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Raiders GM: DeAndre Washington a ‘complete back’

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Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie talked all offseason about finding a running back to pair with Latavius Murray Jerseys.

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Oakland waited until the fifth round to address the position, but McKenzie believes he’s found an answer in DeAndre Washington out of Texas Tech.

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“DeAndre, he’s more than just a third-down back,” McKenzie told KGMZ-FM in San Francisco, via the cheap wholesale team’s official website. “He can pound it up in there. The Raider Nation will find out fast just how physical he is.”

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While just 5-foot-8, Washington “is short but compact and certainly does not lack the toughness to transition into the NFL,” per NFL Media’s Lance Zierlein.

We asked on Tuesday’s Around the NFL Podcast if the Raiders did enough to complement Murray, whose 4.0 yards per carry was a full 1.2 yards off his 2014 numbers. Murray brings size and speed to the game, but his 266 totes from last season aren’t something the Raiders want to duplicate again, with McKenzie saying in March: “The way this league is with the pounding you’re taking, you can’t just have one guy getting beat up all year.”

With only Taiwan Jones Jerseys, George Atkinson and Roy Helu Jerseys behind Murray, Washington has the chance to make an impact as a rookie.

“We think he’s a complete back, and when he gets out in space, he can make you look silly.” McKenzie said. “He can catch the ball, but he can run between the tackles as well as bouncing it outside. We think he’s the total package as a runner. We really like him.”

If Washington can carry his own, the Raiders have added another weapon to an offense that boasts quarterback Derek Carr Jerseys, wideout Amari Cooper and one of the league’s finest offensive lines. The optimism in Oakland is real.

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Cardinals rally in Michael Wacha’s first start

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Anthony Garcia hit a go-ahead two-run homer, while Randal Grichuk, Matt Adams and Aledmys Diaz each doubled for the Cardinals in a 5-3 win over the split-squad Twins on Tuesday at Hammond Stadium.

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Garcia, an outfielder who split time between Double-A Springfield and Triple-A Memphis last year, connected on a two-run blast off lefty reliever Logan Darnell Jerseys in the sixth inning. It was the first homer in Grapefruit League play for St. Louis.

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The Cardinals scored a run in the fifth on an RBI single from Diaz, who is one of three internal shortstop candidates, along with Jedd Gyorko and Greg Garcia, the Cardinals could consider as a replacement for Jhonny Peralta, who sustained a torn left thumb ligament on Saturday. Diaz, who has yet to reach the Majors, went 4-for-4 with two RBIs, including one in St. Louis’ two-run ninth.

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Right-hander Michael Wacha made his first start of the spring for the Cardinals, allowing one cheapjerseys run on two hits over two innings. The lone run he gave up came in the first, when Brian Dozier Jerseys and Eduardo Escobar opened with consecutive singles before Joe Mauer grounded into a run-scoring double play.

Mauer later doubled off right-hander Luke Weaver in the fourth and came around to score on a sacrifice fly from Kennys Vargas.

Right-hander Ricky Nolasco Jerseys, who is competing for the final spot in Minnesota’s rotation, started for the Twins and tossed three scoreless frames. He allowed three hits, including two doubles, but was helped by two double plays and four strikeouts.

“I was filling up the zone pretty good, but I need to get better command of my fastball,” Nolasco said. “The ball is running a lot this spring, but I need to start it out a little farther away to get used to that.”

Up next for the Cardinals: Right-hander Mike Leake, who signed a five-year deal with the Cardinals in December, will make his organizational debut on Wednesday when the Cardinals take on the Marlins in a 12:05 pm CT game, live on MLB.TV and Gameday Audio. Leake is expected to throw about 40 pitches in the outing. Catcher Yadier Molina, who is recovering from offseason thumb surgery, may draw his first spring start, though he would not take any swings.

Up next for the Twins: Left-hander Tommy Milone Jerseys makes his second start of the spring for the Twins on Wednesday at 12:05 p.m. CT against a Phillies split squad at Hammond Stadium. Milone, competing for the final spot in the rotation, gave up one run in two innings his last time out. Closer Glen Perkins Jerseys is also scheduled to see action.

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs. Share This Email Print + Hide Comments

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‘There will never be another Joey Crawford’

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LeBron James considers himself “a historian of the game,” and takes pride not just in dominating his own era of NBA basketball but in schooling himself about who and what has come before.

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Just a few days ago, for example, James spent an off-night in Chicago watching a 1997 playoff game between Utah and Houston on NBA TV, eager to understand the how’s and why’s of John Stockton’s 3-pointer that sent the Jazz to their first NBA Finals.

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So the impact of newly retired NBA referee Joey Crawford’s 39-year career wasn’t lost on the Cleveland Cavaliers Jerseys star.

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“To see him reffing Finals games in the early ’90s and then have him ref some of my Finals games in 2011, 2012 — his tenure and what he was able to accomplish over that long period of time — I think is remarkable,” James said of Crawford, who was honored Sunday at halftime of the Bucks-76ers game in his native Philadelphia.

“Joey was a man of his own out there. He didn’t follow nobody. He reffed how he wanted to ref, he had his antics the way he wanted to have his antics. But every coach, every player respected what he brought to the game. Best wishes to him in his retirement for sure.”

GameTime: Joey Crawford Retires

The GameTime crew looks back on the legendary career of NBA referee Joey Crawford following his retirement announcement.

Crawford, 64, announced in the fall that 2015-16 would be his final NBA season. But when his right knee didn’t sufficiently respond to surgery and rehab, it turned out that he had worked his final game without realizing it. Crawford spoke to NBA.com in March about his career and his future, and the 76ers made plans for Sunday’s ceremony to celebrate Crawford’s work in his hometown, a city not just with rich in its basketball tradition of great players but of great game officials, too.

Some of the NBA’s best-known referees have had Philadelphia roots, including Earl Strom, Jake O’Donnell, Steve Javie, Jack Nies, Mark Wunderlich and Mike Callahan. Crawford’s father “Shag” and brother Jerry were longtime MLB umpires. Then there’s Joey, who worked deep into the new-millennial, social-media age and arguably is sports’ most recognizable ref or umpire.

He also was known, across 2,561 regular-season games and 374 more in the playoffs (including 50 Finals appearances), as one of sports’ toughest.

“‘Ain’t gonna be no shenanigans,'” James said, when asked what he thought whenever he realized Crawford would be working his game. “‘No horseplay tonight. We’d better be about all professional business, because he ain’t messin’ around.'”

James added: “Any ref that I can go up and talk to, man-to-man, I have respect. Just like every player’s different, every ref is different. You can’t go at one ref the way you go at another, just like I can’t lead Kyrie [Irving] how I lead Tristan [Thompson]. They’re two different guys. I’m a 13-year veteran, so you learn that over the years. But Joey’s well-respected by every player.”

Crawford on Joining Replay Center

Joey Crawford joins GameTime to talk about transitioning from a NBA referee to joining the replay center.

Once news broke of Crawford’s retirement — he still has been pulling shifts in the league’s Replay Center in Secaucus, N.J. — and as the event in Philadelphia neared, a number of players, coaches and colleague spoke about the man’s work and his personality, both of which will be absent from arenas and NBA telecasts. Here are some of them:

Kobe Bryant, Lakers star whose exit has synched up with Crawford’s: “Another Philly guy! He would never, ever B.S. you. If he felt like he made the right call, he’d tell you. If he felt like he missed it, he’d tell you he missed it. If he thought you were out there whinin’ like a baby, he’d tell you you were whinin’ like a baby.

“So I always had the utmost amount of respect for Joey and the intensity that he brought. I know he prepared extremely well before games. And I love him.”

Lakers veteran Metta World Peace: “One day I’ll get some coffee with him and give him a lot of [grief]. It was great to deal with him for all those years. There were times I’d get upset because they’d miss calls. But I tried not to think about it. You want to forget about the refs for the most part when you’re playing. But when you get a chance to B.S. with the refs, you can have some fun with it. Joey had a short fuse but it was never a concern of mine. Of course he tossed me, many times. But he’s great, other than that. Anybody who’s gone is gonna be missed — Joey’s one of ’em, Kobe’s one of ’em.”

Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett, who had plenty of disagreements with Crawford over the years: “He’s always been one of the great ones at what he do — I’ve always appreciated the great ones at their craft. I felt like I was treated fair. He’d talk to me and explain things when he didn’t have to, where other refs might have an ego or something. A no-nonsense kind of guy. There will never be another Joey Crawford, because he built that reputation, he built who he is.

“I remember in Boston we had a laugh — him, myself and Paul Pierce. He made a mistake, we kind of looked and the three of us all had a laugh. Obviously you’ve seen the video of him and Timmy [Duncan], but Joey’s always compassionate, I’ve always respected him, I’ve always felt I had respect coming back from him. I wish him the best, man.”

Longtime ref Bennett Salvatore, now a referee development/performance advisor: “I worked with him for so long, so many games. I’ve never met a guy with more passion for what he does, in basketball or out of basketball. He watched every game. When he’s home, he’s a basketball junkie. I think it’s a love for the game and it’s to be better at his job. He’s one of those people who, after 39 years, continues to work to get better every day.

“When we were young — Joey, I think, had five years in the league more than me — they used to pair us together in the 2-man system. Joey was the hot-tempered guy and I was more the medium-range guy, and honest to God, we used to fight our ways out of stadiums every night. We’d have five, six technical every night, and we’d just look at each other afterward and laugh.

“He’s the most recognizable sports official who’s out there — I kid him all the time, that might not be a good thing. He could be friendly with you without being your friend. If you crossed that professional line, he would immediately reprimand you in whatever manner was appropriate. I think that’s why he gained the ultimate respect by the players and the coaches. Joey was always fair — he didn’t care who, what, where or when. All he saw was the four corners of the court, the players, the ball and the basket. That was it. Everything else was by the rulebook.”

Joey Crawford: Top 5 NBA Moments

It’s time to say goodbye to Joey Crawford, but not before The Starters count down the Top 5 Moments from his illustrious career.

Lakers and former Pacers center Roy Hibbert: “We were playing the Lakers in L.A. and I remember he made a blocking call, and he skipped down the court going like this. I thought that was hilarious. But he’s probably one of the refs who let you go back and forth. He had a fuse for, like, how much he’d let you do it. But you respected him. And he could take a joke from time to time. He’s a nice guy.

“He’d always come to the bench at that first whistle, first horn — you had to get out there. He was serious about that stuff. One time that I thought was funny, Gerald Green — my former teammate — was in Phoenix and we were jawing back and forth, playfully. And he gave us both double techs. We walked up to him and said, ‘We’re just messin’ around. We’re former teammates.’ And he was like, ‘I don’t know who’s teammates and who’s not teammates.’ We thought that was funny. I’ll give him a hug when I see him.”

Former L.A. star-turned-coach Byron Scott: “I loved Joey Crawford as a referee. He’d done it for so many years. Wasn’t biased. Didn’t care if you were at home or on the road. And he was one of the most honest referees. There were a couple of times I felt he missed calls, and the next game he reffed us, he would tell me I was absolutely right.

“Back in our ’80s days, we were playing and Joey was reffing, and James Worthy was having a pretty bad game for James. And he was all over Joey: ‘That’s a foul! That’s a foul!’ Just going crazy on Joey. We’re going to the bench and James is still yelling at him. Joey comes over to our bench, spreads guys out of the way and walks up to James and says, ‘Don’t blame me because you’re having a bad [bleeping] night!’ That was perfect Joey Crawford — James looked at him and said, ‘You’re right.’ ”

Kendall Gill, 15-year NBA wing-turned-broadcaster in Chicago who keeps on his smartphone a video clip of a timeout exchange he had with Crawford: “I was telling him I was one of the league leaders in steals, historically. And that I didn’t foul the guy like he said. And he was like, ‘Are you really? I knew you were a good player but I didn’t know you were historical.’

“Whenever I had a game where he was working, we would always pose for a picture together. Because in my rookie [trading] card, Joey was in that shot and he knew it. So he’d be like, ‘Hey Kendall, let’s pose.’ seahawks jersey cheap I knew he respected all the players but if you got out of line, just like your father, he would quickly put you back in line.

“When you saw Joey Crawford, you knew that was a big game, because he was, like, at the top of the food chain as far as refs were concerned. You’ve got a lot of great refs in the league but if you think ‘NBA ref,’ Joey Crawford is the one who comes to mind.”

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him 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. Trending

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NHL-leading Stars dealing with first dose of adversity

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NEW YORK — The Dallas Stars reached the halfway point of the season atop the NHL standings, but also dealing with a small dose of what’s mostly eluded them: adversity.

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It’s been an impressive season in Dallas. The Stars’ 28-9-4 record is the second-best in their history after 41 games, behind only the 1998-99 team (27-7-7) that won the Stanley Cup. Barring a Texas-sized collapse, the Stars will make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second time in eight seasons and should stand a good chance of escaping the Western Conference First Round for the first time since 2007-08.
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However, Dallas enters its game Tuesday against the New York Rangers (7 p.m. ET; FS-SW+, MSG+) at Madison Square Garden challenged physically and mentally. The Stars are 2-2-2 in their past six games, and their 6-5 loss to the New York Islanders on Sunday, one night after a 3-2 overtime defeat at the New Jersey Devils, marked the first time this season they’ve lost consecutive games.

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On the surface it’s a hiccup. Deep down, the Stars know there are issues to address before a snowball becomes an avalanche.

“It’s nice, adversity, sometimes,” center Tyler Seguin Jerseys said. “It’s good for the team. We knew it was going to come. We haven’t faced too much of it this year, knock on wood. It’s the first time this season we’ve lost back-to-back games so there’s a lot of things we can work on.”

One problem that’s been brewing is special teams. In the weekend losses to cheap motels in jersey city nj the Devils and Islanders, the Stars allowed 10 power cheap motels in jersey city nj plays, killing seven. Captain Jamie Benn Jerseys’s hooking penalty 1:07 into overtime led to the Devils’ game-winning power-play goal. Benn also took a holding penalty 32 seconds into the game Sunday and a double minor for high sticking later in the first period, which led to Islanders forward Anders Lee’s goal that tied the game 1-1. Defenseman Jason Demers Jerseys was giving a five-minute major and game misconduct penalty for boarding New York forward Cal Clutterbuck, leading to another power-play goal that put the Islanders ahead for good.

“You’re going to face adversity,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “We haven’t faced a lot the first half of the season. For me our discipline in the game has gone a little bit sideways. We took a penalty in overtime that hurt us the other night in Jersey. You can’t take that many penalties and survive a hockey game.”

Fatigue may also be a factor. Dallas’ game Tuesday completes a stretch of three games in four nights and seven in 11 nights.

“I think that’s League-wide,” center Jason Spezza Jerseys said. “I think if you look around there’s probably a lot of teams going through similar things, but we’re definitely not quite as fresh as we’ve been at other times this season. But that’s the nature of the game.

“When you lose games everything gets looked into and micro-looked into and gets analyzed, and when you win it all gets painted over with a brush. So I think we have to be careful we don’t overanalyze.”

Goalie Kari Lehtonen Jerseys is also struggling. He’s been pulled twice in his past five starts while allowing a combined 14 goals with a 4.08 goals-against average and .874 save percentage. Still, Ruff has been happy with his goaltending tandem of Lehtonen and Antti Niemi.

“I think the goaltending has been a big plus for us in the first 41 games,” Ruff said. “I think there’s been an improvement; you look at the records. I think [Lehtonen] is going through a little bit of a hiccup right now, if that’s what you want to call it, but goaltending has been a plus for us.”

The Stars are also accomplishing a goal set at their first practice: A stronger commitment to defense has lowered their goals-against average from 3.13 per game last season (26th in the League) to 2.56 (13th).

“We’ve definitely matured our game and found ways to stay patient throughout the year,” Seguin said. “Being able to win those type games, low-scoring, we’ve felt comfortable in those. We want to be the best checkers in the League. I think we need to get back to that. We took a couple of games for granted on this trip so far, but we can finish off the trip the right way.

“It’s going to start with how this whole team plays in our own end. Obviously [Sunday] night, giving up six goals, that’s not how we want to play. We’ve tried to outscore teams in the past and in this League you have to have to play D-zone first and we know that. We look forward to the challenge [Tuesday] night.”

Follow Jon Lane on Twitter: @JonLaneNHL

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Five potential landing spots for Jason Pierre-Paul

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Jason Pierre-Paul is perhaps the biggest X-factor of this free agency class. He’s the player who inspired the most heated debate between Chris Wesseling and I while coming up with our Top 99 available players list. I see a player who still has potential to be among the 10 best at his position in football. Wess sees a guy who can’t tackle.
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From my vantage point, Pierre-Paul has a high floor and a high ceiling as a free agent. Just go back to watch his film from the second half of last season. Without any training camp work, he was highly disruptive as a pass rusher with 34 hurries and six quarterback hits in limited action, according to Pro Football Focus. It’s fair to criticize Pierre-Paul for failing to finish plays, but I don’t assume that he’s a finished product. He was just learning for the first time how to play football with a club on his hand. He underwent surgery in the offseason in hopes of wearing a glove in the future, which should help his tackling immensely. While the equipment changes, Pierre-Paul’s understanding of how to play around his handicap could as well.

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In a worst-case scenario, Pierre-Paul looks like an above average starter with a ton of experience despite being only 27 years old. Pro Football Focus rankings aren’t the final answer on a player, but they had him ranked as the No. 9 4-3 defensive end after he returned to the field in Week 9.

It will be fascinating to see what kind of interest Pierre-Paul inspires. The Giants reportedly wanted to sign him to a short-term “prove it” deal, and Pierre-Paul feels comfortable in New Jersey. If he was a free agent a year ago, he might have inspired a deal worth over $15 million per year. Now he will come at a discount, and he’s a good bet to be a great value.

So where could he land? Let’s break down five potential landing spots.

New York Giants: Let’s be clear that this is the most likely outcome. There are few teams in the NFL more desperate for defensive talent than Big Blue, so don’t discount a return to the Giants. Pierre-Paul reportedly impressed the Giants with his attitude and performance last season and there is optimism that his latest surgery will make it easier for him to play despite his missing fingers. There is also some belief that Pierre-Paul wants to stay put, appreciative of how the Giants handled his situation last year. He could take a one-year deal and try to strike it rich as a free agent again next season.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs’ defensive end spot has long been a black hole in Tampa, with the team struggling just to find a single starter who is league average. Their best player at the position since Michael Bennett left in 2012 has been … Jacques Smith? The Bucs have a ton of salary-cap room and Pierre-Paul played his college ball in Tampa. They are the type of team that should take a chance on him.

Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys are suddenly thin at defensive end with Greg Hardy Jerseys and Jeremy Mincey Jerseys headed www cheap jersey us for free agency. Randy Gregory is suspended the first four games of the season and Demarcus Lawrence Jerseys is coming off back surgery. If Pierre-Paul is going to take a short-term deal to rebuild his value, he couldn’t pick a better place to get attention. Jerry Jones is familiar with JPP’s big play ability, including one famous block.

Jacksonville Jaguars: With more than $80 million in cap room and a win-now season coming up, the Jaguars are logical suitors for nearly any premium defensive talent. Gus Bradley and general manager David Caldwell have been searching for one-on-one pass rushers since they arrived in town with little success. The team already has Dante Fowler and Jared Odrick, but they are very different players than Pierre-Paul. The group’s versaility would give Bradley a lot of options.

Oakland Raiders: With the Aldon Smith era ending quickly, we expect general manager Reggie McKenzie to hit free agency again to find a bookend for Khalil Mack. Smith and Mack gave the Raiders’ defense an identity early last season, and Pierre-Paul could help to do the same.

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Twins’ Plouffe, Santana ready to come off DL

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HOUSTON — Third baseman Trevor Plouffe and right-hander Ervin Santana Jerseys, both of whom are on the 15-day disabled list, joined the Twins on their road trip to Houston on Monday. Plouffe is set to be activated on Tuesday, and Santana is tentatively planned to start on Saturday in Chicago against the White Sox.
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Plouffe, who hit .302/.333/.535 with two homers and six RBIs in 12 games before being placed on the DL with a strained right intercostal on April 18, finished a two-game rehab assignment with Class A Advanced Fort Myers on Sunday, going 1-for-8.

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“Everything went smooth,” manager Paul Molitor said. “I didn’t really ask for too many details. But he looked fine in the field, and his at-bats looked like he wasn’t protecting or holding back anything. So he should be good to go tomorrow.”

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Infielder Jorge Polanco is expected to be optioned to Triple-A Rochester when Plouffe comes off the DL.

Santana, meanwhile, is on the DL retroactive to April 20 with a strained lower back. He threw a bullpen session without any issues on Sunday and is scheduled to throw a two-inning simulated game on Tuesday. Santana, Minnesota’s Opening Day starter, was 0-1 with a 3.00 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 20 innings before sustaining the injury.

“It won’t be particularly long, but we want to get him between 30 and 40 pitches,” Molitor said. “If everything goes well, we’ll get him back in there Saturday.”

Worth noting

• Right-hander Kyle Gibson Jerseys, on the DL retroactive to April 23 with a strained right shoulder, played catch on Monday as he continues to rehab his injury. There’s still no target date for his return, but the Twins are encouraged by his progress. He could throw a bullpen session as soon as this week.

• Closer Glen Perkins Jerseys, out since April 11 with a strained left shoulder, could play catch at some point later this week, Molitor said, but Perkins is recovering slowly and has yet to throw since being placed on the DL.

• Right-hander Alex Meyer Jerseys, who is set to make his first career Major League start against the Astros on Tuesday, will not have any pitch-count restrictions. It will be Meyer’s first start since April 20, with Triple-A Rochester, as he was called up as a long reliever, only to replace lefty Tommy Milone Jerseys in the rotation. Meyer threw 29 pitches in a relief outing on Friday; Molitor said he’s stretched out enough to start without any limitations.

Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and listen to his podcast. This story was cheap seahawks jerseys not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs. Share This cheap seahawks jerseys Email Print + Hide Comments

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George adjusting to life as clear-cut No. 1 guy for Pacers

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CHICAGO — Paul George went down hard, the contact intersecting up high as the basketball, his wrist and Jimmy Butler’s converged in an instant. And George’s terrific, difficult, exciting, exasperating comeback season got a little more trying.

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He was right there afterward, after Indiana coach Frank Vogel had flung off his suit coat as he left the court and then bit his tongue, saving himself money, during a brief dressing-room chill. George sat at his stall, still in the “Hoosiers” uniform, leaning back, legs splayed before, knees bundled in ice.

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Jimmy Butler scores 28 points including the game-winning shot in overtime to lead the Bulls past the visiting Pacers, 102-100.

Of course he knew what was coming. The Pacers start didn’t hold back quite like his coach.

“Questionable no-call,” he said of that final play, the one that left Indiana on the short end of the 102-100 overtime outcome. “I got bodied and I couldn’t finish. He didn’t touch the ball. There was no block. I couldn’t shoot the ball because he came down on my arm. It sucks, but I’ve been fighting this battle for a while.”

Butler had scored the game-winner on a somewhat similar play seconds before. He deftly and improbably steered in a lob pass from Pau Gasol with George shadowing and elevating alongside him.

Y’know, I missed a year and a half. So this is like a rookie wall for me. And I’m trying to find my way. Just battle my way through it.

– Indiana Pacers Jerseys star Paul George

“The only thing,” George said, “I didn’t foul him.”

Nobody said this face-of-the-franchise stuff was going to be easy.

George’s return from that ghastly leg injury in a Team USA scrimmage in Las Vegas 17 months ago was — and remains, frankly — one of the NBA’s happiest stories of 2015. To go from where George was that night — rushed off to a hospital and surgery, his career very much in doubt, the game’s biggest names nauseous and teary over his plight — to where he is now is remarkable.

Appearing in all 31 games for Indiana, George ranks eighth in the NBA in scoring average (24.1), fifth in field-goal attempts, fourth in 3-pointers taken and ninth in minutes. His usage rate is a career-high 31.1, same with his 20.7 PER.

When the first returns of All-Star balloting were announced, only LeBron James had received more votes among East frontcourt players. And George was an early MVP contender, grabbing November’s Player of the Month honors. Never mind the Pacers’ new offensive style or reconfigured roster, George’s grab at the team’s reins had led them to a surprising 11-5 start.

Kia Awards: Paul George

The Pacers’ Paul George is the Kia Eastern Conference Player of the Month in November.

Then the 6-foot-9 wing hit what even the Pacers.com Web site referred to as a “mysterious” slump. Through Indiana’s first 29 games, George had averaged 27.6 points, 8.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists while shooting 45.2 percent overall, 45.4 percent from the arc. He scored a career-high 48 points at Utah on Dec. 5 and was getting to the foul line for an average of 7.7 free throws.

But over his last 12 games — including Wednesday’s 7-of-20, 19-point performance against the Bulls — George’s numbers are almost all down: 18.4 ppg, cheapjerseysus 6.6 rpg, 3.7 apg, 34.1 FG percentage, 31.2 3-point percentage. He has averaged 4.9 free throws, suggesting that George has paid a toll for his frequent public comments about the NBA’s officials greater than the $50,000 or so in fines.

George Drops Career-High 48

Paul George went off on Saturday night, pouring in a career high 48 points vs. the Jazz.

At United Center Wednesday, he scored eight points in the fourth quarter to help the Pacers lead by seven with less than three minutes left. But he got just one more bucket in regulation and was scoreless in overtime.

Being the name above the title, without veterans like David West and Roy Hibbert around to share the load that got Indiana to two Eastern Conference finals, isn’t for the meek.

“The early part of the year has been about finding his way in a new offensive system,” Vogel said. “Obviously he exploded onto the scene in the first month. The amount of defensive attention he’s gotten has big-time increased since then. So he’s facing a lot more double teams. Trying to share the basketball more. Still being a willing passer, which is good. He’s continuing to grow.”

Said George: “It’s continuously changing, to try to figure this thing out. This is a rough stretch I’m going through. But slowly and surely, I’m getting back comfortable.”

The bubble of confidence that enveloped George shortly after his surgery, carrying him through lonely, uncertain days in rehab and in the gym, as well as six shaky appearances last spring and some soreness that lingers in the repaired leg, has brought him this far. He doesn’t sound as if it has burst.

“Still getting the same shots, same looks,” George said. “Getting three’s, the same way. … I’m still doing the same things [to prepare], still getting the same amount of shots as when I was going through the hot streak. It’s just, at this point in the season, I’m just hitting … Just hit a wall after that.

Steal And Three

Paul George steals the ball from Pau Gasol, leads the break and pulls up for the three pointer.

“Y’know, I missed a year and a half. So this is like a rookie wall for me. And I’m trying to find my way. Just battle my way through it.”

It is one thing to attend to one’s game through challenging times. It’s quite another to lug around responsibility for the team’s results overall. George’s ambition of coming back not just as a solid NBA player but as one of the league’s elite is getting tested.

“It’s rough, especially being the leader of this team and going through this,” he said. “Guys are lookin’ upon me to be the leader, and I have to. But I’ll find my way.”

The Pacers have slogged through the regular season with George and without George, and with definitely is better, even as they endure a 6-6 dip.

“He helps obviously with his play out on the court,” Vogel said. “Knowing you can trust you’ve got one of the best defenders in the league to put against these great scorers on the perimeter. What he adds offensively, to actually impact the game with his scoring and his playmaking.

“But I think he impacts the group’s confidence. Knowing he’s out there with you. We walk into every building all year long and there’s not an opponent that we play or a building that we’re playin’ in that we don’t feel we can win it. If you don’t have a player of Paul George’s stature, you’re not going to have that confidence.”

The Pacers do have a player of George’s stature again, the best thing possible as they head into 2016.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him 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. Trending

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Patriots excited as Winter Classic preparations begin

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Hardcore fans of the New England Patriots Jerseys, celebrating their team’s 12th win of the season, remained scattered across the parking lots of Gillette Stadium on a brisk, but by no means frigid, Sunday night in New England while work crews from the National cheapjerseys us com Hockey League took control of the building to begin the transformation toward the 2016 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.

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While the post-game tailgate festivities ended, when the snarled traffic along adjoining Route 1 abated, NHL employees worked throughout the night, putting down flooring and performing other set-up tasks to prepare the stadium for a rink-building process that will begin in earnest Monday in preparation of the Winter Classic between the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens here on Jan. 1 (1 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

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The Bruins and Canadiens will have practices at Gillette Stadium on Dec. 31 before an alumni game between players from each organization will take place at 3:30 p.m. (NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports).

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For some of the Patriots, the transformation, which began soon after they finished streaming out of the stadium after a 33-16 victory against the Tennessee Titans, was an exciting beginning to a process they will observe at arm’s length for the better part of the next two weeks.

“It’s going to be awesome, a great atmosphere [for the Winter Classic],” said Jimmy Garappolo, the backup quarterback to starter Tom Brady Jerseys. Garappolo, a Chicago Blackhawks fan while growing up outside of the Windy City, admits he is “turning over to the Bruins” since arriving with the Patriots this summer and is looking forward to seeing the rink take shape.

The defending Super Bowl champion Patriots finished their home schedule Sunday, going 7-1 at Gillette Stadium for the season. They finish the regular season with away games against the New York Jets (Dec. 7) and the Miami Dolphins Jerseys (Jan. 3) before they start the NFL postseason after the first-round bye they earned with a victory Sunday and a loss by the Denver Broncos later in the afternoon. They will play a second-round game during the weekend of Jan. 16-17.

The Patriots won’t play at Gillette Stadium for almost a month at the earliest, but they will be around, using the practice facilities adjacent to the stadium. They will have a first-hand view of the rink-build process, which will be supervised by Dan Craig, the NHL’s Senior Director of Facilities Operations.

Garappolo says he is excited to see the rink take shape while the Patriots spend the next two weeks preparing for the rest of the regular season.

Growing up in Arlington Heights, Ill., Garappolo followed the Blackhawks pretty closely. He says Jonathan Toews Jerseys is his favorite player and he loves the character of the recent Blackhawks teams. He says he played hockey for one year when he was younger, as a defenseman. To hear him tell it, he was not very good and he quickly turned his attention to football.

Alan Branch, a defensive lineman with the Patriots, says he grew up playing a bit of roller hockey as a kid before embracing football full-time. He played football at the University of Michigan, where he says he saw “a lot of good hockey.” He missed the “Cold War II” outdoor game at The Big House between the Wolverines and Michigan State and was already in the NFL when the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs visited the Michigan football stadium for the 2014 Winter Classic.

“That is really exciting, pretty cool,” Branch said when told about the impending Winter Classic. “Outdoor hockey is old-school. I didn’t grow up being a hockey fan, but merged into one as an adult. It should be an awesome game.”

Right guard Josh Kline Jerseys, another Chicago-area kid, has been with the Patriots since 2013. One thing he has learned in his three years with New England is that the sports fans here know how to split their loyalties to embrace all of the area teams.

“It’s going to be a great experience,” said Kline, who says he follows the cheapjerseys us com NHL when his schedule allows. “Obviously they love the Bruins around here, so it should be a real good experience.”

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Giants GM blasts draft critics on selecting Eli Apple

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New York Giants Jerseys general manager Jerry Reese took heat for what many analysts viewed as a “reach” when he selected corner Eli Apple No. 10 overall in the 2016 NFL Draft.

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On Monday, Reese blasted those critics during an interview with Mike Francesa on WFAN.

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“When somebody doesn’t know what they’re talking about, it’s easy to depict it that way,” Reese said, via NJ.com. “Because they don’t know what they’re talking about.”

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Reese sounds a wee bit defensive about his pick.

He is correct, however. No one outside of the Giants’ draft room knows exactly how they stacked their draft board.

It’s been reported that New York had eyes cheap bike jerseys for both linebacker Leonard Floyd and offensive tackle Jack Conklin. Big Blue got leapt in trades for both players before it got to their pick at No. 10.

Reese said Apple was the Giants’ highest-rated player that didn’t have “issues” (presumably Laremy Tunsil’s bong mask and Myles Jack’s knee).

“We were very happy that he was available when we picked there at No. 10,” Reese said of selecting the corner. “We absolutely had gone over this scenario many times. Obviously, not the (specific) situation that came up during the draft, but we thought some of the players might have been gone anyway. He was right in our window, where we had him ranked on our board, and he was an easy pick for us.”

Corner was also an area of need. Despite paying Janoris Jenkins Jerseys a pile of cash and employing Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie Jerseys as a No. 1, the Giants remain thin at the position.

Reese isn’t ending his search for a corner with Apple either.

NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reports that ex-Bengals corner Leon Hall Jerseys will visit Big Blue today and take a physical. Hall, a slot corner, is recovering from back surgery.

Reese likely wouldn’t hear so much backlash from critics if he added the 31-year-old corner on the cheap.

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Astros’ Mike Fiers posts another stellar start

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JUPITER, Fla. — Right-hander Mike Fiers Jerseys is performing this spring like someone who wants to force the Astros to make some tough decisions in a few weeks.

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Fiers, competing for a spot in the rotation, retired all nine batters he faced in Saturday’s 4-3 loss to the Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium, striking out four. He’s allowed only two hits and is scoreless in five Grapefruit League innings.

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“He was exceptional today — very, very good,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. “I was really impressed with the use of his changeup. He got some really good swings and misses and some mis-hits. He’s a good pitcher. We saw it a little bit last year in the second half after we traded for him, but he’s good and he gets some funky swings when he’s on.”

Fiers said he felt he’s progressed from his first start against the Yankees in Tampa, Fla., on Monday, when he threw two innings. His fastball was better this time, he said, along with his changeup and his cutter. He threw some good cutters to lefties and mixed in some sliders to righties, along with the occasional curveball.

He said he was working on command in the strike zone and throwing different pitches in different counts.

“Every time out is a chance for me to prove myself to this team and to this coaching staff and let them know that I can be one of the five starters here in Houston,” kevin durant jersey cheap he said. “Every good outing counts; every good time out just helps my cause, but I’m just focusing on myself, really. I’ve got to do whatever I’ve done in the past and not try to go outside what I can do.”

Fiers, 30, went a combined 5-9 with a 3.89 ERA in 31 games (30 starts) last year with the Brewers and Astros, who acquired him and outfielder Carlos Gomez Jerseys in a July trade. With the Astros, he was 2-1 with a 3.32 ERA in 10 games (nine starts), including an Aug. 21 no-hitter against the Dodgers.

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag’s Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs. Share This Email Print + Hide Comments