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Rockets rout Lakers 108-90 in Kobe's return

LOS ANGELES (AP) After Lakers rookie Julius Randle left his NBA debut strapped to a wheeled stretcher with a broken right leg, every player at Staples Center gained a sober perspective on the season opener.

Even ex-teammates Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard realized their shouting match was particularly inconsequential in the final minutes of the Houston Rockets' blowout win.

James Harden scored 32 points, Howard added 13 points and 11 rebounds before getting into an exchange with Bryant, and the Rockets spoiled Bryant's return to the Lakers with a 108-90 victory over Los Angeles on Tuesday night.

Bryant's comeback game and the Lakers' return from a 55-loss season went from bad to miserable when Randle broke his right leg in the fourth quarter. The seventh overall pick out of Kentucky collided with two Rockets under the basket and landed awkwardly, collapsing to the court in agony.

After his own Lakers debut ended somberly, coach Byron Scott described the scene as "heartbreaking."

"The last three or four minutes, obviously we weren't thinking a whole lot about basketball," Scott added. "We were just thinking about Julius, and hoping he's OK."

Randle's injury cast a pall over the night for the Lakers, who are banking on the 19-year-old power forward to become a solid player - perhaps their next star. His right leg was immobilized before his teammates lifted him onto the stretcher, obvious pain on his face, with Bryant squeezing his hand.

"We'll help him through this, and he'll come back a better basketball player," Bryant said. "That's the goal, is to try to find a silver lining in this. He'll use the time to come back and be stronger."

Bryant scored 19 points in his first game back at Staples Center after missing most of the Lakers' worst season in a half-century with two major injuries.

A few moments before Randle's injury, Howard and Bryant received matching technical fouls when Howard elbowed Bryant in the face after grabbing a rebound in the fourth quarter, setting off a lengthy stretch of shouting and finger-pointing between the former teammates.

Although teammates stepped between them, Bryant appeared to yell "Try me!" at Howard, who wore his usual broad grin while responding.

"There's no need to go into it. We won the game," Howard said. "It's over with. It's about basketball. I'm not even focused on it."

Howard spurned Bryant and the Lakers after one season in 2013 to take roughly $30 million less as a free agent in Houston. Scott said the two superstars "don't like each other," a notion that made Bryant laugh.

"You can't help but like him," Bryant said with a straight face. "He's a teddy bear. I really mean that. He's a nice kid."

Howard got a flagrant foul for the elbow, and Bryant got a personal foul in addition to their technicals. Both veterans were pulled from the blowout immediately afterward.

Trevor Ariza and Terrence Jones scored 16 points apiece, while Harden hit three 3-pointers and 15 free throws. Ariza hit five 3-pointers for the Rockets, who took an 18-point lead in the first half and weren't threatened.

"We looked pretty good," Harden said. "It was just a matter of time for everybody to get on the court together and execute, and tonight, we did a pretty good job."

Jeremy Lin scored seven points against his former teammates in his Lakers debut, struggling to score against Patrick Beverley. Lin is the Lakers' starting point guard after Steve Nash's latest season-ending injury.

Bryant extended his franchise record just by stepping on the court for his 19th season with the Lakers, tying Utah's John Stockton for the most seasons with one team in NBA history. That 19th season is likely to be rocky, although he relishes the chance to play for Scott, the longtime Lakers shooting guard and Inglewood, California, native who got his self-described dream job this summer.

Bryant played just six games last season due to two major injuries, and the Lakers won just 27 games in their worst performance since moving to Los Angeles.

Carlos Boozer added 17 points in his Lakers debut.

Rockets: Rookie Tarik Black scored two points and Kostas Papanikolaou had four in their NBA debuts. Black made the roster as an undrafted free agent out of Kansas. Papanikolaou spent last season with FC Barcelona. ... Jason Terry scored eight points off the bench in his Houston debut.

Lakers: Randle scored two points and second-round pick Jordan Clarkson had eight in their NBA debuts for the Lakers. ... Xavier Henry and Ronnie Price both played despite injuries. Henry missed the entire preseason. ... Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, Will Ferrell, Alibaba founder Jack Ma, Yasiel Puig, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Gerard Butler, Adam Levine and Behati Prinsloo attended the game.

The Lakers left shortly afterward for their road opener in Phoenix on Wednesday.

The Rockets flew to Utah for another road game Wednesday.

Wed, 29 Oct 2014 05:47:00 +0000
Parker helps Spurs edge Mavs 101-100 in opener

SAN ANTONIO (AP) Tony Parker scored 23 points, including a big 3-pointer late in the game as the San Antonio Spurs opened their title defense with a thrilling 101-100 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday.

Manu Ginobili added 20 points for San Antonio, which shot 53 percent from the field. Tim Duncan had 14 points and 13 rebounds for his 14th double-double in a season opener, the most by any player in NBA history, according to Elias Sports.

Monta Ellis scored 26 points for Dallas, and Dirk Nowitzki had 18. Devin Harris finished with 17 points.

Following a video recap of the 2014 season narrated by actor and Spurs fan Samuel L. Jackson, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver presented San Antonio's staff and players with their championship rings. The inscription inside the ring was "Good to Great," which was coach Gregg Popovich's mantra last season.

After Nowitzki gave Dallas a 100-98 lead with a fadeaway jumper over Boris Diaw with 1:37 remaining, Parker drained a 3 in front of the Mavericks' bench off a feed from Diaw. Parker was 4 for 4 from long range, matching a career high for 3s in a game.

Houston's James Harden scored 32 points, and Dwight Howard added 13 points and 11 rebounds before getting into a shouting match with Kobe Bryant as the Rockets spoiled Bryant's return to the Lakers with a 108-90 victory.

Bryant's comeback game got even worse when Lakers rookie forward Julius Randle seriously injured his right leg in the fourth quarter, leaving his NBA debut on a wheeled stretcher. The seventh overall pick out of Kentucky collided with two Rockets under the basket and landed awkwardly.

Bryant scored 19 points in his first game back at Staples Center after missing most of the Lakers' worst season in a half-century with two major injuries.

Trevor Ariza and Terrence Jones scored 16 points each for Houston.

At New Orleans, Anthony Davis had 26 points, 17 rebounds and nine blocks to lead the New Orleans Saints to a 101-84 season-opening win over the Orlando Magic.

Ryan Anderson, coming back from surgery on a herniated disk that cost him more than half of last season, scored 22 points. The Pelicans' new 7-foot (2.13-meter) center, Omer Asik, had a double-double with 14 points and 17 rebounds.

Tobias Harris scored 25 points for Orlando, while Nikola Vucevic added 15 points and 23 rebounds.

Wed, 29 Oct 2014 02:45:00 +0000
Champ Bailey calls it a career after 15 years in NFL

DENVER (AP) Former teammate Brian Dawkins called Champ Bailey "a great conserver of energy," a rare superstar who was never in a rush to get anywhere "unless it was on a football field."

In that dawdling, you can count retirement.

That finally came Tuesday, 60 days after Bailey was released by the New Orleans Saints when a nagging foot injury prevented him from displaying the speed and skills that led to his cornerback-record dozen Pro Bowl berths in Washington and Denver.

He had workouts with the Lions and Ravens and interest from other teams but decided to pursue a new chapter, possibly in broadcasting.

"Every professional athlete knows and understands that at some point his career will end and it will be time to move on to another phase in life. For me, that time is now," Bailey said in a statement released by the Broncos, for whom he played from 2004-13.

"I have been truly blessed. I have been able to play this NFL game I love for 15 seasons and yet, it seems like only yesterday that my dreams came true when I received the call from Charley Casserly letting me know the Redskins had made me their first pick in the 1999 draft," Bailey said.

The seventh overall pick that year, the University of Georgia star spent five seasons in Washington before the Broncos traded star running back Clinton Portis to the Redskins for the game's premier shutdown cornerback.

Bailey was the most decorated defender in franchise history with eight Pro Bowl berths while with the Broncos.

When GM John Elway returned to his beloved franchise, his first order of business was signing Bailey to an extension.

"Champ was the pillar in this organization for a long, long time," Elway said. "He brought great stability to the Broncos not only as a player but as a person through his ability and leadership. When I came here in 2011, he was the guy that we were going to build around and we were fortunate to have him for three more years to get this team back on track. He was a big part of that turnaround."

Peyton Manning paid him the ultimate compliment, saying Bailey "had unbelievable cover skills and unbelievable ball skills. He caught the ball like a wide receiver did. Going all the way back to my days playing against him in college, he was truly a great competitor with talent and work ethic. That's what made Champ such an incredible player."

Bailey took many a young cornerback under his wing, among them Chris Harris Jr, who tweeted, "Blessed to be able to learn and play opposite Champ for 3 years," and added the hashtags HOF and TBE for the surefire Hall of Famer.

Although quarterbacks usually avoided throwing in his direction, Bailey still found a way to get involved and make an impact. He had 52 interceptions, more than any active cornerback. He prided himself on his technique and tackling abilities. In 215 regular season games, Bailey had 983 tackles, three sacks, nine forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries.

"The thing about Champ was he had great ability as a shutdown corner while also not being afraid to stick his nose in there and be a part of the run game," Elway said. "He was a complete corner with tremendous toughness and ability to cover."

About the only thing that eluded Bailey in his stellar career was a Super Bowl ring.

The closest he came was the Broncos' trip to the Meadowlands in February when they were blown out by Seattle.

With a $10 million salary looming for this season, the Broncos released him in March after Bailey decided he wanted to give a 16th season a try. He later signed with the Saints, but the left foot injury that sidelined him for 11 games last season continued to bother him during training camp and for the first time in his life he didn't make the cut.

His last NFL season was a bittersweet one, missing 11 games with the foot injury before returning to action down the stretch and finally getting to play in a Super Bowl, which proved both the apex and nadir of his career.

"He had a significant part to do with them getting there based on his play in the AFC championship, where he gave up one pass for 4 yards on one foot," said his agent, Jack Reale. "He has a tremendous amount to be proud of and really tried to get it done last year when lesser players wouldn't have even tried."

It's a safe bet Bailey will end up talking football now that he's done playing it.

"Media makes a lot of sense for a guy like him," Reale said.

Wed, 29 Oct 2014 00:10:00 +0000
Giants, Royals ready for wild World Series finish

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Buster Posey was annoyed. Playfully so. The Giants catcher wanted Madison Bumgarner to do more than barely break a smile after a brilliant pitching performance put San Francisco one win from another World Series title.

No way, Buster.

Because in this postseason full of stars and surprises, who knows? Heck, Bumgarner might still have more work to do.

Baseball took its final break Monday before the Giants and Royals settle things. Holding a 3-2 edge, San Francisco will try to claim its third championship in five years Tuesday night when the wild-card matchup resumes at Kansas City.

"We're trying to grind this thing out, the way we have for what feels like forever now," Jake Peavy, who starts Game 6 for the Giants, said before Monday night's workout at Kauffman Stadium. "Not even sure of the date, the day. Doesn't matter."

The day off gave fans a chance to savor what they'd already seen in the past month, and there was plenty - the success of Bumgarner, Lorenzo Cain and Yusmeiro Petit, the struggles of Clayton Kershaw, Mike Trout and Detroit's aces, a rack of tight games and one that went 18 innings.

"Clayton who? MadBum!" one man yelled as he exited AT&T Park after the Giants won 5-0 Sunday night.

Could be a lot more cooking in this October oven, too.

Maybe Ned Yost even had it right.

"Oh, man, somewhere inside of me, secretly I had hoped that it would go seven games for the excitement and the thrill of it," the Kansas City manager said after a loss in Game 4. "Sure looks that way."

Perhaps it's only fitting this Fall Classic ends at Kauffman Stadium, a place hosting playoff baseball for the first time in 29 years. The Royals started this pulsating postseason at home with a 9-8 comeback win in 12 innings over Oakland in the AL wild-card game, a thriller that began on the last day of September and nearly stretched into October.

That captivating night in Kansas City set the stage for a month to remember: dramatic finishes, favorites falling and underdogs overachieving, stars slipping and new ones shining.

What happens next is anybody's guess. After all, the last time Game 6 of the World Series came to Kansas City, one of the most surreal scenes in baseball history unfolded: first base umpire Don Denkinger's botched call serving as the signature moment of the 1985 World Series won by the Royals over St. Louis.

"We know we can do it," Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer said. "We're a confident group. But we can't do anything without winning Game 6. We're excited to get back home where we feed off the fans and that energy."

Royals rookie Yordano Ventura starts against the veteran Peavy - not exactly the matchup many would've predicted in April.

But the majors' most notable names during the regular season - Dodgers ace Kershaw and Angels slugger Trout - flamed out fast in the Division Series. A trio of Cy Young winners didn't do enough for Detroit. Injuries slowed down former Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers and Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright.

Even playoff-proven starter Jon Lester looked lost under October's bright lights for the one-and-done Athletics. Plus up-and-coming starter Stephen Strasburg showed he still has to polish his postseason poise for the Nationals.

Instead, these playoffs bred a new batch of baseball darlings: Cain and the running Royals, starter-turned-reliever Petit and a pair of blazing bullpens no longer overlooked in the World Series.

Of course, no star has burned brighter than a 25-year-old lefty from North Carolina, the one who peeved Posey with his tempered postgame reaction.

Bumgarner's dominant performances in Game 1 and Game 5 - not to mention in every previous round of the playoffs - has put San Francisco one win away from another parade down Market Street, something Willie Mays, Barry Bonds and generations of Giants fans had dreamed of for so long.

Now it's becoming an every-other-year tradition. And if the Giants don't win Game 6, there's always a chance Bumgarner could emerge from the bullpen to help out in Game 7.

Royals rookie Brandon Finnegan might understand the topsy-turvy nature of these playoffs better than anyone.

Only four months after he pitched in the College World Series, the 21-year-old reliever got two key outs in the seventh inning as Kansas City won Game 3. A night later, Finnegan failed to bridge the gap to the back end of the bullpen, allowing five runs in an 11-4 loss to San Francisco.

"Baseball can pick you up quickly," Finnegan said, "and hit you in the gut quickly."

Tue, 28 Oct 2014 00:06:00 +0000
Cardinals stunned by Taveras' death

Mike Matheny needed some time to figure out what to say. Like the rest of the St. Louis Cardinals, the manager was leveled by the sudden death of Oscar Taveras.

The Cardinals are grieving the loss of an active player for the third time in 12 years after the 22-year-old Taveras died Sunday in a car crash in the Dominican Republic. Matheny, general manager John Mozeliak and pitcher Carlos Martinez were part of a group from the organization with plans to attend a private burial service Tuesday in Taveras' country.

"I was asked last night to give some words regarding the tragic death of Oscar Taveras, but I just simply couldn't," Matheny said Monday in a statement. "To say this is a horrible loss of a life ended too soon would be an understatement."

Taveras was a teenager when he signed with St. Louis as an international free agent in 2008. He was regarded as one of baseball's top prospects and homered in his major league debut May 31. He also had a big solo drive in the seventh inning of Game 2 in the NL Championship Series against San Francisco.

"He was someone that became an identity of our organization to some degree," Mozeliak said in a conference call with St. Louis media before a visitation Monday night. "When you think about how much has been written about him and how much has been talked about him, he never truly got a chance to show it at the major league level."

Mozeliak said he took a connecting flight from Miami with Taveras' father.

"Clearly, he was shaken by these events," the GM said.

Taveras was driving a 2014 Chevrolet Camaro at the time of the accident on a highway between the beaches of Sosua and Cabarete in Puerto Plata, about 215 miles north of the capital of Santo Domingo. Edilia Arvelo, Taveras' 18-year-old girlfriend, also died in the crash.

A funeral for Arvelo was held Monday in her hometown of Moca.

Highway police spokesman Col. Diego Pesqueira said the road was wet from a recent rain but the cause of the crash is under investigation. An autopsy was done Monday but results weren't available.

Moises Rodriguez, the international scouting director for the Cardinals, called Mozeliak with the news Sunday night.

"My very first thought was `Is this true? Is this possible?"' Mozeliak said.

The Cardinals had just finalized plans for Taveras to spend most of November at the team's spring training facility in Jupiter, Florida, and then head to the Dominican Winter League. Taveras lost the regular right fielder job to fellow rookie Randal Grichuk, but that did not diminish the organization's long-term view that Taveras could be a star.

Taveras hit .239 with three homers and 22 RBIs in 80 games in his only season in the majors.

"In my opinion, the word `love' is the most misused, and misunderstood word in the English language. It is not popular for men to use this word, and even less popular for athletes," Matheny said. "But, there is not a more accurate word for how a group of men share a deep and genuine concern for each other. We loved Oscar, and he loved us. That is what a team does, that is what a family does. You will be missed, Oscar."

Matheny was a catcher for the Cardinals when pitcher Darryl Kile died of a heart problem in June 2002. St. Louis also lost Josh Hancock in a fatal car crash in April 2007.

Each of those deaths occurred during the season, but the accident for Taveras happened with his teammates at home after losing to San Francisco in the NL Championship Series.

Many of them took to Twitter to express their condolences.

"Last 30 minutes I've been sick to my stomach. Keep thinking about Oscar's big smile in the dugout whenever we made a big play/got a big hit," All-Star reliever Pat Neshek posted Sunday night.

---

Dionisio Soldevila contributed to this report from Santo Domingo, Domincan Republic.

Mon, 27 Oct 2014 23:58:00 +0000

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