From Comcast SportsNetATLANTA (AP) -- The Atlanta Falcons couldn't do anything offensively.Not to worry.The defense left Drew Brees with egg on his face.Brees threw five interceptions for the first time in his career and, rubbing salt in the wound, the Falcons also ended his NFL-record streak of touchdown passes. The result was a 23-13 victory Thursday night that pushed Atlanta to the brink of a division championship and might have finished off the Saints' fading playoff hopes.The Falcons (11-1) built an early 17-0 lead, then struggled to move the ball. They finished with 283 yards, by far the lowest total allowed this season by a Saints defense that was on pace to give up the most yards in NFL history.But William Moore had two interceptions, and Thomas DeCoud, Sean Weatherspoon and Jonathan Babineaux had one pick apiece. Another by Corey Peters didn't count because of a penalty."That's the first time that's ever happened to me, so that's extremely disappointing," Brees said. "I pride myself on being a good decision-maker and not someone who will be a detriment to the game."The Falcons will clinch the NFC South with a month to go if Tampa Bay loses at Denver on Sunday. The Saints (5-7) need to win out to have any chance, and even that might not be enough to get the defending division champs back to the playoffs."It looks pretty bleak right now," interim coach Joe Vitt said.Brees had thrown a touchdown pass in 54 consecutive games, breaking Johnny Unitas' long-standing record earlier this season. There was an apparent scoring pass to Darren Sproles late in the first half, but it was nullified by a penalty."I didn't realize that until we walked off the field," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "That's an unbelievable streak. Drew Brees is an outstanding quarterback. The way the defense played tonight speaks volumes. The guys had gone out there and thrown touchdown after touchdown game after game after game."After Sproles' TD was wiped off the board, Brees made another huge mistake with New Orleans inside the Atlanta 10, allowing the clock to run out in the first half without at least attempting a field goal.Four days earlier, Brees had two passes picked off and returned for touchdowns in a loss to San Francisco.This one was even worse. He finished 28 of 50 for 341 yards but had a rating of just 37.6, the third-lowest off his career."I feel we have one of the best secondaries in the NFL," Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson said, "and I think we came out and showed that."When the Saints arrived in Atlanta, their bus was pelted by eggs at the airport, epitomizing the long rivalry between the teams. New Orleans had dominated in recent years, winning four in a row and 11 of 13.This time, Michael Turner scored on Atlanta's opening possession, Tony Gonzalez hauled in a touchdown pass from Matt Ryan, and Matt Bryant booted three field goals, including a 55-yarder.The defense did the rest."We got the monkey off our back," DeCoud said.After winning so many close games, the Falcons started this one as if they were intent on routing the only team to beat them this season. New Orleans knocked off Atlanta 31-27 at the Superdome on Nov. 11, the bright spot in a tumultuous year that was marred by a bounty scandal and a season-long suspension for coach Sean Payton.Ryan completed a pass on the first play from scrimmage before turning it over to a running game that has struggled most of the season. Turner burst around right end for a 35-yard gain. Jacquizz Rodgers broke off two straight 14-yard gains. Finally, it was Turner going in standing from 3 yards out, giving Atlanta a quick 7-0 lead.That was Turner's 58th touchdown in five seasons with the Falcons, breaking the team record he had shared with Terance Mathis.Atlanta struck again in the opening minute of the second period. Julio Jones hauled in an 18-yard throw from Ryan, setting up a 17-yard touchdown pass to Gonzalez in the back of the end zone. He beat former teammate Curtis Lofton; maybe as a sign of respect, Gonzo just flipped the ball over the crossbar instead of his customary basketball dunk.Brees' second interception, this one a sloppy pass behind running Chris Ivory that deflected into the arms of Weatherspoon, set up Bryant's 45-yard field goal for a 17-0 lead.Then, suddenly, the game completely changed.For the rest of the second quarter and most of the third, the Saints totally dominated. Mark Ingram scored on a 1-yard run, capping an 11-play, 80-yard drive, and New Orleans should have tacked on more points at the end of the half. Brees made a rookie-like mistake with 12 seconds remaining, dumping a pass over the middle to Sproles with no timeouts. He was wrapped up at the Atlanta 3 and the clock ran out before the Saints could spike the ball."Honestly, I thought we had more time than we did," Brees said. "The last time I remember, we had 17 seconds. ... But it was down to 7 when I looked up after the completion. That wasn't enough time to get the spike. That's on me."But New Orleans got the ball to start the second half, and Brees went back to work. This time, he made a couple of nifty moves to avoid sacks, completing six passes on an 83-yard drive consuming 15 plays and more than 6 12 minutes. But the Falcons held again, forcing Garrett Hartley to boot a 21-yard field goal that cut it to 17-10.Hartley connected again from much farther out on the Saints' next possession, a 52-yarder that brought New Orleans even closer.The Falcons, meanwhile, failed to pick up a first down on five straight possessions, a stretch in which the Saints had a 289-30 lead in total yards and a staggering 18 first downs.But the Atlanta defense kept coming through when it counted.Late in the third, Brees rolled to his right and threw over the middle. Moore stepped in front of the receiver and returned it to the New Orleans 16. Ryan connected on first-down throws to Gonzalez and Roddy White to set up Bryant for a 29-yarder that extended the lead back to a touchdown.NOTES:Brees had two previous games with four interceptions. ... This was Brees' lowest-rated game since joining the Saints in 2006. With San Diego, he turned in a 35.7 at Washington in 2005 and a 26.8 at Chicago in 2003. ... Turner ran 12 times for 83 yards. ... Lance Moore of the Saints hauled in 11 passes for 123 yards.
SACRAMENTO -- Going young. The Sacramento Kings put their core of 20-somethings to work Saturday night at Golden 1 Center. Five players with three years of experience or less played more than 25 minutes, with four of those players hitting the 30-minute mark.
This has been the plan since the start of the new year, but injuries have derailed coach Dave Joerger’s rotations. With seven healthy youngsters and a mystery man in Bruno Caboclo hiding on the end of the bench, it’s time to see what the Kings have.
“I want our team to go out and learn, I want our team to go out and play the right way and not just run up and down,” Dave Joerger said before the Kings faced off with the Los Angeles Lakers Saturday evening.
Wins are great, but learning experiences are just as valuable for the 2017-18 Kings. With the game in the balance in the fourth quarter against the Lakers, Joerger mostly went away from his veterans.
Bogdan Bogdanovic, De’Aaron Fox, Willie Cauley-Stein, Frank Mason and Skal Labissiere all played major minutes in fourth quarter as the Kings tried to pull out the win. They clawed to within one point with 12 seconds remaining and had the ball with an opportunity to tie moments later. These are the types of situations the Kings young players need to see and learn from.
“I think we’re improving a lot from early in the season,” Bogdanovic told NBC Sports California following the loss. “I can say, we don’t have those games where it’s 20-30 points and it’s already lost. I think we compete every single night.”
The Kings are taking baby steps. They took the Oklahoma City Thunder down to the wire on Thursday night, only to lose on a buzzer beater with one second on the clock. They stumbled in the final moments against the Lakers, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort.
“Sometimes it just comes with experience,” Fox said of the loss. “A lot of other teams, they’ve had the same core and they struggled early on, but with that experience, you get better. You start seeing what guys can do a few years into the league.”
Individually, the numbers are up for almost every one of the Kings’ young players since January 1st. The team is looking for signs of improvement and an outline of what the future may hold is taking form.
Fox and Bogdanovic are building chemistry as a starting backcourt. They combined to score 34 points, dish out 10 assists and grab seven rebounds against the Lakers on Saturday. It’s a one-game sample, but they compliment each other well as players.
Hield has become a valuable asset as a bench scorer and he’s starting to show he can do more than just shoot. After posting 19 points and nine rebounds against the Thunder on Thursday, he finished with 21 points and eight boards against the Lakers.
Cauley-Stein posted an 18-point, 15-rebounds double-double against LA. He is showing more consistency this season as a whole, but the Kings are still looking for nightly numbers they can start to pencil in for the 7-footer.
After a strong finish to the the 2016-17 season, Labissiere has struggled in Year Two, especially on the defensive end. He missed a few weeks of action due shoulder injury and he’s looked like a different player since returning action.
His offensive numbers might not jump off the page, but Labissiere put the clamps on Kyle Kuzma and his defense against Carmelo Anthony on Thursday was solid. If Labissiere can defend the perimeter against stretch fours, it changes his trajectory as a player.
Mason is on a minutes limit, but the team already knows that he brings a toughness to the court. Justin Jackson is still trying to find a niche, but he’s going to get an opportunity to start plenty of games as the season winds down.
This young group needs as much court time as possible, but that’s just the start. The coaching staff has worked to develop an offseason program for each of the group, they just need a fast forward button.
“This is an important summer for our young guys and probably a lot of them would like to start it right now,” Joerger said. “Because you’ve seen what you want to work on and you can’t really work on it while you’re competing for the next 24 games.”
“Some of them have got to work on the range of their shot, some of them need to work on consistency,” Joerger continued. “They’ve gotten a good bite of the apple, they’ve learned a lot and we’ve got to continue to go out there and teach and compete. I think that’s the way that you learn the best.”
The Kings are playing with effort and energy. They are competing. They are developing. Losing doesn’t feel good. But if losing now with young players means winning in a year or two when they mature, the Kings might be better for it.
OAKLAND -- The decline of the Lob City Clippers created a rivalry vacuum for the Warriors that the Oklahoma City Thunder seems determined to fill.
It’s an organic growth and not necessarily an extension of the since-thawed frost that existed between ex-OKC teammates Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
The signals of an altogether new and growing animosity were clearly visible Saturday at Oracle Arena.
They were on the court, where the teams split four technical fouls and two mini-beefs surfaced. They were in the locker rooms, where the Thunder made sharp accusations about dirty play as the Warriors defended a 112-80 rout of the team that took their lunches twice earlier this season.
“We just didn’t want to lose,” Durant said. “We know we can get beat by this team, obviously, if we don’t come and play with force. We did that on both ends of the court.”
There was, to be sure, a playoff-level atmosphere, with tensions and tempers running high. Carmelo Anthony and Durant confronted each other in the second quarter, and Draymond Green and Anthony got testy with each other in the third.
Asked what occurred with Green, Anthony took the neighborhood high ground: “Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.”
While Nick Young (16 points in 18 minutes) and Durant (28 in 32) were scorching the nets, bodies of both teams were thudding to the floor multiple times and big men JaVale McGee and Steven Adams were wrestling in the paint.
But if any single incident is at the heart of burgeoning conflict, it was that between Russell Westbrook and Pachulia late in the third quarter. Westbrook tumbled over Young, with Pachulia then tumbling onto Westbrook in the area of his knees.
Westbrook, who came up limping, took exception, as did his teammate, Paul George. Even Celtics star Kyrie Irving, via Instagram, expressed his disapproval of what he saw as an unforced fall with harmful intentions by Pachulia.
Here is Westbrook’s response when asked what happened: “Did you see it? What did it look like? What did it look like? Did anybody touch him? Yes or no? Obviously, it was intentional. So don’t ask me was it intentional. Nobody touched him and he fell over my leg, tried to hurt me.”
Westbrook believes that particularly incident will be reviewed by members of the NBA disciplinary crew.
“You know Zaza,” George said. “You know his history. And you know nobody pushed him. He aimed where he was going to fall. That’s Zaza making a Zaza play. He’s on the end of hurting a lot of guys.”
Pachulia-Westbrook has history, with the big man block-shoving Westbrook to the floor last season. Pachulia was assessed a Flagrant 1 for that transgression.
No foul was called this time, but this incident adds to the popular belief that Pachulia is a more a hatchet man than a basketball player.
Though Pachulia, for his part, denied any ill intent, this is certain to add fuel to the antipathy between the teams. The Warriors came into the game on alert, hoping to get a measure of revenge against the team that trounced them by 17 in Oklahoma City last November and by 17 in Oakland 18 days ago.
The Warriors were in control most of the night, going up five after a quarter and seven at the half. Then with afterburners kicking in, the Warriors outscored OKC 60-35 in the second half while holding the Thunder to 32.5-percent shooting.
The Warriors are now 1-2 this season against a team that plays defense at a level that makes it a legitimate threat in the postseason. Green was unwilling to deny the significance of this particular regular-season game, conceding that it had the feel of a postseason battle.
“It did and that was the way we approached it,” he said. “We approached it like we needed to win this game. We came out with a defensive mindset. Then we executed.”
Green picked up his 15th technical foul, leaving him one away from a one-game suspension. You may recall -- Green surely does - that he was suspended from Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals after an altercation with Cavaliers star LeBron James.
That suspension came as another incident involving Green was fresh in the minds of everyone in the league’s New York office.
An incident involving the Thunder, with Green’s foot making contact with Adams’ groin area during the Western Conference Finals that the Warriors won in seven games.
There is a reasonable chance the teams will meet again in the postseason. If they do, there could be blood on the floor, and maybe a few teeth.