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Bruins, Devils look to stay in Pac-12 South race

Bruins, Devils look to stay in Pac-12 South race

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) When UCLA plays Arizona State on Saturday, the outcome will go a long way toward determining which team is a true challenger to favored USC in the Pac-12 South.

The Bruins (5-2, 2-2 Pac-12) already have an ugly road loss at California. A victory on Saturday would put UCLA back into contention with three of its final four games at home, capped by visits from Stanford and USC.

Arizona State (5-2, 3-1) must regroup from its Duck debacle at home, a loss to No. 2 Oregon far more one-sided than the 43-21 score would indicate. A victory over the Bruins could be essential for the Sun Devils to remain relevant heading into a pair of tough games at Oregon State and USC.

``This is a big, important game,'' Sun Devils coach Todd Graham said. ``Our guys have a lot to play for and this is the time. This is the end of October and November when you decide your fate.''

Both teams are something of a surprise under first-year coaches Graham and UCLA's Jim Mora.

While the Sun Devils have had a bit of extra time since their Thursday thrashing by Oregon, the Bruins have had a whole week off since beating Utah 21-14.

UCLA brings two components with significant Arizona connections. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone was part of Dennis Erickson's staff at Arizona State. Then there's UCLA freshman quarterback Brett Hundley, who grew up in nearby Chandler, Ariz.,

``It'll be fun,'' Hundley said. ``All my family is going to be there, family and friends. Everybody I know is from Arizona, so they'll all be there. It'll be a fun time.''

Hundley has thrown for 14 touchdowns, just three shy of the school freshman record of 17 set by Tommy Maddox in 1990.

While Mazzone is extremely familiar with several of Arizona State's players, they also are familiar with the offense the UCLA coordinator runs.

``The thing that we've got to be concerned about a little bit is that they have a great knowledge of our offense. Their players played against our offense in practice for the years that Noel was there,'' Mora said. ``We're going to have to change some things up a little bit, try to keep them off guard, but still, you can't scrap everything and start over. It still comes down to calling good plays and executing those plays.''

The Sun Devils may not have arguably their best player, defensive tackle Will Sutton, out with a knee injury. If Sutton plays, any offensive adjustments would be minor, Mora said.

``You can't make wholesale changes to your team, especially to your blocking patterns, depending on one player,'' Mora said. ``You've certainly got to have emphasis on him, but we've just got to do our thing and do it as well as we can, and if he's in there, help when we can help, and if we can't help, the guy who's blocking him has got to do a good job on him.''

Graham's main defensive concern is slowing running back Johnathan Franklin, who is just 184 yards shy of the school rushing record of 3,731 yards set by Gaston Green (1984-87).

``Their offensive line does a good job blocking the zone and the things that they do are very simple in the run game, and most people that are good at it are,'' Graham said. ``I think the number one thing offensively, is their ability to run the football. He is a very physical runner and a guy you have to tackle.''

The Sun Devils plan to get their up-tempo spread offense back in high gear under the control of quarterback Taylor Kelly. Mora realizes the challenge. He discounts the one-sided loss to Oregon. Just about everyone has a one-sided loss when they play the Ducks.

``I see a team that's physical, that's explosive, that can make plays on both sides of the ball, that runs well. Their quarterback is excellent on the move, especially moving out to his right. You've got to do an excellent job of keeping him in the pocket,'' Mora said. ``They're just a solid team. They operate offensively at a pretty good pace, but that's nothing new, because that's the trend in college football.''

Graham sees no sign of an extended hangover from the Oregon defeat.

``Anybody that says they have a hangover because they got beat the last week, that is just an excuse,'' he said. ``You have to get your guys ready to play every week. You go out there and you play well, you can have a hangover or have a letdown because you just won a big game, so it is about being mature. It is about being a competitor. You have to come back and compete every week.''

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AP sports writer Greg Beacham in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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Predicting the 2018-19 NBA awards and the NBA Finals: LeBron James will win MVP

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USA Today Sports

Predicting the 2018-19 NBA awards and the NBA Finals: LeBron James will win MVP

With the 2018-19 NBA season kicking off this week, it seems like a good time to put my predictions out into the universe. 

I am fortunate to be a voter for both the All-Star teams and the NBA Awards, but I can assure you of this: much of this is impossible to forecast. I decided to only include the first team selections for All-NBA, All-Defense and All-Rookie because the less I predict, the less I get wrong.

With that said, here is how I expect the major awards, plus the NBA Finals, to shake out... 

MVP: LeBron James, Lakers

Going to L.A. to play with such a bizarre supporting cast was all by design so he could win his fifth MVP award, right? Okay, maybe not. But if LeBron carries that team to even a fifth seed the trophy should be his.

Defensive player of the year: Anthony Davis, Pelicans

This always goes to a big man and Davis finished second last year. He's probably going to have a monster season overall.

All-NBA first team: G Stephen Curry, G James Harden, F LeBron James, F Giannis Antetokounmpo, C Anthony Davis

All of these guys are going to make the All-NBA team, it's just a matter of which tier. The toughest one to leave off was Joel Embiid, but you can only pick five.

Rookie of the year: Deandre Ayton, Suns

Luka Doncic has become a popular pick here, but Ayton averaged 18.2 points and 10.0 rebounds per game in the preseason. If that is any precursor whatsoever, he's going to be tough to beat.

Sixth man award: Austin Rivers, Wizards

Rivers is a starting-caliber guard now back to playing off the bench. He should help John Wall and Bradley Beal a ton this year and we know he will get buckets. If he can maintain anything close to his scoring average from last season (15.1), he will be on the short-list for sure.

Most improved: Brandon Ingram, Lakers

Though L.A. has a lot of questions, Ingram seems most likely to benefit from James' ability to make those around him better. He should thrive in a secondary scoring role.

Coach of the year: Billy Donovan, Thunder

The Thunder won 48 games last season, but could improve a lot in Year 2 with Paul George. They have loads of talent and Dennis Schroder will fit nicely on their bench.

Executive of the year: Sam Presti, Thunder

You may be sensing a theme here. I see the Thunder becoming the clear-cut No. 3 team in the West and Presti will get plenty of praise for retaining George and getting something legitimate back for Carmelo Anthony.

All-rookie team: Luka Doncic (Mavs), Miles Bridges (Hornets), Marvin Bagley III (Kings), Jaren Jackson Jr. (Grizzlies), Deandre Ayton (Suns)

This is shaping up to be a really good class. Guys like Mo Bamba (great song), Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Wendell Carter Jr. will likely be in the mix as well. 

All-defensive team: G Chris Paul, G Klay Thompson, F Draymond Green, F Anthony Davis, C Joel Embiid

Thompson should finally get his due this year. He is clearly one of the best defenders at his position, but hasn't received the proper recognition for it.

NBA Finals: Warriors over Celtics, 4-2

Picking the champion of the 2018-19 season is too easy and no one should feel good about that. Sports are better when they aren't predictable. But who will finish second is where it gets interesting. I see the Celtics being that team and winning two games in the Finals, though it won't be a close series.

 

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Peter King awards two Ravens with weekly honors for defensive performance vs. Titans

Peter King awards two Ravens with weekly honors for defensive performance vs. Titans

The Baltimore Ravens' Week 6 dominate performance over the Tennessee Titans is gaining national attention. 

A historic game that displayed the offense and defense firing on all cylinders, it's hard to pinpoint who had the biggest impact. 

So in his latest edition of Football Morning in America, NBC Sports' Peter King awarded not one, but two Ravens with weekly honors.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Za'Darius Smith

Against the Titans, Smith led the Ravens defense with three sacks and five tackles in their historic 11-sack game. On of three Defensive Players of the Week, King explained why Smith's performance stood out.

In the most dominant defensive performance of this ultra-offensive season, the Ravens shut out Tennessee 21-0 and had 11 sacks. Another one of GM Ozzie Newsome’s draft gifts that keeps on giving, Smith (2015, round four, Kentucky) contributed three sacks of Marcus Mariota and five tackles in a virtuoso game. Net passing yards for Mariota: 51.

Smith, who's entering the final year of his rookie NFL contract, has shown over six games he deserves to get paid in the offseason. So far this season the 26-year-old has 20 combined tackles, 5.5 sacks and one forced fumble. 

COACH OF THE WEEK: Don "Wink" Martindale

In his first season as defensive coordinator, Don "Wink" Martindale has seamlessly made the transition from linebackers coach to leading the NFL's No. 1 scoring defense (12.8). But what impressed King the most from the 21-0 shutout was how Martindale's squad got to Mariota from every direction. 

When a unit records more sacks (11) than completions allowed (10), the leader gets an award. Those are the rules. Martindale’s pass rushers got to Marcus Mariota every possible way—up the middle, around the edges, in the pocket, on bootlegs, you name it. The total set a new franchise record and was one short of the single-game NFL mark of 12. And it came with a familiar face watching: Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees used to hold the same position in Baltimore. Shout out to the Ravens social media team for renaming the account RavenSSSSSSSSSSS, one ‘S’ for each sack.

This Ravens defense, who has always been known for its dominance, is ranked first in points allowed (12.8), first in yards allowed (270.8), second in passing yards allowed (188.0) and third in rushing yards allowed (82.8) heading into Week 7. In addition, they have yet to surrender a second half touchdown all season. Trusting of the talent this roster holds, the respect "Wink" has for his players is equally reciprocated. 

"It was really emotional when they told us we had 11 sacks," linebacker Patrick Onwuasor said postgame. "We just went out there and we were like, ‘We have to get Coach Wink . We have to put the Gatorade on him.’ So, we tried to turn him around so he couldn’t see it coming, and we had to get him real good."

Martindale will now face the No. 1 scoring offense in the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. 

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