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Porous Titans' 'D' now one of stingiest in the NFL

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Porous Titans' 'D' now one of stingiest in the NFL

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Tennessee defense was giving up more points than anyone else in the NFL earlier this season. The Titans were so bad they had nowhere to go but up.

Over the past six weeks they've gotten better.

Much better.

The Titans head to Green Bay on Sunday ranked in the top five in six different categories, including fourth in scoring defense holding opponents to 17.6 points per game since Nov. 11. That may not seem like much, but Tennessee gave up an NFL-worst 181 points through the first five games and still rank 30th in that category for the season.

Coach Mike Munchak says defensive coordinator Jerry Gray has to be happy with how the Titans have weathered the early storm.

``We knew it wasn't all the defense,'' Munchak said. ``It was turnovers, it was the offense. It was a lot of things that were leading to statistically things looking worse than they were. We obviously weren't playing as well as we needed to play on either side of the ball.''

Starting with a 37-3 win at Miami on Nov. 11, the Titans rank third in total defense holding opponents to 286 yards per game, first averaging 3.4 sacks per game, second in interceptions (10), sixth in third-down percentage (32.4 percent), eighth against the run (104.6 yards per game) and second in opponent's passer rating (60.7).

That's despite not having defensive captain Colin McCarthy at middle linebacker the past three games as he recovers from concussion symptoms.

``There are a lot of good things developing here as we finish up,'' Munchak said.

Defensive end Derrick Morgan, the first-round draft pick in 2010, had been perceived as a bust tearing an ACL in his first month as a rookie. But Morgan leads the Titans with 16 quarterback pressures, and he's tied for second with 4 1/2 sacks, including one in the win against the Jets.

Second-year linebacker Akeem Ayers is tied with end Kamerion Wimbley for the team lead with five sacks, and Ayers is second with 96 tackles. Rookie linebacker Zach Brown, who has started 11 games this season, was marked down by some in the draft for not being physical. The second-round pick out of North Carolina has 4 1/2 sacks, 79 tackles and is fourth in tackles.

Munchak said the young linebackers are starting to show the type of plays they can make with their size and strength.

``They have a lot of growing left. These guys are going to be a lot better than they are now,'' Munchak said.

The Titans were at their best this season against the Jets forcing a season-high five turnovers and also had four sacks for a second straight game. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers said the Titans played really good Monday night.

``I like to judge a team by kind of how they're playing lately, and I think they're playing really well,'' Rodgers said. ``They're an opportunistic defense. They have some guys with some ball skills in the secondary, they've got some athletic players. They're very young overall. I think it's a team that has a bright future.''

This streak started Nov. 11 when the Titans beat Miami 37-3 on the road. They also have played tough offenses in Houston and Indianapolis along with the struggling Jaguars and Jets.

The Packers (10-4) offer a stiffer challenge. Rodgers has been sacked 45 times this season, but he has a 104.7 passer rating throwing for 32 touchdowns with only eight interceptions. Only New England has had fewer passes intercepted this season.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said they are spending extra time studying film of the Titans (5-9) since these teams haven't played since 2008.

``They fly around, they have excellent length. Their secondary, also, is making plays,'' McCarthy said.

Cornerback Jason McCourty said the biggest key is the Titans are just playing better even though wins haven't resulted. Now they want to create more stops, turnovers and sacks to help the offense score more points and get more wins.

``Even though we're playing better, we want to get wins,'' McCourty said.

Notes: The Titans went through a light 45-minute session Wednesday. Munchak said receiver Kendall Wright is very sore after hurting his ribs against the Jets and will have to improve a lot to play in Green Bay. McCarthy will practice Thursday with no restrictions to test the linebacker. WRs Kenny Britt (knee) and Damian Williams (hamstring) were limited, while C Kevin Matthews (right ankle), CB Ryan Mouton (hamstring) and DE Scott Solomon (knee) also did not practice.

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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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