Bucks' Jennings makes his presence known

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Bucks' Jennings makes his presence known

BOSTON With so many talented point guards in the East, it's not that hard to overlook Milwaukee's Brandon Jennings.

But performances like the one he delivered on Friday night against Boston Celtics just might change how the fifth-year guard is seen by others.

Jennings turned in a masterful 21-point, 13-assist night in leading the Milwaukee Bucks to a 99-88 win over the C's.

For most of the game, Jennings dominated play by simply being aggressive at both ends of the floor.

"Playing a team like Boston, you have to be aggressive of course," Jennings said. "If not, they'll just take over the game right away. So our whole role was to just come out aggressive."

Jennings didn't try and hide the fact that facing Rajon Rondo only served as added motivation for him to play so well.

And the only way Jennings felt he could hold his own against Rondo, was to try and put Rondo his heels defensively.

"I just wanted to attack Rondo more and make him work because I knew he would do the same to me on the defensive end," Jennings said.

His strong play in the opener bodes well not only for the Bucks, but also for his chances of landing the lucrative long-term contract he's seeking.

The Bucks declined to work out an extension for him, which means he will be a restricted free agent this summer. With a number of teams having significant salary cap space, Jennings could potentially play his way into a max or near-max contract.

He will earn 3.2 million this season.

"You never know how that's going to affect today's player," said Bucks coach Scott Skiles. "Some guys can play right through stuff like that. Some guys succumb to it. You never know how it's going to affect somebody."

While a more lucrative contract is certainly motivation, Jennings appears to be just as driven to enter that upper echelon of point guards.

Having a big game against Rondo, one of the game's best, is a start after acknowledging that Rondo had out-played him often in previous matchups.

"He Rondo didn't just have good games, he owned me," Jennings said. "But this is a different year and I have to be more aggressive. You know we missed the playoffs two years in a row so it started from tonight and I'm just trying to go out there and compete every night. Whether I shoot bad or not, just as long as they know I gave it my all."

Wednesday, July 27: Boychuk's historic home about to be razed

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Wednesday, July 27: Boychuk's historic home about to be razed

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while amazed that President Bill Clinton has still got “it” after all these years.

-- An odd story about Johnny Boychuk’s historic home on Long Island, which is now set to be razed.

-- The Buffalo Sabres are undoubtedly looking to trade Evander Kane at this point. Here are five possible destinations for a player who's got far too much baggage at his age.

-- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman continues to make firm denials about the link between concussions and CTE in ex-football and ex-hockey players.

-- Some rumors from Spector that include Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Tyson Barrie, and whether either player is on the trade block.

-- The Red Wings have signed Danny DeKeyser to a long-term contract that might be viewed as a bit of an overpay at this point in his career.

-- The annual Hockey News story focusing on three teams that could make the playoffs in 2016-17 after missing last season, and three teams that might fall out of the playoff picture from last season. Once again the Bruins are not counted as one of the teams expected to get back in after missing last season, but the Canadiens are at the top of the list.

-- Former NHL tough guy Jay Rosehill has surfaced in the British Elite League, where he’ll play for the Braehead Clan.

-- Moving piece from Joel Ward about the passing of his father, and his own excellent career at the NHL level.

-- For something completely different: Smash Mouth has made an EDM song. I repeat, Smash Mouth has made an EDM song.

 

Belichick: Garoppolo to get starter reps in 'comprehensive process' to prepare for season

Belichick: Garoppolo to get starter reps in 'comprehensive process' to prepare for season

FOXBORO -- In his precamp media address Wednesday afternoon, Bill Belichick indicated that with Tom Brady down for the month of September, backup Jimmy Garoppolo will get the majority of reps to get him ready for the start of the season.

Belichick also noted that when Brady returns he will be the team’s starter, which will preemptively shuts down the “Will Brady get Brady-ed” storyline if Garoppolo happens to light it up for the first four weeks.

“We finally have some definition with Tom’s situation, so our priority now is to get Jimmy ready for the start of the season for the Arizona game (on September 11),” Belichick said. “That will obviously be a comprehensive process. Tom will return as the starting quarterback when he comes back. But in the meantime we have to prioritize the first part of our schedule and that will be to get Jimmy ready to go.”

Asked his reaction to the conclusion of the ordeal, Belichick said, “No commentary on it. We just know that’s what we have to work with and that’s what we’re doing.”

Belichick said he wasn’t daunted by the specter of getting three quarterbacks -- Brady, Garoppolo and rookie Jacoby Brissett -- in working order over the next month-and-a-half, saying, “I think we have a good situation. We have three players we want to work with. Around the league, look at some other teams. Maybe they don’t have anyone, maybe they have one. We’ll see how it plays out.”

Good relative to other teams? Certainly, over the long haul. Good in the short term? That’s a bit of spin.

Belichick got a bit weary after some decent initial questions from TV’s own Dan Hausle descended into obtuse badgering. That was the only real show of exasperation and it was neither unexpected nor inexcusable.

As for Garoppolo’s improvement, Belichick said, “We could sit here and talk about it for a day. Everything.”

Toward the end of the press conference, I asked if the Deflategate swirl was ever onerous to him or the team.

“Really, I never dealt with it,” Belichick said. “Until a decision had been made, it . . . was in some version of litigation, appeal, appeal depending on how the litigation goes. I mean, it’s been in the same place for a year-and-a-half . . .  

"So there’s definition to it now. We’ll move forward now based on that definition.”

After practice, Patriots head to The Hills

After practice, Patriots head to The Hills

FOXBORO -- If you're one of the thousands of fans who will make their way here for training camp at some point this summer, there's a good chance you'll see the Patriots finish up a session by disappearing briefly over a ridge in the back corner of the Gillette Stadium practice fields. 

By the time they reappear for interviews or autographs, they'll be drenched with sweat and out of breath.

"Mount Belichick," Bill Belichick said after one particularly grueling workout last year. "That's what they called it back in Cleveland."

Patriots players haven't taken the time to name the New England version, probably because no one really likes to think about it all that much in their free time. But unofficially, the space is known as The Hills. Oftentimes there's an expletive mixed in. 

This out-of-sight slice of the team's work space can be a year-round tool, but it has seen regular usage every summer since it was installed about four years ago. For an organization that harps on the importance of being able to outlast opponents, running The Hills is believed to be a difference-maker. 

"That hill's great," director of player personnel Nick Caserio told Sirius XM Radio recently. "That hill gets them in shape pretty quickly. Those guys don't like it, but they'll probably in the fourth quarter realize it's worthwhile."

"It definitely teaches you how to become comfortable with being uncomfortable," receiver Danny Amendola said. "It's a beast, for sure."

There are actually two hills on the south end of the practice fields that slope down to a concrete landing with a storage bin that can hold field-goal posts, tackling dummies and other implements of the game. 

Both hills have different gradations. One is 20 yards long and steep. The other is 60 yards long and features more of a gradual incline. 

Neither provides any escape from the heat, but these are not the dry and rocky hills with treacherous footing that you might find on in an old-school training camp video montage. No, these hills are as well-manicured as the rest of the Patriots practice fields, with white lines painted on every five yards so that players know just how much farther they have to go when their legs are pleading with them to stop. 

The mere mention of The Hills to players during last summer's training camp was usually met with shaking heads and nervous laughter. 

"It's a little bit of a drain, but it's kind of like taking medicine," said left tackle Nate Solder. "You know you need it."

"The Hills are a beast, man," said former Patriots receiver Brian Tyms. "It's like that one bully you have in school. You're like, 'I hope he doesn't mess with me today.' That's what that's like. It's just the incline of it. It's real. It makes a man out of you.

"Jerry Rice. They said he ran a 4.7 but he could run a 4.7 every play. A lot of people who run a 4.3, but in the fourth quarter they can't run a 4.3. Conditioning is like the biggest thing in football. Everybody's an athlete, but how many times can you get out and exert that same amount of effort? Every play? Same intensity? That hill helps that. After practice, in the offseason, we go at each other hard like we have pads on. We go at that hill, we have nothing left. If you can give even a bit of anything on the hill, then we get in the game, shoot, fourth quarter and teams been beating on each other, you still got another gear to go."

"It's tough. It's a challenge," said corner Logan Ryan. "I think the hill just makes you a little bit tougher. Your legs get a little heavy and then you gotta run these sprints up a hill. Your legs, you gotta keep your mind sharp. You gotta just attack it. That's how we go about it. We feel like we get an edge in conditioning over some other guys because of how hard we go at it."

The Hills won't only be reserved for these types of conditioning runs, where as many as a dozen or so players will sprint up together at the sound of a whistle that will likely be worn by first-year head strength and conditioning coach Moses Cabrera. They can be used for players rehabbing injuries or trying to build up speed after a long layoff. 

They provide a space for team-building purposes, too. When the Ice Bucket Challenge to benefit ALS research went viral in 2014, the team filmed its team-wide water dump at the top of The Hills. 

It's also one of the few places where players and coaches can compete side by side. Belichick hasn't run The Hills in some time, but his son, safeties coach Steve Belichick, has been seen hauling uphill. Same goes for receivers coach Chad O'Shea, corners coach Josh Boyer, defensive line coach Brendan Daly and others. 

And it does get competitive. Regardless of how difficult the players just had it during that day's practice, they're sure not to get beaten by one of their more fresh-legged coaches.

"I don't care how much I ran," Ryan said. "I've never seen a coach get past me."

At their core, though, The Hills are about conditioning. Tom Brady has been seen doing resistance-band training with team staffers on The Hills, and sometimes players will make their way over there on their own simply because they know they need the extra work. Newly-acquired Patriots defensive tackle Terrance Knighton -- who is listed at 6-foot-3, 355 pounds and has target weights written into his one-year contract -- hung back on The Hills for a few minutes of extra work with Cabrera after an OTA practice last month. 

Matthew Slater is touted by many on the team as the fastest player when it comes to their punishing post-practice sprints. He credits his work on the hill behind his childhood home in Orange, California for preparing him for success in that regard.

Similarly, despised as it may be, the time spent on the Hills behind Gillette Stadium gets a chunk of the credit for the long seasons the Patriots have had of late. 

"I think you put down the foundation in the offseason," Slater said, "in training camp, early in the season, in regards to your conditioning. That's going to have to carry you all the way through February, hopefully. That's paid dividends for us, and hopefully it'll continue to pay dividends for us."