Wizards

LSU's pass D braces for challenge from Clemson

LSU's pass D braces for challenge from Clemson

ATLANTA (AP) The most obvious matchup of strengths Monday night in the Chick-fil-A Bowl will be Clemson's high-scoring spread offense against Louisiana State's defense.

``These guys are top 10 in defense,'' Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. ``We're top 10 in offense. So it's pretty easy to get excited about that.''

A closer look shows No. 9 LSU's pass defense hasn't been so stingy lately.

LSU gave up more than 300 yards passing in three straight wins over Mississippi State, Mississippi and Arkansas to close the regular season. That sets the stage for a tougher test against Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd and receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins.

LSU began November ranked fourth nationally against the pass. It has dropped to 11th - still a strong ranking. The exposed late-season vulnerability against the pass will be tested by No. 14 Clemson, which ranks sixth in scoring with 42.3 points per game.

LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis said Clemson has a ``very, very talented offense.''

``I certainly would rank it as high as any offense we've faced,'' Chavis said Saturday.

Chavis has plugged holes to have LSU eighth in the nation in total defense and 11th with its average of 16.9 points per game.

Defense was the strength for the 2011 LSU team that played for the national championship. Then cornerback Morris Claiborne and defensive tackle Michael Brockers were selected in the first round of the NFL draft, while safety Brandon Taylor went in the third.

An unexpected loss followed when star cornerback and return specialist Tyrann Mathieu, a 2011 Heisman finalist, was dismissed from the team.

Suddenly, LSU was forced to start freshman Jalen Mills at cornerback. A redshirt freshman, Jalen Collins, joins the defensive backfield on passing downs. Each has two interceptions.

Junior safety Eric Reid said Mills and Collins are young ``but very talented.''

``I have seen them develop and tried to help coach them,'' Reid said. ``They've come a long way. They're two guys we'll rely heavily on in the game. They'll play some very good receivers. I'm confident in them. I think they're going to do their job very well. And hopefully they can get some turnovers for us.''

Hopkins and Watkins combined for 126 receptions for 1,922 yards and 19 touchdowns, including 16 by Hopkins. Watkins was suspended for the first two games and missed another game with a sickness.

Watkins, a first-team All-America as a freshman in 2011, has had a decline in production this season but could be poised for a big bowl game.

``We expect Sammy to be Sammy,'' Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said Saturday. ``We need him to play well and we're going to turn him loose.''

LSU already has proved it can beat a similarly talented quarterback and offense. The Tigers beat Texas A&M 24-19 on Oct. 20 while holding Johnny Manziel, the eventual Heisman Trophy winner, to 23 yards rushing and 276 yards passing with three interceptions and no touchdowns.

LSU linebacker Kevin Minter said Boyd ``may have a better arm, a little more accurate'' than Manziel.

``Other than that they're pretty much the same,'' Minter said.

LSU can't expect Clemson to play a one-dimensional game on offense. Senior Andre Ellington has 1,031 yards rushing with eight touchdowns. Boyd, a dual-threat quarterback, leads Clemson with nine rushing touchdowns and has almost 500 yards rushing.

``It's a great challenge anytime you play that kind of attack,'' LSU coach Les Miles said. ``A quarterback that can throw and very, very explosive receivers. You have to handle it in a variety of ways. Certainly changing coverages and an opportunity to rush the passer.''

Added Miles: ``We enjoy the matchup.''

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The Wizards supplied all the highlights and fireworks; 5 must-see moments from Game 4

The Wizards supplied all the highlights and fireworks; 5 must-see moments from Game 4

WASHINGTON -- As the home team in a dire situation you have to take advantage, and that is exactly what the Washington Wizards did in their 106-98 win over the Toronto Raptors.

Highlight reel play after highlight reel play, the Wizards ignited the crowd with some of their best plays from the entire season to make it 2-2 in the series. Here are just a few of them:

1. John Wall collects posters in the first half

The first one was perhaps the best. Everything was going wrong for the Wizards, poor turnovers, bad shots, a three from Toronto. Then John Wall had enough. Not only did he fly past his defender Kyle Lowry, but he went up and slammed one home past the 7-foot Jonas Valanciunas. Up until that point, the Wizards were shooting 1-for-7.

Rinse and repeat, except this time Jakob Poeltl was Wall’s victim.

2. Wall to Beal alley-oop in transition

With the Wizards’ offense faltering, the Raptors remained on the verge of blowing the game open throughout the second quarter. But with a steal from Otto Porter Jr., Wall hung up the ball for Bradley Beal to slam home. The alley-oop kept the Wizards within single digits in the second with an uninspiring offensive effort.

3. Otto Porter breaks out of the half

A subdued offensive start to the game was due in part to the production from Porter. In the first half he went 0-for-4 with one point in nearly 17 minutes of action.

Throw that away in the second half. He broke out of halftime with back-to-back threes and 10 of the Wizards’ 26 in a monster 26-14 run to take the lead back in the third.

He finished the quarter with 10 points, an assist, and two blocks.

4. The Polish Hammer throwing it home

Are you convinced yet that Marcin Gortat’s new haircut is doing him some good? Gortat squeezed through two Raptors’ defenders, threw it down, gave a Goliath-type roar to the crowd before officially bringing the hammer down. 

5. Beal being called for his sixth foul of the game

Agree with the call or not, there is no denying that Beal’s removal from the game lit a fire underneath the Wizards. From that point Washington went on a 14-6 scoring run to end the game, closing out for the win.

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WIZARDS DOMINATED GAME 3 BECAUSE EVERYONE ATE... LITERALLY

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Second-half eruption leads Wizards to pivotal Game 4 win over Raptors

Second-half eruption leads Wizards to pivotal Game 4 win over Raptors

The Washington Wizards beat the Toronto Raptors 106-98 in Game 4 of their first round playoff series on Sunday night. Here's analysis of what went down...

Brand new series: After going down 0-2, most may have written the Wizards off knowing the near-insurmountable odds of coming back not only from that deficit but as an eight-seed going up against the best team in the Eastern Conference. It would have been understandable to doubt these Wizards who have for so much of this season allowed teams to bully them to an uncharacteristic degree.

With another win in Game 4, however, the Wizards have recalibrated this series.. Not only did the Wizards even things up, they ensured at least one more home game where they have now won eight straight in the postseason.

Beal fouled out: The Wizards were dealt a tough blow with 4:58 left as Bradley Beal picked up his sixth foul and was bounced from the game. 

Not only was Beal dominating with a team-high 31 points, but the sixth foul was very questionable. He made contact with DeMar DeRozan inadvertently and it is tough to see how he could have avoided it.

Here is the play:

That should simply not be called in that moment. It was a crucial development and both Beal and head coach Scott Brooks were understandably furious. If the Wizards had lost, that would have been a major reason why. There is no excuse for referees to impact a game like that.

Sluggish start: Outside of John Wall (27 points, 14 assists, six rebounds) and Beal, who had 12 points and 11 points in the first half, the rest of the Wizards' team was slow-moving early on. The team shot just 34 percent in the first half, 16-for-47, and 1-for-7 from three. They even missed their free throws, going 7-for-13 in the first two quarters.

The Raptors did a good job putting pressure on the, but only Wall and Beal were able to break through. Otto Porter, who finished with 12 points and six rebounds, had one point in the first half. Markieff Morris (six points, five rebounds) had four points at the break.

Even Mike Scott, who has had a huge series, went scoreless in the first half. That was partly due to him getting in early foul trouble.

The Raptors were particularly good at stopping the Wizards in transition. Despite committing 11 turnovers in the first half, they won the fastbreak point advantage 17-4. That was a big point of emphasis coming out of Game 3 according to head coach Dwane Casey and his players followed the lead.

Big third quarter: The Wizards' offense was not held down for long as they came out of the gate on fire in the second half. Beal and Porter led the charge.

Porter erupted for 10 points in the frame. Beal got hot from three and scored 12. The only thing that stopped Beal was foul trouble, as he picked up his fourth personal with just under five minutes left in the quarter and later left with six.

The third quarter shooting numbers overall were impressive. The Wizards shot 15-for-23 (65.2%) from the field and 5-for-6 (83.3%) from three. That'll do.

The Wizards outscored the Raptors 40-29 in the third. It was their biggest postseason quarter since last year's Game 4 against the Celtics. That was when they went on an absured 26-0 run.

Hella free throws: Many people blamed the refs for the Wizards' loss in Game 1, though the numbers didn't back up that claim. If Wizards fans wanted to gripe about Game 4, they had a better case for a while in this one.

It was kind of ridiculous, especially early on. The Raptors shot 30 free throws in the game compared to 31 for the Wizards, so it evened out.  But Toronto shot 16 free throws in the first quarter alone and 12 of them were attempted by DeRozan. He is one of the best in the business at drawing fouls, but that a bit extreme.

DeRozan, in fact, finished the first quarter with nine points and all of them were at the free throw line. He was 0-for-5 from field goal range. 

When DeRozan is getting to the line, he can control games and early on that was the case in this one. He set a new playoff career high with 18 attempts and made 14 of them.

The refs called the game much tighter than they did previously in this series. Perhaps that was a response to the chippiness in Game 3.

Three-point defense: Stopping the Raptors from hitting threes has been a major key all series. In Game 4, the Wizards did their best job yet.

Washington held the Raptors to seven threes, their fewest three-pointers since Feb. 4. The Raptors had made 12 threes or more in each of the first three games this series.

After going 5-for-10 from long range in the first half, the Raptors went 2-for-8 in the second. If the Wizards can play defense like that, it will be tough for Toronto to win this series.

Up next: The series moves on to Toronto for Game 5 on Wednesday. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington with pregame coverage beginning with Wizards HangTime at 6 p.m.

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