Longoria's three bombs send O's to play-in game

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Longoria's three bombs send O's to play-in game

From Comcast SportsNet

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- Evan Longoria's flair for the dramatic on the final night of the season ended Baltimore's bid to force a one-game tiebreaker for the AL East title.

Instead, the Orioles were left to begin their first playoff appearance in 15 years on the road against two-time defending league champion Texas.

Longoria homered three times and the Tampa Bay Rays shut down the Orioles 4-1 Wednesday night at Tropicana Field, where Longoria also ended last season with a bang.

Baltimore began the day one game behind the New York Yankees in the division. The Orioles needed a win, plus a loss by the Yankees to Boston, to pull even.

New York cruised to a 14-2 rout of the Red Sox and finished two games ahead of the Orioles, earning its 13th division crown in 17 years. The Yankees had a 10-game lead on July 18 but Baltimore caught up Sept. 4 and the teams were tied 10 times in September.

"We knew it was a long shot, but we ran into some really good pitching," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "I've got to tip my hat to them, and what is really kind of amazing is that you look over there with what they've been able to do this year, win 90 games, and that tells you what a fine line there is in all those extra-inning games and one-run losses, and we could be in the same position they are."

The loss sent the Orioles to Texas, where they'll play the Rangers on Friday night, with the winner advancing to the best-of-five division series against the New York Yankees.

"We're going to take it one game at a time. Obviously if you lose, you're done," said Orioles slugger Chris Davis, who had homered in six straight games. "We're going to try to do everything we can to beat Texas and get back home."

Longoria finished the season in dramatic fashion for the second straight year, hitting solo shots off Chris Tillman in the first and fourth innings and adding another solo drive off Jake Arrieta in the sixth.

With a chance to tie the major league record of four homers in a game, the three-time All-Star who missed 85 games this year with a strained left hamstring grounded out in the eighth.

"It was cool," Longoria said. "That's about as fun a night as you can have in a ballgame."

Longoria's second career three-homer game came a year after he hit two of them of the final night of last season, including a 12th-inning, game-ending shot that clinched a postseason berth. The area beyond a short wall in the left-field corner where the biggest homer in franchise history landed is now called 162 Landing.

"I just think it highlights how well we play in games 162," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It was a very dramatic game, the way it all unfolded. I just like the idea that we played the last game of the season with that kind of effort and intensity."

Ryan Roberts also homered for the Rays in the fourth against Tillman (9-3).

Jeremy Hellickson (10-11) allowed one hit -- Adam Jones' fourth-inning single -- in 5 1-3 innings. Jake McGee, Wade Davis, Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney teamed up to hold the Orioles to two hits -- J.J. Hardy's double and Matt Wieters' single, both in the ninth inning -- the rest of the way.

Jones ruined Tampa Bay's shot at a 16th shutout with a sacrifice fly off Peralta. After Wieters singled, Rodney was summoned to get the final out for his 48th save in 50 opportunities.

Davis, who tied an Orioles record when he homered for the sixth straight game in a 1-0 win over Tampa Bay on Tuesday night, went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts.

Baltimore had five hits in the final two games of the regular season, but Jones is confident the offense will bounce back for the club's first postseason game since 1997.

"We ain't got no choice. You don't hit, you go home," Jones said. "It's no ifs, buts or maybes. Both teams know that."

Longoria has homered in five of his last seven plate appearances in the final game of the season. In four career Game 162s, he is 8 for 15 with six homers and nine RBIs.

"Sometimes you've got to give credit where credit is due. He put some good swings on some pitches, but I should have been better," Tillman said. "I knew what I needed to do. I just didn't get it done."

Longoria is 6 for 12 with three homers against Tillman, who lasted five innings and allowed three runs on four hits in his first loss since Kansas City beat him on Aug. 11. The right-hander who had gone 3-0 with a 1.20 ERA over his previous five starts also allowed three homers in that game, matching his career high.

The Rays (90-72) won 12 of 14 down the stretch, remaining in contention for the second AL wild card until the 160th game and finished with at least 90 wins for the third straight season.

Hellickson allowed three baserunners, two of them in the fourth inning when Jones singled to right-center after Davis struck out on a wild pitch that allowed him to reach first. The 2011 AL Rookie of the Year walked Manny Machado leading off the sixth and was replaced by McGee after getting the next batter, Nate McLouth, to pop out.

"The big tip of the cap goes to Joe Maddon and the Rays. They played 162," Jones said. "Their players went out every game to the last one and gave it all they've got."

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How Wizards can get over hump to beat Cavs for 1st time this season

How Wizards can get over hump to beat Cavs for 1st time this season

The season series between the Wizards and Cavs was decided more than one month ago, when LeBron James banked in an impossible three-point shot to force overtime at the buzzer in an epic finish his team would win 140-135. 

Bradley Beal fell one point short of his career-high with 41 and this is the final meeting of the series in which the Wizards trail 0-2.

Barring a fallout by the Cavs or Boston Celtics to end the season, they should decide the who'll be the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds in the East. The Wizards' immediate concern is holding off the Toronto Raptors for the No. 3 spot to begin this five-game road trip. 

To beat Cleveland, this is what the Wizards, who officially clinched a playoff spot with their 44th win Friday, have to do tonight:

-- Move the ball. Cleveland hasn't been a good defensive team post All-Star break, an area where Washington has struggled, too. Both teams allow better shooting from opponents than they shoot themselves in that span. The Wizards allow 47.1% which is tied for third-worst since mid-February. The Cavs allow 46.3%.which is tied for 19th. To jump-start the offense, the Wizards have gone away from post-ups with Marcin Gortat to start games and halves. They've tried to inject more motion to get them better looks and others to get more touches. While Cleveland is an iso-heavy team because they have elite iso players in James and Kyrie Irving, that's not Washington's strength. The Cavs can still succeed without great ball movement because of that. The Wizards cannot. 

-- John Wall drew the assignment on Irving and played one of his best games defensively. While Irving made big shots down the stretch to close it out, Wall held him 8-for-24 shooting and just five assists. Lately, Kelly Oubre has been drawing assignments on point guards and it has proved to be very effective. Kemba Walker, Isaiah Thomas, Dennis Schroder and Jeremy Lin each have been faced with his 7-2 wingspan and he has bothered them. Could he be deployed here? Quite possibly, but coach Scott Brooks used him vs. James in the last meeting. Oubre is a more physical option than Otto Porter though he's also more prone to foul trouble. If Iriving gets hot, Oubre is the best option which also would give Wall time to save his energy on a weaker offensive player.

-- If the Wizards go to a small lineup, they can't use Porter as the stretch four if he's matched with Kevin Love. This is the one team that can use that against Washington, because Love can take Porter down low, post him and outmuscle him for position underneath. He had 39 points and 12 rebounds as he shot 11-for-11 from the foul line. Ian Mahinmi, who was dealing with knee issues all season, wasn't available to play then. His presence -- and ability to cover for teammates as well as keep his own man in check under the rim -- could help turn that around. Also Bojan Bogdanovic is a bigger and stronger option at the four spot who wasn't on the roster then. So is Jason Smith. But allowing Porter to go 1 vs. 1 isn't a good idea.

-- The bench is better-suited with Brandon Jennings, Smith and Oubre playing the best they have all season coupled with Mahinmi's emergence. Trey Burke, who played Feb. 6 in the loss, is no longer in the rotation. Tomas Satoransky plays spot minutes. This takes some of the burden off the starters to do everything. 

-- Cleveland hid Love, a defensive liability, vs. Marcin Gortat in a cross match, preferring to use their best low-post defender, Tristian Thompson, on the more versatile offensive option for the Wizards in Markieff Morris. The Wizards immediately went to Gortat who settled for a jump hook that hit the back rim. If the Cavs do that again, Gortat has to punish them more for that move. 

-- Switching unnecessarily between Morris and Porter was a liability. Why? The Cavs would force the switch by running a 3-4 pick-and-roll between. Love got Cleveland's first basket off of this as he bullied Porter in the post, as Morris switched out onto James. The Wizards have to minmize these switches and get the ball out of Love's hands immediately if they end up in this position. It favors Cleveland heavily. 

The Cavs played at the Charlotte Hornets on Friday so they're playing a back-to-back, too. James logged 39 minutes and Irving 37. In blowing out Brooklyn, no one in the starting five for the Wizards played more than 25 minutes.

This not only is their last chance to beat Cleveland, but their best chance. 

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Wizards at Cavaliers: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

Wizards at Cavaliers: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

John Wall, Bradley Beal and the Washington Wizards battle LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday night as they aim to continue rising the ranks of the NBA's Eastern Conference.

Here is all you need to know: TV, live stream and radio info, tip-off time, plus three things to watch…

WASHINGTON WIZARDS at CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

Where: Quicken Loans Arena
Tip-off: 7:30 p.m.
TV: CSN (coverage begins at 7 p.m.)
Live stream: CSNmidatlantic.com
Radio: 1500 AM

Three things to watch...

Start of a long road trip

The Wizards took care of business this week by beating both the Hawks and Nets at home and in doing so clinched a playoff spot. That was all great, but their road is about to get much, much tougher. On Saturday night they begin what is arguably their toughest stretch of the entire season with their season series finale against the defending-champion Cavaliers.

After playing Cleveland in a game that will also be the second leg of a back-to-back, the Wizards play at the Lakers, Clippers, Jazz and Warriors. Add it all up and they are playing four playoff-bound teams and last year's two Finals participants all on the road. It's a brutal stretch that will probably tell us a lot about the Wizards right before they enter the playoffs.

[RELATED: Kelly Oubre, Ian Mahinmi may be keys to helping Wizards snap out of defensive funk]

Still plenty to play for

Just because the Wizards have locked up their spot in the playoffs, doesn't mean there isn't anything to watch as they play the regular season out. First and foremost is the race for playoff seeding in the East. The Wizards currently sit third and 2 1/2 games behind Boston in second. The Wizards are just one game ahead of the No. 4 seed Raptors. With 10 games left, a lot of movement can happen as the Wizards hope to maintain top three status.

The Wizards also have a chance for history. The magic number is now three for the Wizards to edge the Hawks for the Southeast Division title. It wouldn't mean much for playoff seeding under the NBA's current rules, but it would snap the longest division title drought in the NBA. The Wizards haven't won a division in 38 seasons, since 1978-79, but look poised to buck that trend this year.

[RELATED: Wall on Cousins: 'He said he would come to D.C.']

Three-point line

The Wizards have already lost the season series to the Cavs by way of their two defeats at home. On Saturday they will be playing for the third and final time. In the first two meetings, the Wizards lost both games in large part due to Cleveland's ability to shoot the three. In the first game on Nov. 11 they hit 14 threes on 33 attempts, shooting 42.4 percent. In the second meeting on Feb. 6 they hit 19 threes on 38 attempts at 50 percent. The Wizards have had trouble defending the three since the All-Star break, so Saturday will provide a good test for them.

[RELATED: NBA Power Rankings: Movement in the East]