National Sports Headlines from NBC Sports

LA Kings shut down Ducks 3-1, take 2-0 series lead

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Jonathan Quick made 36 saves, Marian Gaborik scored his third goal in two games, and the Los Angeles Kings beat the Anaheim Ducks 3-1 Monday night to take a 2-0 lead in their second-round series.

Alec Martinez also scored for the Kings, who opened their first playoff series against their local rivals with two victories at a road arena packed with their own fans.

Dwight King added an empty-net goal for Los Angeles, which has won six straight postseason games and is halfway to its third straight trip to the Western Conference finals.

Patrick Maroon scored a power-play goal and Jonas Hiller stopped 14 shots for the Ducks, who couldn't crack the Kings' NHL-best defense despite controlling play for long stretches.

Game 3 is Thursday at Staples Center.

Wizards take 1-0 lead with 102-96 win at Indiana

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Bradley Beal scored 14 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter and Trevor Ariza added 22 on Monday night, leading Washington past top-seeded Indiana 102-96 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

The Wizards won a second-round game for the first time since 1982 and are 4-0 on the road in this year's playoffs. They ended a 12-game losing streak at Indiana that dated to April 18, 2007, and they did it by nearly leading from wire-to-wire.

Paul George and George Hill had 18 points each for Indiana.

The Wizards trailed only once, 31-30, and took control with a 17-6 run to close the first half that made it 56-43. Indiana couldn't get closer than five points in the second half.

Game 2 is Wednesday night at Indiana.

The Pacers have lost both of their playoff series' openers and will face another uphill battle - just days after rallying from a 3-2 deficit to beat Atlanta in seven games in the first round.

Washington made a playoff franchise-record 10 3-pointers, going 10 of 16. Ariza was 6 for 6 with five coming in the first half when he scored a playoff-career best 17 points.

But the Wizards won this one because of their defense, especially late.

After pulling out to a 92-78 lead midway through the fourth quarter, Indiana scored six straight to close to 92-84 with 3:24 left.

But Washington didn't allow another field goal for nearly 6 minutes - from 7:41 left in the fourth until Indiana's last-minute 3-point flurry, and by then it was too late.

The Wizards took advantage of a five-day break after beating Chicago in the first round, looking fresh and stealing a page out of the Hawks' playbook by spreading out the Pacers.

It worked perfectly.

The Wizards jumped to an 8-0 lead and extended the margin to 28-15 after one quarter.

The Pacers spent the second half playing catch-up and the Wizards never let them get closer than two possessions.

After the Wizards took a 68-52 lead midway through the third quarter, the Pacers finally charged back with a 10-0 run that got them within 68-62.

But Washington sealed the game with a 7-0 fourth-quarter run that made it 92-78 with 5:46 to play. It was too much to overcome for Indiana, which made four 3s in the final minute.

NOTES: Washington has won nine of its last 10 dating to the regular season. ... Indiana held Washington to 66 points on Jan. 10, the lowest single-game point total this season. It took the Wizards 26:02 to top that mark Monday. ... Robert Mathis and Reggie Wayne of the Colts attended the game.

AP Source: Raptors give Casey 3-year deal

Dwane Casey started the season in the perilous position of working for a new general manager and coaching a young Toronto Raptors roster that was widely believed to be on the ground floor of a remodel.

He turned the situation into an Atlantic Division championship and the team's first playoff appearance since 2008, which was more than enough to convince general manager Masai Ujiri that the right man for the job was already in house.

Casey received a three-year contract extension on Monday, a person with knowledge of the deal told The Associated Press. The person requested anonymity because the team has not announced the move.

The agreement came one day after the Raptors lost Game 7 of their Eastern Conference playoff series to Brooklyn when Nets star Paul Pierce blocked a potential game-winning shot by Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry in the closing seconds. The fast resolution addressed one of the team's biggest question marks heading into the offseason.

"He's a great dude," guard DeMar DeRozan said of Casey before news of the contract went public. "Sometimes you don't even look at him as a coach because you can talk to him about any situation. I think that helped us a lot."

Casey was in the final year of his contract when Ujiri was lured away from the Denver Nuggets. An executive typically likes to hire his own coach, and Casey was brought on in 2011 by former basketball boss Bryan Colangelo.

The Raptors won 23 games in Casey's first season and 34 in his second, and Ujiri immediately started making roster moves to address the team's troublesome salary-cap situation and start positioning it for greater flexibility moving forward. The most notable move was sending Rudy Gay to Sacramento, but Casey and his new-look staff took the hand they were dealt and turned the Raptors into one of the most surprising teams in the league.

"This guy did so much and really got us ready," guard Greivis Vasquez said. "As a leader, you've got to give him a lot of credit. He did a great job. I thought we got better throughout the season. We gradually got better and the coaching staff was great."

Toronto went 48-34 to win the division for just the second time in franchise history. The Raptors also came close to advancing to the second round of the playoffs for just the second time in franchise history.

"We were right there," Casey said after Game 7.

Casey helped Lowry, a talented guard with a reputation for being a handful for coaches behind the scenes, harness his ultra-competitive nature and mature into the kind of reliable leader that the team needed.

The 28-year-old Lowry delivered the best season of his career and ingratiated himself with the Raptors' passionate fan base to set up what should be a lucrative trip through free agency this summer.

Casey also helped DeRozan blossom into a more well-rounded player. DeRozan averaged a career-high 22.7 points, but his 4.0 assists were also well above his previous career high of 2.5.

"He's not going to tell you do to something just to do it," DeRozan said. "There's a reason behind everything. Once you respect a man's word like that, you're going to work for him."

It also has to be comforting for Casey, who was told by Ujiri that he would get every opportunity to be the coach for the long term if he put the work in and helped the team improve like it did. Ujiri backed up his word, which should sweeten the experience for Casey after his first head coaching job went so sourly in Minnesota.

The Timberwolves gave Casey just a season and a half before firing him with a 20-20 record in 2007. Things only went south from there for the Timberwolves, and Casey went to Dallas to win an NBA title with the Mavericks as an assistant before getting another shot.

In Toronto, unlike in Minnesota, Casey will get the chance to finish what he started.

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AP freelance writer Ian Harrison in Toronto contributed to this report.

76ers guard Carter-Williams wins Rookie of Year

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Michael Carter-Williams has something to show for being a bright spot in a dismal season for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Carter-Williams won the NBA's Rookie of the Year Award on Monday after becoming only the third player since 1950-51 to lead all rookies in scoring (16.7), rebounding (6.3) and assists (6.2). Oscar Robertson (1960-61) and Alvan Adams (1975-76) were the others.

Despite the performance of their dynamic guard, the Sixers were awful this season. They were 19-73 and tied an NBA record by losing 26 straight games.

"I'd definitely trade this award to be in the playoffs in a second," Carter-Williams said. "Coaches tell me to watch the playoffs to look at how different the game is and I do see it. It's a whole different season. This game is about winning. I hope I set a positive example about leading your team in a good way no matter what. I hope guys that come in know the core of this team takes things seriously and we want to build something special."

Carter-Williams received 104 of a possible 124 first-place votes. The Orlando Magic's Victor Oladipo finished second and Trey Burke of the Utah Jazz was third.

"Michael made an immediate impact on the court this season, but his dedication, professionalism and contributions to both the organization and the Philadelphia community make him all the more deserving of this award," Sixers owner Josh Harris said in a statement. "This is an incredibly proud moment for the 76ers and one we are thrilled to share with him, the city and our fans."

Allen Iverson is the only other player in Sixers history to win the award. The 11th overall pick from Syracuse in last year's draft, Carter-Williams is the first player picked 10th or lower to win since Mark Jackson did it in 1987 for New York.

"Michael performed and represented the Sixers organization this past season in a manner befitting of the 2013-14 NBA Rookie of the Year," said co-managing owner David Blitzer. "He never stopped working from the moment he burst onto the national scene in our home opener through the final horn at last game of the season, and we are proud to congratulate him on this well-deserved award."

Carter-Williams had a spectacular debut, posting 22 points, 12 assists and nine steals to lead the Sixers to a stunning 114-110 victory over the two-time defending champion Miami Heat. He was the second rookie after Shaquille O'Neill to be the Eastern Conference Player of the Week in his first week in the NBA.

"By opening night, it was clear to us that Michael belonged," Sixers President Sam Hinkie said. "This award marks a lifetime of hard work. ... We congratulate him on this unique achievement and look forward to helping him put in the work necessary to garner even greater success in the future."

First-year coach Brett Brown had enough confidence in Carter-Williams to give him the responsibility of leading the team on the court. They traded away All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday to clear the way for Carter-Williams.

With an eye toward the future, the Sixers traded Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen in February. They have a 19.9 percent chance at getting the No. 1 pick in this year's draft and are also owed New Orleans' lottery pick - unless the Pelicans win a top-3 pick. With possibly two first-round selections, Carter-Williams and 2013 lottery pick Nerlens Noel returning from a knee injury, the Sixers could be a contender soon.

"When I first got here, I really didn't know what to expect," Carter-Williams said. "I am not a person that trusts a lot of people. My circle is really close, especially when it comes to basketball, because everyone has an opinion. But I have a lot of trust in coach Brown."

LeBron James: Durant deserves to win NBA MVP award

MIAMI (AP) LeBron James of the Miami Heat says Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant would be a deserving winner of the NBA MVP award.

It's expected that Durant will be announced as this season's MVP later this week. James has lauded Durant's play this season several times in recent weeks, doing so again on Monday.

James says: "Much respect to him and he deserves it. He had a big-time MVP season."

James is a four-time winner of the league's MVP award, taking the honor in each of the previous two seasons.

Hurricanes fire Muller amid playoff drought

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Ron Francis wasted little time putting his stamp on the Carolina Hurricanes.

One week into his new job as general manager, Francis fired coach Kirk Muller and most of his staff.

Now leading a franchise that has made the playoffs just once in eight years, Francis cited the need for a "fresh start" and warned that nobody on the roster - from the marquee names, to the grinders at the end of the bench - is untouchable.

"I don't think changing the coaches lets the players off the hook," Francis said. "I think there has to be a lot of responsibility on their shoulders as well to turn this thing around. Hopefully we can do that going forward."

Francis, a Hall of Fame player and former captain and assistant coach with the Hurricanes, took control of the team last week when Jim Rutherford stepped aside after a two-decade run as its GM.

As part of his first big housecleaning move, assistants John MacLean and Dave Lewis also were fired and goaltending coach Greg Stefan was reassigned back to the team's pro scouting department.

Rod Brind'Amour, a third-year assistant who was the captain of Carolina's only Stanley Cup-winning team in 2006, was retained because Francis said "Roddy really didn't have, in my estimation, a prominent role on this staff."

Francis says it's "an open search at this point," is looking for "a guy who's a teacher" with strong communication and leadership qualities and ideally would like to hire his new coach before the June 27-28 draft.

"I don't really have anybody in mind," he said. "We'll start (with) a few names we're putting on the list, and we'll go forward looking at that list and see who is the best fit for our team going forward."

Muller was 80-80-27 in three seasons with the Hurricanes, who haven't made the playoffs since 2009, the longest active drought in the Eastern Conference. Carolina finished 13th in the 16-team East this season.

"The biggest thing was our inconsistency," Francis said. "Some nights we looked like a great team and other nights, we really struggled, looked like we didn't know how to play the game at times."

Muller, 48, made six All-Star teams during a 19-year career with six clubs, most notably New Jersey and Montreal.

He had never been a head coach in the NHL and was in his first season coaching the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL when he was hired during the 2011-12 season to replace the fired Paul Maurice.

The relentlessly positive Muller spent the past month in limbo, saying in mid-April that upper management had not told him anything about his job status and that he was going about his business as if he would remain the coach.

While owner Peter Karmanos Jr. said late in the season that he liked the coaching staff, he added last week that it would be entirely Francis' call whether to retain Muller.

During his formal introduction as GM, Francis said his impending decision on Muller's status "needs due process."

Muller's final year was plagued by subpar years from the four highest-paid players on the roster - forwards Alexander Semin and Eric and Jordan Staal, and goalie Cam Ward.

When Ward was asked during his exit interview if it was tough for Muller to get his message across in the dressing room, the goalie said "for me, obviously, I'm going to avoid that one."

Francis said he didn't sense much friction between Muller and the players.

"You look at our team, there's guys who didn't play well. They were told that by us in the exit meetings," the GM said. "There's always going to be situations where, as a player, if you don't like the coach, you've still got to perform."

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Follow Joedy McCreary on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joedyap

Woods says he's healing slowly from back surgery

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) Tiger Woods described his recovery from back surgery as a "very slow process" that offered him no timetable on when he can return for a summer filled with big championships.

Woods already missed the Masters, choosing to have microdiscectomy surgery March 31 to relieve pain from a pinched nerve.

In a wide-ranging blog on his website Monday, Woods said he is still sore from the incision and his only contact with golf clubs is a few putts and chips that do not require him to rotate his back. He said tests showed no arthritic changes, which he attributed to being in good shape and strong in his legs and abdomen.

"I made the decision to have surgery because physically I just couldn't make a golf swing," Woods wrote. "The pretty much sums it up."

Though he is uncertain when he can even start hitting half-shots, Woods made it sound as though he would not be ready for the U.S. Open on June 12-15 at Pinehurst No. 2, the major championship course where he has the most experience.

"As I've said several times, I hope to be back sometime this summer, but I just don't know when," Woods said.

The one nonmajor that is important to him is the Quicken Loans National at Congressional, with a new title sponsor stepping in at a tournament that benefits his foundation.

"Whether I'm able to play or not, I'm going to be there to support it," Woods said.

That tournament is two weeks after the U.S. Open and three weeks before the British Open, with the PGA Championship, FedEx Cup playoffs and Ryder Cup filling out a busy lineup of big-time golf.

"You can understand why I want to hurry up and get better," Woods said.

Woods, who last played March 9 at Doral, said all he could do was to follow a strength program, listen to the doctors, chart his progress and wait.

"I haven't used a sand wedge yet," he said. "I've done putting and chip-and-runs using the same length of motion. I haven't really rotated yet. As far as taking a full swing, I have conference calls with my doctors every couple of weeks to see how my progress is and just kind of chart it out from there. Basically, you just follow a program. It's tedious because it's little rehab stuff, but you still have to do it.

"That's where I think the experiences of having gone through the surgeries in the past have really helped, because you have to lay the foundation down first before you can do the more arduous activities and then return to form," he said. "I'm walking and able to cycle now and started swimming last week."

Woods missed the Masters for the first time in his career and said it wasn't as difficult as some might think to watch on TV. He compared it to the British Open and PGA Championship in 2008, which he missed after reconstructive surgery on his left knee.

He started watching mainly when Fred Couples got into the mix, and he lost a little interest when Couples fell off the pace early in the final round. Woods congratulated Bubba Watson and said Augusta National is suited to left-handed players like Watson and Phil Mickelson who hit a fade, a shot that works well on key holes along the back nine.

On other topics:

-Woods said he has enjoyed spending time with his 6-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son. He says he can't practice soccer with Sam, and he can't move quickly when working on baseball drills with Charlie.

-He said it helps to go through rehab at the same time with Olympic ski champion Lindsey Vonn, even though she is further along. "Her sessions are much longer and more developed," he said. "Her knee is getting stronger and it's good to see. She hopes to be ready to compete again in December."

Woods also said he has been texting with Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who had "the exact same surgery" in December and couldn't play the final game of the year. "He just couldn't function anymore," Woods said.

The mystery about Woods is that golf requires a sudden, swift rotation through the ball. Plus, Woods said every person responds differently to surgery.

"I'm doing everything I can and listening to my doctors and working on a strength program, and then we just have to see how my back is," Woods said. "Some people heal up in three months, some people take four months, some people take longer. I just don't know."

Penguins top Rangers 3-0 to even series

PITTSBURGH (AP) Kris Letang broke a scoreless tie in the second period and Marc-Andre Fleury made 22 saves for his seventh playoff shutout to lift the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 3-0 victory over the New York Rangers on Sunday night, tying the second-round series one game apiece.

Letang's 15th career postseason goal matched Larry Murphy's record for Penguins defensemen. Jussi Jokinen scored during a third-period power play, and Evgeni Malkin added an empty-net goal for the Penguins, who managed a home split in the first two games with the suddenly weary Rangers.

Game 3 is Monday night in New York.

Henrik Lundqvist made 32 saves for New York, but the Rangers mustered little offense while playing their fourth game in six days. New York's limp power play went 0 for 4 and hasn't scored in 29 straight advantages.

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Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP

Parker leads Spurs past Mavs in Game 7

SAN ANTONIO (AP) Tony Parker scored 32 points and the San Antonio Spurs led by as many as 31 on their way to 119-96 victory over the Dallas Mavericks, closing out a tense first-round series Sunday in seven games.

Manu Ginobili scored 20 points, Danny Green added 16 points and Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard had 15 points apiece for San Antonio. The Spurs advance to face the fifth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers, who upset the Houston Rockets in a six-game series.

Dirk Nowitzki had 22 points and nine rebounds to lead Dallas.

Last season ended for the Spurs with a Game 7 loss in the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat. Facing a much earlier end, San Antonio rode a raucous home crowd and overwhelmed Dallas in the deciding game of a physical series.

There were two technical fouls and two flagrant fouls in Game 7 and two more flagrants reversed upon review.

Parker was assessed a technical with 31.6 second left in the first quarter after making a layup on and jawing with former teammate DeJuan Blair as the two ran down the court. They have been talking smack to each other all series and Parker was clearly frustrated with the hard fouls committed by Blair on his drives earlier in the series.

Blair was later assessed a flagrant foul for elbowing Ginobili in the face on a drive. After the foul, Blair stared down San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, who was screaming at officials over the severity of the foul.

The flagrant foul energized the Spurs, who went on a 14-2 run to take a 51-27 lead with 8 minutes remaining in the first half.

Duncan dove into the Mavericks bench during that run to save a loose ball and start a fast break.

Later, Vince Carter tackled Ginobili in the lane three minutes into the second quarter. The play was initially ruled a flagrant foul but was reversed when reviews showed Carter was trying to hold Ginobili up as both tumbled out of bounds.

San Antonio never led by less than 14 points in the second half.

NOTES: The Spurs were 7-0 in games decided by three points or less during the regular season but were 0-2 against Dallas in such games in their first-round series. . Sunday's game between Dallas and San Antonio was the 50th postseason game this season. It was also the fifth Game 7 of the first round. "I think it's great for basketball and for the fans," Popovich said. "It drives all the coaches crazy. (But) for the game and everybody, it's been a wonderful thing. " . Blair was booed heavily each time he entered the game or committed a foul.

Bickell powers Blackhawks past Wild 4-1 in Game 2

CHICAGO (AP) Bryan Bickell had a goal and two assists, and the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Minnesota Wild 4 -1 on Sunday to take a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference semifinals.

Brandon Saad scored his first two goals of the postseason, and Chicago earned its sixth consecutive win despite stretches of lackluster play in the second and third periods. Corey Crawford made 18 saves in another solid performance.

Cody McCormick scored his second career playoff goal, but Minnesota missed another chance to steal home-ice advantage from the defending Stanley Cup champions.

The series opener was tied at 2 in the third period before Patrick Kane scored two of Chicago's final three goals in a 5-2 victory on Friday night.

Winston reinstated to Florida State baseball team

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Jameis Winston has been reinstated to Florida State's baseball team after being suspended following a shoplifting incident, the school confirmed Sunday. The Heisman Trophy winner was issued a civil citation and entered a program that required 20 hours of community service.

The 20-year-old two-sport star is the closer on the baseball team and missed the three-game series against Minnesota this weekend. He was issued the citation last Tuesday after he walked out of a supermarket without paying for $32 worth of crab legs and crawfish. Baseball coach Mike Martin conferred with football coach Jimbo Fisher and decided to suspend Winston until he completed the community service.

The 6-foot-4, 235-pound Winston led Florida State football team to an undefeated season and a national championship. He leads the Seminoles with five saves.

Pierce's block leads Nets past Raptors 104-103

TORONTO (AP) Paul Pierce blocked Kyle Lowry's shot from the lane on the final play of the game, and the Brooklyn Nets held off the Toronto Raptors 104-103 in Game 7 on Sunday to advance to the second round of the playoffs.

The Nets will begin the conference semifinals at Miami on Tuesday night to play the two-time defending NBA champion Heat.

Leading by one point, Brooklyn used its final timeout after failing to inbound the ball. On the second opportunity, Livingston tried a lob pass to Pierce but Terrence Ross got a hand on the ball, then knocked it off Pierce and out of bounds for a turnover.

Toronto used a timeout and gave the ball to Lowry, whose driving shot was blocked by Pierce as time expired. Lowry lay prone in the key as the Nets surged onto the court in celebration.

California swag: Easy to dream on 2014 Kentucky Derby champion

(By Joe Posnanski, NBCSports.com)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Every year, more or less, the Triple Crown talk begins about nine seconds after the Kentucky Derby ends. The Triple Crown in horse racing has been an annual obsession for a long, long time. But the Triple Crown talk will be louder this year, much louder.

Horse racing -- like golf and boxing -- hungers for a bright star at the center.

And Saturday, on a late Kentucky afternoon so perfect you could almost step back in time, an impossible dream of a horse named California Chrome took the lead into the stretch, pulled away, won the Derby and put horse racing at the heart of American sports again ... at least until the Preakness in two weeks.

The California Chrome story is so absurdly good that it triggers an odd emotion in sportswriters. We spend our days and nights and weekends trying to wring the last drop of delight or curiosity out of players who spew clichés and coaches who barely hide their contempt and games that barely have even a whiff of drama. We do this continually and then, every now and again, we get a quotable character or a truly heartwarming story or a thrilling game, and these feel like small miracles.

So, what is there to do with Chrome -- a horse with TOO MANY good stories? What do you do when you have a Kentucky Derby winner that somehow emerged from a $10,500 investment ($8,000 for the mother; a $2,500 breeding fee for the sire)?

What do you do with horse owners and breeders who named their partnership Dumb-Ass Partners because it was built around a mare that a groom said only a dumb ass would buy?

What do you do when the horse is trained by a kindly little 77-year-old man (now the oldest to ever win the Kentucky Derby, of course) who had only been to the Derby once, almost 60 years ago, when he was the guy responsible for cleaning up after a Derby winner called Swaps?

What do you write when everything around you -- absolutely everything-- is magical and impossible and, in the truest sense of the word, unbelievable?

“I’m sorry,” jockey Victor Espinoza is saying after he breaks down crying. He is not crying over winning his second Derby. He is crying thinking about the young cancer victims it will help ... Espinoza gives 10 percent of his earnings to City of Hope, a cancer treatment center in Los Angeles.

OK, hold on, jockey helping kids with cancer, let me write this down here ...

“If I shed a tear, just bear with me,” co-owner Steve Coburn is saying, “This colt was born on February 18, on my sister Brenda’s birthday. She died of cancer at age 36. It will be 36 years this year since there’s been a Triple Crown winner.”

No, wait, stop for a second ...

“Yeah, I went over there and said a little prayer,” the trainer, Art Sherman, is saying -- he is talking about visiting the grave of his old friend Swaps, the 1955 Derby winner. Swaps is buried here at Churchill Downs. “He was a super horse. Swaps. Six world records at one time. I said, ‘Hey, let me have half your talent, put it into Chrome. I’ll be the happiest guy in the world.'”

No. That’s it. Stop. Horse prayers? Numerology? Racing for sick children? It’s too good. It’s too much. Can they give some of these amazing and heartening stories to the New England Patriots? To Tiger Woods? To anyone in college sports? Horse racing fans talk all the time of the need for a superstar horse to capture the nation’s attention, but there is enough in California Chrome for TEN superstar horses.

“He’s the rock star,” Sherman is saying. “I’m just the manager.”

So, let’s go over it one more time. Coburn and his partner Perry Martin bought a losing mare named Love the Chase for eight grand. She may have loved the chase, but she did not ever actually catch anybody; the sellers were more than happy to dump her on Coburn and Martin for $8,000. Then they bred her with Lucky Pulpit, a sire few had much use for either.

Three weeks before California Chrome was born, Coburn had a dream ... and in his dream he saw a beautiful chestnut colt. He described the dream horse to his wife, Carolyn. One day after Chrome was born, they went to see him and he looked exactly like the description. “Look,” Carolyn said. ‘There’s your dream.”

So they gave him to Art Sherman, a former jockey from Brooklyn who moved out West to be around horses and has never trained a Kentucky Derby horse.

“He was always easy to train,” Sherman would say in his understated way.

“I knew he was special,” Coburn would say in his overstated way.

After a few early races, Sherman asked Espinoza to ride Chrome. The connection was immediate. First time out, Hollywood Park, Chrome put on this late charge that put chills in spines. Next time out, he won by five lengths. Next time out, he led wire-to-wire at the San Felipe … the same race that launched Affirmed, the last Triple Crown winner.

And then he won at Santa Anita by five lengths and he was the Kentucky Derby favorite and this crazy story went national. All week, people didn’t believe it. Trainers and various horse people grumbled that California horses fade on the Kentucky Derby. They predicated the bubble would burst. In a way, you couldn’t blame them. Stories this good NEVER pan out.

Only there was California Chrome on Saturday, and Derby observers found themselves struggling to remember the last time a horse so thoroughly dominated the race. It wasn’t the margin of victory -- the 1 3/4 margin was hardly historic -- but it seemed obvious more or less from the first turn that Chrome was going to win. He worked to the lead without exerting any energy at all ... Espinoza found himself pulling Chrome back. There was a brief instant when Espinoza found himself boxed in, but the instant passed and, as Espinoza says, “I knew he would win at the three-eighths poll … it was just so smooth. Turning for home, I let it go. That was it.”

“I was riding those last 70 yards with Victor,” Sherman said.

“Do you think you’ve changed your life?” Sherman was asked Saturday.

“I’m just the same old Art Sherman, you know,” he said. “Except I won the Kentucky Derby.

The Derby is so unpredictable; that has been so much of its charm and wonder. It has to be unpredictable when you sent 20 or so horses out there for their first mile-and-a-quarter race in front of 160,000 people dressed in suits, hats and mint juleps. California Chrome made it look routine. You got the sense when it ended that if that ran this race 10 times, Chrome would win eight or nine of them.

And that’s what will send the Triple Crown talk volume to 11. Chrome looked like a super horse on Saturday. He looked entirely in control.

Of course, Coburn  had something to say about it -- the guy can’t HELP but be quotable: “I said, ‘When this horse wins the Kentucky Derby, I believe this horse will win the Triple Crown. ... I told people this colt will go down in history. When he wins the Triple Crown, he will be the first California-bred to ever win a Triple Crown. That’s where we’re going.”

When someone asked Sherman how he felt about his boss predicting the Triple Crown, he just smiled. “The man has a dream,” he said.

So here we are, two weeks from the Preakness. The last Triple Crown was in 1978; that was Affirmed. In the years since then there have been 12 horses go to the Belmont Stakes with a chance to win the Triple Crown and miss. Spectacular Bid couldn’t put together a spectacular bid. Sunday Silence was silent. Silver Charm lost, Real Quiet lost, War Emblem (with Espinoza on board) barely showed up, Smarty Jones couldn’t quite hold on, Big Brown couldn’t even finish.

Each time along the way there was an excited nation of sports fans thinking, “This time.” Each time the American sports fans cared about horse racing like it was a time gone by. California Chrome looked good enough Saturday to take America on another ride. Will it happen this time? It’s like Art Sherman said. The man has a dream.

Clippers hold off Warriors 126-121 to win Game 7

LOS ANGELES (AP) Blake Griffin scored 24 points, Chris Paul had 22 points and 14 assists, and the Los Angeles Clippers outlasted the Golden State Warriors 126-121 in Game 7 on Saturday night to win their thrilling first-round playoff series.

Jamal Crawford scored 22 points for the third-seeded Clippers, who won just the franchise's third playoff series in 38 years after persevering through two tumultuous weeks for their franchise.

Clippers owner Donald Sterling was banned for life from the NBA on Tuesday after a recording of racist comments by the 80-year-old billionaire was made public last week.

Los Angeles advanced to a matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder, who eliminated Memphis earlier Saturday.

Stephen Curry had 33 points and nine assists for the Warriors, who blew a late lead in Game 7.

California Chrome breaks away for Derby win

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) A horse with a humble pedigree. A couple of working stiff owners. A 77-year-old trainer with his first Kentucky Derby horse.

Even Hollywood couldn't have made this up.

California Chrome made it look easy on Saturday, pulling away down the stretch to win the Derby by 1 3/4 lengths.

In a sport dominated by wealthy owners and regally bred horses from Kentucky's bluegrass country, this was a victory for the little guys. Owners Perry Martin and Steve Coburn bred an $8,000 mare to a $2,500 stallion to produce the winner of the world's most famous race with their one-horse stable.

"This is just a dream come true and a great birthday present,"' said Coburn, who turned 61 on Saturday.

California Chrome ran 1 1/4 miles in 2:03.66 and paid $7, $5.60 and $4.20. The chestnut colt was sent off as the 5-2 favorite by the crowd of 164,906, the second-largest in the Derby's 140-year history.

His trainer, Art Sherman, became the oldest trainer to win the Derby, 59 years after he traveled from California as an exercise rider for Derby winner Swaps. He watched that race from the barn area; this time he smelled red roses in the winner's circle.

Sherman was all smiles after the race. "He gave me the biggest thrill I ever had in my life," he said.

California Chrome has the unlikeliest pedigree for a Derby champion. His mother, named Love the Chase, won just one race. She was purchased by Coburn and Martin, a move that prompted a trainer to call them "dumb asses" for getting involved in racing.

Feeling inspired, they named their operation DAP Racing, which stands for Dumb Ass Partners. Their silks include an image of a donkey.

Coburn lives near Reno, Nevada, rising at 4:30 a.m. for his job as a press operator at a 13-employee company that makes magnetic strips for credit cards and driver licenses.

Martin lives on the California side of the border near Reno, running a laboratory that tests high-reliability equipment, like car air bags and medical equipment.

Coburn and Martin's partnership is based on a handshake, and their wives are friends who enjoy the sport, too. The group came up with California Chrome's name by drawing it out of a hat. The horse hadn't even been out of his home state until this week.

"Sometimes you don't get a lot of respect," Sherman said. "We're in Kentucky and you know most of the Derby winners are bred here and few outside of Kentucky."

Sherman visited Swaps' grave near the Derby museum earlier in the week and whispered a prayer: "I hope he's another Swaps."

He sure was.

California Chrome extended his winning streak to five races, won by a combined 26 lengths. It was the second Derby win for Espinoza, who rode War Emblem to victory in 2002.

"I thought he rode him perfect," said Sherman, a former jockey. "I was riding the last 70 yards with Victor, so I think he was riding two. He had a lot of weight on him, I can tell you that."

Espinoza had California Chrome sitting comfortably in third in the 19-horse field as Uncle Sigh and Chitu set the early pace.

California Chrome made his move on the final turn in tandem with Samraat. It looked like those two would decide the outcome, until California Chrome sped away to become the first California-bred to win the Derby since Decidedly in 1962.

"This horse has so much talent," Espinoza said. "By the three-eighths pole I knew that was it. I could see other horses struggling a little bit, and he was just smooth."

Dale Romans, who trained eighth-place Medal Count, quickly changed his tune about California Chrome after believing the colt had no chance to win.

"I'm very impressed the way he came into it, the way he looked, the way he was prepared and the way he ran," Romans said. "Now he has a new fan."

Commanding Curve, a 37-1 shot, rallied for second, with Danza third. Wicked Strong was fourth and Samraat finished fifth.

Commanding Curve returned $31.80 and $15.40, giving trainer Dallas Stewart his second straight runner-up finish with a double-digit longshot. Danza, named for actor Tony Danza of "Who's the Boss?" fame, paid $6 to show as the 8-1 third choice.

Trainer Todd Pletcher came up empty with his four starters, finishing third with Danza, 10th with We Miss Artie, 12th with Intense Holiday, and 17th with Vinceremos.

Wicked Strong, the 6-1 second choice, was fourth. Samraat was fifth, followed by Dance With Fate, Ride On Curlin, Medal Count, Chitu, We Miss Artie, General a Rod, Intense Holiday, Candy Boy, Uncle Sigh, Tapiture, Harry's Holiday, Vinceremos, and Wildcat Red. Vicar's In Trouble, ridden by Rosie Napravnik, finished last.

Before the Derby, Coburn had told anyone who would listen that California Chrome "would go down in history." He remains just as unabashed.

"I believe this horse will win the Triple Crown," he said, something that hasn't been done since 1978, when Affirmed swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont in a five-week span.

"That's where we're going."

NBA to appoint CEO to supervise Clippers

LOS ANGELES (AP) The NBA said Saturday it will appoint a chief executive officer to supervise the Los Angeles Clippers' operations after banning owner Donald Sterling from the league for life.

The league announced its decision a few hours before the Clippers faced the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 of their first-round playoff series.

On Tuesday, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling for racist comments made on an audio recording, fined him $2.5 million and urged league owners to force him to sell the team.

"The best way to ensure the stability of the team during this difficult situation is to move quickly and install a CEO to oversee the Clippers organization," Mike Bass, the NBA executive vice president of communications, said in a statement. "The process of identifying that individual is underway."

The decision was welcomed by Sterling's long-estranged wife, Rochelle, who said she was fully committed to making the Clippers the best team in the NBA.

"I spoke with Commissioner Adam Silver this week to tell him that I fully supported his recent swift and decisive action," said Rochelle Sterling, who was expected to attend Game 7.

"We also agreed at that time that, as a next step, both the league and the team should work together to find some fresh, accomplished executive leadership for the Clippers. I welcome his active involvement in the search for a person of the utmost character, proven excellence and a commitment to promoting equality and inclusiveness."

A forced sale would require approval of three-fourths of the league's owners. The NBA's 10-member finance/advisory committee held a conference call Thursday, agreeing to move forward quickly on the potential sale.

Sterling hasn't said whether he will fight the league in court.

Clippers President Andy Roeser has been the franchise's most prominent executive in recent years, but Roeser upset many team employees last weekend when he released a statement questioning whether the incriminating recordings of Sterling were legitimate. Roeser's statement seemed too sympathetic to Sterling for many outraged employees, with apologetic words about the 80-year-old owner alongside criticism of V. Stiviano, the other voice on the recordings.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers spent Friday morning speaking with upset employees who felt further betrayed by Roeser's statement. Rivers also serves as the Clippers' senior vice president of basketball operations.

Rivers wasn't fazed by the timing of the league's latest decision shortly before the Clippers' biggest game of the season.

"We've got to talk about everything else, so let's talk about that, too," Rivers said. "The NBA has to do their job, they really do. They have a lot on their plate as well, and I don't think it's something they can wait on. They're going to do their job."

Rivers said he hadn't yet been consulted by the league on the specifics of its CEO search, although he is in regular contact with Silver.

The NBA has made similar moves in the past. The league appointed Jack Sperling to supervise the New Orleans Hornets during the 2011-12 season after taking over financial operation of the team from owner George Shinn.

The Clippers have already begun their transition away from the last 33 years under Sterling, the NBA's longest-tenured owner.

When the players went back to work at practice Friday, Sterling-related memorabilia had been removed from the trophy case in a public hallway at their palatial $60 million training complex built by Sterling six years ago. Even the "Sterling Drive" sign outside the Playa Vista facility had been taken down.

If the NBA is able to force the Clippers' sale, the team is certain to be pursued by many wealthy buyers. Oprah Winfrey, David Geffen and Larry Ellison immediately expressed interest in a joint bid, while Magic Johnson's ownership group with the Los Angeles Dodgers also is likely to be interested.

Pacers roll past Hawks, 92-80 in Game 7

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Paul George scored a playoff career-high 30 points and Roy Hibbert finally came up big to lead the Indiana Pacers past the Atlanta Hawks, 92-80 on Saturday night in Game 7.

Indiana staved off elimination for the second time in three days. It's the first time since mid-March the Pacers' regular starters have won back-to-back games.

Instead of becoming the sixth top seed to lose in the first round of the current 16-team playoff format, the Pacers will be back on their home floor Monday night against Washington in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Kyle Korver scored 19 points and Jeff Teague had 16 for Atlanta, which won just 38 games in the regular season but proved to be a tough opponent for the Pacers.

The game turned on a 24-6 run over a 10:02 stretch that spanned the second and third quarters. That gave Indiana a 57-40 lead it never surrendered.

Hibbert, who scored 20 points total in the first four games, had a series-high 13 points and seven rebounds. Lance Stephenson finished with 19 points, 14 rebounds and five assists, and George added 11 rebounds for his sixth double-double in the playoffs.

And they all played like they had something to prove after twice squandering chances to take control of the series on their home floor.

They refused to let it happen again.

Indiana completely flipped the script on Atlanta. Instead of chasing the Hawks, the Pacers pulled away. Instead of yielding to the Hawks' 3-point shooters, the Pacers took advantage of their size by dominating the glass and creating openings for perimeter shooters. And instead of trying to hide Hibbert, the All-Star center who had failed to score in Games 5 or 6, the All-Star center was his old imposing self.

The Pacers finished with a 55-38 rebounding edge and with Hibbert clogging the way, the Hawks were forced to rely primarily on 3-pointers. Atlanta wound up just 11 of 44 from beyond the arc, most coming as it tried to dig out of a double-digit deficit.

It didn't take Indiana long to demonstrate why this game would be different from the first six.

After the Hawks went on a 7-0 run to take a 23-17 lead late in the first quarter, Indiana answered with its own 7-0 run to make it 24-23 entering the second.

Then after trading the lead seven times early in the second, the Pacers seized control by closing the half on a 14-2 run for a 47-36 lead. Indiana's usually stout defense didn't allow a basket over the final 6:12 and Ian Mahinmi emphasized the point with a clean block of Teague's dunk attempt at the buzzer - a play reminiscent of Hibbert's series-changing block of Carmelo Anthony in last year's playoffs.

When the Hawks charged back with a 13-4 run late in the third to get within 66-58, David West hit a midrange jumper and George followed that with a 3. George then opened the fourth by scoring the first six points in the midst of a 9-1 run that gave Indiana an 80-64 lead.

Atlanta never got closer than 10 again.

Notes: Indiana played Game 7 at home for the first time in its NBA history. ... The Pacers will face Washington at home on Monday and Wednesday, then hit the road Friday and Sunday. ... Atlanta All-Star Paul Millsap didn't make a basket until the third quarter. ... Atlanta is 2-3 all-time in Game 7s since the franchise moved from St. Louis. ... Defending Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan attended the game. ... The 14-point margin was Indiana's second-largest victory margin in Game 7, trailing only a 27-point win at Boston in 2005.

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