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No. 9 LSU meets No. 14 Clemson in Chick-fil-A Bowl

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No. 9 LSU meets No. 14 Clemson in Chick-fil-A Bowl

ATLANTA (AP) The Chick-fil-A Bowl will be Tigers vs. Tigers.

Bowl officials announced Sunday night that No. 9 LSU will face No. 14 Clemson in the Dec. 31 game at the Georgia Dome. Both teams are known as the Tigers, and both play in the stadiums that are known as ``Death Valley.''

Despite the similarities, the Southern powers have met only twice before.

Their third meeting will feature one of the nation's best offenses (Clemson) against one of the leading defenses (LSU).

``That is awesome,'' said Clemson center Dalton Freeman, who will make his 49th and final career start in the Atlanta bowl. ``If you want to be a consistently outstanding program, you have to play national championship contenders like LSU. They have won the national championship in recent years and always seem to be in the mix for the championship. They have outstanding players and it will be a great challenge, but a great opportunity for us.''

LSU (10-2) was selected after a day of frenzied speculation on how the Southeastern Conference bowl hierarchy would shake out. Clemson (10-2) was a lock to be the Atlantic Coast Conference representative after Florida State won the league championship the previous night, beating Georgia Tech 21-15.

LSU has won its five previous appearances in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, most recently a 38-3 rout over Georgia Tech in 2008.

``We enjoy playing in Atlanta,'' coach Les Miles said. ``It's a great city that has been very good to LSU. I'm sure that we'll travel extremely well.''

Clemson is set to play in the Atlanta game for the eighth time, having gone 2-5 in its previous appearances. That includes a 10-7 loss to LSU in 1996 when it was known as the Peach Bowl.

The only other meeting between the schools came in the 1959 Sugar Bowl, when LSU finished off a national championship season with a 7-0 win.

LSU won the SEC championship in Atlanta last season, earning a spot in the BCS title game against division rival Alabama. The Tigers were denied their second national championship in five seasons when they were blanked by the Crimson Tide, 21-0.

This season, LSU's conference hopes were doomed by a last-minute loss to Alabama in Baton Rouge. The Tigers won their remaining games and have a shot at the seventh 11-victory season in school history, led by a defense that ranks 11th nationally in points allowed (16.2 per game), eighth in total defense (296.2) and ninth in both pass efficiency defense and rushing yards allowed.

Clemson began its season at the Georgia Dome, defeating Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. Coach Dabo Swinney's team tied Florida State in the Atlantic Division but was denied a spot in the ACC title game because it lost to the Seminoles.

On its return to Atlanta, Clemson will be looking to rebound from a wrenching loss to state rival South Carolina in the regular-season finale. The high-powered offense is directed by quarterback Tajh Boyd, who threw for 3,550 yards and 34 touchdowns. He's a big reason the Tigers rank sixth national in scoring (42.3) and ninth in total yards (518.3().

``Our coaches, our players and our fans always look forward to playing against the best programs in the nation, and LSU certainly fits that description,'' said Swinney, whose school has won 11 games in a season only three other times. ``We are going to have the opportunity to compete against a top 10 team that played for it all last year.''

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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John Wall badly wants to win and is sick of perception he cares more about his own stats

John Wall badly wants to win and is sick of perception he cares more about his own stats

John Wall is ready to put the 2017-18 season behind him, behind him like a hapless defender staring at the back of his No. 2 jersey on a fastbreak. 

After missing 41 games due to injuries and falling in the first round of the playoffs for the first time in his career, the Wizards' All-Star point guard is taking nothing for granted. The 28-year-old believes he's about to lead the most talented team he's ever played on.

Wall has made five All-Star teams and one All-NBA selection. After playing for two seasons without one, he signed a reportedly five-year shoe deal with Adidas in 2018. He has a supermax contract, one that kicks in next season and begins at a projected $37.8 million.

What Wall doesn't have is what he's always wanted most. He wants to win.

The Wizards have made the playoffs four times in his career and reached the second round three times. The Eastern Conference Finals, however, has been elusive.

"I'm the type of guy that wants to have a statue out front. I want to bring a championship here. Those are all the things that I care about," Wall told NBC Sports Washington. "If you're not winning as a group and doing things as a team, then you don't get individual success. That's something that I learned a long time ago."

There was a lot about the 2017-18 season that bothered Wall. In particular, he detested the perception that grew that he was unhappy with the team's success while he was injured. 

During Wall's second injury absence, from late January to late March, the Wizards won five straight games and 10 of 13 with him watching from the sidelines.

Though it ultimately proved to be a mirage, as the Wizards lost 12 of their next 17 that he didn’t play, there were numbers early on that suggested their success was because they passed the ball more frequently without him. Comments from his teammates Bradley Beal and Marcin Gortat to reporters and on social media were viewed by some as slights to their point guard.

Wall remained silent at first and a lack of communication between the sides allowed it all to bottle up. He did several interviews, including one with NBC Sports Washington, to give his side of the story and to say it was ridiculous he could be criticized for not being a team player.

That narrative still bothers him.

"Some people mistake me that all I care about is individual stats but that's never been my game," he said. "I don't think a lot of people really get that."

"I love to get assists. I love to get 10 assists before I score 30 points. It's just that I have the ability to do both. A lot of guys never had the ability to be able to do both. It's great to do that, but I feel like if I ain't winning then it don't mean s*** to me."

Wall's numbers are historically good for his age and he is aware of the company he's in. He is one of only four players to average at least 18 points, nine assists and four rebounds per game through their first eight NBA seasons. The other three were Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson and Chris Paul. Johnson and Robertson are Hall of Famers and Paul will be there someday. 

Statistically, Wall is on a Hall of Fame track, but he wants much more than a plaque in Springfield, Massachusetts.

"I think about all of that. Everybody thinks about the Hall of Fame and being the franchise scoring leader and all that," he said. "I have all of those goals, but it don't mean s*** if you don't win at the end of the day. You can be a loser and have all of these records, but what does that stand for?"

Wall has been relatively fortunate throughout his career when it comes to his health, but his worst injuries have come at inopportune times. In 2015, his Wizards were up 1-0 on the Hawks in the second round of the playoffs when he suffered five non-displaced fractures in his left wrist and hand. That may have cost him a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Last year, Wall's months-long injury saga began when he banged his knee with a Mavericks player in just the 10th game of the season. 

It was a down year for him and the Wizards in a season in which the Cavaliers were vulnerable, the Celtics had major injuries and the Sixers were still learning how to win. If Washington was at full-strength, perhaps they could have taken advantage.

Now, after an offseason that brought newcomers Dwight Howard, Austin Rivers and Jeff Green to Washington, and that saw LeBron James leave the Eastern Conference, Wall feels he has a serious opportunity to win.

He just wants to get back to the postseason and take another shot at a deep playoff run he believes he is destined for.

"We had a great chance [in 2017]," he said. "We just s***ed the bed. That's how it goes. I don't think [time is] running out, but teams are getting better."

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The Toronto Maple Leafs are not happy with Caps' Lars Eller

The Toronto Maple Leafs are not happy with Caps' Lars Eller

On Saturday, the defending Stanley Cup champion Capitals faced off against one of the hottest young teams in the NHL, the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was viewed as a marquee matchup and it certainly lived up to its billing with both teams battling in a tight, well-played game.

In the end, Toronto walked away as the 4-2 victors in one of their better wins of the young season, but not everyone left that game impressed.

A team that already boasted super-star talent Auston Matthews added John Tavares in the offseason as a free agent giving the Maple Leafs a formidable one, two punch at center. For most of the game, the Caps were able to shut down that center tandem.

Lars Eller was asked after the game how the Caps were able to keep the Leafs’ big stars in check and he indicated that perhaps Tavares and Matthews were not as formidable a pair as they had been made out to be.

“We’re used to playing against [Sidney Crosby] and [Evgeni Malkin],” Eller said. “Everything kind of drops from there so it’s not that special. It’s a good team like a lot of others. They’ll probably be a playoff team, I think.”

Not surprisingly, that quote caught Toronto’s attention, especially forward Nazem Kadri.

Per Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, Kadri called Eller’s comments “bulletin board material.”

With 12 points in seven games, the Maple Leafs currently boast the top record in the league. Toronto is far from perfect, however, and their defense remains a major question mark in whether this team is a true Stanley Cup contender.

But as to whether or not they are a playoff team? That seems like a pretty safe bet.

The Caps and Maple Leafs will meet twice more this season on Jan. 23 and Feb. 21. Both games are in Toronto.  

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