National Sports Headlines from NBC Sports

Thunder's Ibaka may be available vs Spurs

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) The San Antonio Spurs never believed Serge Ibaka was out for the Western Conference finals, even after the Thunder said they expected him to miss the rest of the playoffs with a calf injury.

Looks like the Spurs might have been on to something. The Thunder said Friday that their defensive standout now is day-to-day after his strained left calf showed improved movement and stability and a significant decrease in swelling. The Thunder have missed Ibaka badly as San Antonio has raced to a 2-0 lead in the series, and his possible return gives the Thunder hope as they prepare for Game 3 on Sunday in Oklahoma City.

"His progress in the last several days has been surprising," Thunder general manager Sam Presti said. "I don't think any of us thought we'd be standing here talking about this. We're grateful that we are."

Well, maybe no one with the Thunder expected it. The Spurs certainly did.

"We knew he would be back, and that's good," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "Nobody would wish that on anybody to miss a playoff. We've had guys miss playoffs before. It's obviously a downer. If he gets back in - and I'm sure he will, as I've said from the beginning - I think it's great."

Ibaka was injured in Game 6 against the Los Angeles Clippers, a Western Conference semifinals series-clinching win on May 15. He is averaging 12.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in the playoffs while shooting 62 percent from the field.

Presti did not say if Ibaka would be available for Game 3, just that he could not be ruled out. Presti said he felt it best to be forthcoming with the change in the situation.

"It would be convenient to not provide the information, and if he were ever healthy enough to play in a game, to release that an hour before the game," he said. "But in this case, we don't think that was the way to handle it, because previously, we had deemed him out. And we can't deem him out."

Ibaka, a 6-foot-10 forward, led the league in blocked shots during the regular season and erased many of Oklahoma City's defensive mistakes. Without having to deal with Oklahoma City's primary rim protector, San Antonio scored 66 points in the paint on 67 percent shooting in a 122-105 win in Game 1. The Spurs followed up with 54 points in the paint on 66 percent shooting in a 112-77 blowout in Game 2.

Ibaka also provides balance for Oklahoma City's offense with his mid-range jumper and an ability to finish close to the hoop when defenses focus on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. "Big difference," Spurs guard Danny Green said. "Obviously, one of the best defensive players in the league. Alters everything around the basket, rebounds, and also, of course, he can knock down shots. So you've got to respect him. Hopefully, if he does come back he's not as fresh, he's a little rusty."

San Antonio said it will not make adjustments based on the news.

"We're going to try to do the same thing," Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. "It's not like we're going to change the game plan for him. For sure, he's going to give them another big body that can be a presence in the paint, block shots and make some jumpers, but our idea will be the same."

Presti said Oklahoma City's medical staff would like to see Ibaka go through game-like conditions before allowing him to return. So far, he has done low-impact training - light drills and light shooting. Conditioning could be an issue and even if he returns it's unclear how much he would play.

"We're still focusing on trying to beat the Spurs without him playing," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "That has not changed. I know he's listed as day-to-day, but he is out until I'm told differently."

Thunder center Kendrick Perkins said Ibaka could not have erased all the defensive mistakes the Thunder made in Game 2. The Spurs shot 50 percent from the field and made 9 of 23 3-pointers.

"He's a key guy, but at the end of the day, we shouldn't be getting beat this bad," Perkins said. "In my opinion, even if we would have Serge the last game, the way we played, we still would have lost."

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AP freelance writer Raul Dominguez in San Antonio contributed to this report.

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Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP.

Sale retires 18 of 19, White Sox beat Yankees 3-2

CHICAGO -- Chris Sale retired 18 of 19 batters over six scoreless innings in his return from an arm injury, and the Chicago White Sox beat the New York Yankees 3-2 on Thursday night.

The left-hander retired the first 17 hitters after missing more than a month because of a flexor strain in his pitching arm, and Chicago hung on after New York's Mark Teixeira singled in two runs against Ronald Belisario in the ninth.

The White Sox couldn't have asked for more of their ace.

An All-Star the past two seasons, Sale (4-0) struck out 10 and didn't even come close to allowing a runner until Zoilo Almonte - a .167 hitter entering the game - lined a single to center with two out in the sixth.

Sale then struck out Jacoby Ellsbury and called it a night after throwing 86 pitches.

Zach Putnam retired the side in the seventh, and Daniel Webb worked a perfect eighth before Belisario nearly blew it in the ninth.

He gave up a one-out single to pinch hitter Ichiro Suzuki and walked Derek Jeter. After the runners moved up on a passed ball, Teixeira drove them in with a single up the middle. Belisario then struck out Soriano looking at a 3-2 pitch for his second save in three attempts.

David Phelps (1-1) was a tough-luck loser for New York, allowing two runs over seven innings. He struck out eight and walked one. But one rough inning was the difference.

The White Sox scored two with two out in the second on an RBI double by Alejandro De Aza and run-scoring single by Adam Eaton to go up 2-0, and the way Sale was pitching that was enough.

He had the Yankees lunging and looking at pitches on the corner and at the knees, doing everything but make solid contact. He struck out the side in the first and third innings along with the first two batters in the fourth - not bad for a guy who hadn't pitched since April 17.

In that game, Sale tossed one-hit ball over seven innings against Boston. He felt sore the next day after throwing 127 pitches and wound up going on the disabled list on April 22.

The White Sox added to their lead in the eighth, when Gordon Beckham led off with a double high off the right-field wall against Alfredo Aceves and scored on Adam Dunn's two-out single.

NOTES: Yankees manager Joe Girardi said RHP Michael Pineda, recovering from a back injury, will throw to hitters on Saturday. "He's progressing like we want," Girardi said. "Everything's going according to plan." Pineda was suspended 10 days for having pine tar on his neck in a game at Boston and then injured a muscle in his upper back pitching a simulated game April 29, during his ban. ... Girardi also said he thinks reliever Shawn Kelley will "try to do something next week." The right-hander had a setback in his recovery from a back injury when he woke up feeling stiff Tuesday after playing catch at Yankee Stadium the previous day.

Galchenyuk nets OT goal, Canadiens beat Rangers

NEW YORK (AP) Alex Galchenyuk tipped in a pass at the right post 1:12 into overtime, and the Montreal Canadiens overcame a late tying goal and beat the New York Rangers 3-2 in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals Thursday night.

Montreal cut New York's series lead to 2-1, and can tie it Sunday night at Madison Square Garden before heading home for Game 5.

Galchenyuk, playing only his second game of these playoffs after returning from an injury Monday, deflected a feed from Tomas Plekanec to win it.

The Rangers tied it with 28.1 seconds left in regulation on Chris Kreider's goal.

Dustin Tokarski was sharp throughout in his second NHL playoff game in place of injured goalie Carey Price, making 35 saves.

Johnson wins first pole of the year at Charlotte

CONCORD, N.C. (AP) Jimmie Johnson is hoping he's on the verge of turning around a disappointing season.

The six-time Sprint Cup champion won the pole Thursday night for the Coca-Cola 600, turning a lap at 194.911 mph at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the third round of NASCAR's knockout qualifying format.

It was the first pole of the year for Johnson, who has yet to win a race this season.

"It certainly shows that we're going to be strong this weekend," Johnson said. "I don't know that it sends the same message that winning two or three races will send. But I would love to rattle off two or three wins and have people fear the No. 48 as they have in the past. I don't think a pole position does that to the garage area, but you have to start somewhere."

Brad Keselowski qualified second and will start on the front row for the seventh time this season. Kasey Kahne was third, followed by Danica Patrick and Clint Bowyer.

Sprint Cup points leader Jeff Gordon's struggles in practice runs carried over to qualifying. He didn't make it out of the first round of qualifying and will start 27th - one spot behind last week's All-Star race winner, Jamie McMurray.

Johnson has won six Sprint Cup races at the Charlotte, twice from the pole.

He said he isn't concerned that he hasn't won a race this season, which would secure a spot in the Chase for the Cup. What has bothered him is the lack of consistency.

"We have been close to some wins and been pathetic at other tracks," Johnson said.

Johnson was asked if he agrees with the notion that some detractors have enjoyed the fact that he hasn't won yet.

"I think there are some people getting satisfaction out of it," Johnson said. "But if I win, I win too much. If I don't win, they say you aren't winning enough. So it doesn't matter what I do, I can't win."

Johnson was a non-factor in the All-Star race last week at the track in his bid for a three-peat. He said his crew changed the setup in his car this past week, borrowing some advice from teammate Kasey Kahne.

"We learned some things from last week," Johnson said.

Keselowski said he was bummed he got beat out for the pole - again.

It was the sixth time this season he has qualified second.

"It's like kissing your sister," Keselowski said.

Patrick will start in the top 10 for the third straight week. She was fast throughout the qualifying session with the top lap in the second round of 194.595.

But her lap in third round was more than one second slower.

Joey Logano, who is off to the best start of his young career with two wins this season, will start eighth and will be considered one of the favorites on Sunday.

Logano has already won twice this season and has historically run well at Charlotte with three top-five and six top-10 finishes in 10 career Cup starts at Charlotte.

Track temperatures reached 106 degrees at the start of qualifying, but cooled significantly as the sun set behind the grandstand and the speeds picked up dramatically.

Drivers had problems in the first two turns early in qualifying complaining their cars were tight, and had to adjust on the clock.

Under the new format all cars are allowed 25 minutes to qualify with the top 24 based advancing to 10-minute session in round two. From that group, the top 12 advanced to the final, five-minute round.

"The great thing about the new qualifying sessions is there are multiple opportunities to get it right and that is a good thing," Keselowski said. "That is why it is so much fun."

AP Source: Cavs want to interview Alvin Gentry

CLEVELAND (AP) Lucky in the NBA lottery, the Cavaliers are hoping their good fortune continues as they look for a new coach.

The team asked the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday for permission to speak with assistant coach Alvin Gentry about Cleveland's coaching vacancy, a person familiar with the situation told the Associated Press.

Gentry, who has coached four other franchises, has not yet set up a meeting with the Cavs, said the person who spoke on condition of anonymity because the team is not commenting on its search. The sides are working through some details, and are expected to meet in the next few days.

Earlier this week, the Cavs defied long odds to win the draft lottery for the second year in a row and third time in four years. Cleveland is seeking its third coach in three years after Mike Brown was fired - for the second time by owner Dan Gilbert - last week following a 33-49 season.

Gentry worked previously in Phoenix with Cavaliers general manager David Griffin, who said there is no timetable to hire a new coach.

"We do not feel this is a race," he said. "This is not about being first. This is about getting it right. At the same time, if the right candidate did meet the criteria that we set out and is available and is as interested in us as we are in them, we would act on it at the time it presented itself."

The Cleveland Plain Dealer was first to report the Cavs' intentions to interview Gentry.

The Cavs are not limiting themselves to coaches with pro experience and are expected to reach out to college coaches.

Having the No. 1 overall pick has certainly made them a more attractive destination. However, Gilbert's penchant for firing GMs and coaches would have to make any candidate at least hesitant about coming to Cleveland.

Brown was told to make the Cavs better defensively, and did so as the team went from last in the league in defensive field-goal percentage to 12th. Still, that wasn't enough as Cleveland missed the playoffs for the fourth year in a row.

Gentry has solid qualifications and is believed to be a candidate for other openings.

He has a 335-370 record in 12 seasons with Miami, Detroit, the Clippers and Phoenix. He led the Pistons and Suns to the postseason.

Griffin said he hopes to find a coach more attuned to his offensive roots. With the team expected to land one of the best players in what is considered a deep draft along with All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving and guard Dion Waiters, the Cavs could have the core for a high-scoring team.

"I've had a primarily offensive based focus with the people I was raised by," Griffin said. "And I think it's fair to say the Cavaliers have had a defensive focus. What excited me most about coming here is that I believe you find the truth in the middle. No franchise that's incredibly well run is all one thing. We need to find a way to speak to the best of all parts of the offensive background I know, the defensive background that's dyed in the wool of this franchise.

"Ownership believes in defense, I believe in offense, and there's a truth in the middle. We're going to find that."

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AP Sports Writer Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis contributed to this report.

Dodgers release Olivo after minor league brawl

NEW YORK (AP) Miguel Olivo was released by the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday, two days after biting off a piece of Triple-A Albuquerque teammate Alex Guerrero's left ear during a dugout brawl.

Olivo, a veteran catcher, and Guerrero, the highly paid Cuban second base prospect, fought during the Isotopes game at Salt Lake on Tuesday. The Dodgers suspended Olivo on Wednesday while they conducted an investigation.

"It's unimaginable, inconceivable and unforgiveable," Dodgers President Stan Kasten said at Citi Field before the Dodgers played the New York Mets. "It's not a question of fault. The action of removing a part of someone's ear is unforgiveable. Fault is not an issue here."

The 27-year-old Guerrero had reconstructive surgery on his ear and there is no timetable for his return, Kasten said. The Dodgers executive said he was told Olivo bit off significant chunk from the top of Guerrero's ear.

"They didn't stich him up and say go out. This is plastic surgery," Kasten said. "They had to reattach that portion of the ear and regrow skin over it. It's quite complicated."

The Dodgers should have a better idea of how long Guerrero will be out by Sunday, Kasten said. After he is released from the Salt Lake City hospital, he will go to Los Angeles for the next phase of his recovery.

"He's going to be fine one way or another," Kasten said. "He's going to play."

Kasten said there was no decision yet on whether Guerrero will file criminal charges.

Olivo will not face discipline from the commissioner's office because the Dodgers terminated his contract. Under the collective bargaining agreement, either the club or Major League Baseball can discipline a player, not both.

Guerrero signed a $28 million, four-year deal with the Dodgers in October, and he was beaten out for the starting second base job by Dee Gordon in spring training.

He is hitting .376 with 10 home runs and 29 RBIs in the Pacific Coast League.

The fight happened in the dugout during the eighth inning of Albuquerque's 7-4 loss to Salt Lake, briefly delaying the game, and both players were removed from the lineup soon afterward.

The Los Angeles Times reported the disagreement began with Olivo getting upset that Guerrero failed to tag out a runner after a throw from Olivo, according to Guerrero's agent, Scott Boras. Replays showed Olivo charging Guerrero during a mound visit.

In his 13th big league season, Olivo has displayed a hot temper on the field before. He charged at Jose Reyes and missed with a wild punch during a dustup between the Marlins and Mets in the 2007 season.

The 35-year-old catcher appeared in eight games for the Dodgers this month. He was paid $110,000 in the minors and $800,000 while with the big league club.

Kasten said Olivo is scheduled to clear waivers Saturday. The Dodgers might then have to deal with the issue of whether they have to pay Olivo the remainder of his contract.

Olivo was sent down last week when A.J. Ellis came off the disabled.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said he hasn't thought about how the loss of Olivo, who was on the 40-man roster, affects the organizations depth at catcher.

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AP Sports Writer Beth Harris contributed to this report from Los Angeles.

Fielder facing season-ending neck surgery

Prince Fielder is expected to have neck surgery next week and miss the rest of the season.

Fielder has been out with a herniated disk in his neck, and surgery was recommended after a follow-up exam and another scan Thursday with Dr. Drew Dossett.

General manager Jon Daniels said the team would get second opinion about surgery, but were "expecting that to be confirmed."

Daniels said Dossett was tentatively scheduled to do a cervical fusion Tuesday. That operation has a typical recovery time of three to four months, and the GM said he anticipated Fielder being able to be fully recovered before spring training next year.

The Rangers already have a majors-high 13 players on the disabled list. Fielder will become the 14th when that move is made Friday.

Fielder had played in 547 consecutive games, then the longest active streak in the majors, before receiving a nerve root block injection Saturday to treat his neck. He had played all 162 games four of the past five seasons, and missed only one game in 2010.

Before that, the durable first baseman that turned 30 earlier this month hadn't missed a game since Sept. 14, 2010. The last time he had missed consecutive games was Aug. 24-25, 2007, while with Milwaukee.

Texas acquired Fielder last winter from Detroit in a trade for second baseman Ian Kinsler. Fielder is signed through 2020, the rest of the nine-year deal he signed with the Tigers after going there as a free agent for the 2012 season.

After the injection, Fielder took a couple of days off before an exam Monday. Daniels said the slugger's strength tested normal then and that his symptoms had largely gone away, so he was given clearance to resume baseball activity.

Fielder was initially listed in the lineup Tuesday night against Seattle, but was scratched more than three hours before the game after feeling weakness in his arm while taking swings in the batting cage. And he felt no better Wednesday.

"His symptoms have gotten worse," Daniels said Thursday, describing Fielder as frustrated for not feeling like himself and being able to help the team.

Daniels said he wasn't surprised by the news he got from Dossett on Thursday.

"Talking to (Fielder) and seeing him, you knew this was something that was bothering him," Daniels said. "We were hoping the injection could get him through the season, and sometimes you have that kind of response. The initial response was positive. But when he had the setback on Tuesday, we kind of felt this is where it was headed."

Daniels said there is a very high success rate for the kind of surgery Fielder will have.

"We're looking forward to seeing this guy healthy and doing what he can do," Daniels said. "It's more of a 2015 thing. We're going to miss him this year."

Fielder has hit .247 with three home runs and 16 RBIs in 42 games this season. The only time he has played fewer games was 39 as a rookie in 2005.

Indiana limits George to no contact in practice

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Pacers coach Frank Vogel says Paul George is feeling better after being diagnosed with a concussion.

It is still uncertain whether he will be ready to play Saturday night at Miami when the Eastern Conference finals resume with the series tied 1-1.

Indiana's two-time All-Star wore a red jersey and was limited to non-contact drills at Thursday's practice after getting injured in a collision with Miami's Dwyane Wade midway through the fourth quarter of Game 2, which Miami won 87-83.

Following the game, George told reporters he "blacked out" and had blurred vision when he was hit in the back of his head by Wade's knee - descriptions team doctors said they were unaware of when George returned to the court.

Based on those descriptions and further examination Wednesday, team doctors said George would be subject to the league's concussion protocol.

"There is a minimal contact requirement that he's got to do and be tested afterward," Vogel said, referring to NBA rules governing medical clearance.

George took shots Thursday and made a dunk before leaving the court. He was not available to reporters following practice.

Vogel made it clear that George only did light work and that he wasn't sure if the Pacers would have their top scorer for Game 3 - or even who he would put in the starting lineup if George couldn't play. In fact, Vogel said, the Pacers might not know that answer until Saturday.

"We are preparing for both (possibilities)," Vogel said. "I think we have guys that can fill in, certainly not play at Paul's level. But we would have to adjust the end result at the time, and I'm sure we will be able to do that."

The NBA's concussion policy states that once a player is diagnosed, he needs to be "held out of all activity until he is symptom-free at rest" and until neurological signs return to normal. George will have to go through tests of increasing exertion before being cleared.

The Pacers star remained face down after a play that resembled more of a football tackle than a scramble for a loose ball. Wade also remained down before limping to the bench.

George's teammates said they never imagined he had a head injury.

"I know he fell. I thought he hit his face, but like I said he was cool," power forward David West said. "I didn't know he was hurt."

Following a timeout, George and Wade both returned to the floor and finished the game. That prompted questions about whether Pacers doctors should have been more cautious with George and whether players are honest with team doctors in similar situations.

The NBA said Indiana followed league policy.

Point guard George Hill went through a similar experience in last year's Eastern Conference semifinals against New York, missing Game 5 before returning for Game 6. Hill said he believes George's return to practice, albeit limited, was an "encouraging" sign that George might play Saturday.

Hill said the toughest tests he had to pass were on the treadmill and on the court.

But he doesn't believe George provided incorrect information to the doctors so he could continue to play.

"He was honest at the time, he didn't feel anything until after and I think in that case your adrenaline is pushing so high that you just don't really realize until you actually sit down," Hill said. "I think he was very honest as to how he felt. I think our training staff did a great job asking questions."

UConn, Ollie ink $15 million, 5-year deal

STORRS, Conn. (AP) Connecticut basketball coach Kevin Ollie has agreed to a $15 million, five-year contract with the national champion Huskies, the university announced Thursday.

"It's a humbling experience to be around the UConn fans and the UConn family and to know that I am their basketball coach for the foreseeable future," Ollie said.

University President Susan Herbst said Ollie is the "right person" to lead the team.

The 41-year-old coach, who spent 13 years as an NBA journeyman before returning to his alma mater, has been linked to several NBA job openings, including with the Los Angeles Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers.

He is 52-18 in his seasons with the Huskies. He took over a team that was banned from the postseason in his first year due to past academic problems.

The Huskies went 8-1 this past postseason including its 6-0 run in the NCAA tournament.

The agreement runs through May 31, 2019.

Ollie's previous deal, worth about $7 million, runs through the end of the 2017-18 season. He made just over $1.6 million, with bonuses for the NCAA tournament run, last season.

He has made a point of preaching loyalty and family to his UConn players. From 1991-95, he was the school's point guard under Jim Calhoun. The Hall of Famer hired Ollie as an assistant in 2010 before hand-picking him as his successor when he retired in 2012.

Jets' Vick: 'Not an open competition' vs. Geno

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) The New York Jets' open quarterback competition might already be case closed.

At least, that's what Michael Vick thinks. As far as he's concerned, it's very clearly Geno Smith's job to lose.

"I'm wishing the best for Geno," Vick said Thursday during the team's first open media session this offseason. "I'm going to help him each and every day. I'm going to help him get better. My thing is, when it's my time to go out there and play, I've got to be ready when my number's called. And nothing can come in between that."

Vick, who signed with New York in March, acknowledged this situation is different from last offseason with Philadelphia when he headed into workouts competing with Nick Foles for the starting job.

"We knew, both of us coming in, that it was open competition, and the best guy was going to win the job," he said. "Whoever performed well throughout OTAs and preseason, that's just what it was. It was pretty much cut and dried. This situation ... it's kind of unique.

"But even though it's not an open competition, we're both competing every day and we both have to perform well each and every day."

Coach Rex Ryan and general manager John Idzik have said that Vick's presence is expected to help Smith with his development from his shaky rookie season. Idzik preaches competition at every position, although Ryan has said Smith will be tough to beat out.

"It's not been made public that it's an open competition," Vick said. "Chip Kelly made it known that it was an open competition (in Philadelphia). But we're still not going to change our approach. This is the NFL. You've got to perform. You've got to be at your best each and every day."

Vick still believes he can be a starter in the NFL, and was playing well in Kelly's up-tempo offense before a hamstring injury sidelined him. Foles took over and started the rest of the season.

Vick was forced into a mentor's role, and he drew praise from Kelly and the Eagles for how he handled the situation. He could find himself in the same situation this season.

"It's still tough right now, I'll admit," Vick said. "I won't lie. Because deep down, you always want to be a starter. You always feel like you're starting. That's just the competitive nature in me. And hopefully, that opportunity will come again one day and I've just got to keep working for it."

Despite all that, both Vick and Smith will be closely watched from now through training camp. If the two perform at about the same level, Vick is fairly certain of the outcome.

"Yeah, I would assume Geno would be the starter," he said. "Geno's making great strides."

Smith isn't taking anything for granted, even if Vick already sees him as No. 1. The second-year quarterback knows he's got a long way to go after a season in which he threw 12 touchdown passes and was intercepted 21 times.

He finished with a flourish, though, helping the Jets win three of their last four games and going without a turnover in the final two.

"Mentally, I won't change," Smith said. "I'll compete as if I'm the last guy on the depth chart trying to make this team. I think that's what makes me better and that's the way I work, and I've always done that. The biggest difference is my familiarity with the offense, knowing my protections, not trying to come in and learn everything on the go.

"Having 16 games under my belt is really going to pay off for me."

Smith entered last spring in a competition with Mark Sanchez, but was thrust into the starting job when Sanchez was lost to a season-ending shoulder injury in the preseason. It was on-the-job training for Smith, who flashed at times but often looked very much like an inexperienced rookie.

He enters this year's competition as the incumbent, which often means that player starts with the lead - something Smith refuses to consider.

"I don't put my mind in that position," he said. "I try to work as if I'm the underdog. Whether I'm named the starter or not, that's the way that I work. Like I said, that's something that helps me, having that constant edge, having that chip on my shoulder, just working extremely hard every single day to get better."

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

50 senators to NFL: Change Redskins' racist name

WASHINGTON (AP) Half the U.S. Senate urged NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Thursday to change the Washington Redskins' name, saying it is a racist slur and the time is ripe to replace it.

In one letter, 49 senators cited the NBA's quick action recently to ban Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life after he was heard on an audio recording making offensive comments about blacks. They said Goodell should formally push to rename the Redskins.

"We urge you and the National Football League to send the same clear message as the NBA did: that racism and bigotry have no place in professional sports," read the letter, which did not use the word "Redskins."

Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, wrote his own letter saying he doesn't believe that retaining the Redskin name "is appropriate in this day and age." He described himself as "one of your great fans for both the game and you personally."

The letters come at a time of growing pressure to change the team name, with statements in recent months from President Barack Obama, lawmakers of both parties and civil rights groups.

Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has refused to change the name, citing tradition. The franchise has been known as the Redskins since 1933, when it played in Boston.

Last month, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., took to the Senate floor to say Snyder should "do what is morally right" and change the name. Thursday's letters were aimed directly at Goodell.

In a written response, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said "diversity and inclusion" have long been a focus of the NFL.

"The intent of the team's name has always been to present a strong, positive and respectful image," McCarthy said. "The name is not used by the team or the NFL in any other context, though we respect those that view it differently."

Reid and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., led the letter-writing effort. All senators on the letter are Democrats. Cantwell spokesman Jared Leopold said Republicans were not asked to participate.

Cantwell later said on the Senate floor that she was inviting Republicans to sign the letter or write their own.

"I'm convinced that if each member of this body speaks on this issue and is forceful in their resolve, that we can help initiate change," she said.

Democrats not signing the letter were Tim Kaine and Mark Warner of nearby Virginia, where the team's headquarters are; Mark Pryor of Arkansas, in a tight re-election race this year; and Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, two of their party's more moderate lawmakers.

The senators noted that tribal organizations representing more than 2 million Native Americans across the U.S. have said they want the Redskins name dropped.

Despite federal laws protecting their identity, "Every Sunday during football season, the Washington, D.C., football team mocks their culture," they wrote.

"The NFL can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur," the letter said.

Kansas St sticking by Romero transfer decision

Kansas State is standing by its controversial decision to deny a transfer request for talented guard Leticia Romero in a case that has drawn national interest.

Romero, an All-Big 12 freshman from Spain, sought a release from her scholarship after the school fired Deb Patterson, the coach who had recruited her. Once denied, she took her case before an appeals committee last month that also turned down her request without providing a reason.

In a letter that surfaced Wednesday, athletic director John Currie indicated he was concerned that there was tampering involved with Romero's decision to leave the school, and that members of the former staff members may have been "shopping" her in return for coaching positions.

Patterson and former assistants Kamie Ethridge, Kelly Moylan and Shalee Lehning have since been hired by Northern Colorado, with Ethridge to serve as the head coach of the program.

Currie told university administrator Pat Bosco in the letter, first obtained by The Manhattan Mercury, that he spoke at length with Romero about the tampering concerns and "she was direct that this was not the case." Romero also told Currie she was not going to Northern Colorado.

Currie also said that he spoke with new Kansas State coach Jeff Mittie, and that Mittie believed it would be in the best interests of the program if Romero was allowed to transfer.

"Although it is unprecedented," Currie wrote, "I believe that it is in this student-athlete's best interest for the committee to reconvene to consider this new information and potentially approve her request for a conditional transfer release."

Kansas state officials have declined to comment on the case, citing student privacy laws. But in a statement late Wednesday, vice president Jeffrey Morris maintained the appeals committee's ruling is "final and binding, and there is no university procedure to re-examine one of those decisions.

"Thus, the university process concludes with the appeals committee's decision."

The school's decision has been lambasted by critics ranging from Dick Vitale to fellow college basketball analyst Jay Bilas, who has tweeted several times in Romero's support.

Romero recently retained Alabama attorney Donald Jackson to represent her in the case.

Until she is granted a release, Romero is barred from receiving a scholarship at another Division I university for a year and prohibited from having any contact with another coach.

Kansas State's policy states that "except for the most compelling of circumstances, which place an undue burden on the student athlete, it is the policy of the department of intercollegiate athletics not to grant a release for the purposes of a transfer or provide the one-time transfer exception."

Yet, just in the last few years, Kansas State has approved multiple transfers. Point guard Angel Rodriguez secured his release prior to last season and wound up at Miami, while quarterback Daniel Sams secured a condition release to transfer closing to his home in Louisiana.

Romero averaged a team-leading 14.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.9 assists last season, the lone bright spot in an otherwise dismal season. The Wildcats finished 11-19 overall, 5-13 in the Big 12, and lost in overtime to rival Kansas in the conference tournament.

Spurs roll to 2-0 lead with 112-77 rout of Thunder

SAN ANTONIO (AP) Tony Parker scored 22 points, Danny Green made seven 3-pointers and added 21, and the San Antonio Spurs used a dominant third quarter to decimate the Oklahoma City Thunder 112-77 on Wednesday night, rolling to a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals.

Tim Duncan added 14 points and 12 rebounds, and Manu Ginobili and Boris Diaw had 11 points apiece off the bench.

Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook each had 15 points, but the third-quarter barrage made spectators of both - not that they accomplished much when they did play. The star duo combined to shoot 13 for 40, including 4 for 14 in the third quarter.

Game 3 is Sunday at Oklahoma City.

Kings rally past Blackhawks 6-2 in Game 2

CHICAGO (AP) Jeff Carter scored three of Los Angeles' six straight goals, and the Kings beat the Chicago Blackhawks 6-2 on Wednesday night to leave the Western Conference final tied at one game apiece.

Drew Doughty and Tyler Toffoli also scored in Los Angeles' five-goal third period as the Kings became the first visiting team to win in Chicago this postseason. The Blackhawks won their first seven home playoff games this year, but the Kings skated right by Chicago after the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks took a 2-0 lead in the second period.

Game 3 of the best-of-seven series is Saturday night in Los Angeles.

Nick Leddy and Ben Smith scored for Chicago.

Canucks hire Jim Benning as general manager

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) The Vancouver Canucks hired Jim Benning as general manager Wednesday.

Benning is the first significant hire made by Trevor Linden, the former Canucks star who took over as president of hockey operations after the team missed the playoffs for the first time in six years.

The 51-year-old Benning spent the last eight seasons with the Boston Bruins, including seven as assistant general manager. The former Canucks defenseman replaces Mike Gillis, fired as president and general manager a day after the club was eliminated from playoff contention.

"Jim brings a wealth of hockey experience as a builder and talent evaluator that will benefit this team for years to come," Linden said in a statement. "We are aligned on how we want to build this team and Jim's level of commitment to building a championship team is exciting."

Linden also fired coach John Tortorella after one season with the team.

Benning had 52 goals and 191 assists in 610 games in nine seasons with Toronto and Vancouver.

Encarnacion (2HR) helps Blue Jays beat Boston 6-4

BOSTON (AP) Edwin Encarnacion had two homers for the second straight game, and the Toronto Blue Jays beat Boston 6-4 on Wednesday night to send the Red Sox to their sixth consecutive loss.

Encarnacion has seven homers in his last six games. He is the first Toronto player to have four multi-homer games in a month, and the first major-leaguer to do so since Troy Tulowitzki in September of 2010.

Drew Hutchison (3-3) allowed one run in 5 1-3 innings for Toronto, which has won seven of its last nine games. The Blue Jays have won three consecutive series. Casey Janssen pitched the ninth for his fifth save.

Xander Bogaerts had three hits, including two doubles, for Boston. Clay Buchholz (2-4) allowed four earned runs in 4 2-3 innings.

The Red Sox are in the midst of their longest losing streak since dropping the final eight games of the 2012 season, ending the Bobby Valentine era after one year.

The Blue Jays made it 4-0 after three innings thanks to Encarnacion, who hit a solo homer in the second and a two-run shot in the third - both of them into the seats above the Green Monster. Shane Victorino homered for Boston - his first since a Grand Slam in Game 6 of the AL championship series against the Detroit Tigers - to make it 4-1.

Dioner Navarro's RBI single in the fifth made it 5-1 and chased Buchholz. He allowed nine hits and two walks, striking out two. The Blue Jays added another run in the seventh on Anthony Gose's RBI single.

The Red Sox scored three in the eighth to make it a two-run game thanks partly to back-to-back RBI doubles by Mike Carp and Bogaerts. Brock Holt singled to score Bogaerts before Brett Cecil struck out Grady Sizemore and then Steve Delabar, on his first pitch, retired Dustin Pedroia on a groundout.

NOTES: A.J. Pierzynski, who was hitless in 11 straight at-bats, raised his hands to the heavens after singling in sixth inning. He had just two hits in his previous 27 at-bats. Pierzynski wound up with three hits in the game, including one off the first-baseman's mitt, in the ninth inning. ... Encarnacion has 15 multi-homer games in his career, four this season. He had been 1 for 21 in his career against Buchholz. ... Buchholz had allowed three earned runs or fewer in three of his previous four starts. ... SS Stephen Drew, who re-signed with the Red Sox on Wednesday after spending the first six weeks of the season as an unsigned free agent, was available to play in an emergency. He was added to the roster in the place of LHP Felix Doubront, who injured his shoulder and went on the disabled list

Wacha leaves after getting hit by foul in dugout

ST. LOUIS (AP) St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha was taken out after getting struck on the right elbow by a foul liner while sitting in the dugout in the sixth inning against Arizona.

The team said the rookie was taken out for precautionary reasons with a bruised elbow on Matt Adams' foul liner leading off the bottom of the sixth Wednesday. The Cardinals led 1-0.

Wacha allowed two hits in six scoreless innings, ending a run of five straight outings of seven or more innings by the St. Louis rotation.

Report: Wolves get permission to talk Joerger

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) With the Memphis Grizzlies front office in turmoil, the Minnesota Timberwolves are strongly considering hiring coach Dave Joerger away to take over the team in his home state.

The Timberwolves received permission from the Grizzlies to interview Joerger and will meet with him on Thursday, two people with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press on Wednesday. The people requested anonymity because the Timberwolves are not commenting publicly on their coaching candidates, but all indications were that Joerger was in the driver's seat to replace the retired Rick Adelman.

Joerger, who is from Staples, Minnesota, and went to college at Division-II Minnesota State, Moorhead, went 50-32 in his first season as Grizzlies coach. After a rough start while the team transitioned from coaching veteran Lionel Hollins to the first-timer Joerger, the Grizzlies pulled together, overcame several injuries to key players and surged to the seventh seed in the hyper-competitive Western Conference.

But after pushing the Oklahoma City Thunder to seven games before losing in the first round, owner Robert Pera made the surprising decision to overhaul the front office. He fired CEO Jason Levien and director of player personnel Stu Lash, two moves that immediately called into question Joerger's job security.

Joerger goes way back with Timberwolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders. As a young coach trying to make his way up the ladder, Joerger came to watch Saunders, who coached the Timberwolves from 1995-2005, run practices. The two formed a mutual respect which lasts to this day.

"The Timberwolves are the only NBA team of the 30 in the league that are in his home state and after having a long and honest conversation with Dave, he felt he owed it to his family, which resides entirely in Minnesota ... and we felt we owed it to Dave to at least have a discussion in this regard," Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace told ESPN 92.9 FM in Memphis.

Asked if that was best for the Grizzlies, Wallace said he didn't see anything wrong with granting Joerger the chance to talk.

"He's just been granted permission to talk and will do so soon," said Wallace, who has assumed interim watch over the basketball operations while Pera restructures the front office.

Saunders, who coached in the CBA before breaking into the NBA, has long had an affinity for coaches who had to grind it out in the minor leagues, believing they learn not only how to coach, but to run an organization. Joerger won championships in the NBDL, the International Basketball Association and the CBA before joining the Grizzlies as an assistant to Hollins.

Joerger's experience as a head coach last year with the Grizzlies helps him fit the profile Saunders is looking for in a replacement for Adelman. Saunders has said he wants a proven coach who knows the demands of running an NBA team, including handling questions from the media.

The latter qualification is of particular concern for the Wolves right now with star forward Kevin Love set to opt out of his contract after next season. The Wolves are considering all their options with Love, including potentially trading him this summer.

If the Wolves do not trade Love, they will head into the season with one of the major story lines in the league, one sure to draw attention from media all across the country. That's part of the reason Saunders is reluctant to turn over the keys to a first-time head coach.

The Timberwolves opening has also been linked to Hollins and college coaching stars such as Michigan State's Tom Izzo, Florida's Billy Donovan and Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg. Saunders has yet to offer the job to anyone, but it is believed that the uncertainty surrounding Love has caused some of the more high profile names on Saunders' list to give tepid responses to inquiries.

The situation with Love in Minnesota pales in comparison to the upheaval in Memphis, and the opportunity to bring his family back to his home state could be enough to convince Joerger to make the move from a team that was in the Western Conference finals two years ago to a franchise that hasn't made the playoffs since 2004.

49ers' Smith pleads no contest to gun charges, DUI

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) San Francisco 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith pleaded no contest Wednesday to three felony weapons charges and two misdemeanor counts of driving under the influence.

The 24-year-old Smith entered his pleas in a Santa Clara County Superior Courtroom in San Jose. He faces a sentence ranging from spending no time in custody to a maximum of four years and four months behind bars at a judge's discretion, prosecutors said.

Smith is scheduled to be sentenced on July 25 - two days after the 49ers are to open training camp in Santa Clara.

"Mr. Smith has now accepted responsibility and has pleaded to all of the charges," Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen said.

"We are aware that Aldon entered a plea today in a case that we have closely monitored," 49ers General Manager Trent Baalke said in a statement Wednesday. "Today was an important step towards bringing that situation to a resolution."

Smith's lawyer, Joshua M. Bentley, released a statement, saying his client "has never wavered from his commitment to do the right thing in this case."

Smith "has accepted and continues to accept responsibility for his actions. We are looking forward to the next court appearance and are confident that the court will reach an appropriate sentence," the statement read.

In November, Smith pleaded not guilty to three felony counts of illegal possession of an assault weapon after deputies said they found three assault rifles while responding to a complaint about a party in June 2012 at Smith's home. During the party, Smith fired a handgun in the air and was stabbed as two other people were shot during a melee, authorities said.

While the three rifles were legally bought in Arizona, Santa Clara County prosecutors say the weapons are illegal in California.

The DUI charges were filed after Smith's car smashed into a tree in San Jose in September as police said his blood-alcohol level was twice the legal limit.

A fearsome pass-rusher, Smith took a five-game leave of absence from the 49ers to undergo treatment for substance abuse last season. He finished the 2013 regular season with 8 1/2 sacks and 34 tackles in 11 games with eight starts after having a franchise-record 19 1/2 sacks in 2012.

In January, Smith said during an interview with The Associated Press he was encouraged by the strides he had made to better himself off the football field that put life - and his work - in perspective.

But last month Smith was arrested at the Los Angeles International Airport after authorities said he became belligerent during a security screening and threatened that he had a bomb.

The Los Angeles District Attorney's office said Smith wouldn't be charged with a felony, but city attorneys who handle misdemeanors are still investigating. Smith has not commented on the incident.

Olivo suspended after fight with Dodgers teammate

NEW YORK (AP) Miguel Olivo was suspended by the Los Angeles Dodgers' top farm team Wednesday following his fight in the dugout with Triple-A Albuquerque teammate Alex Guerrero.

In a statement released Wednesday night, the Dodgers said Olivo was placed on the suspended list by the Albuquerque Isotopes. The veteran catcher is on the Dodgers' 40-man roster, and the club said he "will remain suspended pending the completion of an investigation" into the brawl during Tuesday's game at Salt Lake.

The Dodgers confirmed Guerrero is recovering from reconstructive surgery on his left ear and will remain in a Salt Lake City hospital for a couple of days. It's unclear how long he will be sidelined.

Several media outlets reported that Guerrero's agent, Scott Boras, said Olivo bit off part of Guerrero's ear.

Guerrero, an infielder from Cuba, signed a $28 million, four-year deal with the Dodgers in October. He was beaten out for the starting second base job by Dee Gordon in spring training.

Olivo has displayed a hot temper on the field before, charging at Jose Reyes and missing with a wild punch during a dustup between the Marlins and Mets late in the 2007 season.

The 35-year-old catcher appeared in eight games for the Dodgers this month, marking his 13th season in the majors.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported the fight happened in the dugout during the eighth inning of Albuquerque's 7-4 loss to Salt Lake, briefly delaying the game, and both players were removed from the lineup soon afterward.

The Los Angeles Times reported the disagreement began with Olivo getting upset that Guerrero failed to tag out a runner after a throw from Olivo, according to Boras.

The 27-year-old Guerrero is hitting .376 with 10 home runs and 29 RBIs in the Pacific Coast League. He was playing second base at Albuquerque, but the club recently started putting him at shortstop to develop some versatility.

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