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Lopez leads Nets past Timberwolves 91-83

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Lopez leads Nets past Timberwolves 91-83

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Brook Lopez strengthened his push for a spot on the All-Star team with 22 points on 10-for-16 shooting, helping the Brooklyn Nets hold off the Minnesota Timberwolves 91-83 on Wednesday night.

The Nets improved to 12-2 under interim coach P.J. Carlesimo, and they're 9-1 with their preferred starting lineup: Lopez, the NBA's highest-scoring center, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace and Reggie Evans. Williams and Johnson scored 18 points apiece, and the Nets never trailed despite some sloppy stretches of play.

C.J. Watson added 14 points for the Nets, who won for the first time in their last nine games at Minnesota. The Wolves have lost seven of their last eight overall.

Andrei Kirilenko had 15 points and Dante Cunningham added 14 for the Wolves, who played without shooting guard Alexey Shved (left ankle) and center Nikola Pekovic (right quadriceps) for the third straight game. That's not to mention the four others out with longer-term injuries, a troubling list led by Kevin Love.

With Ricky Rubio guarding Williams and Luke Ridnour on Johnson, the Nets as they often do had mostly favorable matchups in the backcourt with their pair of perennial All-Stars. But whether it was bad passes that sailed out of bounds, a willingness to settle too often for long jump shots or scrappy defense by the Wolves, the Nets never put the game away. They even took a 66-52 lead shortly after halftime, only to let Ridnour lead the Wolves back within two points again.

Johnson went nearly 24 1/2 minutes without scoring until a flurry late in the third quarter. Watson picked up where Johnson left off, playing a game of ``Around the World'' at J.J. Barea's expense early in the fourth period with nine straight points for the Nets.

The Wolves fell to 3-9 in January, 2-8 since Love re-injured his right hand.

Fresh from an important win over the crosstown rival Knicks that moved them within one game of the Atlantic Division lead, the Nets needed to avoid the natural letdown against a reeling, injury-ravaged opponent. ``You talk about Band-Aids,'' Carlesimo said before the game, sympathizing with the Wolves.

The Nets took a 14-2 lead with a 10-for-15 start from the floor against a team whose defense has faded following a solid start to the season. The Wolves allowed an average of 91.9 points over their first 18 games, but in the 21 games since they've given up more than 100 points per contest.

For all their effort to make this a game, the Wolves were just too short-handed to gain control. Derrick Williams found a lane to the basket off a slick give-and-go with Ridnour late in the first quarter, but he missed his dunk with Lopez in his face. Then, when Rubio stole the ball back, the struggling point guard's behind-the-back pass to Williams was intercepted by Wallace.

Chris Johnson, the lean, athletic center signed on Saturday to an emergency 10-day contract from the D-League, at least provided some energy and flair underneath to help counteract Lopez's usual production on the other end. Chris Johnson played all 12 minutes in the second quarter and had 10 points in that stretch. He's 11 of 14 from the field in three games for the Wolves.

Rubio had more trouble finding a rhythm, a common sight in his comeback from reconstructive surgery on his left knee. He had six assists and three steals but only five points on 2-for-5 shooting and looked upset on the bench near the end of the game.

Rubio's season high is eight points, and he is 0 for 11 from 3-point range. Outside shooting is trouble for the whole team, though. The Wolves were the only NBA team coming into the game with a 3-point percentage worse than 30 percent. They went 3 for 15 on Wednesday.

Notes: Barea said he'll appeal his $5,000 fine for flopping. His second violation of the new rule this season occurred in the Jan. 14 game at Dallas. ... The Nets assigned rookies Tornike Shengelia and Tyshawn Taylor to their D-League affiliate. Carlesimo said they're good enough to be in the NBA now, but there's little opportunity for them to develop on a contending team. ``They need to play more than anything,'' the coach said. ... Carlesimo was asked what the ceiling is for Lopez, who entering the night was the only player in the NBA currently averaging at least 18 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks per game. ``I don't know, and I think that's a good thing,'' Carlesimo said. ... Ridnour has scored in double digits in 10 of his last 11 games. He's the only Wolves player to start every game this season.

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Follow Dave Campbell on Twitter:http://www.twitter.com/DaveCampbellAP

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Josh Norman's status for the Redskins in 2019 comes down to dollars and sense

Josh Norman's status for the Redskins in 2019 comes down to dollars and sense

Josh Norman’s former defensive coordinator will not join his former pupil in Washington. What’s left to wonder is whether the cornerback stays with the Redskins for the 2019 season.

On the surface, that premise seems flawed. Why ponder releasing the team's best cornerback especially with several uncertain slots elsewhere on defense including safety? 

Follow the money. 

Norman, 31, is now three years into the five-year, $75 million contract he signed in 2016. His salary ate up huge chunks of the team’s salary cap in each of those three years. 

Norman accounts for a mere $9 million in dead cap space over the final two seasons. That includes six million in 2019, but the number reaches $14.5 million if he remains on the roster. 

For a team with $16.6 million in total salary cap space –24th in the league according to Spotrac – finding ways to free up more room becomes a primary topic this offseason.

What remains at corner should Norman exit explains why he may and likely should stay. 

Quinton Dunbar proved viable in his first season in the starting lineup, though the former wide receiver missed nine games with leg injuries and finished the year on injured reserve. 

Beyond Norman and Dunbar, Washington’s corner depth chart includes four players who enter 2019 with a combined five years of NFL experience. 

Fabian Moreau, a 2017 third-round pick, received valuable playing time in the slot. Moving him outside creates a need inside.

Greg Stroman, one of two seventh-round selections last season, played more than anticipated during his rookie season because of Dunbar’s injuries. 

Same with another rookie, undrafted free agent Danny Johnson. Both showed positive traits, but likely not enough for the coaching staff to believe they could enter the starting lineup Week 1. 

Adonis Alexander, added in last year’s supplemental draft, mostly had a redshirt rookie season. 

Maybe there’s a scenario where the Redskins believe in this unit’s upside and think they could cobble together a viable group with a basic free agent addition joining the mix. That seems like a dicey proposition at the moment.

The real concerns in the secondary exist at safety. Washington may need two new starters. The team released another talkative defensive back, D.J. Swearinger before Week 17. The other starter, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, is a free agent. 

Second-year safety Montae Nicholson went to the bench after the Redskins acquired Clinton-Dix from the Packers during the season. Nicholson’s year ended on the reserve/non-football injury list following his December arrest for assault and battery, and being drunk in public. 

Swearinger’s release added to a lengthy list of projected team needs, including inside linebacker, guard, wide receiver, edge pass rusher and likely quarterback depending on Alex Smith’s recovery. 

Cutting Norman puts cornerback on the list.

Though he has not received Pro Bowl honors since signing with Washington or performed at the high level achieved during his final season with Carolina, Norman delivered a solid 2018 campaign. He believes there’s more he can do on the field particularly rushing the quarterback in select moments. Perhaps a rumored defensive coordinator change unlocks more. 

Whether that coaching switch occurs or not, swapping Norman for salary cap space is among the considerations this off-season. On the surface, such a move causes more uncertainty for a defense already appearing needy in some key spots. 

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Bryce Harper wants Tony Romo to predict his future after AFC championship game

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USA TODAY Sports

Bryce Harper wants Tony Romo to predict his future after AFC championship game

Bryce Harper has been having a little fun on Twitter lately with his fans, who are still anxiously waiting to hear which MLB team the coveted free agent will sign with this season. 

And the 26-year-old slugger's jokes continued through the AFC championship game between the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night. 

The Patriots' 37-31 overtime win over the Chiefs was broadcasted on CBS, so former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo was calling the game, along with Jim Nantz. Since Romo joined the broadcast booth for the 2017 season, he's repeatedly proven he can read a defense before a quarterback does and predict a play before it unfolds. 

He did it again during the AFC championship matchup, and fans watching were stunned at his accuracy. And that brings us to Harper, who chimed in with a joke about Romo's spot-on predictions.

So, does this mean Harper knows what his future team is?! Maybe he's growing as tired of the anticipation as fans (especially Nationals fans) are. 

Recently, he's been responding on Twitter to discussions about where he'll end up with shrugging and questioning emojis -- making light of the offseason's biggest mystery. 

After Romo's proven history of being able to predict the future on the NFL side with incredible accuracy, maybe he does know Harper's future too. Here's a look at some of his predictions from the Patriots-Chiefs game, as well as from his first couple seasons in the booth.

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