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New Orleans' challenge: policing 2 huge parties

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New Orleans' challenge: policing 2 huge parties

NEW ORLEANS (AP) A New Orleans police force famed for its crowd control prowess is getting help from state and federal authorities as the city hosts an estimated 150,000 Super Bowl fans while preparing for the raucous buildup to Mardi Gras, which also draws thousands to the historic French Quarter and its restaurants, bars and strip clubs.

The security challenges began in earnest Friday night with the first of the city's major float-filled Mardi Gras season parades. This week, the parade schedule is on hold while the Super Bowl takes center stage. Mardi Gras preparations resume once Sunday's game is over, and the parades roll again starting Wednesday.

The city's police force of 1,200 officers is bolstered this week by more than 200 Louisiana State Police troopers and hundreds of federal authorities from several agencies.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was in town for a Wednesday news conference outlining security precautions, including Immigrations and Customs Enforcement scans of cargo shipped to the game site and Coast Guard work to assure maritime safety and security along the Mississippi River. Game-day plans will include flight restrictions in the airspace near the Superdome, pat-down searches of ticket holders and the use of dogs to sniff out contraband.

Michael Anderson, head of the FBI's New Orleans office, said no credible terrorism threats have arisen.

``This week, there is no safer place to be than the city of New Orleans,'' added Raymond Parmer, a special agent with ICE.

Even with all the help, the combination of Super Bowl and Mardi Gras season means New Orleans Police Department officers are working more than three weeks' worth of 12-hour days, on the lookout for everything from petty crime and public drunkenness to random gunfire and the threat of terrorism. It will be an exhausting stretch that city officials say will cost the city several million dollars in police overtime.

``If we can, we'd like to give them some time down,'' said police chief Ronal Serpas. ``But if we can't, they know it and they'll stand up for it.''

It's also a unique chance for Serpas to show off one of the strengths of a department beset by scandals involving brutality and mismanagement. City officials have carried out numerous reforms aimed at cleaning up the department, which has seen five officers convicted of civil rights violations stemming from deadly shootings of unarmed residents after Hurricane Katrina.

For years, though, crowd control has been the department's bright spot, especially during Mardi Gras revelry on the narrow streets of the nearly 300-year-old French Quarter, home to fancy restaurants and art galleries as well as sleazy bars and strip joints.

``I think the NOPD does take a particular pride in its long-standing history and long-standing demonstration that managing large crowds is something we do very well,'' said Serpas, who is in his third year running the department.

Shoulder-to-shoulder, alcohol-fueled crowds often spill over into the neighboring Faubourg Marigny, an increasingly popular area of music clubs and restaurants. A 15-block-long stretch of Poydras Street, linking the Superdome to the Mississippi River and the massive Harrah's Casino, is seeing increased foot traffic during sports events with the opening of more bars and restaurants in recent years. And, outside the Quarter, lavish Carnival season parades draw tens of thousands to the miles-long routes. During the final weekend of Mardi Gras, streets of the metro area can be packed with more than a million people, and more than a few will be overdoing it.

``The thing about Mardi Gras crowds is, we get this impression that some of the people may have been drinking,'' Serpas deadpanned.

Police perched atop horses watch for problems on the horizon and keep people moving, while uniformed officers on foot mingle and build rapport with the partiers to keep the peace. Plainclothes officers will be on the lookout for weapons and other less visible problems. Arrest numbers vary from year to year, though police commonly arrest at least several hundred people each year during Mardi Gras-related celebrations - most for relatively minor transgressions.

Joining the department's officers for Super Bowl week are more than 200 state troopers and about 100 officers from surrounding local jurisdictions. Also, with the Super Bowl considered a potential terrorist target, there is a beefed-up federal contingent. That includes close to 100 extra FBI personnel supplementing the regular New Orleans FBI staff of 200 agents and support staff, said Anderson.

The New Orleans FBI office will be home to a joint operations center where the goings-on will be constantly monitored by representatives from all involved state, local and federal law enforcement and security agencies. Such a center is standard operating procedure for the Super Bowl each year, Anderson said.

New Orleans police will take the lead on local crime, traffic or public disturbances, Anderson said. ``If there's any inkling of a terrorist attack or threat of terrorist attack in any way,'' he said, ``then we kick in with our full apparatus.''

At Louis Armstrong International Airport, the Transportation Safety Administration is adding personnel and equipment to handle security checks, said TSA spokesman Jon Allen. He said there will be 11 additional checkpoint lanes added to the 14 existing lanes for passenger screening.

Five additional explosives-detecting machines have been added to screen checked baggage, and more than 100 transportation security officers will be brought in from other airports starting Sunday to help local airport staff, Allen said. The officers will stay through the middle of next week, he said.

Beyond the city's police costs, exact security costs are difficult to determine. Federal officials declined to detail specifics, and an NFL representative would say only that the league will spend millions.

Mardi Gras season happens every year, and the city is no stranger to Super Bowls, having hosted nine - including the 2002 game that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Although security planning for the Super Bowl has grown increasingly complex since the attacks, no acts of terror or other serious problems have been reported at Super Bowls in recent years.

Most Super Bowl problems in recent years resulted from human gridlock. At last year's Super Bowl in Indianapolis, 11 people suffered minor injuries during a free outdoor concert. But officials said otherwise there were few problems.

This year, officers will be prepared to reroute or block vehicle traffic when streets are full of pedestrians. As for terrorism worries, Anderson said preparations include formation of SWAT teams and ``hazardous incident teams'' - specialists in hazardous materials or explosives assembled from the various federal local and state agencies.

Serpas welcomes the help, but he said much of the cooperation comes from the partiers themselves - a diverse crowd that can consist of locals and families picnicking on parade routes and a more adult, heavier-drinking crowd downtown and in the Quarter.

``You look at that parade route, and on any one block there could be 10,000 people and two cops,'' Serpas said. ``How do those two cops stay safe, and how does that crowd stay safe? We're actually working together.''

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NBA Midseason Awards 2018: Who is leading the pack at the break?

NBA Midseason Awards 2018: Who is leading the pack at the break?

The 2017-18 NBA season has reached the halfway point with the 2018 NBA All-Star Game taking place in Los Angeles, Calif., this weekend.

But as the season shifts toward the second half NBC Sports Washington is taking at the major NBA awards and which players are positioned to bring home the hardware at the end of the 2018 season.

The season is far from over the second half is where the awards are won. Will Ben Simmons hold on to his lead in the Rookie of the Year running? Will LeBron James surpass James Harden for the MVP award?

Below are the detailed results of the NBC Sports Washington NBA midseason awards. 

The voting panel consists of NBC Sports Washington's Steve Buckhantz, Kara Lawson, Chris Miles, Travis Thomas, Adam Wise, Chase Hughes, Nick Ashooh and Troy Machir.

CLICK HERE FOR THE 2017-2018 NBA MIDSEASON AWARDS GALLERY

2017-2018 NBA Midseason Awards

Rookie of the Year:

Nick AshoohDonovan Mitchell, Jazz. While Simmons gets to work with another franchise player in Joel Embiid, Mitchell saw Utah's second-leading scorer traded at the deadline (Rodney Hood), and has had center Rudy Gobert miss tons of games with injuries. Mitchell is the first rookie to lead his team in scoring during a winning streak of at least 11 games and he leads all rookies in scoring, on a team that could make the playoffs in a tough Western Conference.

Steve BuckhantzBen Simmons, 76ers. Rookie of the year would be Ben Simmons, and while there are more than one outstanding young players in the game, he seems to be the most unstoppable and the one with the greatest upside, especially if he hones his shooting skills.

Chase Hughes: Ben Simmons, 76ers. Simmons has returned from injury to be a rookie sensation, consistently flirting with or recording triple-doubles. He is going to be an All-Star for a long time.

Kara LawsonBen Simmons, 76ers.

Troy MachirBen Simmons, 76ers. This is tough because Simmons 1) isn't really a rookie 2) Doesn't have any range on his jump shot, and 3) gets to play with Joel Embiid. Donovan Mitchell is the best player on his team and is doing it all without Rodney Hood (trade) and Rudy Gobert (injury). I still lean toward Simmons, but Mitchell will probably steal from him in the second half. 

Chris Miles:  Donovan Mitchell, Jazz. As Damian Lillard put it, he’s actually leading his team. Secondly he isn’t a “red-shirt rookie” like his top competitor Ben Simmons. This is a two horse race if anyone picks someone else that’s a failed drug test.

Travis ThomasBen Simmons, 76ers.  He’s the second best player on a team destined for the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. His combination of size and court vision reminds me of a young Magic Johnson.

Adam Wise: Ben Simmons, 76ers. I don't like the rule that he's technically a rookie (ahem, Blake Griffin winning over John Wall in 2010-11) but he's a triple-double threat every night and you can't ignore that. Donovan Mitchell is a close second.

CLICK HERE FOR THE 2017-2018 NBA MIDSEASON AWARDS GALLERY

Most Improved Player:

Nick Ashooh: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. It’s always tough to pick the MOP, because sometimes it’s more about bigger opportunity that showcases the game a player already has.

Steve BuckhantzJaylen Brown, Celtics. Every time I see him play, the results are amazing. A very close second would be Kristaps Porzingis of the Knicks.

Chase Hughes: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. Oladipo went from decent to stardom seemingly overnight and has made the Pacers look very smart for trading for him.

Kara Lawson: Victor Oladipo, Pacers.

Troy Machir: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. We've always known Oladipo has elite athleticism and talent, but the change in scenery meant more opportunities to lead and develop. He's gone from a solid start to a bona fide perennial All-Star in less than half a season. 

Chris MilesVictor Oladipo, Pacers. He’s running away with this award. I taught him how to shoot over the summer so I can’t wait to get my residuals.

Travis ThomasVictor Oladipo. The local product is an All-Star now and he’s the only bright light on a team that’s overachieving, proving he’s also a leader. It’s hard to imagine the Pacers being in the Playoff picture without Oladipo.

Adam Wise: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks. Should Tim Hardaway Jr. have a say in this? Giannis has upped his "wow" factor this season and it was already among to tops in the league. He's can't-miss viewing when he's on the floor.

CLICK HERE FOR THE 2017-2018 NBA MIDSEASON AWARDS GALLERY

Sixth Man of the Year:

Nick Ashooh: Lou Williams, Clippers. No brainer here. "Lou-Will" is one of the top scorers in the NBA despite playing just 32 minutes per game.

Steve BuckhantzLou Williams, Clippers. He's making shots of the bench like Jamal Crawford and has had numerous game winners. I also like Terry Rozier of Boston. He's an excellent player with a huge upside.

Keely Diven:

Chase Hughes: Lou Williams, Clippers.  could have been an All-Star this year, he has been that good off the Clippers' bench. The guy is putting up career numbers and got a well-deserved contract extension along the way.

Kara Lawson: Lou Williams, Clippers. 

Troy Machir: Lou Williams, Clippers. There are several good candidates, but this is Lou Williams' award ... again. He's averaging over 20 ppg and coming off the bench AND nearly made the All-Star Game. When has that ever happened before?

Chris Miles:  Kelly Oubre, Wizards. Yep, I went full homer on this one. Dude is legit and this summer the “should Oubre start” camp is going to revolt if he keeps this up.

Travis ThomasLou Williams, Clippers. He should be every year. In fact they should rename the award, Lou Williams Of The Year. He’s averaging 23 points a game coming off the bench for a team going nowhere fast.

Adam Wise: Lou Williams, Clippers. He should've been an All-Star ... and he doesn't even start! 

CLICK HERE FOR THE 2017-2018 NBA MIDSEASON AWARDS GALLERY

Coach of the Year:

Nick Ashooh: Mike D'Antoni, Rockets. D’Antoni has kept the Rockets in contention for the top spot in the west, which means a true competitor to the Warriors. They’ve already had two double-digit win streaks, and now that he finally has a roster that fits his system, it’s not just Golden State that can run teams off the floor.

Steve Buckhantz: Eric Spoelstra, Heat. Just when you think they really don't have a lot going on in South Florida, he consistently keeps his squad in the game and has them poised to make a run in the post season. Brett Brown of the Sixers and Brad Steven of the Celtics would also get consideration.

Chase Hughes: Gregh Popovich, Spurs. The Spurs are third in the stacked Western Conference despite missing Kawhi Leonard.

Kara Lawson: Dwane Casey, Raptors.

Troy Machir: Dwane Casey, Raptors. The Cavs and Celtics are the talk of the East, but the Raptors are the most consistent team this side of the Mississippi River. Casey doesn't get enough credit, which is why I'm writing about him here. 

Chris MilesBrad Stevens, Celtics. I hate Boston, everything about it. Just being forced to pick this guy means I don’t have to write an explanation.

Travis ThomasBrad Stevens, Celtics. Boston has continually overachieved under Stevens tutelage. Despite the devastating injury to Gordon Hayward, Stevens still has the Celtics primed for a run at the NBA Finals.

Adam Wise: Dwane Casey, Raptors. Toronto seemed to be an afterthought in the East after everyone got all excited about the new faces in Boston and Cleveland. He's figured out how to use a deeper bench, while also giving ample minutes to his stars in DeRozan & Lowry. The Raptors are very well in the hunt for the top seed for that reason.

CLICK HERE FOR THE 2017-2018 NBA MIDSEASON AWARDS GALLERY

NBA Most Valuable Player:

Nick Ashooh: James Harden, Rockets. He leads the NBA in scoring, second in assists, and has Houston poised to give a legit push to the Warriors out West.

Steve Buckhantz: James Harden, Rockets. You can always make a case for the great players and how they elevate the athletes around them, and this is an award that's best suited to someone AFTER the season ends, but right now I'd go with Harden, who continues to play at a high level for his squad. Lebron will be there in the end, as will Steph Curry and Kevin Durant. 

Chase Hughes: James Harden, Rockets. He is the NBA's leading scorer, is second in assists and is leading the charge for the Rockets, who have the league's best record.

Kara Lawson: James Harden, Rockets. 

Troy Machir: James Harden, Rockets. LeBron James is still the best basketball player on the planet, but James Harden is the NBA MVP at the midway point. He's still the elite volume scorer he always was, but he's evolved into a player that makes his teammates around him better. Also, he scored a 60-point triple-double. 

Chris MilesJames Harden, Rockets. His 60-point triple-double should say enough. His team is also 26-1 when he has Chris Paul and Clint Capella. They also gave it to the Warriors and are in contention for the top seed in the West. Lebron James is second and could supplant Harden depending on how the season ends.

Travis ThomasJames Harden, Rockets. You could have made the case for him the past three seasons but other guys balled out of control and earned the award. This season it’s undeniable, he’s averaging  over 30 point per game and leading one of the best teams in the league.

Adam Wise: James Harden, Rockets. He's used the runner-up to the award as motivation this year. While the rebounding numbers are down (Clint Capella has gobbled them up), he's still near the top of the league in assists and he's leading the NBA in scoring. Oh yeah, and his play has elevated the Rockets into the "Could they really beat the Warriors in the playoffs?" discussion.

CLICK HERE FOR THE 2017-2018 NBA MIDSEASON AWARDS GALLERY

Virginia stays at No. 1, Middle Tennessee enters Top 25 for first time ever

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Virginia stays at No. 1, Middle Tennessee enters Top 25 for first time ever

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Virginia strengthened its hold on No. 1 in the AP Top 25 while Duke jumped back into the top five after a pair of impressive wins.

The Cavaliers earned 42 of 65 first-place votes in the poll released Monday. That's 12 more than last week when they reached No. 1 for the first time since the Ralph Sampson era.

The top four remained unchanged, with No. 2 Michigan State earning 19 first-place votes after rallying from 27 down to beat Northwestern. Third-ranked Villanova got the other four first-place votes after winning at No. 4 Xavier.

Fifth-ranked Duke jumped seven spots after beating Virginia Tech and Clemson despite playing without injured top freshman Marvin Bagley III.

Middle Tennessee checked in at 24th, marking its first AP Top 25 appearance in program history.

Complete AP Top 25 Poll for Week 16:

1. Virginia (42)
2. Michigan State (19)
3. Villanova (4)
4. Xavier
5. Duke
6. Texas Tech
7. Gonzaga
8. Kansas
9. Purdue
10. North Carolina
11. Cincinnati
12. Auburn
13. Wichita State
14. Arizona
15. Clemson
16. Ohio State
17. Michigan
18. Rhode Island
19. Tennessee
20. Nevada
21. West Virginia
22. Saint Mary's (CA)
23. Houston
24. Middle Tennessee
25. Florida State

NBC Sports Washington contributed to this report.