National Sports Headlines from NBC Sports

McGary to have back surgery, out indefinitely

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) Michigan star Mitch McGary is out indefinitely after deciding to have surgery on his lower back.

McGary's absence leaves the Wolverines in a tough spot with Big Ten play just around the corner. McGary helped Michigan reach the Final Four last season when he was a freshman, and he was a preseason All-America selection after deciding to put off the NBA and return to the Wolverines for his sophomore year.

Now Michigan's hopes for another extended NCAA tournament run have taken a hit.

"We met with a lot of people, and Mitch decided his best interest for his long-term health is to go ahead and have surgery," coach John Beilein said. "Right now he's out indefinitely. That may mean the end of the season. We do not know. It depends a lot on the surgery and the rehab."

Beilein and McGary met with reporters Friday, the day before Michigan's game against Holy Cross. McGary missed the first two games of the season because of his back problem. In eight games since then, he has averaged 9.5 points.

The 6-foot-10 McGary did not play in Michigan's 68-65 win over Stanford last weekend.

"I just tried to rehab," McGary said. "It's just kind of painful to play through it."

Michigan says the medical staff expects a full recovery for McGary, who said his back has been a problem since late August.

"I just kind of injured myself during the preseason," McGary said. "I just tried to rehab the whole time."

Beilein said Friday that surgery was an option in the immediate aftermath of the injury. Instead, McGary came back and was able to contribute. He had 15 points and 14 rebounds in a loss at Duke earlier this month.

But the Wolverines struggled inside in a loss to Arizona on Dec. 14, and McGary hasn't played since.

"The week before the Arizona game, he couldn't practice very well," Beilein said. "He didn't practice hardly at all before the Stanford game. Didn't feel that was going to change unless he had this surgery."

Michigan will now turn to a couple of experienced big men - Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford - to hold down the fort inside. Both have played plenty of minutes for the Wolverines over the years, but they'll have to avoid foul trouble. Neither will have an easy time replacing McGary's offensive ability and his aggressive rebounding around the basket.

"Jordan Morgan has won a Big Ten championship," Beilein said. "He needs minutes to get back to where he was, and he could never get that last year. So excited for him and Jon Horford, and Max (Bielfeldt) as well. The thing is now, with scout team, Max doesn't get the reps. We don't have enough players for a scout team, so it'll be hard, but at the same time, Max will have to perform. He'll play probably in every game going forward."

Thunder's Westbrook out until after All-Star break

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook had arthroscopic knee surgery Friday and will be sidelined until after the All-Star break.

Westbrook will miss at least 27 games.

"He will be missed," coach Scott Brooks said before Oklahoma City's game Friday night against the Charlotte Bobcats. "Obviously we are a very good team with him, and without him we're still going to be a very good team."

General manager Sam Presti said in a news release earlier in the day that Westbrook has been playing pain-free, but "recently had experienced increased swelling" in his right knee.

"After consultation and consideration by his surgeon in Los Angeles, a plan was established to monitor the swelling that included a series of scheduled MRIs," Presti said in the release. "On the most recent MRI it was determined by the surgeon that there was an area of concern that had not previously existed, nor was detectable in the previous procedures, and it was necessary to evaluate Russell further. The consulting physician determined that arthroscopic surgery was necessary to address the swelling that was taking place."

Brooks said Reggie Jackson, who is averaging 12.5 points, will start. Jeremy Lamb will also see increased playing time in Westbrook's absence.

"Guys believe in what he does for our team," Brooks said of Jackson. "He's only going to get better. He's a young point guard in this league."

Westbrook's knee problems began in April when he tore his meniscus in the second game of the Western Conference playoffs, sidelining him for the remainder of the postseason and all but ending Oklahoma City's chances of reaching the NBA Finals.

He had a second arthroscopic surgery as the Thunder were preparing for training camp after developing inflammation in the knee. However, Westbrook missed only two regular-season games before returning to the floor.

Oklahoma City has since gone on a 21-3 tear with Westbrook in the starting lineup.

The five-year NBA player is averaging 21.3 points, seven assists and six rebounds for the Thunder, who entered Friday night's game with a 23-5 record, a half-game behind the first-place Portland Trail Blazers in the Northwest Division.

Oklahoma City has won 10 of its last 11 games.

In his last game on Christmas, Westbrook didn't look like a player who was in pain, finishing with 14 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists in a 123-94 rout of the New York Knicks.

Brooks said he didn't know the knee was an issue until after Wednesday's game.

"He's passed every medical benchmark and he was playing great basketball, probably some of the best basketball in the entire league," Brooks said. "We're looking forward to him coming back and getting back to the level that he has played at - and he will."

Cowboys' Romo has surgery, out for Eagles finale

IRVING, Texas (AP) Tony Romo had back surgery and will miss Dallas' third straight season finale with the NFC East title and a playoff berth on the line.

Coach Jason Garrett said Romo underwent surgery Friday after consultation with doctors during the week following his injury in a win over Washington.

Kyle Orton will start for the Cowboys in the winner-take-all game against Philadelphia on Sunday night.

Romo lost the past two winner-take-all finales - to the New York Giants two years ago and Washington last season. He also lost to the Eagles in the same situation in 2008.

Philadelphia (9-6) is trying to complete a worst-to-first turnaround from a 4-12 season under first-year coach Chip Kelly. The Cowboys (8-7) want to end a three-year playoff drought.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Boston Marathon bombing AP sports story of year

NEW YORK (AP) The Boston Marathon bombing was selected the sports story of the year Friday in an annual vote conducted by The Associated Press.

Two pressure cooker bombs exploded near the finish line of the April 15 race in an area packed with fans cheering the passing runners. Three people were killed and more than 260 injured, including at least 16 who lost limbs.

Authorities say brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, ethnic Chechens from Russia who emigrated to the United States as children, planned and carried out the bombings in retaliation for U.S. involvement in Muslim countries.

Ninety-six ballots were submitted from U.S. editors and news directors. Voters were asked to rank the top 10 sports stories of the year, with the first-place story receiving 10 points, the second-place story nine points and so on.

The marathon attack received 761 points and 67 first-place votes. It was also second in AP's national/international story of the year poll.

The No. 2 sports story, Lance Armstrong's admission of doping, had five first-place votes and 517 points.

The top five stories were grim: terrorism, performance-enhancing drug use, legal settlements, murder charges. The first on-field action came in at No. 6 - the Boston Red Sox's worst-to-first World Series title, though even that was tinged by the city's heartache less than seven months earlier.

Here are 2013's top 10 stories:

1. BOSTON MARATHON BOMBINGS: The throngs of spectators lining the streets at a storied big-city marathon were once a wholesome scene of civic pride and friendly support. April's attack came as a haunting reminder that the crowds at a high-profile event are also a vulnerable target. Bag searches and metal detectors were a common sight at games the rest of the year. As victims persevere on prosthetic limbs, the 118th edition of the world's oldest marathon is set for the spring, with security undoubtedly heightened but runners determined to take part.

2. LANCE ARMSTRONG: The disgraced cyclist was also the No. 2 sports story last year. In 2012, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency stripped him of his record seven Tour de France titles, releasing mounds of evidence that he used PEDs to win them. In January, after years of defiant denials, Armstrong finally admitted it, telling Oprah Winfrey: "It's this myth, this perfect story, and it wasn't true."

3. NFL CONCUSSION SETTLEMENT: The NFL's settlement of lawsuits brought by thousands of former players will cost the league $765 million but won't end the turmoil over head injuries in football - or the litigation. The retirees, who had accused the NFL of concealing the long-term dangers of concussions, will be eligible for compensation for certain neurological ailments. The league did not admit to any wrongdoing after mediation resulted in a settlement in August.

4. BASEBALL DRUG BANS: Alex Rodriguez's 211-game suspension was the longest of the 13 announced in August for players connected to a Florida anti-aging clinic accused of distributing banned PEDs. The Yankees' slugger was the only one to contest the penalty, and the year ends with an arbitrator yet to rule. In July, Ryan Braun, the 2011 NL MVP who had previously denied using banned substances, accepted a 65-game suspension.

5. HERNANDEZ ARREST: On Jan. 20, New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez had nine catches for 83 yards in an AFC championship game loss to Baltimore. Just more than five months later, he was charged with murder. Prosecutors accuse him of shooting a friend to death on a secluded gravel road for talking to the wrong people at a nightclub. Hernandez awaits trial amid revelations of a history of violence by the player.

6. RED SOX WIN: Boston's 2011 season ended with a collapse and tales of fried chicken and beer in the clubhouse; 2012 ended with a last-place finish and 93 losses. New manager John Farrell and his bearded sluggers embraced "Boston Strong" and tied for the best record in the majors in a turnaround few predicted. With timely hits up and down the lineup throughout the playoffs, the Red Sox beat the St. Louis Cardinals in six games for their third World Series title in a decade.

7. RAVENS SUPER: The power came back on, and Baltimore held on. Ravens coach John Harbaugh beat younger brother Jim's San Francisco 49ers 34-31 in the Super Bowl in an unprecedented sibling showdown. But the game will be remembered most for the 34-minute outage at the Superdome in New Orleans. Baltimore star linebacker Ray Lewis rode into retirement with a ring.

8. AWESOME AUBURN: The Tigers' turnaround from a 3-9 record to the national title game was stunning enough. Even more shocking was how they did it. A deflected 73-yard touchdown pass with 25 seconds left gave Auburn a 43-38 win over Georgia on Nov. 16. The play that ended their next game will go down as one of the most memorable in college football history: Chris Davis' return of a missed field goal attempt more than 100 yards to beat No. 1 Alabama 34-28.

9. TE'O HOAX: Heisman Trophy runner-up Manti Te'o struggled in Notre Dame's lopsided loss to Alabama in the national title game Jan. 7. Nine days later, his name became forever linked to a most bizarre sports story. That tragic tale about his girlfriend's death told over and over as the linebacker starred for an undefeated team? She didn't exist. Te'o insisted he was duped into believing the woman he never met in person was real.

10. HEAT TITLE: One more free throw or one more defensive rebound, and the San Antonio Spurs prevent Miami from repeating as champion. Instead, Ray Allen made one of the biggest shots in NBA Finals history, knocking down a second-chance 3-pointer with 5 seconds left to send Game 6 to overtime. The Heat won in the extra period and again in Game 7 to give LeBron James another title.

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Projects Editor Brooke Lansdale contributed to this report.

Former Orioles star Paul Blair dies

BALTIMORE (AP) Paul Blair, the eight-time Gold Glove center fielder who helped the Baltimore Orioles win a pair of World Series titles while gliding to make catches that former teammates still marvel at more than four decades later, has died. He was 69.

Blair died Thursday night at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore, according to a hospital spokeswoman.

Blair's wife, Gloria, told The Baltimore Sun, that Blair played a round of golf with friends Thursday morning and later lost consciousness at a celebrity bowling tournament in Pikesville.

"Paul was honestly too tired, but he never says no," Gloria Blair told the newspaper. "During a practice round, he threw two or three balls, then sat down and told a friend, `I feel funny' and kind of collapsed. He lost consciousness and they called 911 and the ambulance took him to (Sinai), but the doctors there told me they never got a pulse."

A member of the Orioles Hall of Fame, the popular Blair patrolled the outfield from 1964-76, playing key parts when Baltimore won its first two World Series crowns in 1966 and 1970. He won two more titles with the New York Yankees in 1977 and 1978 and also played for Cincinnati.

In an era before highlight reels were a daily staple on TV, Blair frequently made catches that became the talk of baseball. Thin and quick, he played with a flair - at the end of an inning, he would tuck his glove up against his chest for a regal trot back to the dugout.

"He played very shallow. People talked about how Willie Mays played shallow, and Paul did the same thing. He played with assuredness," Don Buford, an All-Star left fielder who played alongside Blair for five seasons in Baltimore, told The Associated Press late Thursday night.

"When you talk about the greatest defensive center fielders, he was right in the mix," Buford said. "With me in left and Frank Robinson in right, we played toward the lines and gave him a lot of room. He could really go get it."

In 17 seasons in the majors, he hit .250 with 134 home runs, 620 RBIs and 171 stolen bases. Blair appeared in six World Series, two All-Star games and won Gold Gloves in 1967 and 1969-75.

In the 1966 World Series, Blair homered for the only run in Baltimore's Game 3 victory over Los Angeles.

The underdog Orioles completed an unlikely sweep the next day, with Blair jumping high above the fence at Memorial Stadium to snare Jim Lefebvre's bid for a tying home run in the eighth inning. It was a timely grab, too - Blair had just been inserted in the game as a defensive replacement.

Blair caught a routine fly by Lou Johnson with two runners on base for the final out in a 1-0 victory in Game 4, and leaped high in the air after the clinching grab to begin Baltimore's celebration.

Blair led the Orioles in the 1970 World Series with a .474 average in Baltimore's five-game victory over Cincinnati. That year, he hit three home runs and had six RBIs in a game against the Chicago White Sox.

Beaned by a pitch in late May that season, Blair came back from the injury to boost the Birds. Ever mindful of being hit in the face, he would shield his face at first base when retreating to the bag on pickoff throws.

"It affected his hitting a little bit after that, but not his fielding," Buford said.

Inducted into the Orioles Hall of Fame in 1984, Blair coached Fordham in 1983 and at Coppin State from 1998-2002. He had a heart attack in December 2009.

Blair played baseball and basketball and ran track at Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles.

Blair was originally drafted by the New York Mets and spent one season in their minor league system. The Orioles drafted him from the Mets in late 1962.

He fit neatly into a team built on strong defense - led by third baseman Brooks Robinson - and pitching, and Baltimore reached the World Series four times in six years. He was surrounded by stars, yet a picture or drawing of Blair often made the cover of the Orioles' game programs.

Friendly in the clubhouse, he was called "Motormouth" for his constant banter.

"He'd be talking about something, and maybe you'd get two words in, and then he'd be off starting another conversation," Buford recalled.

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AP Baseball Writer Ben Walker contributed to this report.

Chiefs' Daniel, other backups ready for chance

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) The Chiefs are paying Chase Daniel more than $4 million in salary and bonuses this season, yet the backup quarterback has not taking a meaningful snap in a game.

There's an argument to be made that fact won't change Sunday, when the Chiefs head to San Diego to play a game that can't affect their playoff situation. Kansas City is already locked into the No. 5 seed and is merely waiting to find out who it will face the following weekend.

But there's also an argument to be made that every snap Daniel takes - and it stands to reason there will be many - is very important.

After winning their first nine games, the Chiefs have lost four of their last six. And any positive vibes that came with back-to-back wins over Washington and Oakland may have evaporated in a 23-7 rout last weekend by the Colts, a potential first-round playoff opponent.

So while most of the starters will likely sit out the majority of this one, it could be up to Daniel and a slew of backups to give Kansas City some momentum headed into the postseason.

"My mindset going in is to prepare like the starter, just as I have my entire career," Daniel said. "Hopefully, I'll get to play a little bit."

Chiefs coach Andy Reid has said only that he plans to "mix and match" his players Sunday, leading to some heated water-cooler discussions about who should be held out.

Jamaal Charles? Probably. There may be no more valuable player to the Chiefs, let alone any other team in the NFL.

Alex Smith? Possibly. He's coming off a miserable performance against the Colts, and said this week that there's some benefit to entering the postseason on a roll.

One player almost certain to get the weekend off is linebacker Tamba Hali, who missed practice again Thursday with swelling in his knee. Otherwise, all bets are off.

"If you play, the argument is yeah, you're staying in rhythm," Smith said. "You're keeping your timing, all that stuff. The speed of the game, you stay used to it. The negative, of course, is the injury risk. Not playing, the benefit is you're getting healthy and fresh. The downside is yeah, you're missing out on some rhythm and momentum heading into the playoffs."

That's where Daniel, running back Knile Davis and the rest of the backups come into play.

Daniel played earlier this season in mop-up duty against the Redskins and Raiders, and the results were forgettable. He was 4 of 8 for 48 yards with no touchdowns and an interception.

Davis had emerged as a solid No. 2 option behind Charles, but then started coughing up the ball against the Colts. He's had trouble with fumbles throughout his career, so San Diego could give him a chance to get that in check as the Chiefs' feature back.

Then there are the guys who haven't gotten much playing time, such as linebacker Nico Johnson, a fourth-round pick out of Alabama. This could be their first extended playing time since training camp - in a game that matters, no less, depending on how you look at it.

"It gives us an opportunity to see these guys, and it gives them some confidence," Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. "If we can get them out there, get some plays in, it would be great. See what Andy wants to do with it, but I think that would be awesome."

No amount of prying this week could get the Chiefs to divulge their exact plans, especially with San Diego having something on the line. The Chargers can squeeze into the playoffs if they beat Kansas City and Baltimore and Miami lose earlier in the day.

Offensive coordinator Doug Pederson even declared Thursday that Smith is the starter, and that Daniel would be taking the same "mental reps" that come with being the regular backup.

"You go in and attack the game like any other," Pederson said. "We're professional and we attack it like professionals. We get our guys ready to go. We're excited obviously about being in the postseason and playing next week, but you can't look past San Diego."

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

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