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Still on the rebound, Detroit hosts World Series

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Still on the rebound, Detroit hosts World Series

DETROIT (AP) An ace pitcher and some of the game's best sluggers are the winning combination that has put the Detroit Tigers in the World Series for the second time since 2006. But miles away from Comerica Park, much of the city still seems many seasons from its own grand slam.

When the Series returns to Detroit Saturday for Game 3, TV viewers will get a glimpse of a vibrant downtown, including Comerica, the General Motors towers, popular restaurants and flashy casinos. High-end grocer Whole Foods is building its first Detroit store north of Comerica, and wealthy investors are snapping up vacant buildings and filling them with workers.

Yet beyond this pocket of revitalization, much of Detroit still is struggling to make a comeback after the Great Recession sent the city and the auto industry on a perilous plunge. Public finances are unstable, thousands of homes sit vacant, homicides are on the rise and many residents have left or want to leave.

"In '06, it wasn't as intense as it is now," said barber Thomas Carter, referring to the Tigers last trip to the World Series as he cut hair at the C-Spot, 15 miles northwest of Comerica Park. "The city is in more desperation today. The blight and the black eyes weren't as bad."

Indeed, life in the neighborhoods seems a world away from downtown. The area around the ballpark has been a bright spot for the otherwise struggling city, and its success has been difficult to replicate.

Downtown's rise took years to take hold. Tigers' owner Mike Ilitch reopened the rehabbed Fox Theatre in 1988, starting a slow revival along the historic, brick-paved artery, Woodward Avenue. In 2000, Ilitch moved the Tigers to a new stadium across the street from the Fox. Others have followed, including the Detroit Lions and its Ford Field, home of the 2006 Super Bowl.

The area is now buzzing. The new owners of Detroit Medical Center are investing hundreds of millions of dollars in hospitals. Employers are successfully offering subsidies to get workers to live downtown or in Midtown. Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert has acquired nearly a dozen buildings and other properties, even luring Chrysler as a tenant and renaming the building after the automaker.

"Government is in terrible shape but entrepreneurs are thriving," said Joel Landy, who has no-vacancy signs on his rehabbed apartment buildings in and near downtown. "It's the proximity to large institutions and the central business district, and the fact that we're surrounded by five freeways with the ability to get in and out. ... It's slower out in the neighborhoods but remember: Detroit is 140 square miles."

Downtown shines partly because its attractions - sports teams, casinos, fine arts - are enjoyed by suburbanites who head out of the city as soon as the show or game is over. To former council member Sheila Cockrel, the distinction between downtown and the neighborhoods is a modern day "tale of two cities."

"There's exciting momentum going on. But on the other hand, we've had what's now close to a collapse of city services," said Cockrel, who teaches at Wayne State University.

City government staved off a state takeover last spring after agreeing on many reforms, including an independent board to oversee public finances, which are burdened by more than $12 billion in pension obligations and dwindling tax revenue.

Mayor Dave Bing this week pleaded with the City Council to hire turnaround firms to examine city operations. The police chief recently quit because of an affair with another officer, forcing the city to search for a fifth top cop in four years. There were 311 homicides through Oct. 21, more than at the same point in 2011, and vast stretches of deserted neighborhoods have become a dumping ground for bodies.

In places, the city is almost pockmarked. Under the flashy neon lights of the MotorCity Casino in Corktown, one of Detroit's oldest neighborhoods, a half dozen newer and vibrantly painted homes stand at the corner of Harrison and Sycamore amid a few empty lots and vacant houses.

An older home with peeling pink paint over red bricks holds down one corner, tucked between two vacant houses next door. Blue spray paint indicates water was shut off "8/2/11"ahead of a wrecking ball that never swung. Across the street is a yellow house with a tidy yard, protected by a 6-foot stockade fence from the vacant house with crumbling porch and high weeds on the other side.

More than 30,000 houses are empty. Though pockets of Detroit are relatively stable, others are flat-out dangerous, with the abandoned homes breeding drug trafficking and other crimes. The city's population has dropped 25 percent since 2000, and a recent survey found four out of every 10 residents plan to dash, too.

Reliable bus service is a chronic complaint. William Smith, 43, helped his girlfriend board a bus on the west side this week to a nursing job in the suburbs. While waiting, she sat on a broken light pole that rested on the sidewalk.

Smith, a laborer, said he's unemployed after having his van and tools worth $7,000 stolen from his driveway.

"If you ain't got a car, you're out of luck when it comes to finding many jobs. There ain't no jobs in the city," he said.

Lanard Strong, 38, was shot in the arm and leg in 2008 while withdrawing cash from an ATM. Tired of blight and corruption, he doubts he can sell his house on the west side. "I've always wanted to just leave," he said.

Despite the obstacles, a can-do spirit always seems to be in the next block. On Saturday, just hours before Game 3, volunteers will haul plywood and swing hammers to board up 150 abandoned homes near a high school on the west side. The goal is to save homes that could be occupied in better times, as well as improve safety for kids who walk past urban wrecks.

And back at the C-Spot, they're rooting for the Tigers.

"We're hungry for something to laugh and smile about," owner Crystal Jackson said. "We live in such hard times right now in the city of Detroit. Something as small as sport is looked at bigger than it actually should be."

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Follow Ed White on Twitter athttp://www.twitter.com/edwhiteap

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Kyrie Irving raises his leadership game while dropping daggers on Wizards

Kyrie Irving raises his leadership game while dropping daggers on Wizards

CAPITAL ONE ARENA -- Chants of “M.V.P” reverberated inside the Wizards’ home venue. The All-Star point guard dazzled the crowd with stylish plays and gutsy choices. He stumped the opposition by sinking shots with defenders offering no ground. 

Such proclamations from the masses made sense, except they weren’t for hometown hero John Wall.

Kyrie Irving stole the show. The Celtics star and burgeoning team leader dropped the Wizards with 12 of his 38 points coming in overtime. He left Scott Brooks dumbfounded after hitting two crushing 3-pointers in the final 39 seconds as Washington fell 130-125 Wednesday night.

“Great players make great shots, amazing shots (in big moments),” said Brooks with a tone of a head coach yet to fully process how Irving downed his side.

Other players shredded Washington’s defense this season. Often that occurred because the Wizards lacked energy and defensive connectivity. Despite a few lapses at times, that wasn’t the case in the first meeting of the season between the two Eastern Conference rivals. Against Irving, even the tiniest of cracks were exploited.

Irving didn’t just score 12 in the extra period, but Boston’s final dozen points in the Celtics’ seventh consecutive win. Half came on a pair of bombs.

“He makes one, maybe it’s a different game. He made both, it’s tough to overcome,” Brooks said after Washington’s losing streak reached three games. “It was a great game. We fought. It could have gone either way. Unfortunately, it didn’t go our way.”

With the Wizards leading 123-122, Irving nearly fumbled the ball away on the left wing with Wall nearly nose-to-nose. The NBA’s best ball-handler corraled the attempted runaway, rose and drained the heavily contested 3-pointer.

After Wall tied the game with one of his numerous faster-than-fast driving layups, Irving put the Celtics up for good with a 31-footer that found the bottom of the net with 17.3 seconds left.

“Just trying to win the game, honestly, trying to get enough separation,” said Irving, who sat out Boston's previous game with a shoulder injury. “Three points are pretty much a dagger, so I just tried to get my feet set and get my elbow pointed to the rim. It was a little deep out, but a very makeable shot." 

Despite the tension-filled scenario, nobody could be stunned Irving delivered.

“He’s always had a knack for that,” Brooks said of the player that sank the series-winning shot for the Cavaliers in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals.

Leadership wasn’t always a breeze for Irving, the No. 1 overall pick the year after Washington selected Wall first in 2010. He bolted Cleveland in the summer of 2017 after three seasons of highs and frustrations with LeBron James. Wall held the face-of-the-franchise status with the Wizards. Irving would get his turn with the storied Celtics.

The scoring and playmaking comes naturally. Playing the role of team tone-setter takes work. The evolution isn’t complete.

"It’s an everyday job. It’s part of kind of the next step of evolution for me in my career, of just learning what that means for me and what type of leader I want to be,” Irving said at Boston’s morning shootaround on the campus of Georgetown University.

“He’s always been good about [leadership],” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said or Irving. "When he first came in, I thought he did a great job of just kinda fitting in and making sure that everybody, 1 through 15, knows that he’s invested in them. And that’s all you can do from a leadership standpoint. It starts with being authentic, it starts with investing in people. Then you have a chance to go from there and he’s done all that stuff.”

Irving sought guidance, but wouldn’t reveal identities.

 "I will never tell you guys. Never tell you guys,” he said. "I like having a mystical wisdom feel, older board of people I like to go to.”

He did disclose their teachings.

"Patience. Patience. Patience,” Irving said. "Even for myself, I think at this point in my career it’s not necessarily about my skills or my talent, it’s more about how do I echo greatness to our group every single day and figure out what that looks like for us. That’s been the biggest challenge for me.”

Stars are often thrust into leadership roles regardless of their acumen for the gig.

"You see it all the time,” Irving said. “I think it’s a little unfair to have that responsibility but the ones that are meant for it are willing to accept it and figure out how they learn best leading a group and just being the best player,” said Irving. "It’s easy to go out and score 27 points, go get it and nothing else really matters and you’re just caring about yourself. 

"When you have to care about a whole entire group, really depend on just learning who you’re playing with every single day, who is coaching you, that relationship, that’s far more important to me now that it is just being able to be the young guy fourth year in the league trying to get a bunch of points and assists and be in the top standings. As long as we’re winning and we’re up in the top of the teams and my teammates are feeling good, I’m happy.”

Even with work remaining, Irving’s growth stood out to one of his biggest rivals.

“Kyrie has always been a great scorer, a great player,” said Wall, who had 34 points and 13 assists. “A lot of people didn’t know if he had leadership ability to lead by himself. He’s doing a heck of a job with other great players over there and a great coach.”

The Wizards did a credible job against Irving and the Celtics. Just not enough to avoid the other team’s point guard from carrying the day.

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John Wall overcomes injury scare for solid return, albeit in a loss to the Celtics

John Wall overcomes injury scare for solid return, albeit in a loss to the Celtics

With two minutes remaining in overtime, and in the midst of a late-game scoring barrage, John Wall drove to his right and gained a step on Kyrie Irving. He finished off the glass with his left hand as Irving jumped and twisted midair under the rim.

The two landed at nearly the exact same time, on the baseline and not far from the Wizards' bench. Irving, though, was a split-second later and came down right on Wall's right ankle.

As play continued on the other end of the floor, Wall remained on the ground, writhing in pain. He slapped the hardwood and yelled as trainers rushed to his aid. 

Though he was able to return soon after, the fall was a serious injury scare in what has been a tumultuous week for Wall. He missed their last game due to bone spurs in his left heel and was listed as questionable before tip-off against the Celtics. That is all on top of the fact he was sick and also dealing with off-court matters that made him miss a game last week.

The Wizards lost to Boston, but Wall managed to return with one of his best games of the season. He had 34 points, 13 assists, six rebounds, two steals and a block. He shot 53.8 percent from the field and had 12 points in the fourth quarter to help force overtime after the Wizards were outscored by 16 in the third.

After his ankle injury, Wall was replaced by Tomas Satoransky. Only 45 seconds of gametime later, he returned.

"If it ain't broke, play," Wall said.

Teammate Bradley Beal had a similar view of the situation.

"I was just hoping he was okay. He said he couldn't go," Beal said. "But he ended up checking right back in. He's a warrior. If it ain't broke, he's playing."

The ankle injury may need to be monitored in the coming days, but Wall appears to be somewhat out of the woods with his heel. It's an injury he has battled on and off for nearly four years. This week, it just happened to get to a point where it was as painful as its ever been. 

A few days of treatment and one game off seemed to do the trick. Wall believes it isn't much of a concern anymore.

"The heel is great," he said. "Between today and the Cleveland game, it was night and day. I was moving. It felt a lot better so give a lot of credit to the training staff.”

Wall scored 19 points from the start of the fourth quarter on. He went 9-for-13 to finish the game and all of his makes were right at the rim.

If anything positive can be taken from a tough loss to the Celtics, it's that Wall got back to what he does best. Whatever burst he was lacking against the Cavaliers on Saturday, arguably the worst game of his career, seemed to have returned in this one. Whether it was Irving, Marcus Smart or Jayson Tatum, no Celtics player had luck stopping Wall off the dribble.

Wall is clearly nicked up and playing through pain, now with injuries to both of his legs. But if Wednesday's game was any indication, he still has enough to be effective. Whether that's enough to start leading the Wizards to wins remains to be seen.

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