Welker not motivated by Phillips on big night

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Welker not motivated by Phillips on big night

FOXBORO -- Wes Welker has been here before. People have criticized his height or his athleticism and the 5-foot-9 receiver from Oklahoma City has made each loose-lipped detractor look amazingly misinformed.

Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips accidentally added himself to the list this week. In the course of answering a question about Welker on Thursday, Phillips let one slip.

"Ah, Welkers not Cincinnati receiver A.J. Green," Phillips told ESPN.com, in response to a question asking if Texans corner Johnathan Joseph, who covered Green in their Wild Card game, might cover Welker. "Hes a good player, but hes not that big or a real athletic guy. Hes a quick guy that gets open on option routes. Texans defensive back Brandon Harris actually played him pretty good."

Welker said he paid no attention to Phillips' comments, but he exploded for a big game in New England's 41-28 Divisional Round win over Houston. He finished with eight catches for 131 yards -- his third-highest yardage total of the season.

"I'm really not too worried about that," Welker said about Phillips' comments from earlier in the week. "It's just all noise. I try to do my job the best of my ability."

In the second quarter, Welker proved his abilities include more than catching short routes over the middle. He streaked up the sideline and hauled in a 47-yard pass from quarterback Tom Brady to set up Shane Vereen's 8-yard touchdown reception that made the score 17-3.

Brady and the Patriots must have liked Welker's matchups throughout the night -- as they so often do -- as he was targeted a team-high 13 times. He had a couple of drops, including one on a pass over the middle after holding on to a catch moments earlier on a similar play when he took a vicious hit. But Brady's confidence in his favorite target never wavered.

With tight end Rob Gronkowski out for the remainder of the postseason, Welker's significant workload will likely remain that way. He'll continue to take big shots from oftentimes bigger defenders, and he'll continue to be Brady's most trusted weapon in the passing game.

"Wes is a tremendous receiver, a great competitor," Patritos coach Bill Belichick said. "Again, we feel like at times there was a good matchup with him in the slot. He did a good job in there. Again, Tom made some throws. Wes is quick to cover. Tom had some good weapons to work with and he was able to move it around and get it to a bunch of them. I thought we had good balance offensively. Overall it was pretty good."

After Phillips made his comments on Welker and found that they were being perceived by many as bulletin board material for the Patriots, he posted on his Twitter account: "Wes Welker is a great athlete and one of the best receivers of all time. twistthataround"

It was something Phillips probably didn't have to do. Welker had been there before, through high school and then college and then earlier in his NFL career as he tried to work up the ranks. He was used to people commenting on his stature and his athleticism.

But at this point he's one of the best receivers of his era. His numbers stack up against any other receiver's. At this point he doesn't need criticism to get him motivated. He's great without it. At this point, like he said, it's just noise.

Right now, he's more concerned about what's next.

"It's one step forward in the right direction," Welker said of the win. "It's one thing done that we've taken care of. Now we're moving on to the AFC championship, and we'll get ready for that."

After knee injury, Beleskey set to return for Bruins vs. Blackhawks

After knee injury, Beleskey set to return for Bruins vs. Blackhawks

BRIGHTON, Mass – The Bruins, looking for a spark after terrible, back-to-back losses to the New York Islanders and Detroit Red Wings, are hoping the return of Matt Beleskey from a knee injury can help provide the inspiration. 

The blue-collar left winger has missed the past 23 games with a torn MCL in his right knee suffered in early December against the Buffalo Sabres, but now he’s easing back into the lineup on the fourth line in Friday night’s showdown with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Beleskey was skating with Dominic Moore and Austin Czarnik on the fourth line at morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena and should be expected to throw a few hard hits and play with some intensity in his return.

“I’m ready to go and excited to get back out there,” said Beleskey, who has been skating with the team for roughly a week after giving the knee sufficient time to heal. “I’ve just got to keep it simple and do what I do well: Be hard on pucks, take the body and just try and find your groove. You don’t want to expect too much in your first game back, but you just want to be able to contribute.

“’I’ve been saving [the pent-up energy] for a while, so I’m ready to get back out there and hopefully provide a spark for us.”

The Beleskey return also provides the player with a bit of a reset button after a slow start to the season that saw him with two goals and five points along with a minus-6 rating in 24 games played for the Black and Gold prior to his injury. Here are the projected line combos and D-pairs against the Blackhawks based on morning skate today:

Marchand-Bergeron-Vatrano

Schaller-Krejci-Pastrnak

Spooner-Nash-Backes/Hayes

Beleskey/Blidh-Moore-Czarnik

 

Chara-Carlo

Krug-McQuaid

Morrow-Liles

 

Rask

Thomas on not getting All-Star start: 'It hurts but I’ll be all right’

Thomas on not getting All-Star start: 'It hurts but I’ll be all right’

WALTHAM, Mass. –  Isaiah Thomas stood before the media throng on Friday afternoon at the Celtics’ practice facility and answered all the questions with the usual truthful tone sprinkled with a bit of humor.
 
But you could sense that he was still bitter about the results announced by the NBA on Thursday as to who will be the starters in next month’s All-Star Game.
 
Cleveland’s LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo of Milwaukee and Chicago’s Jimmy Butler were the frontcourt starters announced by the league. In the backcourt you will find Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan, who finished in a tie with Thomas in this first season in which fans, media and players all have a say in who will be the game’s starting five, as opposed to past seasons in which the starters were chosen strictly by fans.
 
DeRozan and Thomas finished in a tie under the voting system, but DeRozan moved ahead of Thomas due to a tie-breaker (fan vote), in which DeRozan had about 41,000 more votes than Thomas.
 
“It’s not the end of the world; it’s all good,” said Thomas. “I was disappointed, but those guys deserve it as well. I did everything I could in my control to put myself in position to be a starter. It’s not the end of the world.”
 
Especially knowing that the coaches will vote him on to the team for the second year in a row.
 
But for Thomas to be even in the conversation speaks to how the league’s new system of choosing All-Star starters, makes the whole choosing of starters about more than just a popularity contest, which is the irony of Thomas being left off the starting five – it ultimately came down to DeRozan receiving more votes from fans than Thomas.
 
“I didn’t really look at it. I didn’t look at what the reason was, but it is what it is,” Thomas said. “I’ll use it as motivation. I have to get better. That’s all I took out of that. I’m not where I want to be.”
 
Thomas finished fourth in fan voting for the starting nod, but was second among players and first among Eastern Conference guards among the media.
 
“I appreciate everybody who voted for me, especially you [media] guys,” Thomas said. “The media showed me some love and then my peers showed me love too.”
 
But as far as coming so close to being an All-Star starter and not making it, Thomas said, “It hurts but I’ll be alright. I’ll use it as motivation and keep going.”
 
Thomas is having a banner season that has elevated his name and game into the conversation for the league’s MVP award that so far is being led by Houston’s James Harden and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook.
 
He averages 28.7 points per game, which is tops among Eastern Conference players and fourth overall. 

Among his more notable accomplishments this season, he scored a franchise-record 29 points in the fourth quarter of a win over Miami, and in the same game, wound up scoring a career-high 52 points.
 
Thomas isn’t the only NBA player who has had a season that most would believe would result in him being an All-Star starter.
 
“You look in the west, [Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook] averages a triple-double and he didn’t get in [to start],” Thomas said. “I guess…I’ll let everybody debate for me and argue for me. Those guys that made it who start, they deserved it.”