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Gap widens between Broncos, Raiders

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Gap widens between Broncos, Raiders

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Just a year ago, Denver and Oakland went to the end of the season in the race for the AFC West title, with the Broncos edging the Raiders for first place on the final day by winning a three-team tiebreaker with San Diego.

Now the teams couldn't be further apart.

The Broncos (9-3) are riding a seven-game winning streak into Thursday night's game in Oakland having already wrapped up the division title. They are spending the last month worried about playoff positioning and staying healthy for the postseason.

The Raiders (3-9) have lost five straight and have been eliminated from playoff contention for a 10th straight season as the franchise has regressed in the first year of the new regime led by general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen.

``It's definitely disappointing. Coming into the season, we had a new GM, had a new coaching staff and it felt like the sky was the limit, but for some reason - obviously, we had a lot of injuries - but for some reason, we haven't been on the same page the whole season,'' defensive back Michael Huff said. ``The defense has had their struggles, the offense has their struggles at times, special teams had their struggles at time. It's like we haven't just put that complete game together yet. We're just trying to figure it out and find that perfect game.''

The Broncos figured it out quickly after going 8-8 last year in their first season under front office boss John Elway and coach John Fox. The biggest change came when they acquired quarterback Peyton Manning to replace pedestrian passer Tim Tebow.

But nearly 20 other players acquired since Elway took over the football operations have started games this season, including standout defensive star Von Miller, who has 26 1/2 sacks in less than two seasons.

``It's been a lot of hard work by a lot of people whether it's personnel department, the coaching staff, the players in the locker room,'' Fox said. ``As far as the offseason I know a lot was made of Peyton Manning but we had a lot of other guys that have been big contributors to this football team as well. But, you know, anything worth a darn takes time to build and so we just in year two of that process.''

The acquisition accelerated it. He has come back from a neck injury that sidelined him all last season to set a Denver record with 29 touchdown passes.

The addition of a dangerous passing game to complement a strong defense led by pass rushers Miller and Elvis Dumervil and a solid running game have made the Broncos legitimate contenders in the AFC.

They clinched the division last week and are tied with New England and Baltimore for second place in the conference and a first-round playoff bye.

``I think our team realizes what a unique opportunity we have and we are trying to take advantage of it,'' Manning said. ``Those are the kind of guys you want to be around.''

It might be natural for the Broncos to overlook the struggling Raiders team that hasn't led a game at any point the past four weeks, especially with a potentially key playoff positioning game the following week in Baltimore.

But with big-play running back Darren McFadden expected to return and the intensity of a division rivalry, Fox has preached all week to his players to avoid that trap.

``You can't look at their record; you've got to look at their film,'' safety Rahim Moore said. ``They have big-time playmakers. They have speed all over the field, a great running back in Darren McFadden. ... Even though this is a team that's shuffling on paper, that doesn't mean they can't make plays. Just because we've been winning doesn't mean they're going to give us a victory. They're going to come play us hard. It's the NFL. Don't ever take anybody lightly in anything you do.''

The Raiders will be playing the game with heavy hearts. Allen, the defensive coordinator in Denver last season, has been away from the team all week because the death of his father, Grady.

The players have talked about rallying behind their coach this week. They are searching for any kind of motivation after all their real goals disappeared during the five-game losing streak.

``You just play for pride,'' Huff said. ``We don't want to go out there and get embarrassed Thursday night. Our family, friends, high school coaches, little league coaches, everybody will be watching us. If you don't want to not get embarrassed you shouldn't be playing this game.''

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AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton in Englewood, Colo., contributed to this report

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With another low shot total for Otto Porter, Coach Brooks says Porter needs to do more to help himself

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With another low shot total for Otto Porter, Coach Brooks says Porter needs to do more to help himself

After a night in which Otto Porter Jr. only took nine total shots, just two of them in the second half, many questions from Wizards reporters in the postgame locker room centered on how the team can get him more involved. This came on the heels of a seven-shot, zero-three outing for Porter against the Heat on Thursday and a preseason in which getting him more attempts was a persistent storyline.

It sounds like some are tired of talking about it. Point guard John Wall, who is part of the equation as the team's main distributor and highest usage player, put it in relatively strong terms.

"This will be the last time I talk about Otto Porter getting threes," Wall said. 

Wall went on to explain how it's a combination of defenses taking away the three-point line for Porter and the flow of the game creating better shots for others. It's a common explanation Wall has given on the matter in recent weeks, and it's understandable.

Head coach Scott Brooks has admitted his own role in Porter not getting enough shots, how more plays could be called for the small forward. But after the loss to Toronto, one in which Porter played just south of 25 minutes, he was a bit more blunt in his assessment.

Brooks believes Porter can be doing a lot more to help himself.

"Gotta get yourself open," Brooks said. 

When asked about Porter playing fewer minutes than usual, Brooks went on about the need for guys to play hard. That warranted a follow-up, as it seemed Brooks was questioning Porter's hustle.

Brooks explained what he meant by that in detail.

"You've got to move. You've got to set yourself up. You've got to run the floor. We got a fast point guard. I don’t know if you guys know that but he’s fast and if our wings aren’t running, what good is it when you’re going to have a one-man break? What makes teams play with pace is guys running." 

"I love Otto. You guys know that. But he has to play faster. He has to. Physically, he’s not going to jump over anybody and dunk over everybody, but he has to get himself into position. He’s a big-time player for us. He’s a glue guy. He makes winning basketball plays. He gets in plays but he has to do that consistently for us. He can’t do it for a half. He has to do it for the entire game. The guy can do it. I’ve seen it. He didn’t do it tonight but he’s going to bounce back. He didn’t do it the first two games but he’s going to bounce back and do it. And we need it.”

Porter, 25, was the Wizards' most efficient player last season, but averaged only 11.5 shots per game. With one of the best three-point shots in the NBA, the numbers suggest he should have a larger role.

The Wizards insist they are trying to get him more involved. In their eyes, it's time for Porter to do his part.

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Bradley Beal honored to pass Gilbert Arenas on all-time three-pointer list

Bradley Beal honored to pass Gilbert Arenas on all-time three-pointer list

Saturday night produced a link between some of the best players in recent Wizards/Bullets franchise history.

With a fourth-quarter three, Bradley Beal surpassed Gilbert Arenas on the franchise list for career triples

Beal, an All-Star last season, has already established himself as one of the best to play for Washington in decades. Afterwards, he paid homage to the man whose record he broke.

"I was always a fan of Gil. He was Agent Zero," Beal told NBC Sports Washington. 

"I loved everything about him; his confidence, his swagger on the floor. Granted, everyone talks about his off-the-court stuff, but what he did on the court is just untouchable. It's untouchable. He's a legend, for sure. Part of me wishes I could have played with him and just learned from him in a lot of ways. That's an accomplishment for me. I'm happy I was able to surpass it because he is a legend, in my opinion anyway."

Arenas' tenure with the Wizards was epic for its highs and lows. At his peak, he was arguably the most dangerous scorer in the NBA. But his downfall both on the court and off has left him as a notorious figure in the game's recent history.

John Wall, who has assisted on many of Beal's three-pointers, played with Arenas back in the 2010-11 season as a rookie. He is happy for his current teammate, who now has a distinct place in the team's history books.

"He's probably the best shooter I've ever played with in my eyes, so it's great to see him accomplish that," Wall said. "He's going to keep setting the bar higher and higher."

Beal passed Arenas in just the second game of his seventh NBA season. He's only 25 years old, so odds are he will keep adding to his franchise record for many years to come.

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