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Wizards’ improved defense on display in 19-point comeback vs. Pelicans to earn best start since 1975

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After nearly one month of the new NBA season, the best team in the Eastern Conference is not the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks, nor the high-powered Brooklyn Nets. It’s the upstart Washington Wizards, who moved to 10-3 on Monday night following a 19-point comeback win over the New Orleans Pelicans

Playing without Bradley Beal (personal reasons) for the second straight game, the Wizards got off to a slow start against the Pels and trailed by as many as 19 points early in the third quarter. It looked like they were heading for their first defeat in nearly two weeks, but they flipped a switch in the second half. They cut the deficit to just seven points entering the fourth quarter and used a 14-0 run down the stretch to take the lead and secure the win. 

Spencer Dinwiddie led the way with 27 points, five rebounds and nine assists, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope went for 18 points and Deni Avdija had his best game of the season with 11 points and 10 rebounds off the bench as the Wizards secured their best start in 47 years. In a nice bit of synergy, that 1974-75 Wizards team was led by Wes Unseld Sr.; this team is coached by his son, Wes Unseld Jr. 

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The Wizards’ hot start is obviously unexpected, but the fashion in which they’re doing it is especially surprising. They’ve been downright nasty on the defensive end and currently boast the fourth-best defensive rating (102.7) while leading the league in opponent field goal percentage (42.4) and opponent 3-point percentage (30.7).

“I think a lot of it comes from us new guys coming in,” Kyle Kuzma said recently after a win over the Cavailers. “We’re defensive-oriented people, but also coach Wes (Unseld Jr.). He does a great job. I think a lot of times in this league, what separates good teams and bad teams is defensive schemes.”

“When you come here — first day of training camp, we want to be a top-10 defensive team,” Kuzma continued. “OK, how do we get that? Wes puts us in great situations, and it’s really no error out there. You know what to do. [If] it’s a step up, near side, we know what to do. Same thing, if they’re locking and trail, we know what to do. That just clears up a lot of thoughts you may have on the court so you can just play freely.”

In the past three seasons, the Wizards have finished 20th, 29th and 27th in the league in defensive rating. But with Unseld’s leadership, the new offseason additions and a high level of buy-in, the Wizards have become one of the toughest teams to play. They leaned on that defensive mindset down the stretch against the Pelicans, holding them scoreless for nearly five minutes as they went on their game-changing 14-0 run. 

Let’s take a closer look at how they got it done. 

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Making things tough on Ingram

With Zion Williamson still injured, much of the offensive burden for the Pelicans falls to Brandon Ingram. And though he finished with 31 points in this game, he needed 23 shots to get there. The Wizards really made him work and shut him down in the fourth quarter, limiting him to 3-of-11 shooting. 

They did so with good old fashioned hard work. Deni Avdija has become a key defender for the Wizards because of plays like this. Here he battles through two screens, then sits down to keep Ingram out of the lane and contests a long two-pointer. 

This is a perfect example of how succeeding on the defensive end isn’t always about spectacular, lock-down possessions, but making solid plays over and over again. Teams might not respect Avdija on the defensive end, but they will soon if he keeps playing like this. 

“I think I was a good defender even last year, but last year I didn’t get the most respect,” Avdija said earlier this season. “I’m just, it’s my heart, you know? I’m not the most athletic. You see people bring me in pick-and-roll all the time. They think they can attack me, they think they can score on me, and it’s fun.”

Protecting the rim

A second-round pick in 2019, Daniel Gafford didn’t do much of note at the beginning of his career. But after getting traded to the Wizards at the deadline last season, he burst onto the scene and was a big part of the team’s playoff push. He’s earned the starting center spot this season and gives the team a much-needed boost of athleticism and defense around the rim. 

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His three blocks against the Pelicans gave him his third three-block game of the season already, and he’s currently seventh in the league at 1.7 blocks per game. Perhaps his biggest one came late in the fourth when Herb Jones got downhill off a screen and tried to take it all the way to the rim. Gafford played it perfectly and got up for a huge rejection. 

Forcing turnovers

One interesting aspect of the Wizards’ defense is that they don’t actually force that many turnovers. In fact, they’re last in the league with just 12.5 opponent turnovers per game. But against the Pelicans they came up with some big ones when it mattered. 

Trailing by two with less than three minutes to play, the Pelicans got a crucial stop of their own and had a chance to tie or retake the lead. Instead, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope jumped the passing lane for a big steal that eventually led to two free throws for Montrezl Harrell to push the Wizards’ lead to four. 

Not forcing turnovers might make it difficult for the Wizards to sustain this level of defense, but it’s clear that they care, are all on the same page and are willing to put in the work to be great on that end of the floor. That alone is going to be enough most nights. 

“Coach comes in with a simple game plan, both offense and defensively as far as each team goes,” Harrell said earlier this season. “But you know, Coach does all the little things that some guys may not want to do at point in times. We’re all bought in and tied in and support him 100 percent because at the end of the day, it’s a collective group effort.”

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SEC college football picks, odds in Week 5: Arkansas stays tight with Alabama, Georgia takes out frustration

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The calendar will flip from September to October as the Week 5 college football action takes center stage on Saturday, which means that SEC division title races are starting take shape. No. 2 Alabama will head to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to take on No. 20 Arkansas in a battle between SEC foes. It was anticipated this could be a battle of undefeated title contenders, but the Razorbacks’ loss to Texas A&M last week erased that possibility. No. 7 Kentucky will travel to Oxford, Mississippi, to take on No. 14 Ole Miss in a clash of cross-division, undefeated teams that are looking to break through on the national stage. 

There are intriguing games for other reasons, too. Auburn will take on LSU at Jordan-Hare Stadium in a game that could determine the future of Tigers coach Bryan Harsin. The second-year coach was rumored to be on the brink of receiving a pink slip had the Tigers lost to Missouri last week, but they escaped in overtime in one of the sloppiest games of the year. 

What else is going on around the conference in Week 5? Let’s take a spin around the league and make some picks in this week’s edition of SEC Smothered and Covered.

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Hurricane Ian hitting the East Coast has forced changes to SEC games in Week 5. Keep up to date with all of the movement at this link here

Appetizer: Drew Sanders, the double agent?

Arkansas linebacker Drew Sanders has established himself as one of the best players in the conference regardless of position. The former five-star prospect out of Denton, Texas, has 31 tackles on the season and is tied for third in the SEC in tackles for loss per game (1.63). He’s also a former member of the Alabama Crimson Tide. 

Could he be a secret agent? Well, not officially, but Razorbacks coach Sam Pittman knows that his star transfer isn’t going to be surprised by anything he sees.

“I would assume, for him, there would be some familiarity with what Bama is doing,” Pittman said. “We’ll try to downplay that as much as possible, because it is about shedding blocks and tackling and doing his assignment.”

This was shaping up to be a battle of undefeated teams prior to last weekend, but a reeling Texas A&M squad and a Hogs’ field goal attempt off the top of the goal post put an end to that plan. It didn’t erase the interest level in this game, though. Pittman’s squad absolutely has to win Saturday’s game vs. the Crimson Tide, otherwise its hopes of winning the West will disappear like a rack of ribs at a tailgate party. 

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Main course: Chris Rodriguez’s impact

Kentucky is typically a juggernaut at developing stud offensive linemen who are effective as run and pass blockers. This year … not so much. The Wildcats have given up more sacks than any other team in the SEC (16) and allowed Northern Illinois to sack quarterback Will Levis five times last weekend. Nothing against the Huskies, but that shouldn’t happen. 

They will get running back Chris Rodriguez back from his early-season suspension this week, though, and he should at least provide more of a threat in the running game to help Levis work off play-action. The preseason All-SEC selection rushed for 1,379 yards and nine touchdowns last season while adding three touchdowns as a receiver out of the backfield. Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said Monday that Rodriguez has prepared to make an impact over the last couple of weeks.

“For Chris, it was just a matter of managing him while he was out. Just getting him the reps that we needed to. The last week or two, as I mentioned last week, he was getting reps with the first and second team — mainly the second team or different quarterbacks just to make sure he wasn’t totally removed from practicing our plays, along with staying in shape, being on the scout team, doing whatever was necessary for staying in good shape.” 

Dessert: Do or die for Bryan Harsin

Reports surfaced last week that Harsin could be fired as early as the day after the Missouri game if his team lost to the visiting Tigers. That didn’t happen; Auburn used a Missouri missed field goal at the end of regulation and a walk-off touchback in overtime to escape with a win. Or a “non-loss,” considering how sloppy the game was. 

In essence, it was the worst possible scenario for all parties. Harsin’s incredibly ugly win against Missouri the week after getting blown out by Penn State made it impossible for the powers-that-be to get rid of him last Sunday, which also gave him another week to “coach back into” his job if he can figure things out. Could that start this week against LSU? Harsin’s Tigers are nearly double-digit underdogs, which suggests that there isn’t much faith in him surviving beyond this weekend. Even if he does, Georgia looms next weekend prior to the bye week. 

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Simply put, Harsin needs to dominate LSU and upset Georgia to stay employed. Otherwise, those who staged the attempted coup in February will likely get their way and move into a new era of Auburn football.

Picks

Straight up: 38-8 | Against the spread: 19-21-1
*Previous picks were made on Instagram since SEC Smothered & Covered starts in Week 3

No. 7 Kentucky at No. 14 Ole Miss

Featured Game | Ole Miss Rebels vs. Kentucky Wildcats

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The Rebels have settled on Jaxson Dart as their No. 1 quarterback, and he will provide a nice complement through the air and on the ground to a rushing attack that is second-to-none in the conference (280.75 YPG). That will wear down a Kentucky defense that isn’t as deep or consistent as it has been in previous years. The Rebels defense, which is third in the SEC in tackles for loss per game (7.0), will keep Levis in third-and-long situations — leading to an Ole Miss cover. Pick: Ole Miss (-6.5)

No. 2 Alabama at No. 20 Arkansas

Featured Game | Arkansas Razorbacks vs. Alabama Crimson Tide

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The 17.5-point spread is interesting, due in large part to the hook. If a 17-point Bama win cashes an Arkansas ticket, I’m all in for the Hogs. Alabama has played one-score games in four of its last five true road tilts, and the combination of Hogs quarterback KJ Jefferson and running back Raheim Sanders will bust enough big plays to at least keep this game close into the fourth quarter. The Crimson Tide will win it by two touchdowns when all is said and done but won’t get the cover. Pick: Arkansas (+17.5)

Featured Game | Mississippi State Bulldogs vs. Texas A&M Aggies

The Bulldogs are home favorites over a ranked Aggies team for good reason. Opposing quarterbacks are completing just 44.4% of their passes on third downs (17th nationally), which sets up well against an Aggies team that will be without star wide receiver Ainias Smith. Texas A&M topped Arkansas essentially because of a fumbled punt return and a freak fumble recovery/scoop-and-score, but even those won’t save them in the land of the cowbells. Pick: Mississippi State (-3.5)

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LSU at Auburn

Featured Game | Auburn Tigers vs. LSU Tigers

Auburn’s offensive line has been a disaster this year, and now its quarterback position is an unmitigated disaster. Meanwhile, LSU’s defense has given up just 39 plays of 10 or more yards this season (tied with Georgia for third in the SEC). It’s going to make Auburn put together multiple sustained drives, and that’s unlikely considering Harsin forgot that running back Tank Bigsby exists during the majority of the Missouri game. The visiting Tigers will win by double-digits. Pick: LSU (-9)

No. 1 Georgia at Missouri

Featured Game | Missouri Tigers vs. Georgia Bulldogs

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The Bulldogs have to be embarrassed after Kent State stayed within 10 points into the fourth quarter last week, and they’ll take it out on Missouri on Saturday night in Columbia. The Tigers average a league-worst 5.62 yards per play, and the way to hang with the Bulldogs is to capitalize on shot plays. Coach Kirby Smart’s crew will take out its frustration on Missouri and win by at least 30 points. Pick: Georgia (-28)

SEC teams vs. FCS opponents

*No lines have been published

Which college football picks can you make with confidence in Week 5, and which top-10 favorite will go down hard? Visit SportsLine to see which teams will win and cover the spread — all from a proven computer model that has returned more than $3,100 in profit over the past six-plus seasons — and find out.

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Canada crushes Puerto Rico in FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup quarterfinal – Sportsnet.ca

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Canada has advanced to the semifinals at the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup for the first time since 1986.

After going 4-1 in first-round play, Canada hammered Puerto Rico 79-60 in quarterfinal action on Thursday in Australia.

The Canadians will be heavy underdogs in the semis on Friday against the top-ranked United States. The Americans defeated Serbia 88-55 in the first quarterfinal.

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The Americans have won 28 consecutive games in World Cup play since losing to the Russians in the 2006 semis — the tournament is held quadrennially.

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Canada will try to win its first medal since capturing bronze in 1986. That result matched its previous best of third in 1979.

Kia Nurse led Canada with 17 points, one of five players to score in double figures for her team. Bridget Carleton had 15, while Laeticia Amihere and Natalie Achonwa had 12 apiece. Kayla Alexander had 13 rebounds for Canada.

Canada jumped out to a 26-11 lead after the first quarter and never was threatened.

China faces France and Belgium meets Australia in the other quarterfinals.

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College football odds, picks, predictions, best bets for Week 5, 2022: Proven model backing Oklahoma, Oregon

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Kentucky and Kansas are often known for their basketball prowess, but the Wildcats and Jayhawks both enter the Week 5 college football schedule undefeated. The Wildcats survived an upset bid from Northern Illinois last week and will now go on the road to face the Ole Miss Rebels in an SEC showdown. Kansas, meanwhile, notched its fourth win of the season after beating Duke 35-27 and will battle Iowa State at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday. Before this season, the Jayhawks recorded three wins or fewer in each of the past 12 years. 

The Week 5 college football odds from Caesars Sportsbook list the Jayhawks as 3.5-point underdogs against the Cyclones. The Wildcats are 6.5-point underdogs against the Rebels in an 12 p.m. ET kickoff in Oxford. Should your Week 5 college football picks include backing Kansas or Kentucky as underdogs, or should you look elsewhere on the CFB odds board for value? Before locking in any Week 5 college football picks on those games or others, be sure to see the latest college football predictions from SportsLine’s advanced computer model.

The SportsLine Projection Model simulates every FBS college football game 10,000 times. Over the past six-plus years, the proprietary computer model has generated a stunning profit of more than $3,100 for $100 players on its top-rated college football picks against the spread. Anyone who has followed it has seen huge returns.

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Now, it has turned its attention to the latest Week 5 college football odds from Caesars and locked in picks for every FBS matchup. Head here to see every pick.

Top college football predictions for Week 5

One of the college picks the model is high on in Week 5: No. 18 Oklahoma (-5) goes on the road and covers against TCU at noon ET on Saturday. The Sooners were upset by Kansas State, a team that has been very tough on the Sooners recently, in Week 4. But the Sooners have a much better track record against the Horned Frogs. Oklahoma has won eight straight against TCU, and all but two of those wins have come by more than five points. The last two wins in the series have come by an average of 20 points.

The model sees this as a great bounce-back spot for Oklahoma as it is favored by less than a touchdown against a relatively unproven TCU squad. Dillon Gabriel throws for 300 yards in the simulations, with Marvin Mims leading the way with more than 60 receiving yards for OU. The Sooners win more than 60% of the time, making them one of the teams to include in your Week 5 college football best bets. 

Another one of the model’s top college football picks: No. 13 Oregon (-16) has no trouble with the double-digit spread against Stanford in Saturday’s 11 p.m. ET kickoff in Eugene. The Ducks are coming off a thrilling 44-41 come-from-behind victory over Washington State last week. Quarterback Bo Nix was the star of the show, throwing for 428 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Nix has now accounted for at least three touchdowns in each of his last three games. For the season, Nix has thrown for 1,100 yards, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions, while also averaging 4.6 yards per carry. 

Oregon is averaging 198.2 rushing yards per game this season, which ranks 29th in the nation. Stanford, meanwhile, is giving up 30.33 points per game this season. The Cardinal have also allowed 40 or more points in back-to-back Pac-12 games. SportsLine’s model is projecting the Ducks to rush for over 200 yards against Stanford on Saturday. That helps Oregon control possession and post 41 points in this one as they cover in almost 60% of simulations. See which other teams the model likes here.

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How to make college football picks for Week 5

The model has also made the call on who wins and covers in every other FBS matchup in Week 5, and it says a top-10 favorite will go down hard in one of the week’s biggest games. You can only get every pick for every game at SportsLine.

So what college football picks can you make with confidence? And which top-10 favorite goes down hard? Check out the latest college football odds below, then visit SportsLine to see which teams win and cover the spread, all from a proven computer model that has returned more than $3,100 in profit over the past six-plus seasons, and find out.

College football odds for Week 5 (via Caesars)

See full Week 5 college football picks, odds, predictions here

Thursday, Sept. 29

Utah State at BYU (-24, 60.5)

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Featured Game | BYU Cougars vs. Utah State Aggies

Friday, Sept. 30

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Tulane at Houston (-2.5, 55)

Featured Game | Houston Cougars vs. Tulane Green Wave

UTSA at MTSU (+5, 63)

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Featured Game | Middle Tenn. Blue Raiders vs. UTSA Roadrunners

San Diego State at Boise State (-5.5, 40)

Featured Game | Boise State Broncos vs. San Diego State Aztecs

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Washington at UCLA (+2.5, 65)

Featured Game | UCLA Bruins vs. Washington Huskies

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New Mexico at UNLV (-16, 45.5)

Featured Game | UNLV Rebels vs. New Mexico Lobos

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Saturday, Oct. 1

Michigan at Iowa (+10.5, 43)

Featured Game | Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Michigan Wolverines

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Kentucky at Ole Miss (-6.5, 55.5)

Featured Game | Ole Miss Rebels vs. Kentucky Wildcats

Oklahoma at TCU (+5, 67.5)

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Featured Game | TCU Horned Frogs vs. Oklahoma Sooners

Oregon State at Utah (-11, 56)

Featured Game | Utah Utes vs. Oregon State Beavers

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Wake Forest at Florida State (-6, 66)

Featured Game | Florida State Seminoles vs. Wake Forest Demon Deacons

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Rutgers at Ohio State (-41, 60)

Northwestern at Penn State (-25.5, 52.5)

Featured Game | Penn State Nittany Lions vs. Northwestern Wildcats

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Alabama at Arkansas (+15.5, 61.5)

Featured Game | Arkansas Razorbacks vs. Alabama Crimson Tide

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Oklahoma State at Baylor (-2.5, 55)

Featured Game | Baylor Bears vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys

Texas A&M at Mississippi State (-3, 46)

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Featured Game | Mississippi State Bulldogs vs. Texas A&M Aggies

NC State at Clemson (-6.5, 46)

Featured Game | Clemson Tigers vs. NC State Wolfpack

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Georgia at Missouri (+27.5, 55.5)

Featured Game | Missouri Tigers vs. Georgia Bulldogs

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Arizona State at USC (-24, 61.5)

Featured Game | USC Trojans vs. Arizona State Sun Devils

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Stanford at Oregon (-16, 62.5)

Featured Game | Oregon Ducks vs. Stanford Cardinal

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