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Justin Upton finds new home in Braves' lineup

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Justin Upton finds new home in Braves' lineup

ATLANTA (AP) Fredi Gonzalez sat down and started writing out projected lineups last week as soon as he heard the Braves had traded for Justin Upton.

It didn't take long. The manager says making out lineups just got easier.

Gonzalez used 107 lineups last year, sometimes adjusting due to the opposing pitcher.

He said his juggling days are over. He says Justin Upton will be the No. 3 hitter. Older brother B.J. Upton, who signed with Atlanta in November, and catcher Brian McCann, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, will follow in the middle of the lineup.

``When you have B.J. and Justin and a healthy McCann, that's the middle of your lineup,'' Gonzalez said. ``It doesn't matter who is pitching against you that night. Those are your three. Having those three there, it's going to be a little easier.''

McCann may miss the first two weeks of the season. Gerald Laird, McCann's new backup, had his first workouts in the team's voluntary pitching camp on Tuesday.

Shortstop Andrelton Simmons is the new leadoff hitter. Jason Heyward is expected to hit second. First baseman Freddie Freeman, second baseman Dan Uggla and one of two third basemen, Chris Johnson and Juan Francisco, complete the lineup.

Justin Upton, acquired with Johnson from Arizona in a seven-player trade on Thursday, had his first news conference on Tuesday. B.J. was in the audience with the brothers' beaming parents, Manny and Yvonne.

The Upton brothers dreamed of playing together in the same outfield but assumed their best chance would come later in their careers.

``No, I didn't think it would happen this year,'' said Justin Upton. ``You don't get that lucky.''

As he tried on his new No. 8 Braves jersey, Justin said it was ``a special day for my family.''

The Uptons' parents already have their season tickets - close enough to the field for the brothers to know they are there.

``B.J. got seats. He was nice to us,'' said Manny Upton. ``So we're right where Mom can holler at him when he's on deck. And she will holler at him.''

Said Yvonne: ``Now I get to see two for one.''

B.J., 28, signed a five-year, $75.25 million contract to be the Braves centerfielder.

Manny Upton said the talk of the brothers playing together took a more serious tone in recent years.

``For it to happen right now is just unbelievable,'' said Manny Upton. ``To play on a team that has a legitimate chance to go to the World Series and at a young age, that's marvelous.''

The brothers said they will have to establish boundaries with the Braves.

Justin smiled when asked if he expected to have a locker next to his brother in the Braves' clubhouse.

``It might start out with us near each other but by the end of it maybe switching,'' Justin said with a laugh. ``You never know.''

Justin had a quick answer when asked if he planned to live with B.J.

``No!'' he said before the question could be completed.

``We'll see each other plenty at the field. Obviously we'll ride to the field together some. We both live on our own. We both need our space.''

Added B.J.: ``We still butt heads. We do all the things that brothers do.''

Manny Upton said he expected his sons to get along just like when they were kids.

``I think it will be like the backyard,'' said the elder Upton. ``They are competitive but not to the point where it's bad. They'll get after it. Like Justin said, they may sit together at the beginning but by the end they might be separated.''

The Uptons will join Heyward, who won his first Gold Glove in right field last season, to form one of baseball's best outfields. Justin, who played right field in Arizona, said he agreed to move to left field because Heyward ``has the hardware.''

``I haven't played left at all,'' Justin said.

``The more reps I can get from the left side of the field is going to be key in spring training. It should be a pretty smooth transition. Obviously it's a change so it's going to take some time but I think I can get used to it.''

Justin, an All-Star in 2009 and 2011, has averaged 23 homers, 78 RBIs and 19 stolen bases the last four seasons. He finished fourth in the MVP voting in 2011 when he hit .289 with 31 homers, 88 RBIs and 21 steals. He hit a career-high .300 in 2009.

``We think he gives us one of the most dynamic outfields in all of baseball,'' Wren said. ``We think it really improves what we've been looking to do over last few years, to get younger and more athletic and have that kind of offense that can be explosive.''

The Braves gave up former All-Star infielder Martin Prado, one of their top pitching prospects, Randall Delgado, and three minor leaguers in the deal with Arizona.

Atlanta also will have to adjust to the retirement of third baseman Chipper Jones and the exit of centerfielder and leadoff hitter Michael Bourn, who was not re-signed.

Wren said the 2013 Braves' lineup will be ``much improved from a year ago.''

Added Justin Upton: ``We want to win a World Series and on paper I think we're good enough to do it. We have the players to do it.''

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Isaiah Thomas wants to make it clear that Marcus Smart flops

Isaiah Thomas wants to make it clear that Marcus Smart flops

When you know, you know.

Washington Wizards starting point guard Isaiah Thomas gave his take on former teammate Marcus Smart's reputation for flopping. Spoilers: he flops.

Thomas, who is returning to Boston on Wednesday for the first time as a starter, was teammates with Smart during his run with the Celtics from 2014-17. He didn't hold back from interrupting reporters to make sure everyone knows that Smart flops. (See the entire sequence play out in the video above.)

Despite being familiar with Smart, don't expect Thomas to know everything about how the Celtics will prepare for the Wizards. Thomas pointed out that only two of his former teammates are still with the team.

His history with Boston means a lot to Thomas, but his only focus on Wednesday will be earning the victory.

"The love is genuine between me and the city," Thomas said. "Hopefully we can just win the game. That's the most important." 

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Lamar Jackson’s play this season has begun to make some analysts and fans backtrack 

Lamar Jackson’s play this season has begun to make some analysts and fans backtrack 

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Lamar Jackson is starting to make people reconsider what they think of him. 

After the Ravens’ 49-13 win over the Bengals on Sunday, the rest of the NFL is starting to take notice about Lamar Jackson’s status in the NFL. Especially considering his spin move through the Bengals defense.

Hall of Fame NFL general manager Bill Polian recently admitted that he was wrong when he said that Jackson should be an NFL wide receiver during his draft process in 2018.

“I was wrong, because I used the old, traditional quarterback standard with him, which is clearly why John Harbaugh and Ozzie Newsome were more prescient than I was,” Polian told USA TODAY Sports. 

Jackson is currently building an MVP case for himself and is on-pace for over 30 touchdowns and nearly 5,000 yards of total offense. 

It’s a nice change of pace for the 22-year-old quarterback in his second year as a pro. Jackson had to face heavy criticism after he left Louisville for a variety of reasons headed into the draft. Even after he took over as the Ravens quarterback, those evaluations persisted. 

“We always knew what he was about,” Ravens center Matt Skura said. “We always knew his ability to make plays and all that stuff. I think it’s just people right now seeing it on a much larger scale and it’s just getting the attention now.”

At this point, however, it’s clear that not only is Jackson a quarterback, he might even be the MVP of the league.

Of the five quarterbacks drafted in the first round of the 2018 Draft, only four are starting and just two have led their teams to a winning record. Jackson leads all of his draft counterparts in total yards and total touchdowns. 

But as anyone in the Ravens’ locker room will say, the accolades don’t concern Jackson — only the record does.

“I think he’s more concerned with winning than anything,” Orlando Brown Jr. said. “As individuals, we’ve all got people to prove wrong and things that we used to put a chip on our shoulder. At the end of the day, I know he’s more concerned with winning more than anything.”

Still, it’s noteworthy that it only took Jackson a complete season of starts, through two partial seasons, to begin the backtracking across the NFL landscape.

“If you watch ESPN or you watch TV, it’s going to come up no matter what,” Skura said. “Even on your Instagram feed it’s going to come up. I think for a lot of us, just in one ear and out the other as far as people pumping us up. You’ve kind of got to stay level-headed and ride the rollercoaster, so to say.”

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