After two games away from the Verizon Center, the reeling WashingtonMystics return home for a Friday night contestagainst the New York Liberty.Here is what you to know about the Eastern Conference tiltand what the Mystics are up against as they try to snap a three-game losing streak.The matchup: The Mystics (1-4) host the Liberty (2-5), winners of two straight, but losers of fiveconsecutive games in Washington. New York opened with a franchise-record five-game losing streak and had some WNBA observers labeling them the league's worst team before finding a winning formula. However, both of those victories came at home. Beyond simply being winless on the road, the Liberty lost all three games by an average of 21.3 points. New York's issues have been on the defensive end as opponents score 83 points per game, 10 more than the Washington is allowing. If there is such a thing as a must win game this early in the season, this might be it for the Mystics. After the Liberty, they face the 4-1 Indiana Fever before heading out west for a brutalthree-game road swing.Last time out: On the positive side, Washington matched a franchise record for points in a single quarter, scoring 36 in the fourth against with Connecticut. But...the Mystics allowed the Sun to pile up 35 points over those final 10 minutes in a 94-86 loss. The Mystics cut down on their turnovers and used the extra possessions to feed All-Star forward Crystal Langhorne, who finished with a season-high 25 points. Once again, the Sun did the visitors one better as center Tina Charles dropped in 30 points.Jasmine Thomas:Mystics coach has been searching for an answer at point guard throughout the season - well, really, since Lindsay Harding pushed for a trade after the 2010 campaign. Perhaps a new plan of attack can be centered around the hot shooting Thomas, It's at least worth consideration afterlast year's first round pick-in 16 minutes - tallied 17 points, two assists and three steals. Over the last two games, Thomas is shooting a stellar 75 percent (8 of 12) from the field.Washington's fourth leading scorer (7.4) on the season despite playing less than 14 minutes per game, the former Oakton High School star is knocking down a team-high 54.5 percent (6 of 11) from beyond the arc. Lacey needs a distributor more than a scorer at the point and Thomas has that in her game; she finished with over 400 assists at Duke. Right now, any consistent production will do. Milestone: Langhorne grabbed five rebounds against the Sun, including number 1,000 of her five-year career. Capping Pondexter: It may not be as simple as saying "stop Cappie Pondexter, stop the Liberty" - but it's a good start. After failing to score 20 points during any of New York's losses, the assertive guard topped that mark in the two victories, averaging 25.5 points. Pondexter, who finished sixth in scoring (17.4) last season, will see plenty of her former Rutgers teammate Matee Ajavon on the defensive end.
Just over a month after the NBA and its player association agreed in principle on a new collective bargaining agreement, the paperwork has been signed. It is official that there will be labor peace in basketball for years to come.
The agreement is for seven years and will continue through the 2023-24 season. The deal can be opted out of after the sixth year.
Featured in the new CBA are considerable increases in player salaries, from maximum contracts to veteran minimum deals. Maximum salaries for players with at least 10 years of service re-signing with their current team can earn up to $36 million per year, or about $210 million over the course of a five-year contract. For those with between seven and nine years of service, the maximum salary is expected to be around $31 million.
Also noteworthy in the new agreement is the creation of two-way contracts for the NBA Development League. There will be a healthcare program for former players, better benefits for current players and a shorter preseason.
The one-and-done rule prohibiting players from jumping from high school to the NBA will remain in place.
The details are important, of course, but the best news is that there will not be a lockout.
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The Capitals will look to start a new win streak Thursday as they face the St. Louis Blues (8 p.m., CSN). Here are three bold predictions for the game:
1. Alex Ovechkin will get more points than Vladimir Tarasenko
Tarasenko has been the more consistent player this year with 45 points. That's the sixth most in the NHL, just five points shy of Sidney Crosby and nine points behind Connor McDavid. Right now, however, Ovechkin is hotter and so is his team. I will go with the hot hand and say Ovechkin will outduel his fellow countryman.
2. St. Louis' goaltending will have a save percentage under .900 for the game
The Blues' goaltending has been atrocious this season. Jake Allen was expected to be the top guy, but he has managed only a .900 save percentage. That's still better than Carter Hutton's .898 save percentage. The Caps are 12th in the NHL this season in shots per game. An average volume of shots from one of the hottest offenses in the NHL against weak goaltending? That's not going to help the ol' save percentage much. I don't think the Caps are going to score seven like they did on Monday against Pittsburgh, but they'll get enough.
3. Washington will get at least two fewer power plays than the Blues
You know who hates being told how to do their job? Everyone. Yes, the refs blew it on Monday against Pittsburgh, but all the talk afterward has been about missed calls. Don't get me wrong, the referees won't come into Thursday's game with an agenda, but they're only human. They've heard all the talk about how the Caps were wronged by their striped brethren so they won't have much sympathy for the Ovechkin and Co. when they think another call was missed.
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