Monthly Archives: November 2017

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MINNEAPOLIS — Karl-Anthony Towns’ scoring actually meant something this time.

Two days after his coach characterized his late points as “meaningless” in a listless loss to Miami, Towns led a balanced offensive attack for Minnesota with 32 points and 12 rebounds and the Timberwolves beat Phoenix 119-108 on Sunday.

Alongside Jimmy Butler with 25 points and Andrew Wiggins with 21, Towns kept the Wolves from another bad loss, this one against a Phoenix team missing top scorer Devin Booker.

“Whatever the game plan is offensively, I try to go out there and execute as best as possible,” Towns said. “Whether it is shoot 30-plus shots, or shoot five shots.”

The Wolves probably prefer the former, as long as he shoots the way he did Sunday. Towns went 12 of 26 from the floor, including two 3-pointers, and hit all six of his free-throw attempts.

Coach Tom Thibodeau criticized Towns for not moving without the ball on Friday night, when his star big man got rolling too late. On Sunday, he scored 30 points for the third time this season and recorded his league-leading 16th double-double.

“I thought Karl had great activity today, so that was good,” Thibodeau said. “We need that from him.”

The Suns announced shortly before the game that Booker — who scored 35 points in Phoenix’s home victory over Minnesota on Nov. 11 — would sit out because of an injured big right toe.

With Booker out, the Suns got another big game from their bench, led by Mike James with a career-high 26 points. But Minnesota started the third quarter with a 22-11 run, and Phoenix couldn’t find an offensive spark to seriously threaten the rest of the way.

“He’s one of our best scorers, so it’s a big chunk offensively,” Suns interim coach Jay Triano said about Booker. “But at the same time we shot 50 percent. I thought our movement was pretty good. We shared the basketball, so I’m not disappointed with how we played at the offensive end without him. We weren’t very good defensively.”

The Wolves outscored the Suns 66-50 in the paint, and had 32 second-chance points to Phoenix’s 12.

T.J. Warren — who also had 35 points in the first meeting with the Timberwolves — had 18 points for the Suns, and Phoenix started its six-game trip with its third straight loss.

Minnesota built an early 14-point lead before Phoenix’s bench pulled the Suns back into it. James had eight second-quarter points to help spark a 25-15 run that gave the Suns a brief four-point lead before Wiggins got hot with three straight buckets to put the Wolves back in front.

BOOKER’S STATUS

Triano said he hoped Booker’s status would be day-to-day, but that he still needed to speak with the trainers. “They said if he sat out today it would give him a chance to rest a couple more days, so I’m hoping that means he gets to play.” Before the game, Triano said Booker’s injury occurred Friday night in a home loss to New Orleans.

TAJ’S TALLY

Taj Gibson had 16 points and a season-high 14 rebounds for his seventh double-double of the season. He finished 8 of 12 from the floor, matching a career high for made field goals. While most of the attention on Minnesota’s revamped roster has focused on Jimmy Butler, Gibson has emerged as a reliable inside presence. “He adds a lot to the team, the way he plays,” Thibodeau said. “He’s got great quickness, he’s got great feet, but there’s a toughness to him that makes him what we need, too.”

TIP-INS

Suns: Josh Jackson started in Booker’s place and finished with five points. … The Suns’ bench scored 61 points. The unit entered the game averaging 45.4 points over its previous five games. … Phoenix lost for the first time in four games when shooting 50 percent from the floor. … The Suns went 13 of 26 from 3-point range, one off the team’s season high for 3-pointers made.
Timberwolves: The Wolves improved to 12-8 to equal their best 20-game start since the 2005-06 season. … Starting point guard Jeff Teague (sore right Achilles) and reserve forward Nemanja Bjelica (sprained left foot) missed their second-consecutive games. Before the game, Thibodeau said both players were “getting closer, but I’m not sure that they’re there yet.” Bjelica’s injury is the same foot that required surgery to repair a fracture last season, and Thibodeau said the team has consulted with the surgeon. “I think he’s good but we just want to make sure.”

UP NEXT

Suns: At Chicago on Tuesday night.

Timberwolves: Host Washington on Tuesday night.

For more NBA coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Check out the team sites for the Phoenix Suns and the Minnesota Timberwolves for more game coverage.

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The week ahead leads us to the festive and filling holiday of Thanksgiving, when we show gratitude for family and friends and food and everything else we’re lucky enough to enjoy.

One of those things is Major League Baseball, of course, and while the 2017 season might be over, the Hot Stove has been fired up and offseason wheeling and dealing is the gravy.
• Hot Stove Tracker
Speaking of free agents and trades and Turkey Day, remember Nov. 28, 2003?
That was when then-Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein went over to then-D-backs starter Curt Schilling’s Arizona house for Thanksgiving dinner and talked him into waiving a no-trade clause. Schilling ended up in Boston and the Red Sox ended up winning their first World Series title in 86 years.
Two years later, the Red Sox acquired Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell from the Marlins on Thanksgiving. Miami acquired Hanley Ramirez as part of the trade with Boston, and also sent Carlos Delgado to the Mets in a separate deal.
In other words, a lot can happen this week, even when people are supposed to be on vacation or sacked out on the sofa sweating out all that tryptophan.
With that in mind, let’s turn to the topics of the day, which could end up being the topics of the week if the stars align for the GMs and players involved.
The top trade target on the market is Marlins slugger — and newly crowned National League MVP Award winner — Giancarlo Stanton, who owns the heftiest contract in the game and, as a result, will command the most in return if Miami is willing to part ways with him.
Will Stanton stay in Miami?
Will Stanton stay in Miami?
On MLB Tonight, Carlos Pena explains why the idea of trading Giancarlo Stanton might be the right move
The most recent reports have the Giants and Cardinals already submitting proposals, with the Red Sox expected to follow suit.
“I know what I want to do,” Marlins GM Michael Hill said at last week’s GM Meetings in Orlando, Fla., “I need to know what you can do. Until I know where you’re at on the contract, the money, all that stuff, I can’t engage.”
In addition to the possible Stanton swap-stakes, another development to watch out for in between bites of sweet potatoes and cranberries is the Shohei Ohtani situation.
The Japanese sensation isn’t officially eligible to play in the big leagues in 2018 — MLB, the MLB Players Association and Nippon Professional Baseball must first come to terms on a deal for the young two-way superstar to be posted. But if he is, expect heavy competition from all 30 teams, and expect it to happen quickly.
Callis on Mariners, Ohtani
Callis on Mariners, Ohtani
Jim Callis breaks down the Mariners trading Thyago Vieira and how it might affect the team’s chances of signing Shohei Ohtani
Late last week, MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reported that the Yankees are being viewed by other clubs as a favorite to sign the pitcher-outfielder, but as any baseball fan knows, things can change in a hurry.
While we’re on the topic of the Yankees, it’s worth noting that they are the last team with a managerial vacancy. The latest candidate to interview was Dodgers coach Chris Woodward, who followed former New York player and current broadcaster Aaron Boone, bench coach Rob Thomson, former big league skipper Eric Wedge and Giants bench coach Hensley Meulens.
Yankees GM Brian Cashman surely would like to get this position filled as soon as possible, and another former player, Jerry Hairston Jr., could also be interviewed soon.
Woodward on Yankees manager job
Woodward on Yankees manager job
Yankees managerial candidate Chris Woodward discusses what makes him qualified to be the next manager of the team
Meanwhile, a lengthy list of free agents will hunker down with their loved ones, put on a pound or three at the dinner table, and wait to see if they’re about ready to transition to a new city and uniform.
The headliners for position players are slugger J.D. Martinez, first baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas, plus perennial All-Star-caliber players including Carlos Santana, Carlos Gonzalez, Jay Bruce, Lorenzo Cain and Zack Cozart.
Aside from Ohtani, the starting-pitching crop is intriguing as well, with Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn, Chris Tillman, CC Sabathia and Jason Vargas all available.
Closers Wade Davis and Greg Holland are the top relievers on the board, with Bryan Shaw, Brandon Morrow, Tony Watson and Mike Minor among the other available bullpen options.
And there are a lot more we could be hearing about in the next seven days: bats such as Jose Bautista, Eduardo Nunez, Jonathan Lucroy, Neil Walker, Logan Morrison, Carlos Gomez, Mark Reynolds, Yonder Alonso, Lucas Duda, Michael Saunders, Colby Rasmus, Matt Holliday, Mike Napoli, Welington Castillo, Mitch Moreland, Howie Kendrick, Chase Utley, Yunel Escobar are all out there, ready to be signed.
Nine reject qualifying offers
Nine reject qualifying offers
MLB.com columnists Richard Justice and Anthony Castrovince discuss some of the free agents that have rejected qualifying offers
The same goes for pitchers Alex Cobb, Doug Fister, Andrew Cashner, Brett Anderson, Matt Garza, Derek Holland, Ubaldo Jimenez, Jeremy Hellickson, Anibal Sanchez, Jaime Garcia, Scott Feldman, Clay Buchholz, Tyler Chatwood, Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey, plus relievers Brandon Kintzler, Matt Belisle, Matt Albers, Neftali Feliz, Addison Reed, Luke Gregerson, Pat Neshek, Juan Nicasio, Joe Smith, Huston Street, Anthony Swarzak and left-handers Jake McGee, Brian Duensing, Jorge De La Rosa, Francisco Liriano, Zach Duke and Oliver Perez.
Trades not involving Stanton?
Sure, those could happen, too. Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto has already made three of them … in the last five days. That ups his total to 60 in 26 months at the helm of Seattle.
It means MLB is open for business, Thanksgiving week or not.

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This past week, NBA players honored members of the military by wearing a variety of patriotic sneakers in celebration of Veterans Day. From camouflage looks to more straightforward red, white and blue colorways incorporating stars and stripes, featured footwear took on more meaning than most weeks.

Jordan Brand players, including Jimmy Butler, Jeff Green and Andre Drummond, wore a variety of camouflage player editions like the Air Jordan XXXII Low and the Air Jordan 18 Retro, which was originally released in 2003. Hornets center Dwight Howard donned the most patriotic pair of the week. His size 18 “DH” signature model was highlighted by a series of stars and stripes along the heel.

Cavaliers point guard Isaiah Thomas managed to join in on the patriotic platform while sidelined, debuting a Nike Air Max 97 featuring the American flag along the tongue and a “USA camo” pattern on the upper. In Portland, injured center Meyers Leonard spruced up his street clothes look, wearing a pair of tan military boots along with his usual suit. Leonard’s older brother Bailey served as a U.S. Marine.

Check out all of the best sneakers from this week around the league, and vote on your favorite pair below.

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A storied NFL franchise with an all-time great quarterback at the controls got blown out Sunday. That team was the Denver Broncos. The all-time great quarterback is John Elway, the team’s top football executive since 2011 and general manager since 2012.

Embarrassing as the 51-23 defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles might have been, the outcome could not have surprised even a Broncos optimist. Philly is rolling behind dynamic young quarterback Carson Wentz. Denver lacks the ground game and pass protection to support its lower-tier quarterbacks, and if 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch does not clear those hurdles when his turn behind center inevitably comes, then what?

The Broncos’ four-game slide into a 3-5 record at their season’s midpoint has been brewing for a while. Denver was 9-7 last season despite a statistically dominant defense. Vegas oddsmakers set the Broncos’ win total at eight in 2017 under the assumption little would change. Peyton Manning’s retirement and a series of less-than-stellar drafts are taking a toll, bringing Elway face to face with the next challenge in his Mile High executive tenure.

Elway has long relished the challenge born of great responsibility. A franchise savior as a player, he wasn’t content with simply being part of the team. He sought and won full control of the Broncos’ football operation, and when results have not met expectations, he has not hesitated making changes that have left him standing as the most responsible party.

Drafts not riding to the rescue
Twenty-nine NFL teams have drafted at least one Pro Bowler since 2012. The Broncos — who used a second-round pick on Brock Osweiler in 2012 — are one of the three who have not. Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
The Broncos pointed to an impressive array of organizational accomplishments since 2011 in announcing a contract extension for Elway over the summer. Second-most total wins in the league. Five AFC West titles. Two Super Bowl appearances. One Super Bowl victory.

“During his six seasons as an executive,” the Broncos declared, “Elway is the only general manager in the NFL during that span who has acquired future Pro Bowl players through the NFL draft, street free agency, unrestricted free agency and college free agency.”

While Elway arrived as executive vice president of football operations 2011, he did not become GM until 2012, when the team announced that 2009-11 GM Brian Xanders would be leaving the organization as Elway asserted fuller control.

Even if Elway deserves credit for a 2011 draft class featuring No. 2 overall pick Von Miller, it’s notable that Denver is one of only three organizations, along with Cleveland and New Orleans, to have zero Pro Bowl players drafted since 2012. Pro Bowls are not the only or even the best way to size up draft classes — Derek Wolfe and others have become important contributors — but that still seems like a surprising realization running counter to perception.

The Chiefs (five), Raiders (four) and Chargers (two) have combined to draft 11 Pro Bowlers over the same span: Tyreek Hill, Marcus Peters, D.J. Alexander, Travis Kelce and Dontari Poe for the Chiefs; Amari Cooper, Khalil Mack, Derek Carr and Latavius Murray for the Raiders; Melvin Gordon and Jason Verrett for the Chargers.

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Offensive players drafted by Denver in the first three rounds since Elway became GM include Brock Osweiler and Lynch at quarterback; offensive linemen Michael Schofield, Ty Sambrailo and Garett Bolles; running backs Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman; receivers Cody Latimer and Carlos Henderson; and tight end Jeff Heuerman. Center Matt Paradis was a late-round find, and Trevor Siemian has provided more than what a seventh-round quarterback typically would. But for a team that has needed help on offense, the drafts have not been transforming.

Free agency is tougher now

The Broncos have shined during Elway’s tenure when adding high-profile free agents such as Aqib Talib and DeMarcus Ware. Yet, while money tends to carry the day in free agency, Manning’s presence on the roster made Denver a prime destination for veteran free agents. As the Broncos try to keep their edge defensively while supplementing a lagging offense, will they succeed in free agency to the degree they could in building a championship roster?

EDITOR’S PICKS

It’s official: The Broncos’ list of problems goes way beyond quarterback
A 51-23 loss to the Eagles confirmed that Denver’s D can’t snipe at the offense’s struggles — because they’ve got plenty of problems of their own.
Elway himself was the key for landing Manning in free agency years ago. No GM could have been better qualified or equipped for luring an all-time great quarterback. Then, once Manning arrived, he became the best recruiter the Broncos could have had.

“Peyton controlled the atmosphere, had everyone playing and focusing because he would chew their ass if they didn’t,” a veteran coach from the AFC said. “There was a high level of accountability because of him. That all gets placed on the coaching staff, which [Gary] Kubiak and his crew wasn’t able to match, and nobody has matched since. There is just a huge void that did not get filled anywhere.”

Denver can still succeed in free agency, but where there was once an edge, there is now less of one — unless the Broncos dive into the market for another veteran quarterback, in which case the Broncos’ defense could be attractive.

The path forward at QB
Is it time for the Broncos to turn the offense over to Paxton Lynch? Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Trevor Siemian has 20 interceptions and an 11-10 record in 21 starts for Denver since the start of last season. He was reasonably efficient when the Broncos protected him, but that was not the case frequently enough, and when Siemian threw the ball back across the field for a pick at Kansas City in Week 8, his fate appeared sealed.

Osweiler, whose two picks Sunday gave him 18 in 15 starts for Houston and Denver duringthe past two seasons, actually owns a higher Total QBR than Siemian in both players’ starts since the 2016 opener (Siemian has the higher passer rating).

All of this puts Lynch front and center. He was the quarterback Dallas coveted before “settling” for Dak Prescott, which in the spring of 2016 led Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to publicly lament his team’s decision against trading up for the player Denver picked 26th overall that year. It all seems farcical in light of Prescott’s success, but Lynch hasn’t played enough for anyone to make a final judgment. Lynch has made two starts and will presumably take over the job from Osweiler once his injured shoulder heals — perhaps this coming week.
Lynch, unlike Siemian and Osweiler, has the athleticism to improvise behind a shaky line. The Broncos could build zone-read concepts into their offense to maximize Lynch’s skill set. There’s a chance Lynch will stabilize the offense and help Denver win lower-scoring games while limiting turnovers. Of course, Lynch also might flounder.

“They are sliding because they don’t have a quarterback, period,” a veteran AFC coach said.

In looking at the Broncos’ recent Elway-era drafts, it’s tough to know how much responsibility coaches should bear on the player development front. Elway holds coaches to a high standard forged during his playing career. He knows what he wants. And if the current staff winds up helping Lynch develop into a quarterback Denver can win with, the Broncos won’t be hurting for new material when the time comes to announce Elway’s next extension.

But with New England on the schedule in Week 10, this nosedive might not be finished, and the future appears a little tenuous.