West Virginia News
WV COUPLE CONVICTED OF STEALING TO BUY NC HOUSE
A West Virginia couple has been convicted of stealing from a 90-year-old woman to buy a beach house in North Carolina.
A federal jury found 67-year-old Timothy Summers and his wife, 52-year-old Lea Ann Summers, of Proctor guilty of mail fraud, conspiracy to commit mail fraud, securities fraud and interstate transportation of stolen property. The jury issued its verdict Friday following a three-day trial.
U.S. Attorney William J. Ihelnfeld III says evidence at the trial showed the couple stole nearly $400,000 from the victim. They liquidated a signification portion of the woman’s shares of PPG Industries stock and used the proceeds to buy a beach house on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
Timothy Summers and Lea Summers each face up to 50 years in prison.
JUDGES TO CONSIDER CLARKSBURG OFFICIAL’S REMOVAL
A three-judge panel will consider a petition seeking Clarksburg City Councilman Samuel “Zeke” Lopez’s removal from office.
The petition was filed by three other council members. It cites Lopez’s conviction on a domestic assault charge.
The West Virginia Supreme Court on Friday appointed Raleigh County Circuit Judge H.L. Kirkpatrick III, McDowell County Circuit Judge Rudolph J. Murensky II and Gilmer County Circuit Judge Jack Alsop to hear the petition.
The panel will hold a hearing October 30 and October 31 at the Harrison County Courthouse in Clarksburg.
The council voted in February to remove Lopez. Lopez’s lawyer filed a lawsuit challenging the decision and he remains on council as a nonvoting member.
TWO BODIES FOUND IN BURNED VEHICLE IN SOUTHERN WV
West Virginia State police are investigating the deaths of two people whose bodies were found in a burned vehicle in McDowell County.
Media outlets report that the bodies were discovered early Sunday morning in the Longpole community north of Panther.
State police First Sgt. M.R. Crowder says both bodies were male.
Crowder says the bodies have not been identified yet because of the condition of the remains.
He says the fire is suspicious and investigators believe a firearm possibly was involved in the deaths.
WEST VIRGINIA SUPREME COURT WILL HEAR ARGUMENTS
The West Virginia Supreme Court says it will hear arguments Tuesday over disciplinary action against a judge who had an inappropriate sexual affair.
Randolph County Circuit Judge Jaymie Godwin Wilfong admitted to having a two-year affair with a man but says her three-year suspension without pay was too severe.
HARRISON COUNTY MAN ENTERS GUILTY PLEA TO INVOLVEMENT IN INFANT SON’S DEATH
A Harrison County man has entered a guilty plea for his involvement in the death of his 3-month-old son.
Clovis Harold McCoy, age 32, of Shinnston supplied three Xanax pills to his wife Tricia McCoy, who later unintentionally suffocated the child when she fell asleep holding the baby.
Clovis was aware Tricia was taking other prescribed medications at the time when he provided the addition drugs.
Both were charged back in April. McCoy was charged with child neglect resulting in death and child neglect creating substantial risk of serious injury or death.
Harrison County Circuit Judge John Marks heard McCoy’s plea on Monday, but has not yet accepted it, pending the completion of a pre-sentence investigation.
His sentencing has been set for 9 AM on December 08.
Tricia McCoy is scheduled to go to trial on similar charges November 10.
WORKFORCE WEST VIRGINIA GETS $200,000 IN FEDERAL FUNDING
WorkForce West Virginia says it has gotten more than $200,000 in federal funding to help pay for an ongoing cleanup from severe storms and flooding in 2013.
Most of the money is to go to payment of workers who are still helping with the cleanup from those storms.
MANCHIN IN NORTH CAROLINA STUMPING FOR HAGAN
U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) is in North Carolina campaigning for Senator Kay Hagan, who faces a tough re-election.
The West Virginia Democrat said he’s visiting Statesville, Wilkesboro and Hickory touting Hagan as a moderate Democrat. She faces Republican state House speaker Thom Tillis.
The expensive race is crucial in deciding whether Democrats keep a slim U.S. Senate majority.
Manchin has become an asset for embattled red-state Democrats.
President Barack Obama lost all 55 counties in West Virginia in 2012.
Manchin won by 24 percentage points.
Manchin headlined a Hagan fundraiser in North Carolina in March.
He went to Alaska early this year for Senator Mark Begich, and Louisiana for Senator Mary Landrieu last month.
Manchin plans to campaign in Arkansas for Senator Mark Pryor and in Georgia for Michelle Nunn.
EBOLA PREPS CONTINUE IN WEST VIRGINIA; NO NEW CASES HAVE BEEN DIAGNOSED
The president and CEO of West Virginia Hospitals said he and other hospital officials are watching what’s happening at other healthcare facilities in the United States and learning from mistakes made at those sites in the diagnosis and treatment of Ebola.
“As guidelines change, I think the constant challenge for us is to keep up with the changing guidelines and then, more importantly, have a plan to communicate those to our staff so that we’re ready to go,” said Dr. Albert Wright.
“We’ve done extensive education and training,” said Dottie Oakes, vice president and chief nursing officer at WVU Hospitals, of the work to prepare staff members in Morgantown for any possible Ebola cases. “If anything, we’re probably going a little overboard.”
On Monday’s MetroNews “Talkline,” Oakes said nurses understand, from the time they start in the profession, that they will be exposed to bacteria and viruses constantly. “Our job is to give them the tools to use the protective equipment and, also, the education to know what to do and how to use it,” Oakes said.
Overall, Wright said he’s confident WVU Hospitals is ready to treat any Ebola cases in Morgantown and to assist other hospitals, throughout West Virginia, that may need help with such treatment.
“I think we’ve done everything to be prepared on a small-scale today, if a patient comes in our ED (emergency department),” he said. “We’re taking additional steps to handle (cases) in the event of a larger outbreak, which is unlikely, but part of our job is to have redundancies in place.”
A separate, isolated area of WVU Hospitals is being readied.
A 21-day monitoring period ended Monday in Dallas, Tx. for dozens of people who had contact with Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person to die from Ebola in the United States. In Africa, both Senegal and Nigeria were declared Ebola-free on Monday.
With two weeks to go until Election Day, 2nd District Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said she is hearing a lot about Ebola on the campaign trail.
“People are concerned with what they’re seeing as a lack of leadership with the President and skepticism of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control),” Capito, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate, said.
“Remember, this is the same CDC that came out and said we could drink our water in the Kanawha Valley and then, the next day, said ‘Well, if you’re pregnant or you have frail health, maybe you shouldn’t.’”
UNATTENDED VEHICLE ACCIDENT CLAIMS LIFE
A man was killed near Grafton Sunday afternoon after being hit by a pick-up truck that did not have a driver.
Ervin Knight, age 54, was working outside of his home in the community of Webster, when his Dodge Ram truck began to move.
According to the Taylor County Sheriff’s Office, the vehicle slid off a steep embankment on Webster Pike as Knight was walking below.
He was run over and pronounced dead at the scene.
Authorities are not sure at this time why the truck moved, but believe the cause to be accidental.
The truck continued to move, striking a home. No one else was injured.
DID TWO MARION COUNTY TEACHERS GO TOO FAR WITH TEAM-BUILDING EXERCISE?
Those with the American Federation of Teachers say they believe the recent suspension of two teachers in Marion County sets a bad precedent for teachers throughout West Virginia.
Kristen DeVaul and April Gilpin, teachers at North Marion High School in Marion County, were suspended for one day without a pay by the Marion County Board of Education earlier this month for their roles in an activity in which students were allegedly injured.
“We’re very concerned this is going to set a precedent and stifle physical activity in our schools when its needed more than ever,” said Frank Caputo, a staff representative for the AFT in Marion County.
At the time, the students were taking part in a type of three-legged race — a hands-on activity designed to build teamwork. Two of the students fell and suffered unspecified injuries.
“If you’re a classroom teacher, beware that if you take your kids outside and one of them gets injured in an unfortunate accident, then you could be suspended from your position,” warned Caputo.
School officials at North Marion High School conducted an internal investigation after the activity in question and presented those findings to the Marion County Board of Education before the suspension decision was made.
Gary Price, superintendent of schools in Marion County, said the teachers made changes to an exercise that was successful in the past. Instead of team-building, he said the activity turned into more of a competition.
“It just so happens that, in this particular case, the teachers involved chose to make a couple of alterations to that activity and the alterations that they chose to make are the ones that directly caused the accident,” Price said.
The AFT represents DeVaul and is appealing the decision. The organization has filed a Level III grievance which will allow them to bring the case before an administrative law judge.
“We look at this as a statewide issue. Am I going to be at risk of suspension if an unfortunate accident happens?” questioned Caputo.
INVESTIGATORS USING SOCIAL MEDIA TO IDENTIFY THOSE RESPONSIBLE FOR WVU RIOTS
Investigators were using social media and tips from the public on Monday to identify those responsible for vandalism in parts of Morgantown on Saturday night—property destruction that, according to emergency officials, started more than six hours after West Virginia University beat top-ranked Baylor 41-27.
University and community officials met on Monday morning to talk about what happened and discuss the next steps that will be taken to identify and punish those responsible.
Corey Farris, dean of students at West Virginia University, was promising quick action once any students were identified. He said, for students, punishments could include expulsion from WVU in addition to any criminal charges.
“These are hooligans that we don’t want in the city and so, if they’re part of the University in any way, shape or form, we’ll work our darnedest to expel them from the University,“ Farris said on Monday’s MetroNews “Talkline.“
“As has happened in the past, when things like this, in particular, have gotten out of hand, we’ve expelled students and so we’ll continue to do that.“
Bob Roberts, chief of police for West Virginia University, said crowd control was not a problem immediately after the game. That changed, though, he said, around 10:30 PM on Saturday night and, he noted, it wasn’t just students who were involved.
“Social media kicked in and we started having the crowds show up and issues there,“ Roberts said. “Probably, the most disturbing piece to me was the aggressiveness, having rocks and bottles thrown at first responders.“
Morgantown Police Chief Ed Preston said there were additional law enforcement officers on the job Saturday night, but the crowds quickly outnumbered them. Officers who had gone home after staffing the Baylor game were called back to work to respond to multiple events, including street fires, at several different locations in Morgantown.
“We used all of the Morgantown Police Department resources. We used resources from the Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department, Westover Police Department, State Police. Then we had in reserve resources from Marion County and Preston County,“ Preston said.
“When it turned from a social gathering into a riot, that’s when the determinations had to be made to use the chemical munitions,“ he said. Pepper spray was one of the chemicals used to disperse the crowds in both Morgantown and Sunnyside.
More than half a dozen people were arrested on Saturday night. No serious injuries were reported.
In the future, Preston said there is only so much law enforcement officers can do to deter such bad behavior.
“I think the only thing that’s going to stop it from happening again is a change in the culture of the students and those individuals who come to meet those students or celebrate after football games or other sporting event wins in this area,“ he said.
“It’s not going to be a magic bullet of one particular thing that’s going to stop this.“
Roberts agreed. “I just think that we need to remember that our students are part of the community and we need them to act as young adults and not participate in this kind of stuff—either by watching or being active participants,“ he said.
► MEC Week 7 Football Players of the Week
Ray Russ (Notre Dame), D’Andre Muhammed (West Liberty) and Torie Wagner (Charleston) have earned Mountain East Conference Player of the Week honors.
Russ, a senior from Willoughby Hills, Ohio, is the league’s Offensive Player of the Week after engineering Notre Dame’s 35-34 win over No. 8 Shepherd on Saturday. Russ was 25-of-44 for 459 yards and five touchdown passes. He had touchdown passes of 75 and 65 yards in the second half to help the Falcons down the Rams. He leads the league and is fourth in the country with 24 touchdown passes this season.
Muhammed, a junior from Stockbridge, GA is the Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts in WLU’s win over Urbana. Muhammed contributed five tackles, including a sack, and also intercepted a pass he took back 39 yards for a touchdown against the Blue Knights.
Wagner, a junior from Severn, MD is the Special Teams Player of the Week for the second time this season after his performance against West Virginia State in the Kanawha Classic. Wagner had three punt returns for 93 yards, including a 59-yard touchdown return in the second quarter. He was also a force from his spot as a defensive back picking off a pair of WVSU passes in the victory.
Other Top Performances
Offense: Dakota Conwell (West Liberty) was 16-of-24 for 232 yards and four touchdowns in a road win ... Jamal Petty (Concord) rushed for a career-high 112 yards and two touchdowns ... Rahmann Lee (Glenville State) rushed for 157 yards and a score.
Defense: Gary Henderson (Glenville State) has 10 tackles to go with a pair of sacks for the Pioneers ... Derrick Johnson (Concord) had an interception and helped hold WVWC to under 150 yards of total offense ... Onslow Williams (Notre Dame) had nint tackles, including a sack and a tackle for a loss ... Terrell Hudson (Urbana) registered a game-high 12 tackles.
Special Teams: Anton Vrebac (Notre Dame) punted five times for an average of 34.4 yards and helped limit Shepherd’s punt returns.
2014 MEC Players of the Week
Brian Novak (CU)
Marlon Oden (NDC)
Anton McCallum (WLU)
Ray Russ (NDC)
Shaneil Jenkins (SU)
Josh Wilson (WLU)
Kenneth Butler (NDC)
Justin Avery (UC)
Kyle Kaplan (NDC)
Marvin Elam (UC)
Gary Henderson (GSC)
C.J. Davis (SU)
Tevin Brown (WVSU)
C.J. Davis (SU)
Kevin Coffie (WVSU)
Torie Wagner (UC)
Rahmann Lee (GSC)
Earon Settle (GSC)
Kelly Carter (UU)
Ray Russ (NDC)
D’Andre Muhammed (WLU)
Torie Wagner (UC)
► WVU students warned after riots
Morgantown authorities on Sunday assessed damage from riots that broke out following West Virginia’s 41-27 win over No. 4 Baylor, while WVU president Gordon Gee warned students that he will not tolerate such behavior.
Crowds pushed over street lights and threw rocks, beer bottles and other items at public safety personnel and their vehicles. Numerous fires were set in the student-dominated Sunnyside area and other parts of the city.
Crowds also destroyed fencing protecting several construction sites and breached the properties, Morgantown Police Chief Ed Preston said.
“As a result of the dangerous behavior the events were declared riots,‘’ he said.
Law enforcement agencies from several jurisdictions responded to the riots. Police used pepper spray and chemical munitions to disperse groups of rioters after they ignored warnings to disperse. Preston did not say what type of chemical munitions was used but said the rioters were dispersed without any serious injuries.
Several people were arrested on various charges.
“It is unfortunate that some fans, not all of whom were students, engaged in riotous behavior following the football team’s outstanding victory over the 4th-ranked Baylor Bears. The focus should have been on celebrating our team, coaches and their achievement,‘’ WVU said Sunday in a statement.
Police and WVU officials are reviewing social media posts and videotapes regarding the incidents. Any student found to be involved will face sanctions, up to and including expulsion, the university said.
“This is not acceptable Mountaineer behavior,‘’ Gee said in the university’s statement. “It is criminal and will be dealt with as such.‘’
The incidents began shortly before 10:30 PM Saturday in Sunnyside and spread to other parts of the city, including the central business district.
“The extent of damage throughout the city is currently unknown but will be assessed over the next couple of days,‘’ Preston said.
Morgantown and WVU have been trying for years to end the long-standing tradition of setting fires to celebrate athletic victories and other events.
In 2012, about 40 street and trash container fires were set following WVU’s 48-45 win over Texas. During that post-game celebration, police officers wearing riot gear used pepper spray and CS gas to disperse an unruly crowd of about 1,000 people who gathered in the streets in Sunnyside.
Crowds also set street fires in 2011 after al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden died.
► Heisman Rankings: Week 8
While most of the favorites are well established as the season pushes past the midway point, the week-to-week shuffling among the nation’s elite is sure to continue down the stretch, even if the very top of this list remains unchanged this week.
1. Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State (last week: No. 1)—Despite another outstanding performance from Marcus Mariota, Prescott retains the top spot as the No. 1 Bulldogs enjoyed a much-deserved bye week. Prescott - who has 1,478 passing yards, 576 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns - will have plenty of opportunities to pad his stats in the coming weeks with lesser matchups against Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee-Martin ahead, but whether or not he can win the award will come down to a pair of road tests in November at Alabama and Ole Miss, as well as a potential SEC Championship Game.
2. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon (last week: No. 2)—What more can be said about Mariota’s season than I haven’t already tried to explain in weeks past? He’s been absolutely brilliant and continued to dazzle in Oregon’s 45-20 trouncing of Washington with 336 yards and two touchdowns on 24-of-33 passing (although he did finish with a very un-Mariota-like negative-1 yard rushing). The signal caller has tossed at least one touchdown in each of his 33 games as a Duck. This season he’s completing greater than 70 percent of his passes, piled up more than 2,220 total yards and 25 touchdowns, and perhaps most impressively has yet to throw an interception in 188 attempts. The only thing separating him from Prescott at this point is the one loss on his resume.
3. Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska (last week: No. 9)—It’s been a while since Abdullah put together a signature performance - the Cornhuskers were off last week and he amassed only 45 yards against a stout Michigan State defense on October 4 - but he made his presence felt in Nebraska’s return to the field. In a strong 38-17 road victory over Northwestern, Abdullah was the catalyst, turning 23 carries into 146 yards (in addition to four receptions for 13 yards) while plunging into the end zone a career-best four times. Abdullah, who has already tallied 1,024 rushing yards (third in the FBS), has been a touchdown machine with a career-high 16 scores, including one in every game and 12 in the last four contests. With Todd Gurley’s status for the rest of the year in doubt, it’s a clear two-horse race between Abdullah and Melvin Gordon as the nation’s top rusher.
4. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama (last week: No. 8)—After an off game in Alabama’s nail-biting win at Arkansas on October 11, Cooper and the rest of the squad got back on track in a huge way over the weekend with a 59-0 drudging of Texas A&M. The Tide beat the Aggies at their own game, outgaining them by an astounding 602-172 margin, and Cooper was a big reason for it, hauling in eight receptions for 140 yards and two touchdowns, scoring for the first time since finding the end zone three times versus Florida on September 20. Despite the improved play of Blake Sims and a dynamic rushing attack led by T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry, Cooper (62 receptions, 908 yards, seven TDs) is still the premiere playmaker on a team that has a great chance to win the SEC despite an early-season loss.
5. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State (last week: No. 7)—Controversy continues to swirl around Winston in regards to his off-the-field persona, but it’s hard to dispute the production he’s put out on game day. In a marquee battle of unbeatens against Notre Dame, Florida State came out on top with a 31-27 victory thanks in no small part to Winston’s performance. The signal caller completed 23-of-31 passes for 273 yards with two touchdowns and an interception while leading the Seminoles on a game-winning 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive midway through the fourth quarter in a matchup that consisted of three ties and five lead-changes. The reigning winner’s stock is on the rise, partially due to his .706 completion percentage and 15 touchdowns, but there’s also something to be said of FSU’s sustained success at the top of the rankings in a year with very few dominant teams.
6. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin (last week: No. 4)—The star tailback amassed at least 175 yards in every game since a 17-carry, 38-yard dud against Western Illinois back on September 6, and he scored an eye-popping 12 touchdowns during that four-game span, so it’s safe to say that he earned a bit of a rest during the Badgers’ bye week. Another big game should be in store for Gordon this week going up against a Maryland team that allows just shy of 200 rushing yards per game.
7. Bo Wallace, QB, Ole Miss (last week: No. 5)—The Rebels looked shaky early in their contest with Tennessee, trailing by three midway through the second quarter, but thanks in part to a stellar performance from Wallace (199 passing yards, two TDs, 33 rushing yards), they eventually cruised to an easy 34-3 victory to remain undefeated. More than any remaining unbeaten team, Ole Miss relies heavily on its elite defense, which allows an FBS-low 10.6 ppg, but that’s not to take anything away from what Wallace has done under center. The 6-foot-4 senior has been responsible for 19 touchdowns and greater than 2,000 total yards while displaying excellent leadership for a squad with national championship aspirations.
8. Kevin White, WR, West Virginia (last week: unranked)—Although Cooper was running away with the distinction as the nation’s best receiver early in the season, White has certainly built a strong case to take over that claim. In the Mountaineers’ stunning 41-27 upset over No. 4 Baylor, White carved up the Bears’ secondary to the tune of eight catches, 132 yards and two touchdowns, giving him at least 100 yards receiving in all seven games this season and a touchdown in five straight. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound physical specimen has emerged thanks to his outstanding chemistry with quarterback Clint Trickett, and he ranks first in the FBS in receiving yards (1,020) and second in receptions (69).
9. Everett Golson, QB, Notre Dame (last week: No. 6)—Things could have been very different for the Fighting Irish and their quarterback had Golson’s would-be game-winning touchdown toss on fourth down in the waning seconds not been overturned by a penalty. While the squad proved that it belongs in the discussion among the nation’s best after fighting tooth-and-nail with FSU in Tallahassee, the blow certainly leaves Notre Dame with a bad taste in its mouth as well as an uphill climb to the College Football Playoff. Golson was largely impressive in the loss, completing 31-of-52 passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns while showing great poise on the final drive - which included a 20-yard completion on 4th-and-18 - but he continued his turnover problem with two more interceptions, giving him 10 turnovers over the past four games, an unacceptable amount for any quarterback let alone a Heisman hopeful.
10. Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor (last week: No. 3)—Petty and the Bears were sitting pretty after a thrilling 61-58 triumph over nationally-ranked TCU on October 11 to improve to 6-0 and earn a spot in the AP poll top-five, but all that momentum was erased in a hurry following their disappointing 41-27 setback to WVU. Petty found time to throw a pair of touchdown passes, but that wasn’t nearly enough to mask a horrible day. He finished with the lowest single-game completion percentage of his career (16-of-36, .444) and had negative-9 yards rushing after getting sacked four times. Despite scoring a total of 20 touchdowns paired with only three picks this season, Petty’s Heisman campaign will unlikely be able to bounce back from this hiccup.
Dropped Out: Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn.
Honorable Mention: Clint Trickett, QB, West Virginia; Tevin Coleman, RB, Indiana; Senquez Golson, CB, Ole Miss.
► Archie Manning leaves playoff selection committee
Archie Manning has decided to take a leave of absence from the College Football Playoff selection committee for the remainder of the 2014 season because of health reasons.
Manning said he would be unable to travel for the selection committee meetings because he will undergo surgery next month to help relieve discomfort he is experiencing while walking and moving around.
“It is an honor to serve on this committee, and I enjoy the group and was looking forward to the opportunity ahead,“ Manning said in a statement Monday. “My health had to be my primary concern and I intend to be up and about as soon as possible.“
Manning was one of the 13 committee members that will select the four teams for the college football playoff. He will not be replaced and the group will continue with only 12.
“We will miss Archie,“ said College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock. “He has such a great knowledge of college football and history with the game, but we all understand his reason for taking a leave. I wish him all the best and look forward to his return in 2015.“
The committee has been meeting since November 2013 and will begin to issue rankings on a weekly basis next Tuesday. The selections of the four teams for the playoff will take place December 07.
► Steelers shake off Texans
You could almost hear the frustration at Heinz Field as the Pittsburgh Steelers trailed the Houston Texans by 13 points midway through the second quarter.
But after sitting in stunned silence for nearly two hours, the home fans found themselves waiving their Terrible Towels in celebration of a lightning-quick turnaround.
LeVeon Bell sparked a string of 24 straight points in a 2:54 span near the end of the first half as the Steelers downed the Texans, 30-23, on Monday.
Bell amassed 145 yards from scrimmage and caught a touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger, who shook off a slow start and finished with 265 yards and two scores through the air.
“We always believe and have faith regardless of how its going,“ said Roethlisberger. “We believe in ourselves and we found a way to get it done.“
The Steelers (4-3) bounced back from last week’s loss in Cleveland and improved to 8-0 on “Monday Night Football” at Heinz Field.
Arian Foster gained 102 yards on 20 carries and caught a late TD pass for the Texans (3-4), who had a chance to recover an onside kick inside the two-minute warning but ultimately dropped their third straight game.
Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 262 yards with two TDs and an interception.
Pittsburgh’s offense was stuck in neutral before Bell took a short pass over the middle and turned it upfield for a 43-yard gain with under six minutes to go in the first half. Up to that point, the Steelers had gained just 49 yards.
Shaun Suisham booted a 44-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 13-3, and the Steelers’ defense forced a three-and-out and two turnovers in the final three minutes of the half.
After Bell’s 28-yard catch-and-run moved Pittsburgh to the opposing 35-yard line, Martavis Bryant got behind the secondary and reeled in Roethlisberger’s pass in the back of the end zone for his first catch in his first career game.
Replay officials ruled Foster lost a fumble at his own 3-yard line on the next drive, and the Steelers quickly scored on a wide receiver pass with 1:03 left in the half. Antonio Brown went in motion, took an end-around pitch, reversed his field back to the left and threw in traffic to Lance Moore for the TD.
Armed with all three of their timeouts, the Texans opted to air it out and the decision backfired, as Fitzpatrick’s pass was tipped by Brett Keisel, caromed off Lawrence Timmons’ helmet and bounced back to Keisel for the interception.
“It’s nice to be able to make a play, but its a team game,“ said Keisel. “We win as a team, and today was a nice team win for us.“
Bell hauled in Roethlisberger’s 2-yard pass at the right front pylon with 14 seconds on the clock, giving the Steelers a 24-13 lead.
“It was a terrible second quarter and we couldn’t come back from it,“ Texans head coach Bill O’Brien said. “The whole thing is frustrating.“
The break stunted any momentum for Pittsburgh, but the Texans did not capitalize. They settled for a Randy Bullock 31-yard field goal with 11:47 remaining in regulation, and Suisham made it a two-possession game with a 30- yard kick six minutes later.
Brown caught a 30-yard pass to set up the field goal and had a touchdown catch called back later in the drive. He finished with nine catches for 90 yards and extended his NFL record of at least five catches to 23 straight games.
Suisham tacked on a 40-yarder following a DeAndre Hopkins fumble, and Foster’s 1-yard TD catch with 1:31 to go gave the Texans hope.
The ball bounced around for awhile on the ensuing onside kick and scooted to the Pittsburgh 36-yard line before Steelers third-string tight end Michael Palmer recovered to seal the victory.
The forgettable finish spoiled a fast start for the Texans, who had gone scoreless in the first quarter their previous four games.
Alfred Blue capped Houston’s 10-play, 94-yard opening drive with his first career TD, as he caught a dump off pass and went in untouched from the 11.
Roethlisberger tried escaping the grasp of Whitney Mercilus on the ensuing possession, but the linebacker knocked the ball loose and the omnipresent J.J. Watt quickly jumped on top of it at the Pittsburgh 46.
Bullock split the uprights from 39 yards out, then added a 38-yarder midway through the second quarter to make it a 13-0 game.
Pittsburgh is 25-5 all-time at home on Monday Night Football ... Watt became Houston’s all-time leader in fumble recoveries with nine, passing current Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryans ... Houston’s Andre Johnson caught five passes for 77 yards and moved into 14th place on the NFL’s all-time receiving yards list, passing Hall-of-Famer Steve Largent (13,089) ... With his second punt, Shane Lechler moved past Bryan Barker (1,132) for the 11th most punts in NFL history ... Texans rookie linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, still recovering from knee surgery, missed his sixth straight game.
► NFL Game Result - Week 7
MONDAY, OCTOBER 20
Final Score: Pittsburgh 30, Houston 23
You could almost hear the frustration at Heinz Field as the Pittsburgh Steelers trailed the Houston Texans by 13 points midway through the second quarter. But after sitting in stunned silence for nearly two hours, the home fans found themselves waiving their Terrible Towels in celebration of a lightning-quick turnaround. LeVeon Bell sparked a string of 24 straight points in a 2:54 span near the end of the first half as the Steelers downed the Texans, 30-23, on Monday. Bell amassed 145 yards from scrimmage and caught a touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger, who shook off a slow start and finished with 265 yards and two scores through the air. The Steelers (4-3) bounced back from last week’s loss in Cleveland and improved to 8-0 on “Monday Night Football” at Heinz Field. Arian Foster gained 102 yards on 20 carries and caught a late TD pass for the Texans (3-4), who had a chance to recover an onside kick inside the two-minute warning but ultimately dropped their third straight game. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 262 yards with two TDs and an interception.
► Browns waive FB Agnew, promote Small
The Cleveland Browns have waived fullback Ray Agnew and promoted fullback Kiero Small from the practice squad to fill the spot on the active roster.
Agnew had started all six games for the Browns this season. He had just two carries for two yards and also caught two passes for 15 yards.
Small, a rookie out of Arkansas, had spent the first seven weeks on the Browns’ practice squad. He was originally selected by Seattle in the seventh round of the 2014 draft.
► Jags lose LB Posluszny for season
The Jacksonville Jaguars posted their first win of the season on Sunday, but the victory came with a cost.
Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley announced Monday that linebacker Paul Posluszny will be placed on injured reserve after suffering a torn pectoral muscle in the 24-6 win over the Cleveland Browns.
Posluszny had 69 tackles and two sacks in seven games. The club will be looking to sign a player in the Penn State product’s place.
Bradley added that defensive end Andre Branch will be sidelined at least six weeks with a torn groin.
► 2014-15 Charlotte Hornets Preview
No team changed its identity more than the Charlotte Hornets this offseason.
They changed their name for goodness sake.
This season Charlotte is back to the Hornets, the team name the original Charlotte organization had when it came into the league. That team is now the New Orleans Pelicans, so Charlotte reclaimed its Hornets name.
Another huge change in Charlotte this offseason came in the form of Lance Stephenson. The puzzling wing man signed a free-agent deal with the Hornets after spurning his Indiana Pacers.
Stephenson is a lot of things, including maddening and intense. He’s also an elite defensive player, strong play-maker and decent shooter.
“He is a great up-and-coming player with an incredibly high ceiling,“ general manager Rich Cho said when the team inked Stephenson. “He is an exceptional athlete who has the versatility and skill to play multiple positions on both offense and defense. We believe he will be an outstanding addition to our roster.“
He certainly will be a valuable addition and provides an even further example of the final culture change in Charlotte - optimism.
Last season, this team made the playoffs for the first time since 2010. Yes, they got swept by eventual Eastern Conference champions, the Miami Heat, but that came without a healthy Al Jefferson, who suffered a plantar fasciitis injury in Game 1.
But Jefferson really keyed the Hornets’ rebirth. He made the All-NBA Third team at the center spot and has established the Hornets as a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference.
Head coach Steve Clifford told the Charlotte Observer that Jefferson is pain- free and has been at voluntary workouts.
Jefferson is the key to all Charlotte does, but the Hornets win games because of defense. The Hornets finished fourth in the NBA in opponents’ scoring and sixth in opponents’ field-goal percentage.
Stephenson won’t hurt the quality of Charlotte’s defense. He covered LeBron James in the Eastern Conference Finals, not Paul George, an All-Defensive performer. Granted, the Pacers probably weren’t thrilled when Stephenson blew on James’ face, but Stephenson, like Cho stated, can cover at least four positions.
He can also help a poor 3-point shooting team. Stephenson isn’t Reggie Miller, or Ray Allen, but he’s adequate. He will also help as a play-maker since Kemba Walker is really the only player on the roster capable of creating offense from the perimeter.
The Hornets should feel great about their team, but this offseason wasn’t all roses and chocolates.
Josh McRoberts left via free agency, joining the Heat. He didn’t register All- Star statistics, but McRoberts started 78 games last season and stretched the floor with his range.
Replacing McRoberts in the starting lineup will be Cody Zeller, the second- year man from Indiana. He showed signs last season, but his role will be expanded massively.
Waiting in the wings is a fellow Hoosier, Charlotte’s first first-round pick, Noah Vonleh. The remarkably athletic big man, who also has some range, slid in the draft and could be great. He won’t be for some time as he’ll miss a little time with a sports hernia.
The Hornets brought in Marvin Williams, Brian Roberts and drafted sharp- shooter P.J. Hairston. They’ll provide much-needed depth.
The Hornets are not in a position where the sky’s the limit, but this group has emerged into a very tough team no one wants to face. They have an inside force, a rarity in today’s game, and play stifling defense.
That’s a postseason recipe.
The only identity change came with a name. The identity Clifford created and cultivated is one that should keep Charlotte in the postseason.
2013-14 Results: 43-38, 3rd in Southeast. Lost in East quarterfinals to Miami
ADDITIONS: G/F Lance Stephenson, F Noah Vonleh, F Marvin Williams, G P.J. Hairston, G Brian Roberts
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- Kemba Walker SG- Lance Stephenson SF- Michael Kidd-Gilchrest PF- Marvin Williams C- Al Jefferson
KEY RESERVES: G Gerald Henderson, G Gary Neal, F Noah Vonleh, F Cody Zeller, G P.J. Hairston, F Jeff Taylor, C Bismack Biyombo, G Jannero Pargo
FRONTCOURT: Jefferson always put up great numbers, except in the win total. He had two seasons of 20-plus points and 11-plus rebounds per game before he landed in Charlotte, but last season, he carried the Hornets on his back offensively.
Jefferson averaged 21.8 ppg, 10.8 rpg and shot 51 percent from the field. He’s a low-post guy in a world with maybe six good centers. One cause for alarm is Jefferson’s free-throw percentage dipped under 70 percent.
He embraced his role as a leader and flourished. The All-NBA honor was huge and the All-Star game should be an attainable goal this season. Jefferson’s health is fine. Expect another big season.
Williams came over from the Utah Jazz as a free agent. For six seasons as a member of the Atlanta Hawks, Williams averaged double figures. His numbers slid in Utah where his role was reduced. Williams can slide in as a stretch four in the same vein as McRoberts.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has not lived up to being the second pick, but it doesn’t seem to be a big deal. He was drafted on the potential of being a secondary guy when the team got good. Kidd-Gilchrist is a good defender, but offensively, he’s a disaster. His scoring, rebounding and assist numbers are slid as did his free-throw percentage. Clifford told the Charlotte Observer that Kidd-Gilchrist has been working with Mark Price on his shooting mechanics. Wise.
BACKCOURT: Walker is perennially one of the most under-appreciated players in the game. Last season, he averaged 17.7 ppg, 6.1 apg and 4.2 rebounds. His field-goal percentage stumbled, and he’s a decent long-range shooter. Walker is also a big-time gamer. He likes having the ball and making the plays. Walker never gets the due he deserves.
Stephenson bumped his scoring numbers by five last season, his rebounding number by a little more than 3.0 per game and his assists went up 1.5. He finished second to Phoenix’s Goran Dragic for Most Improved Player. He can do everything, but he has to control his emotions. Too many times, Stephenson did bizarre, bordering on dumb things that hurt his Pacers team. Stephenson seems like a perfect cure for not only what ails the Hornets (play-making/35 percent three-point shooting), but he should thrive defensively.
BENCH: Gerald Henderson started 77 games last season, played 32 minutes a game and averaged 14.0 ppg. He shouldn’t lose a starting job and he might not. If Clifford wanted Stephenson to play the small forward, Henderson could keep his starting job. If Henderson comes off the bench, he will still play heavy minutes. He could be a darkhorse Sixth Man of the Year candidate. He’s a good rebounder for a wing.
Zeller averaged a hair over 17 minutes per game in his rookie season and produced 6.0 ppg. He grabbed 4.3 rebounds, but his 43 percent field-goal shooting was jarring. That’s way too low for a big man. Zeller has decent athleticism.
Neal made his bones with the San Antonio Spurs, but he remained a double- figure scorer splitting last season with the Milwaukee Bucks and Hornets. He’s a career 39 percent shooter from beyond the arc. Neal is a huge asset coming off the bench.
Biyombo is a banger, whose playing time fell under Clifford. He’s still the primary backup big man behind Jefferson.
Taylor’s 2013-14 season ended abruptly in December when he ruptured his Achilles. He declared himself ready to go. Before the injury, Taylor averaged 8.0 ppg in 24 minutes. It’s easy to forget about Taylor, but he’s a nice piece.
Vonleh might not see much action right away. He’s a great prospect.
Hairston played wonderfully in the D-League last season. He’s a great shooter, but he’s got to be careful about shot selection. As a rookie, Hairston might not see a ton of action behind Kidd-Gilchrist, Stephenson, Henderson, Neal and Taylor, but he can shoot and the Hornets need shooting.
This unit is very, very solid.
COACHING: Clifford finished fourth in Coach of the Year voting last season. In any other year, brining Charlotte into the postseason after years of futility, Clifford could have finished much higher.
He has built this team around defense. The Hornets are very good at it and that’s a reflection of Clifford. Charlotte was 23rd in scoring last season, but that number should go up with Stephenson in the mix and full seasons from Neal and Taylor.
Clifford maximizes his players’ talents. He’s one of the league’s best young coaches, at least in terms of experience.
OUTLOOK: The Hornets are not title contenders, yet. They are still new to this success thing.
But, great big man play, a daring guard, versatility, defense, a good bench and strong coaching translates into victories.
With James in Cleveland, the Southeast Division is certainly more wide open than in years past. The Hornets could win that division, but they won’t be favored.
Charlotte will make the postseason, but can’t afford an injury to Jefferson or Stephenson. It’s simplistic, but true.
Even if the Hornets don’t win the division, they could sneak into a home playoff series in the first round. That will be hard since the two best teams in the Eastern Conference - Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls - are both in the Central. That means the division loser will probably still have a strong enough record to have homecourt advantage in round one.
The Hornets are most likely looking at a fifth or sixth seed in the East. They could even win a round.
They just aren’t ready for the big time ... yet.
► 2014-15 Oklahoma City Thunder Preview
Boy, that escalated quickly.
Title dreams for the heavily favored Oklahoma City Thunder took a nosedive upon learning that superstar and reigning NBA MVP Kevin Durant will miss about six to eight weeks with a Jones Fracture in his right foot.
The sharp-shooting and electrifying Durant informed the team of discomfort in his foot Saturday, when championship dreams started to circle the drain. This isn’t the first time the Thunder had to deal with an injury to a star player, as point guard Russell Westbrook is quite familiar with all of it.
Now that Durant will be shelved for a significant amount of time, a healthy Westbrook is expected to shoulder the load.
“You can’t replace Kevin,“ OKC head coach Scott Brooks said. “He’s one of the best players on the planet, but what you can do, is make sure that when he does come back, our team is better.“
Oklahoma City is still one of the top teams in the league and Westbrook said it’s all about rallying around each other for the start of the 2014-15 season.
“It’s just sticking together,“ Westbrook said. “It’s key that all of us stick together. We have a lot of guys banged up right now, but we have to find a way to stick together, continue to move forward and get wins.“
Now that Durant’s gone for some time, instead of being a candidate for a top seed, the Thunder could finish somewhere between the fourth and sixth seed in the jumbled Western Conference. But as this time of year approaches, the Thunder gather much attention as the favorite to reach the apex of NBA greatness. Losing arguably the best player in the league in Durant (no offense LeBron James) kind of throws a wrench in the gears.
The franchise hasn’t won an NBA title since the 1978-79 Seattle SuperSonics were crowned king, and the Thunder are coming off a fourth straight Northwest Division title. Led by NBA leading scorer Durant, who averaged 32.0 points per game, the Thunder stormed out to a 38-10 record by the end of January and qualified for the postseason for a fifth straight season.
Oklahoma City had the second-best record in the NBA (59-23) and played 36 games without starting point guard Westbrook. Westbrook averaged 21.8 points, 6.9 assists and 5,7 rebounds and, during his absence, the greatness of Durant appeared. Durant led the NBA in scoring for a fourth time in the last five seasons and is one of just five players in NBA history to win four or more scoring titles, joining Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, George Gervin and Allen Iverson.
Durant raised eyebrows when he surpassed Jordan’s record by scoring 25 or more points in 41 straight games. He helped the Thunder win a season-high 10 straight games from January 16-31 and later averaged 34.5 ppg in March, earning him Player of the Month honors.
Durant has led the Thunder to the threshold of NBA immortality in recent years with trips to the Western Conference Finals three times over the past four seasons. However, the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs dispatched the Thunder in six games in the conference finals last postseason.
Oklahoma City has qualified for the playoffs in each of the last five seasons and has won 50 or more games in four of those.
But can the Thunder finally get over the hump in 2014-15 with Durant on the bench for the start of the season? The defending champion Spurs are a year older, James is now with a loaded Cleveland squad, leaving Miami seemingly vulnerable, and Indiana probably won’t have Paul George for the entire season. Yes, there’s a chance and OKC’s odds are still better than Lloyd Christmas hooking up with Mary Swanson.
The Thunder are always dominant at home and went 34-7 at Chesapeake Energy Arena last season as opposed to a respectable 25-16 record on the road.
Winning another Northwest Division shouldn’t be a problem with the current situation, especially now that All-Star forward Kevin Love is out of the question. The former Minnesota Timberwolves superstar joined forces with James in Cleveland, and now Portland is the only threat to OKC. Denver could compete and Utah is still building.
2013-14 Results: 59-23, 1st in Northwest, lost in Western Conference Finals to San Antonio
ADDITIONS: G/F Anthony Morrow, G Sebastian Telfair, F Mitch McGary
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- Russell Westbrook SG- Anthony Morrow SF- Perry Jones PF- Serge Ibaka C - Kendrick Perkins
KEY RESERVES: G Reggie Jackson, F Nick Collison, G Jeremy Lamb, C Steven Adams, F Perry Jones, C Mitch McGary, G Andre Roberson
FRONTCOURT: Durant left the U.S. national team in August before the FIBA World Cup, citing physical and mental exhaustion from the season. The strategy worked out at the time and now he’s just a spectator.
Durant was the main reason why the Thunder were fourth in scoring in 2013-14 with 106.2 points per game. Those numbers will surely dip and Oklahoma City could see a revolving door at the forward spot. Perry Jones seems like a solid choice to begin the season on the court at tip-off and posted 3.5 points and 1.8 rebounds in limited action last season.
Jones played in 62 games and averaged just over 12 minutes a game. He has size at 6-foot-11 and a lengthy wingspan. It’s just too bad for the Thunder they won’t get much production from that spot in the first few months. Jeremy Lamb is another possibility for Brooks and he notched 8.5 points and 2.4 rebounds a season ago. Lamb appeared in 78 games, playing about 19 minutes a night.
Serge Ibaka put a damper on Oklahoma City’s title hopes with a calf injury during the playoffs and it took away the team’s inside presence. Ibaka instills fear down low with his ability to clog the paint and block shots. He has the size of an NFL linebacker and his defensive prowess makes it difficult for opponents in the lane. It’s better to kick it out when the 6-foot-10 Ibaka is waiting to make a play. He averaged 15.1 points and led the Thunder with 8.8 rebounds and 2.7 blocks in 2013-14. Ibaka also had 29 double-doubles, up from his 2012-13 total of 15.
If Ibaka has any flaws it’s his ability to play more than 30 minutes a night.
This could be the end of the road for Kendrick Perkins with center Steven Adams waiting to take over. Perkins still has brute strength and that evil scowl. That being said, averaging 3.4 points and 4.9 rebounds from the center position isn’t going to get you far.
Perkins is fortunate to play in the shadows of Durant and Westbrook, so it’s not too important to run the offense inside. Still, it has to be done and Perkins is coming off one of his worst seasons. Perkins has no choice but to improve after the Thunder failed in a bid to land big man Pau Gasol.
BACKCOURT: With guard Anthony Morrow in the fold, the Thunder will probably use Reggie Jackson off the bench again. Morrow joined Oklahoma City in July and was picked up as a free agent. Morrow is a smooth scorer with natural shooting ability and should pair up well with stars Durant and Westbrook.
Morrow averaged 8.4 points in a career-high 76 games last season for New Orleans, and is known for his 3-point shooting. He shot 45.1 percent from beyond the arc last season and has hit 40 percent or better four times.
“With his body of work, we feel Anthony is a unique addition to a diverse roster, while also possessing the toughness and selflessness that we are consistently seeking in Thunder players,“ said OKC general manager Sam Presti.
Westbrook displays toughness and selflessness (at times) for the Thunder and is one of the best point guards in the game. Quick off the dribble and faster than a hiccup, Westbrook was able to stay healthy this past postseason unlike the 2012-13 playoffs when he suffered a knee injury.
Westbrook knows what Durant’s going through being sidelined.
“It’s very, very unfortunate,“ Westbrook said. “If anybody knows what it feels like, I would know. I talked to Kevin. He’s in good spirits. He’s going to get back as soon as he can to help us out.“
The All-Star played 46 games and shot 43.7 percent. Westbrook is working on a better shot selection instead of wildly trying to handle situations on his own. If and when that happens, the Thunder will be even deadlier.
The Thunder don’t have defensive-minded swingman Thabo Sefolosha, who is now with the Atlanta Hawks. Atlanta acquired him in a sign-and-trade. Sefolosha spent the past five-plus seasons with the Thunder and played a key part in a march to the 2012 NBA Finals. He averaged 6.3 points and 3.6 rebounds while starting 61 games for the Thunder last season.
BENCH: Jackson shined in the starting lineup when Westbrook was recovering from knee surgery and gives Brooks a nice piece coming off the bench. Jackson started 36 games in 2013-14 and averaged 14.1 points and 5.1 assists. He led OKC at the line, making 89.3 percent of his foul shots. In 44 games as a sub, he notched 12.3 points and 4.1 rebounds.
Jackson, who averaged 11.1 ppg in the postseason, has tremendous potential to become a full-time starter down the stretch even though he lacks size at the position. It wouldn’t be a surprise, though, if Brooks puts the sixth man back in the starting lineup at some point.
Before Jackson entered the starting lineup, the OKC bench averaged 34.6 ppg in the first 28 games of the season. That shows how important a reserve he is. The Thunder went 15-0 when Jackson scored 15 points or more off the pine.
Derek Fisher and Caron Butler are gone and considered dinosaurs at this point. Fisher, of course, is now the head coach of the New York Knicks and his leadership and experience will be missed. Guard Andre Roberson has a shot at seeing more action, while Nick Collison, Mitch McGary and Adams will spell the big men. Guard Sebastian Telfair is looking for a new beginning with the Thunder.
COACHING: Since Brooks took over as Thunder head coach in 2008, they are 293-170 with a 39-34 record in the postseason. Those playoff numbers have to improve if Brooks wants to stick around much longer. And it doesn’t get any easier with Durant out. Perhaps that could save Brooks’ job if the Thunder fail to live up to expectations.
Brooks has managed to work with what he has and that’s not saying much when Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka are at his disposal. He will try to make it work with Morrow now in the fold and Jackson coming off the bench again. It’s a good problem to have for Brooks, who has shown the capability to adjust in crunch time. The Thunder and their fans have lofty expectations and Brooks will be feeling the pressure if a winner is not delivered.
Defense will always be key to how the Thunder maintain their elevated scoring average. Working their way into transition to create easy baskets and opportunities will, and always, be predicated on defense. When the defense presents chances to score, passing is most important.
“We’ve been working on it over the last few years of really involving the pass more and more,“ Brooks said. “Our guys have really picked it up. Going into the summer, those are the areas we wanted to focus on offensively, to give ourselves a better shot every time down court.“
Brooks said having a large number of returning players back helps in understanding the philosophy leading up to the regular season.
OUTLOOK: It was title or bust for this agonizing Thunder fanbase in 2014-15, and now it’s just try to stay afloat without one of the NBA’s best players. Injuries are the demise of any sports team and now the Thunder must prove they’re a resilient group. Brooks said he is proud of his players because they don’t make excuses and figure out ways to improve when faced with adversity.
Now is the time to see if the Thunder are ready to move forward as a team.
► 2014-15 Portland Trail Blazers Preview
The bar has been set for the Portland Trail Blazers.
Whether they want to raise the Rip City Resurrection even higher is totally up to them in 2014-15.
The Trail Blazers exceeded expectations last season with a 54-28 record and their first playoff berth since 2010-11. The 54 wins were 21 more than the year before when Portland was 33-49 and finished fourth in the Northwest.
Portland was second behind Oklahoma City in the division and the chances of unseating the Northwest-champion Thunder any time soon are slim to none. Even the recent injury and future return of Thunder star Kevin Durant is too much to over come. Oh, the Thunder have Russell Westbrook, too.
What do the Blazers have? A lot of confidence and motivation.
“People expect us to be a good team because of what happened last year,“ star guard Damian Lillard said. “We need to expect that of ourselves.“
Lillard is one of the cornerstones to the success of the Blazers as well as power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. The duo helped the Blazers to a sizzling 22-4 start and the first 50-win campaign since 2009-10 (50-32).
A third-year Blazer out of Weber State, Lillard recorded a career-best 20.7 points and handed out an average of 5.6 assists per game. That was enough for the Trail Blazers to exercise the fourth-year option on Lillard, who made 218 3-pointers to become the first Portland player to ever record at least 200 baskets from downtown. That’s better than Terry Porter or Clyde Drexler.
In Game 6 of the Western Conference quarterfinals against the Houston Rockets, Lillard buried a dramatic 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the Blazers into the second round of the playoffs. The Blazers, who captured the West’s fifth seed, won their first postseason set since May 16, 2000 when they beat Utah in five games in the conference semifinals. They had lost seven consecutive series.
However, the losing ways continued in the semifinals, as the eventual NBA champion San Antonio Spurs disposed of Portland in five games.
While Lillard handles the backcourt and ball distribution, Aldridge is Portland’s great hope down low. Coming off a career year in which he averaged 23.2 points and 11.1 rebounds, Aldridge became the first Trail Blazer to finish among the NBA’s top 10 scorers in three straight seasons.
Aldridge is not short on confidence for his team’s chances this season.
“I definitely feel like we can be one of the top teams in the league,“ said Aldridge, who recorded a playoff franchise record 46 points on April 20.
The playoffs are no doubt a destination the Blazers will be making this season and they return nearly the entire roster with the addition of big man Chris Kaman to play alongside Aldridge and Robin Lopez. Steve Blake is back to bolster the guard play for head coach Terry Stotts.
Stotts received a multi-year extension in May and is 87-77 with the team.
“Terry has done an outstanding job during his first two years with the organization,“ Blazers general manager Neil Olshey said. “This extension illustrates our confidence in him as our head coach as well as the Portland Trail Blazers’ continued commitment to building a model of consistency and stability.“
Lillard said there’s more to Stotts than just X’s and O’s.
“I don’t think he’s looking for credit just like we aren’t looking for credit,“ Lillard said. “I think it’s a group effort. He gives us the system to run and it’s our job to go out there and execute it. But I think he does a great job with us as people. It’s hard to manage egos and we don’t really have any but when you’re dealing with professional athletes it’s tough because a lot of players have so much control. You have attitudes and guys making all this money, and it’s hard to control but I think he does a great job of it.“
Stotts has guided the Blazers in position to be one of the best in the Western Conference and it can only get better.
2013-14 Results: 54-29, 2nd in Northwest, lost in Western Conference semifinals to San Antonio
ADDITIONS: C Chris Kaman, G Steve Blake
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- Damian Lillard SG- Wesley Matthews SF- Nicolas Batum PF- LaMarcus Aldridge C - Robin Lopez
KEY RESERVES: G Steve Blake, G C.J. McCollum, F Dorell Wright, C Chris Kaman, F Thomas Robinson, G Will Barton, C Joel Freeland, C Meyers Leonard
FRONTCOURT: The Blazers hope to lock up Aldridge next summer when he can cash in with more dough and a longer deal. The team appears committed to Aldridge, an interior force who has averaged more than 20 points per game in each of the past four seasons. Aldridge, who posted 29.8 ppg against Houston in the postseason, became the first NBA player with consecutive playoff games of 43 points or more since Tracy McGrady (April 20-23, 2003). He joined Sidney Wicks (1971-72) as the only Trail Blazer to average at least 23 points and 11 rebounds in a season. Aldridge is no doubt a bona fide All-Star and the Blazers will go only as far as he can take them. He matches up well with the rest of the bigs around the league.
Lopez plays in the shadows of Aldridge, and does his damage there. The seven- footer is a returning starter and key piece to Portland’s inside game. If the Blazers want to compete with Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Dallas, Houston or the Los Angeles Clippers, they have to get the ball inside. Like Aldridge, Lopez is also entering a contract year and played all 82 games for a second straight season after previous injury-riddled campaigns. His trademark is defense, but Lopez can also score.
Another defensive specialist is Nicolas Batum at small forward. The versatile Batum appeared in all 82 games, posting an average of 13.0 points and 7.5 rebounds, and has become more involved in the offense because of his skillset. Batum is a decent shooter from 3-point range as well. He is not afraid to take on the opposition’s best player either and is expected to have a breakout season in 2014-15.
BACKCOURT: Oh, where to begin with Portland’s backcourt. That’s actually easy because it starts with Lillard. Lillard is known around the league as a dangerous threat and can distribute the ball. When Aldridge and Lopez are grinding down low, Lillard will get them the ball. He was selected to his first All-Star game last year and played almost 36 minutes a night, so getting him rested for the playoffs is key. Cutting out fast food, sugar and salt from his diet will aid in his recovery from a long season. It will also improve his already remarkable speed and athleticism. His dramatic 3-pointer to send the Rockets packing in the playoffs proves Lillard’s not afraid to take the big shot and step up for his team. Look for another All-Star season from Lillard and emerging star status.
Lillard’s running mate in the backcourt is sharpshooter Wesley Matthews. Matthews is another defensive-minded guard who averaged a career-high 16.4 ppg last season and played in all 82 games for a third time in his career. Matthews has the length to keep opposing guards at bay with his 6-foot-5 frame, and playing alongside Batum only makes Portland that much better on defense. Matthews has big shot capability and is a proven risk taker. There’s a chance Matthews and Lillard will combine to sink the most 3-pointers in the league this season.
BENCH: This is where it gets tough for Stotts and Portland. The Blazers were awful off the bench last season and finished last in minutes with 13.7 and points (23.6). Those numbers took a dip in the playoffs as well and perhaps the series with San Antonio would have lasted longer had the reserves contributed more often.
The Blazers brought in Kaman to bolster the paint and give Aldridge and Lopez breathers. Blake is back and will bring his experience and leadership to the point, while the Trail Blazers are counting on second-year guard C.J. McCollum to have a big season. McCollum played in just 38 games because of a foot injury and posted 5.3 points and 1.3 rebounds. He’s hoping to have an injury free campaign and a more increased role now that Mo Williams is gone. McCollum proved he was one of the NCAA’s top guards with Lehigh University. Thomas Robinson, Meyers Leonard, Dorell Wright and Will Barton are other options off the bench.
COACHING: Stotts welcomes back the entire starting squad and has big hopes in his third season with the team. The franchise’s 14th head coach, Stotts needs to get more production on defense and better play from the bench. A healthy McCollum and the addition of Kaman should be an aid. Having Kaman on the floor means Portland will not fall short of size and strength underneath, which will propel the Blazers even further. Stotts, though, will be in a tough spot if he loses either Lillard or Aldridge. But make no mistake, the Blazers have the talent to capture homecourt advantage for at least the first round. Then it gets tough after that with the West’s best moving on.
OUTLOOK: Another 50-plus win season is on tap for the rising Blazers, as long as they stay healthy. Holding their own in a tough Western Conference is what the Blazers did a season ago, and it’s no secret they’re out to achieve more. Portland could make it all the way to the conference finals, but isn’t ready to play for an NBA championship. Perhaps 2015-16 will bear more fruit as far as competing for the franchise’s first title since 1976-77.
► Why the Giants will win the World Series
You can’t teach experience.
That’s one advantage the San Francisco Giants have entering their third World Series in the last five years. It’s been 29 years since the upstart Cinderella Kansas City Royals were in the Fall Classic and their magical postseason run will come to a screeching halt when they tangle with the accomplished Giants.
San Francisco playing for all the marbles has become more common lately and the club owes it all to a solid nucleus and a wise manager in Bruce Bochy. Bochy knows the aches and pains of baseball. His club had to battle its way to make the playoffs and now the Giants are going for it all in the 110th World Series.
“This isn’t easy to get here,“ Bochy said. “You saw how we had to go through a Wild Card Game, then go through two very good teams. It’s pretty amazing, really, how difficult it is to get here.“
Two of Bochy’s top players, starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner and catcher Buster Posey, are playing in their third World Series, while weathered veteran starter Tim Hudson is in his first. Hudson being in his first World Series proves that catching on with the right team at the right time is imperative.
Hudson, who is expected to go in Game 3, is happy for both Bumgarner and Posey, but is also appreciative of catching on with a winner.
“It’s awesome for them to be able to experience it that often,“ Hudson said. “Obviously, with my experience, it’s something I’ve searched for and waited all 16 years. It’s not that easy. You have to have a lot of luck and a lot of good players. To be on a team that has that much success that often, that doesn’t happen all the time, especially nowadays, with so much parity in this game.“
Bumgarner and Posey have matured through the years and know what it takes to reach the game’s pinnacle. The battery mates play an essential role in the Giants’ success and will be ready to go in Game 1 on Tuesday at Kauffman Stadium. Posey said it’s difficult to get to this point and players should appreciate and enjoy the moment.
Posey is two RBI shy of matching Barry Bonds (21) for the most in Giants franchise history in the postseason. He is a main weapon on a successful club that doesn’t boast high-profile players, home run kings or household names.
The one who comes close to stardom is Bumgarner. He’s another reason why the Giants will bring the Commissioner’s Trophy to the bay area. Bumgarner was named MVP of the NLCS versus the St. Louis Cardinals and hasn’t allowed a postseason run on the road over the last 26 2/3 innings dating back to that championship run of 2010.
The road has been a place Bumgarner thrives as evidenced by his 11-4 record and 2.22 earned run average in 18 starts as the visitor in the regular season. Bumgarner was 18-10 overall in the regular season. He struck out 10, allowed four hits and went the distance in an 8-0 win at Pittsburgh in the Wild Card game on October 1, then threw 7 2/3 scoreless innings at St. Louis on October 11.
So it’s obvious the one called MadBum has no issues in a hostile environment. In six postseason starts at home, Bumgarner is just 1-3. But he has pitched at least seven innings in every start this postseason.
Imagine how dominant the rotation would be with a healthy Matt Cain and a consistent Tim Lincecum. Cain is done for the season and Lincecum is now working out of a strong bullpen. So instead of those two, Bochy has veterans Jake Peavy and Hudson, and postseason stud Ryan Vogelsong. Bochy said Lincecum is dealing with a stiff neck and isn’t worried about the unused two-time NL Cy Young Award winner.
In 10 postseason games, Giants starters have recorded a 2.40 earned run average while limiting opponents to a 0.99 WHIP and a .207 batting average. The Giants have a strong advantage over Kansas City with their starters because after James Shields the Royals are in trouble.
When the starters give way to the bullpen it usually spells doom for the opposition. Clubs go through turnover year after year and there’s four relief pitchers who have been with the Giants since 2010. Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez and Sergio Romo are gunning for their fourth ring.
“Experience is a big deal. We don’t live in the past, but we rely on the past to get us through situations that we know we can pull through,“ Affeldt said.
The Royals are garnering all the bullpen hype, and deservedly so. However, these Giants can pitch in relief, too.
“Bochy knows how to use the bullpen,“ Casilla said. “He is the key, because we know what to do, but he has to know who to use.“
Yusmeiro Petit, who Bochy described as a “great swingman,“ is an important member of the bullpen and helped the Giants get to where they are.
“We can say that about a lot of the guys here,“ Romo said, “but he’s one of those ones that comes to mind first.“
Petit made 12 starts and 27 relief appearances in the regular season, and retired 46 straight batters at one point. He has two wins with 11 strikeouts over nine scoreless innings in these playoffs.
Who will Bochy use as the designated hitter when the Giants are on the road? That could be Game 5 NLCS hero Michael Morse, who’s healthy and an obvious choice for that role. Morse belted the tying home run in the NLCS clincher over the Cardinals.
The lineups match up well in this World Series. San Francisco is led by Posey and a handful of contributors in Hunter Pence, Pablo Sandoval, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford. Pence, of course, is known for his animated pep talks that usually contain an expletive or two. He definitely knows how to get his teammates pumped up and will be at his best the next week or so.
Bochy said Sandoval is a great and gifted player. More commonly known as Panda, Sandoval is excited to be playing in October instead of watching the games on TV at home.
“It’s exciting,“ Sandoval said. “You win or you go home. That’s what we try to do every single day this time (of year), not get too excited in situations. You want to win games. So I think this is one of those things I’ve got on my mind right now, get a good pitch on the plate, have fun no matter what the situation is, what the score is, what the type of game you play is. Just have fun out there.“
You could see how much fun this version of the Giants have on the field and it will be more exciting to watch when they’re crowned kings of baseball again.
► Why the Royals will win the World Series
Wade Davis was a throw-in in the deal that sent James Shields to Kansas City from Tampa Bay back in December of 2012.
As important a piece as Shields is to Kansas City, though, Davis has become an irreplaceable piece of a historic bullpen that has the Royals back in the World Series for the first time since 1985.
“He’s a guy that just comes in and goes right after you with his stuff,“ Royals manager Ned Yost said. “He’s a guy that’s a tremendous competitor.“
After struggling as a starter Davis has found a home as the Royals’ eighth- inning guy. He finished the regular season with 72 innings pitched, a 1.00 ERA and 109 strikeouts. His ERA was the fifth lowest ever by a reliever with at least 70 innings and his 13.63 strikeout-per-nine ratio ranks 10th all-time under the same guidelines.
He also didn’t allow a run from April 23-June 25, a streak of 20 appearances and 22 1/3 innings. It took 43 appearances, 45 1/3 innings and 179 batters before he allowed an extra-base hit.
Davis also hasn’t surrendered a home run this season.
In addition to his phenomenal regular season, Davis has thrown 9 1/3 innings in the postseason with a 0.96 ERA and 10 strikeouts. He pitched five scoreless frames in the ALCS, allowed just two hits and struck out six.
It’s not just Davis, though. Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland have been equally dominant.
Kansas City relievers allowed two runs in five innings in Game 1 against the O’s, but pitched 11 2/3 scoreless innings the rest of the way. The three- headed monster of Herrera, Davis and Holland pitched to a 0.61 ERA over 14 2/3 frames.
“It’s definitely been the model for us,“ Yost said. “It started out, find a way to get the ball to Holly in the ninth inning. With Kelvin’s emergence this year, it turned into, ‘Let’s just find a way to get through six and we’re going to be in great shape.‘“
Kansas City became just the second team during the wild card era to win the ALCS without a single starter completing six innings in the process. Only the 2011 Rangers had done so previously.
“You get through the sixth inning and you’re down a run, and, all of a sudden, here comes Herrera, here comes Davis, and here comes Holland,“ Yost added. “That’s a little bit deflating.“
Yost continued about his bullpen.
“You know, for me, the whole focus is just get through the sixth inning tied or with the lead so that we could get to those guys,“ Yost said. “If we have the lead, I feel like the game is over. If we’re tied, I feel like they’re going to hold us there until we score a run.“
No team signified small ball more than Kansas City, which won 89 games this season thanks in large part to its ability to play defense and manufacture runs. The Royals also led the AL with 153 stolen bases, but their 95 home runs were the fewest in baseball.
There is no question the Royals rely on their legs. It’s not just the stolen bases, either, their ability to take the extra base makes them that much more dangerous.
Kansas City’s speed game could be kept in check when lefty Madison Bumgarner is on the mound. Also, catcher Buster Posey threw out runners at a 29.8 percent clip this season, fifth in MLB among 15 qualified MLB catchers
The Royals have found their power stroke in the playoffs, swatting eight home runs in eight games. While they are certainly not the “Murderers’ Row” Yankees, the added power dimension might just be the difference for the Royals in the World Series.
There used to be a joke in New York that 75 percent of the world was covered in water and the other 25 percent was covered by Darrelle Revis. Well, people in Kansas City can now apply that joke to their outfield, particularly left fielder Alex Gordon and center fielder Lorenzo Cain.
“There’s really no weaknesses,“ said Gordon. “It’s someone new every day, and someone new making the play every day. It’s pretty cool to be a part of eight guys out there that are very talented and very good at defense and good at what they do.“
The bottom line is, the Royals are just a really good team. They get every hit they need. They make every catch they can get to. They can beat you with their arms, they can beat you with their legs.
And now they can even beat you with the longball.
You add that to the fact that they have homefield advantage and are in the midst of the best postseason run of all-time and it’s hard to make a case against them winning.
Nobody may have predicted it at the start of the year, but the Royals appear to be on the cusp of a World Series title.
► Golf Tidbits: Martin shines brightest in Vegas
Las Vegas is a city full of bright lights that can distract you. The brightest lights on a golf course are the leaderboards.
Ben Martin doesn’t like to look at those leaderboards, though. In the final round on Sunday at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, Martin caught a glimpse of one leaderboard after he bogeyed the eighth hole, and that was enough for him.
“I was nervous enough without looking at the scoreboard, so I didn’t have to think about anything else,“ Martin said.
He did the right thing and let his caddie watch the scoreboard. Martin wasn’t the only one who was ignoring the leaderboards. Second-place finisher Kevin Streelman was in the same boat.
“I tried not to look at the leaderboard to be honest,“ said Streelman.
The two were lucky the event didn’t last another couple holes or they would have been left in the dust by another player.
Last year’s Shriners winner, Webb Simpson, came out of nowhere on the back nine to grab a share of the lead, but he bogeyed the last to fall off the pace.
Jimmy Walker, a three-time winner last season, made a move on the back nine as well, but, like the other challengers, he ran out of holes.
Martin asked his caddie if he had to do anything special after he hit the green with his approach shot at the 18th. His caddie told him to 2-putt and all would be fine.
Martin only needed one. The closing birdie gave him a not-as-comfortable-as-it- looked 2-shot win.
The 27-year-old didn’t win in his first full season on the PGA Tour last year, but earned over $1.48 million thanks in part to three third-place finishes.
His four rounds in the 60s at the TPC Summerlin were a far cry from the week before at the Frys.com Open. Martin shot 78-79 at the Frys and finished in next-to-last place. He missed the cut by 14 strokes.
Though they were far from his best rounds, Martin allowed that they helped him knock the rust off.
“I’m not sure I beat anybody last week. I think we can chalk that up to a little bit of rust, a couple weeks at home. I just really tried to engage a little more this week,“ Martin said after the second round in Las Vegas. “I think I still kind of had that home mind-set.“
The bright light of the strip didn’t distract Martin from his goal of winning for the first time on the PGA Tour, and neither did the bright lights of the leaderboard.
Martin hopes this win is a springboard to bigger things, like what Walker accomplished last year in winning three times and making his first Ryder Cup team.
After just one full year on the PGA Tour, Martin doesn’t want to rest on his laurels of having his tour card secured for the next two seasons.
LYLE CONTINUES COMEBACK BATTLE
After his second battle with leukemia, Jarrod Lyle has started the battle to earn enough money to retain his PGA Tour card for this season. He can play 20 events through a medical extension, and in those events, Lyle needs to earn roughly $284,000 to retain his playing privileges.
Two events in and Lyle is about 20 percent of the way to that total. He Monday- qualified for the Frys.com Open before earning a sponsors exemption into Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.
Lyle has finished outside the top 30 in both events, but collected $53,795 thanks to tying for 31st and 42nd places in the two tournaments.
He has broken par in six of the eight rounds, but just two of the eight rounds were in the 60s. In those events, where the winning scores were 15- and 20- under par, two rounds in the 60s aren’t going to get you in contention or a big paycheck.
But, it is a process. Lyle didn’t play a PGA Tour-sanctioned event in 2013 and played just four Web.com Tour events in 2014. He made the cut just once as he tried to get his form back.
Lyle, who won twice on the Web.com Tour in 2008, heads back to his native Australia this week for a medical check-up. He will play the three big events in his homeland—the Australian Open, the Australian Masters and the Australian PGA.
“Things are going the right direction,“ Lyle said in a television interview. “The support that we’ve had for the last three years, it’s been amazing.“
After a couple of months back in his comfort zone of Australia, Lyle will continue his battle to retain his PGA Tour card early in the new year.
- Mikko Ilonen won the Volvo World Match Play Championship on the European Tour. He played at least 17 holes in all six of his matches, so endurance clearly wasn’t a problem. Joost Luiten, who won the consolation match, cruised to a 6 & 5 win over Pablo Larrazabal in the quarterfinals, and that was the only match all week that didn’t go at least 15 holes.
- Jeff Hart just missed tying a Champions Tour record at the Greater Hickory Kia Classic at Rock Barn. He hit 41 of 42 fairways for the week. He was bidding to join Hale Irwin, Calvin Peete and Ed Dougherty as the only players to hit every fairway in a three-round Champions Tour event.
|TUESDAY, OCTOBER 21, 2014|
|Major League Baseball - World Series|
|San Francisco at Kansas City, 8:07 PM - FOX|
|National Basketball Association - Preseason|
|Houston at Miami, 8:00 PM - CSN-Houston, TNT|
|LA Lakers at Phoenix, 10:00 PM - Time Warner|
|LA Clippers at Golden State, 10:30 PM - CSN-Bay, TNT|
|National Hockey League|
|San Jose at Boston, 7:00 PM - CSN-California, TVA, NESN, DSS|
|Toronto at NY Islanders, 7:00 PM - TSN4, MSG+2, DSS|
|NY Rangers at New Jersey, 7:00 PM - MSG, MSG+, DSS|
|Detroit at Montreal, 7:30 PM - FS-Detroit, RDS, DSS|
|Arizona at Nashville, 8:00 PM - FS-Arizona, Tennessee, DSS|
|Carolina at Winnipeg, 8:00 PM - FS-Carolina, TSN3, DSS|
|Vancouver at Dallas, 8:30 PM - SNET-Pacific, FS-Southwest, DSS|
|Philadelphia at Chicago, 8:30 PM - CSN-Philadelphia, Chicago, NBCSN|
|Tampa Bay at Calgary, 9:00 PM - SunSports, SNET-West, DSS|
|Florida at Colorado, 9:00 PM - FS-Florida, Altitude, DSS|
|Arkansas State at Louisiana, 8:00 PM - ESPN 2|
|CSKA Moscow vs. Manchester City, 12:00 PM - FS1|
|Barcelona vs. Ajax, 2:30 PM - FS1|
|Jamaica vs. Mexico (Women’s World Cup Qualifier), 7:30 PM - FS1|