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Cowboys know playoffs-or-bust drill in NFC East

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Cowboys know playoffs-or-bust drill in NFC East

IRVING, Texas (AP) The Dallas Cowboys should know this drill by now.

The only thing left is figuring out how to win a playoffs-or-bust game at an NFC East rival in the final game of the season.

The Cowboys flopped badly in Philadelphia in 2008, and were better but still not very good last season at the New York Giants.

Dallas gets another chance Sunday night at Washington against Robert Griffin III and the Redskins (9-6), who could still make the postseason even if they lose.

``You live for games like this,'' Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said at a quiet and mostly shuttered team headquarters on Christmas Eve.

The Cowboys (8-7) began the second-to-last Sunday of the regular season with control of their playoff fate, and ended it the same way despite losing to New Orleans 34-31 in overtime. That's because the Giants lost at Baltimore, essentially rendering the Dallas loss meaningless.

During a stretch of five wins in six games that revived Dallas' postseason hopes, the only loss was to the Redskins on Thanksgiving. Griffin engineered the first 28-point quarter for Washington in 13 years, going 8 of 8 for 178 yards and three touchdowns in the second quarter. The first big NFL play in Texas for the Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor was a perfect deep throw to Aldrick Robinson for a 68-yard score.

``I'll say it again: I was awed with what he did to us in the second quarter out here in Cowboys Stadium,'' Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. ``I certainly think that's the type of player we're playing against and team we're playing against.''

If the loss to the Saints is any indicator, the Cowboys are in trouble. They couldn't stop Drew Brees and the Saints until New Orleans mostly quit throwing with a 31-17 lead in the fourth quarter. Brees threw for 446 yards and three touchdowns, and the Cowboys gave up 562 total yards - a season high by more than 100. New Orleans converted 11 third downs and kept the ball for nearly 42 minutes.

When the Dallas offense stalled on the first possession of overtime, the Cowboys immediately gave up a 26-yard completion to Jimmy Graham before a fluky catch-and-fumble play ended with New Orleans on the Dallas 2. Garrett Hartley's 20-yard field goal made it three straight Cowboys games ending on the final play.

The Cowboys won't say it, but injuries could be wearing on a beleaguered defense. Five starters and nickel cornerback Orlando Scandrick are out. Replacement free agents have been filling holes days after signing. DeMarcus Ware is trying to play through groin, elbow and shoulder problems, and he was mostly watching late while the Saints finished a sack-free game for Brees despite 53 attempts.

``A lot of different combinations of players playing for us against a really, really good offensive football team,'' Garrett said. ``I just thought that they fought, fought, fought.''

The Cowboys could always just try to outscore the Redskins. Tony Romo threw for 416 yards and four touchdowns against the Saints, including a pair of 58-yarders to Dez Bryant, who had a career-high 224 yards.

Miles Austin caught a 19-yard tying score with 15 seconds left in regulation - the second of two TDs in the final 3:35 - and Jason Witten broke Tony Gonzalez's NFL season record of 102 catches by a tight end, grabbing six for 60 yards to put him at 103.

Dallas ran just 11 times for 40 yards, all by DeMarco Murray, but part of that was because the Saints kept the ball so long.

``When you get in, anything can happen,'' said Romo, who has 17 touchdowns and just three interceptions the past eight weeks. ``I know that. We've seen that far too many times. We just need to do the right things to get in.''

Jones acknowledges the injuries on defense, but still thinks the Cowboys are better than they were when they fell behind New York 21-0 in a 31-14 loss last New Year's night that propelled the Giants to a Super Bowl win.

``I think that we are with a healthier Miles, and Dez with where he is with his maturation,'' Jones said. ``I think we've got a better offensive line than what we had this time last year. I think we're better at corner as we go up there.''

Once again, the Cowboys get a chance to prove it.

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Follow Schuyler Dixon on Twitter athttps://twitter.com/lschuylerd

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Wizards' 2019 top prospects rankings: Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr. lead the way

Wizards' 2019 top prospects rankings: Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr. lead the way

Though the maturation of the G-League has brought the NBA closer in line with MLB and its minor league farm system, there has been one noticeable element missing for those of us who follow the two sports closely. In baseball, multiple media outlets publish top prospect lists both league-wide and team-specific, yet the equivalents are nowhere to be found in basketball.

Prospect rankings are a great window into the future and they are fun to revisit years later to see who was right and who was wrong. But, so far, they haven’t become widespread in basketball.

The reason why may be rooted in semantics. Generally, basketball players are considered prospects before they are drafted. After they join teams, they just become regular players.

Part of that perception is simply because NBA players can impact their teams at a much younger age. While it is very rare to see a 19-year-old in the majors, it is commonplace in the NBA.

The Wizards, though, may be the perfect team to get this started with. They have a collection of players that are now out of college but have yet to establish themselves in the professional ranks. They are essentially prospects by baseball's definition.

So, in the interest of doing something new here, let's rank them...

1. Rui Hachimura, F

Age: 21
Strengths: midrange shooting, offensive versatility
Areas to improve: three-point shooting, passing

The ninth overall pick this past June, Hachimura is the highest draft pick the Wizards have selected since Otto Porter Jr. in 2013. He is 21, but young in basketball years because he didn't pick up the sport until Age 13. Yet, with three years of college under his belt, he comes in with the experience to likely make a difference right away. And with the Wizards' current roster state, he should have a big opportunity for minutes and shot attempts as a rookie.

Hachimura appears to have several NBA-ready skills, particularly on offense. He makes smart decisions with the ball in his hand and can score at all three levels. His outside shooting needs to be more consistent, but he can knock it down enough to be a threat. Defensively is where he will need to grow the most, but the potential seems to be there for him to develop until a versatile player on that end of the floor. 

Passing is another area he can improve. He didn't record many assists at all in college or in the Summer League. 

2. Troy Brown Jr., G/F

Age: 19
Strengths: rebounding, passing
Areas to improve: outside shooting, turnovers

Though Brown was drafted one year before Hachimura, he is still a year-and-a-half younger. He also didn't crack the Wizards' rotation until late in his rookie season. That makes him still very much a prospect as he enters his Age 20 campaign looking to make a much bigger impact in his second season than he did in his first.

The good news for Brown is that the minutes should be there. At this point he looks like at-worst the second small forward behind C.J. Miles and he should have a chance to battle for the starting job in training camp. With Isaiah Thomas' checkered injury history (he only played 12 games last year), there is a good chance Brown sees time at point guard as well, maybe even some starts there. We'll see.

Brown's passing and rebounding are up-to-speed for his size and position, but he needs to cut down on the turnovers and improve his three-point shot. Though he dominated in his brief time in the Summer League, he still only shot 40.6 percent from the field. Also, the Wizards could really use a leap from him on defense because he has a relatively high ceiling on that end of the floor and most of their players do not.

3. Moe Wagner, C

Age: 22
Strengths: outside shooting, free throw shooting
Areas to improve: defense, rebounding

The path to minutes isn't quite as clear for Wagner, who is probably going to be stuck behind Hachimura, Davis Bertans and Thomas Bryant in the frontcourt. But the way he can crack the rotation is by hitting his threes, something he was not able to do as a rookie for the Lakers last season or in the 2019 Summer League for the Wizards.

Wagner presents intriguing long-term upside because of his shooting and his knack for getting to the rim off pump-fakes. But he needs to learn how to affect more shots around the rim, even if he can't block shots. And his rebounding could use some improvement, as his 9.8 rebounding percentage last season wouldn't even stand out for a wing player, much less a seven-footer.

4. Admiral Schofield, F

Age: 22
Strengths: outside shooting, team defense
Areas to improve: defense against taller players, ball-handling

The expectations should be low for Schofield in his rookie season, despite the fact he played four years in college and has an NBA-ready frame. Most second round picks don't make much of an impact early on and he is slotted to be on the outside of the rotation looking in.

Schofield's fastest way to NBA playing time is through his defense and three-point shooting, the two biggest reasons the Wizards drafted him. If he can provide toughness and an edge in the midrange, it will give the Wizards something they have lacked in recent years. And he shot at both a high percentage and for volume from three at Tennessee, and you can't have enough perimeter shooting these days.

5. Justin Robinson, G

Age: 23
Strengths: outside shooting, passing
Areas to improve: finishing around rim, turnovers

Like Schofield, Robinson is probably going to spend a good deal of his time with the Capital City Go-Go this season. But working in his favor is the team's lack of depth at point guard. They have Thomas, who again has some injury concerns. And they have Ish Smith, but there appears to be an opening at the third point guard spot.

Brown could fill the void and so could Jordan McRae. The Wizards could even give Bradley Beal more of an extended look running the offense. But the door seems to be open for Robinson to make an impact and early. He needs to focus on taking care of the ball, playing physical defense and making his open threes. The Wizards don't need Robinson to be a big-time scorer, but he can add spacing if he shoots from three as he did in college.

Honorable mention: Garrison Mathews, Isaac Bonga

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Orioles Roundup: O's fall to Nationals in opening game of Beltway Series

Orioles Roundup: O's fall to Nationals in opening game of Beltway Series

Another night, another loss for the Baltimore Orioles. Tuesday night featured a one-sided affair, as the Nationals beat the O's 8-1 at Camden Yards.

The Orioles fell to 28-66 on this season, while the Natoinals continued their climb to 50-43.

Here are the latest news and notes:

Player Updates:

SP Asher Wojciechowski gave up three earned runs over 5 1/3 innings in Tuesday night's loss. The righty gave up two home runs, with Matt Adams and Juan Soto hitting one deep ball each, while managing to strikeout seven batter and issue no walks on the night. He has now whiffed 21 batters in 15 2/3 innings since joining the Orioles, but also holds a 5.74 ERA.

2B Hanser Alberto was the only offense to speak of for the Orioles on Tuesday night. The utility player had two of the team's four hits and scored their only run after blasting a home run off Austin Voth in the second inning. Alberto has been a breath of fresh air for a struggling O's team, sporting a .306/.325/.402 batting line.

Before first pitch on Tuesday, the Orioles released INF/OF Jace Peterson. The versatile player had a July 15 opt-out in his minor league contract that he decided to exercise in order to find a better opportunity. Through 86 games this season in Triple-A Norfolk, Peterson boasted a .309/.394/.505 battling line with nine home runs, 44  RBI, 12 stolen bases and 55 runs scored.

Also before first pitch on Tuesday, it was announced that DH Mark Trumbo (knee) has resumed baseball activities. Though there is no timetable for his return to the team, the Orioles are optimistic that he will be able to contribute before the end of the season. He has missed the whole season so far due to complications following right knee surgery.

Injuries:

SP Dylan Bundy: Knee, 10-day Injured List

RP Josh Rogers: Elbow, 10-day Injured List

OF DJ Stewart: Ankle, 10-day Injured List

SP Alex Cobb: Back, 60-day Injured List

SP Nate Karns: Arm, 60-day Injured List

DH Mark Trumbo: Knee, 60-day Injured List

Coming Up:

Wednesday 7/17: Orioles vs. Nationals, 7:05 p.m., Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Friday 7/19: Orioles vs. Red Sox, 7:05 p.m., Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Saturday 7/20: Orioles vs. Red Sox, 7:05 p.m., Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Source: Rotoworld

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