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Surging Bears not looking past struggling Carolina

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Surging Bears not looking past struggling Carolina

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) The Chicago Bears could breathe a little easier this week even if their quarterback was having some trouble.

That's because the Carolina Panthers are coming to town in disarray.

The Bears? They're doing just fine.

Tops in the NFC North and with a four-game win streak, Chicago (5-1) will try to keep it going against the struggling Panthers (1-5) on Sunday.

This sure looks like a mismatch - or a trap.

``It's hard, week in and week out, and then you get some teams that have their backs against the wall,'' said the Bears' Jay Cutler, who vowed to be ready after Detroit's Ndamukong Suh bruised his ribs on a sack Monday night. ``You just never know. They're going to play their hardest football they've played all year.''

With a four-game losing streak and the worst record in the NFC after falling 19-14 to Dallas, the Panthers fired general manager Marty Hurney and essentially put everyone else on notice.

Coaches, players - no one's safe, except maybe Cam Newton. And his inconsistent play is one reason the Panthers are in this spot.

Injuries haven't helped, either.

In the past two weeks, they've lost three-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil (foot), cornerback Chris Gamble (shoulder) and three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Jon Beason (knee and shoulder issues) to season-ending injuries.

They've been unable to pull out close games, with four of their five losses by six points or less, and there's just simply a bad vibe around this team. Hurney pointed toward a leadership void in the locker room, and several players and coaches agreed.

Then there's Newton and his demeanor, which is being dissected as if his last name were Cutler.

``I just keep living life,'' Newton said. ``I understand I'm not perfect. I'm striving to be great. What other people may think or what other people may criticize me on, I take it for what it's worth but continue to try to make myself better each and every opportunity that I get.''

Clearly, the rough start is taking a toll. Losing is something he didn't do at Auburn, and his leadership has come into question.

He was criticized by teammate Steve Smith earlier in the year for sulking on the sidelines, and national media outlets chided him for pointing fingers after Sunday's loss to Dallas.

Newton was 21 of 37 for 233 yards in that one with a touchdown and an early interception in the red zone. He has more interceptions (6) than touchdown throws (5) this season, and with 1,387 yards passing, he's on pace to finish with about 3,700 after going off for 4,051 as a rookie.

Now, he's staring at a team allowing a league-low 13 points per game, one that also leads the NFL with 21 takeaways. The way the defense is playing, Panthers coach Ron Rivera just might have a few flashbacks to 2006, when he was the Bears' defensive coordinator and Chicago was stifling opponents on the way to the Super Bowl.

That group lost two key components to season-ending injuries along the way in defensive tackle Tommie Harris and safety Mike Brown. The Bears have all their main players available, although Brian Urlacher still is limited as he tries to work his way back from a knee injury.

``I think this group can be better,'' Rivera said. ``I really do. Because the front four is probably better (than 2006), and it really begins with those guys up front.''

The Bears have been getting big contributions from the usual suspects in Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman, who contained Calvin Johnson on Monday. But Tim Jennings has stepped up in a big way with four interceptions, and the defensive line has come through, too.

Even so, the Bears could be tested.

``They have two excellent running backs,'' coach Lovie Smith said. ``They have a very good tight end in Greg Olsen that we know all about. And Steve Smith is still one of the best receivers in the game.''

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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. Kelly Oubre Jr., Porter's primary backup, played the entire fourth quarter instead despite finishing 0 for 5 from the floor.

"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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