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Saints draw inspiration from Giants' playoff run

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Saints draw inspiration from Giants' playoff run

METAIRIE, La. (AP) The New Orleans Saints know they are long shots to make the playoffs even if they beat the New York Giants on Sunday.

Still, they haven't given up - taking inspiration from the Giants, who made a postseason run from a position similar to one in which the Saints find themselves now.

``We saw what they did last year,'' Saints cornerback Jabari Greer said. ``We know that it's possible.''

The Giants were on the verge of dropping their fifth game in a row and falling two games behind the Cowboys in the NFC East with three games left. But they went on an improbable run from playoff outsider to Super Bowl champion.

The Giants finished the regular season 9-7. The Saints can get to 9-7 by winning their last four games. Even if they do, New Orleans still would need help to reach the playoffs, but the first step is controlling their end.

``Obviously the margin for error is very tight,'' quarterback Drew Brees said. ``We understand that if we want a shot at postseason play we probably have to win out. We're playing the defending world champs in their house, and the last three don't mean anything unless we win this one.

``The Giants have played in these types of games - playoff games before the playoffs. That's kind of the situation we're in.''

The Saints will have one clear advantage on the Giants: four days of extra rest. New Orleans lost at Atlanta last Thursday and had the weekend off. New York (7-6) lost an emotional division game at Washington on Monday night.

``As everybody knows, football is a tough game, so the more time you have to rest your body is obviously better,'' Saints defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis said. ``But there are plenty of teams that come off a short week and win and there are plenty of teams that lose them. It just depends on how prepared you are to play the game.''

The Saints are banking on a return to form by Brees and the steady improvement of a defense that played its best game of the year against Atlanta.

Brees is trying to rebound from one of the worst two-game stretches of his career. San Francisco intercepted back-to-back passes and returned them for touchdowns on Nov. 25, rallying to beat New Orleans 31-21. He threw a career-high five interceptions against Atlanta, and his botched clock management at the end of the first half cost the Saints at least a field goal as they scored a season-low 13 points.

Brees had thrown 24 TD passes and only five interceptions in his previous eight games.

``I understand the importance of taking care of the football,'' he said. ``Certainly the last two weeks there have been an inordinate amount of turnovers. That's something that can't happen and something I have to fix. But as far as me being cautious and conservative, that's not going to happen. You stay aggressive, you stay confident. If you don't have that as a quarterback in this league, you can't play.''

While Brees struggled, the defense held Atlanta to 283 yards - 92 fewer than any other New Orleans opponent. The Falcons had a stretch of five consecutive possessions without a first down.

Although the Saints still are on pace to break an NFL record for yards allowed in a season, they have become more comfortable in new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's scheme.

``Everybody has a better understanding of exactly what they're doing on the field and what's expected of them in any given call,'' Ellis said. ``We're finally starting to jell together. I wish it could have been a lot earlier, but that this point, we'll take what we can get.''

The next task is duplicating that performance against New York, whose lead on the NFC East has shrunk from 2 1/2 games in early November to one over Dallas and Washington. Giants coach Tom Coughlin said this week his team might have to win its last four to claim the division, putting as much pressure on New York as New Orleans.

The Giants were nearly perfect in that situation last year. The Saints hope it is their turn this season.

``If we take advantage of our opportunities, we'll be all right,'' Greer said. ``We might be the underdog, but we have a chance to do something special.''

Notes: The Saints are healthier than they have been in several weeks. Three players missed practice on Wednesday, and all are backups - offensive tackle Charles Brown (right knee), defensive end Martez Wilson (toe) and cornerback Elbert Mack (illness). Starting safety Roman Harper was limited with a rib injury.

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Despite all the challenges of the early season, Reirden’s promotion still a ‘dream come true’

Despite all the challenges of the early season, Reirden’s promotion still a ‘dream come true’

Since taking over as the head coach of the Washington Capitals, Todd Reirden has had to deal with Tom Wilson getting suspended, a number of injuries and a team-wide Stanley Cup hangover.

So how would he describe the start to his first season as an NHL coach?

“It’s obviously a dream come true,” Reirden told NBC Sports Washington in a recent interview.

Reirden’s playing career came to an end in Europe in 2007, but his coaching career really began in 2004 while he was a player with the Houston Aeros of the AHL. Out with an injury, head coach Todd McLellan encouraged Reirden to take more of a coaching role with the team. It didn’t take long for Reirden to realize his real future in the game was as a coach and not as a player.

Reirden climbed the ranks as a coach from college, to the AHL and finally to the NHL. He spent the last eight seasons in the NHL behind the bench as an assistant and associate coach before finally getting the opportunity to become a head coach.

“Something when you start coaching just as I used to think about as a player, was the ultimate was to be able to play at the highest level,” Reirden said. “I was able to do that as a player and now able to see that dream come true as a coach. First things first is it's been amazing from that standpoint.”

The history of the NHL – and all professional sports for that matter – is full of assistant coaches who just could not make the transition from assistant to head coach. There is no doubt Reirden knows what he’s doing when it comes to the development of players and on-ice strategy. The last few years working with the Caps as an assistant and then associate coach have shown us that.

But being a head coach is about more than just what happens on the ice. That’s the part that first-year head coaches seem to struggle with initially.

“How everything works behind the scenes in terms of organizationally, dealing with the salary cap and sending down players, keeping them on board and the constant contact with Hershey,” Reirden said. “You spend a lot of time on those type of things. It's been a little bit of a transition too I would say with two new staff members in terms of how I'm delegating responsibility and empowering them in their particular areas. That's probably been the things that have been the most different for me.

“The hockey part, the coaching part, talking to the players in between periods, the media, that stuff has all gone really smoothly,” Reirden said. “No real transition there. But I'd say more the stuff behind the scenes is the stuff that's been a little bit different than expected.”

Reirden is certainly getting a crash course on roster construction given the recent spate of injuries and recalls. That has unquestionably affected the play of the team and is a major reason why the Caps have looked so inconsistent to start the season. It is not how Reirden would have scripted his first season to start.

But even with everything his first season has thrown at him and a 9-7-3 record, Reirden still feels like he is exactly where he wants to be.

“Every day is a chance for me to grow and get better and get used to responsibilities as a head coach,” Reirden said. “So it's been a lot of fun and definitely a challenge, but something I love and wouldn't trade places with anybody in the world for.”

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Three things to watch for Wizards vs. Blazers, as John Wall and Damian Lillard square off

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Three things to watch for Wizards vs. Blazers, as John Wall and Damian Lillard square off

John Wall, Bradley Beal, Dwight Howard and the Washington Wizards take on Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic and the Portland Trail Blazers. Tipoff is at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington. 

Here are three things to watch...

Schedule heats up

The Wizards really needed that one on Friday night. Though the Nets, even without Caris LeVert, aren't an easy out, the Wizards wanted to fully take advantage of a soft spot of their schedule. It's tough to lose to the Nets when you consider the road ahead.

The Wizards play seven straight games against teams at .500 or better. That includes a road game against the Raptors, who are tied for the league's best record. They also see the Rockets, the Pelicans twice and play at the Sixers. It all begins Sunday against the Blazers, who are tied for the fourth-best record in the NBA.

Rematch

Most of the Wizards' games this season have been lopsided one way or the other, and usually in the direction they would not prefer. But they have played a few close games and their most entertaining one happened to come against this same Blazers team.

The Wizards and Blazers went to overtime on Oct. 22 in Portland. The Wizards forced the extra period thanks to a three by Bradley Beal, and they won thanks to Otto Porter Jr. blocking Damian Lillard's shot in the closing seconds. 

The Wizards and Blazers have played some classics in recent years. Markieff Morris beat them with a game-winning three two years ago and last season Beal dropped 50 at the Moda Center. The matchup between both teams' star guards seems to bring the best out in everyone.

Howard vs. Nurkic

Much of the focus in this matchup is always on John Wall and Beal vs. Lillard and C.J. McCollum, but there will be a lot of action in the paint with Dwight Howard going up against Jusuf Nurkic. The Blazers are one of the best rebounding teams in the game and Nurkic, who pulls in 10.7 per game, is a big reason why. Nurkic also averages 15.5 points.

Howard is coming off his best game as a Wizard. He had 25 points and 17 rebounds against the Nets on Friday night. He was hurt when the teams first met in Portland.

Both are bruisers around the rim who don't stretch the floor with outside shots. It should be a physical battle on Sunday night.