National Sports Headlines from NBC Sports

Troy Vincent to speak with suspended players

NEW YORK (AP) Troy Vincent is hitting the road in his new job as the NFL's football operations director, meeting with players who have been suspended for on-field incidents.

He would not specify which players. Nor did Vincent reveal the identity of other players who are on a league list of those closing in on suspensions for further on-field rules violations. But he's got a clear plan about what he will discuss with them.

"It's all about educating," says Vincent, who recently replaced Ray Anderson in one of the league's most powerful jobs. "The devil is in the details.

"When I am making the rounds with the suspended players, I want to make sure we are educating them to keep them on the field. What were they seeing on the plays (that led to suspensions)? Are they seeing what they are supposed to? Do they completely understand the rules? It's about taking the guessing out."

Among the players suspended by the league last season were Texans defensive end Antonio Smith, Titans safety Michael Griffin, Buccaneers safety Dashon Goldson, Redskins safety Brandon Merriweather and Colts linebacker Erik Walden, each for one regular-season game. Each for illegal hits.

Vincent, a former Pro Bowl defensive back and a former president of the NFL Players Association, certainly recognizes what players see and feel in the heat of a game. He believes his experience helps him communicate with current players. And, more important, it helps him find steps to make pro football safer.

"I have that insight from being on the field, from being in their shoes," Vincent says. "My message to these players is, `We want to keep you on the field. We want to keep you safe.'

`'Rules to protect the players are essential."

Vincent was part of the development of many current NFL rules while working for the union, which should be comforting to the players association. For several years, the NFLPA has sought more effective means of guidance on the rules from the league.

A union official says the NFLPA finds it important to gather as much information as possible on what is expected from the players on the field.

The meetings with players who have been suspended should not be perceived as a warning, Vincent says. He looks at them as an opportunity to explain policies he was a part of constructing, and will listen to suggestions for simplifying the rule book.

"I will work to be a bridge builder," Vincent says. "My responsibility is to preserve the game, develop its future, and to protect the players and the brand."

Hawks take series lead with 107-97 win at Indiana

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Mike Scott rediscovered his shooting touch when Atlanta needed it most.

His teammates took the cue, and now the Hawks are on the brink of completing one of the most unexpected playoff upsets in NBA history.

Scott made five 3-pointers in a 17-point second quarter and the Hawks' defense fended off a frantic fourth-quarter charge to hold off top-seeded Indiana 107-97 for a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.

"It was really just the regular game plan, the regular pick-and-roll, pick-and-pop game," Scott said. "They sagged off, they were worried about (Shelvin) Mack and when he drew two defenders, I was wide open."

Scott's performance was like a bolt out of the blue.

After scoring just 30 points in the first four games, he knocked down four straight 3s early in the second quarter and then closed the decisive 30-6 run with the last of his five 3s to give the eighth-seeded Hawks a commanding 48-27 lead. They can clinch the series Thursday night in Atlanta.

It's a shocking twist in the East, a conference that most expected to come down to an epic Pacers-Heat rematch in the conference finals. To have any chance now, the Pacers need to win two straight, something they haven't done with their regular starters since mid-March.

The Hawks, meanwhile, continued to decimate the Pacers' defense with the spread offense, especially in a record-breaking second quarter.

Scott's 3-point barrage helped Atlanta tie an NBA record with nine 3s in the quarter, becoming the first playoff team to achieve that feat since 2008. They finished with a franchise postseason record 15, three more than their previous mark.

And as the Hawks outscored Indiana 41-19 over that 12-minute span, the Hawks matched their second-highest second-quarter point total in postseason history. They scored 41 against Detroit on April 17, 1986, and had 45 against Fort Wayne on March 14, 1957, when the team was based in St. Louis.

The 41 points allowed by Indiana also was a franchise playoff record, breaking the previous mark of 39 at Boston on April 23, 2005.

And Atlanta joined the 1970 Milwaukee Bucks as the only road teams in the shot-clock era to score 40 points in a quarter and allow fewer than 20.

"This gives us a lot of confidence," Shelvin Mack said after leading the Hawks with 20 points. "But in this series the home team has lost the majority of the games. They're a great team. They're going to come out and play really hard, their season is on the line. We have to be prepared to come out and compete at a high level."

For the Pacers, it was yet another problematic game in their second-half collapse.

Roy Hibbert failed to score a point or grab a rebound for the first time in his playoff career. The bench Larry Bird rebuilt to contend with Miami was outscored 45-23. Atlanta even outrebounded the bigger, stronger Pacers 38-35.

Paul George led the Pacers with 26 points and 12 rebounds - his fifth straight double-double in the series - but became the first player in league history to finish a playoff game with at least 25 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and five steals in a losing effort. Three other players - George Hill, Lance Stephenson and David West - each had 16 points.

It still wasn't enough, and now the Pacers are on the brink of elimination.

"We can't think about Game 7. Game 6 is at hand and it's a must win," George said. "We can't think about nothing but Game 6 and if we don't win, our season's done."

They had lots of motivation Monday, too, and still failed to take control of the series.

Scott and his teammates wouldn't allow it, quickly swinging the pivotal fifth game in their favor.

Atlanta opened the second quarter with a free throw from Mack to tie the score at 21. Scott then made four consecutive 3s to push the lead to 33-21. Mack followed that with a midrange jumper, Kyle Korver made a 3, Scott scored on a putback and Korver hit his second 3. Mack followed that with two free throws and Scott closed the run with his last 3 of the game to make it 48-27.

The Pacers still trailed 61-40 at halftime and by as many as 30 points in the third quarter before the frantic comeback.

Indiana cut the deficit to 85-67 late in the third and with the crowd urging them on, the Pacers made it 96-87 on C.J. Watson's layup with 4:04 to go.

But Korver answered with a 3 and the Hawks closed it out at the free throw line.

"We can play with this team," Scott said. "They're a great team, especially at home, great players, great coach, but we have a belief in ourselves as well."

NOTES: The Pacers had a moment of silence to honor former coach Jack Ramsay, who died Monday at age 89. Ramsay led the Pacers to the first NBA playoff win in franchise history. ... Atlanta has three wins at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and is the only team to beat Indiana on its home court more than once this season. ... The Pacers are 0-10 in series when trailing 3-2.

Heat will have time to rest after sweeping Bobcats

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Dwyane Wade will have a chance to rest those sore knees and that tight hamstring.

And LeBron James can ice up his thigh contusion.

The Miami Heat earned a little extra rest and relaxation after completing a four-game sweep of the Charlotte Bobcats with a 109-98 victory Monday night.

With Toronto and Brooklyn tied at 2-2 in their series, it could be until Sunday before Miami knows its second-round opponent. That would mean at least a week off for the two-time defending NBA champions.

"I'm sure our guys will love it, but the most important thing is that we have the chance to move on," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

Miami is the only team that can say that.

No other NBA team has closed out its opponent, and only the Heat swept their series.

"Nothing is guaranteed," Spoelstra said. "Some people that are cynical may look at this as a 2-7 (seed) matchup and say they were supposed to win 4-0. It's not working that way in this league. ... We understand how tough it is to win in this league."

They also know how to win titles.

It's the second straight year the Heat swept their opening-round series.

"We have been here before, we have learned some lessons from last year, and that is the best part of it," Chris Bosh said. "I think we will handle it better this time."

In many ways, the Bobcats might have been just what the Heat needed.

The Heat were challenged by a hungry Charlotte team, but were never in any real danger of losing the series.

So it gave them a chance to dip their feet once again into the playoff waters and the long, grueling run that awaits.

"We could tell we are working to get our rhythm back," Wade said. "They pushed us. They're a very competitive team, a very scrappy team, but we obviously felt we were the better team."

James said the Heat improved with each passing game.

"The biggest thing I'm happy with is the way we protected the ball," said James, who scored 31 points and had nine assists in closing out the Bobcats. "When we don't turn it over, we're able to set our defense up and get good shots."

That was a concern at the end of the season.

James said the Heat did a "horrible" job of protecting the ball in March and April. Yet the team that has now won nine straight playoff series was able to flip the switch and win the turnover battle with the Bobcats.

"When we don't turn it over, we give our offense a great chance to succeed and our team a chance to win games," James said.

James was injured in Game 4 when he drove to the basket and his right thigh collided with Bismack Biyombo's knee. He remained on the ground as concerned teammates gathered around.

He said he will be fine for the next round.

After the game Monday, James received congratulations from Bobcats owner Michael Jordan, who has two three-peat titles under his belt.

James is in search of his first triple this season.

"It's a process, and we're headed in the right direction," James said. "This is a great direction after these four games. We played championship-level basketball and that was great. We got tested by a very young and scrappy Bobcats team. The way we responded was a championship attitude."

But he cautioned they will have to play better in the next round.

"We can't win in the next round playing like we did in this round," James said. "We're looking forward to finding out who our next opponent is and preparing for them."

In the meantime they will have plenty of time to rest up and think about what must be done to move on to the Eastern Conference finals.

"I think it helps," Udonis Haslem said of the rest. "You want to get through healthy. We did that. Two, you want to get some guys that may be logging major minutes some rest and, you know, help guys take care of some bumps and bruises. And that's what we were able to do."

Pens advance after wild series vs Blue Jackets

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) It was Evgeni Malkin's game - until the Columbus Blue Jackets elbowed their way into the picture.

Malkin had a hat trick and the Pittsburgh Penguins almost blew a four-goal lead before holding off the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-3 Monday night to clinch their first-round playoff series in six games.

"The last two games were our best of the year, but they certainly made a push, scored goals and kept coming," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "We certainly understand the importance of closing out a game. But the bottom line is we got our third and fourth wins here in Games 5 and 6. And we get to move on."

Pittsburgh awaits the winner of the New York-Philadelphia series, with the Rangers leading 3-2 going into Tuesday night's Game 6. It appeared the Penguins were ready to board their charter midway through the third period before the Blue Jackets turned the game upside down.

Malkin staked them to a big lead that barely stood up.

"Going into the second round now, you feel so much better when you have confidence," said Malkin, who had not scored a goal in his last nine playoff games dating to last season. "I hope in the next round I can score more."

Closer to making tee times than thinking about a Game 7, the Blue Jackets scored three times in a 4:52 span of the third period to turn up the pressure on the Penguins, an overwhelming favorite before the series got underway.

"We wanted to leave it all out there," said Nick Foligno, who won Game 4 with an overtime wrister and then redirected a shot into the net to draw Columbus - down 4-0 midway through the final period - to within a goal with 4:47 left. "We're a proud team, a team that's done a lot of good things all year. And we didn't want to leave here on a bad note."

Fedor Tyutin, Artem Anisimov and Foligno scored for Columbus to energize a crowd of 19,189 that stood and roared throughout the final minutes.

"It wasn't easy seeing 1, 2, 3 go in like that," said Penguins star Sidney Crosby, who went without a goal and had a plus/minus of -2 for the series. "Everyone just knew the last few minutes we had to find a way to keep it out."

The Penguins were hard pressed to fight off the aggressive Blue Jackets after goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who had 24 saves, was pulled for an extra attacker with under 2 minutes left.

Matt Calvert had been just wide with a potential tying shot with 3:30 left. Brandon Dubinsky's wraparound was deflected by goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

"It was a good test," said Fleury, who was criticized by Penguins fans after early playoff exits in recent years.

Fleury ended up with 24 saves. Brandon Sutter also scored a goal before leaving with an injury, and Matt Niskanen had two assists for the Penguins, who became the first team in the series to score first and win - but barely.

Malkin hadn't scored in the first 332:52 of the series, then scored three times in a span of 26:11.

"I could see it coming in the morning skate," teammate James Neal said. "His shot was going into the back of the net."

The Blue Jackets, one of the NHL's youngest teams, looked hopeless until Tyutin's shot from the right dot ended Fleury's shutout streak at 97:26, since the Blue Jackets took a 1-0 lead in the first period of Game 5. Then Anisimov scored from the left point and Foligno redirected Tyutin's shot to cut the lead to 4-3.

Pittsburgh survived, all right, although mainstays Sutter and Joe Vitale were injured during the game and did not return.

But that's a worry for another day. Advancing was the big thing.

"We've got a rivalry going here with the Jackets," Bylsma said. "They gave us everything we could handle and it was a nice series for them. That was an extremely tough first-round opponent."

Kevin Johnson calls for Sterling to be suspended

Former NBA star and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson has called for the NBA to suspend Donald Sterling indefinitely, appoint an executive or family member to run the team, and levy "the maximum fine possible" as punishment for the racist remarks purportedly made by the Los Angeles Clippers' owner.

Johnson is advising the National Basketball Players Association while the Sterling matter plays out and posted to Twitter early Tuesday, saying, "We're at a defining moment in the history of the National Basketball Association."

Johnson acknowledged that it might not be possible to force Sterling to sell the team, but made it clear the players believe "Mr. Sterling should no longer have the privilege of being an owner of an NBA team."

Johnson questioned how many of the league's players, many of whom are African-American, would want to work for Sterling.

LA Kings surge past Sharks 4-1, force Game 7

LOS ANGELES (AP) Justin Williams forced the tiebreaking goal underneath Alex Stalock with 8:04 to play, and the Los Angeles Kings beat the San Jose Sharks 4-1 on Monday night, rallying all the way back from an 0-3 series deficit to force a decisive Game 7.

Williams and Anze Kopitar each had two goals and an assist, and Jonathan Quick made 25 saves as the Kings became just the ninth team in NHL history to force a seventh game after losing the first three.

"We certainly didn't want to go away quiet," Kopitar said.

Stalock stopped 26 shots in his first NHL playoff start, and James Sheppard scored for the spiraling Sharks.

Just three teams in NHL history have rallied from an 0-3 deficit to win a series.

Los Angeles could join them in Game 7 in San Jose on Wednesday. The winner of the California rivals' third playoff meeting in four years will face the top-seeded Anaheim Ducks in the second round.

Williams, a two-time Stanley Cup champion known for clutch playoff goals, also scored in the first period. He reached his stick between Stalock's pads and knocked home Robyn Regehr's shot for the go-ahead score, breaking open a tense game.

Kopitar followed with two goals 1:15 apart for the Kings, who have outscored San Jose 13-4 in the last three games after San Jose dominated the first three by a combined 17-8.

Sheppard scored on a double deflection in the second period, but after utterly dominating the first two games, San Jose has scored just one goal against Quick in the last 128:24 in the series.

Sharks coach Todd McLellan changed starting goalies after Stanley Cup winner Antti Niemi was pulled from each of the last two losses. McLellan took a risk on Stalock, whose NHL experience consists of 27 regular-season games and 57 minutes of scoreless relief in this series.

Drew Doughty had two assists for Los Angeles, which lost the first three games of the series in discouraging fashion before rallying with resounding victories at home in Game 4 and at the Shark Tank in Game 5 last Saturday night. Doughty set up the Kings' first goal with a sharp pass to Williams, who has four goals in the Kings' last two home games.

San Jose got a 5-on-3 advantage for 1:38 early in the second period, but the Kings killed it off to the delirious cheers of their home fans. The Sharks finally tied it moments after a third fruitless power play when Sheppard deflected Justin Braun's slap shot out of mid-air and off Regehr.

After Williams' go-ahead score, Kopitar got loose on a 2-on-1 rush with Williams, who set him up perfectly. Kopitar added a power-play goal, and the final minutes devolved into several wild scrums after the whistle.

Just three teams have accomplished the Kings' potential feat, but the Philadelphia Flyers rallied from three games down to beat Boston in 2010 with a roster including current Kings forwards Jeff Carter and Mike Richards.

The Sharks played without key defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who left Game 5 early with an upper-body injury. The Canadian Olympic gold medalist was replaced by Matt Irwin, while streaky forward Marty Havlat also was in San Jose's lineup for the first time in the series, replacing Mike Brown.

NOTES: Los Angeles lost D Willie Mitchell to an undisclosed injury during the second period. ... Stalock's career nearly ended in the AHL in 2011 when Los Angeles forward Dwight King's skate blade severed a nerve behind his knee. The goalie missed nearly a year of action. ... Los Angeles played its NHL-high 44th playoff game in the past three years. ... The Sharks hadn't changed their starting goalie during the playoffs since 2001, when Miikka Kiprusoff took over for Evgeni Nabokov during a series. ... Vlasic had played in all 84 possible playoff games since joining the Sharks for the 2006-07 season.

Ginobili, Diaw help Spurs get even with Mavs 93-89

DALLAS (AP) Manu Ginobili scored 23 points, Boris Diaw hit a go-ahead 3-pointer in the final minute and the San Antonio Spurs held off a second-half surge by Dallas to beat the Mavericks 93-89 on Monday night, pulling even in their first-round playoff series.

The Spurs regained the home-court advantage by getting a split of two games in Dallas, matching what the eighth-seeded Mavericks did in San Antonio.

The Spurs led by 20 points in the third quarter before the Mavericks pulled even midway through the fourth quarter of Game 4. The score was still tied when Diaw hit from long range over Dirk Nowitzki at the top of the key for a 90-87 lead.

Monta Ellis led Dallas with 20 points but missed two potential tying shots after Diaw's basket.

Game 5 is Wednesday night in San Antonio.

Gilbert: 'zero tolerance' for Sterling comments

CLEVELAND (AP) Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert wants NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to take a "zero-tolerance" approach when it comes to Donald Sterling's purported comments about minorities.

Sterling, the 80-year-old owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, is alleged to have made racist comments heard in an audio file published over the weekend by TMZ and Deadspin. There has been no official confirmation that it is Sterling on the recording.

The NBA is planning a Tuesday news conference to discuss its investigation.

Gilbert released a statement Monday night calling the comments attributed to Sterling "offensive and feeble minded views." Gilbert says the team thinks Silver and the NBA should "respond with swift and appropriate action consistent with a strong zero tolerance approach to this type of reprehensible behavior."

Parise lifts Wild past Avs 5-2, to tie series at 3

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) Zach Parise scored early and late on tipped shots, and the Minnesota Wild tacked on two empty-net goals for a 5-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Monday night that sent the first-round playoff series to a decisive Game 7.

Parise and Mikko Koivu each had two assists. The teams will meet again in Denver on Wednesday night, with the winner taking on the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference semifinals.

Parise scored just 49 seconds into the game and Mikael Granlund made it 2-0 later in the first period, but a costly turnover by Ryan Suter at the end of a failed 5-on-3 situation led to a short-handed goal for the Avalanche when Paul Stastny scored for the fourth time in the series.

Nick Holden got the tying goal in the second period to stop the power-play skid for the Avalanche, who had been denied by a resurgent Wild penalty-kill unit in 19 of 20 prior opportunities in the series.

Matt Duchene returned to the Avalanche lineup and notched an assist, but Parise stole the show for the home team. Parked in the crease with the season on the line, he took a shove in the back from goalie Semyon Varlamov and then outmuscled defenseman Erik Johnson for position on Koivu's shot from behind the circle with 6:29 left in the game.

Avalanche coach Patrick Roy pulled Varlamov with 2:44 remaining, and this time the daring move backfired after it led to tying goals in Games 1 and 5. Jason Pominville and Marco Scandella found the back of the net for the Wild, who got 21 saves from Darcy Kuemper.

Nathan MacKinnon's league-leading 10 points, accumulated over all three Avalanche home games, have been one of the biggest stories of the NHL playoffs so far. The 18-year-old whiz hasn't played as well on the road in this series, though, and with a mere 26 seconds elapsed he was sent to the penalty box for holding.

Just 23 seconds after that, the Wild were in front. Suter, who was originally credited with the goal, fired a shot that Parise tipped in. The arena erupted.

This was the quick start the Wild needed, after squandering another late lead at Colorado, and they had a 2-0 cushion midway through the first when Pominville set up Granlund for his slap shot that skidded between Varlamov's pads.

The tenor of a game that could've become a blowout then took a sharp turn.

The Wild had a 5-on-3 power play for 67 seconds after consecutive penalties on Stastny for slashing and Andre Benoit for flipping the puck over the glass. They played it patiently, getting two shots on goal, but Suter's last attempt of the two-man advantage didn't connect cleanly with the puck. Ryan O'Reilly jumped on it and, in the timing to beat all timing, found Stastny all alone on his surge from the box.

Stastny went low with his wrist and sneaked his shot past Kuemper's stick to put the Avalanche on the board. That was their second short-handed score of the series, double their power-play goal total until Matt Moulson was penalized for slashing early in the second period.

Similar to their own-end struggles when the Avalanche skated with an empty net earlier in the series, the Wild had trouble clearing the puck on that power play. They paid for it when Holden zipped toward the net and knocked in the back-door pass from O'Reilly.

Duchene had the second assist, the first real sign of his return from the left knee injury that kept him out for the past month. The Avalanche leader with 70 points during the regular season, Duchene wasn't cleared for action until minutes before faceoff and started on the fourth line with Brad Malone and Maxime Talbot, but he was given plenty of power-play time and didn't appear to play with any rust.

The Wild stumbled through to the second intermission, lacking the edge they had here throughout Games 3 and 4 and in the first period of this Game 6, and the atmosphere in the building became anxious, with one more goal by the Avalanche holding the power to end the home team's season.

NOTES: The Avalanche are 12-0 in playoff series when winning the first two games since the franchise moved from Quebec to Colorado. ... The Wild went 18-4-2 when Parise scored a goal in the regular season.

Gray throws 3-hitter for A's in 4-0 win at Texas

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) Sonny Gray threw a three-hitter for his first career complete game and the Oakland Athletics beat Texas 4-0 Monday night in Rangers ace Yu Darvish's shortest outing in the major leagues.

Gray (4-1) allowed only three singles while striking out six. Texas got only one runner to third base against the right-hander, who threw two wild pitches in the sixth after Robinson Chirinos singled.

Darvish (1-1) was gone after 3 1-3 innings, pulled after walking No. 9 batter Eric Sogard for the second time. Those were the only two walks for the right-hander, who allowed four runs and six hits while throwing 83 pitches (45 strikes). Darvish is winless his last nine home starts.

Josh Donaldson had a two-run single in the third, and the A's made it 4-0 an inning later when Josh Reddick had an RBI triple before coming home on Daric Barton's sacrifice fly.

Derby favorite arrives at Churchill Downs

Louisville, KY -- They weren’t screaming “the king is here, the king is here” but the atmosphere at Churchill Downs changed Monday with the arrival of the Kentucky Derby favorite. California Chrome’s supporters are hoping to celebrate his coronation this Saturday.

The bright chestnut with a white blaze down the middle of his face represents something special, the type of horse that will immediately inspire dreams of an elusive Triple Crown winner if he proves successful at Churchill Downs. California Chrome has attracted a legion of fans due to his exploits on the track, winning the Santa Anita Derby most recently with stunning ease.

“I call him a rock star,” trainer Art Sherman says.

He still must avoid a dreaded inside post position at Wednesday’s 20-horse draw but California Chrome likely will stand alone as the prohibitive choice among betters, with the next favorite in the wagering still up for grabs between Hoppertunity, Wicked Strong or maybe a wildcard like Danza.

By typical standards, California Chrome arrived here late for his anticipated date with destiny. Most contenders were already settled into Churchill Downs last week, recording their final serious preparations over the track in recent days, but California Chrome’s connections eschewed the conventional path.

His last major workout came at his home base, Los Alamitos in Southern California, where Sherman relocated earlier this year following the closing of Hollywood Park. The 77-year-old conditioner is preparing his first Derby starter and felt comfortable remaining home for as long as possible, waiting until Monday morning for the ship to Louisville.

“It was a great work,” Sherman said after California Chrome completed a final half-mile drill on April 26. “He’s the kind of horse you dream about.”

Fans will have the opportunity to see the favorite receive some light training in the days ahead. California Chrome is scheduled to jog Tuesday morning under the Twin Spires and will gallop a couple of miles on Wednesday and Thursday.


California Chrome serves as a perfect example that a good horse can come from anywhere. He’s the result of a partnership between owners Perry Martin of Yuba City, California and Steve Coburn of Topaz Lake, Nevada, who joined together to breed a horse for the first time.

They bought his dam for $8,000, small change when compared to the cost of blue-blooded Thoroughbreds. But the mare wasn’t considered much by others and Coburn has explained that they were called “dumbasses” for doing so.

That was the genesis for “DAP Racing” (Dumb Ass Partners) under which California Chrome has been campaigned.

The owners paid $2,500 to breed the mare to the undistinguished stallion Lucky Pulpit, a stakes-winning turf sprinter who stands at Harris Farms near Colinga, California. By comparison, the top-priced stallion in this year’s Derby field, Tapit, costs $150,000 for a cover.

California Chrome was foaled in the Golden State on February 18, 2011.

Racing exclusively in California so far, he made three of his first four starts against state-bred rivals but attracted little attention for his early exploits. In fact, California Chrome recorded unplaced finishes in his first two stakes races against open company, including a sixth in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity last September. The under-the-radar colt didn’t start to find his best form until late in his two-year-old season.

Since emphatically snapping a two-race losing streak in the December 22 King Glorious at Hollywood Park, scoring by 6 ¼ lengths, California Chrome hasn’t come close to tasting defeat, reeling off four straight tour-de-force performances in advance of the Kentucky Derby.

He posted a handy 5 ½-length win in the January 25 California Cup Derby before dispatching graded stakes foes with similar ease, taking the Grade 2 San Felipe on March 8 by a widening 7  ¼-length margin. Next came the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, the most difficult prep race this year with Derby contenders Hoppertunity and Candy Boy also present, and California Chrome made short work of the deep field, rolling to a 5 ¼-length tally.

The latter two efforts arguably rate as head-and-shoulders above any other performance by a three-year-old this season.

Potential drawbacks

California-bred horses are typically the subject of scorn from Kentucky Derby handicappers. Only three have captured the Run for the Roses in its 140-year history, the last coming 52 years ago via Decidedly, and pedigree snobs will point to his modest breeding if California Chrome falters.

And while experience can be hard to quantify, Sherman and his crew are first-timers readying a horse for the extreme demands of the Derby. And they are doing so in an unconventional manner. California Chrome’s home, Los Alamitos, is a former Quarter-Horse facility that was renovated last year to accommodate Thoroughbreds.

This isn’t one of the high-profile stables -- trainers Todd Pletcher, Bob Baffert, Dale Romans & D. Wayne Lukas are all about the Kentucky Derby -- that we are so used to seeing in the build-up to the race and you can count on that being part of the discussion if California Chrome comes up short.

“If you've been around this horse, if you've been around horses in general, you know they all have their own personalities," Sherman said last weekend when asked how California Chrome will handle the new environment. "This horse just has a wonderful personality, an excellent demeanor. He's so easy-going, so laid back. Nothing seems to bother him.

"I guess there are things I should be concerned about given our situation, but one thing I'm not is how this horse is going to handle his trip down there. 'Chrome' will deal with it just fine. I'm not worried about that at all."

One valid concern involves the start -- California Chrome is a free-wheeling type who likes to race up close and probably needs to avoid breaking a step slowly like he did in the Santa Anita Derby – but most drawbacks surrounding the colt, including his ability at the 1 ¼-mile distance, are purely subjective.

California Chrome is fast, extremely fast. It’s his race to lose on Saturday.

Handicapping the race

Based on numbers and form lines, California Chrome is the cream of this year’s Derby field. His 106 BRIS Speed rating last time is clearly best but what really stands out is the instant acceleration he’s developed in recent months.

Most horses with speed will look to put away the competition early, allowing them to coast home in the latter stages, but jockey Victor Espinoza waited to ask California Chrome until the stretch drive of the San Felipe and Santa Anita Derby, opening up an insurmountable advantage in a matter of a few strides.

If Espinoza arrives at the head of the Churchill Downs stretch with plenty in reserve, the final furlongs should be fun to watch.

Thoroughbred racing is in the midst of a 36-year-old drought, with Affirmed being the last horse to sweep the Kentucky Derby-Preakness-Belmont Stakes series in 1978, and it could really use a superstar to emerge.

California Chrome could be that horse, but he still has to prove it.

Los Angeles NAACP denounces Donald Sterling

LOS ANGELES (AP) The NAACP has decided against honoring Donald Sterling with a lifetime achievement award from its Los Angeles chapter after the Clippers owner allegedly made racist comments in a recorded conversation.

Donations made by Sterling, who has owned the team since 1981, will be returned, Leon Jenkins, president of the Los Angeles NAACP, said at a news conference Monday. Jenkins would not say how much money was involved.

"There is a personal, economic and social price that Mr. Sterling must pay for his attempt to turn back the clock on race relations," he said.

Sterling, 80, had been scheduled to receive the honor on May 15 as part of the 100th anniversary celebration of the Los Angeles branch of the nation's oldest civil rights organization.

He had been chosen to receive the award because of his long history of donating to minority charities and giving game tickets to inner city children, Jenkins said. The NAACP has honored Sterling several times in the past.

The Donald T. Sterling Charitable Foundation gave $5,000 to the NAACP's Los Angeles chapter in 2010, according to tax records, and Sterling was listed as his foundation's only contributor. There were no records of further NAACP contributions in 2011 or 2012, the latest years for which records were available.

Sterling's purported comments have overshadowed the NBA's opening playoff round and prompted an NBA investigation. The league is planning a Tuesday news conference to discuss the probe.

There has been no official confirmation that it is Sterling on the recording, portions of which were released over the weekend by TMZ and Deadspin.

Sterling "is emphatic that what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect his views, beliefs or feelings," according to a statement from team president Andy Roeser on Saturday. Neither Sterling nor his representatives have since commented on the controversy.

Jenkins, of the NAACP, was asked how detrimental he considered Sterling's alleged remarks.

"On a scale of one to 10? Eleven," he said. "It goes back to a segregation system and a time that nobody in America is proud of."

Members of the state Legislature's black caucus joined those denouncing Sterling.

Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, D-San Bernardino, said lawmakers should not ignore the country's history of discrimination.

"Once again we are reminded of the ugliness and sometimes what appears to be the pervasive permanence of hatred," Brown said while speaking in support of a resolution declaring Holocaust Remembrance Week. "So I want to simply challenge us as we go forward to not think that, `Yes, we see the past,' but recognize the past has a profound impact on the present. And if we are not conscious (of it), it will direct our future."

Assemblyman Isadore Hall, D-Compton and secretary of the black caucus, blasted Sterling and compared him to a "slave master" looking down at his African-American players.

"It's an utter embarrassment," Hall said in an interview after the floor session, "not just to the NBA, but also to all the individuals who believe that at some point, in California at least, we have risen above that, and we obviously haven't."

Heat show support for Clippers with silent protest

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) The Miami Heat showed solidarity with the Los Angeles Clippers over the Donald Sterling controversy before Monday night's playoff game against the Charlotte Bobcats.

Like the Clippers did on Sunday, the Heat ran out of the tunnel wearing their warmups, huddled at center court and tossed their white shooting T-shirts to the ground. They then went through their pregame routine with their red Heat warmup jerseys inside out, hiding the team's logo.

It was a silent protest in response to Sterling's purported comments urging a woman to not bring black people to his team's games.

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade had both said in the locker room before the game they weren't sure what they would do to show their support for the Clippers.

Report: Nats' Harper out until July with bad thumb

WASHINGTON (AP) Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper reportedly is going to be sidelined at least until July because of surgery on his left thumb. says the two-time All-Star will have the operation Tuesday.

Washington spokesman John Dever declined to comment. The team was off Monday, and plays Tuesday night at Houston.

The Nationals put Harper on the 15-day disabled list Sunday, saying he had a sprained left thumb.

Harper was hurt Friday night on a headfirst slide into third base on a triple against San Diego. He didn't leave the game until after the next inning.

"I slid into the bag and I caught it a little bit," he said about his thumb after that game. "Went into the dugout, swung a couple in the cage, felt fine. Went out to the outfield, it swelled up a little bit. ... So I got in and got some treatment on it."

Harper is hitting .289 with one home run and nine RBIs.

The injury came less than a week after Harper was yanked from a game for what manager Matt Williams termed "lack of hustle" after heading toward the dugout instead of running out a groundout.

For the 21-year-old Harper, the 2012 NL Rookie of the Year, this will be the second prolonged injury absence of his brief career.

Last season, he missed 31 games because of bursitis in his left knee after crashing into outfield walls twice. He wound up having an offseason operation on the knee.

He said this winter that he hadn't been 100 percent healthy even before running into walls while playing defense in games on April 30 and May 13 a year ago. Harper finished last season with a .274 batting average, 20 homers and 58 RBIs.

Nate McLouth is expected to get extra playing time during Harper's absence. McLouth signed a $10.75 million, two-year contract with the Nationals as a free agent this offseason.

McLouth is hitting .118 - four hits in 34 at-bats - with one RBI in 2014. He homered Sunday against the Padres while starting in Harper's place.

Harper's injury is only the latest in a string to key players for the Nationals, and he joins two other members of the everyday lineup who also happen to be middle-of-the-order hitters - third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and catcher Wilson Ramos - along with a key offseason addition to their starting rotation - right-hander Doug Fister - on the disabled list.

Ramos broke a bone in his left wrist on opening day, and Zimmerman broke his right thumb on April 12 while diving into a bag, similar to Harper. Fister has been sidelined since spring training with a back muscle injury.

Report: Seattle, Thomas agree on extension

RENTON, Wash. (AP) Earl Thomas is the latest member of the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks to be locked up for the future.

The best free safety in the NFL is getting rewarded quite well.

Thomas and the Seahawks reached agreement Monday on a $40 million, four-year contract extension with just over $27.7 million guaranteed, according to two people with knowledge of the agreement. They spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because there had been no announcement from the team.

The agreement was first reported by

Thomas, a two-time first-team All-Pro, could have gone into the 2014 season with free agency on the horizon. Instead, Seattle made sure to keep the most important cog of its defense through the 2018 season.

It's the latest move in a strong offseason for the defending champions. While there were losses in free agency and difficult roster decisions with expensive veterans released, Seattle re-signed defensive end Michael Bennett before free agency began, then locked up coach Pete Carroll with an extension through 2016.

The debate was whether Seattle could get a long-term deal done with either Thomas or cornerback Richard Sherman before either became a free agent after the 2014 season.

Thomas' deal is finished and the Seahawks can turn their attention toward trying to get a deal done with Sherman and solidifying three-fourths of the top secondary in the NFL for years to come.

Strong safety Kam Chancellor is already signed through the 2017 season.

Thomas was Seattle's second first-round pick in the 2010 draft, the first with Carroll and general manager John Schneider leading the franchise.

It's turned out to be one of the most important selections the team has made since starting a makeover with the duo in charge of molding the Seahawks into a championship club.

"Earl is as serious a competitor as you could ever hope to be around. He is in it, and he's on it and dialed in," Carroll said before the Super Bowl.

Thomas was Seattle's second-leading tackler last season and added five interceptions, but it's what his presence allows the Seahawks to do defensively that underscores his value. His speed in coverage and recognition in the secondary are among the best in the game. Much of what Seattle wants to do defensively is predicated on having Thomas on the roster.

At one point early in his career, Carroll had to threaten Thomas with benching because he was trying to do too much. Thomas was getting out of position and being undisciplined in his assignments.

As he matured, those mistakes became harder to find. Thomas' recognition of what opponents were trying to run became so good that he could play alone in the back of Seattle's defense.

Often this past season, the Seahawks were able to move Chancellor closer to the line of scrimmage and ask Thomas to patrol the back end by himself. He did that job at an elite level and earned his second straight All-Pro selection.

"In this defense, I think me and Kam do a lot. Sometimes dirty work, sometimes a lot of game-changing plays," Thomas said during Super Bowl week. "Everybody on the defense understands that. That's why this defense is so compatible with each other. It's selfless guys.

"We're going to put everything on the line for each other. Love is the highest frequency we have and we understand that, and that's what it's all about. When you're filled up with gratitude, it's a genuine appreciation for everybody around you. That's the way I love it."

Thomas has 15 career interceptions in the regular season and two more in the playoffs. Thomas will still only be 29 years old when his new deal expires after the 2018 season.

Rivers declines chance to speak with Sterling

LOS ANGELES (AP) Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers said he declined a chance to speak with owner Donald Sterling, who is alleged to have made racist comments in a recorded conversation.

"I was asked, do I need to talk with Donald, and I passed, quite honestly," Rivers said Monday. "I don't think right now is the time or the place, for me, at least. I just took a pass."

Sterling is purported to have told a woman not to bring black people to his games or associate with them.

"Yeah, I believe he said those things. But I still want to make sure," Rivers said during a conference call. "As far as believing those things? I heard what he said. Until someone tells me differently, you usually listen to what people say. I haven't given him his due process. I haven't given him an opportunity to explain himself and quite honestly right now I don't want him to. I want to wait for that further judgment."

The coach canceled practice Monday, a day after a 118-97 loss to the Golden State Warriors that evened their playoff series at 2-2.

"I just felt like they needed to breathe. They've been inundated with this," Rivers said.

Still, he said pretty much the entire team was at the club's practice facility.

"I'll go down and say hi to them and talk to them, make sure they're in the right place. Right now it's more than basketball. This is a non-basketball decision that I thought I had to make and I thought it was right decision. If you get your life better, then you can probably do your work better. They need to do that."

Game 5 is Tuesday night in Los Angeles.

"These last 48 hours or so have been really hard for our players and everyone," Rivers said. "I'd just like to reiterate how disappointed I am in the comments attributed to our owner. I can't tell you how upset I am, our players are."

Warriors coach Mark Jackson suggested that Clippers fans should boycott the game.

"I believe if it was me, I wouldn't come to the game," Jackson said. "I believe the fans, the loudest statement that they can make as fans is to not show up to the game. ... To me, it will make the noise of it not being tolerated. That this is a different time. It's unfortunate, and we cannot allow someone with these feelings to profit."

Rivers said he knew Jackson was speaking from his heart and that everyone has their opinion.

"I don't share that. I hope it's packed and people are cheering for us, the players. And they were cheering for the players before this happened. But if they feel differently, who can say they're wrong? And I'm not the one that's going to say that, I can tell you that."

Rivers said it's still to be determined whether he or a player will address the crowd.

"Again, we don't know the right answer," Rivers said. "We want to do right here. We want to make the best decisions here. If we feel that's something will help our fans, then it will be done. If we feel it's something they don't need, we won't do it. The tickets have already been sold. The fans, they're in a dilemma as well. We want them to cheer for their players and their team. Because it's still their players and their team, and it will be their players and their team. I think from what I get from the fans I've heard from, that's how they feel, like, `This is my team, these are my players I'm cheering for, and that's not going to change.' I hope that continues."

Rivers said the controversy has been tough on his players.

"What other players are going through `Should I be playing' thoughts in the middle of a playoff series? I sympathize for my players. They didn't sign on for this. Yet here they are and they're in the middle of it and they have to deal with it. They didn't do anything wrong and they're in the middle of it, and they didn't ask to be. I feel terrible for them. I'm going to try to do whatever I can to make them OK."

Advertisers back away from NBA's LA Clippers

NEW YORK (AP) - Advertisers are backing away from the Los Angeles Clippers after racist comments attributed to the NBA team's owner.

Mercedes-Benz USA said Monday its dealerships are ending their sponsorship of the Clippers in the wake of comments allegedly made by the team's owner, Donald Sterling. Used car dealership chain CarMax, airline Virgin America, and the Chumash Casino Resort are doing the same.

Four other sponsors, Kia Motors America, energy drink maker Red Bull, hardwood flooring retailer Lumber Liquidators and Yokohama Tire, said they are suspending their advertising and sponsorship activities with the team. Yet another sponsor, insurer State Farm, said it "will be taking a pause in our relationship with the organization."

The Clippers declined to comment.

The incident highlights the risks that companies face when they make sponsorship deals. The deals can bring goodwill when things are going well, but brands face a tough spot when they link themselves with teams or athletes that become mired in controversy. Advertising experts say that once the bad news is out there, a negative association could have already been made in the eyes of consumers.

Allen Adamson, managing director of research firm Landor Associates, said there's little benefit for brands to stick with their sponsorship deals in this instance.

"There's some benefit in moving quickly," he said. "You can always renew your sponsorship later, but the longer you're linking your brand to a brand in trouble, the higher the risk."

Paul Swangard, managing director at Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon, said sponsorships like Carmax and Virgin America can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to millions, depending on terms of the agreement. He said many brands might be waiting to see what happens at the NBA's press conference on Tuesday.

"The early indication is that this could be incredibly damaging to the franchise if things aren't dealt with quickly," he said

This isn't the first time companies have had to consider whether to keep a sponsorship deal after a controversy erupts. Nike and other sponsors dropped disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong after his doping scandal. But many sponsors stood by golfer Tiger Woods after he acknowledged infidelities and went to rehab for sex addiction.

Sterling has come under fire for comments he is alleged to have made in a recorded conversation with a woman. Portions of that conversation were released over the weekend by TMZ and Deadspin, leading to a national outcry. The NBA is planning a news conference Tuesday on its investigation into Sterling.

"CarMax finds the statements attributed to the Clippers' owner completely unacceptable," Richmond, Va.-based CarMax Inc. said Monday in an emailed statement. "While we have been a proud Clippers sponsor for 9 years and support the team, fans and community, these statements necessitate that CarMax end its sponsorship."

Bloomington, Ill.-based State Farm also described the remarks as offensive and said it will monitor the situation as the facts are sorted out. It will continue to run its Born to Assist ad campaign, which began in December 2012 and features Clippers point guard Chris Paul as himself and a fictional, mustachioed insurance-selling twin, Cliff Paul. State Farm said that campaign is part of its overall sponsorship of the NBA.

Kia's suspension of sponsorship and ads with the Clippers does not affect its deal with Clippers star Blake Griffin, who appears in commercials for the car company.

NBA announcement coming on Sterling amid fallout

Outrage over racist comments purportedly made by embattled Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling hit a crescendo Monday, with corporations pulling their sponsorship deals with the team and coach Doc Rivers saying he believes "a very strong message" is coming from the NBA in response to the scandal.

That message will come Tuesday, when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver holds a news conference in New York where he could reveal sanctions the league will impose on Sterling.

A suspension of indefinite length and hefty fine - Silver can issue one of up to $1 million without approval of owners - are possible options. However, it remains unclear how far Silver's powers can reach at this point, even though the NBA constitution gives the commissioner's office a lot of latitude to protect the game's best interest.

Many players simply want Sterling ousted, with Lakers star Kobe Bryant tweeting he "should not continue owning the clippers."

"It needs to be handled in the right way," Rivers said. "I don't even know what the right way is. I have a hunch. But I don't know."

The Clippers had Monday off, with Rivers saying he wanted his team to try and regroup mentally after a whirlwind weekend where Sterling's alleged comments were revealed, first by TMZ and then in another recording posted on Deadspin. The NBA has not said if it was able to authenticate the tapes, but Sterling's wife told KABC-TV in Los Angeles that it was her husband on the recordings.

Rivers, who has declined a chance to speak with his boss, believes Sterling is on the tape.

"I can't tell you how upset I am," Rivers said.

Tuesday is shaping up as a potentially seismic day for the Clippers, in both the short- and long-term. Rivers' team will host Golden State on Tuesday - about 8 1/2 hours after Silver is scheduled to speak - in a crucial Game 5 of the teams' Western Conference first-round series, knotted now at two games apiece.

Meanwhile, the Clippers are already taking hits in other ways over Sterling's alleged comments.

CarMax and Virgin America announced they are ending their sponsorships of the team, and Kia Motors America plans to suspend its advertising and sponsorship activities with the franchise. Insurer State Farm said it "will be taking a pause in our relationship with the organization," though the popular ad campaign featuring Clippers guard Chris Paul will continue, as will the company's initiatives with the NBA.

Los Angeles-based AQUAhydrate - launched by rap mogul Sean "P Diddy" Combs and actor Mark Wahlberg - also said it was suspending its sponsorship "in the wake of Sterling's alleged intolerable comments ... until the NBA completes its investigation."

Losing sponsors would not seem to be an issue that only hurts the Clippers, either. It could potentially impact bottom lines across the league because of revenue sharing and Basketball Related Income, or BRI.

"The opportunity before Commissioner Silver to take an uncompromising stand against any form of prejudice in the NBA is unprecedented in the league," said Marc H. Morial, the president and CEO of the National Urban League.

The NAACP said it has decided not to honor Sterling with a previously announced lifetime achievement award from its Los Angeles chapter. The NAACP said it also plans to return an undisclosed amount of donations the Clippers owner has made to the organization.

The Donald T. Sterling Charitable Foundation gave $5,000 to the NAACP's Los Angeles chapter in 2010, according to tax records, and Sterling was listed as his foundation's only contributor. There were no records of further NAACP contributions in 2011 or 2012, the latest years for which records were available.

Several team owners have condemned the alleged remarks in recent days, including Charlotte's Michael Jordan, Miami's Micky Arison, Washington's Ted Leonsis and Indiana's Herb Simon.

Regardless of what happens Tuesday, the saga surely will continue. And if Sterling is suspended, someone would likely have to be appointed to run the team, if even on an interim basis. Plus, there are numerous legal issues at play, including whether the recording was legally made and the matter of Sterling's wife suing the woman purported to be on the tape with Sterling.

Those issues, however, are not expected to play an immediate role in how the league decides to proceed.

"Clearly, there's things that have happened, but I don't know what they could have done in the past," Rivers said. "I know now that there seems to be proof that they can do something now. And so I'm not worried about the past - I'm worried about now and how we handle this. I think this is going to be handled the right way. I really have a lot of faith in Adam and the league."

Hall of Fame coach Jack Ramsay dies at 89

MIAMI (AP) Jack Ramsay served his country in World War II, coached Portland to the NBA title, was enshrined in the basketball Hall of Fame and became one of the game's most respected and revered broadcasters.

His life was, by any measure, complete.

"Our father led the greatest life that one could lead," the Ramsay family said in a statement released Monday, hours after the man that just about everyone in basketball called "Dr. Jack" died in Naples, Fla., at the age of 89.

No cause of death was announced, but Ramsay had fought several forms of cancer for many years and more recently was diagnosed with a marrow syndrome. Ramsay ended his broadcasting career with ESPN last year because of health problems and word came last week that he had been placed into hospice care.

"From his coaching tenure to his broadcast work, Dr. Jack left an indelible mark on every facet of our game and on every person he came in contact with, including me," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said.

Added Miami Heat president Pat Riley, who was close to Ramsay for many years: "This is a very sad day for basketball, not just professional basketball, but the entire basketball world. The game has lost a giant."

Ramsay coached in the NBA for parts of 21 seasons before embarking on a second career as an NBA analyst, eventually working for ESPN. He was diagnosed with melanoma in 2004 and later battled growths and tumors that spread to his legs, lungs and brain, as well as prostate cancer.

Through it all, his affinity for fitness never wavered.

Ramsay, who competed in at least 20 triathlons during his life, worked out regularly into his 80s, even as he battled the various forms of cancer. He often spoke of his love of swimming in the Gulf of Mexico. Even in his final year as a broadcaster, it wasn't uncommon for friends to marvel at how well he was moving about.

"Jack was a great man," Indiana Pacers president Larry Bird said, "and I don't use that term lightly."

Ramsay also spent several years late in his life caring for his wife, Jean, who was diagnosed in 2001 with Alzheimer's disease. She died in 2010.

"He was that rarest of men with a unique style that was inspirational and motivational about basketball and life itself," said Paul Allen, who owns the Trail Blazers.

Ramsay enjoyed enormous popularity within the league. To commemorate his 89th birthday this year, Portland coach Terry Stotts wore a loud checkered jacket and open-collared shirt for a Blazers game - a nod to Ramsay's style of dress when he coached the club.

"Jack's life is a beacon which guides us all," Bill Walton, who was on Ramsay's 1977 title team in Portland, told USA Today in 2007. "He is our moral compass, our spiritual inspiration. He represents the conquest of substance over hype. He is a true saint of circumstance."

John T. Ramsay was born Feb. 21, 1925, in Philadelphia and enrolled at Saint Joseph's in 1942, eventually becoming captain of the basketball team for his senior season. He earned a doctorate in education from the University of Pennsylvania in 1949, which explains the "Dr. Jack" moniker.

Ramsay's began coaching Saint Joseph's in 1955. He was wildly successful there, going 234-72 and taking the Hawks to the NCAA tournament seven times and the Final Four in 1961.

"Great man," Orlando Magic guard Jameer Nelson, who played at Saint Joseph's a generation after Ramsay departed, wrote on Twitter. "The Greatest Hawk ever."

To Ramsay, the most significant part of the Saint Joseph's years was this: "I met my wife there," he said.

He was a founding father of sorts for the growth of the Big 5, the annual Philadelphia basketball series involving Saint Joseph's, La Salle, Penn, Villanova and Temple.

"The Big 5 was clearly the biggest thing any of those schools were involved in at that point," Ramsay said in a 2004 interview.

Ramsay became coach of the Philadelphia 76ers in 1968, joined the Buffalo Braves in 1972 and brought his craft to Portland in 1976. With a team featuring Walton, Lionel Hollins and Maurice Lucas, he delivered an NBA championship in his first season, beating the 76ers in six games for the title.

"It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and one that I will cherish forever," Ramsay said in 1997.

Indeed, that was his lone NBA title. Walton got hurt the next year, crippling Portland's chances of getting back to championship form during that era. Ramsay coached the Blazers for nine more seasons without another trip to the Finals. He spent the final three years of his NBA coaching career in Indiana, resigning from the Pacers in 1988 after the team started 0-7.

Ramsay was 864-783 in his NBA career and in 1996 was honored as one of the league's all-time top 10 coaches. And when Micky Arison bought the Heat, the first person he turned to was Ramsay, who wound up long being considered part of the franchise's family and even accompanied them to the White House to celebrate winning an NBA title.

"He will be sorely missed by us all," Arison said.

When he left the Pacers, Ramsay carefully did not use the word "retire," and began working as a television analyst on 76ers games. Eventually, he worked on Heat television broadcasts for eight seasons before moving full time to ESPN for radio and TV commentating before the 2000-01 season.

"So grateful that his path crossed ours," his former Heat broadcast partner Eric Reid wrote on Twitter early Monday. "Hall of Fame coach and man."

Ramsay's funeral is Thursday.

Ducks beat Stars 5-4 in OT to clinch series in 6

DALLAS (AP) Nick Bonino scored 2:47 into overtime, after getting one of Anaheim's two goals late in regulation, and the Ducks beat the Dallas Stars 5-4 in Game 6 on Sunday night to clinch the first-round series.

The Ducks scored twice in the final 2:10 of regulation to force overtime for the first time in the series.

In OT, Bonino skated around the from behind the net and got a puck over Kari Lehtonen's left shoulder to get the Ducks within 4-3.

Anaheim got the overtime-forcing goal with 24 seconds left after a wild scramble in front of the net with an extra skater and Lehtonen without his stick.

When the puck trickled free, Devante Smith-Pelly pushed into the open gap for his second goal of the game for a 4-4 tie.