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Cardinals turn to Hoyer to start at QB in finale

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Cardinals turn to Hoyer to start at QB in finale

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) The Arizona Cardinals will give Brian Hoyer his first NFL start, less than three weeks after the team claimed him off waivers from Pittsburgh.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt said Wednesday the former Michigan State quarterback and New England backup will start in the season finale Sunday at San Francisco.

``He's been in the league, he's a veteran guy,'' Whisenhunt said. ``He did a nice job in last week's game and this is an opportunity to see what he can do with a week of practice and where he can go from there.''

Hoyer, who spent three seasons as a backup to Tom Brady in New England and was out of a job for most of this season, will be the fourth starter at quarterback for the Cardinals this year. He'll be operating an offense that ranks last in the NFL.

Arizona also has gone with John Skelton, Kevin Kolb and rookie Ryan Lindley at the position. Kolb is out for the season with a rib injury. The other two were benched for poor play.

``It's no secret. We haven't gotten the production out of that position that we've needed,'' Whisenhunt said. ``I think it's actually more than four if you consider back and forth, the way guys have started. We've got to get consistency at that position and this is an opportunity to see how Brian measures up.''

After failing to make it on an NFL roster to start the season, Hoyer was signed by the Steelers when Ben Roethlisberger was injured, then waived after three weeks when Roethlisberger returned. The Cardinals signed him on Dec. 10, a day after losing 58-0 at Seattle. Hoyer has appeared in 14 NFL games, 13 with the Patriots, then last week in Arizona's 28-13 loss to Chicago.

``It's a crazy business, but to me it's the best job in the world,'' Hoyer said after Wednesday's practice. ``I'm excited and going to work hard this week and try to put as much into it on the practice field and the film study and studying the books, and go from there.''

Arizona (5-10) has lost 10 of 11. After Lindley's pass was intercepted by the Bears' Charles Tillman and returned 10 yards for a touchdown on Arizona's first series of the second half, Hoyer came in and completed 11 of 19 passes for 105 yards with one interception and no TDs.

``He has a good knowledge of the game, good timing on his throws,'' Whisenhunt said. ``He did a good job in the game last week, making some accurate throws, some quick throws. Obviously the interception wasn't one of those, but it will be interesting to see how he stacks up with a week to prepare. I know he's going against a tough defense. It will be a tough situation, but it's a great time to evaluate him and see where he is.''

Hoyer said that when the Cardinals picked him up so late in the season, he figured he would get a chance to play. He said he didn't practice with the Arizona offense at all before going into the game last Sunday. Now he will benefit from a full week of practice with the starters.

``Football is football and when you can read it off the wrist band it's not like you have to worry about making a mistake in the play call,'' he said. ``Once I could read it off the wrist band, I could translate it and relate it to what I know and kind of just go from there - and play football.''

Hoyer said he learned a lot as Brady's backup.

``The hard work that he puts in, that's not what people get to see on the field,'' Hoyer said. ``What they see on the field is kind of the result of the time he puts in. Obviously being there, being experienced, being there for so many years, he knows everything that's going on out on the field. For me it's a little bit different situation, but I can still prepare the way that I learned from him and try to take all the guesswork out of it.''

Whisenhunt said his decision was based on the combination of wanting to see what Hoyer can do and believing he gives the team its best chance to win.

``I wouldn't put him in there just to play him and see what he is,'' the coach said. ``This isn't a tryout. I think he merited that based on the way he played last weekend. It is an opportunity to see how he handles that with a week of practice. There's no question about that, but I also think from what we saw last week, he did some nice things in the game and see if he can build off of that.''

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Rui Hachimura's learning curve can be seen on offense late in games

Rui Hachimura's learning curve can be seen on offense late in games

WASHINGTON -- Wizards forward Rui Hachimura has translated so smoothly to the NBA level that it is easy to forget he is still just a rookie with only 31 games under his belt. For a reminder of his inexperience, just look at the fourth quarter.

Hachimura tends to start games hot on the offensive end, like he did on Friday in the Wizards' loss to the Cavaliers when he had eight points by the end of the first quarter. But he scored only nine points after that and went scoreless through seven minutes in the fourth.

That has been a consistent theme for him this season. He averages 4.8 points in the first quarter shooting 48.4 percent from the field, 4.0 points in the second shooting 57 percent and then 4.3 points on 47.9 percent in the third. In the fourth quarter those numbers plummet to 1.9 points on average and 33.3 percent shooting.

Basically, Hachimura often comes out on fire but then slows down considerably once opponents make midgame changes. Against the Cavs, Hachimura said it was because they disrupted passing lanes.

"They are an NBA team. They just adjusted. They didn't want me to catch the ball. They didn't let me just catch the ball. I think that's why," he said.

The Wizards have seen teams switch defensive match-ups midgame to counter Hachimura. Sometimes taking away his midrange jumper will be prioritized. The Cavs seemed to find success playing Hachimura more physically in the second half, bumping him away from his comfort zones.

Over time, Hachimura can improve his ability to sustain scoring throughout games simply by becoming more versatile. The more consistent he becomes at making three-point shots and creating off the dribble, the more difficult it will be for teams to stop him. As long as he keeps improving, he will reach a point where he can stay ahead of the defense with a multitude of counters.

Developing a more reliable outside game and more dribble combinations will take some time. For now, Hachimura believes the key to him keeping up his scoring pace involves working with his teammates, particularly star shooting guard Bradley Beal.

"I just gotta connect more with Brad. Brad is the one everybody is trying to guard. Screens and pick-and-rolls with him, that kind of stuff will help me," Hachimura said.

Hachimura's game against the Cavaliers reflected how the team played overall. After scoring 41 points in the first quarter, they managed only 42 in the second half. They blew a 16-point lead and lost, 113-108.

So, he wasn't alone. And those rooting for Hachimura to round out his game should feel good about his odds. He has a relentless work ethic and is often staying after practice to go over film with player development coach Dave Adkins.

Hachimura is perceptive and driven to improve. In order to take the next step as a scorer, he will have to get better at closing games.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

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Want to witness history? Why Saturday's game is a good bet for Alex Ovechkin to score 700

Want to witness history? Why Saturday's game is a good bet for Alex Ovechkin to score 700

Alex Ovechkin is capable of scoring any time against any team, but if you're trying to pinpoint when history could happen and see goal No. 700, there are plenty of reasons to be watching Saturday's marquee matchup against the New Jersey Devils (1 p.m., NBC Sports Washington).

In three games this season, Ovechkin has scored four times against New Jersey. On Jan. 16, he was bloodied by a high stick from Miles Wood and left for the locker room returning before the first period was up and scored twice. He did not just get mad, he got even and completed the hat trick in the third period.

Head coach Alain Nasreddine did not reveal who his starter would be in net on Friday, but it will be either MacKenzie Blackwood or Cory Schneider. Keep your fingers crossed for Schneider.

Schneider has not played an NHL game since Jan. 18 and was recalled from the AHL on Thursday most likely because Louis Domingue is headed out of town in a trade and the team wanted to protect the asset. Schneider has a 4.65 GAA and .852 save percentage in nine games. Ovechkin has also had plenty of success against him in the past, scoring eight times against the Devils netminder. He has only managed one goal on Blackwood, but it came this season on Dec. 12, 2019.

Ovechkin has a history of success against the Devils. In 56 games against New Jersey, Ovechkin scored in 22 of them. He has 29 total goals including two of his 28 career hat tricks against the Devils.

New Jersey ranks 30th in the NHL in goals against and, although they have improved in that area since Jan. 1, they still rank 21st in that time keeping the puck out of the net.

Add in the fact that the trade deadline firesale has already begun with the Devils shipping out Blake Coleman and captain Andy Greene in the past week, as well as Taylor Hall back in December, and this may be a team not ready to stop Ovechkin's march to history.

With Ovechkin on the verge of 700, there's no doubt that Saturday's marquee matchup (1 p.m., NBC Sports Washington) is one you won't want to miss.

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