LA Kings rested for Cup final meeting with Devils (Yahoo! Sports)
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) Justin Williams remembers every game of the Carolina Hurricanes’ 25-game grind through the 2006 playoffs. He knows all about the blood, sweat and exhaustion necessary to raise the Stanley Cup. That’s why he realizes the NHL playoffs aren’t usually as easy as the Los Angeles Kings have made them look so far. Although Williams and his teammates have prepared for lengthy series in every round of the postseason, but they haven’t even had to play a Game 6 yet. ”If you told anybody, let alone us in the dressing room, that we’d have a place in the finals as an eight seed, I would have only told you that you were crazy if you said it took 14 games,” Williams said. ”But we’re here for a reason,” he added. ”We’ve battled our tails off here the whole season, and things have come together here. We go into every series thinking it’s going to be seven (games). It’s just so far, they haven’t worked out that way.” Los Angeles went on a 12-2 rampage through the Western Conference playoffs, earning a date with the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup final. Game 1 is Wednesday in Newark. The Kings’ surge is a novel experience for everybody, including Williams and two teammates who faced him in the 2006 Cup final. Williams scored the final goal of Game 7 for the Carolina Hurricanes, beating Jarret Stoll, Matt Greene and the rest of the Edmonton Oilers – the only eighth seed to make the final round before Los Angeles. Stoll remembers the shock and elation of that 24-game run by the unheralded Oilers, only to be crushed by a loss in Game 7. ”It was a great ride, but the ending leaves a sour taste if you don’t win,” said Stoll, who scored in overtime last month in the Kings’ series-ending win over President’s Trophy-winning Vancouver. ”When you’re going through it, you realize that you don’t know if you’ll ever get that opportunity again. Some guys play their whole careers and don’t get the chance to do what we’re doing now, so I’m definitely grateful to be there again.” Greene also picked up that perspective as a 22-year-old Oilers rookie, playing in 18 postseason games during their run. Greene realizes those Oilers and the current Kings don’t share much except their seed: Edmonton’s run was a stunner during a season in which the Western Conference’s top four seeds all lost their first-round series, while Los Angeles was an underachiever that finally realized its enormous potential while knocking off the West’s top three seeds. ”I think a lot of people felt we had the potential to do it this year, where those (Edmonton) playoffs were a surprise,” said Greene, the stay-at-home defenseman whose steadying influence has been enormous for the Kings. The Kings had their second full practice Saturday since eliminating Phoenix, going through mostly team drills and beginning preparations for the Devils. Los Angeles lost both of its regular-season meetings with New Jersey, but both games were very early in the season. The Kings aren’t apologizing for their success, and they don’t believe their relatively clean run through the first three rounds will hurt them in the finale. Los Angeles hasn’t faced much adversity so far, yet the Kings have won two pressure-packed overtime road games to finish off series against Vancouver and Phoenix. ”We’ve been very fortunate to be on top of our game, play well, and finish teams off when we had the chance,” Williams said. ”As a result, we’re getting a ton of rest, and it’s clearly going to be beneficial for us.”
LA Kings rested for Cup final meeting with Devils (Yahoo! Sports)
Webb gets 5-year extension with Ravens (Yahoo! Sports)
OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP)—Baltimore Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb agreed to terms on a five-year extension Thursday that includes a $10 million signing bonus and a $5 million option bonus. Webb, who was already signed for next year, is now locked in for the next six seasons. “It feels amazing,” he said. “I feel blessed and proud. Now I can relax and play ball and not worry about anything. This settles my mind down.” Webb intercepted a career-high five passes in the regular season and broke a team record with three interceptions in the playoffs. He had a career-high 68 tackles and 20 pass deflections and emerged as one of the NFL’s top young cornerbacks. “Lardarius is an important player for the Ravens and we’re very happy he will be with us for a long time,” Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. “We have a good history of completing second contracts for targeted players we want to keep for the long haul.” Webb’s highlights last season included a 73-yard interception return for a touchdown against the New York Jets and a 68-yard punt return for a score against the Cleveland Browns. He had 30 punt returns for 301 yards for a 10.0 average in 2011. A former third-round draft pick from Nicholls State, Webb also forced a fumble and had 1 1/2 sacks last season. In three NFL seasons, Webb has 164 tackles, seven interceptions, two sacks and 37 pass deflections. Now that Webb’s deal is completed, the Ravens still have two long-term deals they want to finish: quarterback Joe Flacco and Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice, their franchise player. The Ravens are also working on a contract extension for restricted free agent cornerback Cary Williams.
Bulls blow away Pacers in second half (Yahoo! Sports)
CHICAGO (AP)—A dynamite third quarter by Derrick Rose and the Bulls denied Indiana any chance of a second straight win in Chicago. Luol Deng scored 20 points, teaming with Rose in a decisive rally that sent Chicago to its seventh straight victory, 92-72 over the Pacers on Monday night. “We had a lot more energy in the second half than we did in the first half,” Deng said. Rose added 13 points and nine assists, hitting three 3-pointers while Deng had two in the third as the Bulls blew open a close game. “We fought our way back into the game,” Rose said. “Our energy was kind of low and shots weren’t falling. But we rebounded the ball and finished the game pretty good.” Joakim Noah had 17 rebounds to lead the Bulls to a dominating 60-32 edge on the boards. Chicago outscored the Pacers 20-4 on second-chance points. John Lucas III scored 13 points, one of three Chicago reserves in double figures. “We struggled offensively in the first half,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “In the third quarter, we had great energy and imposed our will. The rebounding is what got us over the hump.” Paul George scored 21 points for Indiana, which had a six-game winning streak snapped. George Hill scored 17 points off the bench. “Give credit to the Bulls,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “They had all the hustle stats. Won all the loose balls and obviously kicked our butts on the glass. “ The Bulls improved their league-best record to 32-8. Chicago stretched its lead to 2 1/2 games over Miami atop the Eastern Conference and to seven games over Indiana in the Central Division. The Pacers were trying to win a seventh straight game for the first time in eight years. “They really picked it up defensively,” George said. “We deferred to them. Everybody on their side stepped up when we somewhat had Derrick Rose contained. Everybody else stepped up.” Chicago avenged a 95-90 loss to the Pacers on Jan. 25, one of just two home losses this season. Rose was irked after that game because of what he perceived to be Indiana’s excessive celebration on the court after the game ended, saying “I can’t wait till we play them again.” “You don’t want to lose to a team twice in a row,” Deng said. “Especially a team that we might face in the playoffs.” After the game, Rose sounded was more conciliatory. “They’re a good team,” Rose said. “The last time we played them, they beat us here. Now we just have to deal with them. They put up a fight every time we play them. We’re used to. I think it makes us better as a team.” Bulls guard Richard Hamilton left the game after just 1:23 had elapsed with a right shoulder injury. He did not return. Ronnie Brewer came on for Hamilton and had 12 points and seven rebounds in 39 minutes. Fellow reserve Taj Gibson added 10 points and nine boards. “Thibs always tells us to be ready because you never know when you’re time is going to come,” Brewer said. “Whenever we come in, we have to try to bring energy and change the game one way or another.” Indiana led by three two minutes into the second half when the Bulls went on a 20-4 spree that featured a pair of nine-point runs. After starting the game by missing nine of his first 10 shots, Rose capped the first run with a 3-pointer to put Chicago up 53-47. “We definitely got stagnant,” said Pacers forward Danny Granger, who was held to 11 points. “We didn’t get a lot of movement. They picked up their intensity and we had some bad turnovers that led to layups on the other end.” Indiana closed within four before Chicago hit three consecutive 3-pointers, one by Rose and the last two by Deng. His long one from straight on as the shot clock expired put Chicago up by 13. The Bulls extended the lead to 19 by the time their third-quarter burst ended. Chicago outscored the Pacers 33-13 in the period, held Indiana to 6-of-22 shooting and outrebounded the Pacers 18-7. Rose had 11 points and five assists to lead the charge. Rose rested for the entire fourth quarter as Indiana could get no closer than 13 points. When the Pacers looked like they might make one last run, Rose began to stretch but ultimately settled back onto his seat and watched from the sideline. “I’m not worried about the shots that I miss,” Rose said. “Amnesia. I know that when I get things going, it’s pretty hard to stop.” The Pacers are looking forward to their next test against their division foe. “We still have games to play (against the Bulls) in Indiana and it will be a different story,” Granger said. NOTES: Bulls backup point guard C.J. Watson did not play because of a sprained left ankle. Watson was injured during Chicago’s win over Philadelphia on Sunday, but was able to finish the game. Coach Tom Thibodeau said Watson had experienced swelling around the injury on Monday and did not know a timetable for his return. . The Bulls, who improved to 15-2 at home this season, play 16 of their last 26 regular-season games at the United Center. . Thibodeau said Hamilton will be examined on Tuesday, but wasn’t sure of the exact nature of his injury.
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49ers’ Harbaugh named Coach of the Year (AP)
INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh has won the 2011 Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year award for leading the 49ers back to the playoffs. In his first season as an NFL head coach, Harbaugh guided the 49ers to a 13-3 mark and the NFC West championship game. They beat New Orleans in the first round of the playoffs before losing the conference title game to the Giants. A former NFL quarterback and successful coach at Stanford, Harbaugh earned 45 votes from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the NFL. He easily outdistanced Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy, who received three votes, and Denver’s John Fox, who got two. Atlanta’s Mike Smith is the last man to win the award in his initial season as an NFL head coach, in 2008.
Philadelphia 76ers 2011-12 Season Preview
Usually NBA season previews are best read in October, back when football games hardly mattered, Midnight Madness was a few weeks away, and baseball was winding down. Perhaps with the last of the offseason’s iced tea in hand, as you whiled away on a too-warm-for-the-season afternoon. Well, pour yourself a glass of bull shot and tighten those mittens, because it’s late-December and the NBA decided to have a season this year. As such, the exegetes at Ball Don’t Lie are previewing the 2011-12 campaign in a mad rush, as if you or we would have it any other way. So put down the shovel long enough to listen to Kelly Dwyer, Dan Devine and Eric Freeman as they break down each of the NBA’s 29 teams, plus Toronto. This time? It’s the Philadelphia 76ers. Kelly Dwyer’s Reasons to be Cheerful The 76ers didn’t pull the trigger on a massive trade centering around Andre Iguodala, the group couldn’t find a way to add any significant talent to a roster in need of a full-time star, and for a big market team the 76ers are about as anonymous as NBA squads come. Where to now, St. Peter? Perhaps another needed year of determining where, exactly, this roster stands. This is one of the reasons that you employ someone like Doug Collins as your head coach, because he can help keep your team in the playoff bracket even as you work around the fringes while figuring out which of your 47 talented forwards to keep. Elton Brand’s resurgence in 2011 doesn’t hide the fact that he was signed to be Philly’s breakout star and fell way short (through no fault of his own), and Dre Iguodala is best served as a sideman to that breakout star, but this doesn’t preclude Sixer fans from being cheerful at another above-.500 year and hopeful second round appearance. This clearly isn’t the stuff dreams are made of, but the Sixers are loaded with assets and they run 10-deep even without including the potential of NBA-ready rookie Nikola Vucevic. Few teams can boast the sort of powerhouse combination of youth and talent that the Sixers will be able to toss out, and if the coin flips in their favor this could lead to a massive pileup of wins. That’s not me slumming or pandering to Philly fans, this group has the potential under the right witchdoctor to do something special. That’s the regular season take, though. In the playoffs, a time Doug Collins’ 1-4 sets and isolation play is best suited for, teams have to fall back on that star. And while Jrue Holliday can get to the line and Brand can back you down, the Sixers are still lacking that go-to mug. Apologies for acting like a general columnist, NBA-skimmer; but Philly still needs That Guy. Until That Time, though, the Sixers can chalk up a litany of Big Wins with Those Dudes. Dre and Thad Young and potentially an improved Evan Turner are quite well-suited to taking advantage of teams that are either playing out the string, working under duress, or ill-prepared to compete at seven in the evening on a Wednesday. That’s not supposed to work as cold comfort, Sixers fans. If this team doesn’t tune out Doug Collins, you’re going to have a lot of fun between now and April. Dan Devine Has Feelings about Your Team: Philadelphia 76ers I’m so excited for you! There were a number of reasons why Evan Turner struggled at times during his rookie season. For starters, he faced challenges adjusting to an off-ball role after excelling as a possession-controlling playmaker at Ohio State. He also had to learn how to defend professional twos and threes without prototypical quickness for the swing spot. And unlike some high-lottery selections that get long leashes from rebuilding franchises with no hope of competing right away, Turner joined a Sixers squad with postseason aspirations led by a demanding first-year head coach who wasn’t about to just give away floor time based on draft position. (Constantly hearing about the electric kid picked one spot ahead of him probably didn’t do wonders for Turner, either.) Among the biggest factors when things went rough for Turner: his inability to knock down shots. He was consistently subpar from everywhere beyond the rim, according to Hoopdata, hitting just 37.1 percent of shots taken between three and nine feet of the hoop, 37.6 percent between 10 and 15 feet, 37 percent between 16 and 23 feet, and 31.8 percent from 3-point range. Not terrible marks — within a couple of percentage points of the median in all phases — but all below average, and with more than three-quarters of Turner’s field-goal attempts coming outside the restricted area, according to StatsCube, that just won’t cut it. He needs to improve his shot to become a featured contributor in the Sixers offense. During the offseason, Turner worked with recently enshrined Hall-of-Fame coach Herb Magee, a Philly hoops icon and renowned “shot doctor,” in the hopes of fixing what ailed his J and coming into the season with a sharper arsenal. The renovation was reportedly detail-driven and holistic — as Kate Fagan, then of the Philadelphia Inquirer, wrote after their first meeting, “It sounds like Turner and Magee worked for over an hour and a half … and never got past shooting the ball one-handed, not more than a foot away from the rim.” They focused on correcting mechanical issues like the placement of Turner’s guide hand in his shooting form and maintaining his follow-through after release. Whether the work will pay dividends in the regular season remains to be seen — in two preseason games, Turner shot a combined 8-of-18 (44.4 percent) from the floor and 1-of-3 (33.3 percent) from 3-point land — but Magee recently said Turner “has improved” his mechanics and said now “needs to get consistent minutes.” If Turner shoots well enough in the early going, he could earn the minutes that come with an increased role — one where he’s used not only as the primary facilitator on a second unit featuring speedy scorer Lou Williams and just-got-paid swingman Thaddeus Young, but also takes some of Jodie Meeks’ burn with the first team. That’s certainly what Sixers fans are hoping for, but irrespective of the early returns, they ought to be pretty excited that a guy they’re banking on to be a franchise cornerstone would so willingly submit to a breakdown-and-rebuild — that instead of saying, “This was good enough to win National Player of the Year and get me taken second overall, so forget you,” he listened and worked. You can win with guys like that. I’m so worried for you! The big worry is that despite last season’s .500 mark being good enough for the eighth seed and the expectation of continued improvement in Collins’ second year at the helm, the Sixers aren’t actually going anywhere. That despite the nice collection of young talent in Philly, that roster’s still short a star, and that unless Jrue Holiday becomes one or team president Rod Thorn can somehow trade for one, the Sixers seem destined for an Atlanta Hawks-esque string of mid-conference finishes and not really competing with the Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat and whoever else winds up joining those two teams this year in the East’s upper crust. There are smaller worries, too. Philly made major strides on the defensive end last year, giving up five fewer points per 100 possessions under Doug Collins than they did under Eddie Jordan the previous season. That’s not surprising, as Collins brings defensive improvement wherever he goes, and the upgrade typically lasts through the second season — the Chicago Bulls went from dead last in defensive efficiency the year before he arrived to the league’s third-best unit in two years, the Detroit Pistons went from dead last to 11th in his second year, and the Washington Wizards went from dead last to a more respectable 18th within two years. The problem is with defensive distribution. Iguodala, Meeks, Turner and Williams did a great job on the wings, holding opposing twos and threes to Player Efficiency Ratings of 12.4 and 12.5 last season, respectively, according to 82games.com’s positional statistics. Holiday’s numbers weren’t great at the point — opposing point guards put up an 18.6 PER against him — but his effort was better, and his youth and physical tools suggest the capacity for improvement with more coaching. In the frontcourt, though, once you get past an aging Elton Brand, the Sixers don’t have anybody who consistently plays interior defense. Philly allowed opposing power forwards and centers to put up well-above-average PERs of 17.7 and 17.2 last season, respectively, and don’t look to have improved heading into this season. Spencer Hawes is young and big, but not a very good or motivated defender. Young is long, active and athletic, but he’s undersized down low as a defensive four. Collins is reportedly relying on Marreese Speights to be the Sixers’ fourth big — for now, at least; the restricted-free-agent-to-be has reportedly drawn interest from the Memphis Grizzlies and the Denver Nuggets — but defense has long been seen as a problem for him (although Synergy’s numbers beg to differ). Neither Nikola Vucevic nor Lavoy Allen, Philly’s frontcourt rookies, profile as an especially effective defensive presence right out of the gate. Unless one or more of those bigs takes a major step forward defensively, the Sixers will be relying on 32-year-old Brand — who had a solid resurgence last year, playing more minutes than he had since a ruptured Achilles tendon knocked him out for the better part of the ’07-’08 and ’08-’09 seasons — to again shoulder primary offensive and defensive responsibilities down low and remain healthy while doing it. If he can’t or doesn’t, any slippage on the wings or continued below-average performance by Holiday will take the Philly defense back a step, giving back some of last year’s gains and putting more pressure on a star-less, 17th-in-the-league offense to improve. To be fair, that is a lot of ifs, and as a believer in both Holiday and Philly’s wings (defensively, at least), I expect the Sixers to continue to play soundly enough to get away with the lack of bangers. It might not be a major concern, but that’s the problem with life on the .500 line — the molehills look like mountains and objects in the rearview always seem like they’re in your backseat. I have no idea what to make of you! If you do not select B. Franklin Dogg as your new mascot, Philadelphia fans, then I have no idea what to make of you. He has everything — an adorable li’l hat, an adorable li’l collar, the capacity to stand on his hind legs and dribble a basketball, a far more impressive physique than his master, and a lack of weird head appendages that make it difficult for him to progress easily through door frames. You don’t want your mascot to be some boozed-up snuff-hound or glorified hat rack, Philadelphia. Do the right thing and vote for a dog so chill he needs two g’s in his last name, like it’s the 1990s. (You remember the ’90s — Barkley, Iverson, “Rocky IV,” a couple years of Aaron McKie. Pretty great, right?) Vote early, vote often and vote your conscience, Philadelphia. It’s the right thing to do. Eric Freeman’s Culture Club The worlds of the NBA and popular culture intersect often. Actors and musicians show up at games, players cameo in their shows and movies and make appearances at their concerts. Yet the connections go deeper than these simple relationships — a work of art can often explain the situation of an NBA team. Eric Freeman’s Culture Club makes these comparisons explicit. In each installment, we’ll assign one movie, TV show, album, song, novel, short story, or filmstrip to the previewed team. PHILADELPHIA 76ers: “Ben and Me” If you follow mascot news — and why wouldn’t you? — you’re probably familiar with the Sixers’ recent contest to choose a replacement for the odious Hip Hop. The choices were all city-themed, at least in theory, with “Big Ben,” a Benjamin Franklin figure, standing out as the most Philly of them all. However, there’s another Franklin-connected mascot on the list, a pooch named B. Franklin Dogg who claims to be the property of the Founding Father himself. This is a load of hogwash. As anyone who’s seen the classic cartoon “Ben and Me” knows, the most important animal in Franklin’s life was the mouse Amos, who led him to some of his greatest discoveries. Ignoring Amos’s contributions in favor of a dog that wears the Liberty Bell as a hat is an unforgivable oversight. That mouse helped Thomas Jefferson write the Declaration of Independence! What did B. Franklin Dogg ever do?! Did he even exist? We should not have to ask these questions in the first place. Please correct your injustice, Sixers. Buying the character rights from Disney will be well worth it. Related: Thaddeus Young, Andre Iguodala, Evan Turner, Jrue Holiday, Marreese Speights, Elton Brand, Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls, Denver Nuggets, Detroit Pistons, Memphis Grizzlies, Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers, Washington Wizards, 2011-12 Season Previews
Maddux won’t seek Red Sox managerial job (AP)
BOSTON (AP)—Texas Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux has withdrawn from consideration for the manager’s job with the Boston Red Sox. He had been scheduled for an interview Tuesday, but Boston general manager Ben Cherington announced Monday that Maddux had withdrawn. The job opened when Terry Francona left following the team’s epic collapse in September, when it went 7-20 and missed the playoffs. Maddux pitched for nine teams, including the Red Sox, in a 15-year career that ended in 2000. He became pitching coach of the Milwaukee Brewers in 2003, then took the same job with Texas before the 2009 season. The Red Sox already have interviewed Philadelphia bench coach Pete Mackanin and Milwaukee hitting coach Dale Sveum. They plan to interview Cleveland bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr. Maddux, also a candidate for the Chicago Cubs managerial opening, said in a statement it was a family decision that led him to withdraw from consideration. “My wife and two daughters are together in the same state for the first time in three years and words cannot describe my happiness,” he said. “The game of baseball has many sacrifices but being apart from family is the toughest. I feel there is too much distance between the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and Boston to see my family as much as I’d enjoy. “Again, I thank Ben Cherington and the Boston Red Sox for the flattery, honor, and compliment of considering me for their position.”
Rookie salary scale at issue in talks (AP)
HONOLULU (AP)—Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose(notes) has established himself among the elite NBA players in just three seasons. His salary, however, doesn’t come anywhere near the top in the league, let alone his own team. Because of rookie salary scale restrictions, the league’s reigning MVP earns about $5.5 million a season—far less than other NBA stars. The scale is on the table between the league and players’ association during its extended labor dispute that could result in more games being canceled and might wipe out the season. Rose, in Hawaii this week visiting military personnel as part of the Hoops for Troops USO Tour, will undoubtedly earn a lot more when he becomes a free agent at the end of his four-year, $22.5 million contract, depending on the new agreement, of course. “I wish it was back like where it was in the old days where there wasn’t a cap,” Rose told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “Back in the day, they were giving guys coming out of college with multimillion-dollar contracts, so why stop it now? The game is growing. There’s no need to stop it.” The union would like players to get out from the rookie salary scale quicker than five years. On Monday, union executive director Billy Hunter mentioned Rose and Rookie of the Year Blake Griffin(notes) during an hour-long podcast with ESPN.com as examples of players who are underpaid because there are still locked into their scale figures. The league said it has proposed a new bonus pool for top-performing rookie scale players who earn league honors as such as MVP or are on the All-NBA first, second or third teams. Rose said the labor strife is about getting an agreement that’s fair. “Greed is not on our side,” Rose said. “We’re not greedy. … What they’re trying to do to us is dead wrong.” The sides met for three days with a federal mediator before talks broke down Thursday after players said owners insisted they commit to a 50-50 split of revenues before any further discussions about the salary cap system could continue. Though staffs from the sides have met since, no full bargaining sessions have been held and the NBA is expected to announce soon that more games will be canceled. “I know that everybody is waiting for us to play, but it has to be on the right terms.” Rose said. Rose has been waiting and spending most of his time training in Los Angeles with other NBA players, including Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford(notes), who also is in Hawaii. “We owe it to ourselves and others like the guys who are coming up to have a good deal,” Horford said. “I felt like in the past, the players have given up a lot to the owners and I just feel like it’s excessive that way they’re trying to do it … At the end of the day, if you look at who’s asking for money and all that, it’s the owners. They’re the ones that want to make all the drastic changes to all these things that haven’t really been an issue.” Rose, who turned 23 this month, is the youngest MVP in NBA history and joined Michael Jordan as the only Bulls player to earn the honor. “The most difficult part is, every day you wake up and you see games canceled,” he said. “The fans are fiending for it. I know we’re itching to play. And I know that it’ll hurt the game because our fans are loyal and for us not to be playing, I think it’ll hurt them more.” He is coming off a season where he averaged 25 points and 7.7 assists, while leading the Bulls to a league-high 62 wins and the Eastern Conference finals. The Miami Heat overwhelmed the top-seeded Bulls by dominating the fourth quarters, with LeBron James(notes) containing the Bulls’ point guard. Rose said he couldn’t wait to get back on the court to silence some of his critics and test some of the things he’s been working on since the playoffs, such as conditioning, isolation skills, going against bigger players and learning how to get fouled. “I put a lot of work into my game. I take my basketball life very serious. That’s just my life,” he said. “For people to still talk negative about you, I think that’s just life, period. You just go with it. But I feed off of it.” As far as his first trip to the islands, Rose said he was humbled by his welcome and meeting the troops. Rose and Horford are joined by Atlanta’s Joe Johnson(notes), Charlotte’s D.J. Augustin(notes), Sacramento’s Tyreke Evans(notes), New Jersey’s Brook Lopez(notes), Phoenix’s Robin Lopez(notes), Washington’s JaVale McGee(notes) and Miami’s Mike Miller(notes). They are scheduled to visit military families, hold clinics and play games at an Army, Navy and Marine Corps bases. Earlier this week, they met with some soldiers wounded in action. “They’re around my age and younger than I am,” Rose said. “Just seeing that they’re fighting for us, I just let them know we’re not taking them for granted.”
Report: Francona affected by medication? (AP)
BOSTON (AP)—As the Boston Red Sox disintegrated in what would become the worst September collapse in baseball history, some at Fenway Park grew concerned that the pain medication Terry Francona was taking after a half-dozen procedures on his knee was affecting his ability to manage, according to a report in the Boston Globe. In a 2,500-word, front-page article headlined, “Inside the Collapse,” the newspaper spread the blame on all sides: apathetic players eating fried chicken in the clubhouse during games; a general manager who squandered a $161 million budget on underperformers; ownership that thought players could be bought off with $300 headphones and a party on John Henry’s 164-foot yacht, “Iroquois.” Terry Francona(AP) But the most salacious revelations involved Francona, who left the team after the season when his contract options were not picked up. Since then, reports have surfaced about the dysfunction in a Red Sox clubhouse that produced a 7-20 record in September to turn what had been a once comfortable lead in the playoff race into an early offseason. According to the Globe, team sources “expressed concern that Francona’s performance may have been affected by the use of pain medication.” The sources were not identified, the article said, saying those interviewed feared for their jobs or their relationships inside the organization. The article also said Francona was worried about his son and son-in-law, who are Marine officers serving in Iraq. At the same time, Francona was living in a hotel, separated from his wife of more than 30 years. Responding to the allegations that he was “distracted,” Francona noted that he was dealing with the same problems during the four-month period when the team was going 80-41. Francona’s ill health was no secret—he was taken to the hospital with chest pains from Yankee Stadium in 2005—and he said he was taking the medication after multiple knee operations and at least five procedures to drain blood from his knee. “It makes me angry that people say these things because I’ve busted my (butt) to be the best manager I can be,” Francona told the paper. “I wasn’t terribly successful this year, but I worked harder and spent more time at the ballpark this year than I ever did.” Francona and second baseman Dustin Pedroia(notes), who declined to assign blame for the collapse, were the only individuals who were willing to discuss the team’s clubhouse culture on the record. (Designated hitter David Ortiz(notes) also commented, but said, “I don’t feel like talking about it anymore.”) Francona told the paper that he confirmed with team Dr. Larry Ronan that he did not have a problem with drug abuse. “I went and saw the proper people and it was not an issue,” Francona said. “It never became an issue, and anybody who knew what was going on knows that.” If Francona was distracted, he was not alone. A hastily scheduled day-night doubleheader to avoid Hurricane Irene angered players, who complained that management cared more about the money from ticket sales than winning. Sensing the “lingering resentment,” the article said, ownership threw a players-only party on Henry’s yacht and gave each player a pair of expensive headphones. Pitchers Josh Beckett(notes), Clay Buchholz(notes), John Lackey(notes) and Wakefield also appeared—in their uniforms, in front of the Green Monster—in a music video for a country song, “Hell yeah, I like beer.” Henry did not know about the appearance, he has said, and it is more troublesome when coupled with reports that Beckett, Lackey and Jon Lester(notes) were among those who would eat fried chicken, drink beer and play video games in the clubhouse during games, instead of being in the dugout with their teammates. “The guys that weren’t down on the bench, I wanted them down on the bench,” Francona said recently. “I wanted them to support their teammates.”
Nuggets G Afflalo to return for Game 3 (AP)
The Nuggets are fastening their hopes to a fickle hamstring. Arron Afflalo to the rescue. Pronouncing his left hamstring fit after practice Friday, the Denver guard will take the court for the first time in two weeks when Denver hosts the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday night in Game 3 of their first-round playoff series.
Bulls on verge of sweeping plucky Pacers (AP)
The Chicago Bulls are on the verge of sweeping the Indiana Pacers, even though they haven’t looked all that dominant. The Bulls have won the first three hard-fought games by a combined 15 points, wrapping things up in the final moments each time. The Bulls could end the series Saturday at Conseco Fieldhouse and rest up for the second round.
Rivers: Shaq ‘closer’ to returning (AP)
Shaquille O’Neal is “closer” to returning, although Boston coach Doc Rivers isn’t sure when that will be. O’Neal traveled with the Celtics to New York for Game 3, but doesn’t intend to play Friday. He could be available for Game 4 on Sunday. “Listen, he’s just feeling better and he’s closer.