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WASHINGTON -- Even with the teams "X-factor" suspended, the Washington Wizards had a No. 42 sitting next to the bench. The 57-year-old with greying hair couldnt box out or grab a rebound, but owner Ted Leonsis waved his red towel and egged on a cheering crowd that chanted "Free Nene!" The Wizards did just fine without the suspended Brazilian forward. They scored the first 14 points and beat the Chicago Bulls 98-89 on Sunday to take a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference series. "I thought it was pretty hilarious that Ted had Nenes jersey on," Wizards guard Bradley Beal said. "It kind of threw me off for a minute, but then I looked and seen it was Ted." Nene or not, the Wizards did what theyve done all series: Take a quick lead and force the Bulls to use up energy trying to catch up. It was 15-8 in Game 3, 29-12 in Game 2, 19-13 in Game 1. Washington, seeking to win a playoff series for only the third time since the 1970s, can finish off the Bulls on the road in Game 5 on Tuesday night. "We keep seeing this same kind of start for the last couple of games, and its frustrating," said Taj Gibson, who came off the bench to lead the Bulls with a career-high 32 points. "It seems like at times we get overhyped with just thinking were going to be OK, were just that good. But in this league its not about how talented you are, its about how hard you work and how much effort you put when you start the game off, and I dont think we did that." Nene was suspended for the game after grabbing Jimmy Butlers head in the fourth quarter of the Wizards Game 3 loss. Wall called Nene the "X-factor" this week, and for good reason: Since the March 2012 trade that brought Nene to D.C., Washington is 65-63 when he plays and 21-41 when he doesnt. That said, the club did hold its own by winning 12 of 21 when Nene went down with a knee injury late in the regular season, an absence coach Randy Wittman said might have been a "blessing in disguise" that helped prepare them for Sunday. "I saw our guys bond together," Wittman said. "Like, Thats OK, all right. Big fellows not going to be here, but thats OK. And we were in tune right from the start." Trevor Ariza, getting some of the early looks that might have gone to Nene, scored a career playoff-high 30 points, making 6 of 10 3-pointers. Beal had 18 points, and John Wall added 15 points and 10 assists for the Wizards, who forced 16 turnovers and committed only six. "I think were a smart enough group to understand that when one of your pieces goes down, you have to find ways and will to win," Ariza said. "Tonight was my night to take on the scoring load." Gibson went 13 for 16 from the field for Chicago, but his teammates combined to go 22 for 62. He made more field goals in the first half (8) than the rest of the Bulls combined (7). Mike Dunleavy, who scored 35 points in Game 3, scored only six. Dunleavy jammed his left thumb attempting to take a charge in the fourth quarter. The thumb was swollen and was X-rayed after the game, but he said he didnt think it was broken. "It probably doesnt really matter," he said. "Its my left hand and its not going to make a difference for me." Chicagos Kirk Hinrich committed four turnovers, and NBA Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah had a quiet 10 points and 15 rebounds against the Nene-less frontcourt. Washington stormed to a 14-0 lead, with Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau calling a timeout after each Wizards "touchdown." "Very disappointing to get in a hole like that," Thibodeau said. "I put that on me, and Ive got to get it right. ... Its got to change or our season will be over." Trevor Booker started in Nenes spot and had nine rebounds and three blocks. Beal called Booker "a huge X-factor" -- apparently the Wizards are cornering the market on that particular commodity. "Just because they didnt have Nene," Gibson said, "they just came out and played even harder." Notes: Arizas six 3-pointers tied a Wizards playoff record. ... Wittman, who played during the Detroit Pistons "Bad Boys" era, was asked to compare todays game to those rough-and-tumble days. "Not even close," Wittman said. "Its like sixth-grade flag football compared to NFL tackle football." Torey Krug Jersey . With a win tonight, Buehrle will match Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka for the most wins in the majors with 11. Buehrle is 10-4 with a 2.32 earned run average, but has lost his last three starts, including a 7-3 setback at Yankee Stadium last Wednesday. Johnny Bucyk Jersey .B. -- Canadas Rachel Homan had ideal preparation for the playoffs at the Ford World Curling Championships with a pair of hard-fought wins over tenacious opponents Thursday. http://www.bruinsauthority.com/authentic-ray-bourque-bruins-jersey/ . -- The Chicago Bears say they have agreed to a one-year contract with centre Roberto Garza. Paul Postma Jersey . The team also announced Tuesday that the Braves will wear a commemorative patch on the right sleeve during the season. The patch, shaped like home plate, carries the number 715, Aarons autograph and a "40th Anniversary" banner. David Backes Jersey . "Today was a very great day for me. It was always my dream to be good in GS," Wierather said. "I took quite a long time to get there. It feels awesome to have my first win (in GS)." Wierather leads overall with 595 points from Lara Gut (568), who finished second, and Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany (535).With the trade deadline passed and the stretch run to the NHL season beginning, its time for Scott Cullens latest update to the NHL Awards races. On one hand, there are familiar names throughout, with previous Hart, Norris, Selke and Jack Adams winners named as best through three quarters of this season. However, as we get more games in the file, the leading candidates begin to separate from the rest of the class. Its not to say that others cant mount a strong finish to alter the outcomes, but as the season gets closer to the end, there isnt as much wiggle room. Anyway, here are my picks for awards through first three quarters of this season: HART TROPHY Winner: Sidney Crosby, C, PittsburghRunners-up: Ryan Getzlaf, C, Anaheim; Alex Ovechkin, RW, WashingtonComment: Its no surprise that a healthy Crosby is in position to win the award as the leagues Most Valuable Player, because hes 14 points up in the scoring race and playing at the level to which weve become accustomed, when hes in the lineup. This year, he hasnt missed a game, and that is the biggest reason that Crosby at the forefront of the MVP discussion. Getzlaf is scoring at a career-best rate of 1.17 points per game, leading the team that sits on top of the standings. While his possession numbers are solid, Getzlafs line has been particularly fortunate in terms of shooting percentage, which leads to a dominant goal differential (57 for, 25 against) when Getzlaf is on the ice during 5-on-5 play. Its not the kind of thing that can be sustained long-term (as in year-over-year) but, this year, it puts him in contention for the Hart. I recognize there may not be a lot of observers that would consider Ovechkin among the most valuable in the league this year, yet I do despite his deficiencies. Hhes so far ahead of the rest of the league as a goal-scorer, that I cant ignore that contribution. Right now, Ovechkin is on pace for a 57-goal season. Second-place Phil Kessel is on pace for a 42-goal season. The last player to win the goal-scoring race by 15 goals or more was Brett Hull, in 1991-1992, when Hull scored 70 and Kevin Stevens scored 54. (Incidentally, in 1990-1991, Hull scored 86 goals, 35 more than a trio of players -- Theo Fleury, Cam Neely and Steve Yzerman -- tied for second.) Its just not that often that the leagues top goal-scorer is that far ahead of the field and, this year, Ovechkin is. Additionally, while he does plenty of damage on the power play, Ovechkin also leads the league with 26 even-strength goals, so its not all one-timers from the faceoff dot with the man advantage. Looking beyond those three, Kessel, Joe Pavelski and Jonathan Toews are among others who could warrant consideration. NORRIS TROPHYWinner: Duncan Keith, ChicagoRunners-up: Erik Karlsson, Ottawa; Victor Hedman, Tampa BayComment: This season hasnt been all that different from Duncan Keiths 2010 Norris Trophy-winning campaign. Hes played his typically-strong two-way game, though he is down more than three minutes per game compared to his peak playing time, and has added more offence this season, scoring at the second-best rate of his carerr (0.79 points per game). There are some that decry the play of the Senators Erik Karlsson, because hes not a hard-hitting block of granite on the blueline and thats their vision of a defenceman, but Karlsson is a game-changer. Hes a rare defenceman that can drive his teams offence and his negative plus-minus is more a function of relatively bad luck on percentages (both shooting and save) when hes on the ice. After Keith and Karlsson, there are a number of worthy candidates, with my preferred choice being Victor Hedman, who has been great, while adding an offensive component that is far ahead of his previously established levels. Im not sure that Team Sweden is on board with this vote, but thats their prerogative. Some familiar names -- Shea Weber, P.K. Subban and Alex Pietrangelo -- are also viable candidates, close enough that a really strong finish could alter the outcome. VEZINA TROPHYWinner: Ben Bishop, Tampa BayRunners-up: Tuukka Rask, Boston; Semyon Varlamov, ColoradoComment: As a 27-year-old who had played 45 career games coming into this season, Bishop has been a major surprise, a rock for a LLightning team that has maintained its playoff position despite missing Steven Stamkos for a couple of months.dddddddddddd. Rask has pretty much always been a top puck-stopper, with a .929 save percentage over the past three seasons, and hes played a career-high 46 games this year, handling a number one workload over a full season for, really, the first time in his career. It hasnt been a smooth and steady road to the top for Varlamov, who has rebounded from a career-low .903 save percentage last season to post a career-best .925 save percentage this season. That might be a matter of arbitrary end-points, with Varlamovs real performance level somewhere between those two extremes but, for this season, his numbers warrant award consideration. If not Varlamov, Carey Price and Jonathan Bernier have both had strong seasons, strong enough that an impressive finish could push them into the discussion. CALDER TROPHYWinner: Nathan MacKinnon, C, Colorado Runners-up: Tyler Johnson, C, Tampa Bay; Olli Maatta, Pittsburgh Comment: Having set the record for the longest point streak by an 18-year-old rookie, MacKinnon is already looking like the kind of game-breaking skilled forward that teams hope to get with the No. 1 pick in the draft. Nothing like having a great pedigree and living up to it. MacKinnons closest challenger may be Johnson, an undrafted, 5-foot-9, 23-year-old who has simply scored wherever hes played and when Stamkos got hurt, Johnson took on more responsibility and continued to play at a high level. Its not easy for a teenage defenceman to step into the NHL and consistently play with poise, but dont tell that to Maatta, who has been a revelation for the Penguins. Injuries on the Pittsburgh blueline have forced the Penguins to use Maatta more than might have been initially anticipated, but hes risen to the challenge. Bruins power play quarterback Torey Krug and Johnsons left winger, Ondrej Palat, are other contenders. SELKE AWARDWinner: Patrice Bergeron, BostonRunners-up: David Backes, St. Louis; Jonathan Toews, ChicagoComment: This isnt an easy award to hand out, though there are some consistent performers that tend to be in consideration year after year. Heres a list of centres that face a decent level of competition yet still have strong possession stats. In addition to Bergeron, Backes and Toews, who have been at the top of my lists for past couple seasons at least, Anze Kopitar, Gabriel Landeskog and Alexander Steen are first-rate two-way performers that warrant attention. JACK ADAMS AWARDWinner: Bruce Boudreau, Anaheim Runners-up: Ken Hitchcock, St. Louis; Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay. Comment: It can be difficult to gauge exactly what a coachs role is in a teams performance, so there is some guess work involved here. One of the factors I try to take out of the equation, or at least minimize in importance, is goaltending, because great goaltending can mask all manner of shortcomings. Anyway, Im not sure that Bruce Boudreau has done anything revolutionary with the Ducks that allows them to score on such a high percentage of their shots, but getting strong contributions from so many throughout the lineup has to be considered in some way a reflection of Boudreaus approach. Oh, yeah, the Ducks are also first place in the standings, so he has that working for him too. The St. Louis Blues play such a relentless, grinding game that Im inclined to credit a coach that can keep his team playing that style so effectively. Enter, Ken Hitchcock. Admittedly, Jon Cooper has the benefit of outstanding goaltending, thanks to Ben Bishop, but his team has survived without Steven Stamkos and has done so with a lineup full of young, inexperienced players playing significant roles. For that, Cooper gets my nomination. There are many other qualified candidates. Patrick Roys Avalanche are exceeding expectations, Mike Yeo and Mike Babcock have managed to get through significant injuries and Claude Julien keeps the Bruins rolling with a steady spproach; all of these coaches deserve credit for their work behind the bench this season. Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook. 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