Johnson, Gamecocks seeking to restore momentum


Johnson, Gamecocks seeking to restore momentum

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) South Carolina center T.J. Johnson says the Gamecocks are ready to wipe away the problems of the last two weeks.

Johnson has a good handle on the team's attitude.

He will start his 48th game, more than anyone in school history, when No. 17 South Carolina (6-2, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) takes on Tennessee (3-4, 0-4) this Saturday. Johnson has watched the team go from a middle-of-the-pack SEC team to challenger for the league title since he arrived before the 2008 season.

Still, he's as upset as anyone about the Gamecocks' two-game slide that dropped them from national championship contender to trying to restore momentum after a 6-0 start.

``We've had a lot of missed assignments and I take that as kind of my fault,'' he said. ``I've got to do more in helping people get ready and that's what we're working toward this week.''

Johnson was not the most highly sought offensive lineman coming out of Aynor who picked the Gamecocks over schools like Vanderbilt, Duke and North Carolina State. Once the 6-foot-6, 319 pound Johnson got in the lineup, though, it was hard to get him out. When he makes his first snap Saturday, he'll have surpassed the school mark for starts held by defensive end Cliff Matthews.

``I'm very thankful. I've been blessed that I've been somewhat healthy my whole career here,'' he said.

The Gamecocks will need Johnson's experience to rebound after dropping top-10 matchups at LSU (23-21) and at Florida (44-11) the past two weeks.

South Carolina lost its shot at a national crown - the Gamecocks were ranked No. 3 two weeks ago - when it lost at Death Valley. The team gave up its chances at an SEC East title when it fell to division rival Florida at The Swamp.

The Gamecocks, though, have plenty to fight for, starting this week when they can win their third in a row over Tennessee, something that's never happened before in a series first played in 1903.

``We still got a lot to fight for and that's what we're going to do,'' Johnson said.

South Carolina is seeking to gets its offense back on track. Star tailback Marcus Lattimore gained 35 yards at LSU and came out of the game with a bruised hip that limited him against Florida. Lattimore got just three carries last week and Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said he held his junior runner out once the game got out of hand.

``We thought it'd be smart to rest him for another day, to rest him for the next battle,'' Spurrier said. ``That's coming up Saturday, and he should be ready to go.''

Spurrier also said quarterback Connor Shaw will go the whole way unless he gets hurt. Shaw was pulled at halftime last week for Dylan Thompson with the Gamecocks trailing 21-6.

Spurrier, who won a Heisman Trophy as Florida's quarterback and a national title as its coach, acknowledged he was upset at how poorly his offense played at his old stomping grounds. That's past, Spurrier said, and he's ready to focus on the positives, like Johnson's longevity mark.

``We haven't had much good to talk about lately,'' Spurrier said. ``So that's neat he's started more games here than anybody.''

The Vols have gone through an SEC gauntlet of their own this season. They've lost all their league games against ranked opponents who are a combined 27-1 this season and will hope to avoid a second-straight 0-5 SEC start under Derek Dooley.

The grind is wearing on all league teams, says Tennessee center James Stone.

``We're all going through the same thing. I guess this game's going to really show who's able to play through it and who's able to strain through,'' he said.

Stone and the Vols offensive line will have their hands full with South Carolina's sack squad led by defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. This is truly a showdown of elite units: The Gamecocks lead the SEC with 29 sacks while Tennessee has allowed three sacks all season.

Dooley worries the losses have sapped his team's spirit two months into the season. He said the defense has struggled and the offense hasn't been strong enough to overcome that.

``That is the way it is,'' he said.

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Road ahead suggests a wild finish in Eastern Conference playoff race

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Road ahead suggests a wild finish in Eastern Conference playoff race

The Eastern Conference standings are so closely bunched as of today that the third-place Cleveland Cavaliers are only 1 1/2 games ahead of the sixth-place Philadelphia 76ers. With roughly a dozen games remaining for each NBA team, much can and likely will change over the next several weeks.

That is common for this time of the year, but a closer look suggests we could be in for some chaos in the final stretch. There are lopsided remaining schedules and impending personnel changes which could all contribute to one of the wildest regular season finishes in recent memory.

The Wizards are smack dab in the middle of the East playoff race and have their own circumstances to navigate. Let's take a team-by-team look at the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, knowing the top two seeds are all but locked up by the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics...


3. Cleveland Cavaliers (41-29, 12 games left)

Monday was a crazy day for the Cavaliers. First, they announced their head coach Tyronn Lue is taking a leave of absence to deal with an undiagnosed health issue. He will be replaced by associate head coach Larry Drew in the interim as he hopes to heal up before the playoffs.

Then, news broke they were getting Kevin Love back from a broken wrist after missing 21 games. Love returned to put up 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks in a big win over the Milwaukee Bucks. 

The Cavaliers will be without their coach for an undefined period of time, but now have their second-best player back on the court. That makes their final part of the season extra fascinating.

The Cavs are the team to watch of this group. Even though this season has been filled with turmoil, they still have LeBron James. He and Love have helped form the core of the last three Eastern Conference champion teams. If they pick things up, it's not crazy to consider them among the favorites to get out of the East again.


4. Indiana Pacers (41-30, 11 games left)

The Pacers are mostly healthy as they only feature a slew of minor injuries to big men Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. But Indiana's remaining schedule is unusually tough and it could make the difference in where they end up.

With only 11 games remaining, the Pacers still have to play the first-place Toronto Raptors once and the Golden State Warriors twice. Six of their last eight games will be on the road. They also see the Heat, Pelicans, Nuggets and Clippers.

The Clippers are currently ninth in the West and battling to make the playoffs. The Pacers will play them twice.

Keep in mind the Wizards own the season series over Indiana and will have a playoff seeding tiebreaker if they end up with the same record. Also worth noting is the Pacers have been much better at home (24-13) than on the road (17-17) this season.


5. Washington Wizards (40-30, 12 games left)

Though the Wizards' schedule is finally letting up soon from the 13 straight playoff teams stretch they have had to endure dating back to February, they too have a tough road ahead. The Wizards still have to play the Spurs (twice), Rockets, Cavaliers, Celtics and Nuggets. Four of their last six games are on the road and they have three back-to-back sets in their final seven games.

That's brutal. They may not have to see the defending champions twice like Indiana does, but the Wizards don't exactly have it easy.

The Wizards will, however, get John Wall back at some point. The five-time All-Star is slowly but surely working his way back and could participate in a full practice by the end of the week. Ideally they will get some games under his belt before the playoffs, but any time an All-NBA player is coming back to your team it's a good thing.

The problem is that there is little room for error in the standings and head coach Scott Brooks will have to reinsert Wall into the lineup during a tough schedule and while Wall is on a minutes restriction. It will be a tricky task to balance his lineups. 


6. Philadelphia 76ers (39-30, 13 games left)

The Sixers may have the most ideal road ahead of these four teams, at least in terms of their schedule. They still have the Timberwolves, Nuggets, Cavs and Bucks. But none of those teams are the juggernauts that Golden State, Houston and Toronto are. And of their final 13 games, the Sixers will play nine against teams outside of the playoff picture.

Philly also does not have to reincorporate a major piece into their rotation, like the Cavs do with Love and the Wizards with Wall. Their biggest injury is to Markelle Fultz, the 2017 No. 1 overall pick. If he does return this season, it will likely be in a minimal role, at least to start.

What could work against the Sixers is their inexperience and recent struggles against good teams. The Sixers are relying on very young players who have never been here before to carry the way. And since Valentine's Day, Philly has just one win against a team above the .500 mark, when they beat the Cavs on March 1. During those 14 games since Feb. 14, they have beaten up on the bad teams but lost to the Wizards, Bucks, Pacers and Heat (twice), basically all the teams surrounding them in the standings. 

Philly also lost their season series against the Cavs and Pacers, tied with the Wizards and are down 2-1 against the Bucks with one game to go. They may go to the finish line without a playoff tiebreaker against all the teams they would want one against.

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Ryan Grant reportedly signing with Colts after failed physical with Ravens

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Ryan Grant reportedly signing with Colts after failed physical with Ravens

It looks like Ryant Grant has found his new home, again.

After a failed physical with the Ravens, James Jones of NFL Network reports Grant plans to sign with the Colts.


Grant originally agreed to a four-year, $29 million deal with the Ravens, before the team pulled the offer citing an ankle injury that dated to the Redskins' final regular-season game, according to reports.

Baltimore eventually signed Michael Crabtree to a three-year deal, while Grant had visits with the Colts and Raiders.

His agent, Rocky Arceneaux, says Grant has been working out, running routes, and his ankle had been cleared by Dr. Robert Anderson in a second opinion.

In 2017 with the Redskins, he appeared in all 16 games, with 45 receptions for 573 yards and four touchdowns.