Wizards

Broncos G Kuper ready for 1st playoff appearance

Broncos G Kuper ready for 1st playoff appearance

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Peyton Manning's pocket of protection is about to get an upgrade.

A finally healthy Chris Kuper is expected to return at right guard Saturday when the top-seeded Denver Broncos (13-3) host the Baltimore Ravens (11-6) in an AFC divisional playoff.

``It would be great,'' coach John Fox said after Tuesday's practice, the exact four words Peyton Manning would use 10 minutes later. ``He was voted on as a team captain by his teammates. He's a guy who's been in and out of the lineup all year. He's worked very hard to get back. It was good to see him out there today, and he had a fine day.''

Left tackle Ryan Clady also returned to practice, after missing all of last week's workouts with an undisclosed injury. Although he's dealt with a troublesome hamstring of late, Clady has never missed a game in his five-year NFL career.

Kuper, on the other hand, spent more time on the sideline than on the football field this season, and his absence was sorely felt, particularly - and, quite literally - by Manning.

Coming off four neck surgeries, Manning was sacked 21 times this season - but only twice with Kuper in the lineup.

Although Manny Ramirez admirably filled in, the O-line wasn't the same without Kuper.

The anchor of Denver's offensive line and a seventh-year pro out of North Dakota, Kuper made just five starts at right guard this season and played a half dozen snaps on special teams in two other games, including the season finale against Kansas City.

He missed the first four games after breaking his left forearm in training camp Aug. 14 and he missed five other games with a sprained left ankle, the same one he dislocated and broke in a gruesome scene a year ago.

For overcoming all these tribulations, his teammates Tuesday voted him their 2012 Ed Block Courage Award winner.

``Obviously, you don't want to be in that situation because that means you had to fight through some injuries or adversity, but to be recognized as a guy who will do that, I think that's just part of being a professional,'' Kuper said.

Manning lauded Kuper for his perseverance.

``What Kupe's been through from an injury standpoint, certainly physically, it's taken its toll,'' Manning said. ``That's a real challenge mentally, and I can just tell you that from my experience last year. He's had a positive attitude; he's worked hard; he and I have spent a lot of time in the training room together, so to see him back out there ... it's kind of like seeing Willis: it's a great lift to the team and it'd be great to have him in there on Saturday.''

Running back Willis McGahee returned to practice Tuesday for the first time since tearing a ligament in his right knee in mid-November and missing the last six games of the regular season. He's eligible to return to the active roster if the Broncos reach the AFC championship.

Kuper is gearing up for his first playoff game. He missed the Broncos' run last season after getting hurt in the season finale.

``I remember watching that game on TV last year and what he's done to come back from it is pretty spectacular,'' wide receiver Brandon Stokley said. ``So, it's well-deserved.''

And all the adversity this year, ``he's fought through it,'' Stokley said. ``He's a team guy and he's one of those guys that when he's on the field everybody looks to and kind of rallies around.''

Kuper was named a second alternate to the Pro Bowl after playing in just seven games this season, a measure of how much he's respected across the league.

``To get him back at a much-needed time is a blessing,'' Broncos pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil said. ``Glad he's able to go out and showcase what he can do.''

Kuper said the bye week did wonders for him, allowing him to knock off some rust.

``It helped me tons,'' he said. ``It's been a trying year for me, so getting that extra week to kind of work back into the offense, it helped me a lot. It felt good. I'm doing my best out there to get ready to go.''

Now, he's about to get his first taste of the playoffs.

``This is what I've been playing for since I got here,'' Kuper said.

Notes: McGahee didn't make himself available for comment Tuesday but RB Lance Ball said, ``I don't know when he'll be back or if he'll be back or not, but it was just good to go out there and see him out there practicing.''

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Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton on Twitter:http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

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Trae Young joins Kobe Bryant in historic feat against Wizards

Trae Young joins Kobe Bryant in historic feat against Wizards

Following the passing of NBA legend Kobe Bryant on Sunday, emotions were high. 

Many current and former players paid tribute to Bryant, including Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young, who dominated in the Hawks 152-133 win over the Wizards. 

He ended the night with a spectacular performance of 45 points, with 14 assists, making 13-of-24 FGs and 13-of-16 free throws as well as six 3-pointers, six rebounds and one assist. 

Young is the first player to have a 45-point double-double with under 25 field goal attempts against the Washington Wizards, since Kobe Bryant on December 17, 2006.

In honor of his mentor and favorite NBA player, Young wore a No. 8 jersey and took an 8-second-violation after the opening tip. 

He even wore his shoes with a tribute to Bryant as well. 

Young was able to channel his emotions into the game, leaving everything on the floor.

In an emotional night, Young was able to keep himself composed leading the Hawks past the Wizards. 

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Isaiah Thomas: NBA should have canceled games after Kobe Bryant's death

Isaiah Thomas: NBA should have canceled games after Kobe Bryant's death

The news of Kobe Bryant's death shook the sports world to its core, and while there were NBA games scheduled throughout Sunday, some felt the league should have canceled the games in light of the tragic news. 

Isaiah Thomas was one of them. 

"It's hard to even talk about it," Thomas said. "The NBA should have just canceled all the games because that put a dent in everybody's life that he's touched."

Thomas looked up to Bryant, admired him from afar and found his love for the game of basketball because of Bryant's greatness. Spending 20 years as a Laker, Bryant won five championships, an MVP and two Finals MVP awards to go along with 15 All-NBA selections and 18 trips to the All-Star game. 

For Thomas, his relationship with Bryant started to grow when he broke out as an All-Star in Boston. When Thomas suffered the tragic loss of his sister, they grew closer. After his hip injury that cost Thomas over a year of his career, Bryant supported him throughout. 

"I started basketball because of Kobe Bryant," he said. "2017, I lose my sister, 2019 I lose one of my best friends in Nipsey Hussle, and then to lose a mentor of mine, like, that's bigger than basketball, that [expletive] hurts.

"He was one of the people that was there for me and in my corner," he said. "And then I got injured, he was one of those guys that was there for me the whole time, helping me through mentally."

The NBA had a difficult decision to make on whether or not to cancel games since there were two games already in progress.

But before, during and after the game, everyone's thoughts were with Bryant and his family and not on a basketball game. Because as Thomas said, it's bigger than basketball. 

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