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Saints' Sean Payton returns to work at Senior Bowl

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Saints' Sean Payton returns to work at Senior Bowl

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton likes to jot down to-do lists and notes on yellow pads.

Payton has had time to fill a nice stack of those this season. The Saints coach returned to work Wednesday following a nearly yearlong suspension for his role in the team's bounty program with some catching up to do.

The newly reinstated Payton watched the Senior Bowl practices and planned to meet later in the day with the staff to evaluate a defense that struggled during a 7-9 season and opened with four straight losses. Payton said there are plenty of challenges, from fixing the defense to replacing departed coaches and evaluating staff and players. Then, of course, there's getting ready for the draft and studying available free agents.

Payton said during a 45-minute meeting with reporters that he and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell agreed not to discuss specifics about whether there was an organized bounty system or of their 4-1/2-hour meeting on Monday.

``We're at a point where it's time for closure. It's time for us as a team, it's time for us as a league, to take this next step forward,'' Payton said.

Goodell lifted Payton's suspension Tuesday, nearly two weeks earlier than expected. Payton characterized his relationship with the commissioner as ``very good'' and said the discussion also ranged to topics like player safety, youth football and the NFL's current crop of quarterbacks.

He also said he feels that New Orleans fans will extend Goodell a ``gracious'' welcome during Super Bowl week despite any residual anger over the bounty saga.

The coach watched the Senior Bowl's North squad practice from the stands, chatting with assistant head coach Joe Vitt and general manager Mickey Loomis.

The NFL suspended Payton, Vitt, Loomis and four current or former Saints players, including linebacker Jonathan Vilma, after an investigation found the club had a performance pool offering cash rewards for key plays, including big hits. The player suspensions eventually were overturned.

Payton said he wasn't involved in the appeals process.

``I followed the process but I wasn't really privy to how those appeals went, how the meetings went, the specifics, and I'm still not,'' he said.

Payton said his situation was different because as head coach, ``it all falls under your umbrella.'' He said he wouldn't allow himself to get ``disappointed or upset, and I was just going to be patient to keep waiting and making sure I did everything the right way.''

Loomis was suspended for eight games, Vitt for six and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams remains suspended indefinitely

Payton said he has not spoken to Williams and ``I have no interest in talking to Gregg.''

He said he missed football ``quite a bit'' but that the hardest part was missing the daily interaction with colleagues like Loomis and Vitt and players like quarterback Drew Brees and defensive lineman Will Smith.

Brees said Wednesday from the Pro Bowl that he is excited to have Payton return. He said he texted briefly with the coach and they plan to talk more during Super Bowl week.

``That's just overtime,'' Brees said. ``It's not all going to happen in one sit-down.''

Saints guard Jahri Evans said he looked forward to catching up with Payton just to see how he's been doing. He called Payton ``a special guy'' for his play calling and coaching ability.

Evans expects the Saints will benefit from Payton's observations from afar during this season.

``I think he had a different view of the game and he's going to use that to his'' advantage, Evans said.

One advantage of the forced hiatus for Payton was getting to coach his son's youth league team for two practices and a game each week.

``We got to the Super Bowl but we lost that game,'' Payton said. ``I needed those players on that team probably more than they needed me.''

He has had quite a bit of success with big boy football, too.

Payton, who recently signed a five-year contract extension through 2017, has steered the franchise to its most successful period, including three NFC South division titles and four postseason appearances. Two of his teams advanced to the NFC Championship and the 2009 squad won Super Bowl XLIV.

He said the challenges of rebuilding after a losing season will be painful and that his comeback won't guarantee an immediate return to winning.

Payton said the Saints' struggles defensively and running the ball early in the season, along with problems with special teams at times, made it tough to win - with or without the bounty scandal.

Payton, citing advice from Bill Parcells, noted that his presence won't mean an automatic return to big success. It was the Saints first losing season since 2007

``Coach Parcells said to me that this mind-set that you're back and all of a sudden you're back to winning 11, 12, 13 games doesn't exist, because you very well could win five the next year,'' he said. ``He's right. We've got a lot of things we've got to correct to get to where we want to go. That's just the truth.''

He said he hadn't started talking to Loomis regarding any possible changes in the coaching staff . The rest of the staff conducted its evaluation of the offense on Tuesday.

Offensive line coach Aaron Kromer has left to become the Bears offensive coordinator.

Defensively, the Saints allowed 7,042 yards, the most ever in a season, under first-year coordinator Steve Spagnuolo but also improved enough to later record the club's first shutout in 17 years.

``This meeting we're going to have is going to be painful,'' Payton said. ``We've got a lot of tough meetings ahead. That's what 7-9 is. Those are our biggest challenges.''

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Associated Press Writer Oskar Garcia in Honolulu contributed to this report.

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Jeff Green lifts Wizards as fellow Hoya Otto Porter watches late again

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USA Today Sports

Jeff Green lifts Wizards as fellow Hoya Otto Porter watches late again

The Wizards’ 117-109 win over the Orlando Magic Monday night was the tale of two Hoyas.

Washington brought Jeff Green back home this summer to help anchor the second unit with his defensive versatility and scoring spurts. Both aspects were on display in the fourth quarter, as the Wizards finally broke free from the Magic.

Another former Georgetown star, Otto Porter, was nowhere to be found in the fourth. Zero minutes for a third consecutive game for the Wizards’ highest-paid player, thus adding another layer of weird to his season.

The why is a topic. For a team that registered its first winning streak of the season after a 2-9 start, all that matters is finding success. That was the postgame message from Scott Brooks.

There’s no detective work required as to why Green turned into a late-game staple.

After his 19-point outing in Saturday’s win at Miami, the streaky scorer had 10 of his 18 in the final period against Orlando with four 3-pointers. Defensively the 6-foot-9 forward offers Brooks an option the roster lacked last season: a versatile player capable of guarding on the perimeter and, as was the case against Orlando center Nik Vucevic, inside against bigger players.

“We need his all-around play,” Brooks said. “He can guard just about everybody on the floor. … I thought [Jeff] did a pretty good job on the big fellow.”

Green and Markieff Morris handled the interior spots the entire fourth quarter. When the forwards can match up with opposing four’s and five’s on defense, it typically means their scoring presence opens the court for penetrating guards John Wall and Bradley Beal on the other end.

Green sinking bombs throughout the game helped as well. He finished four of five from deep with two coming in the fourth. The career 33 percent 3-point shooter is 9 of 13 from beyond the arc overall during the last four games, and 21 of 28 overall.

“He's starting to get a little bit of rhythm from the three-point line, and we need that from him,” Brooks said.

Maybe Green isn’t the ideal athletic-4 Wall called for in recent years, but the on-court connection between the power forward and point guard is evident. During the decisive 14-4 run, the two hooked up for an alley-oop lob that's turned into a go-to play for Washington.

With shooters surrounding the duo, Wall dribbles toward the left elbow, taking all eyes with him. Green immediately turns down an open lane and rolls to the rim before rising high to meet the toss.

“We have shooters, we have guys that have to [be] respected,” Green said of the play. “It keeps [defenders] at bay, and with John’s speed, to get downhill at the rim, you have to help (on him).”

Wall passed on offering any keys to the play’s success (“We just tweaked a little bit of the play. I can’t tell you about, but it’s kind of working for us.”), but he praised Green’s performance with ease.

“That’s what we got Jeff for,” Wall said.

The Wizards matched that massive four-year, $106.5 million restricted offer sheet Porter signed with Brooklyn in 2017 for all kinds of reasons. Among them, he’s an instinct-rich player who makes winning plays and ranks among the most accurate 3-point shooters in the league. Those traits haven’t kept Porter on the court late in games recently in part because they haven’t shown in full-throated ways.

The term “benching” is harsh, though the situation is odd. Morris sat out the final periods at Orlando and Miami. Dwight Howard didn’t enter the fourth Monday despite finishing with 17 points and eight rebounds. Only Porter’s sit streak reached three games.

The small forward played a strong defensive game in Saturday’s win at Miami, but Brooks rode with a group that gained momentum as Washington surged past the Heat.

Porter is 9 of 16 on 3-pointers over the last four games. That’s only one aspect of the game. Brooks is looking for more. Porter took only one shot attempt in the first half Monday, lacked vigor defensively, and scored six points in 21 minutes.

"I mean, it's trying to find a blend of guys that are going to compete and going to play hard,” Brooks said of his lineup choices.

Asked specifically about Porter, Brooks said, “It’s just the way it is. Some games Otto is not going to have good games. Tonight isn’t one of them. He’ll bounce back. The guy is a winner. He knows how to play.”

Green and Porter honed their games at Georgetown under coach John Thompson III and turned into top-5 NBA Draft selections. The program is mostly closed off to the outside world, but a strong bond between the players exists regardless of when they played. The two forwards never joined forces until this season. Green knows Porter, enough to tell whether a helpful chat is required. This isn’t one of those times. 

“Otto is a pro, man,” Green told NBC Sports Washington. “I don’t have to say anything to Otto. He’s a team-first guy. He’s a guy who’s going to make sure whenever his name is called he’s going to be ready. He’s not worried about if he’s playing. I’m sure he’d like to be playing. He’s doing whatever it takes it to make sure the team is in a place to win.”

So is Scott Brooks. For now, that includes one former Georgetown star in the fourth quarter. It’s just not the obvious one.

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5 must-see moments from Wizards' 117-109 win over Magic, including Bradley Beal's big dunk

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5 must-see moments from Wizards' 117-109 win over Magic, including Bradley Beal's big dunk

The Washington Wizards topped the Orlando Magic 117-109 on Monday night. Here are five plays or moments worth revisiting...

1. Like most games the Wizards have played this season, on Monday they started out scorching on offense while defense appeared optional. 

This play was an exception. Bradley Beal, whom you will see plenty more from in this post, got a steal that led to a three for Otto Porter Jr. on the other end:

Though the Wizards won, Porter was held to just six points in 22 minutes of action.

2. Back to Beal. Though that first-half play was nice, he was quiet for much of this game. It wasn't until less than five minutes were remaining in the third quarter that he flipped a switch.

But when he did, there was nothing the Magic could do to stop him. This was one of the plays he made during his third quarter takeover. He used a nifty behind-the-back crossover to set up Dwight Howard for an and-1 bucket:

3. Beal accounted for 10 points in a three-minute stretch, capped off with this steal and dunk:

Beal started the game 3-for-13 from the field, but ended it with 21 points, eight rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block.

4. John Wall (25 points, 10 assists) and Jeff Green (18 points, six rebounds) also had big nights. They connected on this alley-oop in the fourth quarter:

Green had 10 points in the fourth quarter and Wall had nine.

5. Wall kept it going late with this fadeaway jumper to force a Magic timeout. The way he toyed with the defense off the dribble was quite impressive:

Speaking of Wall, if you ask Beal, it was the media (and more specifically ESPN's Stephen A. Smith) that set the five-time All-Star off. Wall, Beal says, was playing with some extra motivation with Smith sitting courtside:

Don't question him. Just go with it.

The Wizards have now won two straight games. In a sign that it's still super early and probably not time to freak out about the big picture, the Wizards are now just 1 1/2 games out of the eighth seed in the East.

 

 

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