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Caroms, quirks and odd bounces in sports in 2012

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Caroms, quirks and odd bounces in sports in 2012

Maybe if they were 22 years old - throwing down drinks in a bar and their faces painted in school colors - this would make sense.

But they were far from 22 and their complexions had long lost the glow of youth. And, most assuredly, they were not in a bar.

They were two basketball fans, both past the age of Medicare eligibility, and they took their game seriously. They also happened to be patients in a dialysis clinic in Georgetown, Ky.

According to authorities, the confrontation came five days before Kentucky played Louisville in the NCAA semifinals. Wildcats vs. Cardinals can make for dicey conversation and the men began exchanging words.

Dialysis assists kidney function, keeping the body chemically balanced by removing salt, waste and excess water. In this case, however, not much was done to contain the buildup of bile.

The 68-year-old Kentucky fan receiving treatment extended a finger to the Louisville fan, and it was not to signify that the Wildcats were No. 1. The 71-year-old Louisville fan responded by punching him in the face.

Police were summoned to the clinic. The Kentucky fan chose to not press charges.

His pain and blood pressure perhaps eased by the weekend: Kentucky beat Louisville 69-61 and went on to win the national title.

Dialysis units were not the only odd spots where sports traveled in 2012: Two sumo wrestlers - one 6-foot-8 and 625 pounds - were cast in a Canadian opera production of ``Semele''; Cowboys Stadium outside Dallas became home to a Victoria's Secret outlet; Lance Armstrong was stripped not only his seven Tour de France titles but of his 2006 honorary degree from Tufts University; and one-time NFL star Chad Ochocinco and House Speaker John Boehner wound up Twitter buddies.

Great heft was not limited to opera. At the London Olympics, judo fighter Ricardo Blas entered the 220-pound-and-over division at 480 pounds, nearly double that of most competitors. It was noted that Blas - the heaviest man at these Olympics - weighed more than the entire Japanese women's gymnastics team.

The London Games also brought an outpouring of joy from the mother of Thailand's Pimsiri Sirikaew, a weightlifting silver medalist. A bacchanalian romp, however, was not in Amornat Sirikaew's plans. She told Thai media she would mark her daughter's triumph by joining a monastery.

Looking to get in on the Olympic fun was a New Zealand farm group that wants sheep shearing as an Olympic sport. It was not immediately clear if winners would forgo gold medals for cashmere sweaters.

Other countries, with seemingly more urgent needs, went in strange directions. Haiti, the Palestinian territories, Togo and Eritrea joined the International Ski Federation, a step that did not exactly strike fear into the Swiss and Austrians. Turkmenistan, where scorching heat can reach 120 degrees, was ordered by presidential decree to create an ice hockey league.

Politics and sports invariably find themselves as tag-team partners, and this year was no different.

Ochocinco, getting ready for the Super Bowl with the New England Patriots, was watching the state of the union address on TV. He was puzzled by the frowning man seated behind the president. When told it was the speaker of the House, Ochocinco (who has since reverted to his original name of Chad Johnson) consoled Boehner on Twitter: ``If all else seems bad in life, just remember I love you kind sir.''

Kindness was surely not on the mind of Donald Trump when he took on all of Scotland. The real estate magnate turned presidential candidate was incensed that a ``horrendous'' wind farm is to be built off the Scottish coast by his luxury golf resort. In a seething letter, in which he invoked his Scottish-reared mother, Trump wrote to First Minister Alex Salmond: ``With the reckless installation of these monsters, you will single-handedly have done more damage to Scotland than any event in Scottish history.''

After Germany's loss in the semifinals of soccer's European Championship, one of its lawmakers rebuked the players for not singing the national anthem with proper gusto, a performance he deemed ``shameful.''

Like politics, religion crossed paths with sports inn 2012.

Manchester City, preparing for its Premier League title defense, headed to a village in the Austrian countryside for rest and training. But one thing Man City did not count on - bells from a medieval church that rattled the players from sleep at 7 a.m. Egon Pfeifer, the priest at St. Oswald Church, held his almighty ground. He said the bells would keep ringing ``even if the queen of England wants them to stop.''

A divinely named baseball team in Minnesota shed its ecclesiastical ties for one night. Two atheists groups were in town for a conference and sponsoring a minor league game. So the St. Paul Saints rebranded themselves for one night as ``Mr. Paul Aints.''

This was also a year of odds-defying moments.

Caleb Lloyd was sitting in the left field seats at a Cincinnati Reds game one spring night when he caught a home run ball hit by Reds pitcher Mike Leake. The next batter, Zack Cozart, also homered to left. And there, as if out of the mist of ``Field of Dreams,'' was Lloyd yet again - ready to stab it, with one hand.

``I was like, `Oh, my gosh, that's just crazy,''' he said.

As was the case Down Under: two amateur golfers in Sydney making consecutive holes-in-one. The odds of two golfers from the same foursome acing the same hole? The National Hole in One Registry website says it's 17 million to 1.

Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles also made a stop in the Twilight Zone. He went 0 for 8 and struck out five times as a designated hitter in a 17-inning victory over Boston. But with the bullpen depleted, he wound up being called to the mound, the first time he pitched in the pros. He threw two scoreless innings and got the win.

``I was like, `Sweet!' I get to try something different today,'' he said. ``Because hitting ain't working.''

Lots of things weren't working for one team at a girls' high school basketball game in Indiana - Arlington lost to Bloomington South 107-2. Bloomington South coach Larry Winters said he wasn't trying to humiliate an opponent. He told the Indianapolis Star he didn't want his players to stop shooting because that ``would have been more embarrassing.''

But for real embarrassment - some might say perseverance beyond all dignity and reason - check in with Russ Berkman. He's from the Seattle area and he won a lottery for passes to a practice round the day before the Masters. His dog had other ideas. Sierra took to the four tickets like a shank of veal and ate them.

What to do? Berkman told KJR radio his girlfriend insisted there was but one course of action. So he got Sierra to cough it all up, and Berkman then began the unsavory task of piecing together 20 shreds of tickets coated with dog vomit.

He reassembled almost three-quarters of them, photographed his handiwork and explained what happened to Augusta National. The club reprinted his tickets, and the Masters was on.

A happy ending for Berkman, although Sierra may have seen it differently.

---

Associated Press writers Bruce Schreiner in Louisvillle, Ky., Dan Sewell in Cincinnati and freelancer Ben McConville in Edinburgh, Scotland, contributed to this report.

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Wizards running out of answers, but players don't seem to want trades

Wizards running out of answers, but players don't seem to want trades

As the Wizards have shown this year, and really since the beginning of last season, there is one particular type of NBA team that gives them trouble. It's the team that plays collectively, with toughness and an edge on defense.

The Wizards allow their opponents to set the tone and the aggressive ones that punch them first usually don't get a punch back.

So far this season, blue-collar teams like the Grizzlies, Clippers and Nets have given the Wizards fits. In those losses, Washington was just trying to keep up, hopelessly reacting on too many plays just a half-or-full-step slower than they needed to.

Though the Blazers are a high-scoring team led by big-name stars, they possess the qualities that expose the Wizards when they are in their most listless form. On Sunday, Portland came out with want-to on defense and a commitment to moving the ball to find open shooters on offense. 

That simple combination was too much for the Wizards, who let the game slip away early, trailing by as many as 20 points in the first quarter alone.

It was hard to watch for everyone on the Washington side; for fans, the coaches and also the players who are losing patience as they grasp for answers to what will fix their persistent woes.

The prevailing message from head coach Scott Brooks' postgame press conference and from the locker room was that they are actively searching for a solution, but that they have no clear sense what that solution is.

"It's embarrassing,” Brooks said, citing effort and energy like he often has this season. “Just trying to figure that out. It's on me."

"I'm not sure. We have to figure something out," forward Markieff Morris said.

"Honestly, I really don't have an answer," forward Jeff Green said, genuinely perplexed.

As the Wizards wilt at 5-11 and in last place, the general consensus from those on the court and the bench seems to be that no major changes need to be made. Brooks suggested he needs to find "five guys on the court that are playing for their team." But he says that all the time and has ever since he took the job before the 2016-17 season.

It doesn't mean wholesale changes are coming.

Guard Bradley Beal pleaded the fifth when asked if trades or firings need to be made.

"I have no idea. All I can do is my job and just like everybody else, and just come in and try to get better every day. At the end of the day, that's Ted [Leonsis'] job, Ernie [Grunfeld's] job to make those decisions," he said.

Morris and guard John Wall each expressed confidence in the players already on the roster.

“I don't think so," Wall said of potentially breaking up the core. "We can still figure it out."

"It's not time for a fire sale," Morris told NBC Sports Washington.

The best insight into what is plaguing the Wizards came from backup guard Austin Rivers. Though he can't put a finger on it, either, he sees some bad signs.

"Our team is like loaded with talent and we're losing game after game. You just start to question it," he said. 

"Guys are like tentative now when they're on the floor. You can see it. You guys can watch it and see it. It doesn't even take a basketball expert to watch... When you lose, guys start getting unsure. We're running and our spacing is terrible. It's just a snowball effect."

Rivers, like Green, went out of his way to say Brooks wasn't the root of it, that it's on the players. He also highlighted his backcourt partner Tomas Satoransky as someone who was exempt from their issues.

"Sato is definitely not the problem. Sato doesn't do anything wrong," Rivers said.

Satoransky was one of the few Wizards players who came out of Sunday's defeat with reasons to hold their chin up walking into the locker room afterwards. He had 10 points, seven assists and was +22 in the box score. 

Like Satoransky, Kelly Oubre Jr. played well. He had 19 points, four rebounds, four assists and three blocks. He was +14. Others like Thomas Bryant and Troy Brown Jr., two youngsters who only played when the game was out of hand, provided a spark of energy off the bench and helped cut the Blazers lead down to single digits late in the game after Portland led by as many as 29.

Brooks has been wary of major lineup adjustments since he arrived in Washington, but it's never been quite this bad. At 5-11, this start is even worse than two years ago, his first season on the job, when they rallied to win 49 games.

If their losing continues, Brooks will have to do something drastic at some point. Maybe that is moving Oubre into the starting lineup and taking Morris out to help guide the second unit. Morris could thrive as a small-ball center, while Oubre could help set a tone defensively with the starters. 

Oubre is their most energetic and active defender. Perhaps that would rub off on Wall, Beal and Otto Porter Jr.

It's clear the Wizards need to change something and the rotation is the logical first place to start. Rivers, for one, wonders if things will get better if they simply stick to the current plan.

"You're just like 'stay with it and it will turn around.' But when? You're digging yourself a farther and farther hole," he said.

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Blazers claim culture is king while Wizards search for fixes 

Blazers claim culture is king while Wizards search for fixes 

CAPITAL ONE ARENA -- NBA franchises go stale. It happens.

Setbacks occur on and off the court. Some obstacles, like falling short of playoff expectations, might shake a franchise to its core. Others fall back on an established ethos that sets expectations and ideals so that when tough times arrive, restoring balance isn’t arduous.

The Portland Trailblazers believe their culture keeps them flying high.

Portland started a run of five consecutive postseason appearances in 2013 after a combined 61 wins the prior two seasons. Twice it won a round, but never more than one.

Last season seemed like a chance for another series triumph, but the No. 3 seed was stunned by New Orleans during a four-game sweep. Such frustration might send some teams into a tizzy, lead outsiders to call for heads. The Blazers kept their cool. The core remained.

Following Sunday’s 119-109 win over the Wizards, Portland (11-5) moved percentage points ahead of Golden State for first in the Western Conference. 

“I think it just shows the character of our team,” All-Star guard Damian Lillard said of Portland’s resiliency shortly after scoring 40 points against Washington. “That’s from our coaches to the training staff to players on the team. We enjoy the process of what we’re building together. We’re committed to each other. That’s the biggest thing. We all want to have success and we all know that doesn’t happen overnight.”

The turn began in 2012 with the arrival of several leaders, including Lillard, general manager Neil Olshey and coach Terry Stotts. Another foundational move came in 2013 with the selection of a second consecutive first-round guard, C.J. McCollum.

That backcourt pairing, similar to the Wizards’ duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal, became the headliners, the tone-setters. They learned how to win, how to lead.

“We have a lot of good guys on the team. Damian and C.J. are good friends. They’re both very talented players,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “They complement each other well. I don’t know. Maybe I just take it for granted, but I try not to. We’ve got really good culture and it’s led by those two guys.”

Forward Meyers Leonard, Portland’s second lottery pick after Lillard in 2012, also promoted the power of the franchise’s values in keeping the team from imploding when struggles arise.

“What’s expected of you every single day, both as a person and a player. Guys show up to the facility ready to work. It’s a good environment. Everyone enjoys being there. Everyone works hard. … Getting work in before practice, getting work in after practice. Being willing to compete in practice and never take anything personal because we know we want to get better. That all translates to the game.”

While the Blazers talked cohesion, the Wizards spent another evening looking for answers. Washington, which trailed 32-12 and by 21 at halftime, fell to 5-11.

“It was terrible,” Beal said.

“You don't win games by just playing, you win games by competing,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “And you win games by competing for your teammates, and you don't win games any other way. There is no team in this league that can win games if you don't compete for your teammates. And I got to find five guys that are willing to do that.”

Washington started the season 1-6 with its only victory coming at Portland Oct. 22, 125-124 in overtime. Markieff Morris led the Wizards with 28 points, and Otto Porter blocked Lillard’s potential game-winning shot at the buzzer. Portland’s starting guards shot a dismal 12-for-46 from the field, though Lillard still scored 29.

He wasn’t particularly efficient in the rematch either (12 for 29 field goals) but some positive aspects continued. Lillard’s tenacity showed especially Sunday with Portland coming off back-to-back losses. In both games, Lillard made 13 of 15 free throws. Whether the shots were falling or not, he decided this was a game where laying back wasn’t an option.

“We wanted to come in and be sharp. I knew that being a leader on this team, I had to come out here and kind of enforce that and impose my will and be aggressive and assertive and live with the result,” Lillard said. “That was my mindset coming in and I was going to keep my foot on that gas until there was no time left to make sure we got it done.”

They did and now sit in the reified air, looking down at Golden State in the standings. From the Blazers’ perspective, this result wasn’t about a good night’s work, but long-running connections.

“The more you connect on a personal level with your teammates, your coaches, with everybody the more success you’re going to have. The more you’re gonna want to work,” Leonard said. “The more you’re going to compete as hard as you possibly can. It all comes back to culture. When we get free agents, it’s what’s expected. It’s fun to be around. It’s fun to come to work. That’s what I would say is the biggest thing.”

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