Saints 42, Panthers 10

Saints vs Panthers 2: Good, bad and ugly

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The Saints did their part to improve their playoff seeding by beating the Panthers 42-10. It was the last game of the season so it served as a dress rehearsal for the playoffs. Here are my observations:

The Good

-If you see pigs flying, it's because the refs revered a pass interference challenge. Michael Thomas had James Bradberry beat in the end zone, but Drew Brees underthrew the ball. While they didn't throw the flag initially, it was a pleasent surprise to see them overturn the call considering they've overturned less than 10% of PI challenges this season.
-The defense looked as good as it should have against a team struggling the way the Panthers have this season. The health of the defense is a concern going into the playoffs, but mid-season pickups, backups, and rookies have filled in admirably. The next man up mentality has paid off well. Here's to hoping it continues in the playoffs.
-Extremely classy move by the Panthers organization to honor Carley McCord with a moment of silence before the game. McCord was a Louisiana native who was a sideline reporter for WDSU in New Orleans that covers the Saints. She was one of the five passengers that passed away in a plane crash on Saturday.

The Bad

-On back to back plays in the 2nd quarter, corner Marshon Lattimore made bad plays. He was called for PI when he was trailing Curtis Samuel, didn't get his head around and bumped into him. The very next play, he missed an interception that ricocheted into his chest. Luckily, the Saints recovered a fumble. If not, Lattimore would have been directly responsible for giving up points as the Panthers were in scoring range because of his penalty and failure to secure the pick.

-Kyle Allen was Cam Newton's backup, until he was benched for Will Grier. When Grier left the game with an ankle injury, Allen came in and completed 10 of his first 15 passes. It didn't amount to much for the Panthers, but when a guy who was benched comes in and does that, it's not a good look for your defense.

-While the defense played well against a bad opponent, they had several brain farts late in the game which allowed the Panthers to move the ball down the field. When you have a team down by four or more scores and put the backups in, things won't look as crisp. But when some of those guys are expected to be contributors and/or rotational players, it takes on a different meaning.

The Ugly

-The score at halftime was 35-3. That's uglier than any ugly Christmas sweater you've seen over the holidays. The Panthers were playing with a 3rd string quarterback, but dammit man! At least scratch or pinch your opponent!

-Josh Hill was lined up to block Panthers' edge rusher Brian Burns in the 4th quarter on a 3rd&7. He totally whiffed on the block and allowed Teddy Bridgewater to get sacked. While Brees wasn't in the game, you still have to protect the quarterback better than that. If Bridgewater gets hurt, Taysom Hill would be the backup. That's not a bad thing, but it damn sure isn't a good thing.

-The rain was a factor in the game. Several times I saw players on both teams lose footing and look very shaky when running or moving about. Guys normally wear different cleats that help them gain better footing. This may have caused Grier to injure his ankle as his foot seemed to get caught in the turf when he was sacked by Cam Jordan.

The Saints knew what was possibly at stake and played this game accordingly. While there were some brain farts by the defense here and there, there wasn't much to gripe about. This was a beatdown. It was as if the Saints were sending a message to the rest of the NFC and anyone else doubting them that they're on a mission. Miami is the sight of the Super Bowl. The Saints won their only Super Bowl in Miami. Could we see a repeat performance? Baby steps. There's still at least two, possibly three playoff games to play.

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ROCKETS BEAT THUNDER

Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

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