National Sports Headlines from NBC Sports

Cavaliers' Irving misses game with knee injury

CLEVELAND (AP) Kyrie Irving wanted to play in all 82 games this season. Now the Cleveland Cavaliers hope he will only miss one.

The All-Star point guard sat out for the first game of the season Thursday night, missing the Cavaliers' game against Orlando because of a bruised left knee.

Irving, averaging a team-leading 22.2 points, was injured in the third quarter Tuesday in a 91-76 loss at Indiana. Irving felt a "pop" as he fell awkwardly on a drive to the basket, but an MRI on Wednesday revealed he only bruised the knee.

Cavaliers coach Mike Brown believes it's best to be cautious with his star player, who is listed as day-to-day. Cleveland's next game is Saturday at Brooklyn and the Cavaliers host Indiana on Sunday.

"I think he understands what he needs to do to help make sure he takes care of his body long term and not think about the short term," Brown said. "I don't think it's a big problem for him."

Irving, who worked out at Quicken Loans Arena prior to Thursday's game, will receive additional treatment and rest. The former No. 1 overall pick has been injury prone during his NBA career. Irving missed 38 games in his first two seasons with a variety of injuries.

Jarrett Jack started at point guard for the Cavaliers, who have dropped a season-high six consecutive games, including two in overtime and a three-point loss in regulation.

"It's tough because you obviously want to have him on the floor," Brown said. "For us, where we're sitting and the way we've closed games, whether we have Kyrie or not, it's a psychological barrier we have to get over in order to get wins. You'd love to have him but whether he's here or not, it's not an easy task."

Irving's injuries in his first two seasons have included a broken nose, fractured jaw, broken finger, sprained knee and shoulder, and concussion. He played in only 11 games as a freshman at Duke because of a foot injury, and he broke his hand after his rookie season when he slammed a padded wall during a summer league practice in Las Vegas.

Dolphins owner Ross contemplates possible changes

DAVIE, Fla. (AP) Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has left the team's complex without any announcement regarding the makeup of the organization for 2014.

Ross spent more than six hours at the Dolphins' headquarters on Thursday. He arrived and departed aboard his helicopter, which used the practice field as a landing pad, and he did not talk with reporters.

Ross has been meeting in recent days with his top advisers before deciding whether to fire anyone in the wake of a late-season collapse.

Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman is considered the most likely to go, and the future of general manager Jeff Ireland and coach Joe Philbin is uncertain.

The Dolphins (8-8) were on the verge of earning the final AFC wild-card berth before losing their last two games to the Bills and Jets.

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

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Ex-Vikings punter: Coach made anti-gay remarks

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Former Minnesota punter Chris Kluwe says his special teams coordinator made anti-gay comments while Kluwe was with the Vikings, an allegation the coach "vehemently denies."

In an article posted Thursday on the website Deadspin, Kluwe wrote that coach Mike Priefer made several anti-gay comments in objection to Kluwe's outspoken support of a gay marriage amendment in Minnesota.

Kluwe also says former Vikings coach Leslie Frazier and current general manager Rick Spielman encouraged him to tone down his rhetoric in an effort to reduce distractions to the team. At the same time, Kluwe said, Vikings owner Zygi Wilf expressed support for Kluwe's championing of gay rights.

Hours later, Priefer issued a statement disputing Kluwe's portrayal of the events.

"I want to be clear that I do not tolerate discrimination of any type and am respectful of all individuals," Priefer said. "I personally have gay family members who I love and support just as I do any family member."

The Vikings said in a statement that they take the allegations "very seriously and will thoroughly review this matter."

"As an organization, the Vikings consistently strive to create a supportive, respectful and accepting environment for all of our players, coaches and front office personnel," the team said. "We do not tolerate discrimination at any level.

"The team has long respected our players' and associates' individual rights, and, as Chris specifically stated, Vikings ownership supports and promotes tolerance, including on the subject of marriage equality. Because he was identified with the Vikings, Chris was asked to be respectful while expressing his opinions. Team ownership and management also repeatedly emphasized to Chris that the Vikings would not impinge on his right to express his views."

Kluwe called Priefer "a bigot" and Spielman and Frazier "two cowards" for releasing him in May after eight seasons with the Vikings.

He was due to make $1.45 million, which was more than the cap-strapped Vikings wanted to spend on a punter. So they drafted Jeff Locke in the fifth round and parted ways with Kluwe, bringing to an end his colorful and outspoken stay in Minnesota.

"Any notion that Chris was released from our football team due to his stance on marriage equality is entirely inaccurate and inconsistent with team policy," the Vikings said Thursday. "Chris was released strictly based on his football performance."

In his article, Kluwe alleged that Priefer grew more and more impatient with the various causes Kluwe supported and several times made anti-gay remarks during team meetings.

Kluwe said wanted to post his article now in hopes of discouraging the Vikings, or any other team, from employing Priefer, who is widely respected at Vikings headquarters and is viewed by some as a potential head coach one day. Priefer was hired by the Vikings in 2011. He served previously as the special teams coach in Denver and Kansas City.

"If there's one thing I hope to achieve from sharing this story," Kluwe wrote, "it's to make sure that Mike Priefer never holds a coaching position again in the NFL, and ideally never coaches at any level."

The Vikings did not respond directly to allegations against Priefer in their statement, but did say they "will have further comment at the appropriate time."

"The primary reason I entered coaching was to affect people in a positive way, Priefer said. "As a coach, I have always created an accepting environment for my players, including Chris, and have looked to support them both on and off the field.

"The comments today have not only attacked my character and insulted my professionalism, but they have also impacted my family. While my career focus is to be a great professional football coach, my number one priority has always been to be a protective husband and father to my wife and children."

Kluwe averaged 44.4 yards per punt over his career in Minnesota, including a career-high 39.7 yard net average in 2012. But he ranked just 17th in the NFL in punting that season before he was cut and he lost a competition for the punting job with the Oakland Raiders in the preseason in 2013. He had several tryouts during the season, but was never signed.

Kluwe said he wanted to wait to air his grievances until after the season so as not to provide a distraction to his friends on the team during the season.

The Vikings finished this year 5-10-1 and Frazier was fired Monday.

Several Vikings players took to Twitter to defend Priefer.

"Coach Mike Preifer has always been professional and one of the best special teams coaches I have been around!" fullback Jerome Felton tweeted. "In any meeting I have been in, I have never witnessed him say anything close to what's been alleged. That's just my experience!"

Tweeted safety Harrison Smith: "Since I've had the privilege of playing for Mike Preifer he has been nothing but a class act coach and a respectful human being."

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Welker rejoins with Manning after missing month

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Wes Welker and Peyton Manning remain in perfect rhythm even after a month apart.

At least, that's what the Denver Broncos' receiver reported after practice Thursday.

"I felt like we were kind of on the same page," said Welker, who is returning from a concussion he sustained Dec. 8 against Tennessee - his second in a four-game span.

Hardly a surprise, since they've been in sync all season, with Welker catching a career-high 10 touchdown passes.

Lately, though, Manning has been without his security blanket as Welker sat out the final three games of the regular season.

This first-round bye gives Welker and Manning more time to re-establish their rapport.

Not that they really need it. More like fine-tune it.

"I feel like we've been around the league long enough, where we know each other's thinking and can get on the same page and ready to go," said Welker, whose team will host Kansas City, Indianapolis or San Diego on Jan. 12 in the AFC divisional round. "Hopefully, keep it rolling and just keep it going."

With Welker sidelined, Manning had a chance to work receiver Andre "Bubba" Caldwell and tight end Jacob Tamme into the pass-catching rotation. Two more threats for an offense that scored an NFL-record 606 points this season.

"The more weapons we can have, the more guys out there making plays, the better off we're going to be," Welker said. "We're going to need everybody here through the stretch and everybody stepping up and making plays when we need to."

That starts with a healthy Welker, who returned to practice on a limited basis last week and was fully cleared Monday.

"I feel good," he said. "I feel fine. I feel ready to go."

Still, there are those who are concerned about Welker's return, especially since he's suffered two concussions in a short amount of time. He sustained a concussion against Kansas City on Nov. 17 but didn't sit out any games. He was concussed again just before halftime in the Broncos' win against the Titans last month.

And while he appreciates all the worry, he insisted he indeed is good to go.

"I think we've taken a lot more action than what we would have in the past with this whole ordeal," said Welker, who is in his first season with Denver after spending the last six years catching passes from Tom Brady in New England. "I feel like we've taken enough time. It will be five weeks from the day I had any contact at all.

"It's always a tricky injury in just trying to manage it and everything else. The doctors and trainers do a great of just doing the things necessary to get me back out there on the field."

He has been a refreshing sight for Manning, who frequently looks Welker's direction when defenses dial up the pressure.

"We're glad to have him back and can use this time to work and get our timing going," Manning said. "I'm sure he would tell you he has liked being back out on the practice field and having some time to work."

No question about that. Sitting out has been frustrating for Welker.

"It makes you appreciate and it makes you hungry and ready to get back out there, ready to go out there and compete, especially at a time of the year like this," said Welker, who had 73 catches for 778 yards this season.

He will certainly help on third-down conversions. The Broncos were converting at around a 56 percent clip for most of the season with Welker around, a figure that slipped to 20 percent against San Diego and Houston.

Not only that, but Welker has a way of opening things up for other receivers, too, especially Pro Bowl tight end Julius Thomas.

"A lot of times teams will decide to go ahead and double Wes," explained Thomas, who had a breakout season as he hauled in 12 TD passes. "So absolutely, it opens up things for me. If I have single-man coverage, it's something that I definitely enjoy and look forward to.

"Wes brings a lot to this offense and we're excited to have him back."

NOTES: Manning was selected the AFC Player of the Month after throwing for 1,755 yards and 19 TDs in December. ... Broncos DL Derek Wolfe (illness) didn't practice on Thursday. ... Broncos coach John Fox may cancel practice on Saturday as a reward to the team. ... Asked about the challenges of having a week off, Fox said: "The challenge is it's a new season. All the records go out the window, all the stats go out there window. It's a whole new season. ... You can't have a bad day."

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Nadal reaches Doha semis against qualifier

DOHA, Qatar (AP) Top-seeded Rafael Nadal was the only seed remaining at the Qatar Open after he beat seventh-seeded Ernests Gulbis 7-5, 6-4 in the quarterfinals on Thursday.

Nadal is often tested by the 24th-ranked Gulbis but has yet to lose a match to the Latvian in seven played.

This match, which was delayed for two hours by rain, marked only the second time Nadal has beaten Gulbis in straight sets. The other time was also in Doha, in the 2011 quarterfinals.

Nadal is set to play German qualifier Peter Gojowczyk. The 162nd-ranked Gojowczyk defeated fellow German qualifier Dustin Brown 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (5) to reach his first career tour semifinal.

The other semi will pit Florian Mayer of Germany against Gael Monfils of France.

Mayer defeated Victor Hanescu of Romania 6-4, 6-7 (8), 6-4, and Monfils took out Daniel Brands of Germany 6-2, 6-1.

Nadal finally broke Gulbis in the 11th game when the latter sent a drop shot wide. Nadal needed five set points to close out the first set in the next game.

Gulbis raced to 3-0 in the second set but couldn't hold on to the advantage. He had three points for 4-1 but ended up losing serve.

Nadal broke with a stunning backhand cross-court that creased the line in the seventh game to take a permanent lead. He closed the match with a breathtaking backhand volley winner.

"I'm happy to win against Ernests," Nadal said. "If you are not playing well it's very, very difficult. He's able to hit winners from every part on the court."

Before this week, Gojowczyk had only one ATP tour-level match win, at the 2013 U.S. Open.

Gojowczyk was serving for the match against Brown at 5-3, 40-30 in the third set but netted a forehand to drop his serve. From 5-5 in the tiebreaker, Gojowczyk won the final two points.

"I'm so happy to be in the semifinals, it's an unbelievably good feeling," Gojowczyk said. "2014 is beginning great for me."

Texas A&M WR Mike Evans declares for NFL draft

COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans is declaring for the NFL draft.

Evans, a redshirt sophomore, was a consensus All-American and a Biletnikoff Award finalist this season.

He had 69 receptions for a school-record 1,394 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also set a school record with 279 yards receiving against Alabama this year. He broke his own record when he had 287 yards receiving against Auburn later in the season.

The 6-foot-5 former basketball star is rated as one of the top draft prospects at his position.

Evans thanked his coaches and teammates and says: "I made this decision based on what I thought was best for myself and my family."

He started all 26 games in his two-year career and had at least two catches in each of his games.

Oregon State WR Cooks declares for NFL Draft

CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) Oregon State junior wide receiver Brandin Cooks has declared himself eligible for the NFL draft.

The Biletnikoff award winner as the nation's top receiver, Cooks set Pac-12 records with 128 catches for 1,730 yards for the Beavers this season. His receiving yards were tops in the country.

His 16 touchdown catches this season are a school record.

The first-team All-American finishes his Oregon State career with 226 catches for 3,272 yards and 26 total touchdowns (a school-record 24 via catch). He has 3,863 all-purpose yards.

The Oregon State Beavers went 7-6, capping the season with a 38-23 victory over Boise State in the Hawaii Bowl.

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