Durant join the Wizards in 2017, the year James turns 33, he might be the East's best player. If he's already won a title for Oklahoma City, why not consider trying to turn his hometown's sporting frowns upside-down with the Wizards as a sincere title-contending conduit. Talk about a legacy.

Such talk becomes easier if Durant already won a precious ring.

MORE BASKETBALL: BEST DRESSED: SAGER, KD'S MOM, WESTBROOK OR KD?

2015-16 Season in Review: Nicklas Backstrom

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2015-16 Season in Review: Nicklas Backstrom

With the Capitals’ 2015-16 season now in the rearview mirror, we continue with our numerical player-by-player roster analysis.

No. 19 Nicklas Backstrom

Age: 28 (turns 29 on Nov. 23)

Games: 75

Goals: 20

Assists: 50

Points: 70

Plus-minus: Plus-17

Penalty minutes: 36

Time on ice: 19:10

Playoff stats: 12 games, 2 goals, 9 assists, plus-3, 8 PIM, 20:02

Contract status: Four years remaining on 10-year, $67 million contract ($6.7 million cap hit, $7 million salary)

RELATED: HERSHEY ADVANCES TO CALDER CUP FINALS WITH GAME 5 WIN OVER TORONTO

Following the Capitals’ fifth second-round playoff exit in nine years, Capitals alternate captain Nicklas Backstrom did something very few professional athletes are brave enough to do.

At the very end of his post-season interview with reporters, Backstrom was asked if there is anything he would like to say to Capitals fans who have waited 42 years for their team to win its first Stanley Cup.

“I love them,” Backstrom said. “I love Washington fans. They’re absolutely the best fans in the world. Even if we disappoint them, hopefully they have faith in us. I know we’re gonna do it. We’re gonna do it one day. I promise them.”

Once described as “the heartbeat of our team” by goaltender Braden Holtby, Backstrom was quietly one of the most consistently productive players for the Capitals this season, noteworthy because he underwent reconstructive hip surgery last summer.

During his nine-year NHL career in Washington, Backstrom has averaged .98 points per game in the regular season and .75 points per game in the playoffs.

This season he averaged .93 points and .92 points, respectively. He also hit the 20-goal mark for just the third time in his career and for the first time since 2010 when he set career highs with 33 goals and 101 points. Backstrom credited his decision to undergo offseason hip surgery and the dedication of the Capitals’ training staff to allow him to play in all but seven games this season (he missed the first three games of the season and four of the final five).

“I was feeling good all year,” he said. “Obviously, when you do a big surgery like that, you’re going to feel it a little bit. But it’s all about treatment and how you handle it. I feel like all the trainers have been doing a good job with that, helping me.”

Because of his consistency, and perhaps the campaigning of head coach Barry Trotz, Backstrom was voted into his first NHL All-Star Game. But that wasn’t enough to soothe the open wounds of another premature playoff exit.

“Really disappointing, to be honest with you,” Backstrom said when asked to evaluate his own play. “Honestly, I don’t care about anything else than going further in the playoffs. It’s disappointing. It doesn’t matter I went to Nashville. Yeah, it was fun, but I don’t really care about that right now.”

In the playoffs, Backstrom was quietly dominant, recording two goals and five assists in six games against the Flyers and no goals and four assists in six games against the Penguins – all while holding Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux to one assist (minus-2) in six games, and Sidney Crosby to two assists (minus-3) in six games.

“Every time you go against a player like (Crosby), I feel like you have to be good,” Backstrom said. “He’s a talented guy. I think if you look at it now, what did he have, two assists? If you look at it afterwards, you think when he has two assists, you feel like, ‘Yeah, we should’ve won that.’ But there was a lot of other guys on their team that really stepped up and had a big series.”

Guys like Nick Bonino (2 goals, 3 assists), Carl Hagelin (3 goals, 4 assists) and Phil Kessel (2 goals, 4 assists).

Backstrom has been through four head coaches and five No. 1 goalies in his nine seasons with the Caps but has failed to see the Capitals play in a conference final.

“Obviously, it’s getting old,” Backstrom said. “The same meetings every year.”

With four years remaining on a contract that continues to escalate in value – he’ll earn $7 million next season, $7.5 million in each of the following two seasons, and $8 million in 2019-20, Backstrom was asked if he’s ever wondered how long the Caps will remain patient with him and Alex Ovechkin in their quest to win a championship.

“Yeah, a little bit,” he said. “It’s out of our hands, I think. Even if we have long contracts, it’s up to the GM and the owners to evaluate everybody and how they want to go forward here, which players they want to have here and stuff like that. But, yeah, it absolutely crosses your mind. But at the same time, you’re hockey players. We want to move forward, and we want to succeed and we want to compete and that’s what drives us.”

On the ice, it will be interesting to see which direction the Capitals will go with Backstrom next season. Evgeny Kuznetsov (77 points) became the first player not named Ovechkin or Backstrom to lead the Caps in scoring during the Ovechkin era and he could begin next season as the Caps’ top-line center.

How that potential switch could affect Backstrom’s ice time and offensive totals next season remains to be seen, but Backstrom seems convinced that with 17 players under contract for next season, the Capitals have the personnel to make another run at a championship.

“If you compare this to my first couple years, I feel like even if we lost, it’s a special group,” he said. “I feel like we’ve got something special, and we just need to execute. We need to win games when we need to. At the end of the day it’s all about winning. We need to get over the hump that we can’t get over. That’s what I feel like. Every time when it ends, it’s so quick and so frustrating.

“I feel like we need to be better as a group when it counts, everybody. It’s just not one or two players, it’s everybody. We need to be better.”

MORE CAPITALS: 2015-16 CAPITALS IN REVIEW: JUSTIN WILLIAMS

Will lack of conditioning lead to Richardson's downfall with Ravens?

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Will lack of conditioning lead to Richardson's downfall with Ravens?

Will running back Trent Richardson’s lack of conditioning be his downfall with the Ravens?

Richardson missed the first week of OTA’s with a hamstring issue, which was not the kind of early impression he wanted to make. Some injuries are unavoidable. But conditioning has been an issue for Richardson throughout his brief and so far undistinguished NFL career.

Entering the NFL as the No. 3 overall pick with the Browns in 2012, Richardson has disappointed in Cleveland and Indianapolis, and spent 2015 out of the league after the Raiders cut him before the season. When the Ravens signed Richardson in April, he knew it might be his last NFL chance. However, Ravens coach John Harbaugh wants to see even more commitment from Richardson when it comes to staying in shape.

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“Trent just needs to get healthy,” Harbaugh said after the first week of OTA’s. “I think the workload and the amount of work it takes to be a world class conditioned athlete is something that he’s working on right now. That’s what he needs to understand and that’s where he needs to get himself. When he gets himself there, he’s got talent. It will be fun. I’m very certain he’ll get there and when he does we’ll be able to evaluate him.”

The Ravens don’t have to wait on Richardson. Their running back competition is already intense, with Justin Forsett, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon, Lorenzo Taliaferro, and Terrance West all fighting for carries and roles.

Whether Richardson even threatens to make the team remains to be seen. His bigger priority is improving his conditioning, and getting back on the field.

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