Broncos’ Sutton in for Hopkins in Pro Bowl

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Broncos wide receiver Courtland Sutton was dejected a month ago over his Pro Bowl snub and resolved to make it into the NFL’s annual all-star game in 2020.

“It is what it is,” he said several times at the podium when asked about not making the Pro Bowl after his breakout second season in the NFL. After thinking it over, he later told The Associated Press and The Athletic in an interview, “In God’s timing, it’ll happen the way it’s supposed to.”

On Wednesday, the NFL named Sutton as the replacement for injured Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Sutton joins teammate Von Miller as the Broncos’ representatives in the Jan. 26 game in Orlando, Florida.

“I’m so thankful and grateful for this opportunity,” Sutton tweeted. “There’s so much more to push towards and I’m excited about it all. Thank y’all for all the love!”

Sutton is the first receiver in team history to make the Pro Bowl in his second season. Demaryius Thomas, Brandon Marshall and Steve Watson all made it in their third pro season.

After flashing as a rookie with 42 catches for 704 yards and four TDs, Sutton worked out last winter with former NFL star Anquan Boldin in Florida to pick up tips about beating double teams.

That work paid off last season when he caught 72 passes for 1,112 yards and six scores despite working with three different starting QBs.

Rocky Johnson, pro wrestler, dead at 75

Rocky “Soulman” Johnson, a WWE Hall of Fame wrestler who became better known as the father of actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, has died. He was 75.

WWE issued a statement on Johnson’s death Wednesday night. Johnson and Tony Atlas became the first black world tag team champions in WWE history when they defeated The Wild Samoans on Dec. 10, 1983.

The statement didn’t provide details on the cause or location of Johnson’s death.

“A loss for every fan of @WWE, Rocky Johnson was a barrier-breaking performer. Our thoughts are with his family at this time,” WWE executive and wrestler Paul “Triple H” Levesque tweeted.

Johnson later helped train his son, who adopted the Rocky moniker from his father. Johnson came to his son’s aid after a match at WrestleMania in 1997. The Rock inducted his father into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2008.

Pelicans project Zion’s debut for Jan. 22

METAIRIE, La. — Zion Williamson, the top choice in last summer’s NBA draft, is scheduled to make his regular season debut for the Pelicans on Jan. 22 when New Orleans hosts the the San Antonio Spurs, Pelicans basketball operations chief David Griffin said Wednesday.

“Everything’s moving in the right direction,” Griffin said. “I really believe very strongly he is a radically improved physical version of himself in way that frankly we took the extra time to ensure.”

The former Duke star has missed New Orleans’ first 41 games this season while rehabilitating from arthroscopic surgery to repair the lateral meniscus in his right knee. The timeline set for his return calls for him to miss three more games, starting with Thursday night’s home game against Utah.

New Orleans also hosts the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday and visit Memphis on Monday.

Griffin also indicated that Williamson’s minutes will be closely monitored and likely limited for the time being.

“From a sustaining health standpoint, we’re certainly going to treat him differently,” Griffin said.

The Pelicans have gone 15-26 without Williamson, but have won nine of their last 13 to pull within four games of the final Western Conference playoff spot with half the season left.

The 6-foot-6, 285-pound Williamson is relatively heavy for an NBA player, never mind one who moves well and often soars above the rim for the kind of dunks that have made him an internet sensation since high school in Spartanburg, South Carolina. The purpose of his mid-October surgery was to repair cartilage that serves as natural padding in the knee joint. So the club has taken a cautious approach to his rehabilitation in hopes of minimizing the possibility of a setback.

Williamson returned to practice on Jan. 2 and more recently has been seen dunking during Pelicans pre-game warm-up sessions.

Williamson played in four preseason games before his injury, averaging 23.3 points and 6.5 rebounds. He had surgery in mid-October.

He averaged 22.6 points per game at Duke during the 2018-19 season and also was voted to the ACC’s All-Defensive Team after averaging 8.9 rebounds, 2.12 steals and 1.8 blocked shots per game.

Vegas Golden Knights fire Gallant, name DeBoer new coach

Gerard Gallant was abruptly fired by the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday less than two years after leading them to the Stanley Cup Final in their first season of existence and winning NHL coach of the year honors along the way.

Peter DeBoer, fired last month by the San Jose Sharks, takes over immediately and will be the Vegas coach the rest of the season.

General manager Kelly McCrimmon announced the change in the aftermath of a 4-2 loss to Buffalo on Tuesday night that dropped Vegas out of a playoff position in the Western Conference. The Golden Knights have lost four in a row, matching the longest point drought in their brief franchise history.

“You’ve seen consistency issues,” McCrimmon said in Ottawa. “We are like a lot of teams — had real high hopes for the year, still have real high hopes for the year. We’re in a unique position where we’re right in the mix, so this isn’t a case where the bottom fell out and we were left with no choice. It was a situation more where proactively it was our belief that this was going to be the best thing for our organization.”

Gallant won the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year for his role in helping the Golden Knights reach the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, where they lost in five games to Washington. They also made the playoffs last season before losing in seven games in the first round to DeBoer’s Sharks.

Before some rough patches this season, Gallant was on a honeymoon since being hired in April 2017 to coach the league’s 31st team.

He helped president of hockey operations George McPhee and McCrimmon during the Golden Knights’ successful expansion draft and instilled a workmanlike attitude that helped a ragtag group of players come together during a magical inaugural season. Vegas won eight of its first nine games and put together a stirring run through the playoffs to land in the final against the Capitals.

McCrimmon said the decision was made over the past several weeks. Assistant coach Mike Kelly, who came to Vegas with Gallant from the Florida Panthers, was also fired.

“I think our team has more to give, and that was what into the decision,” McCrimmon said.

This is the seventh coaching change in the NHL this season and the fifth for performance reasons. Vegas is the third team to change coaches after facing the Sabres, a loss that didn’t sit well among players.

“It’s tougher, especially when you’re losing to teams you know that you’re better than,” Golden Knights winger Mark Stone said Tuesday night. “We’re a better hockey team. Just have to find ways to put the puck in the net, and we’ve kind of gotten stale last bunch of games.”

The Golden Knights are 8-6-1 in their last 15 but are only three points out of first place in the Pacific Division. Gallant was set to coach the Pacific team at All-Star Weekend later this month after Vegas led the division at the halfway mark.

Things haven’t gone well since then. The power play is 5 of 25 over the past 12 games, and the team gave up two power play goals to the Sabres, who are ranked 21st in the league.

“They’re still doing the same type of things, whether it’s unlucky or bad opportunities,” Gallant said after the loss. “It’s just not working right now.”

DeBoer was fired by the Sharks in December amid their disappointing season. DeBoer, who Gallant once called a “clown,” is the permanent replacement with no interim designation.

DeBoer is the second coach to be fired this season and join a new team; John Hynes went from New Jersey to Nashville. He is now with his fourth team as head coach after stints with New Jersey, Florida and San Jose.

“His teams are always very well prepared, very well coached,” McCrimmon said of DeBoer. “He’s an intelligent guy. Teams have always been very strong special teams. He’s been to the Stanley Cup Final with two different teams. He enjoyed a lot of success in the National Hockey League as a coach and I think with this opportunity he’ll continue to do that.”

Vegas is 24-19-6 and next plays Thursday night at Ottawa with DeBoer expected to be behind the bench.

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