The highlights of Thursday’s AP Sports report. An up-to-the minute listing of all stories planned, including games and events, is available in Coverage Plan on AP Newsroom, http://newsroom.ap.org/coverageplan You can also find a link to Coverage Plan on the left navigation of the Newsroom home page, http://newsroom.ap.org
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The AP’s Ralph Russo hosts the latest AP Top 25 College Football Podcast. https://podcasts.apple.com/podcast/idhttps-podcasts-apple-com-us-podcast-ap-top-25-college/id1138957862
NEW YORK -- Carlos Beltrán is out as manager of the New York Mets before a single game, the latest fallout from the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal that has rocked Major League Baseball. The move comes two days after Boston cut ties with manager Alex Cora. By Baseball Writer Mike Fitzpatrick. SENT: 1,000 words, photos. UPCOMING: 1,000 words, photos. Conference call with management at 3 p.m.
TEN--AUSTRALIAN OPEN-AIR QUALITY
MELBOURNE, Australia -- The Australian Open defends its decision to hold qualifying matches this week even though Melbourne's air quality is among the worst in the world because of smoke from wildfires devastating the country. SENT: 400 words, photos. Sidebar on draw (sent).
MMA--UFC 246-MCGREGOR’S RETURN
LAS VEGAS -- The last three years for Conor McGregor have been a morass of pay-per-view defeats, whiskey sales and relentless legal trouble. The Irish superstar hasn't won during that time, but he gets a chance Saturday night in his UFC return against Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone. By Greg Beacham. UPCOMING: 700 words, photos by 9 p.m.
FBN--NFL AT 100-NFC CHAMPIONSHIPS
With "The Catch” that sent San Francisco to its first Super Bowl and “The Blown Call” that kept New Orleans at home, NFC championship games have two seminal moments. There's also plenty to remember from the 37 years separating those plays. By Pro Football Writer Schuyler Dixon. SENT: 1,300 words, photos.
TEN--FEDERER ON THE BIG THREE
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Roger Federer is not troubled by the prospect of Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic -- or both -- surpassing his men's record for most Grand Slam singles titles. He tells the AP that ending up in third place would be just fine. By Tennis Writer Howard Fendrich. SENT: 1,000 words, photos. Sidebars on men’s, women’s capsules, glance (all sent).
BOSTON -- The Red Sox are certain they can contend for an AL East title even though they don't have a manager a month before spring training. That's good news for Boston fans who fear the team will trade Mookie Betts in a salary dump. By Jimmy Golen. UPCOMING: 600 words, photos by 5 p.m.
BBO--SIGN STEALING-THE 1951 SCANDAL
NEW YORK -- The Astros’ sign-stealing scheme brings back memories for former Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Carl Erskine. Now 93, he recalls to the AP a spyglass-and-buzzer system the New York Giants rigged up in 1951. That was baseball's most famous sign-stealing scandal until this week. By Baseball Writer Ben Walker. SENT: UPCOMING: 600 words, photos.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- George Kittle has been more productive than any tight end in NFL history in his first three seasons. But he gets his most pleasure when the San Francisco 49ers run the ball. By Pro Football Writer Josh Dubow. UPCOMING: 750 words, photos by 8 p.m.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Patrick Mahomes was largely overshadowed this season by Lamar Jackson, the Ravens’ star quarterback. But the Chiefs' own MVP has quietly had another spectacular season, making him one of the best bargains in professional sports -- for now. By Dave Skretta. UPCOMING: 700 words, photos by 6 p.m.
Previews, matchup capsules for Packers-49ers, Titans-Chiefs for weekend use (all sent).
MILWAUKEE -- The Bucks, with the NBA’s record at 36-6, play the Celtics in a game between Eastern Conference powers. Boston, leading the Atlantic Division, has dropped four of six and is playing a back-to-back, coming off a 116-103 loss to Detroit. By Keith Jenkins. UPCOMING: 700 words, photos. Game starts 8 p.m.
SKI--SHIFFRIN’S TWISTING SEASON
Mikaela Shiffrin's bid for her fourth straight overall World Cup title is tighter than usual. The American leads Petra Vlhova by a lot but the margin could be the equivalent of three races. Are her rivals catching up? And what must she do to restore her dominance? By Pat Graham. UPCOMING: 600 words, photos by 7 p.m.
SAN DIEGO -- No. 7 San Diego State is the nation's last remaining undefeated team after Auburn lost to Alabama. Led by Malachi Flynn, the Aztecs need two more wins to match the 20-0 start by Kawhi Leonard's team in 2010-11. By Bernie Wilson. UPCOMING: 500 words, photos by 8 p.m.
FBN--HOF-SHELL’S LONG WAIT
PITTSBURGH -- Donnie Shell knew he was ahead of his time. It's why the Steelers safety never worried about whether he'd get into the Hall of Fame. His long wait ended this week, when he got the call more than 30 years after his final game. By Will Graves. UPCOMING: 700 words, photos by 5 p.m.
Thursday Time Schedule (EST)
Phoenix at New York, 7:30 p.m.
Boston at Milwaukee, 8 p.m.
Utah at New Orleans, 8 p.m.
Denver at Golden State, 10:30 p.m.
Orlando at L.A. Clippers, 10:30 p.m.
Pittsburgh at Boston, 7 p.m.
Carolina at Columbus, 7 p.m.
Los Angeles at Florida, 7 p.m.
N.Y. Rangers at N.Y. Islanders, 7 p.m.
Montreal at Philadelphia, 7 p.m.
Calgary at Toronto, 7 p.m.
New Jersey at Washington, 7 p.m.
Vegas at Ottawa, 7:30 p.m.
Tampa Bay at Minnesota, 8 p.m.
Anaheim at Nashville, 8 p.m.
Buffalo at Dallas, 8:30 p.m.
San Jose at Colorado, 9 p.m.
Arizona at Vancouver, 10 p.m.
College Basketball (Top 25)
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. Santa Clara, 11 p.m.
No. 8 Oregon at Washington State, 9 p.m.
No. 20 Colorado at Arizona State, 9 p.m.
No. 22 Memphis vs. Cincinnati, 7 p.m.
No. 1 South Carolina at Missouri, 8:30 p.m.
No. 3 Stanford at No. 6 Oregon, 9 p.m.
No. 4 UConn at UCF, 6 p.m.
No. 5 Louisville at Boston College, 7 p.m.
No. 9 N.C. State vs. No. 13 Florida State, 6 p.m.
No. 10 Mississippi State vs. LSU, 8 p.m.
No. 11 Kentucky vs. No. 12 Texas A&M, 6:30 p.m.
No. 15 Indiana vs. Northwestern, 7 p.m.
No. 16 Gonzaga at Santa Clara, 10 p.m.
No. 20 Maryland vs. Nebraska, 8 p.m.
No. 22 Iowa at Minnesota, 8 p.m.
No. 24 Tennessee at Florida, 6 p.m.
No. 25 South Dakota at North Dakota State, 8 p.m.