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Rockets return home after rugged road swing

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Rockets return home after rugged road swing

HOUSTON (AP) It's been an ugly new year so far for the Houston Rockets.

They snapped a seven-game losing streak with an ugly win in Charlotte on Monday and were finally back on their own practice floor Tuesday after playing nine of their first 12 games of 2013 on the road.

Where to begin?

The Rockets averaged 115.8 points during a five-game winning streak from Dec. 31-Jan. 8. They've averaged only 94.1 points in the eight games since, and lead the league in turnovers (16.5 per game) heading into Wednesday's game against Denver.

Coach Kevin McHale doesn't see the offense as the Rockets' most glaring issue at the moment. Houston also ranks last in points allowed (103.23 points per game), and fixing the defense is McHale's most immediate priority.

``That's been a concern,'' McHale said. ``The offense is going to come and go, we've missed a lot of shots during this stretch and we've had a lot of turnovers. But we've got to tighten up defensively.''

Following Houston's 117-109 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers last week, forward Chandler Parsons bluntly evaluated the Rockets' defense. The Clippers shot 54 percent from the field and went 11-of-19 from 3-point range.

``There's no excuse for guys just getting blown by or getting just dominated,'' Parsons said. ``Man up, play better.''

Houston then dropped games at Dallas, Indiana and Minnesota, a skid that culminated in a players-only meeting over the weekend. The Rockets won in Charlotte by outscoring the Bobcats 26-13 in the final quarter - a glimpse of the kind of defense they need to play.

``When we don't get stops, it doesn't allow us to get out on transition, where we're best,'' Parsons said. ``It should start on the defensive end, all of us, individually and collectively. Focus in on that.''

McHale said Houston's defensive improvement has to start down low. Center Omer Asik is having a solid first season in Houston, averaging 10.3 points and 11 rebound per game. But he's averaging only 1.1 blocks per game, and the Rockets lack any shot-blocking presence to scare off opponents.

``You've got to start off by protecting the paint,'' McHale said. ``The best way to protect the paint is having two 7-foot-2 guys who can block shots all over the place. That's hard to find, so the next best way is to find bodies. We've got to put bodies in the paint and we've got to keep people out, we've got to take away layups and we've got to get defensive rebounds.''

That leads to easy baskets, but those seem harder to come by lately, too.

James Harden was the last Rocket on the floor Tuesday, pouring in one 3-pointer after another. He's played like the star the Rockets were hoping he would be when they nabbed him from Oklahoma City in a stunning trade in late October.

Harden ranks fifth in scoring (25.9 points per game) and has been Houston's high scorer in 22 of 23 games. But with overall scoring down and turnovers up, the most obvious player to scrutinize is point guard Jeremy Lin, who was benched and replaced by newcomer Patrick Beverley in the fourth quarter on Monday.

Lin didn't speak to the media on Tuesday. He's had a hot-and-cold first season with the Rockets after he skyrocketed to worldwide fame in New York about this time last year. He's had his moments - 38 points in a loss to San Antonio, 22 points and nine assists in a win over the Knicks in his return to Madison Square Garden - but he's also struggled in stretches, especially with his outside shot.

McHale is quick to point out that Lin is still only 24 and has only 68 starts in his NBA career.

``Jeremy's OK,'' McHale said. ``Jeremy is a young guy who's been up and down before. When you're a young fella, you have some ups and downs and that will be the case with a lot of guys. No big deal, he's going to be fine.''

The Rockets have 12 games remaining before the NBA's All-Star Weekend comes to town. They seemed upbeat after Tuesday's practice, but Harden acknowledged that the young team's confidence was damaged by the recent slide.

Different from his days in Oklahoma City, Harden feels like everyone is looking to him for leadership.

``We've got to bring each other in,'' Harden said. ``We went through a tough stretch, so everybody kind of put their heads down a little bit. Being that this is a new role for me, I've got to do a better job of leading these guys and telling them that this is a game, everybody goes through these stretches. We've got to figure a way to get out of it.''

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Orioles welcome home military service member with surprise first pitch

Orioles welcome home military service member with surprise first pitch

The Orioles helped make one family's Father's Day a day that they will never forget. 

Specialist Addam Bostwick from Fort George G. Meade United States Army installation surprised his father, former Marine Stephen Bostwick, with a special ceremonial first pitch Sunday afternoon at Camden Yards.

Stephen, who is a four-year veteran of the US Marine Corps, was expecting an Orioles player to catch the first pitch, was shocked to see Addam, who had been deployed in Afghanistan for four months, surprised his father.

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Carli Lloyd scores 2 and the US downs Chile 3-0 at the World Cup

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Carli Lloyd scores 2 and the US downs Chile 3-0 at the World Cup

Carli Lloyd scored a pair of goals for the United States in a somewhat subdued 3-0 victory over Chile that advanced the defending Women's World Cup champions to the round of 16.

The United States was criticized after its record-breaking 13-0 rout of Thailand when players celebrated goals even after the victory was well in hand. The Americans were more muted in this one, and all three goals were in the first half.

Sweden also advanced out of Group F with a victory 5-1 victory over Thailand earlier Sunday in Nice. Japan, playing in Group D with England, also went through to the knockout stage because both the United States and Sweden won.

Lloyd earned the start after coming in off the bench in the opener, and in the 11th minute became the first player to score in six straight World Cup matches.

She added another on a header off a corner in the 35th minute for her 10th career World Cup goal, which moved her into third on the all-time U.S. list behind Abby Wambach (14) and Michelle Akers (12).

Four years ago at the World Cup in Canada, Lloyd scored three goals in the opening 16 minutes of the finale to lead the United States to a 5-2 victory over Japan for the team's third overall title.

She nearly got another hat trick -- which would have made her the first player with two World Cups -- but her penalty kick in the 81st minute went wide left.

The Americans were blasted after their tournament-opening victory for the lopsided score, and overenthusiastic celebration, and the controversy clouded the run-up to Sunday's game.

Several of the U.S. players reached out to their Thai counterparts following the match. Lloyd exchanged encouraging words and tweets with goalkeeper Sukanya Chor Charoenying, and FIFA posted an interview with Thailand's coach thanking the U.S. players for being professional and playing well.

The United States set records for goals and margin of victory against Thailand. Alex Morgan tied the World Cup record for most individual goals with five, and she was among a record seven different scorers in a single game.

After such a rout, Jill Ellis made sweeping changes to the starting lineup against Chile with a new front line: Lloyd, Christen Press and Mallory. Morgan was moved to the bench along with Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath.

Becky Sauerbrunn, who sat out of the match against Thailand because of a minor quad injury, returned and anchored a backline that included 20-year-old Tierna Davidson, who was making her World Cup debut. Davidson is the youngest player to start for the United States in the World Cup since Tiffany Roberts against Norway in 1995.

Chile made just one lineup change, starting midfielder Claudia Soto in place of Yanara Aedo.

Chile lost its opener to Sweden 2-0 but goalkeeper Christiane Endler kept the Swedes out of the goal until the 83rd minute. The second goal got past her in stoppage time. The 6-footer who plays for Paris Saint-Germain was solid again against the United States, especially in the second half when the United States peppered her with shots.

Julie Ertz scored in the 26th minute with a header off a corner kick from Davidson that Endler got her hands on but couldn't stop. It was her first World Cup goal and came with her husband Zach Ertz, a tight end for the Philadelphia Eagles, looking on.

Ender was able to prevent Lloyd from another attempt at a hat trick when she tipped the U.S. captain's shot over the net in the 72nd minute.

Former Vice President Joe Biden was among the U.S. team's well-wishers before the sold-out game at Parc des Princes stadium. Biden, who is running for President in 2020, referenced the team's lawsuit against U.S. Soccer alleging gender discrimination and seeking equitable pay.

"As we cheer them on in the World Cup, we must support their fight off the field for equal pay. In 2019, it's past time we close the pay gap and ensure women get paid as much as men," Biden posted on Twitter.

U.S. soccer maintains that the two teams have different pay structures because of separate collective bargaining agreements.

The United States plays Sweden in Le Havre on Thursday to wrap up the group stage. It is the first meeting between the two teams since Sweden ousted the American from the quarterfinals at the 2016 Olympics.

Chile wraps up the group with a match against Thailand on Thursday in Rennes.

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