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Pagano, Colts getting back to business as usual

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Pagano, Colts getting back to business as usual

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Chuck Pagano beat the traffic and a blizzard into work Wednesday morning - all in an effort to beat the Texans.

After spending the last three months fighting leukemia, the inspirational Colts coach arrived early at the team complex. He met briefly with his players to give them a succinct message about this week's game plan, then stepped onto the practice field for the first time since Sept. 26.

It seemed nothing had changed.

``From Day 1, we set goals for ourselves, and after watching what this team has done over the course of the season, the last 12 weeks, it's just not in our DNA,'' Pagano said when asked about resting his starters Sunday against Houston. ``Our families deserve it, our fans deserve to see our best game regardless of the circumstances. They're going to roll the ball out there and our job is to win a ballgame and that's what we're going to do.''

While Pagano wanted to take a business-as-usual approach into his first regular workday, it certainly wasn't easy amid all the outside stuff.

Up to a foot of wind-whipped snow had fallen in parts of Indianapolis, creating hazardous driving conditions. Pagano said he arrived at the team complex so early, he had no trouble driving. And though he considered moving up the scheduled afternoon practice so players could return home, Pagano decided against it because forecasters were hopeful the road conditions would improve as the snow tapered off late in the afternoon.

The snowiest day of the year was no deterrent for Pagano, who returned to the team complex Monday, met briefly with players who gave him a standing ovation, and spent about 30 minutes answering questions from reporters. On Wednesday, he strolled onto the team's indoor practice field for the first time in three months, presided over the full-scale practice in the afternoon and savored every precious moment.

``Any time you just get removed from where you're supposed to be on a daily basis - I've been doing this for the last 28 years of my life and then all of a sudden to be taken away from it, and then to be blessed to get back before the end of the season - it's a great feeling,'' he said. ``It's just good to be back around the players and practice and coaching again.''

Playing to win what would normally be a meaningless game is a stark contrast from previous Colts playoff years. Starters were routinely held out of late-season games that had no bearing on playoff position.

The most glaring example came in 2009 when the Colts were 14-0, yet yanked their starters in the third quarter of a home game against the New York Jets. Indy lost the game, played some starters one series the next week in snowy Buffalo, and lost a few weeks later to New Orleans in the Super Bowl.

But after making this year's historic turnaround from 2-14 to 10-5, and enduring the emotional roller-coaster of losing a head coach for 12 weeks and now getting him back, the Colts want to play. They are locked into the AFC's No. 5 seed and will open the playoffs on the road against the AFC's No. 4 seed, Baltimore or New England.

Players embraced Pagano's choice.

``I think there is something to be said about keeping your momentum going and I think it could be a positive thing,'' outside linebacker Dwight Freeney said. ``I think guys who are banged up, they shouldn't play. But I think that guys who can play, should play. Yeah, you're risking getting hurt, but that's just what it is. It's part of the game.''

The Colts want to win this one for another reason: their coach.

With Pagano out, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians went 9-3, tying the league record for wins after a midseason coaching change. He led the Colts within one victory of the second-greatest turnaround in league history with nine more wins than the previous season.

Pagano, though, was fighting a much larger battle. On Nov. 5, his oncologist, Dr. Larry Cripe, announced that the cancer was in complete remission. A month later, Pagano completed the final round of treatment and last week Cripe told reporters Pagano had been given medical clearance to return to the sideline.

``I think we're really getting everything back to normal, but I think everyone in the building is just glad to have him around,'' safety Antoine Bethea said. ``We want things rolling like we've had, but with Chuck added.''

Pagano did say center Samson Satele and backup running back Delone Carter would miss the Texans game because of ankle injuries. He made it clear a handful of others such as running back Donald Brown and defensive end Cory Redding could wind up on the bench to recover from injuries.

Otherwise, Pagano expects this to be just another game week.

``We're going to approach it just like we approached the first three and the way they approached the last 12,'' he said. ``We'd all like to win 11 games, that's our goal and that's our focus.''

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Drew Gooden, Justin Kutcher to highlight NBC Sports Washington Wizards broadcast team

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USA TODAY Sports Images

Drew Gooden, Justin Kutcher to highlight NBC Sports Washington Wizards broadcast team

Drew Gooden was nearing the end of his second 10-day contract with the Wizards in the 2014 season when he went off for 21 points against Brooklyn. 

It was a game that changed his career, led to being signed to the team for the remainder of that season and ending his career as a Washington Wizard two years later. “My career was totally reborn as a veteran leader on the Washington Wizards,” he said. “And that’s something I never would have thought would come full circle.”

And now? Gooden will serve as the game analyst on NBC Sports Washington’s Wizards broadcast this season. NBC Sports Washington announced on Wednesday he will join new play-by-play announcer Justin Kutcher as part of the Wizards' game broadcast team. Chris Miller will return in his role as sideline reporter.

“It’s a dream and I never thought in a million years I would have retired a Wizard and that out of all my teams that I played for, that Wizards would be the favorite organization that I played for, never thought I would be a color analyst for NBC Sports Washington,” Gooden said. “All of this is a dream.”

And while Kutcher may not have the same playing resume that Gooden does, he promises to bring the same passion Gooden does to broadcasts.

During the early days of his career, Kutcher wasn’t just the voice of (and practice player for) the Boston University women’s basketball team. He was such a passionate fan that he was the one making the most noise on the team bus after a big win or a big loss. Now, after decades in the business, he’s not sure he’ll go to that extreme – but Wizards fans can expect him to be “a fan who’s calling the game,” he said. “I say that about myself all of the time. I think of myself as just this incredibly lucky person that gets to call a sport that I love. When I have a reaction, it’s a genuine reaction. So, I’ll keep everything professional, but I’ll get excited.”

Kutcher has 17 years of experience as a play-by-play announcer, having spent the last seven years at Fox Sports where he led national coverage of NCAA basketball and football, the NFL and MLB. Prior to FOX Sports, Kutcher served as a play-by-play announcer for ESPN for four years. During that time, he led live coverage for a variety of sports, including basketball, football, baseball, softball, volleyball and hockey, across professional, college and high school leagues and conferences. He also appeared on studio shows during his tenure with ESPN. In addition to FOX Sports and ESPN, he has also called collegiate events for CSTV, now CBS Sports Network, for two years, as well as BTN, and contributed to MLB.com digital programming.

“I have known Justin since he was a runner for us at FOX Sports,” said Joe Buck. “He’s gone from working hard behind the scenes to one of the best, young voices in sports. Wizards fans are getting a great broadcaster and a better person .”

Here’s five more fun facts about Kutcher and Gooden.

1.    Kutcher’s worked the past five Westminster Dog Shows. “I get more ticket requests for that than any other event I go to,” he said. But, at first he wasn’t sure he was going to stick with it. The first year, he said, was a little tough. “I called my dad after it airs and he said that it was my mom’s favorite thing that I’ve done.” But, he stuck with it. And now? “I love it,” he said. 
2.    His favorite thing in DC is … the breakfast at Ted’s Bulletin. “They have a breakfast burrito that I get, I eat two of them at a time and people can’t believe it,” he said. Oh, and also his family. His family in the area includes a 3-year-old nephew, who when asked for real estate recommendations in the area, declared “you can live at our house!”
3.    Meanwhile, you can find Gooden at his favorite crab shack. “Quarterdeck in Arlington is my favorite, favorite restaurant,” he said. In the two years he’s known about the crab spot, he’s eaten there, he estimates, “800” times. 
4.    Good news for Wizards fans: He thinks the Wizards will be a team everyone sleeps on – and that’s great for them. “They’re going to have the opportunity to surprise a lot of people early,” he predicted. 
5.    Kutcher expects Rui Hachimura to … “be one of the steals of the draft.” Kutcher covered the new Wizard as a play-by-play announcer during Hachimura’s college career. “I would not be surprised if you see Rui average 15-18 points per game and close to 8 rebounds per game. I think he’s that type of player, he’s a really good kid, when I saw the Wizards drafted him I said that’s a great, great pick,” he said.
 

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Capitals center Lars Eller is busy working on his shot this summer

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Instagram @LarsEllerOfficial

Capitals center Lars Eller is busy working on his shot this summer

With the Washington Capitals season ending in April and training camp beginning in September, players are on their own to get their summer work in.

Center Lars Eller took to Instagram on Wednesday to show his followers that he's been working on his shot in the offseason.

The 6-foot-2 Dane scored 13 goals for the Caps last season, adding one more in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

With three months to go before the first puck drops in the 2019-2020 season, Eller will hope his extra work this summer will translate to the ice in the fall.

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