Marcus Mariota and Alex Smith (11)
Marcus Mariota and Alex Smith (11)
BROOKLYN – The Brooklyn Nets have played the Boston Celtics tight this season and they enter the third matchup between the teams at home on a bit of a high note. The Nets, who lost a second-half lead in a seven-point loss to the Celtics earlier this season and then fell 108-105 at Boston on New Year’s Eve, topped streaking Minnesota in dramatic fashion their last time out.
Spencer Dinwiddie’s late jumper was the difference in the 98-97 win, the third in four games for Brooklyn with the lone loss in that span being the three-point setback to the Celtics. “Really proud of how the team’s progressing and just showing a resiliency that I felt that we didn’t have last year,” coach Kenny Atkinson said after the win. “We felt last year we kind of crumbled in a situation like that where they made a run. We stayed together and really showed a lot of physical and mental toughness.” That mindset will be imperative against Eastern Conference-leading Boston, which marched to its fifth straight win with a 91-84 triumph over Minnesota at home Friday night. After they leave Brooklyn, the Celtics have four days off before a matchup with Philadelphia in London and then four more days off before a return to action Jan. 16 at home against New Orleans.
TV: 6 p.m. ET, NBCS Boston, YES (Brooklyn)
ABOUT THE CELTICS (32-10): Reserve guards Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier have been providing a big boost of late, helping Boston overcome some pedestrian scoring efforts from some of its big guns. Smart had a team-high 18 points against Minnesota while Rozier followed up a 20-point effort in Wednesday’s win over Cleveland with 14 points and a season high-tying nine rebounds. “Tonight was one of those games where every last one of us from the starters to the guys coming in off the bench were ready,” Smart told reporters.
ABOUT THE NETS (15-23): Brooklyn has held opponents to an average of 93 points in its three wins over the last week, a departure from the norm for a team that entered Friday ranked 26th in the league in scoring defense (109.2). “We really got stops,” Atkinson added after the win over the Timberwolves. “Our offense obviously wasn’t pretty – some things didn’t go our way, some calls didn’t go our way, turnovers — we just went back on the defensive end and did a really good job.” Dinwiddie’s late jumper capped a career high-tying 26-point effort and Joe Harris had 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting off the bench.
1. Nets G Caris LeVert (groin) missed Wednesday’s win and is doubtful for this one.
2. Boston PG Kyrie Irving has been held under 20 points in back-to-back games after going for 20 or more in 11 straight contests.
3. The Celtics have won seven straight meetings.
Arrowhead Stadium has provided the Kansas City Chiefs one of the best home-field advantages in the NFL – until the postseason. The Chiefs will try to record their first home playoff victory in 24 years when they host the Tennessee Titans on Saturday in an AFC wild-card matchup.
The back-to-back AFC West champion Chiefs have won four straight following a midseason lull and again look like a contender. Their defense made a dramatic turnaround over the final month of the regular season, holding each of their last four opponents under 350 total yards while forcing 12 turnovers. The Titans are in the playoffs for the first time since 2008, squeaking in by snapping a three-game skid with a 15-10 victory over Jacksonville on Sunday. Tennessee went 3-5 on the road, where it averaged just 17.5 points and 270.8 total yards.
TV: 4:35 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: Chiefs -9. O/U: 44
ABOUT THE TITANS (9-7): Tennessee’s offense has shown flashes of brilliance but has been inconsistent, with everything hinging on the running game. DeMarco Murray is doubtful with a torn MCL, meaning Derrick Henry likely will carry the load and try to establish the run to open up the passing game for Marcus Mariota. Tennessee’s defense ranks fourth against the run and came up big last week against the Jaguars with four takeaways.
ABOUT THE CHIEFS (10-6): Kansas City’s offense went through a slump while losing six of seven games in the middle of the season, but everything clicked again in its last four contests. Rookie Kareem Hunt finished as the NFL’s leading rusher while Alex Smith joined Tom Brady and Drew Brees as the only quarterbacks in the league to pass for more than 4,000 yards with fewer than 10 interceptions, finishing with 4,042 yards and five picks. The Chiefs’ once-suspect secondary played well down the stretch.
1. Chiefs WR Albert Wilson has caught a touchdown pass in each of his last two postseason games.
2. Mariota has thrown 39 touchdown passes and no interceptions in the red zone in his three-year career.
3. Kansas City’s Travis Kelce and Tennessee’s Delanie Walker are the only NFL tight ends with at least 800 receiving yards in each of the last four seasons.
The Atlanta Falcons rolled through the playoffs en route to the Super Bowl a year ago behind a high-powered offense that led the league in scoring. For the Falcons to take the first step toward a return trip to the title game, they will have to slow the NFL’s No. 1 scoring offense when they visit the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday night.
Sixth-seeded Atlanta blew a 25-point lead over New England in a stunning collapse before falling in overtime in Super Bowl LI and has not looked like the same team this season despite registering 10 wins. “We’ve been tested,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn told reporters. “We’re battle-ready. … This week will be another battle. This is now also when we get to test what we’ve done over the last 20 weeks to see how we can work together, and we’re really excited to do it.” The Rams won four games last season but earned their first trip to the playoffs behind second-year quarterback Jared Goff and star running back Todd Gurley, who are among the leading MVP candidates. “We certainly don’t shy away from what a great opportunity it is to be able to play on Saturday night, prime time,” Los Angeles first-year coach Sean McVay told reporters. “I think it’s something that our guys will be excited about, going against the defending NFC champs.”
TV: 8:15 p.m. ET, NBC. LINE: Rams -6.5. O/U: 48.5
ABOUT THE FALCONS (10-6): Atlanta won six of its last eight, with the only two losses coming against division winners Minnesota and New Orleans, but Matt Ryan had only five touchdown passes versus four interceptions in the final six games. He still has one of the league’s most dangerous targets in Julio Jones, who caught 88 passes and eclipsed 1,400 yards (1,444) for the fourth straight season. The Falcons also feature the backfield tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, who rushed for a combined 1,493 yards and 12 touchdowns while adding 63 receptions and four scores. Atlanta surrendered 19.7 points per game and allowed only one 100-yard rusher.
ABOUT THE RAMS (11-5): Goff hardly looked ready for the bright lights after the 2016 No. 1 overall pick threw for five touchdowns and seven interceptions in seven games as a rookie, but he tossed 28 scoring passes against only seven picks this season. Gurley rushed for 1,305 yards and led the league in touchdowns (19) and yards from scrimmage (2,093) while rushing for more than 100 yards six times. Gurley also topped the team with 64 receptions while rookie Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods recorded five TDs apiece while making 62 and 56 catches, respectively. The Rams ranked 28th against the run despite the presence of stud tackle Aaron Donald (11 sacks).
1. The Rams are the second team in history to lead the league in scoring after ranking last the previous season.
2. Ryan has thrown 12 touchdown passes and one interception in his last four playoff games.
3. Gurley was held to 61 yards in Atlanta’s 42-14 victory in December 2016.
JACKSONVILLE – The Jacksonville Jaguars and Buffalo Bills have one thing in common entering Sunday’s AFC wild-card matchup – they hardly were trendy choices to make it to the postseason. The Jaguars will make their first playoff appearance since 2007 when they host the Bills, who staged a late run to reach the postseason for the first time since 1999.
Jacksonville was no fluke in going from worst to first, not only winning the AFC South title but also contending for the top overall seed until a surprising loss at San Francisco in Week 16. “They’re a challenge across the board – offense, defense, special teams,” Bills coach Sean McDermott told reporters. “You look at where they’re ranked and where we are, and ask, ‘What favors us?’ Not a whole lot.” Buffalo’s one-dimensional offense could be without star running back LeSean McCoy as it prepares to face a Jaguars defense that ranks among the league leaders in yards and points allowed, sacks and interceptions. “This is the start of a different type of season,” Jacksonville coach Doug Marrone, who guided the Bills in 2013-14, told reporters. “This is 12 teams. … Every one of those teams is dangerous, and it comes down to how you perform on that Sunday.”
TV: 1:05 p.m. ET, CBS. LINE: Jaguars -9. O/U: 39.5
ABOUT THE BILLS (9-7): McCoy, fourth in the NFL with 1,138 yards rushing, sprained an ankle in last Sunday’s regular-season finale and was limited to stretching during Thursday’s practice. McCoy also had a team-best 59 receptions and his absence would place a huge burden on quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who is second on the team in rushing and presides over the NFL’s 31st-ranked passing attack at 176.6 yards per game. If McCoy can’t go, the other options are veteran Mike Tolbert or Marcus Murphy, who had one career rushing attempt prior to gaining 41 yards on seven carries last week. Linebacker Preston Brown made 144 tackles for a defense that ranked 29th against the run (124.6 yards).
ABOUT THE JAGUARS (10-6): Jacksonville’s success is built on two familiar pillars – a running game led by rookie Leonard Fournette that paced the league at 141.6 yards per game and a ferocious defense that piled up 55 sacks and 21 interceptions while scoring an NFL-leading seven touchdowns. Blake Bortles completed a career-high 60.2 percent of his passes and had a career-low 13 interceptions – five in his last two games – but could get back leading receiver Marqise Lee (ankle). Fournette rushed for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns despite missing three games. Pro Bowler Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue lead the pass rush with 14.5 and 12 sacks, respectively.
1. Buffalo beat visiting Jacksonville 28-21 last season and lost to the Jaguars 34-31 in London in 2015.
2. The Jaguars are one of two teams (Pittsburgh) to feature at least four players with at least six sacks.
3. Bortles had at least two TD passes in two meetings with Buffalo, while Taylor had only four interceptions in 420 passing attempts.
Cam Newton (1)
NEW ORLEANS – The New Orleans Saints hope to disprove the notion that it’s tough to beat a team three times in the same season when they host the Carolina Panthers on Sunday in an NFC wild-card matchup. The rivals finished tied atop the NFC South standings, but the Saints earned their first division title since 2011 – and home-field advantage for the third meeting – by virtue of sweeping the regular-season series.
Both teams enter the postseason looking to bounce back from disappointing showings in Week 17. The Saints started 0-2 before a 34-13 victory at Carolina in Week 3 kicked off an eight-game winning streak, but they went 3-3 over their final six contests and their defense was gashed in a 31-24 loss at Tampa Bay last Sunday. Carolina could have captured the division with a win at Atlanta last week, but the offense sputtered in a 22-10 loss. It was only the Panthers’ second defeat in their last nine games, but the other was a 31-21 setback at New Orleans in Week 13.
TV: 4:40 p.m. ET, FOX. LINE: Saints -7. O/U: 48
ABOUT THE PANTHERS (11-5): Carolina’s offense has been fairly one-dimensional all season, but it has been a dynamic dimension with Cam Newton (754 yards, six touchdowns), Jonathan Stewart (680, six) and rookie Christian McCaffrey (435, two) leading the league’s fourth-best ground attack. Newton hasn’t thrown for 300 yards since Week 5 at Detroit and has done so only twice all season, but he tossed three interceptions last week. The defense ranks third in the league in sacks, with Mario Addison and Julius Peppers leading the way with 11 apiece, and will need to shut down the run and pressure Drew Brees in order to have success.
ABOUT THE SAINTS (11-5): New Orleans owns the league’s No. 2 offense, and it’s more balanced than in years past thanks to the rushing duo of Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara. The Saints even had success running the ball against Carolina’s third-ranked run defense, gaining 148 and 149 yards in the two meetings. New Orleans’ defense turned in two of its best performances of the season against the Panthers, holding them under 300 total yards in both games, but the Saints also have given up big yardage totals on a few occasions – including 455 total yards last week.
1. Since 1970, teams that swept the regular-season series also won the playoff rematch 13 out of 20 times.
2. The Panthers have forced 19 turnovers in their 11 wins but only two in their five losses.
3. Saints WR Michael Thomas ranked third in the league with 104 receptions this season and has caught three touchdown passes in four career games against the Panthers.
PHILADELPHIA – (Staff Report from Official News Release) – For the first time this season, all 10 BIG EAST teams will be in action on the same day on January 6th, as the Conference swings into full mode of play.
Saturday’s slate starts with a pair of games at noon ET. No. 5 Xavier plays at Providence on FOX with the Musketeers (15-1) taking a 10-game winning streak into the contest. They were the first team in the nation to reach 15 wins. Providence (10-6, 1-2) is coming off a 95-90 overtime loss to Marquette. The Friars are 4-1 all-time against Xavier at home and won last year’s meeting at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center 75-63.
Villanova’s Jay Wright
The other noon contest is Creighton at Georgetown on FSN. The Bluejays, ranked 24th in the USA Today poll, are 12-3 overall and 2-1 in the BIG EAST. All three of the Bluejay losses have come against ranked teams. The Hoyas are coming off a 90-81 victory over DePaul to give them a 1-2 BIG EAST record. Georgetown (11-3) is 4-0 at home against Creighton.
St. John’s (10-5) and DePaul (7-8) are looking for their first BIG EAST wins when the two teams meet at Carnesecca Arena at 2 p.m. on FSN. DePaul’s Max Strus continues to be the league’s top scoring newcomer, sporting an 18.6 average. St. John’s Shamorie Ponds is fourth in the BIG EAST in scoring (19.5), fifth in assists (4.9) and first in steals (2.7). St. John’s (10-5) has won its last eight home games.
At 2:30 p.m. on FS1, Butler hosts No. 21 Seton Hall at Hinkle Fieldhouse. The Bulldogs will be facing their third straight ranked opponent and are coming off an 86-79 loss at No. 5 Xavier. Butler’s Kelan Martin has averaged 16.9 points in his last four games against the Pirates. Seton Hall (13-2) is 2-0 in BIG EAST play and looking to go 3-0 for the first time since 1998-99. The Pirates are 2-7 against the Bulldogs, but won last year’s meeting at Hinkle 70-64.
The day concludes with No. 3 Villanova hosting Marquette at Wells Fargo Arena at 8 p.m. on FS1. The Wildcats (13-1) have not played since last Saturday’s 101-93 loss at Butler. They have averaged 94.0 points over their last four contests. Marquette is coming off a 95-90 overtime win at Providence when Markus Howard tied the BIG EAST scoring record with 52 points. In the game, Howard shot 17-of-29 from the floor, 11-of-19 from 3-point range and 7-of-7 from the foul line. He has yet to miss a free throw this season in 45 attempts.
BOSTON – The future didn’t look especially bright on Friday night when two of the NBA’s contenders-in-waiting clashed in Boston. The Celtics and Timberwolves both hovered under 40 percent shooting for most of the night before Boston pulled away in the fourth quarter to capture a 91-84 victory over Minnesota at TD Garden.
Marcus Smart had 18 points off the bench to pace the Celtics. Kyrie Irving finished with 16 points (on 6-of-16 shooting) and eight assists and Aron Baynes doubled up with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Boston (32-10) followed up its 102-88 thumping of the defending Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers at home on Wednesday with its fifth straight victory.
The Celtics led 66-62 going into the third quarter before opening up a double-digit lead at 81-71 after a pair of Irving free throws with 6:59 remaining and kept their distance after that.
Karl-Anthony Towns had 25 points and 23 rebounds, Jimmy Butler scored 14 and Jamal Crawford had 13 off the bench for the Timberwolves. Minnesota (24-16) lost its 12th straight game in Boston and hasn’t beaten the Celtics on their home court since March 6, 2005.
The teams combined to shoot 38.8 percent from the field.
Boston’s Al Horford experienced soreness in his left knee and was questionable to return at halftime, but he started the second half. He finished with seven points and eight assists.
Meanwhile, the Celtics’ Marcus Morris sat out to rehab his knee injury, but he will play Saturday at Brooklyn. Minnesota played its fifth straight game without starting point guard Jeff Teague, who is sidelined due to a Grade 1 MCL sprain in his left knee.
A pair of Butler free throws gave Minnesota its biggest lead of the game at 55-48 with 4:53 to play in the third before Boston closed the period on an 18-7 run.
Towns piled up 14 points and 13 boards in the first half, his second first-half double-double of the season, but the Timberwolves were down 41-38 at the break. Neither side led by more than five in the half.
–Field Level Media