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NBA: Jokic gaining NBA’s attention for surprising Nuggets



NBA: Jokic gaining NBA's attention for surprising Nuggets

DENVER (Reuters) – Rising Serbian talent Nikola Jokic does not yet have the notoriety of marquee NBA players like LeBron James or Stephen Curry but his passing genius is keeping the Denver Nuggets from becoming a passing fad.

FILE PHOTO: Feb 2, 2019; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) reacts to a call made during the third quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

While NBA fans tend to fixate on the futures of the league’s A-list players, Denver is surprisingly proving to be a present threat to crash that party.

“Everyone thinks that we’re going to stop. They think ‘they’re going to lose,’” Jokic told Reuters. “But we’re still really good.”

The small-market Nuggets (37-18) are one of the big surprise stories of the season, sitting second in the Western Conference despite losing their last three games.

Jokic, 23, is turning heads and slinging assists reminiscent of former NBA big man and countryman Vlade Divac, though with greater potential and less flopping.

Jokic is a rare collection of size and skill, both powering and finessing his way to averages of 20.4 points, 10.5 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game.

His 11 triple-doubles this season are second in the league, while the 27 he has earned over his career are second all-time amongst centers trailing only Wilt Chamberlain.

While Jokic’s statistics evoke the names of greats, the Nuggets roster does not. Only the most attentive NBA fan could identify more than a couple players on a young team still flying below the radar in the high altitude of Denver.

The Nuggets play with a refreshing equality — they are second in the NBA in assists per game and have seven players averaging double figures in scoring — that often hides their lack of star power.

“We’ve got a deep team. We don’t back down from anybody,” Nuggets guard Malik Beasley told Reuters. “I’d rather be on a team like this then one where there’s not enough passes. It means a lot to have a team like this.”

When Jokic was named to this weekend’s NBA’s All Star Game in Charlotte, the first Nuggets player selected since Carmelo Anthony in 2011, it was a celebrated by the entire team.

“Any time you’re acknowledged and rewarded with an All Star position I think it brings a confidence to a young team like ours that we are getting noticed,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone told Reuters.

“Nikola being rewarded with an All Star Game selection will give him a lot of confidence moving forward and the chance to be around the best 24 players in the world.”

Just three seasons ago, Denver were last in NBA attendance. But with the team poised to make the playoffs for the first time since 2013, the Nuggets boast one of the best home-court advantages in the league and have had to accommodate extra media presence this season due to increased interest.

Jokic’s steady climb to stardom has been a driving force behind the attention. After starting his professional career in Serbia, Jokic was drafted in the second round by the Nuggets in 2014 NBA Draft.

This season, his fourth in the NBA, has been a complete revelation of his talents. Big enough to bruise defenders in the paint, Jokic has a full service of post moves and touch around the rim while also showcasing his three-point range.

It’s clear that Jokic has a variety of basketball influences.

“Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Magic, Kobe and Shaq – a lot of guys I watched (growing up),” Jokic said. “Tracy McGrady, Vince Carte … I saw a lot of guys just from clips on YouTube.”

Jokic’s maturation has been aided by improved conditioning, and he is eating healthier and has cut out sweets and late night dining.

“He’s taken it upon himself to get better every day. That’s what leaders do,” said Denver guard Will Barton.

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Jokic will likely need to lead the Nuggets on an impressive playoff run for them to transition from a nice story to an NBA headline.

Denver is not shying away from the challenge.

“We’ve beaten all comers,” Malone said. “We’re not scared of anybody.”

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Reports: Bears to cut K Parkey in March




Reports: Bears to cut K Parkey in March

After a difficult season culminated by a crucial missed field goal on a potential game-winning field goal in the NFC playoffs, kicker Cody Parkey will be released by the Chicago Bears when the new league year begins in March.

FILE PHOTO: Sep 17, 2018; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears kicker Cody Parkey (1) watches his field goal during the first half against the Seattle Seahawks at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

According to multiple reports on Friday, the team intends to cut ties with Parkey once the NFL free agency period begins on March 13.

Parkey, who turned 27 on Tuesday, endured an inconsistent season in Chicago after inking a four-year, $15 million contract last winter following the team’s release of Robbie Gould, the Bears’ all-time leading scorer who moved on to the San Francisco 49ers.

Parkey, a five-year veteran, not only missed a career-high seven field-goal attempts and three extra points during the regular season, but his 43-yard attempt in the final seconds of the NFC wild-card round against the Philadelphia Eagles first hit the upright then the crossbar before bouncing back on the field.

Despite the NFL later ruling that the kick was partially blocked, Parkey took much of the public blame for the Bears’ season ending.

Parkey began his career with the Eagles in 2014 when he made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, scoring a franchise-record 150 points while making 32 of 36 field-goal tries. In two seasons with the Eagles, Parkey never missed an extra point.

Parkey later kicked for the Cleveland Browns in 2016 and Miami Dolphins in 2017.

In January, the Bears signed Tulsa product Redford Jones after conducting a workout that reportedly included multiple hopefuls. Jones made 50 of his 67 field-goal attempts at Tulsa from 2015-17, and he does have a kick on his resume where he hit both uprights. Unlike Parkey’s double-doink, though, that 2016 attempt against Cincinnati ended up going over the crossbar for three points.

“We need more production out of that position,” Bears general manager Ryan Pace said last month after signing Jones. “We know we need to get better there, and it will be an area of focus.”

—Field Level Media

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WTA roundup: Bencic upsets Svitolina to reach Dubai final




WTA roundup: Bencic upsets Svitolina to reach Dubai final

Belinda Bencic secured a spot in the final by stunning two-time champion Elina Svitolina 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (3) on Friday at the Dubai Duty Free Championships in the United Arab Emirates.

Tennis – WTA Premier 5 – Dubai Tennis Championships – Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium, Dubai, United Arab Emirates – February 22, 2019 Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic in action during the Semi Final against Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina REUTERS/Satish Kumar

Bencic trailed 5-3 in the final set before recovering to defeat the sixth-seeded Svitolina. She will face second-seeded Petra Kvitova in the championship match after the Czech Republic star defeated Taiwan’s Su-Wei Hsieh 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.

“I think I’m always the most proud of how I fight,” Bencic said after posting the victory. “Even when I lose, I learned myself to just look in the mirror and be proud of myself when I’m fighting, when I’m giving my all, when I’m trying to do what I have to do.”

Bencic won eight consecutive points after Svitolina was in position to close out the match. Then the Switzerland native carried the momentum into the tiebreaker to notch one of the biggest victories of her career by outdueling the Ukrainian.

“Basically, I stayed in the zone, even in (the) tiebreak,” Bencic said. “I was barely breathing, just playing automatic. You are not thinking any more. It’s where the instincts just guide you through it.”

Bencic will be seeking her third career title when she squares off with Kvitova, who will be shooting for her 27th.

Kvitova dropped the first set on Friday before recovering to win the last two.

“It was a tough one today, for sure,” Kvitova said. “She really didn’t give me anything for free. It was a tough first set. I’m glad that I was able to came back in the second. I didn’t play great at the end of the first.

“I think I’m pleased with my kind of mental focus after losing the first set, that I was calmer when I came back and played from the beginning of the second set. I still kind of felt that I can do that somehow. I don’t know. It was something weird.”

Kvitova overcame eight double faults to claim the victory.

Hungarian Ladies Open

Top-seeded Alison Van Uytvanck defeated Ukraine’s Kateryna Kozlova 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 to advance to the semifinals in Budapest.

Van Uytvanck, of Belgium, will face fifth-seeded Ekaterina Alexandrova in the semis. The Russian dispatched third-seeded Frenchwoman Pauline Parmentier 6-3, 6-2.

Eighth-seeded Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic will face Russian Anastasia Potapova in the other semi. Vondrousova outlasted Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu 5-7, 6-1, 6-3 while the 17-year-old Potapova fought past Romania’s Sorana Cirstea 6-4, 6-7 (5), 7-5 in 2 hours, 50 minutes.

—Field Level Media

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Patriots owner Robert Kraft facing charges of solicitation of prostitution




Patriots owner Robert Kraft facing charges of solicitation of prostitution

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is facing charges of misdemeanor solicitation of prostitution after he was twice videotaped paying for a sex act at an illicit massage parlor, police in Florida said Friday.

The 77-year-old Kraft was one of 25 people involved in the alleged solicitation at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter.

Michael Edmondson, spokesman for the state attorney’s office in Palm Beach County, told ESPN that the nature of any charges that the 25 people face will not be released until next week.

Kraft has denied wrongdoing.

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