1 point away, Serena stunned by Pliskova at Australian Open

By HOWARD FENDRICH, AP Tennis Writer
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Four times, Serena Williams was only one point — a single point — from closing out a victory in the Australian Open quarterfinals.
On the first such chance, at 5-1, 40-30 in the third set, she turned her left ankle awkwardly. The owner of the best serve in the sport would lose every point she served the rest of the way.
And so it was that a startling reversal and result would follow Wednesday at Melbourne Park, with Williams dropping the last six games of a 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 loss to No. 7-seeded Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic.
“I can’t say that I choked on those match points,” Williams said. “She literally played her best tennis ever on those shots.”
The 37-year-old American didn’t call for a trainer during the match and later wouldn’t blame the ankle for the way everything changed down the stretch, saying afterward that it “seems to be fine.”
But instead of Williams moving closer to an eighth championship at the Australian Open and record-tying 24th Grand Slam title overall, it is Pliskova who will continue the pursuit of her first major trophy.
“I was almost in the locker room,” Pliskova told the Rod Laver Arena crowd, “but now I’m standing here as the winner.”
Normally, Williams is the one manufacturing a comeback. This time, it was surprising to see her let a sizable lead vanish. Only twice before in 380 Grand Slam matches had Williams lost after holding a match point, at the 2010 French Open and 1999 Australian Open.
In Thursday’s semifinals, Pliskova will face No. 4-seeded Naomi Osaka, who advanced by beating No. 6 Elina Svitolina 6-4, 6-1. The other women’s semifinal will be two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova against unseeded American Danielle Collins.
In men’s action Wednesday, No. 28 Lucas Pouille of France reached his first Grand Slam semifinal by beating 2016 Wimbledon runner-up Milos Raonic of Canada 7-6 (4), 6-3, 6-7 (2), 6-4. Pouille, who is coached by two-time major champion Amelie Mauresmo, had been 0-5 for his career at the Australian Open until last week. His next opponent will be 14-time major champion Novak Djokovic, who moved on when 2014 U.S. Open finalist Kei Nishikori stopped playing while trailing 6-1, 4-1.
Nishikori was treated for leg problems by a trainer.
Williams’ surprising departure scuttled what would have been a much-anticipated rematch against Osaka, who beat her in the chaotic U.S. Open final last September.
This defeat is the earliest in Australia for Williams since 2014, when she exited with a fourth-round loss to Ana Ivanovic. Since then? She won the tournament in 2015, lost in the final in 2016, and won again in 2017 while pregnant, before missing last year’s edition a few months after the birth of her daughter.
As for chasing Margaret Court’s all-time mark of 24 Slam trophies in singles, Williams said: “It hasn’t happened yet, but I feel like it’s going to happen.”
The match against Pliskova was played under a stifling sun, with the temperature around 80 degrees (25 degrees Celsius). Williams — coming off an intense three-set victory over No. 1 Simona Halep in the fourth round — often stepped into the patches of shade behind each baseline.
She did not start well, not well at all. Her mistakes were mounting and deficit was growing.
In the first set alone, Williams made more than twice as many unforced errors as her opponent, 11-5, a pattern that would continue throughout. By the end, the margin was 37-15.
Looking increasingly frustrated, Williams would yell at herself after mistakes or gesture as if to say, “That’s NOT how I should be hitting the ball!” Add it all up, and Pliskova led by a set and a break at 3-2 in the second.
Only then did Williams get going. From there, she immediately earned her first break point of the match and converted it to get to 3-all, beginning a run in which she claimed nine of 11 games.
“You don’t really feel,” Pliskova said, “like you’re going to win this match.”
Serving for the victory at 5-1, 40-30, Williams was called for a foot fault — reminiscent of an infamous such ruling at the U.S. Open a decade ago. During the ensuing point Wednesday, Williams twisted her left ankle and dumped a forehand into the net.
She grabbed at her foot afterward, then double-faulted and would go on to cede that game.
Not a big deal, right? She still had a sizable lead.
Except that three more match points would follow while Pliskova served, and she saved each one.
“There’s nothing I did wrong on those match points. I didn’t do anything wrong. I stayed aggressive,” Williams said. “She just literally hit the lines on some of them.”
Williams would again serve for the match at 5-3 — and again get broken. The owner of the most feared and respected serve in women’s tennis was broken for a third time in a row at 5-all, and Pliskova was on her way.
“She got a little bit shaky in the end,” Pliskova said. “So I took my chances. And I won.”
Osaka will carry a 12-match Grand Slam winning streak into the semifinals.
The 21-year-old from Japan moved closer to a second consecutive major championship by parlaying her aggressive and powerful style into a 31-11 edge in winners against Svitolina.
“For me, right now, I just try to keep looking forward. So I’m not really satisfied. Like, I am happy that I’m here, but at the same time, I want to keep going,” said Osaka, who never had been past the fourth round at the Australian Open. “There is more matches to win.”
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Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at https://twitter.com/HowardFendrich
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Vonn’s skis are waiting for her if she decides to race again

By ANDREW DAMPF, AP Sports Writer
Lindsey Vonn’s skis are waiting for her — whether she decides to continue racing or not.
While Vonn ponders her future, her ski technician has set up shop in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, where World Cup downhill and super-G races are scheduled for this weekend.
Heinz Haemmerle tells The Associated Press he “just arrived in Garmisch and set up my ski room. Then we see what’s coming out.”
Rainer Salzgeber, the racing director for Head skis, adds that the company is preparing as if Vonn will race in Garmisch and then the world championships in Are, Sweden, next month.
Salzgeber says “for Heinz right now it looks like this. But how it will end up in the next couple of days or hours I do not know.”
Haemmerle says he expected Vonn to arrive in Garmisch later Wednesday, with the first of two downhill training sessions scheduled for Thursday.
Vonn has left everyone guessing over her next move after announcing on Sunday that she was considering immediate retirement due to severe pain in both of her knees.
Vonn finished no better than ninth in three races in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, last weekend.
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Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AndrewDampf

Next year it’s Jeter’s chance to join Rivera in the Hall

By NOAH TRISTER, AP Baseball Writer
Mariano Rivera sailed into the Hall of Fame without a single dissenting vote. Next year, it’s Derek Jeter’s turn — and don’t expect much opposition then, either.
Jeter headlines the group of candidates who will be newly eligible for the Hall next year , and now that Rivera has become the first player elected unanimously , it won’t be a surprise if another transcendent New York Yankees star does the same. With 3,465 hits to his credit — not to mention five World Series titles — Jeter shouldn’t have much to worry about when the results are announced.
Whether he goes in unanimously is another matter. After his longtime teammate broke ground as the first player selected on 100 percent of the ballots submitted, some baseball writers might be more willing to vote strategically: Nobody is allowed to pick more than 10 players, so for some it could make sense to leave off a certain inductee if a vote would mean more for a player on the bubble.
But nobody left off Rivera this time, and Jeter’s stature in the sport is similar.
Here are a few other things to watch in the next Hall of Fame vote:
BEST OF THE REST
Jeter may be the only first-ballot Hall of Famer next year, but there are a handful of other new candidates who distinguished themselves as well. Cliff Lee won a Cy Young Award and Jason Giambi has an MVP. Alfonso Soriano accomplished a rare 40-40 season in 2006.
FINAL SHOT
Edgar Martinez made the Hall this year in his last chance on the ballot. Fred McGriff did not. Next season, it’s Larry Walker who will be up for the 10th and final time. Walker’s vote percentage shot up this year from 34 to 55. He’ll need another increase like that to get in.
BONDS AND CLEMENS
Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, their candidacies held back by links to performance-enhancing drug use, appear to have hit a wall. In their seventh year on the ballot, Clemens received 59.5 percent of the vote and Bonds received 59.1. Last year, Clemens was at 57.3 percent and Bonds was at 56.4.
In theory, there’s enough time to make up the remaining ground — Martinez was below 50 percent three years ago — but views on Bonds and Clemens appear pretty entrenched.
OTHER HOLDOVERS
Four players were elected this year by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, and with only Jeter standing out among the newcomers, the ballot might feel a bit less crowded next year. That could be good news for players like Walker, Curt Schilling (61 percent this year) and Omar Vizquel (43 percent). Walker has only one chance left, but Schilling and Vizquel have an opportunity to make progress in 2020 and then again in 2021, when the group of newcomers appears less formidable.
SABERMETRIC DARLING?
If you’re looking for an under-the-radar candidate who looks pretty impressive through the lens of advanced stats, Bobby Abreu is eligible in 2020. Abreu was just a two-time All-Star, but he finished with a career on-base percentage of .395. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Abreu was worth 60 wins above replacement for his career — roughly the same as Vladimir Guerrero, who went into the Hall of Fame in 2018.
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Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister

Column: Hall of Fame is becoming a crowded place

By TIM DAHLBERG, AP Sports Columnist
Edgar Martinez got in just as his chances were running out, meaning baseball’s Hall of Fame will have yet another designated hitter. Three pitchers are in the newly elected class, too, including one whose credentials weren’t good enough in the decade his name came before baseball writers.
Harold Baines will also be inducted with Lee Smith this summer, but don’t blame writers for that. A 16-member veterans committee that included Baines’ biggest backer — White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf — decided last month that Baines and Smith should go in because, well, the Hall of Fame apparently needs more players.
It now has more, a half dozen more if you’re keeping score at home. The most hallowed of halls is becoming a very welcoming place, thanks to an accommodating committee and members of the Baseball Writers Association of America who are swayed more and more by the advanced metrics that define the game today.
In keeping with full disclosure, I’m one of those 425 writers. My ballot went public Tuesday along with others who didn’t disclose their picks in advance, as about half of those voting did.
Along with everyone else, of course, I voted for Mariano Rivera. There was no reason not to pick baseball’s greatest closer, and he was rewarded with the first unanimous ballot since Hall of Fame voting began in 1936.
Rivera’s the best of the best, with five World Series titles and more saves than anyone who has ever pitched. His advanced metrics are off the charts, but here’s a stat I like best: Rivera retired the side in order in 229 of his 491 three-out saves, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Good cases can also be made for the other inductees, who all have one stat or another that signify greatness. But at the same time baseball purists have to wonder just what defines a Hall of Famer anymore.
The case of Baines is exhibit A among those who argue for a less inclusive hall. Baines played 22 years in the bigs, mostly as a designated hitter, but never reached the 3,000-hit mark that so often defines Hall of Fame players.
More tellingly, he never finished in the top eight vote getters for MVP consideration any year he played.
Baines is as marginal as it gets, and Mike Mussina’s credentials were questioned by some, too, though his 270 career wins are tied for 33rd with Burleigh Grimes on the all-time list.
The trend today seems to be to add players in bunches. And that’s not necessarily a good thing for a hall that was once reserved for only the best of the best.
Baines’ place in the hall can be debated, as can a plaque for any player not named Ruth, DiMaggio or Koufax. And it will be debated, because baseball’s Hall of Fame remains the gold standard for all sports and baseball fans love to argue about who should be in it.
Still, six players this year, six last. In last three years, 15 players have made the Hall of Fame, bringing the total to 234 former major league players, and 331 members overall.
It may not be too many, but it’s becoming too much. And it shows no signs of slowing down, even with a lack of star power in upcoming classes (Derek Jeter will almost surely be the only new player elected next year).
That’s partly due to the influence of advanced stats that can be used to promote candidacies, along with an influx of voters from a younger generation of BBWAA members. We saw that with Martinez, who was the beneficiary of an election campaign that got him in on his last year of eligibility.
It’s also partly due to voters loading up their ballots. The ballot allows for 10 votes and the average number of players named on early public ballots was 8.7.
You can’t tell me there were 10 players deserving of the Hall of Fame this year or any other. I personally voted for six, and thought that was high.
Still, I can live with most of the selections, though I wouldn’t have voted for Baines or Smith. They got in because of a veterans committee that offers second chances to players the baseball writers reject for 10 years.
But I’m a bit worried about next year. That’s when voters will put their X next to Jeter’s name and then go searching for others to fill out the Hall of Fame class.
That likely means more votes for Barry Bonds (59.1 percent) and Roger Clemens (59.5), who will be in their eighth year of eligibility. Thankfully, other known PED users haven’t yet gotten the magical 75 percent, but the trends are moving in their direction.
It also means Curt Schilling (60.9 percent) will receive more votes, and I don’t view him as a Hall of Famer for more than one reason.
There’s nothing wrong with a good debate over who should be in and who shouldn’t. That’s part of the fun of the best hall in any sport.
But there’s no debate that the last thing any baseball fan should want is a bloated Hall of Fame.
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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg@ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg

Williamson scores 25, No. 2 Duke shuts down Pitt 79-64

By WILL GRAVES, AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH (AP) — There are plenty of words Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski can use to describe his star-laden roster. Nervous is not one of them.
“My guys are not nervous,” Krzyzewski said. “I’m nervous. But they are not. They love crowds. They love to compete.”
No matter who’s watching. With the coach who helped recruit the current Blue Devils on the other bench and one of the greatest rappers in history sitting courtside, star freshmen Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett did what they’ve done seemingly since the day they stepped on campus last fall: They dominated.
Williamson hit his first 10 shots on his way to 25 points, Barrett scored 26 and the second-ranked Blue Devils had little trouble in a clinical 79-64 victory over Pittsburgh and former Duke assistant Jeff Capel on Tuesday night.
Capel helped bring Barrett and Williamson to Duke before leaving last spring to rebuild the Panthers. While Pitt appears to be on its way back, Capel understands the gap between his club and his alma mater remains massive.
“Zion, I don’t know if I’ve seen anything like it,” Capel said. “I looked up at one point in the first half and he had 17 and my assistants told me he hadn’t missed a shot.”
That’s because he hadn’t. Williamson — hardly rattled by the site of Jay-Z sitting in the front row of the packed Petersen Events Center — went 9 for 9 in the first half and finished 11 of 13 overall while adding seven assists and seven rebounds. Williamson insisted he wasn’t keeping track of his hot start. He didn’t have to. His teammates were doing it for him.
“I said (at halftime), ‘I got like 10 points right now, I’m not really doing nothing,'” Williamson said. “I come in here and they tell me what I got and I was like, ‘Dang.'”
Williamson admitted he noticed Jay-Z — whose representatives reached out to Pitt a few weeks ago about stopping by — and pointed out the rapper’s song “A Dream” is on his pregame playlist.
“That was like a dream come true,” Williamson said. “To me, he’s the GOAT” — greatest of all time.
Once the ball was tipped, Williamson and the Blue Devils hardly looked star-struck even without guard Tre Jones, who remains out indefinitely with a shoulder injury. The Blue Devils (16-2, 5-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) withstood an early surge by the Panthers and then hit the gas about midway through the first half, turning a brief 16-15 deficit into a 44-25 lead at the break.
“That’s to be expected at all away games, people are just going to bring the energy,” Williamson said. “Just got to be mature and take their best shot. I think once we did that, we were able to control the game.”
Trey McGowens led Pitt with 14 points, and Jared Wilson-Frame and Terrell Brown added 12 each. But the Panthers (12-7, 2-4) simply couldn’t match Duke’s size or firepower and never got closer than 15 over the final 22 minutes.
Capel said it felt “surreal” to be in the same building with the Blue Devils but not sitting on the bench next to Krzyzewski. Capel spent seven years as Krzyzewski’s top assistant before joining the Panthers last April, helping Duke become a prime landing spot for the top high school talent in the country.
Capel hopes to one day bring in that kind of talent to Pitt. He might, but not quite yet. The gulf between the two programs was evident once the early adrenaline wore off and Williamson went to work.
Pitt managed just nine points over the final 13:23 of the first half. McGowens and freshman guard Xavier Johnson were unable to find any creases in Duke’s zone to get to the basket — a staple of their attack during early conference wins over Louisville and Florida State. Johnson finished with a season-low eight points and didn’t even get to the line, while McGowens took just one free throw.
“Look, they’re better than us,” Capel said. “They’re more talented than us. I think that’s what it was. I don’t think it was just the zone. I think it was their talent.”
ZION EQUALS KD?
Capel said the last time he watched an opposing freshman score as easily as Williamson came a decade ago when he was coaching Oklahoma against Texas. The Longhorns had a freshman in early 2007 named Kevin Durant. Capel remembers looking up and seeing Durant with 20 points halfway through the first half.
“I said (that night), ‘There’s nothing we can do about this,'” Capel said. “It’s kind of the same with Zion. He’s very unique. He’s very, very unique.”
BIG PICTURE
Duke: The Blue Devils can guard when they want to even without Jones. The team that leads the nation in blocked shots swatted seven — right around Duke’s season average — and found an extra gear when it was required.
Pittsburgh: Capel believes the Panthers are on a path that will return them to prominence. A talent upgrade is a must. For all the fight Pitt showed, the Panthers aren’t big enough or deep enough to hang with the ACC’s top tier.
UP NEXT
Duke: Host Georgia Tech on Saturday.
Pittsburgh: Visits Louisville on Saturday. The Panthers beat the Cardinals 86-83 in overtime at home on Jan. 9.
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Thompson hits first 10 from 3 as Warriors rout Lakers

By The Associated Press
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Klay Thompson tied an NBA record by making his first 10 attempts from 3-point range, scoring 44 points as the Golden State Warriors beat the short-handed Los Angeles Lakers 130-111 on Monday night to match a season high with their eighth consecutive victory.
Thompson finished 10 of 11 from beyond the arc and the two-time defending champions won their seventh straight road game. The star guard had 23 points in the third quarter, connecting on seven 3s as the Warriors stretched their lead to 36 points. He finally missed from deep late in the period.
Kevin Durant added 20 points and Stephen Curry had 11 points and 12 assists for Golden State.
Ivica Zubac led Los Angeles with 18 points. The Lakers were without their primary playmakers in LeBron James, Lonzo Ball and Rajon Rondo. They fell to 5-9 without James, whose left groin strain has forced him out for the longest stretch of his 16-year career.
76ERS 121, ROCKETS 93
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joel Embiid had 32 points and 14 rebounds to lead Philadelphia past fellow MVP contender James Harden and Houston.
Harden, selected Western Conference player of the week earlier in the day, finished with 37 points — giving him 20 straight games with at least 30.
Embiid’s 24 first-half points helped Philadelphia to a 65-50 halftime lead, and he punctuated an entertaining opening 24 minutes by pinning Harden’s layup attempt with 7.5 seconds left for a crowd-pleasing block. The duo had to be separated with 38.7 seconds left in the half, with each being issued a technical, after Harden took exception to Embiid’s foul on him.
The 76ers broke the game open in a dominant third quarter as they outscored Houston 29-13 to take a 94-63 advantage into the fourth.
CELTICS 107, HEAT 99
BOSTON (AP) — Kyrie Irving had 26 points and 10 assists, Al Horford added 16 points and 12 rebounds and Boston beat Miami for its fourth straight victory.
Irving has had 20 or more points and 10 or more assists in 11 games, the first Celtics player to accomplish the feat since Hall of Famer Larry Bird, who also had 11 in 1986-87.
Jayson Tatum added 19 points and Marcus Morris 17 for the Celtics, who won their ninth straight at home and improved to 18-5 at TD Garden.
Derrick Jones Jr. and Dion Waiters led the Heat with 18 points apiece.
BUCKS 116, MAVERICKS 106
MILWAUKEE (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 31 points and 15 rebounds, and Milwaukee beat Dallas.
Eric Bledsoe had 21 points and Malcolm Brogdon scored 19 for the Bucks, who have won five straight and 12 of their last 14 to improve to 34-12 overall.
Luka Doncic had 18 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists for Dallas, which has lost four in a row. Jalen Brunson had 16 points.
After trailing at the half, the Bucks built a double-digit lead in the third quarter and led 92-84 heading to the fourth.
TRAIL BLAZERS 109, JAZZ 104
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Damian Lillard scored 26 points and Jusuf Nurkic had 17 in the third quarter to lift Portland past Utah.
In a matchup between two of the NBA’s hottest teams, the Blazers made 50 percent of their shots and piled up 30 assists to snap Utah’s six-game winning streak.
Nurkic finished with 22 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and six blocks. CJ McCollum added 14 points for Portland, which has won seven of nine.
Donovan Mitchell continued his high-scoring streak with 36 points for Utah. Jae Crowder scored 15 while Rudy Gobert had 10 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks.
PELICANS 105, GRIZZLIES 85
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Jrue Holiday and Nikola Mirotic scored 21 points, Jahlil Okafor and Julius Randle had 20, and balanced New Orleans beat Memphis without injured star Anthony Davis.
Okafor set a season high for points and added 10 rebounds filling in for Davis. Randle had 12 rebounds and Holiday grabbed 11 as New Orleans out-rebounded the Grizzlies 50-35. It was the Pelicans’ first game since announcing Davis would miss 1-2 weeks with a left index finger sprain.
Marc Gasol led the Grizzlies with 22 points, while Mike Conley added 20 and eight assists for Memphis, which lost its sixth straight and 12th in the last 13.
NETS 123, KINGS 94
NEW YORK (AP) — D’Angelo Russell had 31 points and eight assists, and surging Brooklyn won its fourth straight game by running away from Sacramento in the second half.
Russell, announced as the Eastern Conference player of the week shortly before the game, made seven 3-pointers. He hit all four 3-point attempts and was 5 for 6 overall in the third quarter, fueling a 22-4 spurt that launched the Nets into the lead for good.
Joe Harris added 19 points and rookie Rodions Kurucs had 16 for the Nets, who won for the 17th time in 22 games.
Reserve guard Bogdan Bogdanovic had 22 points and 11 assists for the Kings, but starters Buddy Hield and De’Aaron Fox both had quiet games.
THUNDER 127, KNICKS 109
NEW YORK (AP) — Paul George scored 31 points and Russell Westbrook had 17 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists as Oklahoma City beat New York.
George and Westbrook both sat out the fourth quarter. Dennis Schroder added 17 points for the Thunder while both Jerami Grant and Abdel Nader each had 16.
The Knicks have lost six in a row and 14 of 15. They have dropped nine straight at Madison Square Garden.
Tim Hardaway Jr. led the Knicks with 23 points. Allonzo Trier had 16 and Emmanuel Mudiay scored 14.
WIZARDS 101, PISTONS 87
WASHINGTON (AP) — Trevor Ariza scored 20 points, Otto Porter Jr. added 19 and Washington turned in its best defensive performance this season in beating Detroit.
The Wizards held the Pistons to 30 percent shooting from the floor in the first half and never let their lead dip below 10 points in the second. Detroit’s 87 points were the fewest by a Washington opponent this season.
Seven Wizards players scored in double figures, including Bradley Beal with 16.
Blake Griffin led the Pistons with 29 points and nine rebounds. Detroit has lost back-to-back games and 10 of its last 14.
MAGIC 122, HAWKS 103
ATLANTA (AP) — Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic scored 29 points apiece to lead Orlando past Atlanta in the season’s first matchup between the Southeast Division rivals.
Vucevic had 14 rebounds and Fournier had seven assists as Orlando snapped a three-game losing streak.
Dewayne Dedmon led Atlanta with 24 points on the holiday celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. and in the city where the civil rights leader was born.
Trae Young had 21 points for the Hawks. John Collins had 14 points and 10 rebounds.
BULLS 104, CAVALIERS 88
CLEVELAND (AP) — Zach LaVine scored 25 points and Chicago broke a 10-game losing streak, beating Cleveland in a meeting of teams that began the day with the worst records in the NBA.
Chicago never trailed and has won all three games this season against Cleveland, which has lost 16 of 17 overall.
Bobby Portis had 15 points while Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn each added 13 for the Bulls.
Rookie Collin Sexton scored 18 points and Ante Zizic, who is seeing playing time because of injuries in Cleveland’s frontcourt, had 13.
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Tennessee faces similar test from last No. 1 ranking

By JOHN MARSHALL, AP Basketball Writer
The last time Tennessee reached No. 1 in the AP Top 25 it lost to Vanderbilt the next day.
Back at No. 1 for the first time in 11 years, the Vols face a similar situation.
On Wednesday, they again play Vanderbilt right after becoming the nation’s top-ranked team, this time hoping for a different outcome and a long stint at No. 1.
“Is it nice to ranked? Of course, because of the attention that comes to your program,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “You do that by staying focused on what is at hand. You do that by playing basketball and not letting the outside noise in. That is where you find out how close you are as a team when you come unraveled.”
Tennessee entered last week No. 3 in the AP Top 25 and won both of its games, rolling over Arkansas and outlasting Alabama.
While the Vols were taking care of their business, top-10 teams dropped all around them.
Top-ranked Duke lost to Syracuse without two starters, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones. Reddish returned from an illness against Virginia on Saturday, but Jones did not after injuring his shoulder against the Orange. The Blue Devils won anyway, knocking the Cavaliers from the ranks of the unbeaten.
Michigan also lost on Saturday, to Wisconsin, leaving the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers as the last Division I team to go undefeated.
Six top-10 teams lost last week, causing a jumble at the top of this week’s poll.
The Vols (16-1, 5-0) emerged on top, thanks to a 12-game winning streak that started after their lone loss, to then-No. 2 Kansas on Nov. 23 in New York.
Tennessee’s first test will be in Nashville against the Commodores, who opened SEC play with five straight losses. Get by Vandy, the Vols still have to face gritty West Virginia, though that game will be in Knoxville.
“Every team in the top five is a No. 1 team. Every team in the Top 25 could potentially get up there,” Tennessee forward Grant Williams said. “It’s a long season. It doesn’t matter what number you are at the halfway point. It’s where you’re at, at the end.”
KENTUCKY’S TOUGH WEEK
Kentucky has bounced back nicely after being run out of the gym by Duke in its opener.
The Wildcats (14-3, 4-1 SEC) have won four straight games after beating Georgia and then-No. 11 Auburn last week, moving them up four spots to No. 8 in this week’s poll.
The road doesn’t get any easier. Kentucky plays at No. 22 Mississippi State on Tuesday, then faces No. 9 Kansas on Saturday.
“They’re better than last year,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said after the Wildcats held on for an 82-80 victory on Saturday. “They’re playing with a purpose.”
SEC/BIG 12 CHALLENGE
A break in the conference season for the SEC/Big 12 challenge has created some top-notch match-ups on Saturday.
In addition to the blue blood Kentucky-Kansas game, No. 16 Auburn plays at No. 22 Mississippi State, and No. 20 Mississippi hosts No. 24 Iowa State.
Pearl’s Tigers reached No. 7 in the AP poll earlier this season, but slid to No. 14 this week after the loss to Kentucky. Auburn also lost to Mississippi two weeks ago, but still has one of the nation’s most talented rosters.
Mississippi State suffered consecutive losses to South Carolina and Ole Miss, but bounced back with wins over Florida and Vanderbilt last week.
The Rebels had been on a roll, winning 10 straight before losing by 14 at LSU at home. They beat Arkansas handily on Saturday.
Iowa State beat Kansas earlier this season, but lost to the Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse Monday night.
RANKED VS. RANKED
Thursday has the week’s only other games between ranked teams.
One is in the ACC, where No. 21 North Carolina State plays at No. 23 Louisville. The Cardinals moved into the AP Top 25 for the first time this season on Monday after beating Boston College and Georgia Tech last week.
The Big Ten has the other, with No. 6 Michigan State playing at No. 19 Iowa.
The Spartans turned their first game this week against a ranked opponent into a rout, rolling over No. 13 Maryland 69-55 on Monday. The Hawkeyes climbed four spots in this week’s poll after beating Penn State and Illinois.
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QBs Lock, Grier, Jones among NFL prospects at Senior Bowl

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — NFL scouts, coaches and prospects have gathered in Mobile, Alabama, for the Senior Bowl.
The game for top senior NFL prospects and junior graduates will feature quarterbacks like Missouri’s Drew Lock, West Virginia’s Will Grier and Duke’s Daniel Jones.
The North and South teams have weigh-in Tuesday morning, followed by media day and separate practices at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
They’ll have a week of practices and interviews with NFL teams trying to prove themselves on and off the field.
Last year’s group included No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield and No. 7 selection Josh Allen at quarterback.
Lesser-known players are also trying to enhance their first-round chances. That group includes prolific pass rushers like Louisiana Tech’s Jaylon Ferguson and Old Dominion’s Oshane Ximines.
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Titles won by Pats, Rams not tarnished by bad officiating

By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer
Yes, the Los Angeles Rams got away with a flagrant foul (or two) by cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman that allowed them to sneak out of New Orleans with the NFC championship, right past the highway sign on the causeway over Lake Pontchartrain reading, “WE WERE ROBBED .”
Yes, the Patriots won in Kansas City thanks to four critical calls going New England’s way in the fourth quarter, three of which were iffy: a replay reversal of Julian Edelman’s muffed punt , a phantom roughing-the-passer call on Chris Jones and Chris Hogan’s drive-sustaining one-handed catch with a little help from the ground.
The fourth flag was indisputable: Dee Ford lined up in the neutral zone, negating rookie cornerback Charvarius Ward’s game-clinching interception with 55 seconds left and Kansas City ahead 28-24.
“I thought the game was over,” Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen said. “And it wasn’t.”
Just like the Saints did when Tommylee Lewis blatantly was interfered with inside the Los Angeles 5-yard line by Robey-Coleman, whose helmet-to-helmet hit didn’t draw the flag, but will surely result in a hefty fine.
“I thought it was a flag for that split second,” acknowledged Robey-Coleman, who was as surprised as everyone else when two officials near the play ruled it an incomplete pass on third down with 1:45 remaining in regulation and the game tied at 20.
“I knew if that had been a flag, they probably would have scored on the next play,” Robey-Coleman said.
The call kept the Rams close as New Orleans settled for a field goal on the next play, Greg Zuerlein tied it in regulation with a 48-yarder and won it in overtime with a 57-yarder , two field goals that likely never would have happened had Robey-Coleman been flagged for clobbering Lewis well before the ball arrived.
On Monday, Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas implored NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to undo the outcome of the game , citing an NFL rule that allows for “the reversal of a game’s result or the rescheduling of a game, either from the beginning or from the point at which the extraordinary occurred.”
The league has never invoked the rule to reverse a game’s outcome.
The George Halas and Lamar Hunt Trophies may be smudged amid the backlash over the officiating gaffes, but they aren’t entirely tarnished because strategy and execution had as much to do with the outcomes of these overtime thrillers as the yellow flags that were or weren’t thrown.
The Rams (15-3) roared back from a pair of double-digit deficits to beat the Saints 26-23 in overtime because they stuck with the plan and didn’t panic after falling behind 13-0 in the first quarter and 20-10 in the third quarter.
After managing just 5 yards in the first quarter when nothing went right, the Rams righted themselves thanks to a fake punt and cut New Orleans’ lead to 13-10 at halftime.
“Our team demonstrated great mental toughness,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “It was a tough start, but I thought the way (Goff) played and handled the noise was outstanding.”
The Rams outscored the Saints 16-3 down the stretch.
The Patriots (13-5) overcame a 24-point fourth-quarter outburst fueled by Patrick Mahomes to beat the Chiefs 37-31 in overtime because Tom Brady was hardly touched, aside from Jones’ shoulder swipe that the officials thought hit him in the facemask.
New England’s much-maligned offensive line didn’t allow a single sack to the Chiefs, whose 52 sacks during the regular season were tied with the Steelers for the league lead and who pummeled Andrew Luck a week earlier, sacking him three times.
Brady “played great,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said for what, the 1,000th time? “They were playing a lot of man coverage and it was either a good gain or an incompletion. … They gave us some three-man rush and there was a lot of four-man rush with Justin Houston, Chris Jones and Dee Ford. Those are tough matchups. I thought they did a good job of standing up to those guys and giving Tom a chance to deliver the ball.”
In overtime, Brady, who’s thrown 90 passes in the playoffs and hasn’t been sacked a single time, converted a trio of third-and-10 pass plays on the winning touchdown drive.
“Brady got rid of the ball fast,” Jones said. “We didn’t get to the quarterback like we usually do.”
So, the Patriots rushed for 176 yards and Brady threw for 348.
By dominating the time of possession — 44 minutes to 21 minutes — Brady and the Patriots kept Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill on the sideline during most of the freezing night.
“You play on the road, it is going to be tough,” Brady said. “What travels well is running the ball and playing tough. That is good in any weather, any condition, any environment and any stadium.”
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‘NFL bleaux it’: Billboards protest missed call in NFC game

NEW ORLEANS, La. (AP) — The Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots will be welcomed to Atlanta for the Super Bowl by several billboards saying “Saints got robbed” and “NFL bleaux it.”
WDSU-TV reports Louisiana car dealership owner Matt Bowers paid for 10 billboards across Atlanta through Feb. 3, including one outside Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
New Orleans Saints fans are still upset over a missed call that likely cost their team a ticket to the Super Bowl. Los Angeles cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman committed a blatant pass interference penalty that wasn’t called, leading to a tie score in regulation play and an overtime loss for the Saints.
Saints coach Sean Payton talked to the NFL office after the game and was told the penalty should’ve been flagged.
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Information from: WDSU-TV, http://www.wdsu.com