Venus, Kastles advance to WTT finals

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Venus, Kastles advance to WTT finals

CHARLESTON, S.C. September 15, 2012 Defending World TeamTennis champions Washington Kastles defeated their arch-rival, the New York Sportimes, 19-15 in the WTT Eastern Conference final, propelling the team into Sundays championship match for the second consecutive year and extending the teams historic win streak to 31 matches.

With the match tied and one set remaining, four-time Olympic gold medalist Venus Williams blasted her way past Ashley Harkleroad 5-1 in women's singles to clinch a spot for the Kastles in the WTT Finals for the third time in four years.

Weve been in this situation before and we knew how to win. There was a lot of pressure on us, but we just knew we had to put the ball in play and go for the shot, said Venus Williams. It shows why we are a great team.

The arch-rival Sportimes had been the Kastles toughest opponent during the regular season, including a thrilling 21-20 Washington win on July 21, when Venus Williams rallied from six games down in the final set to complete the franchise's largest comeback ever.

Next up is the Western Conference champion Sacramento Capitals. They defeated the Orange County Breakers 25-15 on Friday to advance to the WTT championship match. The Kastles defeated Sacramento 21-19 on July 18.

In posting 31 straight victories, the Kastles have the second-longest winning streak in major U.S. professional sports history and are within range of the 33-game streak by the NBAs 1971-1972 Los Angeles Lakers. They have already passed the respective records of 17 straight wins set by the NHL Pittsburgh Penguins in 1992-1993, 21 straight wins by the NFLs New England Patriots in 2003 and 2004, and 26 wins by the 1916 MLB New York Giants.

This years 14-0 regular season by the Kastles marked the first time in major U.S. professional sports history in which a team has had consecutive unbeaten regular seasons. Last season, in addition to winning a second WTT title in three years, the Kastles posted a perfect 16-0 record a first in WTT history.

Kastles closer Bobby Reynolds was named the 2012 WTT Male Most Valuable Player. Kastles Coach Murphy Jensen was selected as 2012 Coach of the Year, the second straight season he has won that honor.

The 37th WTT regular season ran July 9-28. The championship is being played this year in September to accommodate players who participated in the Olympics and US Open.

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The NHL's explaination for why the Malkin goal was not overturned and why they are wrong

The NHL's explaination for why the Malkin goal was not overturned and why they are wrong

A crazy second period got a little more insane late with a disputed go-ahead goal from Evgeni Malkin. After Pittsburgh Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist slid into Philipp Grubauer on the goal, Barry Trotz challenged the play for goalie interference.

The challenge was unsuccessful.

The NHL released an explanation of the call:

After reviewing all available replays and consulting with NHL Hockey Operations staff, the Referee confirmed that the actions of Washington's Daniel Winnik caused Pittsburgh's Patric Hornqvist to contact Grubauer before the puck crossed the goal line. The decision was made in accordance with Note 2 of Rule 78.7 (ii) which states, in part, that the goal on the ice should be allowed because "the attacking Player was pushed, shoved or fouled by a defending Player causing the attacking Player to come into contact with the goalkeeper."

Therefore the original call stands - good goal Pittsburgh Penguins.

You can view the play in the video above.

None of this explanation is incorrect. Winnik trips Hornqvist which causes him to slide into Grubauer. But from my point of view, it's not the trip that's the issue.

As Hornqvist slides into Grubauer, he clearly — and seemingly intentionally — hits and pushes Grubauer's pad with his stick. Unless the rule means that a player can legally do whatever he wants to a goalie so long as he was pushed into him (which we all know is not the case), this goal should have been called back for goalie interference.

RELATED: Eller pulls the Caps even at 5

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Kelly Oubre shows signs of development on both ends vs. Blazers

Kelly Oubre shows signs of development on both ends vs. Blazers

The development of a talent as raw and intriguing as Wizards forward Kelly Oubre, Jr. rarely happens overnight. Usually it's small steps along the way that ultimately add up to a finished product. On Monday afternoon against the Portland Trail Blazers, there were two things Oubre did that may qualify as significant signs of progress.

First, on the offensive end. The Wizards blew out the Blazers after getting off to a scorching hot start in the first quarter. They scored 37 points in the first and 75 in the first half, both season-highs. Oubre helped lead that charge with 10 points of his own in the first quarter on 2-of-3 shooting from the field and 4-of-4 from the line.

He kept it going in the second quarter with a bucket just over a minute in that saw him go around Evan Turner with a crossover. Oubre went right, dribbled behind his back and got to the rim where he finished with contact. 

Oubre, 21, has shown this season he can knock down threes, finish on the fastbreak and scrap for putbacks in the lane. But beating a man off the dribble is a sign of young player growing more confident in his ability to put the ball on the floor.

"He's working on it. He knows that's not his greatest strength," guard Bradley Beal said. "Now he's perfecting it a little bit. He's using it to his advantage. He understands that he's knocking down more threes, so teams are going to run him off the line. He knows that he can now use his athleticism to get to the basket versus having to force up a tough one. He's got a pretty good package going for him. His three-ball is falling and he's starting to put it on the floor, which is even better."

[RELATED: Head-to-head: Wall and Beal best Lillard and McCollum]

Oubre finished with 18 points, just one off of the career-high he set against Bucks on Dec. 10. He finished 5-of-8 from the field, 3-of-4 from three and 5-of-5 from the free throw line. His three threes matched a career-best.

But defense is where Oubre may have taken another step on Monday. Sensing he has a player with unique versatility on the defensive end, head coach Scott Brooks decided to deploy Oubre on Blazers superstar guard Damian Lillard in the second quarter. 

Oubre helped limit Lillard to just 6-of-17 shooting and his contribution was the product of something Brooks had wanted to experiment with.

"Kelly did a great job of getting in his handle and making sure that he didn't get anything easy when Kelly was guarding him in that second quarter," Brooks said.

"I'm definitely exploring it. I'm just trying to find ways that he can impact the game defensively... when he's locked in, he can guard multiple positions. I've been trying to experiment to throw some more point guard responsibilities on him defensively. Nothing against the other guys. It just gives a bigger player on a scoring point guard. I thought he was really good on Lillard."

[RELATED: Beal: "Our fans are awesome and we feed off of their energy"]

With more minutes offered, Oubre has helped improve the Wizards defensively this season. Brooks has often gone with lineups featuring both Oubre and Otto Porter along with John Wall and Beal. He feels those four can easily switch between guarding multiple positions.

This strategy took that to another level. Now Oubre was being asked to guard the smallest and fastest guy on the team.

"I can guard whoever on the court, honestly. That’s how I feel. Whoever they ask me to guard I’m going to guard them, take the challenge and have fun with it," he said. "Just staying down on his pump fakes, making it tough for him, using my length to disturb him and just making sure I keep him in front of me because he’s one of the quickest guards in the league. I think I did a solid job of that."

Oubre won't figure it all out in one afternoon against a struggling team, of course. But his teammates and coaches have pointed out certain times this season where it was obvious to him that he was showing improvement. Monday was one of those times.

"He's steady growing. He's constantly turning into what we want him to be and the kid that we drafted him to be. We just need him to continue to be aggressive," Beal said. 

"I think the biggest thing is that he's definitely transitioned with his humility. He's grounded. He's always wanting to get better. He works hard and it's showing on the floor."

[RELATED: 5 must-see moments from Wizards' win over Blazers]