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'Not awkward': Vilma, Smith, Williams face-to-face

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'Not awkward': Vilma, Smith, Williams face-to-face

WASHINGTON (AP) It had been 10 months since New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith were face to face with their former defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams - a span that included NFL suspensions for all three in connection with what a league investigation determined was a cash-for-hits bounty program.

For about four hours on Friday, Vilma and Smith sat and watched while their lawyers cross-examine Williams during a hearing that is part of the players' latest appeals of their punishments.

``We got to hear what Gregg had to say,'' Smith said afterward. ``We wanted to make sure we were there just to hear him out.''

Smith described the hearing, the third this week in Washington overseen by former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, as ``peaceful'' and ``not awkward.''

Smith, suspended four games, and Vilma, suspended for the entire current season, have been allowed back on the field while their appeals are pending, and both flew into town after playing in the Saints' 23-13 loss at the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night. Two former New Orleans players also were banned: Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita had his suspension reduced to one game, while free-agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove has not played in the NFL this season but faces a two-game suspension if he signs with a team.

Smith and Vilma were not required to attend Friday, but wanted to be in the room when their former coach was questioned.

``We know what we did and know what we didn't do,'' Smith said. ``I mean, we just wanted to be there because it was our right to be there.''

The NFL has described Vilma and Smith as ringleaders - and Williams as being in charge - of a performance pool designed to knock targeted opponents out of games from 2009 to 2011. The league has sworn statements from Williams and former Saints assistant coach Mike Cerullo - who testified Thursday - saying Vilma offered $10,000 to anyone who knocked quarterback Brett Favre out of the NFC championship game at the end of the 2009 season.

They declined to discuss any details of Friday's hearing, citing Tagliabue's insistence that the contents of the appeals process remain private. The hearings - scheduled to resume Monday in New Orleans - have been behind closed doors. Vilma is supposed to be questioned next week.

Tagliabue and various lawyers declined to comment Thursday or Friday.

``Paul wants to keep it under wraps, keep everything low-key ... so not really much I can say right now,'' Vilma said.

``Of course,'' he added, ``it felt good being able to go in there.''

Vilma said it was the first time he had seen Williams since January, when the Saints' season ended with a playoff loss against San Francisco.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued the initial suspensions, which also included a full-season ban for Saints head coach Sean Payton.

Lawsuits brought by Vilma and the NFL Players Association to challenge Goodell's handling of the case, including his decision in October to appoint Tagliabue as the arbitrator for the appeals, are pending in federal court in New Orleans.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan gave the parties until Monday to answer questions about whether the NFL's collective bargaining agreement prevents a commissioner from handing out discipline for legal contact, and whether the CBA's passages about detrimental conduct are ``ambiguous, hence unenforceable.''

In March, the NFL announced that its investigation showed the Saints put together a bounty pool of up to $50,000 to reward game-ending injuries inflicted on opponents. ``Knockouts'' were worth $1,500 and ``cart-offs'' $1,000 - with payments doubled or tripled for the playoffs, the league said.

According to the league, the pay-for-pain program was administered by Williams, with Payton's knowledge. At the time, Williams apologized for his role, saying: ``It was a terrible mistake, and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it.''

Later that month, Payton became the first head coach suspended by the league for any reason - banned for all of this season without pay - and Williams was suspended indefinitely.

Williams was known for his aggressive, physical defenses as a coordinator for Tennessee, Washington, Jacksonville and New Orleans, and during his time as head coach of Buffalo. In January, he was hired by St. Louis to lead their defense but hasn't been able to do that while suspended.

When Vilma and Smith made an earlier attempt to appeal their punishments, Goodell refused to reduce their bans.

As Vilma, wearing a gray suit, headed out of the building Friday, a reporter told him that Smith indicated the hearing was helpful.

``Yeah? Well, we said that last time,'' Vilma replied, ``and we saw how that turned out. So we'll see what happens.''

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AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed to this report.

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Wizards have to find a way to stop DeMar DeRozan to climb back in series

Wizards have to find a way to stop DeMar DeRozan to climb back in series

The Toronto Raptors' best player has become a serious problem for the Washington Wizards, as they now face a 3-2 series deficit in their 2018 NBA Playoffs first-round series and the bleak reality that one more loss means their season is over.

DeMar DeRozan, who began this first round series with a modest 17 points in Game 1, has since raised his game to a new level to beyond even what we have seen in the past. In Games 2-5, DeRozan has averaged 31.8 points, including his 32-game outburst in Game 5 that tilted the series in Toronto's favor.

DeRozan is averaging 28.8 points through five games against the Raptors. That's up considerably from his 22.5-point career playoff average.

DeRozan scored his 32 points in Game 5 with efficiency. He shot 12-for-24 from the field and even made three of his four shots from three.

He didn't even need the free throw line like he normally does. DeRozan shot six free throws, less than his regular season average.

The Wizards are having trouble with DeRozan particularly in the first half. DeRozan is averaging 14.8 first-half points during the playoffs, second only to LeBron James. 

DeRozan had 20 points by halftime in Game 5.

"DeMar was in his element tonight," forward Kelly Oubre, Jr. said. "He got it going early. It was kind of hard to shut him off."

The Wizards are paying for disrespecting DeRozan's three-point shot. He made just 31.2 percent from long range in the regular season, but is shooting threes at a 45.5 percent clip in the playoffs.

If DeRozan is knocking down shots from outside, his offensive game is as complete as just about anyone in the NBA. He has shown in this series an impressive ability to not only get to the rim, but finish through contact or draw fouls.

DeRozan does a good job of maintaining body and ball control going straight up against Wizards' big men and is often rewarded by the referees. He shot a playoff career-high 18 free throws in Game 4.

The Wizards are actually doing a decent job of taking away his midrange shots, which usually account for much of his points. Though DeRozan is hitting an impressive 66.7 percent from 5-to-9 feet, up from his season clip of 47.6, his numbers are down from further out.

DeRozan is shooting 40 percent from 10-to-14 feet out, down from 41.5 percent in the regular season, and just 28.6 percent from 15-to-19 feet, down from 43.7.

DeRozan is hurting the Wizards from long range and within nine feet of the rim. He is taking what the Wizards are giving him and Washington has to adjust.

"We’ve gotta pretty much get it out of [his] hands. Make sure we take care of everybody else," Oubre said.

The Wizards should look to how the defended him in Game 4 as a good example of how to limit his impact. DeRozan had 35 points, but required 29 shots from the field and 18 free throws to get there. 

Washington forced DeRozan into an inefficient night and forced others to try to beat them. The result was the Wizards' best defensive game overall, as the Raptors scored a series-low 98 points.

DeRozan isn't the only defensive concern for the Wizards as they look ahead to Game 6 on Friday. Backup point guard Delon Wright scored 18 points for the second time this series and Toronto hit 11 threes in the game.

The Wizards held the Raptors to just seven threes in Game 4 and it was no coincidence they won that game. They have to lock down the perimeter and, as this series has shown, that includes DeRozan even though he isn't known for making threes.

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Wizards go cold late to drop Game 5, as Raptors take 3-2 series lead

Wizards go cold late to drop Game 5, as Raptors take 3-2 series lead

The Washington Wizards lost to the Toronto Raptors 108-98 in Game 5 of their first round playoff series on Wednesday night. Here's analysis of what went down...

Ice cold: When the Wizards needed it most, their offense failed them. With John Wall running the show, they can traditionally score with the best of them. But from the 4:05 mark in the fourth quarter, they went scoreless for a stretch of three minutes and 49 seconds.

Meanwhile, the Raptors converted turnovers into points to close the game on a 14-5 run. The Wizards shot brick after brick from long range and missed 11 of their last 15 shots. It was a shocking collapse in a game that had been going well for the Wizards.

By beating the Wizards in Game 5, the Raptors took a 3-2 series lead which historically means they have nearly an 83 percent chance of winning the series. Those aren't good odds for the Wizards, who can look at one area of the court to blame.

The Wizards made only five threes on 26 attempts. The Raptors, conversely, went 11-for-25 (44%) from the perimeter. The Wizards' five threes were their fewest in a game since Jan. 12.

The Wizards have now lost seven straight posteason games on the road.

DeRozan was a killer: As has been the case this entire series, DeMar DeRozan led the charge for Toronto. The perennial All-Star came out on fire with 20 points in the first half alone.

This time, it wasn't just free throws. He was 4-for-4 at the half, but 7-for-13 from the field and 2-for-2 from three. Usually, threes aren't his game.

DeRozan kept it up in the second half to score 32 points on 12-of-24 from the field. That's a pretty efficient night.

Otto looked a bit hurt: Otto Porter, who was held to nine points and four rebounds, didn't appear to be moving very well. He was running around with a limp, which suggests his right lower leg strain is still bothering him.

Head coach Scott Brooks said last week that Porter is 100 percent, but that doesn't seem like the case. Perhaps there was some sort of setback in the time since. Porter, however, is such a smart player and such a good shooter that he can still make the most of his time on the court.

Solid start: The Wizards aren't used to playing well in the first quarter this series. They entered Game 5 with an average deficit of -7.2 points in the first quarter. In this game, however, they led by one point after one.

That was thanks to a buzzer-beater by John Wall (26 points, nine assists, nine rebounds). Ian Mahinmi got the offensive rebound and it set up Wall for a last-second shot. He got to one of his spots and sent it in:

It was just the second time in five games this series that the Wizards have been leading after one. The other time was Game 3, when the Wizards beat the Raptors handily to earn their first win.

The Wizards, though, couldn't finish. They also couldn't protect the ball. At least Wall couldn't, as he committed seven turnovers, one short of his playoff career-high.

Backup PGs: The Raptors again played without point guard Fred VanVleet, their best bench player and a guy who is arguably one of the best backup point guards in basketball. The loss has been evident for the most part, despite his replacement Delon Wright doing a solid job, including with 18 points in Game 5.

On Wednesday, Washington's backup point guard also shined. Despite not playing a single game during the regular season, Ty Lawson continues to make smart plays and create scoring opportunities for others.

He had four assists in this game and made one of the best plays of the night. Check out this move he put on to set up Ian Mahinmi:

And this dude was playing in China like two weeks ago? If he keeps this up, there will be an easy case to make that the Wizards should re-sign him for next season.

Clearly, they want Tomas Satoransky to play more off the ball and the coaching staff hasn't gained full trust in him. Lawson and Satoransky could make a solid reserve backcourt if they have some time to develop some chemistry.

Up next: The Wizards and Raptors are back at it on Friday night in Washington for Game 6. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington.

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