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Indianapolis ready to face Texans' big test

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Indianapolis ready to face Texans' big test

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Things are getting pretty simple in Indianapolis.

Win one more game and the Colts are in the playoffs. Win the next two and Bruce Arians sets the NFL record for wins by an interim head coach. Win all three and they're AFC South champs with a home playoff game.

The first hurdle is a big one: Sunday's game is at Houston.

``I think they know what's on the line and they've got a lot of pride. They were going to play anyway, whether they won or lost (Monday night),'' Arians said Wednesday, referring to the Texans. ``This is a pretty good rivalry and we're going to get everything they've got and their crowd and everybody else.''

Especially after the Texans disastrous performance at New England.

Most NFL observers expected the Texans (11-2) to be in this position in mid-December, trying to wrap up a second straight division crown and fine-tuning things for a postseason run.

But few, if any, expected the rebuilt Colts (9-4) to be Houston's nearest challenger in the AFC South, especially after a tumultuous offseason.

Team owner Jim Irsay, new general manager Ryan Grigson and new coach Chuck Pagano decided to start fresh in March, releasing four-time MVP Peyton Manning, cutting a handful of other popular longtime veterans and letting a few others leave via free agency. By the time Indy got to training camp with its hotshot rookie quarterback, Andrew Luck, the Colts were ranked dead last in the power rankings.

But after starting 1-2 and finding out Pagano was taking an indefinite leave after being diagnosed with leukemia, things changed.

Indy is 9-4 overall and 8-2 under Arians, winning three of five road games and seven of their last eight. They have a league-high eight wins in one-possession games, and Luck already owns NFL rookie records for most 300-yard games (six), most fourth-quarter comebacks (six) and most wins by the No. 1 overall choice since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. He needs 260 yards passing Sunday to break the league's single-season rookie record, trailing only Cam Newton's 4,051 yards from 2011.

Still, many wonder how good these Colts really are.

Indy's three road wins have come against Tennessee, Jacksonville and Detroit - teams that are a combined 10-29. The Colts' most impressive win came Oct. 7 when Luck rallied the Colts for a stunning 30-27 victory over Green Bay - the first game after Pagano's diagnosis. The Colts have only one other win over a team with a winning record and it came long ago, in Week 2 against Minnesota (7-6).

So the head-to-head showdown between Luck and the Texans' hard-charging defense could be a solid measuring stick for the NFL's most surprising team.

``For us, a chance to solidify a playoff spot,'' Luck said. ``Obviously the division is not sown up completely from what I understand and it's against, from our perspective, one of the premier teams in the AFC, the Houston Texans. We are going to have to bring our `A' game.''

One potentially major problem: The Colts offense might not be close to full speed.

On Tuesday, they put two running backs, starter Donald Brown (high ankle sprain) and fourth-stringer Robert Hughes (knee), on season-ending injured reserve. Third-stringer Delone Carter has been hobbled by an ankle injury, too, so Indy re-signed veteran Mewelde Moore and rookie Deji Karim, who were both cut by the Colts earlier this season.

That's not all.

Arians could not say Wednesday whether offensive linemen right tackle Winston Justice (biceps), left guard Joe Reitz (head) or center Samson Satele (ankle) would play Sunday, either. Justice and Satele did not finish last weekend's game against Tennessee and did not practice Wednesday. Reitz missed his eighth start of the season last weekend, but was fine on Wednesday.

Facing an angry Houston squad, stinging from the 42-14 rout by the Patriots, with a makeshift offensive line certainly isn't the ideal way to go into such a high-stakes game.

A victory would allow the Texans to take another step toward clinching the AFC's top seed and would help reassert their image as a Super Bowl favorite.

For Indy, the game is just as important. It's an opportunity for the Colts to show the football world they can go toe-to-toe with the league's top teams, home or away, with or without injuries and despite the resume that they deserve to be considered one of the league's best teams.

``This game is like no other,'' defensive end Cory Redding said. ``The Texans are a great opponent. These guys have great weapons on both sides of the ball. They've been doing some unbelievable things this year, and we've got our hands full. Like you said, the Colts used to own this division for many years, so it's time to go ahead and get that thing back.''

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Caps push Lightning around in Game 6 with physical game plan

Caps push Lightning around in Game 6 with physical game plan

As the NHL continues to focus more on speed and skill, the Capitals took a very old-school approach to Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. From the moment the puck dropped until the clock hit zero, it was clear Washington came into Monday with a very physical game plan.

"It made a big difference," T.J. Oshie said. "I think in these games, everyone’s bringing energy and you kind of want to control that and direct it towards some positive play, some momentum building for your team, and tonight I think we handled that and did that pretty well."

"We just wanted to throw everything we had at them," Stephenson said. "It was a do or die game and we don't want our season to end."

It worked.

The scoresheet officially credited the Caps with 39 hits for the game. The Lightning had only 19. The physical play seemed to wear down Tampa Bay as the game went on.

After an even first period, Washington took a 1-0 lead in the second. Then, very fittingly, a physical fourth line extended that lead to 2-0 in the third to finish the Lightning off.

"All of a sudden now we turn a puck over, you’re back in your end, they’re feeling it, they’re being physical, crowd’s behind them and we’re spending way too much time in our D zone," Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper said. "That’s what hurt us."

What made it so effective was the fact that the entire team bought into it. Alex Ovechkin was certainly the most noticeable player as he threw himself around like a wrecking ball against everyone wearing a white jersey. But it was not just his line. Tom Wilson and Brooks Orpik each led the team with six hits, Devante Smith-Pelly recorded five of his own while Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom both had four.

The Lightning faced a constant barrage from the Caps from every line and defensive pair. There was no respite.

The hits also gave the fans plenty to cheer for.

The Caps were playing an elimination game at home and Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was standing on his head. Even with the score locked at 0-0 through the first period, the crowd was still very much into the game. There was no apprehension, there was no quiet tension. There was just a loud crowd cheering on its team.

"[The fans] were loud right from the start, which I think we fed off of and wanted to give them something back," Brooks Orpik said. "We didn't get a goal early. I think some of the physical play kind of helped carry that. They were great for us."

Now in the third round of the playoffs after six intense games between the Caps and Lightning, the hope is that Game 6's physical play will continue to take its toll on Tampa Bay heading into Game 7.

"We need to do that every game," Nicklas Backstrom said. "That's our forecheck. Hopefully, we can keep it going here in Game 7."

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2018 NBA Mock Draft: What's changed after the combine

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2018 NBA Mock Draft: What's changed after the combine

Something that used to be a rare occurrence has now happened four years in a row.

The Phoenix Suns had the best odds of winning the NBA lottery, and they did, landing the number one pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. 

Over the last four years, the team with the NBA's worst record has landed that top spot each year. Before this stretch though, dating back to 1985, only four teams that had the worst record still won the lottery.

Nine teams have also jumped at least five spots to get to No. 1 during that period as well.

Now the order is set (until any trades of course) and teams have had a chance to check out many of the top players at the combine.

CLICK HERE FOR THE LATEST 2018 NBA MOCK DRAFT 

This draft is loaded with big man prospects too, from DeAndre Ayton, Jaren Jackson Jr., Marvin Bagley, and Mohamed Bamba, along with countless others likely going in the top-14. 

There's also the very intriguing Luka Doncic, who most still believe won't go back to Real Madrid, even with him leaving the door open. 

A few names jumped into the first round since the last mock draft, which is something we always see after the combine. 

As for the Wizards, we know they need an athletic big man, and sitting at pick No. 15, they may just get one, although he brings a lot of mystery. 

CLICK HERE FOR THE LATEST 2018 NBA MOCK DRAFT