Questions persist, answers elusive with Pats pass-D

Questions persist, answers elusive with Pats pass-D

By Tom E. Curran

Think it's maddening watching the Patriots secondary play defense.

Try pinning down the architect of that defense - or at least its overseer, defensive coordinator Matt Patricia - on why the Patriots are so relentlessly bad at stopping receivers from catching footballs all over the place.

When a question was posed to Patricia on Monday about the number of passes completed for more than 20 yards on his defense (five on Sunday, reportedly 39 in seven games), Patricia went into his verbal four corners offense.

"Were just trying to improve on everything each week and obviously trying to eliminate those to the best of our abilities ... we spend time on it like we do on every aspect of offenses that we tend to see each week. We understand it is a little bit of a copycat league, so we are prepared for those things to try to repeat from week to week and were trying to do a good job here of getting everything handled to the best of our ability."

Upshot? They're trying to get better. When it was pointed out that it is a given that every team, every coach and every player is trying to get better and Patricia was asked to explain what in particular they are trying to improve, Patricia said, "Were trying to get the guys that we have out there defensively working together and improving and trying to, like I said, get better.

"Thats really our plan," he confided. "When we take a look at it and whatever the particular play is or the particular play were seeing and those individual specifics, were just trying to manage those on each individual situation."

Patricia went to Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute. It's a hard school. He's smart. He's also 38. He became a positional coach with the Patriots in 2006 when he took over the linebackers. Last year, he was in charge of the safeties. This year, he was made the coordinator.

It may be Bill Belichick's defense, but Patricia is Belichick's hand-picked lieutenant in charge of making sure things run as they're supposed to.

Yet the inevitability of defense collapse is ever-present. Especially in the secondary. And Patricia can't or most likely won't even attempt to articulate what the barrier to competent performances is.
"Were going out there just trying to improve it every week and we take a look at it, evaluate it and try to make sure that there is some improvement in what were doing try to make sure that we understand whats happening in the back end and as a defense as a whole," offered Patricia. "So thats just what were trying to do right now."
Before Patricia got on the call, Belichick was asked about the secondary yielding big plays and the alleged improvement over the previous week in Seattle.

Now, the notion of a vast improvement against the Jets week eluded me because there were plenty of explosive plays from an offense that's deadly as a pop gun most weeks.

But Belichick was encouraged.

"Theres no defense thats designed to give up 50-yard pass completions or anything like that," Belichick explained. "Thats really the worst thing that can happen defensively, is for the offense to get all their yardage or score on one play and not make them drive the ball and execute a number of plays and third down and red area and goal line and all those situations.

"If they just get it all in one play, then thats it," Belichick added. "Its always a point of emphasis. Its never anything that we want to have happen. We emphasized it last week; weve emphasized it every week. When we had as many big plays as we did in the Seattle game, it became more of a battle cry and I want to say one of the results yesterday of that was that we had more opportunities in the red area and we made a couple defensive stops in the red area and thats good. Thats a good way to hold the points down rather than seeing it all go in one play and be a 50-yard touchdown. They have to drive it and it gives you a chance to stop them and we did that a couple times and came close to blocking one of the field goals. You make your opponent work to get their points and work to get their yardage. Thats much better than just handing it to them all in one play or one pass interference call or one play that gains a lot of yards. Its a big point of emphasis, but it always is. Last week, we probably spent even more time addressing it."

So after seven games, the Patriots' defense - which just allowed Mark Sanchez to complete 68 percent of his passes for 328 yards and put up 26 offensive points - is moving in the right direction because it allowed no 50-yard completions, just a bunch of 20-something throws.

Got it.

Glen Robinson wins NBA All-Sar Slam Dunk Contest

Glen Robinson wins NBA All-Sar Slam Dunk Contest

Glenn Robinson III is the NBA's new dunk king, with an assist to Indiana teammate Paul George, the Pacers' mascot and a Pacers cheerleader.

Robinson leaped over all three, snagging the ball from George along the way before finishing with an emphatic, two-hand, reverse jam, giving him a perfect score - and the title - on his final dunk.

"I know I'm a jumper. Like I said, I'm a guy that stays out of the way, but when it's time to shine, that's my thing," Robinson said. "I knew all along I had some things planned and I just wanted to show the world."

Robinson edged out Phoenix's Derrick Jones Jr., who was done in by his failure to complete his difficult first dunk of two in the final round.

Jones still managed a perfect score on his second dunk, when he received a bounce-pass in the paint, put it between his legs and threw down a left-handed jam. But Robinson made sure it wasn't enough.

In the 3-point contest, Houston's Eric Gordon dethroned Golden State splash brother Klay Thompson. Kristaps Porzingisof the New York Knicks won the Skills Challenge.

Both dunk finalists delighted the crowd with soaring slams over teammates and others that showcased the explosive spring in their vertical leaps.

"I thought I would go up against Derrick in the finals," Robinson said. "I've seen the things that he can do. That guy can jump."

Robinson's first dunk was one of his best. He leap-frogged one man sitting on another's shoulders, grabbed the ball from the elevated man's hands and slammed it home. He said 2000 dunk champ Vince Carter was one of his primary influences, along with Michael Jordan, of course.

"Vince Carter did one of his best dunks first, and it kind of intimidated people. That's what I wanted to go out and do," Robinson said. "Who knows if it worked, but they missed some of their dunks and it gave me a little more room."

Afterward, he couldn't take his hands off of the trophy - a gold basketball - and made it sound as if that would remain the case through the weekend.

"I know I'm not letting go of her right there," he said. "She's following me everywhere I go. It's Mardi Gras. We're going to have a good time."

Jones jumped over four teammates including Devin Booker and Marquese Chriss in the first round. He also drew roars from the crowd when he took a pass off the side of the backboard from Booker with his right hand, put the ball between his legs to his left for a round-house jam.

The dunk that cost him was a bold one. He tried to leap a friend and the Suns' gorilla mascot, grab the ball on the way over, put it between his legs and then finish with a windmill. But he couldn't get the dunk to go down in his allotted three attempts.

DeAndre Jordan of the Los Angeles Clippers and Aaron Gordon of Orlando were unable to emerge from the first round. Jordan dunked over DJ turn tables and Gordon dunked after receiving a bounce pass from a drone that had flown over the court with the "Star Wars" theme music playing.

Eric Gordon got his win in New Orleans, where he played the previous five seasons before leaving last summer in free agency.

Gordon's score of 21 in a final-round tiebreaker defeated Cleveland's Kyrie Irving, the 2013 winner, who had 18. The pair had each finished with a score of 20 in the final round, meaning they each had to shoot 25 more balls to decide it.

"I wasn't really concentrating on how many I made," Gordon said. "It's all about just knocking down the shot. I never counted in my head or anything. I just go out there and just shoot the ball."

Thompson was stunningly eliminated in the first round, missing a final shot from the corner that could have put him through ahead of Kemba Walker.

Big men reigned supreme for a second straight year in the skills competition, with the 7-foot-3 Porzingis beating Utah's Gordon Hayward in the final round.

Those vanquished in earlier rounds included guards John Wall of Washington and Isaiah Thomas of Boston, both because they couldn't make their initial 3-pointers required to close out the course before Hayward did, even though Hayward had trailed each of them dribbling down the court by a considerable margin before hitting his clinching shots.

Porzingis emerged from the big-men's division that included the Pelicans' Anthony Davis and Denver's Nikola Jokic.

"It's a good feeling that I'm able to showcase my skill with my size and show to the kids that you're capable of doing that even if you're tall and lanky like me," Porzingis said.

Porzingis and Hayward were neck-and-neck until the end of the course, but Porzingis hit his 3 first to end it.

The three-round, head-to-head obstacle-course competition tests dribbling, passing, agility and shooting skills.

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AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds contributed to this report

Webber, Massimino among the Hall of Fame finalists

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Webber, Massimino among the Hall of Fame finalists

NEW ORLEANS - Chris Webber and Rollie Massimino are one step from the Hall of Fame.

The career 20-point-per-game NBA scorer and the coach who led Villanova to a stunning upset of Georgetown in the 1985 NCAA championship game were among the 14 finalists unveiled Saturday for this year's Basketball Hall of Fame induction class.

Webber played 15 seasons with five franchises, plus was part of Michigan's famed "Fab Five" group that headlined college basketball in the early 1990s.

"I don't know what I'm most proud of," said Webber, who averaged 20.7 points and 9.8 rebounds in his career and was a five-time NBA All-Star. "I'm proud to be in the room with all these great individuals."

Other first-time Hall of Fame finalists include longtime NBA referee Hugh Evans, Connecticut women's star Rebecca Lobo, two-time NBA scoring champion Tracy McGrady, five-time All-Star Sidney Moncrief, Baylor women's coach Kim Mulkey, Kansas coach Bill Self, and two-time NBA champion coach Rudy Tomjanovich.

"I still can't believe I'm here," McGrady said. "This is not even a dream come true."

Previous finalists returning to the ballot include star point guard and Olympic gold medalist Tim Hardaway, winningest all-time boys high school coach Robert Hughes, Notre Dame women's coach Muffet McGraw, former Wisconsin coach and four-time Division III national champion Bo Ryan and 10-time AAU women's national champion team Wayland Baptist University.

"We are grateful to the 14 finalists in the Class of 2017 for the impact they have had on the game we cherish," Basketball Hall of Fame Chairman Jerry Colangelo said. "To be named a finalist for the Basketball Hall of Fame is an incredible accomplishment."

Inductees will be announced at the Final Four on April 3. Enshrinement ceremonies in Springfield, Massachusetts are scheduled for Sept. 7-9.

Massimino, now an 82-year-old cancer survivor who is still coaching at NAIA school Keiser University in West Palm Beach, Florida, is a finalist for the first time. His Hall of Fame hopes have been backed by plenty of current and former coaches in recent months - including current Villanova coach Jay Wright, who presented Massimino with a championship ring from the Wildcats' 2016 NCAA title.

"Some days, we do take him for granted," Keiser guard Andrija Sarenac said. "But then you see him on TV so much, you see all these videos made about him, the movies about Villanova and everything, and it just hits you. You realize that he's a legend. I mean, your coach is a walking legend. With the energy and everything he comes in with, it's inspiring."

Finalists need 18 of 24 votes from the Honors Committee to be enshrined. Among this year's candidates who did not make the finalist group: Muggsy Bogues, Ben Wallace, Kevin Johnson, Maurice Cheeks, Mark Price, Lefty Driesell and Eddie Sutton.

Former New York Times sports writer Harvey Araton and former Turner Sports broadcaster Craig Sager will be recognized during Hall of Fame weekend as this year's Curt Gowdy Media Award recipients.

"A tremendous honor," said Sager's wife Stacy.

This year's lifetime achievement award recipients are former UConn coach Donald "Dee" Rowe and Michael Goldberg, who spent nearly four decades as executive director of the NBA Coaches Association. Goldberg died earlier this year.

"He bridged the gap between ownership and coaches," said New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry, who spoke about Goldberg on Saturday while wearing a bow tie - one of the signature wardrobe accessories that Goldberg donned for years. "He was just such a great guy."