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France favorite to reach Davis Cup final despite poor form

PARIS — With Novak Djokovic out of the Davis Cup semifinals, even a French lineup struggling for form is heavily favored to reach the team event final for th.....»»

Category: sportsSource: philstar philstarSep 13th, 2017

Chelsea looks for another good showing at Camp Nou

By Tales Azzoni, Associated Press MADRID (AP) — Few teams have caused as much trouble for Barcelona as Chelsea since Lionel Messi started playing with the Spanish club almost 15 years ago. Barcelona has been dominant with Messi against nearly every opponent it has faced in Europe. But not against Chelsea. The English club is even used to doing well against Barcelona at Camp Nou Stadium, where the teams will meet Wednesday in the second leg of their last-16 series in the Champions League. Chelsea is unbeaten against Barcelona in eight matches, with four straight draws at Camp Nou. Barcelona earned a 1-1 draw in the first match in England thanks to a late away goal by Messi, who had never scored against the Premier League club. "It will be a hard match just like in the away leg," Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said. "They have a strong team that defends well in a block and has a great counterattack. We will struggle." Barcelona has been thriving again this season. Its only loss came against Real Madrid in its first match of the season in the Spanish Super Cup final. It has won 18 of its last 20 home matches since then, with two draws — 2-2 against Celta Vigo and 0-0 against Getafe in the Spanish league. "We have to show great resilience," Chelsea coach Antonio Conte said. "We are playing against one of the best teams in the world. We must pay great attention and have the same focus and concentration of the first leg." This is the first time Chelsea and Barcelona are facing each other in the Champions League since the semifinals in 2012, when the English club advanced 3-2 on aggregate after securing an astonishing 2-2 draw in the second leg at Camp Nou, after trailing 2-0 with 10 men for most of the match. Chelsea also drew at Camp Nou in the Champions League semifinals in 2009, as well as in the group stage of the 2006-07 season and the round of 16 a year earlier. Chelsea is trying to make the quarterfinals for the first time since 2014, when eliminated by Atletico Madrid in the semis. Barcelona is looking to reach the last eight for a record 11th straight time. The Spanish league leaders are coming off a 2-0 win at last-place Malaga on Saturday, when Messi didn't play because of the birth of his third son, Ciro. It remains unclear if Valverde will be able to count on midfielder Andres Iniesta on Wednesday because of a hamstring injury. Here's a look at the other matches this week: ___ MAN UNITED-SEVILLA Jose Mourinho may be faced with a dilemma when Manchester United hosts Sevilla on Tuesday. With Paul Pogba ruled out of United's Premier League victory over Liverpool on Saturday, Mourinho's side finally managed to find the balance it has been lacking in recent weeks. If the France midfielder is available, Mourinho would have to drop Juan Mata or 21-year-old Scott McTominay to make room for him. United, which drew the first leg 0-0 in Seville, is trying to reach the quarterfinals for the first time since 2013-14. "The next game is very important for us, maybe the most important game of the season," United midfielder Nemanja Matic said. Sevilla is trying to make the quarterfinals for the first time. ___ ROMA-SHAKHTAR Roma will be hoping it has turned its poor home form around when it hosts Shakhtar Donetsk needing to overturn a 2-1 defeat. Roma beat Torino 3-0 on Friday for what was only its second win at Stadio Olimpico since mid-December. "Mentally, the lads felt a bit of pressure because we hadn't won at the Olimpico for a while — and I could see that," Roma coach Eusebio Di Francesco said. "Today's win shows that we've cleared the hurdle now." ___ BESIKTAS-BAYERN Besiktas is dreaming of becoming the first team to overturn a five-goal deficit in the UEFA competition when it hosts Bayern Munich on Wednesday, although restoring its pride will likely be enough after a chastening 5-0 first-leg defeat in Munich. The Turkish champion, playing in the knockout rounds of the Champions League for the first time, is hoping to extend its 12-game unbeaten run at home in European competitions. Bayern has made it to the Champions League quarterfinals six years in a row, but hasn't won the title since coach Jupp Heynckes' previous stint in 2013, when he led the side to a treble. It warmed up for its trip to Istanbul with a 6-0 rout of Hamburger SV on Saturday. "You can never hide in football, you can never take it easy," said Heynckes, who has 25 wins and just one defeat in 27 games across all competitions since returning to Bayern. ___ Associated Press writers Ciaran Fahey, Daniella Matar and Sam Johnston contributed to this report......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMar 12th, 2018

Falcons hold on to beat Lions 30-26 thanks to NFL rule

DETROIT (AP) — Matthew Stafford's pass to Golden Tate was ruled to be just short of the goal line in the final seconds, overturning the call on the field and allowing the Atlanta Falcons to hold on for a 30-26 win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday. Stafford threw a slant to Tate and a video review determined he was down just inside the 1 with 8 seconds left. By rule, 10 seconds had to run off the clock, and that ended the game because the Lions didn't have any timeouts. Former NFL officiating chief Dean Blandino, now a Fox analyst, explained the call in a tweet: 'To recap in DET: ruling on the field was a TD which stops the clock. After review, Tate was short which would have kept the clock running ... This carries a 10-sec runoff. Had the call on the field been correct initially, the clock would have run out. That's the spirit of the rule.' The defending NFC champion Falcons (3-0) overcame Matt Ryan's three interceptions and many other mistakes, including on Detroit's last drive. Detroit (2-1) never led in the game and failed to pull off another comeback in the fourth quarter. strong>EAGLES 27, GIANTS 24 /strong> PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jake Elliott kicked a 61-yard field goal as the clock expired. Eli Manning threw three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, including a 77-yard score to Sterling Shepard, but Philadelphia (2-1) rallied twice. Carson Wentz tossed a 19-yard pass to Alshon Jeffery to set up Elliott's kick. The rookie was a fifth-round pick by the Bengals and joined the Eagles after Caleb Sturgis was injured in Week 1. He was carried off the field by two teammates. Elliott hit a 46-yard field goal to tie it with 51 seconds left after Aldrick Rosas kicked a 41-yarder to put the Giants ahead. The Giants (0-3) hadn't scored 20 points in eight straight games before Manning led them to 21 in a span of 5:21. He tossed TD passes of 10 yards and 4 yards to Odell Beckham Jr. to tie it at 14. Manning then connected over the middle to Shepard, who broke a couple tackles and sprinted all the way for a 21-14 lead. But Philadelphia (2-1) answered quickly. A 36-yard penalty for pass interference on Eli Apple put the ball at the 15 and rookie Corey Clement ran in on the next play for his first career TD to make it 21-21. strong>PATRIOTS 36, TEXANS 33 /strong> FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Tom Brady connected with Brandin Cooks for a 25-yard touchdown pass with 23 seconds left, his fifth TD throw of the game. Brady finished 25 of 35 for 378 yards as New England (2-1) won its fifth straight regular-season meeting with Houston (1-2) and seventh of eight overall. Cooks caught five passes for 131 yards and pair of scores. It was the fifth multi-touchdown game and eighth 100-yard game of his career. Texans rookie Deshaun Watson was strong in his second career start. The Patriots were thin on the edge without linebacker Dont'a Hightower for the second straight week, and Watson took advantage, completing 22 of 33 passes for 301 yards and two touchdowns. But he did have two interceptions, including one that set up a New England first-half touchdown. The Patriots extended their halftime lead to 28-20 in the third quarter before Houston used a 12-yard TD pass from Watson to Ryan Griffin, and a 31-yard Ka'imi Fairbairn field goal to edge back in front 30-28 early in the fourth quarter. The Texans forced New England to punt with just over seven minutes to play, but had to settle for a 36-yard Fairbairn field goal with 2:24 left. Houston failed on a third-and-1 at the Patriots 18. That left Brady room. strong>BEARS 23, STEELERS 17, OT /strong> CHICAGO (AP) — Jordan Howard scored on a 19-yard run in overtime to lead the Bears. Howard's winning score came two plays after rookie Tarik Cohen broke off an electric run for what appeared to be a 73-yard winning touchdown. But he was ruled out at the Pittsburgh 37. Howard took over from there, and the Bears (1-2) came away with a surprising victory. Howard had 138 of Chicago's 220 yards rushing, making up for a lackluster performance by quarterback Mike Glennon. The Steelers (2-1) stayed off the sideline for the national anthem in the wake of President Donald Trump's comments that players who kneel in protest should be fired. Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, an Army veteran, stood near the tunnel with his hand over his heart. Once the game ended, they found themselves in a familiar spot — losing to a lesser team and losing in Chicago, where they are 1-13. Marcus Cooper committed an inexplicable fumble after the Bears blocked a field goal in the closing seconds of the half. With a clear path to the end zone, he slowed down and had the ball poked away at the 1. Ben Roethlisberger threw for 235 yards and a touchdown. Antonio Brown had 110 yards receiving and a touchdown. strong>BILLS 26, BRONCOS 16 /strong> ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Tyrod Taylor threw two touchdowns and the Bills intercepted Trevor Siemian twice in the final 19 minutes. Taylor went 20 of 26 for 213 yards with a 2-yard touchdown to Andre Holmes and a 6-yarder to Charles Clay. Taylor got lucky on the touchdown pass to Holmes , as the ball deflected off the hands of Zay Jones just inside the goal line and bounced directly to Holmes in the back of the end zone. The Bills (2-1) overcame their struggling running attack courtesy of Taylor's arm and a stout defense in a game LeSean McCoy was limited to 21 yards on 14 carries. Though he had seven catches for 48 yards, McCoy's latest poor outing came after he was limited to 9 yards rushing in a 9-3 loss at Carolina. The Bills allowed just one touchdown, while Brandon McManus rounded out Denver's scoring with three field goals. In falling to 2-1, the Broncos turned over the ball on each of their final four possessions, with Siemian being intercepted by E.J. Gaines and Tre'Davious White. The Broncos also turned the ball over twice on downs. strong>JETS 20, DOLPHINS 6 /strong> EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Josh McCown threw a 69-yard touchdown pass to Robby Anderson, Bilal Powell ran for a score, and the Jets' defense dominated Jay Cutler and the Dolphins. While a lot of the focus heading into the season was on whether the revamped Jets roster would be good enough to win any games, New York made Miami look like the team in the middle of a rebuild. McCown finished 18 of 23 for 249 yards, Chandler Catanzaro kicked two field goals, and the Jets (1-2) forced Cutler and the Dolphins (1-1) into mistakes all game. The Jets also avoided their first 0-3 start since 2003. New York just missed having its first shutout since blanking Cincinnati 37-0 on Jan. 13, 2010 — in the Jets' last game at the old Giants Stadium. Cutler threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to DeVante Parker on the final play. Cody Parkey missed the extra point, capping a miserable day for Miami in 88-degree heat at MetLife Stadium. strong>JAGUARS 44, RAVENS 7 /strong> LONDON (AP) — Marcedes Lewis caught three of Blake Bortles' four touchdown passes as the Jaguars won in their fifth game in Britain's capital. Allen Hurns and Leonard Fournette also scored touchdowns for the Jaguars (2-1), who have won each of their last three games played at the venue. This one, by far, was the easiest. The Ravens (2-1) managed just 186 yards of total offense, including minus-1 yard in the first quarter. They managed 15 yards in the first half, and picked up only 12 first downs. A 6-yard pass from Ryan Mallett, who entered in relief of Joe Flacco in the fourth quarter, to Benjamin Watson with 3:24 remaining prevented the shutout. It was their worst defeat since Nov. 9, 1997, when they lost 37-0 at Pittsburgh. Baltimore crossed midfield three times — and not until the third quarter, when Terrance West gained 7 yards to reach the Jaguars 45. On the next play, West failed to secure a handoff and fumbled, leading to linebacker Telvin Smith returning it 52 yards to set up Lewis' third touchdown. Jacksonville punctuated the victory with a fake punt minutes later, with Corey Grant taking a direct snap 58 yards before Fournette punched the ball in from the 3. strong>VIKINGS 34, BUCCANEERS 17 /strong> MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Case Keenum gave Minnesota a brilliant performance in relief of Sam Bradford, passing for three touchdowns and a career-high 369 yards without a turnover. Stefon Diggs had 173 yards receiving and caught two of Keenum's throws for scores, one short and one long . Dalvin Cook produced 169 total yards plus his first NFL touchdown , which capped a 75-yard drive by the Vikings (2-1) to start the game. They never slowed down, building a 28-3 lead by early in the third quarter on their way to compiling 494 yards. Trae Waynes and Harrison Smith each picked off Jameis Winston in the end zone , and Andrew Sendejo returned an interception 36 yards in the fourth quarter to set up one of two field goals by Kai Forbath. Winston completed 28 of 40 passes for 328 yards, but the Buccaneers (1-1) simply couldn't overcome having to play from behind all afternoon. They converted only one of six third downs. strong>COLTS 31, BROWNS 28 /strong> INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Jacoby Brissett ran for two touchdowns, threw for another and the Colts held off Cleveland's late charge. Brissett, acquired in a trade with New England earlier this month, looked much more comfortable in his second start, going 17 of 24 with 259 yards and running five times for 14 yards. Indy (1-2) avoided its first 0-3 start in six years. Cleveland (0-3) lost its 15th consecutive road game despite being favored for the first time since 2015 and a road favorite for the first time since 2012. Brissett was the primary reason for the Browns' latest loss. He started the scoring with a 5-yard TD run, broke a 7-7 tie by spinning away from pressure and scooting 7 yards for his second score, then hooked up with T.Y. Hilton on a 61-yard TD pass to make it 21-7 — all in the first half. Frank Gore's 4-yard scoring run made it 28-7. Cleveland spent the rest of the game playing catch-up, but had two second-half scoring chances snuffed out by Rashaan Melvin's interceptions. strong>SAINTS 34, PANTHERS 13 /strong> CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Drew Brees shredded the league's top-ranked defense, throwing for three touchdowns and 220 yards. Brees led six scoring drives and threw TD passes to Michael Thomas, Brandon Coleman and ex-Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. as the Saints avoided an 0-3 start. Rookie Alvin Kamara put the game away with a 25-yard TD run with 4:42 left. Carolina (2-1) had allowed six points in its previous two games. The Saints' defense, which came in ranked 32nd in the league, intercepted Cam Newton three times and sacked him four times before he was replaced late in the fourth quarter. Many of Newton's throws were either too hard or high as the seventh-year quarterback continued to struggle with his rhythm following offseason shoulder surgery. The Panthers, who were already without injured Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen, lost wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin in the first quarter to a knee injury; his leg got bent back awkwardly after being dragged down from behind. Carolina's only real offense came from rookie running back Christian McCaffrey, who had 101 yards receiving on nine catches. strong>PACKERS 27, BENGALS 24 /strong> GREEN BAY, Wisconsin (AP) — Mason Crosby kicked a 27-yard field goal with 6:26 left in overtime set up by Aaron Rodgers' 72-yard pass to Geronimo Allison. Crosby's kick completed the Packers' comeback from a 21-7 halftime deficit. On third-and-10 from his 21, Rodgers took advantage of yet another free play after defensive end Michael Johnson was whistled for offside. Officials let the play continue and the two-time NFL MVP found Allison on about a 40-yard pass before the receiver beat a couple defenders for more yards. Crosby took care of the rest for the Packers (2-1). The winless Bengals (0-3) won the toss in overtime but went three-and-out on their opening drive. It was so loud at Lambeau Field that they had to call timeout before their first overtime snap. Rodgers thrived under the pressure. Rodgers finished 28 of 42 for 313 yards with three touchdowns and one score. Allison had six catches for 122 yards. strong>CHIEFS 24, CHARGERS 10 /strong> CARSON, California (AP) — Alex Smith threw two touchdown passes in the first 9 ½ minutes against what used to be his hometown team, Terrance Mitchell had two interceptions and rookie Kareem Hunt scored on a 69-yard run. The Chiefs (3-0) beat the Chargers for the seventh straight time and have won 12 straight AFC West games. Los Angeles' Philip Rivers threw three interceptions and the Chargers fell to 0-3 in their first season playing in the 27,000-seat StubHub Center after moving from San Diego. After a quick start, the Chiefs held on through a defensive struggle in the second half. They got two huge plays in the closing minutes: Justin Houston's sack of Rivers and then Hunt's sensational run when he cut back against the flow and raced 69 yards down the left sideline with 1:49 left. The rookie finished with 172 yards on 17 carries. The game couldn't have started more differently for Smith, who grew up in the San Diego area, and Rivers. Rivers was intercepted by Mitchell on the game's third play from scrimmage. Four plays later, Smith hit Tyreek Hill on a 30-yard touchdown pass. strong>TITANS 33, SEAHAWKS 27 /strong> NASHVILLE, Tennessee (AP) — Marcus Mariota threw for 225 yards and two touchdowns as the Titans scored 21 straight points in rallying to beat the Seahawks. Pro Bowl running back DeMarco Murray rushed for 115 yards, including a 75-yard TD run. Ryan Succop also kicked four field goals as Tennessee (2-1) scored at least 30 points for a second straight week. The Seahawks (1-2) finally scored a bunch of touchdowns with Russell Wilson throwing for 373 yards and four TDs. His second TD, a 10-yarder to Chris Carson , put Seattle up 14-9 in the third quarter. Then the Titans took control with Mariota answering with TDs on the next two drives for Tennessee. Wilson pulled Seattle within 33-27 with his fourth TD, an 8-yarder to Paul Richardson with 1:50 left. But Titans tight end Delanie Walker recovered Seattle's onside kick. The Seahawks had one last chance with the Titans lined up to punt on fourth-and-3 with 11 seconds left. Then officials flagged the Seahawks for 12 men in the formation, giving Tennessee the clinching first down. strong>REDSKINS 27, RAIDERS 10 /strong> LANDOVER, Maryland (AP) — Kirk Cousins threw for 365 yards and three touchdowns and Chris Thompson had 188 all-purpose yards and a score as Washington sacked Derek Carr four times and held Oakland to 128 yards in a dominating victory. Cousins was a spectacular 25 of 30, including TD passes to Thompson, Vernon Davis and a 52-yarder to Josh Doctson. Thompson had 150 yards receiving and 38 yards rushing, joining Jamaal Charles as the only running backs to put up 150 yards receiving against the Raiders (2-1) since they moved to Oakland in 1995. Thompson was again a difference maker and has four of Washington's seven offensive touchdowns this season. The Redskins (2-1), who piled up 472 yards, improved to 4-6 in prime-time games under coach Jay Gruden and tied the Philadelphia Eagles for first place in the NFC East. Under pressure all night, Carr was 19 of 31 for 118 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Carr had thrown 112 consecutive passes before being picked off by Montae Nicholson on the second play of the game.   .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsSep 25th, 2017

Budding Sixers take control of series in Miami

By Shaun Powell, NBA.com MIAMI — Back in 2014, when the Miami Heat were wrapping up their championship-fueled era, the Philadelphia 76ers began plotting their own. And they did it unconventionally, laughably and by any measure, dreadfully. It was Year One of the most ambitious rebuilding plan before or since, when the Sixers willingly laid down and became a doormat and allowed other teams to wipe their sneakers on them. That season, while LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh cruised to a fourth straight appearance, and their last together, in the NBA Finals, the Sixers lost 63 games. And then they got better at this tanking technique and lost 64 and 72 the next two years. But fast-forward to now, to Saturday (Sunday, PHL time) at American Airlines Arena, and the roles with the Heat and Sixers are threatening to flip. Maybe not so drastically, but it’s clear through four games of this first-round playoff series that the Sixers are going one way and the Heat another. The Sixers have Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, a pair of young bedrocks slowly building something with the potential to be big. The Heat? They have banners in the rafters commemorating what they used to be, not so long ago. Philly also has something else on Miami, namely a 3-1 series lead after Simmons became the first rookie since Magic Johnson to drop a triple-double in a playoff game and Embiid fought through a poor shooting game and an irritating protective mask to spook any Heat player that challenged him at the rim. It was the Sixers who made all the right plays in the final crucial moments in the 106-102 win, getting key stops and buckets and pulling away, a team with a young core turning mature, and doing it rapidly, despite their lack of post-season experience. And having a front-row seat to this new Process was none other than Wade, a proud if aging member of the extinct Big Three who realizes something unique is happening with the Sixers. “This is a very good team,” said Wade. “They’ve got talent at almost every position. This is definitely one of the best first-round opponents I’ve played in my career.” Are the Sixers all that, already? “They’re good,” said Wade. “They’re special. They put the right team together.” Yes, they have. Maybe it wasn’t properly done in the spirit of competition, and perhaps they embarrassed themselves if not the league while doing so, but that’s all behind the Sixers right now. What’s ahead of them is a potential series-clinching Game 5 in Philly and from there, who knows? Yes, the core of the Sixers is Simmons, Embiid and Dario Saric, all under 25, and in the playing rotation only JJ Redick and Marco Belinelli earned any significant playoff money. But if a young team is ever going to reach the NBA Finals, this is the right time, and this is the right team. Just look at the wide-open landscape in the East: LeBron and the Cavaliers, winners of the last three East titles, are down 2-1 to the Pacers and haven’t appeared this fragile since LeBron returned to Cleveland. The Celtics are missing Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Toronto is the No. 1 seed in the East but inspires few outside Canada. Why not the Sixers? Why not now? Simmons is lacking a jump shot and little else, and still manages to score anyway. His direction of the club in the fourth quarter of Game 4 was near-masterful; Simmons stayed poised, found the open man and popped the Heat’s comeback hopes with an uncontested dunk when Miami pulled within a point. Embiid couldn’t hit a shot and yet didn’t fall into a funk; rather he terrorized Miami by being a defensive force, punctuated by his spike of a Goran Dragic late-fourth quarter breakaway layup attempt (followed by an Embiid stare down). “They make you pay every time you make a mistake,” said Wade. Speaking of which, the Sixers had 27 turnovers, certainly the recipe for disaster, and still found a way. In the words of coach Brett Brown: “I’m surprised we won this game. We really didn’t have any right to win this game.” But maybe it’s just additional proof that this is Philly’s time. It’s quite a contrast to the ex-bully on the block. Four years after LeBron made the second biggest decision of his life, the Heat are still searching for the identity they had when the champagne flowed, and the party rolled on South Beach. The only reminder is Wade, and at age 36 he’s only capable of having flashes now, like his 28 points in Game 2 and an impressive 25-point follow up Saturday that was marred only by a missed free throw in the final seconds. Besides that, there’s nothing special. Pat Riley’s latest attempt to recreate a winner is looking dubious right now. Riley decided two summers ago to build the Heat around a seven-foot center with low post-skills, which means Riley gave a $100 million to a dinosaur. And one with a decaying relationship with coach Erik Spoelstra. Hassan Whiteside can’t get on the floor in today’s NBA, where small-ball makes him a liability in certain situations. With no shooting range, and perhaps no incentive to develop one, Whiteside finds himself on the bench in fourth quarters and on the nerves of Spoelstra. “He’s a prisoner of the style of play,” said Brown. Plus: Riley also paid Josh Richardson, James Johnson, Tyler Johnson and Kelly Olynyk. Which means the Heat are almost guaranteed to be a 43-win team fighting for the final playoff spot for the next few years. When the Heat searched for someone to bail them out Saturday (Sunday, PHL time), who did they turn to? An aging All-Star who’s on the downside, which says something about Wade … and the Heat’s roster. “He ended up being our best option,” said Spoelstra. There’s another path the Heat can take, of course. They could follow the current Hawks, Nets, Lakers and Magic, who all took their cues from the 2014 Sixers, and take a few steps back before moving forward. But that’s not a fool-proof plan — have you seen the Magic the last few years? — and besides, losing by any means isn’t in Riley’s DNA. So, mediocrity it is, then. Meanwhile, the Sixers have Embiid and Simmons and if you ask fans in Philly, they’d say it was well worth the steep price, in terms of the misery of tanking, paid for them. “They’re two players that have the chance to be great,” said Brown. “Joel has no right to be doing some of the things he does. Ben’s composure down the stretch is amazing. Those two are exceptional.” What the Sixers just did was win a pair in Miami, under the banners that hung over them, was fly in the face of basketball convention which says youth doesn’t get served in the post-season. They can close out at home and then get the survivor of Celtics-Bucks, and Philly can expect to be the favorite in that conference semifinal. “I can see how much we’ve grown and how much more room we have to grow,” said Brown. “To come here and get a win, in this building, against an organization of winning and culture and history, it’s special.” There’s another story here: If the Sixers eliminate the Heat, then it could be curtains for Wade, who doesn’t have a contract for next season, who hasn’t committed to playing beyond this season, and who paused suspiciously for about three seconds when asked if Saturday was his final game in Miami. “I don’t want to answer that right now,” he said. Whether he sticks around or takes the sunset cruise, Wade must realize that a transformation is taking place in the East. After years of deliberately bad basketball the Sixers are finally bearing fruit, and oh, speaking of food, Wade and the Heat can chew on this for a minute: The Sixers have room under the salary cap to give Embiid and Simmons some help next season. LeBron James, free agent-to-be, might reach the conclusion that the Sixers are his best championship option. for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.   The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 22nd, 2018

Are the Sixers too young for playoff success?

By Shaun Powell, NBA.com The learning curve of the Philadelphia 76ers has taken on a new, more direct and simpler geometric shape. It’s now a straight line, pulled and yanked that way by an impatient team determined to take the expressway from now on. And so this is where The Process has led them, to the NBA playoffs, a place exclusively reserved for Big Boy Basketball, where we get to see if the Sixers will skip another floor in their rapid developmental rise or if youth is about to get served a lesson. Hey, if nothing else, it beats wiping away the stench of losing, which is what coach Brett Brown was doing this time the last few years before this club finally grew up and as we now see, blew up. "This year we exceeded 50 wins and when you do that, you get into NBA elite territory which is something different for us,” he said. “But what’s interesting is we want more. We have more room to grow and we want to do that now.” Yes, the Sixers, finally sprung free of the dark ages, have crashed the annual spring show and are doing so rather emphatically in addition to surprisingly. Surely you saw this coming this quickly, no? On Christmas Eve they were 14-18. Their sensational big man, Joel Embiid, was getting the kid glove treatment, rarely playing extended minutes or consecutive games because of his brittle injury history. Their top draft pick, Markelle Fultz, was out with a bad shoulder and a broken jumper. Obviously, they’d just emerged from their four years of Tankapalooza with the trepidation of a chick stumbling from the nest. And quite simply, four months ago they just weren’t good enough to be lumped with the lead pack. Yet. But since then, what the hell just happened? “This group has come together from a toughness standpoint, a spirit standpoint,” Brown said. To say the least. The Sixers are 50-game winners, with a strong Kia Rookie of the Year candidate in Ben Simmons and a top-10 talent in Embiid, whose orbital injury that cost him the final eight regular season games should be healed for the playoffs at some point. Everything has fallen into place to make Philly a basketball destination once again, and these Sixers find themselves in a unique situation heading into the weekend. That’s because the playoff landscape in the East is favorable for someone like Philly to pull a surprise or two. Can they last a round? Of course; they’ll be a favorite initially. How about reaching the Eastern Conference finals? That’s trickier, and it’ll come down to matchups, but stranger things have happened. And, the NBA Finals? Well. Consider that there’s no true beast taking up space in the East and sending shivers everywhere. All of the contenders are showing a scratch or two: Toronto brings a blah playoff history; some of LeBron James’ supporting cast in Cleveland is untested; the Celtics are without Kyrie Irving, not to mention Gordon Hayward. The Sixers are the wild card in the playoff picture. Their wart is their inexperience in these matters. And so: Are they too young to be taken seriously? “I understand why people might think that, but I think we’ll be fine,” said JJ Redick, the resident senior citizen at age 33. “I don’t expect any of us to play differently than we have lately. These young guys are all gamers.” The Sixers are uniquely built; their twin core of Simmons and Embiid has played a combined three NBA seasons. Redick is the only starter with playoff experience and is also the only player in the rotation who ever played a major role in the playoffs. The Sixers are cubs compared to most of the East, even those teams below them. Essentially, the veterans on the Sixers orbit around the youngsters, instead of vice versa. Brown regularly takes the temperature of his players and has yet to pause at the results he’s seeing. For the most part, this has worked out better than he and they expected. “At this stage you figure how you deliver a team to the playoffs, how do you arrive at the playoffs,” Brown said. “Well, you can check three boxes: Their health, their spirit and their form. And finally: Are they playing good basketball? They’re all very interconnected, they’re all closely intertwined. Those things rule my day when I watch film and see how hard and long we’re going to go in practice. These guys have embraced and improved in those areas. Our defense has been excellent and we’re regularly getting 30 assists as a team, another example of a team enjoying each other’s company.” This makes for an interesting postseason baptism. There’s hope in Philly that Simmons and Embiid and Robert Covington and Dario Saric won’t know the difference between March basketball and May basketball. “We’ll just come and play the same way we’ve been doing,” Simmons said. The other advantage for Philly is Simmons appears well beyond his years. His expression is stoic, no matter the game circumstances, and his poise has yet to shatter memorably and cost the Sixers when it counts. He’s giving 16 points, eight rebounds and eight assists a night and had at least 10 points, five rebounds and five assists in 58 games, second only to Russell Westbrook and LeBron James. He is the first rookie in NBA history to average eight assists on a 50-win team. It remains to be seen how a 56-percent free throw shooter will respond if he’s put in that situation with the game on the line. Otherwise, his court direction and ability to reach the rim should not suffer from springtime stage fright. “Ben sits behind a glass wall and watches everyone else on the other side,” Redick said. “There’s nothing that affects him. He plays with the same demeanor and purpose no matter what’s going on around him. He brings a calm presence, and the maturity he plays with is beyond his years. Impressive.” Brown said: “He’s the stone cold Rookie of the Year and to me it’s not even close.” Philly’s best player is Embiid, though, and he’ll play with a mask once he does return, perhaps sometime in the first round. If he doesn’t suffer any lasting effects from the facial injury (vision, lack of balance), he’ll be the premier big man on the floor in the East. This allows the Sixers to exploit their low-post advantage over the Celtics, Raptors and Cavs should Philly meet any of those contenders along the way. The Sixers are also working with a pair of bonuses in Fultz and Ersan Ilyasova, two players they didn’t anticipate being in the playoff mix just a few months ago. Fultz is finally free of his shoulder woes and his shooting is starting to come around, to the point where Brown says he’ll find a role for Fultz in the rotation. Basically, the Sixers feel safe enough to put him on the floor, something that would’ve been a reach before he was activated, when he showed a nasty mechanical hitch in a jumper that somehow went south on him. “We don’t feel we’re going to be caught off guard with him,” Brown said. Ilyasova was gift-wrapped to Philly by the Hawks at midseason and has since been a solid source of scoring (17 points in a two-point win over Cleveland last week) and deepened the Sixers’ bench, allowing Brown to use a variety of different lineups and strategies. In all, the manner in which the season has come together is paying off at the right time for Philly. “We didn’t have this level of maturity in November and December,” Redick said. “If you look at some of our losses early in the season I felt they were immature losses. We’re more focused, more together, developed a mental toughness. Sometimes in life and in this league you have to go through things and experience things to grasp how to do them. There’s no better learning tool than the actual experience. So blowing a lead or coming back from a large halftime deficit, you have to do those things to understand that you can do it. Having those lessons early in the season has prepared us to have a great run since Christmas; we have the second best record in the league since then. This is better than what I expected or even hoped for. It’s been a long sustained growth period.” What does it all mean? Well, even though they’re entering the playoffs with the force of a hurricane, this isn’t the NCAA tournament. This is best-of-seven basketball, which means a team must prove itself worthy of moving on, instead of hoping to get lucky or hot. In the case of Philly and others in the East, that means beating LeBron four times in a series, and that hasn’t happened since 2010. You could also make the case the Sixers are playing with house money at this point, no matter what happens; after enduring The Process and painful progress, this is a blessing, a reward. The Sixers aren’t seeing it that way, though, not after growing up in a hurry. They want to seize the opportunity now, and any playoff success will largely depend on how they handle this as first-timers. Your guess is as good as Brown’s. “You really don’t know what to expect,” Brown said. “There’s no body of work. I will give our guys the benefit of the doubt. The poise they have shown in the regular season, the poise they’ve shown in big games and key moments, gives me tremendous confidence that we will handle this stage with a greater level of poise than what I might have guessed in October, or what I might have guessed not so long ago if you asked me questions about how will rookies and young guys handle this very different part of the season.” Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 11th, 2018

Still alive: Teams chasing World Cup spots through playoffs

A look at the lineup of teams in the intercontinental and European playoffs for the 2018 World Cup in Russia: ___ em> strong>EUROPEAN PLAYOFFS (matches to be confirmed) /strong> /em> strong>ITALY /strong> Four-time world champion Italy will be favored to qualify no matter which opponent it faces, yet the Azzurri aren't in top form after four discouraging results — a 3-0 loss to Spain, slim 1-0 wins over Israel and Albania, and a 1-1 draw with Macedonia. However, the expected returns from injury of center forward Andrea Belotti and veteran midfielder Daniele De Rossi could provide a boost. The playoff outcome will likely determine the future of Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura. Milan's San Siro or Palermo's Renzo Barbera stadium are being considered to host the home leg of the playoff. strong>CROATIA /strong> Croatia finds itself in familiar territory. Led by playmaker Luka Modric and other high-profile players in Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic, the Croatians faced the same hurdle before the 2014 tournament in Brazil, eliminating Iceland 2-0 on aggregate. In this campaign, Croatia was on course to qualify automatically from the first place before two poor results — a 1-0 loss in Turkey and a 1-1 draw at home to Finland. Those results cost coach Ante Cacic his job. Under new coach Zlatko Dalic, Croatia won a needed 2-0 victory at Ukraine to seal a playoff spot behind Iceland. strong>SWITZERLAND /strong> Switzerland was perfect in World Cup qualifying for more than one year: Nine games, nine wins. Now coach Vladimir Petkovic must lift his players after a 2-0 loss in Portugal on Tuesday sent them to the playoffs, where the best runner-up record counts for little except being seeded. The Swiss have a reputation for being an efficient team in group-stage games that falls just short against good opponents in elimination games. They lost to Argentina at the 2014 World Cup, and Poland at Euro 2016. Their opponents next month are likely to be below that class, and Petkovic can expect that forward Breel Embolo — a substitute in Lisbon — will be fully fit after a one-year injury absence. strong>DENMARK /strong> There's a chance Denmark could face neighbor Sweden, which denied the Danes a spot in the 2016 European Championship by winning their playoff. Christian Eriksen is the undoubted star of the Denmark team, the playmaker having been one of the best players in the English Premier League over the last two years and scoring eight times from midfield in qualifying. Denmark was second to Poland in its group, only missing out on automatic qualification in the final round. strong>GREECE /strong> Reaching the playoffs came as a relief for Greece's players and coach Michael Skibbe following an embarrassing qualification campaign for Euro 2016, when the team was twice beaten by the Faeroe Islands and finished last in the group. An obdurate defense was again the key to earning a runner-up spot, nine points behind Belgium, with Skibbe struggling to find stability in midfield and a strike partner for Kostas Mitroglou. The German coach may look forward to the development of 21-year-old Tassos Donis, who provided some badly needed pace in midfield, as well as the talents of the Portuguese-born Carlos Zeca. strong>SWEDEN /strong> Sweden captain Andreas Granqvist says he'd prefer to not play Italy or Scandinavian archrival Denmark and would rather face Croatia or Switzerland. Sweden, for example, has never beaten Italy in the last 17 years. Sweden finished behind France in its group, but ahead of the Netherlands, in its first qualifying campaign without retired striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Marcus Berg has replaced Ibrahimovic as Sweden's leading striker and scored eight times in the qualifying. strong>IRELAND /strong> This will be Ireland's ninth time in the playoffs for a major tournament. The Irish have progressed on three occasions, with their most high-profile failure coming against France in the playoffs for the 2010 World Cup when Thierry Henry clearly handled the ball in the build-up to the crucial goal. In the final round of group play, Ireland beat Wales in Cardiff in a virtual playoff for the playoffs. Coach Martin O'Neill's counterattacking tactics worked perfectly in that 1-0 win and it would be no surprise if he does the same in the playoffs. strong>NORTHERN IRELAND /strong> After reaching the knockout stage at Euro 2016, the Northern Irish continued their rise in international soccer by finishing runner-up behind Germany in their group. They have never been to back-to-back major tournaments. There's no chance of a potentially spicy match against neighbor Ireland, as both are set to be among the non-seeded teams after the seedings are confirmed on Monday. ___ em> strong>INTERCONTINENTAL PLAYOFFS /strong> /em> strong>HONDURAS vs. AUSTRALIA /strong> Both countries have been regulars in recent World Cups, with Honduras looking to make it for a third straight tournament and Australia seeking a fourth in a row. Los Catrachos — as the Honduras national team is nicknamed — were squeezed out of an automatic place in Russia by Panama, which scored a late winner in a dramatic denouement to qualifying in the CONCACAF region. Asian Cup champion Australia had its chances to qualify directly, but failed to capitalize on a glut of scoring chances in the last group game against Thailand and ended up finishing in third spot behind Japan and Saudi Arabia. The Socceroos then beat Syria 2-1 after extra time to clinch the two-legged Asian playoff, but only after Syria hit the post with a free kick in the last moments of the second leg. The Australians were most recently in an inter-confederation playoff in 2006, when they ousted Uruguay over two legs. strong>PERU vs. NEW ZEALAND /strong> On New Zealand's side is a more recent appearance at the World Cup — going through the group stage in 2010 unbeaten but still being eliminated — and a first taste of Russia by qualifying for the Confederations Cup in June. But more than a 100 places separate New Zealand and Peru in the FIFA rankings. While New Zealand is at No. 113, Peru has surged to 12th as it chases a first visit to the World Cup since 1982. Peru claimed fifth place in the tough South American qualifying group to set up the intercontinental play-off that will be played over two legs on Nov. 6 and 14. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsOct 12th, 2017

Senate opens ‘Obamacare’ debate at last but outcome in doubt – ABC News

Prodded by President Donald Trump, a bitterly divided Senate voted, at last, Tuesday to move forward with the Republicans' long-promised legislation to repeal and replace &'8220;Obamacare.&'8221; There was high drama as Sen. John McCain returned to the Capitol for the first time after being diagnosed with brain cancer to cast a decisive &'8220;yes&'8221; vote. The final tally was 51-50, with Vice President Mike Pence, exercising his constitutional prerogative, breaking the tie after two Republicans joined all 48 Democrats in voting &'8220;no.&'8221; When the Senate voted Tuesday evening on the bill's initial amendment, it underscored how hard it will be for the chamber's divided Republicans to pass a sweeping replacement of Obama's law. By 57-43 — including nine GOP defectors — it blocked a wide-ranging proposal by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to erase and replace much of the statute. It included language by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, letting insurers sell cut-rate policies with skimpy coverage, plus an additional $100 billion to help states ease out-of-pocket costs for people losing Medicaid — a provision sought by Midwestern moderates including Rob Portman, R-Ohio. On the day's opening vote to begin debate, and with all senators in their seats and protesters agitating outside and briefly inside the chamber, the vote was held open at length before McCain, 80, entered the chamber. Greeted by cheers, he smiled and dispensed hugs — but with the scars from recent surgery starkly visible on the left side of his face. Despite voting &'8220;yes,&'8221; he took a lecturing tone afterward and hardly saw success assured for the legislation after weeks of misfires, even after Tuesday's victory for Trump and Republican leader Mitch McConnell. &'8220;If this process ends in failure, which seems likely, then let's return to regular order,&'8221; McCain said as he chided Republican leaders for devising the legislation in secret along with the administration and &'8220;springing it on skeptical members.&'8221; &'8220;Stop listening to the bombastic loudmouths on the radio, TV and internet. To hell with them!&'8221; McCain said, raising his voice as he urged senators to reach for the comity of earlier times. At the White House earlier, after senators voted to consider the bill, Trump wasted no time in declaring a win and slamming the Democrats anew. &'8220;I'm very happy to announce that, with zero of the Democrats' votes, the motion to proceed on health care has just passed. And now we move forward toward truly great health care for the American people,&'8221; Trump said. &'8220;This was a big step. I want to thank Senator John McCain — very brave man.&'8221; Trump continued to celebrate the vote at a rally in Youngstown, Ohio that doubled as a victory lap. &'8220;We're now one step closer to liberating our citizens from this &'8220;Obamacare&'8221; nightmare and delivering great health care for the American people&'8221; he said. At its most basic, the Republican legislation is aimed at undoing &'8220;Obamacare&'8221;'s unpopular mandates for most people to carry insurance and businesses to offer it. The GOP would repeal &'8220;Obamacare&'8221; taxes and unwind an expansion of the Medicaid program for the poor, the disabled and nursing home residents The result would be 20 million to 30 million people losing insurance over a decade, depending on the version of the bill. The GOP legislation has polled abysmally, while &'8220;Obamacare&'8221; itself has grown steadily more popular. Yet most Republicans argue that failing to deliver on their promises to pass repeal-and-replace legislation would be worse than passing an unpopular bill, because it would expose the GOP as unable to govern despite controlling majorities in the House, Senate and White House. Tuesday's vote amounted to a procedural hurdle for legislation whose final form is impossible to predict under the Senate's byzantine amendment process, which will unfold over the next several days. Indeed senators had no clear idea of what they would ultimately be voting on, and in an indication of the uncertainty ahead, McConnell, R-Ky., said the Senate will &'8220;let the voting take us where it will.&'8221; The expectation is that he will bring up a series of amendments. Yet after seven years of empty promises, and weeks of hand-wringing and false starts on Capitol Hill, it was the Senate's first concrete step toward delivering on innumerable pledges to undo former President Barack Obama's law. It came after several near-death experiences for earlier versions of the legislation, and only after Trump summoned senators to the White House last week to order them to try again after McConnell had essentially conceded defeat. &'8220;The people who sent us here expect us to begin this debate, to have the courage to tackle the tough issues,&'8221; McConnell said ahead of the vote. Democrats stood implacably opposed, and in an unusual maneuver they sat in their seats refusing to vote until it was clear Republicans would be able to reach the 50-vote margin needed to get them over the top with Pence's help. &'8220;Turn back,&'8221; Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York implored his GOP colleagues before the vote. &'8220;Turn back now, before it's too late and millions and millions and millions of Americans are hurt so badly.&'8221; Schumer's pleas fell on deaf ears, as several GOP senators who'd announced they would oppose moving forward with the legislation reversed themselves to vote &'8220;yes.&'8221; Among them were Dean Heller of Nevada, the most vulnerable Republican senator in next year's midterm elections, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. Johnson has recently accused McConnell of [&'].....»»

Category: newsSource:  mindanaoexaminerRelated NewsJul 26th, 2017

Nadal beats Djokovic and will face Zverev for Rome title

ROME --- The latest installment in the rivalry between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic met expectations for one tight set. Then Nadal pulled away for a 7-6 (4), 6-3 win to reach the Italian Open final on Saturday. In their 51st meeting but first in more than a year, Nadal's court coverage eventually proved too much to handle for Djokovic, who is still regaining his form from a persistent right elbow injury. "That was a tough battle, a good level of tennis, a combination of good tactics and great shots from both of us," said Nadal, who has had injury trouble of his own over the past year. Nadal's opponent in Sunday's final will be defending champion Alexander Zverev, who recovered f...Keep on reading: Nadal beats Djokovic and will face Zverev for Rome title.....»»

Category: newsSource:  inquirerRelated NewsMay 20th, 2018

Nadal overcomes crowd and Fognini to reach Rome semifinals

ROME --- Seven-time champion Rafael Nadal overcame a poor first set and a partisan crowd to beat Fabio Fognini 4-6, 6-1, 6-2 and reach the Italian Open semifinals on Friday. The crowd at the Foro Italico was decidedly behind Fognini, Italy's top player, and Nadal was under pressure when Fognini won five straight games to cancel out a 4-1 deficit and win the opening set. But Fognini couldn't keep up with Nadal's consistency and heavy topspin on the red clay court and eventually was physically worn down. Fognini had tape applied under his left knee while trailing 3-2 in the third set due to an apparent physical problem. For a spot in the final, Nadal will play four-time Ro...Keep on reading: Nadal overcomes crowd and Fognini to reach Rome semifinals.....»»

Category: newsSource:  inquirerRelated NewsMay 18th, 2018

Mane leads Senegal s 23-man World Cup squad

By Ken Maguire, Associated Press DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Senegal named its final 23-man squad for the World Cup on Thursday, with Liverpool forward Sadio Mane leading a group that includes key defender Kalidou Koulibaly of Napoli and midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate of West Ham. Coach Aliou Cisse, captain of the 2002 team that reached the quarterfinals in the country's only previous World Cup appearance, gambled on the fitness of Monaco winger Keita Balde and Anderlecht defender Kara Mbodji. Balde last played on April 7 while Mbodji missed most of this season with a knee problem but has recently returned to training. The 20-year-old Rennes winger Ismaila Sarr also made the squad. The midfield has an English league look with Kouyate, Idrissa Gueye of Everton, Cheikh Ndoye of Birmingham and Pape Alioune Ndiaye of Stoke selected. Cisse, appointed in 2015, is relying on the players who brought Senegal through the qualifying campaign. "This team, this selection above all reflects continuity and coherence," Cisse said at a news conference in Dakar. "For me, it's essential to preserve this positive dynamic." Cisse said he's been monitoring Mbodji's recovery and is confident the defender will be fit. If so, he'll likely form a strong partnership in central defense with Koulibaly. Much of Senegal's hopes rest with the 26-year-old Mane, who has been in sizzling form with 10 goals in 29 appearances in the Premier League. Although it's only Senegal's second World Cup appearance, there is plenty of expectation with the squad having been drawn with Poland, Japan and Colombia in Group H at the finals in Russia. Cisse's men will have training sessions next week at a resort town outside Dakar before moving camp to Vittel, a city in northeast France. Mane will join up late as Liverpool prepare for the Champions League final against Real Madrid on May 26. Senegal has pre-World Cup friendlies scheduled against Luxembourg (May 31), Croatia (June 8) and South Korea (June 11). ___ Goalkeepers: Abdoulaye Diallo (Rennes, France); Khadim Ndiaye (Horoya, Guinea); Alfred Gomis (Spal 2013, Italy). Defenders: Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli, Italy); Lamine Gassama (Alanyaspor, Turkey); Moussa Wague (Kas Eupen, Belgium); Youssouf Sabaly (Bordeaux, France); Kara Mbodji (Anderlecht, Belgium); Saliou Ciss (Valenciennes, France); Salif Sane (Hanover, Germany). Midfielders: Cheihkou Kouyate (West Ham, England); Alfred Ndiaye (Wolverhampton, England); Idrissa Gana Gueye (Everton, England); Cheikh Ndoye (Birmingham City, England); Pape Alioune Ndiaye (Stoke, England). Forwards: Sadio Mane (Liverpool, England); Diafra Sakho (Rennes, France); Moussa Sow (Bursaspor, Turkey), Moussa Konate (Amiens, France); Ismaila Sarr (Rennes, France); Keita Balde (Monaco, France); Mame Biram Diouf (Stoke, England); Mbaye Niang (Torino, Italy)......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 18th, 2018

PBA: Defending champs San Miguel still in adjustment period, says coach Leo Austria

Coming into the 2018 PBA Commissioner’s Cup, defending champion San Miguel Beer was considered the favorite and deservedly so. With already a stacked core made up of June Mar Fajardo, Arwind Santos, Chris Ross, Alex Cabagnot, and Marcio Lassiter, the Beermen also finally have the services of number one draft pick Christian Standhardinger. And yet, in their first game of the tournament, the defending champions found themselves getting trounced by the red-hot Meralco Bolts, 93-85, Wednesday evening at the Mall of Asia Arena. “I think we’re still in the period of adjustment. We started our practice two weeks ago and we were not able to complete the two weeks because of commitments of some players, maraming distractions, and we thought na we’re a very strong team, a super team. Before this game talagang hype na hype yun eh.” said San Miguel head coach Leo Austria. “We’re not yet in game shape, which is very evident eh, and we have to adjust our approach in the game,” Import Troy Gillenwater paced the Beermen with 19 points and 14 boards, while Junemar Fajardo added 16 points and seven rebounds of his own in the conference-opening loss. Austria also touched on poor shot selection as another possible point to address moving forward. Gillenwater and Lassiter both went 6-of-19 from the field, while Cabagnot went 7-for-15. Lassiter also went 3-for-13 from beyond the arc. “If you will take a look at the stats, we have a lot of bad shot selection. Maybe that’s the reason, and talagang ganun eh.” Now with game one of the conference in the books, Coach Leo and the Beermen can focus on bouncing back and getting better for the rest of the season, as they to get back on their path to a title defense. Austria hopes that, the defending champs can get their rhythm going. “The good thing is this is only our first game, this is our first loss, and still have a lot of games to play, and I’m sure the next games, the next few games siguro, we’ll be able to get to the rhythm.” “Yung kalaban namin nasa momentum na eh, this is their fourth game, this is our first game without any scrimmages against any other team, so it’s really hard and still trying to figure out what is really good for us.” Austria added. San Miguel’s next challenge comes in the form of the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters on Sunday, May 13th at the Ynares Center in Antipolo.  .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 9th, 2018

Davis, Pelicans thump Warriors in Game 3

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com NEW ORLEANS -- The fear factor remained until the very end for Alvin Gentry. His memory is as long as Anthony Davis from head to toe, so like everyone else in the Smoothie King Center Friday night (Saturday, PHL time), the notion that a 20-point lead late in the fourth quarter against the Golden State Warriors was safe just didn’t compute. Gentry was caught up in the moment, trying to win a game in this Western Conference semifinal after dropping the first two in Oakland. And he was trying to block out the memory of the Pelicans’ last home game against these Warriors in the playoffs. He had the perfect seat then, next to Warriors coach Steve Kerr, his top assistant and offensive coordinator, the man in charge of engineering an epic comeback from a 20-point deficit that would lead to a Game 3 win in that first-round series and an eventual sweep of the Pelicans that helped propel the Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green-led Warriors to the NBA title in 2015. So yeah, it was on his mind, even if everyone else in the building tried to say it wasn’t, that it was ancient history and that it had no impact on this current Pelicans team. Gentry knew better than that and confessed as much as his team drew blood in this series with an emphatic 119-100 Game 3 win this time around. “Obviously, it’s going to stick with you,” Gentry said of that pivotal 2015 game that ultimately led to the Pelicans hiring him away from the Warriors. “I was on the Warrior bench then and I thought [the Pelicans] played great game. And because I was on the Warrior bench it made it so scary tonight … I was there when Steph started making threes and then Klay started making threes and before you know it a 20-point lead was nine points and then seven points, and then all of a sudden Steph made a shot out of the corner, which by the way I have a picture of that on my phone that I’ve kept all of these years and now I can eras it off. “But there just a scary team, you never feel comfortable. Even when he [Kerr] took his guys out, I was like ‘let’s play two more minutes before we take [our] guys out. Because you are just never comfortable with that team.” Gentry helped chase the ghost of that 2015 game away for the a franchise, a city and especially his stars on Friday night. Both Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday were on that team that collapsed three years ago. They needed this win more than they realized, more than they cared to acknowledge late Friday night (Saturday, PHL time) after the building had cleared out and everyone had a chance to process what had just transpired. The Pelicans beat the Warriors at their own game, employing the “appropriate fear” Gentry joked about with the media afterwards. It was all there, starting with relentless defense and sweet shooting; 14-for-31 from beyond the three-point line. It continued with the sudden bursts of energy from all directions; Solomon Hill knocking down three deep three-pointers early and reserve guard Ian Clark, crushing his former team for 18 points, including daggers down the stretch. It was punctuated by Davis and Holiday grinding away like the guys who fueled the Pelicans’ first-round sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers, and veteran point guard Rajon Rondo breathing as much verbal fire as Green, while also driving the Pelicans with 21 assists, the first player with at least 20 in a playoff game since he did it in himself in 2011 when he was with the Boston Celtics. The Warriors simply couldn’t keep up. And Curry didn’t the have the same touch or adrenaline he had in his playoff debut in Game 2, when he torched the Pelicans for 28 points in 27 minutes off the bench during his first action after missing nearly six weeks with a knee injury. “Most of it is attributed to the Pelicans,” Kerr said. “Their defense was great. They were the aggressors. I thought they brought the force, the necessary force to the game on their home floor, and these are the ebbs and flows of a playoff series, especially when you get past the first round. Everybody is really good and that’s a team that just swept Portland in the first round and on their home floor down 2-0, this is kind of what you expect.” Gentry has unleashed all that. When the Pelicans lost All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins to a season-ending Achilles injury in late January, the framework for this team had to be altered completely. The Pelicans had to lean on Davis to dominate the way he did (33 points on 15-for-27 shooting, 18 rebounds, four steals and three assists). Holiday (21 points, seven rebounds, five assists) had to be set free to resume the All-Star ways he showed earlier in his career. And Rondo needed the keys to the car and the freedom to guide the Pelicans’ young stars to the edge the way he has throughout this postseason, complete with at least two more face-to-face skirmishes with Green Friday night (Saturday, PHL time). “That’s the way he plays, he talks a lot of …” Rondo said after being informed that Green suggested he was trying to bait him into a confrontation. Rondo, who joined Magic Johnson and John Stockton as the only players in NBA history with multiple 20-assist games in the postseason, understands the process a team must go through to reach that next level. He was a young point guard in Boston when he learned it from Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Doc Rivers during the Celtics’ 2008 title run and the years they spent as a contender after that. And he knows success at this stage is more about the Pelicans and what they do than it is about any beef, real or perceived, between he and Green. “It definitely is, but it starts with defense,”he said.“We were able to get some stops, defensively. It’s hard to run and keep pace when you’re taking it by the net every time which we did in game one so we cleaned up a little bit better in game two and three and look forward to making adjustments for game four.” Without Gentry understanding and trusting that same process, and facilitating the perfect environment for all of his players, especially his three biggest stars, this Pelicans team could have easily fallen out of the playoff mix in a wild Western Conference. That race that went down to the final night of the season for the Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets and affected the seeding for every team after the No. 1 Houston Rockets and No. 2 Warriors. Gentry had to empower Rondo to infuse the right kind of bite in both Holiday and Davis, whose voice grows louder with each game -- he didn’t hesitate to make a statement in a second half huddle Friday night, barking to his teammates that “we are not going to lose this game.” “That was the message,”he said.“We can’t lose this game. It’s always tough to come back from 0-3. Our mindset is to go out there, play, and do what we’re supposed to do from all the game planning. Whatever results happen, happen. We followed the game plan to a T tonight.” And now the real fun begins. The atmosphere will be electric for Sunday afternoon’s (Monday, PHL time) Game 4. The expectations will have changed dramatically for the Pelicans in just a few hours. Can they do it again? Will they exhibit the same appropriate fear against a championship Warriors team that will be smarting from a Friday night (Saturday, PHL time) dose of their own medicine? Gentry, the architect of this perfectly brewing storm, is counting on it. Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 5th, 2018

2018 WORLD CUP: With Mane, Senegal expects to match 2002 run

By Ken Maguire, Associated Press DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — When the World Cup trophy tour reached Senegal, President Macky Sall got the taste of being a champion. It's an experience he hopes to feel for real one day. Turning to coach Aliou Cisse, Sall said optimistically, "It won't be long." That's some pressure for a team making only its second World Cup appearance. Back in 2002, a team of relative unknowns led Senegal to the quarterfinals in a run that began with a 1-0 victory over defending champion France. The 2018 team boasts more recognizable players, led by Liverpool forward Sadio Mane. There's also Monaco winger Keita Balde and Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly. It's a cosmopolitan crew who play all over Europe, whereas the 2002 squad was almost entirely France-based. For a country with so much talent, Senegal should qualify for the World Cup more often. Certainly, the Senegalese thought that would be the case after a wildly successful debut 16 years ago that came with a freewheeling style of play and memorable celebrations. A national holiday was declared after the victory over France. It's still among the best performances by an African team. Cameroon (1990) and Ghana (2010), neither of whom qualified for the tournament in Russia, are the only other African teams to reach the quarterfinals. Senegal's preparations for the World Cup have not been perfect. Two recent friendlies ended in draws with Cisse experimenting with a 3-5-2 formation instead of the 4-4-2 used during the qualifying campaign. Fasting during Ramadan could present training challenges for the Senegalese, many of whom are Muslims, including Mane. The holy month ends several days before their first match at the World Cup. Here's a closer look at the Senegal team: COACH Cisse was the captain of the 2002 team and he has now led Senegal to a second World Cup from the sidelines. On returning to Dakar following a 2-0 win over South Africa to clinch the spot, supporters at the airport picked up Cisse and threw him in the air while singing songs in his honor. So much more awaits Cisse, potentially. Bruno Metsu, the Frenchman who coached Senegal in 2002, is so revered in the country that his image is on a wall of fame in the "Place du Souvenir African" in Dakar. The exhibit highlights achievements of Africans, including Nelson Mandela. Metsu died of cancer in 2013 and is buried in Dakar. Cisse, though, has done his best to downplay the high expectations. GOALKEEPERS Khadim Ndiaye was Cisse's top choice by the end of qualifying. He is one of the few squad members who play in Africa — starting for Horoya AC in Guinea — and at 33 is the most experienced of the goalkeepers. Playing regularly might also give him an edge over others who play in Europe, but as backups. French-born Abdoulaye Diallo was No. 1 at the start of World Cup qualifying but an injury sidelined him and opened the door for Ndiaye. Diallo plays for French club Rennes, but usually as a backup. Don't count out 24-year-old Alfred Gomis. Raised in Italy, he has seen plenty of action this season for Spal in Serie A. DEFENDERS At 6-foot-5, center back Kalidou Koulibaly is Senegal's defensive titan. He plays for Napoli but has been linked to a move to clubs including Barcelona and Chelsea. As the France-born Koulibaly evolved into one of Europe's top defenders, French fans wondered how they let him slip into the national colors of his parents. After a header for Napoli secured a Serie A win over Juventus in April, even Diego Maradona was buzzing about him and posted a photo holding a Koulibaly jersey. The right side seems set with Lamine Gassama and Youssouf Sabaly. On the left, Senegal would love to have Kara Mbodji, but he injured his knee and hasn't played for his club, Anderlecht, since late last year. In his place, Senegal could turn to Papy Djilobodji. Also on the left side, Armand Traore's ability to play defense or midfield provides flexibility. Another option is Pape Ndiaye Souare of Crystal Palace. MIDFIELDERS There's a Premier League look to the midfield. The captain is Cheikhou Kouyate of West Ham, who has drawn comparisons to Patrick Vieira. Another stalwart is Idrissa Gana Gueye of Everton. Cheikh Ndoye (Birmingham) and Pape Alioune Ndiaye (Stoke) were called up by Cisse in qualifying and should play important roles in Russia. FORWARDS Mane, who recently became the highest-scoring Senegalese player in Premier League history, is the key to success up front. He's been overshadowed by the spectacular Mohamed Salah this season for Liverpool, but Mane has been no slouch with his goals and assists. The trick will be who else to plays up front to get the best out of Mane. Keita Balde, Diafra Sakho and Ismaila Sarr are expected to make the final squad. If Cisse wants experience, he could look to the likes of Moussa Sow or Demba Ba. Both are 32 and play in Turkey. GROUP GAMES Senegal starts in Group H against Poland on June 19 in Moscow, then plays Japan on June 24 and Colombia on June 28......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 2nd, 2018

Iniesta leaving Barcelona after 16 trophy-filled seasons

By Joseph Wilson, Associated Press BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Andres Iniesta took two deep breaths, and then said the words that announced his story-book career at Barcelona was coming to an end. In an emotional news conference Friday attended by most of his teammates, his family and club executives, the midfielder who has embodied Barcelona's creative attacking style said that he was leaving after 16 trophy-packed seasons. "I have spent all my life here at this club and it is not easy to leave," Iniesta said after fighting back tears and regaining his composure. "My time here ends this season. I understand that the club that took me in at 12 deserves the best of me in return, and I have given it that until now, but in the near future I won't be able to both physically and mentally. "The club has placed its confidence," he said. "And I have always said that if I am not able to give my all to my club that has given me everything then I wouldn't be happy." Iniesta, who turns 34 on May 11, said that he intends to continue playing but did not reveal what his next club will be. "I have always said that I would never compete against my club, so all the options outside Europe are open," Iniesta said. "When the season is over we will know my choice." Local media reported that the Spain midfielder will be signing a lucrative contract with a club in the Chinese league. Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez were his only teammates not present to receive Iniesta's thanks. The club said that they had personal commitments they could not break. Iniesta left his village in southern Spain to join Barcelona's youth academy when he was 12. He went on to become one of the best players in its history, helping the team win 31 titles — a club record he shares with Messi. Iniesta has helped Barcelona win four Champions League titles, eight Spanish leagues, six Copa del Reys, three Club World Cups, seven Spanish Super Cups and three European Super Cups. And Iniesta is expected to get one more trophy for the club with Barcelona on the cusp of clinching the league title. The team leads Atletico Madrid by 11 points with five games left. Iniesta has been a fan favorite at Camp Nou since he helped it start its current winning era by claiming the Spanish league title in 2005 under Frank Rijkaard. He went on to form a dominant midfield pairing with Xavi Hernandez under the orders of Pep Guardiola, and has become team captain. "It would not have been possible without him so I just say 'thank you' because he helped me," Guardiola said. "People believe the managers help the players, but in a few cases, and I think Andres is one of them, he helped me to understand the game better." Last year, Iniesta signed the first lifelong contract ever given by Barcelona. And even though he is opting out of that deal, club president Josep Bartomeu said that there were no hard feelings. Bartomeu said Messi was the best player in Barcelona history for his goals and unmatched talent, but he has plenty of praise for Iniesta, too. "Iniesta is the most important player of this winning era that started in 2004," Bartomeu told Cadena SER radio on Thursday. "He has been a key part of all the teams under all our coaches, from Rijkaard, Guardiola, Tito Vilanova, (Gerardo) "Tata" Martino, Luis Enrique and now Ernesto (Valverde). He deserves our respect." Iniesta has shown this season that he is still able to perform at a top level. He has been a first-choice player for Valverde and was still its most decisive attacking midfielder. The loss of Iniesta is a blow to the entire Spanish league. He is widely admired and loved by fans across the country for his winning goal for Spain in the 2010 World Cup and his role in Spain winning the 2008 and 2012 European Championships. He is often applauded by opposing fans when substituted on the road. "He is charming, very reserved, and I like people who do their talking on the pitch," Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said. "I only have good things to say about him, admiration for his football and I wish him the best." This year, Iniesta will play for Spain at the World Cup in Russia. That will likely be his last chance to add to his glorious career with the national side. But first, Iniesta has five more matches with Barcelona, starting on Sunday at Deportivo La Coruna. He will bid his final farewell at home on May 20 against Real Sociedad. "To Barcelona's fans, who have seen me grow up and followed every step I have taken, and been with me through the good times and the bad," Iniesta said, "I will take your love with me in my heart.".....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 28th, 2018

MVP Ladder: No topping Harden in award chase

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com Stump speeches aren’t necessary. Not when your campaign drives itself on performance alone, when you elevate the conversation with each and every outing, the way James Harden did from the opening tip of this regular season until the final buzzer. So if it seems like Harden has skillfully avoided getting caught up in this reporter-crafted Kia MVP pickles that often drive the rest of our NBA dialogue on a daily basis, it’s by design. Besides, who needs to dive in on the debate when you have unsolicited celebrity endorsements from the likes of Kobe Bryant, who made clear to USA Today Sports that Harden’s time is now. “It’s got to be James,” Bryant said. “I really don’t understand the debate about picking somebody else. I don’t get it. Like, what the hell does this guy have to do? I mean for the last three years, the guy has been absolutely lights out, and now you still want to sit here and debate who should be MVP when he leads the league in scoring (30.4 points per game), his assists numbers (8.8 apg) are off the charts, they have the best record in the league (65-16). “If he doesn’t win MVP this year, what the hell is he supposed to do to win MVP, average 40 [points], 15 [assists] and 15 [rebounds]? I mean, come on now. Enough is enough.” After coming up short twice in the past three seasons, Harden is poised to capture the Maurice Podoloff Trophy. It is something he felt he earned last season, when his former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate, Russell Westbrook, used a triple-double season to claim the hardware. Stephen Curry won the award in 2015 and 2016, his star rising in concert with the Golden State Warriors' surge from lottery team, to contender to championship-winner in two of the last three seasons. While Curry claimed those awards, Harden won MVP honors in a vote of his peers at the NBPA’s first Players Awards in July 2015. There will be no dispute this time around. There is no other narrative that trumps Harden’s.   No other player's performance rises above what he’s done for the Rockets this season, the first with he and fellow superstar point guard  Chris Paul sharing the leadership load of the league’s best team. Not even four-time Kia MVP LeBron James, who turned in one of the finest seasons of his 15 year career in Cleveland, could catch Harden on the Kia Race to the MVP Ladder or in the minds of most voters. Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni coached Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and two-time Kia MVP Steve Nash. Yet it was Harden who received D'Anton's greatest compliment after a win in Portland last month when called Harden the “best offensive player I’ve ever seen.” “He’s a hell of a player, first off,” D’Antoni told USA Today Sports when asked to explain his declaration. “It’s a combination of everything. There are other players who might be better at this, or a little bit better at that. But when you put everything together, and the way he passes, the way he sees teammates, the way he can lob, the way he can fight through a foul. I mean even on an off night, he’s probably getting 30, 40 points, and I mean efficiently. And he doesn’t even have anything going. But he’s so efficient, and he gets other guys involved.” If the strength of Harden’s MVP case this season was just his own individual offensive brilliance, he’d still have a rock-solid case. He did record the first 60-point triple-double in NBA history this season and won the scoring title a season after leading the league in assists. But, as D’Antoni noted, Harden's ability to raise the level of play from teammates like Clint Capela, Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza and others is what stands out. “I don't think there's a player that's had to create as much as I've had to in these last three years," Harden said in a GQ profile that came out this week. "I don't know if there's a guy in NBA history.” That comment can be interpreted in a number of ways, and it’s sure to spark yet another debate as the conversation continues deep into this postseason about who is most deserving of Kia MVP honors. But we’re done here. “It’s James Harden, no doubt about it,” a Western Conference executive told me when asked if there was any dispute about this season’s most valuable player. “Harden in a landslide.” * * * The top five in the Final Edition of the 2017-18 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder: 1. James Harden, Houston Rockets Last week: No. 1 2017-18 season stats: 30.4 points, 8.8 assists, 5.4 rebounds Harden declared early on that this was the Rockets’ season. He felt they finally had the pieces to challenge the Golden State Warriors for the top spot in the Western Conference standings, and, therefore, the entire league. He served notice on opening night, when he and the Rockets spoiled the Warriors' championship banner and rings celebration at Oracle Arena by claiming a win. Harden’s 27 points, 11 assists and six rebounds was the opening salvo in what turned into the best season in Rockets history. Harden’s ability to blend his point guard responsibilities with his role as the most lethal scorer in the league fueled one brilliant performance after another. As well, Harden also silenced the critics who suggested he and Paul would not be able to play well off of each other. The Rockets enter the postseason with the No. 1 overall seed and with all the confidence needed for a championship run. 2. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers Last week: No. 2 2017-18 season stats: 27.5 points, 9.1 assists, 8.6 rebounds LeBron put the final touches on his outstanding 15th NBA regular season by capturing Eastern Conference Player of the Month honors for March/April, the fourth time this season he took those honors (October/November, December and February). In addition to the parade of milestones LeBron reached this season, he also piled up a career-high 18 triple-doubles, led the Cavaliers through a tumultuous year that ended with 50 or more wins for the fourth straight season. He shot better than 54 percent from the floor (.542) and also had his best shooting from beyond the 3-point line (.367) since returning to Cleveland from Miami before the 2014-15 season. The true test of his super powers, though, will be on display in this postseason. The Cavaliers finished as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference but go into the playoffs as the favorite, in the eyes of most, to survive the gauntlet due in large part to LeBron’s work the past seven seasons guiding his teams to The Finals. 3. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans Last week: No. 3 2017-18 season stats: 28.1 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.3 blocks Davis turned it on when the Pelicans needed it most, after DeMarcus Cousins went down with a season-ending Achilles injury. He powered the Pelicans with 50 double-doubles, one triple-double and, when the Pelicans needed grind their way into the postseason as 2017-18 waned, he picked his game up even more. He averaged 29 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.8 blocks, 2.4 assists and 2.2 blocks during the Pelicans’ season-ending five-game win streak that helped them secure the No. 6 seed. That sealed up Davis' second career playoff run and he’s still looking for his first playoff win. His ability to carry the load for the Pelicans the way he did, though, is easily the most impressive part of his season. There was no guarantee the Pelicans would make the playoffs in a rugged Western Conference even with Cousins healthy. To do it without him speaks volumes about the impact Davis had on his team. 4. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers Last week: No. 4 2017-18 season stats: 26.9 points, 6.6 assists, 4.5 rebounds Lillard has done what few thought possible after the Portland team he joined as a rookie was taken apart and rebuilt around him. The catalyst for a Blazers team that finished third in the West, Lillard forced his way onto that short list of names in the best-point-guard-in-the-game discussion. He lacks the championship and/or Kia MVP hardware guys like Curry, Kyrie Irving and Westbrook all have. But his body of work as the face of Portland's franchise makes it difficult to leave him out of the discussion. The Blazers wouldn't have come anywhere close to that No. 3 seed without Lillard going nuclear in February (31.4 points, six assists and nearly five rebounds in 10 games). This has been a transformative year on and off the court for Lillard, who is not only had a career-best season, but also celebrated the birth of his son late last month. 5. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors Last week: No. 5 2017-18 season stats: 26.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists Durant followed up his 2017 Finals MVP honors with a steady season, by his lofty standard, but not one that pushed him closer to the top of this list. His understanding of the way the regular season connects to the postseason no doubt played a role in the way he paced himself. That’s not to say that Durant didn't have an outstanding regular season, because he did. But just like James and to an extent his All-Star teammate, Curry, Durant’s seasons are now measured against the high standard he’s set in past ones. He actually averaged more points and assists this season compared to his first with the Warriors. And he set a career-high with 1.8 blocks per game, showing off his improved awareness and effectiveness on defense. With Curry out for the first round of the playoffs due to injury, Durant will get a chance to remind the San Antonio Spurs and the rest of the league just how dangerous he can be with everything on the line. The next five 6. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder 7. DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors 8. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors 9. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks 10. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers And five more: LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs; Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics; Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets; Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers; Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 14th, 2018

Madrid has depleted defense for 2nd leg against Juventus

By Tales Azzoni, Associated Press MADRID (AP) — Scoring hasn't been a problem for Real Madrid recently, especially with Cristiano Ronaldo in top form. But the European champions could have issues in defense when they host Juventus in the second leg of the Champions League quarterfinals on Wednesday. Madrid will try to protect its three-goal advantage from the first leg with coach Zinedine Zidane unable to use his best players in central defense. Madrid captain Sergio Ramos is suspended and his immediate substitute, Nacho Fernandez, is out injured. Raphael Varane just returned from injury, and the other central defender in the squad, 21-year-old Jesus Vallejo, hasn't been fully fit and it remains unclear if he will be able to make it to the match at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium. Madrid won the first leg 3-0 in Turin, with Ronaldo scoring with a spectacular bicycle kick for his second goal of the match. Madrid can reach the semifinals for the eighth straight year even if it loses Wednesday's game by two goals. Zidane probably would have liked not to force Varane's return in the Spanish league derby against Atletico Madrid this weekend, but he couldn't rest him because Vallejo was bothered by muscle discomfort in practice last week. Exams showed no major injury to Vallejo, but he trained separately from the squad on Monday before joining the rest of the team on Tuesday. "Jesus had a good practice session, he didn't feel anything," Zidane said. "Tomorrow (Wednesday) we will see who gets to play. We shouldn't have any problems. If we do, we will adapt." Vallejo is Zidane's last option to play in central defense, and the youngster didn't impress in the few times he got to play this season. He has made only eight appearances, mostly when Zidane chose to rest his regular starters. His last match was against Las Palmas following the international break last month. Vallejo's last Spanish league match before that was against Sevilla in December. "Jesus is a good player," Varane said. "He doesn't have experience in this competition (Champions League) but he has a lot of quality. From what we've seen in practice, he is fine. If he plays, all of us will be confident that he can get the job done." Madrid didn't concede against Las Palmas, but before that it conceded at least once in five straight matches, including three times against Girona in a league game at home. In the attack, Madrid has scored in seven straight matches, with Ronaldo continuing to impress. He has found the net 20 times in his last 10 games, including in the 1-1 derby against Atletico on Sunday. The match against Juventus will be Ronaldo's 150th in the Champions League. If Vallejo can't play, Zidane will have to improvise in central defense, likely using midfielder Casemiro to play alongside Varane. Mateo Kovacic would likely enter the lineup to replace Casemiro in the midfield, or Zidane could choose a more aggressive setup with an extra attacking midfielder such as Marco Asensio or Francisco "Isco" Alarcon. "Casemiro is used to playing in the midfield but he has practiced in the back many times," Varane said. "We know how he defends, how he plays." Madrid has won three Champions League titles in the last four seasons, including the last two in a row. The team defeated Juventus 4-1 in last year's final. No team has ever overturned a 3-0 home loss in the Champions League. "We'll need to play a complete game against a complete team if we are to get a positive result," Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. "Nobody expected us to concede after two minutes in Turin, so why can't we do the same tomorrow (Wednesday)." If Juventus can't come back, it could be the final Champions League match for veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. "Trying to achieve the impossible will help us achieve the possible," the 40-year-old Buffon said. "This is what we need to do. We need to play with this kind of spirit against an amazing side.".....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 11th, 2018

Nadal back in bullring for season-defining Davis Cup duty

PARIS, France – Rafael Nadal faces a potentially season-defining Davis Cup weekend as the 16-time Grand Slam champion returns for his first appearance since hobbling out of the Australian Open in January with a crippling hip injury. The 31-year-old Nadal leads Spain into a home quarter-final against Germany at Valencia's iconic ........»»

Category: newsSource:  rapplerRelated NewsApr 5th, 2018

Villanova and Michigan head to national title game

By JOHN MARSHALL ,  AP Basketball Writer SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Villanova bombed its way past a blueblood to reach the national title game. Michigan got there by taking away Cinderella's slipper. This end to March Madness should be good. A wild NCAA Tournament of upsets comes down to this: Villanova and its squadron of long-range shooters against Michigan and its ultra-stingy defense, Monday night at the Alamodome. The Wildcats (35-4) turned a Final Four showdown with fellow No. 1 seed Kansas into a laugher, dropping in 3-pointers like they were playing pop-a-shot in the 95-79 rout. Villanova made a Final Four-record 18 3s in a record-matching 40 attempts, its second trip to the title game in three seasons never in doubt. The third-seeded Wolverines (33-7) had a bit more trouble against the bracket's favorite underdogs, overcoming a frightful first half to send Loyola-Chicago and Sister Jean packing. The Wolverines had trouble scoring in their Final Four game to trail Loyola-Chicago by seven at halftime, before finding the right gear in the second to run past the underdog Ramblers 69-57 into the title game. Their next task: Find some way to slow Villanova's 3-ball roll. The Wildcats were one of the most proficient 3-point shooting teams during the regular season and upped the 3 ante in the NCAA Tournament, knocking down a record 65 and counting. Villanova literally shot the lights out by the second half, when some scoreboards and upper-level lights went out for a few minutes and darkened the upper decks. Michigan may have a better answer than Kansas had. The Wolverines have fixed the one thing holding them back in past seasons, developing a lockdown defense so they no longer have to simply outscore opponents. Michigan had the nation's No. 3 defense efficiency-wise and put Loyola on lockdown in the second half, holding the Ramblers to 1-of-7 shooting from 3 to send Sister Jean Delores Schmidt to the exits early. The Wolverines are seeking their first national title since Glen Rice and Rumeal Robinson rumbled through the bracket in 1989......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 1st, 2018

Michigan D faces toughest test yet with Nova for NCAA title

By John Marshall, Associated Press SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Michigan has shored up the deficiency that always held it back, becoming one of the nation's best defensive teams, not one of its worst. Out-shooting teams, no longer necessary. This new-found stinginess has the Wolverines within reach of their first national title since Glen Rice and Rumeal Robinson rumbled through the bracket in 1989. But their biggest test yet comes on college basketball's brightest stage: Villanova and its squadron of long-range shooters with a national title on the line. Michigan is good on D, but if the Wildcats shot like they did against Kansas in Saturday night's Final Four nightcap, it may not matter what the Wolverines do. "I feel bad for Kansas," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "They're a great team, we just made every shot." Michigan (33-7) reached the title game by taking away Cinderella's slipper, sending Loyola-Chicago and Sister Jean home a game short of completing their divine run. Villanova bombed its way past a blueblood to get there. The Wildcats (35-4) turned a Final Four showdown with fellow No. 1 seed Kansas into a laugher, dropping in 3-pointers like they were playing pop-a-shot in the 95-79 rout. Villanova made a Final Four-record 18 3s in a record-matching 40 attempts, its second trip to the title game in three seasons never in doubt. That's an NCAA record 442 from the arc this season — and they're still counting. "That's as good a team as we've played that I can remember," Kansas coach Bill Self said. The third-seeded Wolverines (33-7) had a bit more trouble against the bracket's favorite underdogs, overcoming a frightful first half to send nun-turned-motivator Sister Jean Delores Schmidt headed to the exits early. The Wolverines trailed the bracket-rambling Ramblers by seven at halftime, found the right gear in the second and have a title-game appearance no one outside of Ann Arbor saw coming when they were middling in the Big Ten just a month ago. Now they're done playing the favorite for a night, it's back to the underdog role against Villanova. "The whole villain thing, you guys love to write about it, talk about it, but at the end of the day it's just basketball, you know?" Michigan big man Moe Wagner said. "And we just try to win. That's all we do. Their next task: Find some way to slow Villanova's 3-ball roll. The Wildcats were one of the most proficient 3-point shooting teams during the regular season and upped the 3 ante in the NCAA Tournament, knocking down a record 65 and counting. Villanova broke the Final Four record with 13 in the first half and literally shot the lights out by the second, when some scoreboards and upper-level lights briefly went out and darkened the upper decks. "It was one of those nights where we were able to make shots and that's what the lead looks like," said Villanova's Jalen Brunson, who had 18 points and six assists. Michigan may have a better answer than the Jayhawks had. Tired of watching victories fizzle away through defensive deficiencies, coach John Beilein made a philosophical change, putting an emphasis on that side of the ball. It's worked out well. Michigan had the nation's No. 3 defense efficiency-wise and put Loyola on lockdown in the second half, forcing the Ramblers into a rash of turnovers to race away. "We always talk about getting the domino going," Loyola coach Porter Moser said. "They closed that gap of opportunity in a hurry." Villanova has a way of doing that, too. The Wolverines may have an answer in Wagner. The German big man carried Michigan through its struggles in the first half by using his size advantage against the smaller Ramblers, snagging five offensive rebounds to notch a double-double by halftime. Wagner finished with 24 points and 15 rebound to join Hakeem Olajuwon and Larry Bird as the only players to have at least 20 points and 15 rebounds in a national semifinal game. "He's unbelievable. He's one of those dynamic scorers from the post, he's a great passer, made some unbelievable passers today with both hands," Villanova assistant coach Ashley Howard said. "He's a guy they can play through. We'll watch tape, try to figure out the best way to approach going into Monday night's game. It's going to be a challenge and we're looking forward to it.".....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 1st, 2018

MVP Ladder: Davis shrugs off pain, makes case for MVP

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com You’ll have to forgive New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry for not feeling the need to mount some coordinated public campaign for Anthony Davis for Kia MVP. Gentry figures the voters have eyes, so they've seen the same jaw-dropping things from the superstar big man that he sees every night. “He’s great, man. Just an absolutely great player in every aspect,” Gentry said in a hallway at the Smoothie King Center after Davis and the Pelicans came up short in a critical game against the Portland Trail Blazers. “You want to know what kind of guy he is? He’s in there beating himself up saying he should have done more. What more could he have done? He got 36 and 14 with three guys handing on him all night. Come on, man, he’s just a great, great player.” Davis finished with 36 points, 14 rebounds, six blocks and played the final 17 minutes in pain after injuring his left ankle late in the third quarter. He took a minute to shake it off and finished the game favoring the ankle, that required treatment after the game. These are the sorts of performances he’s turned in routinely this season, particularly since the Pelicans’ other All-Star big man, DeMarcus Cousins, went down with a season-ending Achilles injury Jan. 26 (Jan. 27, PHL time). He and Cousins were on pace to become the first pair of teammates in NBA history to each average better than 25 points and 10 rebounds. Davis is averaging 31.1 points, 12.3  rebounds and 3.6 blocks since the All-Star break, after averaging 27.4, 10.7 and 2.1 in the 51 games before the break. So the “M-V-P” chants he heard in those final minutes against the Trail Blazers were well warranted for a player with range and versatility as a two-way performer that might be unrivaled in the league. “I can only think of a couple guys in this league who can impact a game the way he can from end to end. It’s AD and … ” Gentry said, before a reporter blurted out the name of the other player he was thinking of, “yeah, LeBron. I mean, these guys can guard from the three-point line to the rim and can score from those same spaces on anybody. Guys like that, wth that ability and those talents, they are just very rare.” James and Davis (who occupy the No. 2 and 3 spots, respectively, in this week’s Kia Race to the MVP Ladder) will square off today at Quicken Loans Arena. It’ll be another chance for Davis to be measured against the league’s standard-bearer in regards to the MVP conversation. James has four MVPs in his war chest, and could (and probably should) have a couple more. Meanwhile, Davis is still searching for his first. At 33, James has shown a durability and staying power that Davis, 25, is also still searching for. If there is a knock on his game, it’s that he’s struggled with injuries, bumps and bruises to a degree that’s greater than you’d expect from a player as physically gifted as the 6'11", 253-pound dynamo. Tuesday night’s (Wednesday, PHL time) spill against the Trail Blazers marked the 11th time this season Davis has had to exit a game because of an injury. The reaction of the crowd, a collective hush as Davis writhed in pain under the basket, was followed by wild cheers when he got to his feet and limped to the bench. Davis refused to go to the locker room, choosing instead to take a moment to gather himself and return to the game, knowing the severity of his injury was overshadowed by the weight of the Pelicans’ current predicament. They need every single game to reach the postseason for just the second time in his career, the same postseason he suggested the Pelicans would have dominated had Cousins not gotten injured. That’s why he’ll play through whatever lingering discomfort he has to against the Cavaliers tonight. The gravity of the Pelicans’ situation demands that he fight through the pain, dust himself off and get back on the floor the same way he did Tuesday night (Wednesday, PHL time). “Just knowing the type of situation we’re in,” Davis told reporters in New Orleans Thursday (Friday, PHL time), “I just wanted to be on the floor. I felt I couldn't leave that game, even though it was bothering me. I just tried to tough it out and just play through it.” * * * The top five in the Week 24 edition of the 2017-18 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder: * * * 1. James Harden, Houston Rockets Last week: No. 1 Season stats: 30.7 points, 8.7 assists, 5.4 rebounds Harden took a rare night off Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time) and the Rockets still rolled over the Chicago Bulls. The Rockets are good enough to go on auto-pilot the way they’re playing. They’ve already set the franchise record for wins in a season and secured the Western Conference's No. 1 seed ... all with seven games to go in their season. Harden’s work from the start of training camp has been the catalyst for this special season for the Rockets. He worked to integrate the new additions to the lineup, but did so without sacrificing any of the things that made him the strong MVP candidate he was last season. Topping his performance from last season should be more than enough to secure his first Kia MVP. The official word will come on June 25 (June 26, PHL time) at the NBA Awards show. But with the way the Rockets have played down the stretch of this season with Harden leading the way, the suspense in this MVP chase has evaporated. 2. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers Last week: No. 2 Season stats: 27.6 points, 9.1 assists, 8.6 rebounds You have to appreciate LeBron’s admission that he would indeed vote for himself if he had a say in the race for the Kia MVP. And it’s hard to argue with his logic. Given all that the Cavaliers have endured since Kyrie Irving’s trade request was made public, it’s truly remarkable that he’s been able to compartmentalize the way he has and continue to play at an otherworldly level. If not for James Harden, LeBron would be clearing space on his mantle for his fifth Maurice Podoloff Trophy. Instead, he’ll have to settle for another season of milestones and his continued assault on nearly every career statistic the league has to offer. Not to mention he's still on track to play all 82 games for the first time in his career. And if you were wondering how the old man (relatively speaking, of course) bounces back after tough night (18 points in their Wednesday, PHL time, loss to Miami), catch the highlights from his 41-point, 10-rebound, eight-assist masterpiece in Charlotte on the second night of a back-to-back set. 3. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans Last week: No. 4 Season stats: 28.3 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.5 blocks Back-to-back losses at Houston and at home to Portland have put Davis and the Pelicans in a familiar position in the Western Conference playoff chase. Every game until the finish is a must-win affair, with today’s tilt against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers serving as the ideal showcase for Davis. He’s been an absolute monster of late (29.6 points, 11.5 rebounds, 3.8 blocks and 2.4 assists in his last 10 games). He knows what it will take to push the Pelicans into the playoff mix without DeMarcus Cousins, as that is something Davis had to do three years ago to secure his lone playoff voyage. It took a home win over San Antonio on the final night of the regular season to clinch a spot and it might take the same this time around -- Davis and the Pelicans finish up the regular season April 11 (April 12, PHL time) with a home game against the Spurs. 4. DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors Last week: No. 3 Season stats: 23.3 points, 5.2 assists, 3.9 rebounds Saturday’s trip game in Boston (Sunday, PHL time) couldn't have come at a better time for DeRozan and the Raptors, who still have some work to do secure the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Their lead over the Celtics is down to three games. Given Toronto's recent losses to the Cavs and LA Clippers, a statement win on the road against the surging Celtics would go a long way towards resetting the Raptors' collective confidence. DeRozan’s continued evolution as a playmaker has remained on full display (15 assists in his last two games) and will be crucial to the Raptors’ offensive effectiveness in the playoffs. That's assuming coach Dwane Casey does indeed plan to keep his rotation as deep in the playoffs as he has all season. But the scoring prowess that has propelled DeRozan to All-Star status the past four seasons will be just as important, if not more so, given the relative inexperience of several of the Raptors’ role players. Both DeRozan and fellow All-Star Kyle Lowry know how vital it will be for them to be in a good rhythm for the postseason. 5. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers Last week: No. 5 Season stats: 26.8 points, 6.5 assists, 4.5 rebounds Lillard was spectacular in a critical road win in New Orleans Tuesday night, finishing with a game-high 41 points (and nine rebounds, six assists and four steals). He did all that while out-dueling fellow MVP candidate Davis in what was a thrilling, must-see fourth quarter. It didn’t matter who was guarding Lillard -- sometimes it was Davis and other times it was Pelicans defensive wiz Jrue Holiday. Lillard was locked in and on absolute fire in a playoff atmosphere. His importance to the Trail Blazers, though, was even more evident a night later when he was missing from a deflating road loss to in Memphis. Lillard missed the game for a good reason: the birth of his son. But it should be clear by now that these Trail Blazers will go only as far as the mercurial Lillard can take them in the postseason. C.J. McCollum is as good a No. 2 option as you’ll find and Terry Stotts has done Coach of the Year-caliber in developing the roster. It’s Lillard’s scoring and playmaking, however, that takes them from a solid team to a top-three seed in the Western Conference. The next five: 6. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors 7. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder 8. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors 9. Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics 10. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves And five more ... LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs; Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks; Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers; Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets; Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers Next up? An inside look at LaMarcus Aldridge from an Western Conference advance scout: “I would love to know exactly what was said in the conversation he had with [Spurs coach Gregg] Pop[ovich] after last season, from both sides. Because whatever it was, it’s produced the best season I’ve seen from LA since he’s been in the league. And I’m dating that back to his best years in Portland. The Spurs aren't close to the team they are with all of the heavy lifting he’s done this season. He’s been more physical and much more active on the defensive end than he was last season and obviously, with Kawhi Leonard missing from the lineup for basically the entire season, his responsibilities as the No. 1 option for them offensively has been tremendous. He’s always been a skilled, face-up big. Working from the L and on the baseline extended, he’s as tough a cover as you’ll find at that position. "He embraced the other stuff, though, and perhaps at Pop’s urging. He’s made himself a more physical presence around the basket and at the rim. When he’s working in space against opposing [centers], that’s when he really has an advantage, because he’ll abuse guys his size and bigger who aren’t as mobile, guys who cannot match his quickness. He’s not an above the rim guy or a rim protector that causes you any concern, but he’s stronger than he looks and this season, he’s mixed it up more when necessary. He’s been more physical than usual. I’d suggest that’s a direct result of what Pop was trying to convey to him. Without Kawhi out there, someone had to play that role as their offensive catalyst and to do that LaMarcus was going to have to toughen up and show more fire than he did last season. I give him credit for stepping up to that challenge. I’ll admit, I was a bit of a skeptic when he was the hot free agent name a couple summers back. It’s easy to forget that. He was the player everybody wanted and the Spurs got him. And it seems like he’s finally comfortable there now in the role he’s playing leading that team right now. I’ve gained a lot of respect for him and his game with the way he’s played this season.” Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMar 31st, 2018

2018 MLB preview: AL East

By The Associated Press Capsules of American League East teams, listed in order of finish last year: ___ Boston Red Sox 2017: 93-69, first place, lost to Houston in ALDS. Manager: Alex Cora (first season). He's Here: DH J.D. Martinez. He's Outta Here: Manager John Farrell, RHP Doug Fister, OF Chris Young, RHP Addison Reed, OF Rajai Davis, LHP Henry Owens, LHP Fernando Abad. Projected Lineup: RF Mookie Betts (.264, 24 HRs, 102 RBIs), LF Andrew Benintendi (.271, 20, 90), 1B Hanley Ramirez (.242, 23, 62) or Mitch Moreland (.246, 22, 79), DH J.D. Martinez (.303, 45, 104 with Tigers and Diamondbacks), 3B Rafael Devers (.284, 10, 30 in 58 games), SS Xander Bogaerts (.273, 10, 62), CF Jackie Bradley Jr. (.245, 17, 63), C Christian Vazquez (.290, 5, 32) or Sandy Leon (.225, 7, 39), 2B Eduardo Nunez (.313, 12, 58, 24 SBs with Giants and Red Sox) or Dustin Pedroia (.293, 7, 62, .369 OBP in 105 games, expected to be out until late May following knee surgery). Rotation: LH Chris Sale (17-8, 2.90 ERA, MLB-best 308 Ks, MLB-high 214 1/3 IP), LH David Price (6-3, 3.38, 11 starts, 5 relief appearances), RH Rick Porcello (11-17, 4.65), LH Drew Pomeranz (17-6, 3.32, expected to begin season on disabled list with strained left forearm), RH Hector Velazquez (3-1, 2.92) or RH Steven Wright (1-3, 8.25 in 5 starts) or LH Eduardo Rodriguez (6-7, 4.19). Key Relievers: RH Craig Kimbrel (5-0, 1.43, 35/39 saves), RH Carson Smith (0-0, 1.35, 1 save in 8 games), RH Matt Barnes (7-3, 3.88), RH Joe Kelly (4-1, 2.79), RH Tyler Thornburg (injured in 2017, expected to begin season on DL). Hot Spot: Starting Rotation. This group has the potential to be the strength of the team, with two Cy Young Award winners and four All-Stars to choose from. But other than Sale, it has been spotty. And in the four-game playoff loss to the eventual World Series champion Astros last year, the Red Sox didn't get a single quality start as the rotation totaled just 11 1/3 innings. The first four spots are spoken for, aside from the injury to Pomeranz. Among those competing with Velazquez for the fifth spot are Wright, Rodriguez and Brian Johnson. Wright, a knuckleballer and 2016 All-Star, had left knee surgery in May and missed the rest of the 2017 season. Rodriguez had major right knee surgery in October. It's possible neither will be ready for opening day, but both could be back by mid-April. Outlook: The Red Sox won 93 games last year for the second straight season and claimed the franchise's first back-to-back AL East titles. But Farrell was fired after they failed to advance in the playoffs for the fourth year in a row. The key — and really only — addition is Martinez, who gives them someone to replace longtime slugger David Ortiz after finishing last in the AL in homers without Big Papi in 2017. The theory behind Boston keeping up with the reloaded New York Yankees goes something like this: A full season of a healthy Price will bolster a rotation that already has a quality ace in Sale, plus 2016 AL Cy Young Award winner Porcello and All-Stars Pomeranz and Wright. The Red Sox also are staking their chances on the hope that Ramirez can be more like the player he was in 2016 (.286, 30, 111); that Pedroia will return quickly and be healthy and productive; that 20-year-old third baseman Devers will be able to stay up for a full season; and that Bradley won't have another second-half slump. The bullpen, anchored by Kimbrel, remains strong. ___ New York Yankees 2017: 91-71, second place, wild card, lost to Houston in ALCS. Manager: Aaron Boone (first season). He's Here: OF Giancarlo Stanton, 2B Neil Walker, 3B Brandon Drury. He's Outta Here: Manager Joe Girardi, 2B Starlin Castro, 3B-1B Chase Headley, 3B Todd Frazier, DH Matt Holliday, LHP Jaime Garcia. Projected Lineup: LF Brett Gardner (.264, 21 HRs, 63 RBIs, 96 runs, 23 SBs), RF Aaron Judge (.284, AL-leading 52, 114, MLB-high 208 Ks), 1B Greg Bird (.190, 9, 28 in 48 games), DH Giancarlo Stanton (.281, MLB-leading 59, MLB-best 132, 163 Ks with Marlins), C Gary Sanchez (.278, 33, 90, 120 Ks in 122 games), SS Didi Gregorius (.287, 25, 87), CF Aaron Hicks (.266, 15, 52 in 88 games), 2B Neil Walker (.265, 14, 49 with Mets and Brewers), 3B Brandon Drury (.267, 13, 63 with Diamondbacks). Rotation: RH Luis Severino (14-8, 2.98 ERA, 230 Ks in 193 1/3 IP), RH Masahiro Tanaka (13-12, 4.74, 194 Ks), LH CC Sabathia (14-5, 3.69), RH Sonny Gray (10-12, 3.55 with Athletics and Yankees), LH Jordan Montgomery (9-7, 3.88 in 29 starts). Key Relievers: LH Aroldis Chapman (4-3, 3.22, 22/26 saves, 69 Ks, 50 1/3 IP in 52 games), RH David Robertson (9-2, 1.48, 14/16 saves in 61 games with White Sox and Yankees), RH Dellin Betances (3-6, 2.87, 10/13 saves, 100 Ks, 50 2/3 IP in 66 games), RH Tommy Kahnle (2-4, 2.59, 96 Ks in 62 2/3 IP with White Sox and Yankees), RH Chad Green (5-0, 1.83, 103 Ks in 69 IP), RH Adam Warren (3-2, 2.35 in 44 games), LH Chasen Shreve (4-1, 3.77 in 44 games). Hot Spot: Starting Rotation. There is little seasoned depth if injuries develop, with Luis Cessa the first candidate to step up, and Chance Adams and Justus Sheffield needing more time in the minors. Sabathia turns 38 in July and while he is coming off his best and most durable season in five years, his surgically repaired right knee requires periodic injections of painkiller. Severino must maintain his consistency of 2017 after going 3-8 the previous year, when he was demoted to the minors. Montgomery is expected to increase his innings from 155 1/3. The back end of New York's rotation puts pressure on its bullpen: While Severino averaged 99 pitches per start, Gray 98 and Tanaka 94, Sabathia and Montgomery were at 87 each. Outlook: New York figures to score a lot and strike out a lot, a reason the Yankees signed the switch-hitting, high-contact Walker during spring training. Drury also was a late addition, enabling New York to start prospects Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar in the minors. Betances faded in the second half last season, struggling with his mechanics and control and diminishing from a four-time All-Star to a mop-up man. After a pair of injury-decimated seasons, Bird is being counted on as a left-handed power bat in the middle of the batting order who can prevent opponents from bringing in right-handed relievers to attack Judge, Stanton and Sanchez. Hicks missed nearly half of last season with oblique injuries but has displaced Jacoby Ellsbury as the regular center fielder. Having never managed or coached at any level, Boone succeeded Girardi and must establish with players and the public that he knows what he is doing. ___ Tampa Bay Rays 2017: 80-82, third place. Manager: Kevin Cash (fourth season). He's Here: OF Denard Span, 1B C.J. Cron, RHP Nathan Eovaldi, OF Jake Bauers. He's Outta Here: 3B Evan Longoria, RHP Alex Cobb, RHP Jake Odorizzi, OF-DH Corey Dickerson, OF Steven Souza Jr., 1B Logan Morrison, 1B-DH Lucas Duda, RHP Brad Boxberger, RHP Steve Cishek, RHP Tommy Hunter, OF Peter Bourjos, INF Trever Plouffe, RHP Chase Whitley. Projected Lineup: LF Denard Span (.272, 12 HRs, 43 RBIs, 31 2Bs, 12 SBs in 129 games with Giants), CF Kevin Kiermaier (.276, 15, 39 in 98 games), C Wilson Ramos (.260, 11, 35 in 64 games), RF Carlos Gomez (.255, 17, 51 with Rangers), 1B C.J. Cron (.248, 16, 56 with Angels), DH Brad Miller (.201, 9, 40), 3B Matt Duffy (sidelined by Achilles tendon injury), 2B Daniel Robertson (.206, 5, 19) or Joey Wendle (.285, 8, 54 in 118 games with Triple-A Nashville), SS Adeiny Hechavarria (.261, 8, 30 with Marlins and Rays). Rotation: RH Chris Archer (10-12, 4.07 ERA, 249 Ks in 34 starts), LH Blake Snell (5-7, 4.04 in 24 starts), RH Nathan Eovaldi (missed season following Tommy John surgery), RH Jake Faria (5-4, 3.43 in 16 games, 14 starts). Key Relievers: RH Alex Colome (2-3, 3.24, 47/53 saves), RH Matt Andriese (5-5, 4.50), RH Sergio Romo (3-1, 3.56 in 55 appearances with Dodgers and Rays; 2-0, 1.47 in 25 games with Rays), LH Dan Jennings (3-1, 3.45 in 77 games with White Sox and Rays), RH Andrew Kittredge (0-1, 1.76 in 15 games), RH Chaz Roe (0-0, 9.00 in 3 games with Braves), RH Austin Pruitt (7-5, 5.31), LH Joe Alvarado (0-3, 3.64). Hot Spot: Starting Rotation. Normally, the Rays are built around good, young starting pitching and solid defense, a formula that will be tested after losing Cobb to free agency, trading Odorizzi and settling on a plan to use a four-man rotation, instead of the customary five. Cash intends to use multiple relievers on floating "bullpen days" slotted to allow the four starters to pitch on regular rest. It may not be a conventional setup, but the Rays are confident they have enough good arms to make it work. Outlook: The Rays sport a new look after a winter of trimming payroll. In addition to the departures of Cobb and Odorizzi, the heart of a batting order that hit a club-record 228 homers — Longoria, Dickerson, Souza and Morrison — is gone, too. Archer, a two-time All-Star, is set to make his franchise-record fourth opening day start, and Colome is back at closer, too. The question that remains unanswered is, for how long? Cash and general manager Erik Neander aren't making any bold predictions but they insist that despite all the changes, the Rays have a chance to be a lot more competitive than it appears on paper. ___ Toronto Blue Jays 2017: 76-86, fourth place. Manager: John Gibbons (sixth season of second stint, 11th overall with Blue Jays). He's Here: LHP Jaime Garcia, OF Randal Grichuk, OF Curtis Granderson, RHP Seung-hwan Oh, INF Yangervis Solarte, INF Aledmys Diaz, RHP John Axford, RHP Tyler Clippard, INF Danny Espinosa, RHP Taylor Guerrieri, INF Gift Ngoepe, LHP Sam Moll, RHP Sam Gaviglio. He's Outta Here: OF Jose Bautista, OF Ezequiel Carrera, RHP Dominic Leone, LHP Brett Anderson, INF Darwin Barney, RHP Leonel Campos, OF Darrell Ceciliani, RHP Taylor Cole, INF Ryan Goins, C Raffy Lopez, RHP Tom Koehler, RHP Dominic Leone, C Miguel Montero, INF Rob Refsnyder, OF Michael Saunders, RHP Bo Schultz, RHP Cesar Valdez. Projected Lineup: 2B Devon Travis (.259, 5 HRs, 24 RBIs in 50 games), 3B Josh Donaldson (.270, 33, 78), 1B Justin Smoak (.270, 38, 90), DH Kendrys Morales (.250, 28, 85), LF Steve Pearce (.252, 13, 37) or Curtis Granderson (.212, 26, 64 with Mets and Dodgers), C Russell Martin (.221, 13, 35), SS Troy Tulowitzki (.249, 7, 26 in 66 games), RF Randal Grichuk (.238, 22, 59 with Cardinals), CF Kevin Pillar (.256, 16, 42). Rotation: LH J.A. Happ (10-11, 3.53 ERA), RH Aaron Sanchez (1-3, 4.25 in 8 games), RH Marco Estrada (10-9, 4.98), RH Marcus Stroman (13-9, 3.09), LH Jaime Garcia (5-10, 4.41 with Braves, Twins and Yankees). Key Relievers: RH Roberto Osuna (3-4, 3.39, 39/49 saves), RH Ryan Tepera (7-1, 3.59, 2 saves), RH Danny Barnes (3-6, 3.55), RH Seung Hwan Oh (1-6, 4.10, 20 saves with Cardinals), LH Aaron Loup (2-3, 3.75), RH John Axford (0-1, 6.43 with Athletics), RH Tyler Clippard (2-8, 4.77, 5 saves with White Sox, Yankees and Astros). Hot Spot: Shortstop. Tulowitzki is owed $20 million in each of 2018 and 2019, and $14 million in 2020, the final season of a 10-year contract he received from Colorado. Tulo has missed at least 30 games in six straight seasons, and will begin 2018 on the disabled list because of a bone spur in his right heel. Although the Blue Jays have multiple backup options, they could be waiting at least a month, if not longer, for the five-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner to return. Tulowitzki sustained a season-ending injury to his right ankle in late July last year. Outlook: The powerful Yankees and reigning division champion Red Sox are considered playoff favorites in the AL East, so the expectation is the Blue Jays will be left to compete for the second wild card. If Donaldson and Smoak help the offense rebound from last season's injury-induced stumble, when Toronto scored an AL-low 693 runs, and the starting pitching stays strong and healthy, the Blue Jays might be able to mount a playoff push. Health concerns remain plentiful, however. Besides Tulowitzki's troublesome heel, Travis will need scheduled downtime to rest his surgically repaired right knee. Stroman was slowed by a sore shoulder in spring training, and Sanchez will be closely monitored after making just eight starts last year because of blister issues. ___ Baltimore Orioles 2017: 75-87, fifth place. Manager: Buck Showalter (ninth season). He's Here: RHP Alex Cobb, RHP Andrew Cashner, OF Colby Rasmus, LHP Nestor Cortes Jr., C Andrew Susac, INF Engelb Vielma, OF Austin Hays. He's Outta Here: C Welington Castillo, SS J.J. Hardy, RHP Ubaldo Jimenez, LHP Wade Miley, RHP Jeremy Hellickson. Projected Lineup: LF Trey Mancini (.293, 24 HRs, 78 RBIs), 2B Jonathan Schoop (.293, 32, 105, 35 2Bs), SS Manny Machado (.259, 33, 95, 33 2Bs), CF Adam Jones (.285, 26, 73), 1B Chris Davis (.215, 26, 61, 61 BBs, 195 Ks), 3B Tim Beckham (.259, 12, 36 in 87 games with Rays; .306, 10, 26 in 50 games with Orioles), DH Mark Trumbo (.234, 23, 65, 149 Ks), RF Colby Rasmus (.281, 9, 23 with Rays), C Caleb Joseph (.256, 8, 28). Rotation: RH Dylan Bundy (13-9, 4.24 ERA, 152 Ks), RH Kevin Gausman (11-12, 4.68, 179 Ks), RH Alex Cobb (12-10, 3.66 with Rays), RH Andrew Cashner (11-11, 3.40 with Rangers), RH Chris Tillman (1-7, 7.84) or RH Miguel Castro (3-3, 3.53 in 39 games, 1 start). Key Relievers: RH Brad Brach (4-5, 3.18, 18/24 saves), RH Darren O'Day (2-3, 3.43, 2 saves), LH Richard Bleier (2-1, 1.99), RH Mychal Givens (8-1, 2.75). Hot Spot: Starting Rotation. The late addition of Cobb fills out a previously shaky unit, but depth and experience are still an issue. Bundy and Gausman were decent last season, but the young right-handers must take another step forward. Jimenez and Hellickson have been replaced by Cashner, on his third team in four years, and Castro, a converted reliever with one career start. Tillman, re-signed as a free agent, has to prove that his miserable 2017 season was merely a fluke rather than the beginning of the end of a career that two years ago appeared to be blooming. Should any of the starters get injured, the team has very few options on the staff and in the minors beyond right-hander Mike Wright, who's got a lifetime ERA of 5.86. Outlook: The Orioles were 25-16 and in first place last year before fading to their first losing season since 2011. The prospect for improvement will rest on a power-laden lineup that needs Davis and Trumbo to rebound from poor performances, but both sluggers fought through injuries this spring and Trumbo will be on the disabled list on opening day. With a shaky rotation and a bullpen that is without injured closer Zach Britton, the Orioles must score plenty of runs to make some noise in the AL East. Baltimore's defense, usually a strong point, was not particularly efficient in 2017. The team addressed the problem by switching Machado to shortstop and working hard on fundamentals this spring. Most important, this could be the last season in Baltimore for Jones and Machado, whose contracts expire after 2018. If the Orioles are sputtering in July, the most intriguing aspect of the team might be whether one or both stars get jettisoned before the July 31 trade deadline......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMar 29th, 2018