Didinger's Starting 11 NFL Season Preview

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Didinger's Starting 11 NFL Season Preview

Here is my Starting 11 for the 2011 NFL season, which kicks off Thursday in Green Bay.

1. Arrow Pointing Up (Team) Detroit Lions
Yes, Im buying into the Lions. Call me a sucker, but I do think the Lions are headed for double digit wins and their first playoff appearance since 1999.

2. Arrow Pointing Down (Team) Indianapolis
For years, the safest bet in football was the Colts winning the AFC South and going to the playoffs. Not so this year. Peyton Mannings health is only one question facing this team. The O-line is very young and the defense is slipping. This is the season Houston finally overtakes the Colts.

3. Arrow Pointing Up (Player) Jason Pierre Paul, defensive end, New York Giants
He was considered a reach when the Giants drafted him in the first round last year season, but the 6-5, 280-pound JPP is growing up fast. He will take on a larger role this season with Osi Umenyiora hobbled. Watch out for this kid. He is a force.

4. Arrow Pointing Down (Player) Eli Manning, quarterback, New York Giants
He looked bad the entire preseason. He couldnt move the first team offense, he still was making ugly, off-balance throws. He led the league with 25 interceptions last season and appears headed down the same path. Looks like a rough year for both Mannings.

5. He Will Deliver Greg Olsen, tight end, Carolina
A very talented former first-round draft pick, he never got much chance to produce in Chicago where coach Mike Martz doesnt utilize the tight end. The move to Carolina will benefit him, especially with rookie Cam Newton starting at quarterback. Young QBs love to throw to the tight end and Olsen will be a nice, big target.

6. He Will Disappoint Chris Johnson, running back, Tennessee
Still a great talent, but he missed the entire training camp because of a contract dispute. When players are rushed back right on the eve of the regular season, it rarely goes well. This has the look of a hamstring pull just waiting to happen.

7. Offensive Player of the Year Phillip Rivers, quarterback, San Diego
Threw for a staggering 4,710 yards and 30 touchdowns last season, but it was forgotten when the Chargers fell out of first place in the AFC West. The division still looks weak and Rivers looks poised for a monster year. I could see him winning league MVP honors.

8. Defensive Player of the Year Ndamukong Suh, Detroit
He is already the best defensive tackle in the NFL in my opinion. He had 10 sacks as a rookie and still was learning the pro game. Suh could be the most dominant inside player since Mean Joe Greene anchored Pittsburghs Steel Curtain.

9. Coach of the Year Sean Payton, New Orleans
I have a feeling the Saints will have a big bounce-back year they had a lot of injuries in 2010 and they will put up a lot of points with Mark Ingram joining Drew Brees in the backfield. It will be Payton making the calls and pushing the buttons.

10. Rookie of the Year Julio Jones, wide receiver, Atlanta
The Falcons traded five picks, including next years No. 1 to move up in the first round and select the 6-2, 220-pound Jones. Having paid that price, the Falcons will expect him to contribute right away and with Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez drawing the coverage, Jones will have lots of room to flash that 4.3 speed.

11. Comeback Player of the Year Mark Herzlich, linebacker, New York Giants
He has yet to play an NFL regular-season game, but Herzlich earns our Comeback Player of the Year award simply for making the Giants' 53-man roster. Herzlich, who attended Conestoga High School, missed the entire 2009 season at Boston College when a rare form of bone cancer attacked the femur in his left leg. He was told he would never walk again, much less resume his football career, but he came back to play his senior season at B.C. and this summer overcame huge odds to make the Giants as an undrafted free agent.

NFC

East Division
1. Eagles (10-6)
2. Dallas (9-7)
3. New York Giants (8-8)
4. Washington (6-10)

North Division
1. Green Bay (11-5)
2. Detroit (10-6)
3. Chicago (8-8)
4. Minnesota (6-10)

South Division
1. New Orleans (11-5)
2. Atlanta (10-6)
3. Tampa Bay (8-8)
4. Carolina (5-11)

West Division
1. St. Louis (9-7)
2. Arizona (8-8)
3. Seattle (7-9)
4. San Francisco (5-11)

AFC

East Division
1. New England (12-4)
2. N.Y. Jets (10-6)
3. Miami (6-10)
4. Buffalo (5-11)

North Division
1. Pittsburgh (11-5)
2. Baltimore (10-6)
3. Cleveland (6-10)
4. Cincinnati (4-12)

South Division
1. Houston (10-6)
2. Indianapolis (9-7)
3. Jacksonville (7-9)
4. Tennessee (6-10)

West Division
1. San Diego (12-4)
2. Oakland (8-8)
3. Kansas City (7-9)
4. Denver (5-11)

Wild Card teams

NFC Champion: Green Bay
AFC Champion: New England
Super Bowl Champion: New England
E-mail Ray Didinger at viewfromthehall@comcast.net.

Report: Sixers in California for NBA draft workouts

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Report: Sixers in California for NBA draft workouts

As the Western Conference Finals are taking place in Oakland, the Sixers are looking for new talent of their own in California.

This week, members of the Sixers' front office are attending pre-draft workouts organized through multiple agencies, including BDA Sports Management, CAA Sports, Landmark Sports Agency, Octagon and Wasserman Media Group.

While the Sixers hold the No. 1 pick, these workouts are opportunities for them to evaluate players that could be fits for their 24th and 26th selections.

On Thursday, the list of workout participants included projected first-rounders Deyonta Davis (Michigan State) and Cheik Diallo (Kansas), according to the Philadelphia Inquirer

The scouting process takes NBA teams coast to coast. Earlier this week, the Sixers reportedly attended a private workout with Excel Sports Management in New York City, in which Brandon Ingram and Jamal Murray participated.

The Sixers have held two workouts at their own practice facility, bringing in a total of 12 prospects thus far.

As the draft nears, 57 early-entry candidates withdrew their names from the 2016 draft.

NBA Playoffs: Stephen Curry, Warriors fight off elimination

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NBA Playoffs: Stephen Curry, Warriors fight off elimination

BOX SCORE

OAKLAND, Calif. -- "We ain't going home! We're not going home!" Stephen Curry screamed at the top of his lungs.

No, his Golden State Warriors are going back to Oklahoma City, after keeping their title reign and the winningest season in NBA history alive for at least one more game.

Curry scored 31 points, raising his arms in the early moments to fire up Golden State's raucous crowd, and the defending champions staved off elimination with a 120-111 victory over the Thunder on Thursday night in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals.

"We just did what we're supposed to do. We're supposed to win at home," Curry said. "We know what we still have to do going forward. ... We knew if we didn't win we were going home. There's no other motivation you need."

For all the speculation about the current state of Curry's beat-up body -- that troublesome ankle, sore knee or tender elbow -- he did it all.

"I thought he looked like 91 percent," coach Steve Kerr cracked. "He came out and played a really good game. That's all I can tell you. He's going to compete every night. He had an excellent night and helped us get it done."

Led by Curry, the Warriors looked like their old winning selves again.

The MVP made a snazzy layup late and dished out six assists, while Klay Thompson added 27 points as Golden State sent the best the best-of-seven series back to Oklahoma City for Game 6 on Saturday night. The Warriors trail 3-2 and are trying to become just the 10th team to rally from a 3-1 deficit.

"None of us want to go home," Thompson said. "We're having too much fun out there."

Kevin Durant scored 40 points and Russell Westbrook added 31 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and five steals for the Thunder, trying for the fifth NBA Finals appearance in franchise history and first championship since moving from Seattle.

The record-setting, 73-win Warriors, coming off their first back-to-back defeats all season, had been blown out in two losses at Oklahoma City by a combined 52 points.

"We have to take that game and travel," Curry said of keeping momentum.

Durant's 3-pointer with 4:34 left got the Thunder within 103-98, then Curry answered with a three-point play.

Curry scored seven points in a 58-second stretch of the second quarter and hit more big shots late, but the Thunder didn't go away easily.

"I liked our will, I liked our fight," Kerr said. "We were embarrassed in OKC the last couple games."

Trailing 58-50 at halftime, Oklahoma City came out of the break with a 9-2 run. Westbrook's 3-pointer with 6:06 left in the third put Oklahoma City ahead 68-67 for its first lead of the night. But Golden State led 81-77 going into the fourth and began the final period with an 8-0 burst.

"We didn't shoot a particularly good percentage when we got into the lane and got into the deep paint," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. "We had our opportunities."

Curry shot 9 for 20 and also had five steals, while Thompson had his 11th 20-point game for the second straight postseason despite shooting 2 for 9 from 3-point range. After struggling the past two games, Draymond Green had 11 points and 13 rebounds a day after receiving some encouraging words from Kobe Bryant on the phone.

"We really relied on the entire team tonight, which is when we're at our best," Curry said.

Kerr figured his Warriors might have an edge against the percentages of teams having trailed 3-1 because they're the defending champs and were playing at home, where they have been nearly unbeatable.

He wasn't surprised to see this team respond so well.

"We played with great desperation," Kerr said. "I knew how we would play. This is a championship team."

Kerr called for center Andrew Bogut to do more and the 7-footer delivered with a playoff career-high 15 points and 14 rebounds for his second double-double this postseason and seventh of his career.

Marreese Speights had a pair of three-point plays on follow shots and a 3 in the second quarter to give Golden State a nice lift off the bench. He had nine points in four minutes during that stretch and 14 points overall for his fifth double-digit scoring game this postseason.

"Their bench came in and made shots, made plays for them," Durant said. "We know we're going home. We can't relax."

Golden State made 31 of 34 free throws.

With his 1,248th career postseason point in the third, Curry passed Wilt Chamberlain (1,246) for second place on the franchise's playoff scoring list.

"That's who he is, that's what he's done, and that's what's made him a very good player," Donovan said.

Tip-ins
Thunder: The franchise lost in the finals in 1977-78, 1995-96 to Kerr and the Chicago Bulls and in `12. ... Steven Adams sat down with his second foul at the 9:34 mark of the first quarter. The Thunder had seven fouls to Golden State's one after the first. ... Oklahoma City took Game 1 at Oracle Arena, where the Warriors have lost only three times all season. ... The Thunder started the game 3 for 14.

Warriors: Green picked up his fifth technical of the postseason. He also has at least one steal in 16 straight playoff games. ... Golden State missed six of its first seven 3s. ... The Warriors supported Turner Sports sideline reporter Craig Sager with "Sager Strong" T-shirts for sale to support awareness and research for leukemia and lymphoma, both blood cancers.

Best of MLB: Jose Fernandez strikes out 12 in Marlins' win over Rays

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Best of MLB: Jose Fernandez strikes out 12 in Marlins' win over Rays

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Jose Fernandez struck out 12 in seven innings Thursday and won his sixth straight start for the Miami Marlins, a 9-1 decision over the Tampa Bay Rays.

Fernandez (7-2) struck out eight of the last 10 batters he faced and struck out every hitter in the Rays lineup at least once. The 23-year-old right-hander from Tampa gave up six hits in beating his hometown Rays for the first time in three tries. He finished the game with 13.3 strikeouts per nine innings, highest among major league starters.

Adeiny Hechavarria and Chris Johnson homered for the Marlins, who won three of four in their annual series against the Rays.

Hechavarria's third home run drove in the final two runs of a three-run second inning off Rays starter Drew Smyly. Johnson made it 5-0 with his second homer an inning later, Johnson's first hit in 22 interleague at bats (see full recap).

Rockies silence Red Sox, Bradley's hit streak
BOSTON -- Carlos Gonzalez, Trevor Story and Dustin Garneau hit two-run homers and the Colorado Rockies stopped Jackie Bradley Jr.'s 29-game hitting streak with a 8-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Thursday night.

The win ended a three-game losing streak by Colorado and it ended a four-game winning streak for the Red Sox. Bradley's major league-best streak was halted when he went 0 for 4 after moving up to the leadoff spot for the first time this season.

Jon Gray (2-2) gave up a two-run home run to David Ortiz in the first, but pitched six scoreless innings before leaving in the eighth.

Clay Buchholz (2-5) took the loss. He pitched three perfect innings before things came apart in the fourth, when he gave up Gonzalez's homer with the other two coming the following inning (see full recap).

Happ leads Blue Jays past Yankees
NEW YORK -- J.A. Happ pitched seven strong innings, Edwin Encarnacion and Devon Travis had two-out RBIs, and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Yankees 3-1 on Thursday to win the three-game series.

CC Sabathia was the tough-luck loser for New York, allowing just two unearned runs. Alex Rodriguez went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts in his first game since going on the disabled list May 4 with a strained right hamstring.

Happ (6-2) allowed one run on three hits in seven innings with five strikeouts and three walks. He has given up three earned runs or fewer in 19 of his last 20 starts.

Sabathia (3-3) retired the first seven batters before an error by shortstop Didi Gregorius on Travis' grounder with one out in the third (see full recap).