Ann Wauters had 14 points and seven rebounds to help the Seattle Storm beat the Washington Mystics 72-55 on Sunday for their fourth consecutive victory after a 1-7 start. Sue Bird added 14 points, five assists and four rebounds for the Storm (5-7). Crystal Langhorne led Washington (2-8) with 21 points. Matee Ajavon added 11, and Noelle Quinn had 10. Seattle never trailed again after Bird hit a free throw to put the Storm up 10-9 with 4:35 remaining in the first quarter. Bird threw a no-look pass in the fourth quarter that a rolling Ewelina Kobryn put in while being fouled. Kobryn's made free throw put the Storm in front 64-46 and ended doubt about the result. Bird hit a jumper to close the third quarter and push Seattle in front 52-37. The Mystics' 17 third-quarter points almost matched their 20-point output in the first half. But, it still wasn't enough to get back into the game. Seattle led 31-20 at the half after an efficient second quarter during which it shot 54.5 percent. Washington's 20 points were the fewest Seattle allowed in a half this season. The Mystics scored just nine points in the second period, shooting 4 for 19 from the field. The Storm played zone for a portion of the quarter, which forced the Mystics' offense to become stagnant. Washington shot several deep jump shots with little time remaining on the shot clock. A 3-pointer from Bird and a layup by Camille Little pushed the Storm in front 28-18 in the second quarter, forcing a Washington timeout. Seattle called a timeout with 6:17 left in the first quarter to discuss the dysfunction that led to an early 7-2 lead for the Mystics. A 13-2 Storm run followed. Wauters hit a jumper, Little drove and scored, and Bird hit a 3-pointer. The blitz continued when Tina Thompson scored in the lane and rookie Shekinna Stricklen hit a jumper. Washington stopped the onslaught with a jumper from Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton. Seattle led 15-11 at the end of the first quarter. Former Storm player Ashley Robinson returned to Seattle for the first time since being traded to Washington in the offseason. Robinson received a nice ovation when she checked in with 6:45 remaining in the second quarter and scored two points in just four minutes on the floor.
When the Capitals were contemplating whether to trade for Kevin Shattenkirk, General Manager Brian MacLellan sought out Brooks Orpik’s opinion.
Orpik and Shattenkirk played together in the Olympics in 2014.
“I vouched for him hard,” Orpik said. “It’s a tough transition for a lot of people when they get traded at the deadline. That was something Mac and the coaches were a little worried about, but he’s got the kind of personality and demeanor where I think he could go to any of the 30 teams and fit in right away.”
Although Shattenkirk was paired with Nate Schmidt in his Capitals’ debut Tuesday against the Rangers, the team’s long term plan is for the former Blues’ star to skate alongside Orpik, who is working his way back from a nagging lower body injury.
Shattenkirk and Orpik were a tandem in Wednesday’s practice.
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“I watched the game [Tuesday] night and I think we played a little bit together in the last Olympics,” Orpik said. “I also know him pretty well off the ice from [Sochi] and I see him quite a bit in Boston in the summer.”
The off-the-ice familiarity helps. But what Coach Barry Trotz really likes about the Shattenkirk-Orpik pairing is its balance.
“They can complement each other because one is a physical defender and the other is a poised puck moving defender…who has more of an offensive flair,” Trotz said.
With Karl Alzner-John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen forming the other two tandems, each of the three pairs has a lefty and a righty.
“The three pairs we have, they really have good balance,” Trotz said. “They got a little bite to them, a little bit of weight to them, a little bit of offense, some defense. I like our three pairs.”
The pair that’s going to be under the spotlight in the coming days and weeks, though, will be the newest one: Orpik-Shattenkirk.
One practice in, Shattenkirk said he felt some chemistry with Orpik.
“I’ve fortunately been able to see him play firsthand in the Olympics,” Shattenkirk said. “So I know the type of style he brings. He’s a steady, steady guy back there and I know he’s always going to be there to be in a support role for me. Until we get into games and play together it’s going to be a little bit of a process but I’m looking forward to it.”
Orpik echoed Shattenkirk’s sentiments.
“Anytime you get a new partner it’s a little bit of an adjustment,” Orpik said. “You just try to get better every game. You’d wish for it to happen a lot quicker than it does but you just try to stay patient.”
With 20 games remaining in the regular season, the two will have ample time to get on the same page prior to the playoffs, which figures to be a defining moment of the Alex Ovechkin Era.
“This is probably our best chance to win in here,” Orpik said, asked what message management sent to the dressing room by acquiring Shattenkirk. “Everybody is aware of what our situation is going into free agency this summer. I don’t think it’s an indictment on anyone who got bumped out of the lineup. I think it’s just trying to maximize what we already have here. [Shattenkirk] is obviously a pretty good piece to add to what we already have.”
The Redskins face the very real prospect of losing receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon via free agency. Head coach Jay Gruden wants both players back, but is prepared to roll with the guys on the team if Jackson and Garçon depart.
"Obviously DeSean and Pierre had great years. 1,000 yards each. Those are going to be hard to replace," Gruden said to reporters in Indianapolis.
It's still possible the Redskins keep both Jackson and Garçon, or keep one of the two, just as both players could leave the organization. In his comments, it seemed like Gruden does not expect one or both guys to be back, and that the team will move on without them. That could mean losing Jackson's 1,005 receiving yards or Garçon's 1,041.
"Coach the guys that we have. Free agency you’re never going to be able to sign everybody you want as a coach," he said. "I’d like to have Alshon Jeffery, Pierre and DeSean. Heck, give them all to me. I know that's not going to happen."
Gruden tends to joke often speaking with the media, and clearly the prospect of signing Jeffery, a star wideout for the Bears that will hit free agency next week, along with Jackson and Garçon isn't going to happen. The receiver market in free agency will be interesting to watch, as a number of top options will be available. Jeffery, Jackson, Garçon along with Cleveland's Terrelle Pryor and younger prospects like Kenny Stills and Kenny Britt.
Asked if it was "necessary" to bring at least one of Garçon or Jackson back, Gruden bristled.
"Would never say necessary. I’d love to have them both back, I'd love to have one back. If we are unfortunate enough to lose them both, I'm not gonna blink."
The coach explained the team has a good crop of young pass catchers already on the roster.
"I do feel very good about Jamison Crowder, Ryan Grant, Josh Doctson. I love the fact that Mo Harris got a lot of work in, he’s gonna develop."
The coach should feel good about the young receivers, their development is part of his job. Crowder looks like a future star in the slot. Still, Jackson and Garçon accounted for more than 40 percent of Kirk Cousins' passing yards in 2016. That's a lot of yardage to lose.
Of course, Doctson's development will be a major theme this offseason. A first-round pick in 2016, the Redskins got next to nothing from him as a rookie as he dealt with an Achilles injury. A healthy 6-foot-2 Doctson could offset some of the lost productivity that would come with the departure of Jackson or Garçon.
And then there is always free agency. It's entirely possible Washington could sign another, perhaps cheaper, wideout on the marketplace should they lose two the same way. Gruden said the team has 'other free agents' the team could pursue.
"We have Plan B's and Plan C's ready to go," Gruden said.
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