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Rest up, Packers, you're going to need it

Rest up, Packers, you're going to need it

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) Good thing the Green Bay Packers are off this week.

They're going to need it.

Five of Green Bay's last seven games will be against NFC North opponents, a stretch that could prove every bit as tough for the banged-up Packers as the challenges they faced in the first half.

``To do what we want to do, you have to win your division games,'' defensive coordinator Dom Capers said Monday. ``When you have five of seven, we're going to get a heavy dose of guys who know a lot about us and we know a lot about them. That's always a challenge. You've got to put extra effort in the preparation. There's always a little more intensity that comes with division games. It'll start right as soon as we get back.''

Though the Packers (6-3) were on a roll with four straight wins, they desperately needed their bye. Their injured list was already cramped, with top receiver Greg Jennings, perennial Pro Bowl defensive back Charles Woodson and workhorse running back Cedric Benson among the headliners.

Three more starters - Clay Matthews, Jordy Nelson and Bryan Bulaga - were hurt in Sunday's 31-17 victory over Arizona, and Bulaga's hip injury appears serious enough to keep him out for an extended period of time. Matthews doesn't feel his hamstring is as bad as it's been in the past, coach Mike McCarthy said, but it still could sideline him for ``a couple weeks.''

``We need the physical rest, get our bodies back,'' Ryan Pickett said. ``We've got two weeks to get them right, get them closer to playing. And guys that have been hurt before that, we have a chance to get them back. So this bye is at the perfect time, the ideal time for us.

``We've got a lot of fighters - guys going down, guys stepping up, it shows a lot of character. (But) we can't wait to get all our players back,'' Pickett added. ``It's huge that we won these four games, but Chicago is out there a pretty good ways. We have to keep winning. I don't see them losing anytime soon. We just have to keep building off each win that we have, keep getting better.''

The Packers got off to a rocky start, thanks to the Inaccurate Reception and blowing an 18-point lead against the Colts. But players responded to McCarthy's challenge after the Indianapolis loss, and their recent winning streak has put them back in position to contend for the NFC North title. They are 1 1/2 games behind Chicago, and have one game left against the Bears.

Green Bay is the only team to beat Chicago this year. Did it badly, too, a 23-10 drubbing at Lambeau Field that was even more lopsided than the score indicated.

Even if the Packers can't catch Chicago, they're in good position to make the playoffs as one of the NFC wild cards. Green Bay has the best record of any second-place team, with Seattle and Minnesota, both 5-4, the only other NFC teams with winning records.

``I like where we're at,'' Aaron Rodgers said. ``We've had some adversity early in the season, we've come together, we've taken some heat and it's brought us closer together. We went on the kind of run we need to go on with four big wins in a row to get to the bye week, and now we can get healthy, and hopefully we can get some of our guys back.

``We've got a lot of guys who, if we can have back in the mix, we can really take off.''

But division games can be tricky. There is little these teams don't know about each other, and coaches usually spend a good part of the offseason trying to find some kind of edge.

``We take one week per division team as a staff, looking at everything they did the prior year,'' McCarthy said.

Now add to that what the Bears, Vikings and Tigers have done this season, and you know how the Packers coaches will be spending their ``break.''

``It's definitely a different challenge,'' McCarthy said. ``Having the bye week will definitely help us be ready.''

The players are doing their part by resting, both mentally and physically. McCarthy gave the Packers the entire week off, saying he wanted to make sure they were fresh for the final grind of the regular season, and he got no argument from his players.

``We're going to rest and recover this next week,'' Randall Cobb said, ``and then it's back to work.''

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Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

The Wizards' selection of Troy Brown of the University of Oregon with their first round pick has been met with a strong reaction among fans, many of whom argue he doesn't play a position of need, that it was a luxury pick when other areas could have been addressed, most notably in their frontcourt. Big man Robert Williams of Texas A&M, for example, was still on the board. 

The Wizards, though, did address needs by picking Brown. And really, they arguably filled more pressing needs in the short-term than those at power forward and center.

Though the Wizards clearly need some help at big man in the long-term, as both of their starting bigs are on expiring deals, they need help immediately at both shooting guard and small forward. Brown, though he is only 18 years old and offers no guarantees to contribute right away, can play both of those positions.

Shooting guard is where he can help the most. The Wizards have one backup shooting guard in Jodie Meeks and he is due to miss the first 19 games of the 2018-19 season while serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

Even when Meeks was available this past season, he only helped so much. He shot just 39.9 percent from the field and 34.3 percent from three. Head coach Scott Brooks often chose to rely more on starter Bradley Beal than go to Meeks as his replacement. As a result, Beal logged the fourth-most minutes of any player in the NBA.

More depth at shooting guard will help relieve Beal of some of that workload. That would be great for keeping him fresh throughout the season and help him be at his best when they need him most in the playoffs.

The Wizards also have some urgency at small forward. It is their strongest position in terms of one-two on the depth chart, but they have no logical third option. That was magnified in the playoffs once Otto Porter got injured. They were left with Kelly Oubre, Jr. and had to trot out Tomas Satoransky, who has limited experience at the position.

Brown can play both shooting guard and small forward, giving them much needed depth. If he can play well enough to earn a rotation spot, the emergency situations the Wizards encountered last season could be avoided in 2018-19.

The Wizards still need to find long-term solutions at power forward and center, but they were going to need to find answers at shooting guard and small forward as well. Both Meeks and Oubre have one year left on their deals. Brown helps solidify the long-term outlook at wing.

Now, there's no denying the Wizards already had considerable talent at both shooting guard and small forward with Beal, Porter and Oubre. That begs the question of how much Brown can offer particularly in the first year of his career. But the Wizards would like to play more positionless basketball and to do that requires depth at wing.

The Boston Celtics have helped make positionless basketball famous and their roster shows that the one player-type you can't have enough of is similar to Brown. Boston has Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris. All are around 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8 and offer versatility on both ends of the floor.

The Wizards also now have four players of that size and with positional versatility in Brown, Porter, Oubre and Satoransky. They can roll out different combinations of those guys and possibly have an advantage on defense with the ability to switch seamlessly on screens.

In the age of positionless basketball, players of Brown's ilk have become major assets especially for teams that have many of them. There is such a thing as having too many point guards or centers because they can't coexist on the floor. Versatile wings, in most scenarios, can play together in numbers.

It's different but in a way similar to certain positions in other sports. In baseball, you can have too many catchers but you can't have too many talented pitchers and utility players. In football, you can have too many running backs or tight ends, but you can't have too many defensive linemen. 

Brown gives them options from a roster perspective in the long-term. Oubre has one year left on his contract and if he continues his trejectory with a strong 2018-19 season, he could price himself out of Washington. Brown could move up the depth chart as his replacement one year from now. The Wizards also now have the option to consider trades at the position given their depth.

The problem, one could argue, with drafting Brown over a Williams-type is that it limits their options at center in particular. Drafting Williams would have made it easier to trade Marcin Gortat, for instance, because they would have had depth to deal from. Now, it's more difficult to trade Gortat, whom they have shopped on and off for months, without a plan to replace him. Finding a Gortat substitute in free agency with the limited resource they have would not be easy.

But big man wasn't their only need and in Brown the Wizards may have found a solution at other areas where they clearly needed help.

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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

The first round of the NBA Draft played out expectedly for what the Wizards had planned for the night. In Troy Brown, they clearly got the guy they wanted all along, seeing as there were many interesting prospects they passed on to choose him.

The second round was a bit more chaotic. Team president Ernie Grunfeld said there were a few players picked just ahead of them at No. 44 that they had their eyes on. They contemplated trading up, but no perfect deals were presented.

So, they decided to think long-term, like really long-term. In choosing Ukrainian point guard Issuf Sanon, the Wizards understand it may be years before he plays in the NBA.

"We hope to have him developed in a few years," Grunfeld said.

Sanon, just 18, plays for Olimpija Ljubljana in Slovenia. He may stay in Europe into his 20s before he comes to the United States.

The Wizards have utilized the draft-and-stash model with other players. Their 2015 second round pick, Aaron White, has been playing in Europe for the past three seasons.

Sometimes those players never convey and contribute for the Wizards. But sometimes they do and Grunfeld pointed to a player already on their roster as a model to consider.

"We drafted Tomas [Satoransky] at an earlier age, he went overseas [and] he played at the highest level and it got him ready for the NBA," Grunfeld said.

The difference between now and then is that the Wizards have a G-League franchise starting this fall, the Capital City Go-Go. Because of that, it seemed more likely going into the draft that the Wizards would use the second round pick on a guy who can play there right away. 

Grunfeld, however, opted for roster flexibility. By keeping Sanon in Europe, the Wizards can have another open roster spot. They could either fill that spot, or leave spots on the end of their roster open as they did for much of last season.

"We want to preserve a roster spot, so just because you draft someone in your second round, if you sign him, he still has a roster spot even if you let him play for the GoGo," Grunfeld said.

Sanon may have a bright future. He is a 6-foot-4 point guard with impressive athleticism who doesn't turn 19 until October. He said he models his game after Russell Westbrook, as a guard who can score the ball. More will be known about him once he plays for their summer league team in July.

The Wizards passed on several interesting prospects to pick Sanon. Still on the board were Keita Bates-Diop of Ohio State, Hamidou Diallo of Kentucky and Svi Mykhailiuk of Kansas, three players they brought in for pre-draft workouts. But instead, they went with a long-term investment, hoping they found the next Satoransky.

MORE 2018 NBA DRAFT COVERAGE:

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