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Healthy Decker reaching new heights with Manning

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Healthy Decker reaching new heights with Manning

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Eric Decker spent his first year in the NFL recovering from a foot injury that ended his college career and his second season catching an average of two passes a game from Tim Tebow.

Now, he's Peyton Manning's top target, and a busy one at that.

The Denver Broncos' third-year pro leads the team with 46 receptions and seven touchdown catches, all of which have come over the last five games as the Broncos have begun revving up under their resurgent quarterback.

That's roughly the same production Decker had all of last season, when he led the team with 44 catches but scored half of his eight touchdowns before Kyle Orton lost his starting job by Week 6.

With 583 yards so far, Decker is the biggest beneficiary of Manning's arrival in Denver. He's on pace for his first 1,000-yard season, a stark contrast to last year, when he caught just 14 passes once the Broncos dusted off the old read-option offense to fit Tebow's unusual skill set.

Manning and Decker wasted no time hooking up at local high school football fields to begin working on their timing this spring, and they've spent countless extra hours after practice honing that synergy.

``I think in any relationship, whether it's a significant other or a teammate, the more time you get the better it always develops,'' Decker said. ``And I think the more we get on the same page, the more we understand nonverbal cues, certain routes and how to read defenses. All of those things, you can use to your advantage offensively. We're definitely clicking more as a unit offensively.''

It's not quite the chemistry Manning built up with Reggie Wayne or Marvin Harrison in Indianapolis - or the comfort zone he maintains with Broncos slot receiver Brandon Stokley, a former teammate of his with the Colts, for that matter - but it's getting there.

``I see a big body, a good athlete, a good football player, a smart football player who understands what Peyton's looking for and what he's looking at,'' said Carolina coach Ron Rivera, whose Panthers (2-6) host the Broncos (5-3) Sunday.

Manning leads the league in passer rating and is smack dab in the middle of the conversation for another MVP trophy, and a big reason is Decker, his 6-foot-3, 218-pound wide receiver who was kept out of the end zone during the team's 1-2 start but who hasn't been denied a touchdown since the Houston Texans shut him out on Sept. 23.

Demaryius Thomas is also having a big year. His 45 catches for a team-leading 756 yards are already career highs and he's tied his career best with four TD receptions so far.

Decker, who's been targeted a team-high 69 times, and Thomas have combined for 1,339 yards receiving, most by any tandem in the NFL.

``Experience is your best teacher, so I think I do know more about my teammates and about what certain guys like, and how a guy's body moves and when he's going to come out of a break,'' Manning said. ``The more repetitions you get, the better. I don't know them as well as I would if I would've played with a guy for five years. It's been a crash course and everybody's been cramming.''

Thomas came into the league the same year as Decker, and both have hit their stride this season after dealing with injuries much of their first two years with the Broncos.

``Every day we push each other,'' Decker said. ``That's the best thing about our relationship, is that we really respect one another. We're good friends - we used to be roommates - but we're also competitors at the same position.''

Decker also is benefiting from his first full training camp this summer. Last year there was the lockout and his rookie year, he was still on the mend. He had missed the last half of his senior season at the University of Minnesota after tearing the ligament that holds the first two toes together in a game against Ohio State in October 2009.

Called a Lisfranc injury, it requires a long and arduous rehab with no guarantee of success.

His draft stock dropped after his injury, but the Broncos took him with the 87th overall pick and preached patience with him.

``It wasn't until my second year in Denver I started to feel good, feel like I had my strength, that I wasn't thinking about it and it wasn't hurting after practice,'' Decker said.

Decker, who only caught a half dozen passes his rookie year, when he was primarily a kick returner, received a call from Stokley right after he got hurt. Stokley had suffered the same ligament injury in 2002 and he shared his advice about rehab and adjusting to the NFL. The two became fast friends, then teamed up together in Denver in 2009 and again this season.

``Man, I've had a ton of injuries, Achilles, knee, you name it, and that was by far the worst one,'' Stokley said. ``It made me want to know if I really wanted to keep playing football. It was a beast. They did the surgery, you're on crutches, in a boot and then once you heal up, they have to operate again to take out the screws, and you're back on crutches, in a boot.

``Then, it just hurts every day. Every morning, it's killing you. The pain is so incredible,'' Stokley said. ``But one day, I finally turned the corner.''

Just like Decker.

He said that's the one thing that really resonated with him during his comeback: Stokley's admonition to stay on top of his rehab and his rest and to keep a positive attitude ``because he said one day it's going to feel good.''

``And it's funny, because that one day came and the pain just went away.''

Notes: CB Tracy Porter (seizure symptoms) will miss his fourth straight game, coach John Fox said Friday. ... S Jim Leonhard, the Broncos' new player rep, said the NFL Players Association sent an email to all of the league's players this week reminding them that even though voters in Washington state and Colorado approved recreational use of marijuana on Tuesday that it's still prohibited by the league. ``It was obviously directed at the Seahawks and Broncos, but it went out to everyone,'' Leonhard said. ``They just wanted to remind everyone that our drug policy's still our drug policy. Nothing's changed.''

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Wizards vs. Hornets: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

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USA TODAY Sports

Wizards vs. Hornets: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre, Jr. and the Washington Wizards battle Kemba Walker, Dwight Howard, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night.

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

WASHINGTON WIZARDS VS. CHARLOTTE HORNETS

Where: Capital One Arena
Tip-off: 7 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington (coverage begins at 6 p.m.)
Live stream: NBCSportsWashington.com
Radio: 1500 AM

On a roll

The Wizards have some serious momentum going right now. With an impressive win over the Cavs on Thursday, they have now won three straight games and eight of 10 since John Wall went down with a left knee injury. They had a week off due to the All-Star break, but didn't show any rust at all in their first game back.

The Wizards are now 34-24, 10 games above the .500 mark. They are fourth in the East and could move into third on Friday if they win and the Cavaliers lose. Even with Wall out, things continue to look up for Washington.

PODCAST: BIGGEST STORYLINES COMING OUT OF ALL-STAR BREAK

Hornets have had their number

The Wizards haven't done so well against the Hornets so far this season. Charlotte has taken both meetings and that includes a 24-point win on Jan. 17. That game featured Dwight Howard taunting the Wizards late in the fourth quarter.

Howard has killed the Wizards through two games with averages of 22.0 points and 14.0 rebounds. Jeremy Lamb (20.0 ppg vs. Wizards) has been a big factor as well as All-Star Kemba Walker (21.5 ppg vs. Wizards).

The last time these teams played about a month ago frustrations boiled over in an incident that got Tim Frazier ejected. Michael Carter-Williams picked a fight with Jason Smith and Frazier went off:

RELATED: BEAL IMPRESSED BY LEBRON AT ALL-STAR GAME

Hornets coming in hot

The Hornets are outside the playoff picture at the moment at eight games below .500, but they have won two straight games and Walker and Howard are coming off huge games. In a win over the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday, Walker dropped 31 points and Howard grabbed 24 rebounds.

Those guys will be riding a high coming into Washington on Friday. But it should be noted that Howard complained after the game how tired he is at this point in the season. That exhausion could affect him more in the second game of a back-to-back.

RELATED: LATEST NBA POWER RANKINGS

 

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5 must-see moments from Wizards' huge road win over Cavaliers, including Markieff Morris' alley-oop

5 must-see moments from Wizards' huge road win over Cavaliers, including Markieff Morris' alley-oop

Here are the five best plays or moments from the Washington Wizards' 110-103 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night...

1. The Wizards didn't start out well, as they trailed by nine points at the end of the first quarter. Kelly Oubre, Jr. stumbled early by missing four of his first six shots and it looked like a carryover of his slump before the All-Star break.

But Oubre got hot in the second quarter and helped the Wizards turn the game around. This was one of his best plays, a two-handed slam that he celebrated with an emphatic scream to the crowd:

RELATED: BEAL IMPRESSED BY LEBRON AT ALL-STAR GAME

2. Tomas Satoransky was one of the stars of the game. He had 17 points to go along with eight assists, four rebounds and two steals. 

Here's one of his dimes, a perfect alley-oop lob to Markieff Morris, who finished with nine points and eight rebounds:

3. Satoransky has reached double-figures in six of the 10 games since John Wall went out with an injury. This was a very impressive move, a stepback fadeaway that was super smooth:

RELATED: GET TO KNOW NEW WIZARDS FREE AGENT SIGNING

4. Ian Mahinmi made some key contributions including four offensive rebounds and a steal. This was his best basket, a powerful slam that came at a key time:

5. This play helped seal the victory. It was a smart after-timeout set drawn up by head coach Scott Brooks and it worked to perfection:

RELATED: LATEST NBA POWER RANKINGS