National Sports Headlines from NBC Sports

Sharapova reaches 3rd round at Roland Garros

PARIS (AP) Maria Sharapova advanced to the third round at the French Open by beating Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria 7-5, 6-2 Wednesday.

Sharapova won the French Open title two years ago and lost to Serena Williams in last year's final.

With Williams losing earlier Wednesday, the seventh-seeded Sharapova takes over as the main favorite at Roland Garros.

Federer advances to 3rd round at French Open

PARIS (AP) Roger Federer moved into the third round of the French Open by beating Argentine qualifier Diego Sebastian Schwartzman 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 Wednesday.

Federer, the 2009 French Open champion, has not reached a Grand Slam final since winning his 17th major title at Wimbledon in 2012.

The fourth-seeded Federer played in two clay-court tournaments before coming to Roland Garros. He reached the final in Monte Carlo but lost his first match in Rome. He missed the Madrid tournament because of the birth of his second set of twins, Leo and Lenny.

Both Williams sisters fall at French Open

PARIS -- Instead of looking forward to playing each other this week at the French Open, Serena and Venus Williams will both be heading home early.

The American sisters both lost in the second round on Wednesday, each being outplayed by little-known opponents at Roland Garros.

Serena, the defending French Open champion and a 17-time major winner, lost to Garbine Muguruza of Spain 6-2, 6-2. It is her earliest exit at a major tournament since falling in the first round at Roland Garros two years ago.

A short time earlier, older sister Venus was eliminated by Anna Schmiedlova of Slovakia 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.

The Williams siblings would have met in the third round had they both won.

"It was one of those days. You can't be on every day, and, gosh, I hate to be off during a Grand Slam," the top-seeded Serena said. "It happens, you know. It's not the end of the world. It is what it is."

The sisters have lost on the same day at a major tournament twice before, with the last coming in the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2011. The other time was at the French Open in 2008 in the third round.

With Li Na also eliminated, it is the first time in the Open era that the top two seeded women have lost before the third round at any Grand Slam tournament.

Serena struggled from the start against the 20-year-old Muguruza and finished the match with only eight winners and 29 unforced errors.

"Just nothing really worked," Serena said. "I don't know anything that actually worked."

Muguruza was playing at the French Open for only the second time in her career. She lost in the second round last year, but reached the fourth round at the Australian Open in January.

Venus' loss was the eighth time in her last nine major tournaments that she has failed to win more than one match.

The seven-time Grand Slam champion won the first set and was up an early break in the second. But the 19-year-old Schmiedlova responded by taking eight of nine games and won 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.

"I felt like this was a match that I was most likely going to win. I'm sure, I don't know how Serena felt, but I'm sure she feels like that every time she goes on the court," Venus said. "So I think our expectation was to play in the next round."

Since reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2011, Venus has been eliminated in the first or second round at every Grand Slam tournament she has played except the 2013 Australian Open, where she reached the third round.

At 33 years old, Venus is far from her best. But she has been having a solid season in 2014, winning a hard-court title in Dubai and reaching the final in Auckland.

Against Schmiedlova, the 29th-seeded Venus ended up with 47 unforced errors. Schmiedlova had only 20.

Venus won the last of her seven major titles at Wimbledon in 2008. She has never won the French Open, but lost to Serena in the 2002 final in their only meeting at Roland Garros.

Also Wednesday, 2012 French Open champion Maria Sharapova was scheduled to play, while Roger Federer was already on court.

No. 12 Flavia Pennetta of Italy also lost, while No. 18 Eugenie Bouchard of Canada won.

In the men's tournament, Novak Djokovic made it through to the third round. The second-seeded Serb beat Jeremy Chardy of France 6-1, 6-4, 6-2.

Djokovic needs to win the French Open to complete a career Grand Slam.

No. 18 Ernets Gulbis of Latvia, No. 27 Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain and No. 29 Gilles Simon of France also advanced to the third round.

No. 15 Mikhail Youzhny of Russia and No. 20 Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine lost.

One match that carried over from the first round ended quickly Wednesday with Steve Johnson of the United States advancing. The American saved two match points on Tuesday in the third set before completing a 4-6, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-3 win over Laurent Lokoli of France.

The match had been suspended because of darkness on Tuesday night with Johnson leading 3-1 in the fifth.

Ex-Patriots player due in court in 2012 killings

BOSTON (AP) Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez is due in court Wednesday to be arraigned on murder charges alleging he ambushed and gunned down two men in 2012 after a chance encounter inside a Boston nightclub.

Hernandez is scheduled to appear Wednesday afternoon in Suffolk Superior Court in the shooting deaths of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado. A third man was wounded.

Prosecutors have said that after Hernandez and an associate encountered the two men in a club, Hernandez followed them in an SUV, pulled up alongside them as their vehicle stopped at a red light and opened fire.

Hernandez, 24, already faces charges in the 2013 slaying of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd. He was released by the Patriots last summer after his arrest in Lloyd's shooting death.

Authorities have not said if there is any connection between the 2012 killings and Lloyd's slaying. Lloyd's body was found in an industrial area near Hernandez's home in North Attleborough. Lloyd was dating a sister of Hernandez's fiancee.

Hernandez's lawyers have said he is looking forward to proving his innocence.

Sterling responds to NBA, June 3 hearing still on

NEW YORK (AP) Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling responded to the NBA's attempt to oust him on Tuesday, arguing that there is no basis for stripping him of his team because his racist statements were illegally recorded "during an inflamed lovers' quarrel in which he was clearly distraught."

According to the response, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, Sterling says V. Stiviano recorded him without his knowledge and thus the recording was illegal under California law. He also said he could not have "willfully" damaged the league because he did not know it would be made public.

"A jealous rant to a lover never intended to be published cannot offend the NBA rules," Sterling said in the document, which was first reported by USA Today.

Meanwhile, the attorney for Shelly Sterling confirmed that Donald Sterling has given her written permission to sell the team. According to a person who is in contact with a potential bidder, who spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the process publicly, the Clippers are seeking binding bids before next Tuesday - the day NBA owners are scheduled to meet in New York and vote on whether to strip Sterling of the team.

The league said in a statement Tuesday that if three-quarters of the 30 owners voted to sustain the charge, "the Sterlings' interests in the Clippers will be terminated and the team will be sold."

The NBA charged Donald Sterling with damaging the league and its merchandising partners, and the league's constitution gave him until the end of Tuesday to respond. According to a basketball official familiar with the proceedings, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss Sterling, the NBA has scheduled a call of its executive committee for 3 p.m. EDT on Wednesday.

Shelly Sterling submitted her own separate response to the NBA's charges Tuesday that included a "vigorous response to the attempt by the NBA to blame her for doing nothing wrong," according to a person with knowledge of the proceedings. The individual wasn't authorized to speak publicly about the response.

In his response, Donald Sterling says that next week's hearing cannot be fair because the owners have already made up their minds, quoting 10 teams who commented on Twitter or elsewhere that they supported the seizure of the team. An AP survey on the day Commissioner Adam Silver announced Sterling's lifetime ban found that half of the teams supported it and no owner was against it.

"These procedings will be a spectacle meant to mollify the popular opinion, not a fair and impartial hearing: the outcome of these procedings became a foregone conclusion weeks ago," the response states.

The response also notes the disparity between his lifetime ban and $2.5 million fine and previous NBA punishments, including the $100,000 fine levied on Kobe Bryant when he was caught referring to a referee by a homosexual slur, and the 72-game suspension of Ron Artest for punching a fan.

The NBA said Sterling is in violation because his racist comments were harmful to the league and its business partners, including the players. Sterling's response argues that because his comments came in the privacy of his girlfriend's living room he cannot be considered "taking a position" that damaged the NBA, as required under the league constitution.

"Mr. Sterling was not `conducting' the `sport of professional basketball' when he was arguing with Ms. Stiviano in her living room," the response says. "Not even the Commissioner alleges that Mr. Sterling intended to harm the NBA with his comment. Nor could he. This was an argument between a jealous man and the woman he loved that should never have left the privacy of his living room."

Sterling also noted his history of supporting racial diversity, including five black head coaches and a black general manager, Elgin Baylor, who held the job for 22 years. Baylor eventually unsuccessfully sued Sterling, accusing him of racist behavior. It also notes that he was due to receive his second lifetime achievement award from the NAACP before the recording of his comments was leaked.

The response claims that it would cost Sterling $300 million to $500 million in capital gains taxes if he is forced to sell now rather than pass the team to his heirs.

Westbrook scores 40, Thunder tie series at 2-2

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Russell Westbrook had 40 points and 10 assists, and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the San Antonio Spurs 105-92 on Tuesday night to tie the Western Conference finals at two games apiece.

It matched the second-highest playoff point total of Westbrook's career, falling short of the 43 he scored in the 2012 NBA Finals. He also had five rebounds and five steals.

"I think I did all right. Coming out with a win is most important," Westbrook said in a postgame interview with TNT. "I just try to come out and give maximum effort. My teammates ask that of me and that's what I try to do on both ends of the floor."

Kevin Durant added 31 points on 11-for-22 shooting. It was his highest-scoring game of the series after the NBA's leading scorer was held to a 22.7-point average in the first three games. Serge Ibaka added nine points and eight rebounds for the Thunder, who have turned around the series since he returned from an injury that was expected to keep him out for the rest of the postseason.

Boris Diaw had 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Tony Parker added 14 points for the Spurs, who blew a 2-0 lead against the Thunder in this round two years ago and are in danger of doing it again.

San Antonio will host Game 5 on Thursday.

Oklahoma City dominated for the second consecutive game after getting blown out in the first two. The Thunder committed just seven turnovers and shot 49 percent from the field.

The Spurs scored the first eight points of the game, but things went downhill from there. A steal and dunk by Westbrook gave the Thunder a 42-32 lead with just under five minutes left in the first half. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Durant pushed Oklahoma City's lead to 50-36.

The Thunder led 58-43 at halftime. Durant scored 22 points and Westbrook added 17 points, eight assists and four steals before the break.

Parker shot 6 of 9 in the first half, but the rest of the Spurs made just 11 of 32 before the break.

A lob from Reggie Jackson to Durant for a two-handed slam bumped Oklahoma City's lead to 60-43. A steal and jam by Ibaka made it 66-49, and a dunk by Westbrook made it 76-49.

The Spurs closed the quarter on an 18-7 run and cut their deficit to 83-67. San Antonio's Matt Bonner made a 3-pointer with 3:31 remaining to trim Oklahoma City's edge to 12, but the Thunder maintained control.

Notes: Jackson started for the second straight game. He sprained his right ankle on a drive to the hoop and left the game with 8:25 left in the first quarter. He returned to start the second quarter. ... Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was called for a technical foul with 44.7 seconds left in the first half. ... Thunder C Kendrick Perkins had 10 rebounds. ... The Thunder improved to 5-1 in the playoffs when Westbrook has at least 10 assists. ... Spurs G Manu Ginobili played just 11 minutes and scored five points. ... Thunder G Thabo Sefolosha did not play for the second consecutive game. He started the first two games of the series.

Canadiens surge past Rangers 7-4, force Game 6

MONTREAL (AP) Rene Bourque had a hat trick and the Montreal Canadiens kept their playoff hopes alive with a 7-4 victory over the New York Rangers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final on Tuesday.

Alex Galchenyuk, Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty also scored for Montreal. David Desharnais scored into an empty net for the Canadiens.

Andrei Markov had three assists.

Derek Stepan scored twice for the Rangers. Rick Nash and Chris Kreider also scored.

Game 6 will be played in New York on Thursday.

Florida's Muschamp wants to avoid FCS teams

DESTIN, Fla. (AP) Florida coach Will Muschamp wants to avoid playing teams from the Football Championship Subdivision.

And not because the Gators lost to lower-division Georgia Southern last year.

Speaking at the Southeastern Conference's annual spring meetings Tuesday, Muschamp said he would prefer a 12-game schedule that features eight league teams, in-state rival Florida State and three more teams from the Football Bowl Subdivision.

"We're probably going to move forward without playing FCS opponents," Muschamp said, noting that his reasoning primarily has to do with getting his team in the best position to make the college football playoff that begins next season.

"And I think our fan base wants to see better opponents," he added.

Muschamp's boss and several other SEC coaches, though, don't seem ready to close the door on lower-division teams.

"I understand what Will's saying," Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said. "In a perfect world, you play all D-I schools. But also you have to have 12 opponents."

The topic was one of many addressed during the opening day of the SEC meetings, where talk focused on conference autonomy, potential rules changes and an early signing period for college football.

The meetings were the first chance for many coaches to weigh in on scheduling. The SEC decided last month to stick with its current format of eight league games and a permanent non-division rival.

The one change will affect nonconference scheduling. Starting in 2016, all SEC teams will be required to play at least one game against a team from one of the other Big Five conferences - the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12.

That tweak shouldn't affect many programs. SEC schools routinely play at least one team from those conferences every season.

Mississippi, Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt do not play non-conference games against teams in the Big Five. Only Arkansas, Texas A&M and Kentucky did not play a non-conference game against a Big Five team last year.

So several of those nonconference games come against FCS teams. In fact, all 14 SEC teams play at least one lower-division team in 2014. And commissioner Mike Slive called it an "institutional decision," adding that he has no plans to dictate scheduling.

"At this point, I believe it's best for us to continue doing that," Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze said. "I just find it hard to believe that one game like that ... over the totality of the season would really hinder you if you perform well in those other games."

Georgia Southern shocked Florida 26-20 in Gainesville last season, a humbling loss that guaranteed the Gators their first losing season since 1979.

And few have forgotten Appalachian State's stunner at Michigan in 2007.

"I know we're trying to stay away from them if physically possible," Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said.

"But I think they have their place, especially if they're a regional game. It gives an FCS (opponent) a chance to play what used to be a BCS team. I think that has a lot of merit. I was in the Big Ten when the Appalachian State thing happened and I think that makes college football pretty cool."

Alabama coach Nick Saban said scheduling FCS teams might not be avoidable.

Saban said Big Five teams aren't chomping at the bit to play the SEC, which has put nine teams in the Bowl Championship Series national title game over the past eight years.

"I don't know that we have a choice sometimes," Saban said. "We can't just call people up and say, `We want to have a game.' It's not like setting up a golf game. I call up three of my buddies and say you guys want to play and you play Sunday morning. Then everybody says, `Yeah, I can play.' You ever try to schedule a game? Do you know what goes into that? It's very difficult to do home-and-home with quality teams. To be honest with you, you almost have to buy games to get people to play you.

"Outside of the neutral-site game we do and our conference games, we struggle to schedule three other games."

Florida plays lower-division Eastern Kentucky on Nov. 22, but doesn't have another FCS team on any schedule beyond 2014. Of course, that could change.

If not, it could be a rarity for the power league.

"We try not to do it now, but sometimes it's all that we have left to schedule so we can get 12 games," Saban said. "It's not by choice that we want to do it.

"The first people that need to be taken into consideration here, who get no consideration, are the fans and the people who support the program.

"Quality games for them, so they want to come to the stadium and come to the game and support the program and make it exciting for the players. No, we do not want to play those types of teams. Sometimes we don't have a choice."

Buehrle gets 9th win, Blue Jays beat Rays 9-6

TORONTO (AP) Mark Buehrle became the first nine-game winner in the majors, Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind hit back-to-back home runs and the Toronto Blue Jays extended their winning streak to eight games, beating the Tampa Bay Rays 9-6 on Tuesday night.

Juan Francisco also homered for the AL East-leading Blue Jays, who have won 13 of 15 and are 19-7 in May.

Buehrle (9-1) allowed four runs, three earned, and eight hits in 6 2-3 innings to win his season-best fifth straight decision. The left-hander walked one and struck out three.

Casey Janssen finished for his eighth save in as many chances.

Encarnacion connected for the 14th time in May, matching Jose Bautista's team record for home runs in a month. Bautista hit 14 homers in June 2012.

The Blue Jays lead the majors with 76 home runs. They have gone deep in 10 straight games and 29 of their past 34, hitting 58 homers in that span.

Sean Rodriguez had three RBIs for the Rays, who lost their second straight following a season-best four-game winning streak.

Lind and Encarnacion both connected off Rays right-hander Alex Cobb, who lost for the first time since April 1 and saw his streak of 24 2-3 scoreless innings snapped.

Cobb (1-2) allowed season-worsts of six runs and nine hits in five innings. He walked one and struck out seven.

The Rays gave Cobb the lead in the fourth on an RBI double by Rodriguez and an RBI grounder by Will Myers, but the right-hander couldn't hold it for long. Brett Lawrie and Dioner Navarro hit two-out RBI singles in the bottom half to tie the game and snap Cobb's team-record scoreless streak. Cobb had not allowed an earned run since his first start, April 1 against Toronto.

Jose Reyes began the fifth with a line drive that struck Cobb on the right hip, knocking him to the ground. Cobb appeared shaken up, but stayed in the game after a few warmup pitches.

Last June, Cobb was hit in the head by a line drive off the bat of Kansas City's Eric Hosmer and wound up in hospital. He didn't return until mid-August.

Things unraveled quickly for Cobb after that. Reyes went to second on a grounder and scored on Bautista's single. Lind hit an opposite field home run and, two pitches later, Encarnacion drilled a towering homer into the third deck, his 16th, tying him with Baltimore's Nelson Cruz for most in the majors.

Rodriguez hit a sacrifice fly in the sixth but Toronto added two more in the bottom half on an RBI single by Melky Cabrera and a bases-loaded balk by reliever Brad Boxberger.

The Rays chased Buehrle in the seventh when James Loney doubled and scored on Matt Joyce's RBI grounder.

Francisco replied in the bottom half with a leadoff homer off Josh Lueke.

Rodriguez tripled home a run off Steve Delabar in the eighth and scored on Myers' sacrifice fly.

NOTES: The Rays selected C Ali Solis from Triple-A Durham and transferred RHP Matt Moore (elbow) to the 60-day DL. ... Rays RHP Chris Archer (3-2) faces Blue Jays RHP Liam Hendriks (1-0) in Wednesday's series finale.

Blackhawks look for turnaround against Kings

CHICAGO (AP) The special teams have been awful. The faceoff circle has been a huge problem. Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp have combined for one goal for the Chicago Blackhawks.

The defending Stanley Cup champions are in big trouble in the Western Conference final, down 3-1 to the rolling Los Angeles Kings.

But the Blackhawks are back at home for Game 5 on Wednesday night, and have dug out of similar trouble before.

"Just looking to win Game 5," coach Joel Quenneville said after the Blackhawks arrived back in Chicago on Tuesday afternoon. "That's it. Get the momentum back and go from there."

The previous time this series was in Chicago, the Kings seized the momentum with a five-goal third period in a 6-2 victory in Game 2.

It carried right over to a pair of impressive victories in Los Angeles that moved the Kings to the brink of their second Stanley Cup Final in three seasons.

Los Angeles has shredded Chicago's penalty-kill unit for five goals in its past 10 chances, while holding the Blackhawks to one power-play goal in their past 11 opportunities. Anze Kopitar and the Kings have won 58 percent (106 of 184) of the faceoffs during the win streak, taking the puck-possession Blackhawks out of their game.

"It's one of the things you look at with young centermen is how are they on faceoffs and are they working to improve on it," Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter said. "It's a special skill. It's one of those stats in hockey when you say you're 50 percent, you know, if that was us in school, we'd be going again."

The Kings' big advantage against the Blackhawks is a far cry from the beginning of the playoffs, when they lost their first three games against San Jose. But they rallied past the Sharks in seven games, and then eliminated Anaheim after falling behind 3-2 in that series.

The twin rallies could help against Chicago. Los Angeles, which won the Stanley Cup in 2012, knows how important it is to quickly close out a team such as the Blackhawks while they are struggling.

"We're expecting their best," Kings center Trevor Lewis said. "They're back at home now. We're expecting them to come out hard. I mean, they're defending Cup champions. I don't think they're going to give up by any means."

A year ago, the Blackhawks were down 3-1 to the Red Wings in the second round when they headed home for Game 5. Andrew Shaw then had two goals in a 4-1 victory that sparked a series-saving winning streak for Chicago.

The Blackhawks also lost their first three games in the first round against Vancouver in 2011, and got all the way back to a 2-1 overtime loss in Game 7. They are drawing on those experiences for this series, while acknowledging the surging Kings are an entirely different problem.

"We're looking forward to getting out there tomorrow night," defenseman Brent Seabrook said. "I know the guys were being upbeat on the plane this morning, at breakfast this morning. We're looking forward to getting out there tomorrow and trying to get some momentum back and start feeling good about ourselves again."

Seabrook and defensive partner Duncan Keith had one of their worst games of the season in Monday night's 5-2 loss. Keith had a turnover that led to a Marian Gaborik goal, and Seabrook struggled on Chicago's penalty-kill unit.

"I (have) got to be better. Doesn't just start with a penalty kill. It's every facet of the game," Seabrook said. "We all got to be out there doing the things that are going to make us win the game.

"I think some things happened last game that are uncharacteristic, but at the same time you have to give L.A. credit. They're forcing us into different situations. We (have) got to be better and we will be better."

Rangers ace Darvish scratched with neck stiffness

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Texas Rangers ace Yu Darvish was scratched from his scheduled start at Minnesota because of neck stiffness he woke up with, and right-hander Scott Baker was summoned back from the bullpen to face his former team Tuesday night.

This was yet another injury to a star player for the ailing Rangers, who entered the day with wins in five of their previous six games despite the persistence of health problems.

"Just go play. Everyone still has a job to do. We've lost a lot of good ballplayers, but we've also got a lot of good ballplayers out there," said manager Ron Washington, who learned of the latest setback around noon, seven hours before first pitch.

The Rangers were hoping Darvish would be able to avoid the disabled list, and they received favorable news from a precautionary MRI test on his neck, which was stiff enough in spring training to keep him from pitching for nearly three weeks and delay his season debut by one start until April 6.

The team announced a few minutes before Baker took the mound that Darvish's test was "unremarkable" in that it showed no trouble in his neck worse than his previous problem. Darvish was taking medication and receiving treatment and reported improvement from earlier in the day. The date of his next start was still to be determined, depending on how he feels Wednesday.

Baker, who was a second-round draft pick by the Twins out of Oklahoma State in 2003, spent five seasons at the front of their rotation until an elbow injury forced Tommy John ligament replacement surgery in 2012. Baker gave up six runs in six innings Friday at Detroit in his first start of the year but was intended to be moved back to long relief afterward. Against the Twins, he took the mound with three days of rest.

Whether he stays in the rotation this time will depend, of course, on Darvish's status. The 27-year-old Japanese sensation is 4-2 in nine starts with a 2.35 ERA, the fourth-best in the league. He has 71 strikeouts in 61 1-3 innings.

"If he can pitch Sunday, I want him to pitch," Washington said, acknowledging he'd prefer Darvish not have to swing the bat or run the bases with the Rangers playing an interleague series at Washington.

The Rangers will have to make a roster move Wednesday regardless, with left-hander Joe Saunders due to come off the disabled list and pitch against the Twins. Saunders has been out since April 4, when he was hit by a line drive on his left ankle in the fourth inning at Tampa Bay. Saunders suffered a stress fracture and made four rehabilitation starts in the minors this month.

"There's no limit on Joe. The Minnesota Twins are going to tell us how limited he's going to be," Washington said.

50 Cent not on money with 1st pitch at Citi Field

NEW YORK (AP) 50 Cent was on the mound, but not on the money.

The rap star was comically off target when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch Tuesday night before the Pittsburgh Pirates played the New York Mets at Citi Field.

Standing on the rubber 60 feet, 6 inches from home plate, 50 Cent wound up and launched a left-handed toss that sailed way wide of Mets catcher Anthony Recker. The ball bounced to the backstop and nearly nicked a cameraman standing not all that far from the Mets' on-deck circle as 50 Cent and New York pitcher Jonathon Niese both smiled.

Wearing a Mets jersey with No. 50 and the name Jackson on the back, 50 Cent, whose real name is Curtis Jackson III, held a bat as he posed for pictures with Curtis Granderson and other Mets on the field during batting practice.

50 Cent was born in nearby South Jamaica and has a postgame concert at Citi Field scheduled for June 14.

Thomas may get 1st shot as Seahawks punt returner

RENTON, Wash. (AP) Apparently Earl Thomas' $40 million extension with the Seattle Seahawks did not mean fewer responsibilities on his plate.

Next up for the All-Pro free safety: punt returning?

Don't scoff. Seattle coach Pete Carroll said Tuesday after the first organized team activity of the Seahawks' offseason program that Thomas would be the first up as punt returner right now. That all could change by the time the Sept. 4 season opener against Green Bay arrives. But for now, the job is Thomas' to lose.

The question of who will return punts after the departure of Golden Tate in free agency is one of the few the Seahawks must answer this offseason. Tate was a standout for Seattle in that role, but he left for bigger money from Detroit during free agency.

Thomas isn't the only one being considered. Carroll rattled off a list that also included Percy Harvin, Richard Sherman and Bryan Walters. But he was quick to say if the season started now, Thomas would be his choice.

"He's the guy that has the most catches for us," Carroll said. "But I'm anxious to see how Bryan Walters fits into that. He's got experience. Percy is out there vying for it. (Sherman) would tell you he's the best for it and he catches the ball really well."

Thomas has not returned a punt in the NFL. The last time he did was during his sophomore year at Texas when he made three punt returns, including a 50-yarder against Kansas. He said it's an opportunity he's lobbied for since coming to the Seahawks and is hoping to take advantage since there is a void.

"I'm very excited. I've been waiting on this opportunity. That's what I do. I'm an athlete. I've been trying to tell coach Carroll to put me back there for the longest (time)," Thomas said. "I always try and go back there during walkthroughs and try and sneak a punt return just to show him who I am. And I want to score a touchdown so this is my perfect opportunity to score a touchdown. I'm an offensive guy at heart. That's why I don't go out of bounds when I catch an interception."

Thomas is a two-time first-team All-Pro selection, and quickly became the top safety in the NFL thanks to his speed and instincts as part of the top secondary in the league. The idea of Thomas putting himself at risk by returning punts was not a concern for him or his coach.

"I want to show everybody who I am and I want to be able to impact the game as much as possible," Thomas said. "This is a great opportunity. I just need to capitalize on it."

For his part, Harvin said he wants to be in the punt return conversation as well. Harvin has not returned punts in the NFL, focusing just on kick returns, and he said part of that was being on teams that had solid punt returners.

"Every coach I had ... they always wanted me to put that in my tool box," Harvin said. "So I've practiced it enough to be able to try and put it in some type of game."

NOTES: When asked about not slipping after winning the Super Bowl, Thomas mentioned being upset last week when President Barack Obama mentioned rival San Francisco while honoring the Seahawks. "I said, `Why would he speak about the 49ers? This is not about them. This is our day."' ... Carroll raved about OL James Carpenter having lost 15 pounds and being in the best shape of his career. Carpenter, a former first-round pick, is entering the last season of his contract. ... Seattle signed LB Horace Miller of UTEP, who participated in rookie camp as a tryout candidate.

With Pacers down 3-1, Vogel wants simple approach

MIAMI (AP) Frank Vogel stood with his back against a wall, seeming perfectly comfortable.

He's hoping his Indiana Pacers can do the same.

The Pacers' season of great expectation is now in great trouble, with the Miami Heat leading the Eastern Conference finals 3-1 heading into Game 5 at Indianapolis on Wednesday night. The Heat have won three straight in the series, and are now one win from ending the Pacers' season for a third consecutive year.

"I think anytime you lose three in a row in the playoffs, it shakes your confidence some," Vogel, the Pacers' coach, said in a downtown Miami hotel lobby before his team headed to the airport Tuesday. "But we can't worry about that. All we've got to worry about is coming back and winning Game 5 and giving us an opportunity to come down here and win one game.

"We've won one game in each playoff series that we've played here the last two years. We should have confidence that we can do that."

It's safe to wonder if confidence is in short supply, though, as the Pacers seem to be rattling.

Some Indiana issues in the last three games include: Floundering late to lose Game 2 at home, blowing a 15-point lead at Miami in Game 3, Lance Stephenson calling LeBron James out before Game 4, Roy Hibbert failing to score a point Monday, and Paul George and David West both putting that loss on what they thought was one-sided officiating.

"Home-cooking," George said.

Added West: "We learned some new rules."

Vogel said he wasn't bothered by what George said, and declined to say if the Pacers would argue Game 4 officiating points with the league office. The league, however, had issues with George's comments and fined the Pacers forward $25,000 on Tuesday for public criticism of the officiating.

Despite the fine and George's concerns, Indiana - bolstered by a 37-15 edge in Game 1 - has still taken 94 free throws in the series to Miami's 87, and the Heat have been charged with four more fouls.

"We can't control calls," Vogel said. "We've got to worry about what we (can control), our turnovers, our shot selection, our passing, our defense."

There was some irony in George's postgame remarks Monday night, in which he alternated between seeming to gently chide Stephenson for his "weakness" comments about James and making multiple references to the free-throw disparity in Game 4.

After Game 1's one-sided foul-shot totals, the Heat did not openly complain about officiating.

"It had nothing to do with the disparity in that game," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We did everything wrong."

They've pretty much done everything right since.

And now it's the Pacers who have absolutely no room for error, since only eight teams in NBA history have successfully overcome a 3-1 series deficit. No one has done so this deep into the playoffs since 1981.

"We know we can close it out, but it's going to be a very hostile environment," said Heat forward Chris Bosh, who scored 25 points in Game 4. "We're expecting that. We're expecting them at their best. It's always extremely hard to close out a team."

Vogel - who held a pre-flight film session before the Pacers left Miami - said he implored his players in that meeting to only think about Game 5 and not allow themselves to become consumed with the daunting task of climbing out of a 3-1 hole.

"I think that is when we are at our best, when our back is against the wall," Pacers guard George Hill said. "We are going to be home in front of our fans and I'm sure they're going to be going crazy."

The Heat would expect nothing less.

A win would give Miami more than a week off before the NBA Finals begin on June 5. It would also give the Heat franchise the distinction of being the third club in NBA history to make the finals in four straight seasons, joining the Celtics and Lakers.

"We don't want to come back for Game 6," James said. "We love our fans, obviously. We love being in Miami, but we want to try to close it out. But we're going to have to work for it. It's not going to be easy, not against this team."

NOTES: Neither team practiced Tuesday.... Heat F Chris Andersen, held out of Game 4 with a deep thigh contusion, was getting treatment Tuesday. So was Heat G Ray Allen, who took a tumble after a hard screen late in Game 4.

Jaguars open OTAs with Bortles as backup

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) The Jacksonville Jaguars' current and future quarterbacks took the field together for the first time Tuesday for the team's first of 10 offseason practice sessions.

Incumbent Chad Henne and rookie Blake Bortles took the majority of snaps in Tuesday's OTA, with Henne working strictly with the No. 1 unit, Bortles directing the second team. Bortles was the No. 3 overall selection in the 2014 draft, but Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell said at that time Henne would continue as the starter.

Henne started 13 games in 2013, completing 305 of 503 passes (60.6 percent) for 3,241 yards and 13 touchdowns. But he also threw 14 interceptions, had a 76.5 passer rating and led the Jaguars to just four wins.

Even with Bortles coming in as a first-round pick, Henne said he feels like this is his team this year.

"Definitely with them saying I'm the starter this year and gravitating and becoming more of a leader on this offense and team. I definitely feel that way," Henne said.

The seventh-year pro has his shortcomings to improve on during the 10 days of OTAs.

"I just want to be consistent with my footwork and my drops and it will only better me with my accuracy on the field and getting the ball where it needs to be," he said. "Other than that, it's just demanding more out of myself and demanding more out of myself to be a leader on this team in that regard."

While Henne wants to improve on his performance from a year ago, he'll also be mentoring the team's quarterback of the future. Bortles declared for the draft following his junior season at Central Florida where he compiled a 22-5 record as a starter. He passed for 7,598 yards and 56 touchdowns compared to just 19 interceptions.

His biggest win may have been his final game when he was voted MVP of the Fiesta Bowl in a win over Baylor, throwing for 301 yards and three touchdowns.

After his first practice with the rest of the Jaguars veterans, Bortles said the pace was much quicker than previous workouts with Jacksonville.

"It was awesome to go out there and get a sense of everyone's speed and athleticism," he said. "Definitely much faster than rookie minicamp, but it was a lot of fun. Up tempo, energetic."

Bortles said he continues to learn from Henne.

"A lot. He's helped me out tremendously. From meetings in the morning, to me and him in the quarterback room, to watching him on the field and him giving me little tips."

The first-day showing by the two Jaguars quarterbacks was well received by Jaguars coach Gus Bradley. He especially liked the way Henne was throwing.

"I told him that it appeared to me he was throwing with confidence, and he said, `I'm not there yet; I'm getting closer but I'm not where I want to be,"' Bradley said. "It feels to me like he's just got a better command of the offense.

"I think with Blake you're seeing the ups and downs. We're seeing more good from where he was to where he is now. He's making progress. I love that part that he's so competitive. I think once he gets to a comfort level where he understands the offense, I think things will settle down for him."

All but one member of the Jaguars' 90-man roster participated in the voluntary practice. Veteran defensive end Chris Clemons was tending to personal family business, but Bradley said he was hopeful Clemons would be joining the practices soon. Several other players were withheld from action due to previous injuries.

Wozniacki loses in second round to Wickmayer

PARIS (AP) -- About a week after her engagement to two-time major golf champion Rory McIlroy was called off, Caroline Wozniacki exited the French Open in the first round.

The 13th-seeded Wozniacki, a former No. 1 and the runner-up at the 2009 U.S. Open, lost 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-2 on Tuesday to 64th-ranked Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium. It's the first time Denmark's Wozniacki was beaten in her opener at Roland Garros since 2007, her debut at the clay-court Grand Slam tournament.

At the outset of Wozniacki's post-match news conference, the moderator said: ''Caroline would like to make a statement, and after that she will answer questions about today's match.''

Then Wozniacki spoke briefly before taking questions, never mentioning McIlroy by name or their scrapped wedding plans.

''I don't really want to talk about my personal life. I hope that you all can understand that,'' she began, and put her left hand to her chest. ''The only thing I really have to say is that, you know, (I want to) thank everybody for their support and sweet messages.''

She continued, shrugging her shoulders: ''What happens in my personal life, I just want to really keep that between my closest people around me. You know, I just have to move on.''

Last week, McIlroy was close to tears while telling reporters that he and Wozniacki decided to split only days after sending out wedding invitations. They began dating in 2011 and were engaged this past New Year's Eve.

On Sunday, McIlroy won a European Tour event in England.

Wozniacki was ranked No. 1 in 2010, and she's been as far as the semifinals four times at Grand Slam tournaments. That includes the U.S. Open in 2009, when she beat Wickmayer at that stage before losing to Kim Clijsters in the final. Clijsters has been working with Wickmayer lately.

Until Tuesday, Wozniacki was 6-1 against Wickmayer. But playing her typical brand of often-passive tennis, Wozniacki allowed Wickmayer to build an 18-3 advantage in winners in the first set. Still, Wozniacki served for that set at 6-5, before getting broken at love.

Wickmayer was asked whether she'd thought about her opponent's mental state.

''We all live difficult times with the boyfriend or when somebody dies or when you have personal issues. We all have our personal issues. Everybody is aware of it, because they're a famous couple. But there are other players who have very personal problems,'' Wickmayer said. ''I think she's strong. She's going to recover.''

One on-court issue for Wozniacki is a lingering knee injury that forced her to skip this month's Italian Open.

All told, her run-up to the French Open was hardly ideal.

''You're not prepared for something like this, and (it) came a bit as a shock,'' Wozniacki said. ''I just tried to prepare the best that I could. ... I felt a little bit rusty out there, and it wasn't really a pretty match. But I tried.''

Second-seeded Li Na sent home early

PARIS (AP) Another day on the clay at the French Open, another reigning Australian Open champion bites the red dust.

Li Na lost her first Grand Slam match since winning the title in Melbourne, falling to Kristina Mladenovic of France 7-5, 3-6, 6-1 on Tuesday.

The loss came a day after men's Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka was eliminated in the first round - the first time at any Grand Slam tournament that the men's and women's singles champions from the previous major lost in the first round.

Li, who won the French Open title in 2011 and is seeded second this year, ended up with 37 unforced errors on a cool and overcast day at Roland Garros. Mladenovic had only 25 errors.

''Nobody say if you (are) No. 2 in the world you have to win all the matches. I mean, this is tennis,'' Li said. ''I think doesn't matter who plays today against me, I always lose the match today, because I don't think she ... put a lot of pressure (on) me. I think today just I gave it away.''

In 2011, Li became the first Chinese player to win a Grand Slam title. But on Tuesday, she said she wasn't feeling quite like her usual self.

''I don't think I'm doing well. If I doing well, I believe I still can win the match if it's not my best day,'' Li said. ''But I don't think today I try a lot.''

Mladenovic began the day 1-5 at the French Open. She reached the second round last year after four straight first-round exits, including a loss to Li in 2010 in their only previous meeting.

''You don't beat Li Na every day,'' Mladenovic said. ''It means really a lot, especially in Grand Slam.''

The last reigning Australian Open women's champion to lose in the first round at the French Open was Lindsay Davenport in 2000.

On Monday, Wawrinka lost to 41st-ranked Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain 6-4, 5-7, 6-2, 6-0.

Caroline Wozniacki also made an early exit, about a week after her engagement to two-time major golf champion Rory McIlroy was called off.

The 13th-seeded Wozniacki lost to 64th-ranked Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-2.

''What happens in my personal life, I just want to really keep that between my closest people around me,'' the former top-ranked Dane said. ''I just have to move on.''

Last week, McIlroy announced he and Wozniacki mutually decided to split only days after sending out wedding invitations. They began dating in 2011.

On Sunday, McIlroy won a European Tour event in England.

Another player to fall in the first round was Japanese veteran Kimiko Date-Krumm, the oldest woman in the field at 43. She lost to 24th-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia 6-3, 0-6, 6-2.

Date-Krumm is the third oldest player in French Open singles history; Martina Navratilova was 47 in 2004. She made her main-draw debut at Roland Garros in 1989 - before more than half of this year's women's field was even born.

Others advancing included No. 4 Simona Halep of Romania, No. 6 Jelena Jankovic of Serbia, No. 11 Ana Ivanovic of Serbia, No. 15 Sloane Stephens of the United States, No. 21 Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium, No. 27 Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia and No. 26 Sorana Cirstea of Romania.

In the men's tournament, 11th-seeded Grigor Dimitrov lost to Ivo Karlovic of Croatia 6-4, 7-5, 7-6 (4).

Dimitrov reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, but his best result at Roland Garros was getting to the third round in 2013.

Two other seeded men retired from their matches and were eliminated, No. 16 Tommy Haas of Germany and No. 21 Nicolas Almagro of Spain. Former top-ranked player Lleyton Hewitt also lost.

Wimbledon champion Andy Murray successfully made his way through his first match at Roland Garros in two years, beating Andrey Golubev of Kazakhstan 6-1, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.

Murray missed last year's tournament with a back injury, but he reached the semifinals in 2011 and the quarterfinals a year later.

No. 5 David Ferrer of Spain, No. 12 Richard Gasquet of France, No. 19 Kevin Anderson of South Africa, No. 28 Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany and No. 32 Andreas Seppi of Italy also won.

Pacers' Paul George fined $25K for comments

NEW YORK (AP) The NBA fined Indiana Pacers forward Paul George $25,000 on Tuesday for his public criticism of the officiating in the Eastern Conference finals Game 4 loss to Miami.

Rod Thorn, the league's president of basketball operations, said George made his comments in the postgame news conference following the 102-90 loss to the Heat on Monday night.

Miami was 30 of 34 from the foul line in the game. Indiana was 11 of 17.

George said his team couldn't overcome a "20-point differential" that came through foul calls. He said Miami won the game at the free-throw line.

Miami leads the series 3-1 and can advance to the NBA Finals for the fourth straight year with a win in Indiana on Wednesday night.

Cowboys LB Lee leaves practice with knee injury

IRVING, Texas (AP) Oft-injured Dallas Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee didn't even make it through the first offseason practice without another setback in a career filled with them.

Lee went down with a left knee injury during the team portion of what was supposed to be a noncontact workout Tuesday. Coach Jason Garrett said Lee was getting an MRI later in the day.

The fifth-year middle linebacker went to the ground with rookie offensive lineman Zack Martin on top of him and didn't get up right away. He had to be helped off the field by trainers, screaming in anger at cameramen lining the entrance to the training room.

The 27-year-old Lee has missed 15 of 32 games the past two seasons and has never played a full a season in his four years in the league. He missed five games last year with hamstring and neck injuries.

"Unfortunately, he's had to deal with a few of these things but he's as mentally tough an individual as I've ever been around," Garrett said. "So whatever the circumstances are he always puts his best foot forward and strives to be his best. Don't anticipate this being any different."

Lee, who wasn't in the locker room when it was open to reporters Tuesday, tore a ligament in his right knee during spring practice at Penn State in 2008 and sat out that season before finishing his college career a year later. The Cowboys drafted him in the second round in 2010.

After a pair of mostly healthy seasons his first two years, Lee sustained a season-ending toe injury in the sixth game in 2012. He finished the season on the inactive list again last year with a neck injury.

Despite playing just 46 games over four seasons, he leads all linebackers with 11 interceptions. He was the team's leading tackler when he started 15 games in 2011.

"Sean's been as committed and hard-working a teammate as I've ever been around," quarterback Tony Romo said. "I love the guy like a brother. He's the epitome of what you want in a football player."

The holdovers on the Dallas roster who filled in at times for Lee last year are Justin Durant and second-year player DeVonte Holloman. Rookie Anthony Hitchens, a fourth-round pick, could play there as well.

LA Kings beat Chicago 5-2, take 3-1 series lead

LOS ANGELES (AP) Jake Muzzin, Marian Gaborik and captain Dustin Brown scored in a dominant first period, and the Los Angeles Kings beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-2 Monday night to take a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference final.

Muzzin and Drew Doughty each had a goal and an assist, and Jonathan Quick made 22 saves as the Kings moved to the brink of their second trip to the Stanley Cup Final in three seasons with their third straight win over the defending champion Blackhawks.

Brandon Saad and Bryan Bickell scored and Corey Crawford stopped 16 shots for the Blackhawks, who didn't get rolling until they trailed 4-0 late in the second period.

One year after Los Angeles lost the conference finals in five games to Chicago, the Kings have their own chance to close it out in five.

Game 5 is Wednesday in Chicago.

Tanner Pearson added an empty-net goal for the Kings, who have been to the NHL finals just twice in franchise history, winning their only title in 2012.

Two days after the Kings gritted out a 4-3 victory over Chicago in Game 3, they won again at Staples Center by scoring three goals on six shots in the first 16 minutes, capping an incredible three-game offensive performance by the lowest-scoring NHL team to make the postseason.

After trailing 2-0 late in the second period of Game 2, Los Angeles scored 13 goals in less than 100 minutes. After Muzzin scored on a power play and Gaborik added his 10th goal of the postseason, Brown banged a puck into an empty net for a 3-0 lead in Game 4, setting off multiple standing ovations from their delirious fans.

The Blackhawks shuffled their lineup after two poor offensive performances, beginning Game 4 with captain Jonathan Toews centering Bickell and Patrick Kane, who still doesn't have a goal in the series.

Last year, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville teamed Toews with Kane - the 2013 Conn Smythe Trophy winner - when his club fell into a 3-1 series hole against Detroit in the second round. The Blackhawks escaped that deficit on the way to their second Stanley Cup title in four years, but the Kings are an entirely different postseason challenge.

The Kings committed two offensive-zone penalties early in Game 4, but Chicago's power play remained inept. After Marian Hossa negated a power play for the Blackhawks by running into Quick, the Kings went ahead when Doughty found Muzzin for a heavy slap shot past Carter's screen.

The goal was the fifth of a revelatory postseason for Muzzin - the same number scored by Chicago star defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook combined.

Keith then set up the Kings' second goal with a horrific turnover in his own end. Anze Kopitar threw the puck in front, where Gaborik redirected it through Crawford's legs.

Brown then added his first goal since Game 7 of the first round against San Jose, and the Los Angeles crowd cheered its team to intermission.

The Kings kept pressing in the second, and Doughty put a long shot through traffic midway through the period. Doughty, the Kings' leader in ice time, has goals in back-to-back games after scoring just once in the first 16 playoff games.

Chicago finally beat Quick when Saad scored on a backhand. The Kings sat back on defense to start the third period, and Bickell got just his second goal in eight games when he jumped on a loose puck in the slot with 10:31 to play.

NOTES: Chicago's power play went 0 for 3, dropping to 1 for 24 on the road in the postseason. ... The Blackhawks scratched F Brandon Bollig in favor of Peter Regin, who sat out Game 3 after Andrew Shaw's return. ... Game 6 would be Friday at Staples Center.

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