After their 17th consecutive victory gave them a perfect month, the Los Angeles Clippers finally paused to admire their achievement.
”We got something extremely magical going on,” said Caron Butler after the Clippers beat the Utah Jazz 107-96 on Sunday night to become the third team in NBA history to record a perfect month.
”When we win we usually jump up and down once or twice,” coach Vinny Del Negro said. ”Tonight we let them jump and down three or four times, so everyone had their fill.”
The Clippers went 16-0 in December to join the 1995-96 San Antonio Spurs, which included Del Negro, and 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers as the only teams to go undefeated in a month. Their franchise-record winning streak is the longest since Boston won 19 in a row four years ago.
”I am amazed because I haven’t done it since I’ve been in the league,” said seven-year veteran Chris Paul, whose 19 points and nine assists helped his team maintain the league’s best record at 25-6.
Butler led the Clippers with 29 points despite not playing in the fourth quarter and made all six of his 3-pointers, including five in the opening period. Jamal Crawford scored 11 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter. Blake Griffin piled up five fouls and was held to seven points after getting double-teamed.
”That shows our depth,” Paul said. ”Our bench stepped up amazing. On any given night it can be another guy.”
The streak isn’t talked about among the players and coaches. But it’s a popular topic among everyone else.
”That’s an incredible record to have,” Utah’s Derrick Favors said. ”They’ve got 17 straight wins and they’re playing hard. I know there’s a lot of pressure on them to try to keep it up, and they’re going to keep coming out and keep playing the same way.”
Actually, it’s just the opposite, according to Griffin, who said the last month ”is the most fun I’ve ever had playing basketball.”
”You don’t really think about it that much. We’re having a blast,” he said about the streak. ”It’s not like it’s one of these things where it’s so much pressure.”
Al Jefferson scored 30 points – one off his season high – to lead Utah, which fell victim for the third time during the Clippers’ streak. The Jazz lost 116-114 on Friday when the Clippers rallied from 19 points down, and they were beaten 105-104 on Dec. 3, both times at home.
”It’s frustrating,” said Gordon Hayward, who had 16 points. ”Knowing that they’re a good team and knowing that we’re always right there with them, knowing that we need to keep on playing good for 48 minutes.”
The Jazz lost their third in a row and seventh in the last nine games.
”We can’t make any mistakes against them, especially on their home floor because they make you pay for it,” Jefferson said.
Crawford keyed a 10-5 run to open the fourth, highlighted by a 3-pointer and a fast break pull-up jumper that helped the Clippers extend their lead to 89-81. Paul and Griffin didn’t join the second unit until 5:55 remained and Utah had closed within four on a basket by Favors.
That was as close as the Jazz got. The Clippers made 9 of 10 free throws down the stretch and their defense held Utah to one field goal in the final 3:38.
”It was a grind-it-out game, nothing pretty about it,” Crawford said. ”We got us a nice thing going and we got to keep it going.”
Los Angeles stretched its lead to 71-59 in the third quarter, when Butler scored 10 of their first 17 points.
From there, the Jazz closed on a 17-8 run to pull to 79-76 going into the fourth. Utah briefly took its first lead since early in the game when Jefferson scored over Lamar Odom, but the Jazz committed two costly turnovers in the final 49 seconds.
Paul got fouled and made both free throws, and then Matt Barnes stole the ball from Jamaal Tinsley and fed Paul on the break. He missed but Crawford was there to tip it in and restore the Clippers’ lead.
”We haven’t been playing our best basketball the last few games,” Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said. ”We’re playing hard, but we’ve got to be a little smarter and not make the kind of mistakes we made down the stretch.”
The Clippers shot 62 percent en route to a 54-45 halftime lead, with Butler scoring 17 points in the first quarter. Utah led briefly to start the game when Jefferson scored eight of their first 13 points.
NOTES: Los Angeles improved to 11-3 at home. … The Jazz fell to 6-13 on the road. … Clippers F Ronny Turiaf says his right elbow is ”messed up.” He said he hurt it a couple games ago when he felt discomfort while boxing out. … Odom’s ankle is bothering him. … The Clippers haven’t lost since Nov. 26 at home against New Orleans.
San Diego Chargers linebacker Takeo Spikes has played 15 seasons, worn the uniforms of five different NFL teams, and made two Pro Bowls. One thing he’d never done before was to get kicked out of an NFL game, and that streak stopped when referee John Parry, the head official in the Chargers’ 24-21 win over the Oakland Raiders, booted Spikes and Raiders running back Mike Goodson over a seemingly small-time fracas.
Goodson blocked Spikes on a play and the two players remained engaged after the play was over, grappling a bit and grabbing each other’s facemasks.
No punches were thrown, and that’s the usual reason for an ejection, but Parry sent both players to their locker rooms, regardless, with 12:57 left in the first half. There didn’t seem to be any contact with an official, either, so we’re at a loss as to why both players were kicked out of the game.
After his ejection, Spikes went right after Parry — he had to be held back by teammates and officials. He then threw his helmet (which was caught by teammate Melvin Ingram), gave Parry some more what-for as he walked off the field, and gestured to the home crowd at Qualcomm Stadium, asking the fans to make more noise for the defense.
The 36-year-old Spikes has a three-year, $9 million contract that runs through next season and pays his a base salary of $3 million in 2013. But with head coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith most likely gone, it’s tough to know whether Spikes has played his last NFL game. He was voted the Chargers’ most inspirational player for the second straight season, and the Chargers did pull off a rare win … so, there you have it.
You won’t come across many stories more bizarre than those involving former major league reliever Ugueth Urbina over the 2 1/2 year period that led up to his attempted murder conviction in 2007.
If you don’t recall all of the details, in September of 2004, Urbina’s mother, Maura Villarreal, was kidnapped and held for $6 million ransom in their native Venezuela. Urbina’s family steadfastly refused to meet the kidnappers’ demands, which led to a successful commando-style rescue operation and her safe return home a little more than five months later.
Despite that horrifying ordeal, Urbina was able to refocus and continue his big league career in 2005, pitching for both the Philadelphia Phillies and Detroit Tigers, saving 10 games along the way. He then returned to Venezuela again in the offseason, and that’s when his life took an even stranger turn.
On Nov. 7, Urbina was arrested and charged with attempted murder three weeks after being accused of attacking five farm workers on his ranch property with a machete and dousing them in gasoline. At first it was believed the incident was an act of revenge on Urbina’s part to get back at people he believed to be involved in his mother’s kidnapping, but it was later reported that Urbina had accused the men of stealing his gun and took the law into his own hands.
On March 28, 2007, Urbina was convicted on the attempted murder charges and sentenced to 14 years in a Venezuelan prison. His professional baseball career, which was obviously viewed from a much different perspective by that moment, seemingly going right along with it.
All of that backstory leads us to the here and now, as earlier in the week Urbina was released from prison eight years and three months early for good behavior. His son, Juan Urbina, a pitching prospect in the New York Mets organization, quickly took to Twitter to both confirm and celebrate his father’s release.
What has also been confirmed in the wake of Urbina’s release is that he managed to stay in shape by continuing to play baseball in prison. Reports out of Venezuela even say that the now 38-year-old right-hander still possesses a fastball that can hit 90 mph, which would be pretty remarkable if true. And it appears we’ll soon learn if those reports are in fact true, because Urbina is already prepared to take the first necessary steps towards resuming his career after showing up to University Stadium in Caracas on Friday night with a smile on his face and a clear plan to resume his career in the United States.
“The first order of business is pitching in Venezuela,” Urbina told reporters. He also added that he’s “more mature” and just “excited to be playing baseball again” after it looked like that opportunity would never be afforded to him, at least on a professional level.
Urbina’s comeback attempt will be interesting to say the least. It’s not exactly a story I’ll be emotionally invested in or actively rooting to see end happily, but just to see what he has left in the tank and which teams might be willing to take the gamble will make it worth following. When all is said and done, I’m guessing we’ve seen the last of him in MLB, but a comeback from these circumstances would certainly be unique and worth applauding from an athletic standpoint.
Apparently Urbina started as many as three charitable organizations during his time prison as well, which is great to hear. Even if he can’t make it all the way back, let’s hope he continues to make positive contributions on that level. But above all, let’s just hope he’s able to make good, sound decisions and find happiness after paying off his debts to society.
Arriving in a limo, Donna Galluzzo andLisa Gorney had all the trappings of a traditional wedding: Rings, flowers, wedding vows, an entourage and a friend to officiate.
With tears in their eyes, they were among the first gay couples to exchange wedding vows early Saturday morning after Maine’s same-sex marriage law went into effect at midnight.
“We’re paving the way for people to go after us. I think it’s just amazing. It’s freeing. It’s what’s right,” an emotionally drained Gorney said after their ceremony in front of City Hall.
After waiting years and seeing marriage rights nearly awarded and then retracted, gay couples in Maine’s largest city didn’t have to wait a moment longer than necessary to wed, with licenses issued at the stroke of midnight as the law went into effect.
Steven Bridges and Michael Snell were the first in line, and they received cheers from more than 200 people waiting outside after they wed in the clerk’s office.
“It’s historic. We’ve waited our entire lives for this,” said Bridges, a retail manager, who’s been in a relationship with the Snell, a massage therapist, for nine years. Bridges, 42, and Snell, 53, wore lavender and purple carnations on black T-shirts with the words “Love is love.”
Voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington state approved gay marriage in November, making them the first states to do so by popular vote. Gay marriage already was legal in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia, but those laws were either enacted by lawmakers or through court rulings.
In Maine, Gov. Paul LePage signed off on the certified election results on Nov. 29, so the new law was to go into effect 30 days from that date. The law already is in effect in Washington state; Maryland’s takes effect on Tuesday, the first day of 2013.
Nobody knew exactly how many couples would be rushing to get their marriage licenses early Saturday in Maine. Falmouth joined Portland in opening at midnight. Other communities including Bangor, Brunswick and Augusta planned to hold special Saturday hours.
In Portland, the mood was festive with the crowd cheering and horns sounding at midnight as Bridges and Snell began filling out paperwork in the clerk’s office in Portland City Hall. There were free carnation boutonnieres and cupcakes, and a jazz trio played.
Outside, the raucous group that gathered in front of the building cheered Bridges and Snell as if they were rock stars and broke into the Beatles’ “All You Need is Love.”
Fourteen couples received marriage licenses, and five of them married on the spot, a city spokeswoman said. Many of those who received their marriage license were middle-aged, and some said they never envisioned a day when gay couples could wed just like straight couples.
“I came out years ago and the only thing we wanted was to not get beaten up,” said Steven Jones, 50, who married his partner, Jamous Lizotte, on his 35th birthday.
Not everyone was getting married right away.
Suzanne Blackburn and Joanie Kunian, of Portland, were among those in line to get their license at midnight, but they planned to have their marriage ceremony later. One of their grandchildren wanted them to get married on Valentine’s Day.
“I don’t think that we dared to dream too big until we had the governor’s signature,” Blackburn said. “That’s why it’s so important, because it feels real.”
Bridges and Snell already considered themselves married because they’d held a commitment ceremony attended by friends and family six years ago. Nonetheless, they thought it was important to make it official under state law, as Snell’s two daughters watched.
Katie and Carolyn Snell, the daughters, said the ceremony made formal what they knew all along to be true about the couple.
“It’s just a piece of paper,” said Katie Snell. “Their love has been there, their commitment has been there, all along. It’s the last step to make it a true official marriage because everything else has been there from the start.”
My sister, the mother of three boys, is now unable to take care of them. My family is asking me and my new husband to take them in.
To me it’s a no-brainer — something I’d do in a heartbeat. My husband refuses! He says that if we do, we’ll never have children of our own. I feel like I’m being forced to choose between my husband and my nephews. What would you do? — PULLED IN TWO IN CINCINNATI
DEAR PULLED IN TWO: I’d keep talking to my husband about it, and find out why he thinks that taking in your nephews would prevent you from having children of your own. As a newly married man, he may be feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of having three boys to raise and support — so he can’t imagine having another child with you.
Do not let the subject rest until you have the answers to all of your questions. If the reasons are financial, perhaps he’d be more open to the idea if the rest of the family is willing to chip in. If that’s not the case, then you will have some serious choices to make.
DEAR ABBY: I have been with my wonderful wife for 35 years. Friends have said they wish they could have a relationship like ours, but an interloper has come between us, interfering with our ability to communicate.
Her cellphone has taken over her life. She’s constantly playing word games with 12 different friends, texting, etc. It starts first thing in the morning and lasts into the night. I returned my cellphone after two weeks when I saw the writing on the wall.
My wife and I used to sit together and have nice conversations. Now they are interrupted by weird noises when her phone announces she has another text.
I took a friend on a fishing trip to Mexico, and his phone never left his palm. Is this my future? — MISSING FACE TIME IN ARIZONA
DEAR MISSING: Yes, unless you are able to negotiate an agreed-upon period of time during which you are your wife’s first priority and her cellphone is turned off. As to your fishing buddy, either accept that he has a new toy, or cast around for someone who is less technology-addicted to join you next time.
DEAR ABBY: After two years of dating, my girlfriend, “Noelle,” and I have become engaged. I asked for her father’s blessing, and after first telling me he wanted a few weeks to think about it, he said yes. He then complained because he thought I’d ask him “somewhere with less distractions.” (We were at the house, alone. He was sitting on the couch and I was in a chair.) I think he was just looking for something to gripe about.
After receiving his blessing, I proposed. Her dad says he’s happy for us, but keeps acting like the wedding is years away. We have set a date for nine months from now, but he won’t even discuss the budget. He calls Noelle and tells her who he wants her to invite, but seems surprised to find out it costs money. He’s breaking her heart.
I am buying a condo, so I don’t have much money available, but I have offered to help as much as I can. It’s killing Noelle to have her father act this way. He is complaining about being forced to take out a loan. Is there anything I can do to get him to realize he’s ruining this for his daughter? — STRESSED-OUT GROOM, REDWOOD CITY, CALIF.
Following a Friday meeting with congressional leaders, an impatient and annoyed President Barack Obama said it was “mind boggling” that Congress has been unable to fix a “fiscal cliff” mess that everyone has known about for more than a year.
He then dispatched Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, on a mind-boggling mission: coming up with a bipartisan bill to break the “fiscal cliff” stalemate in the most partisan and gridlocked U.S. Congress of modern times – in about 48 hours.
Reid and McConnell, veteran tacticians known for their own long-running feud, have been down this road before.
Their last joint venture didn’t turn out so well. It was the deal in August 2011 to avoid a U.S. default that set the stage for the current mess. That effort, like this one, stemmed from a grand deficit-reduction scheme that turned into a bust.
But they have never had the odds so stacked against them as they try to avert the “fiscal cliff” – sweeping tax increases set to begin on Tuesday and deep, automatic government spending cuts set to start on Wednesday, combined worth $600 billion.
The substantive differences are only part of the challenge. Other obstacles include concerns about who gets blamed for what and the legacy of distrust among members of Congress.
Any successful deal will require face-saving measures for Republicans and Democrats alike.
“Ordinary folks, they do their jobs, they meet deadlines, they sit down and they discuss things, and then things happen,” Obama told reporters. “If there are disagreements, they sort though the disagreements. The notion that our elected leadership can’t do the same thing is mind-boggling to them.”
The core disagreement between Republicans and Democrats is tough enough. It revolves around the low tax rates first put in place under Republican former President George W. Bush that expire at year’s end. Republicans would extend them for everyone. Democrats would extend them for everyone except the wealthiest taxpayers.
The first step for Reid and McConnell may be to find a formula acceptable to their own parties in the Senate.
While members of the Senate, more than members of the House of Representatives, have expressed flexibility on taxes, it’s far from a sure thing in a body that ordinarily requires not just a majority of the 100-member Senate to pass a bill, but a super-majority of 60 members.
With 51 Democrats, two independents who vote with the Democrats and 47 Republicans, McConnell and Reid may have to agree to suspend the 60-vote rule.
Getting a bill through the Republican-controlled House may be much tougher. The conservative wing of the House, composed of many lawmakers aligned with the Tea Party movement who fear being targeted by anti-tax activists in primary elections in 2014, has shown it will not vote for a bill that raises taxes on anyone, even if it means defying Republican House Speaker John Boehner.
Many Democrats are wedded to the opposite view – and have vowed not to support continuing the Bush-era tax rates for people earning more than $250,000 a year.
Some senators are wary of the procedural conditions House Republicans are demanding. Boehner is insisting the Senate start its work with a bill already passed by the House months ago that would continue all Bush-era tax cuts for another year. The Democratic-controlled Senate may amend the Republican bill, he says, but it must be the House bill.
For Boehner, it’s the regular order when considering revenue measures, which the U.S. Constitution says must originate in the House.
As some Democrats see it, it’s a way to shift blame if the enterprise goes down in flames. House Republicans would be able to claim that since they had already done their part by passing a bill, the Senate should take the blame for plunging the nation off the “cliff.”
And that could bring public wrath, currently centered mostly on Republicans, onto the heads of Democrats.
Voters may indeed be looking for someone to blame if they see their paychecks shrink as taxes rise or their retirement savings dwindle as a result of a plunge in global markets.
If Reid and McConnell succeed, there could be political ramifications for each side. For example, a deal containing any income tax hikes could complicate McConnell’s own 2014 re-election effort in which small-government, anti-tax Tea Party activists are threatening to mount a challenge.
If Obama and his fellow Democrats are perceived as giving in too much, it could embolden Republicans to mount challenge after challenge, possibly handcuffing the president before his second term even gets off the ground.
It could be a sprint to the finish. One Democratic aide expected “negotiation for a day.” If the aide is correct, the world would know by late on Saturday or early on Sunday if Washington’s political dysfunction is about to reach a new, possibly devastating, low.
If Reid and McConnell reach a deal, it would then be up to the full Senate and House to vote, possibly as early as Sunday.
Reid and McConnell have been through bitter fights before. The deficit reduction and debt limit deal that finally was secured last year was a brawl that ended only when the two leaders agreed to a complicated plan that secured about $1 trillion in savings, but really postponed until later a more meaningful plan to restore the country’s fiscal health.
That effort led to the automatic spending cuts that form part of the “fiscal cliff.”
Just months later, in December 2011, Reid and McConnell were going through a tough fight over extending a payroll tax cut.
In both instances, it was resistance from conservative House Republicans that complicated efforts, just as is the case now with the “fiscal cliff.”
The United Nations envoy for Syria warned on Saturday that the country’s civil war could plunge the entire region into chaos by sending hundreds of thousands of refugees into neighboring nations, but his talks in Moscow produced no sign of progress toward settling the crisis.
Lakhdar Brahimi and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov both said after their meeting that the 21-month-old Syrian conflict can only be settled through talks, while admitting that the parties in the conflict have shown no desire for compromise. Neither official hinted at a possible solution that would persuade the Syrian government and the opposition to agree to a ceasefire and sit down for talks about a political transition.
Brahimi, who arrived in Moscow on a one-day trip following his talks in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar Assad this week, voiced concern about the escalation of the conflict, which he said is becoming “more and more sectarian.”
The envoy warned that “if you have a panic in Damascus and if you have 1 million people leaving Damascus in a panic, they can go to only two places — Lebanon and Jordan,” and those countries may not be able to endure half a million refugees each.
Brahimi said that “if the only alternative is really hell or a political process, then we have got all of us to work ceaselessly for a political process.”
Russia has been the main supporter of Assad’s regime since the uprising began in March 2011, using its veto at the U.N. Security Council along with China to shield its last Mideast ally from international sanctions.
Lavrov said Russia would continue to oppose any U.N. resolution that would call for international sanctions against Assad and open the way for a foreign intervention in Syria. And while he again emphasized that Russia “isn’t holding onto Bashar Assad,” he added that Moscow continues to believe the opposition demand for his resignation as a precondition for peace talks is “counterproductive.”
“The price for that precondition will be the loss of more Syrian lives,” Lavrov said.
He said Assad is refusing to step down, adding that “there is no possibility to change that stance.”
Both Brahimi and Lavrov insisted that efforts to end the civil war must be based on a peace plan that was approved at an international conference in Geneva in June.
The Geneva plan calls for an open-ended cease-fire, a transitional government to run the country until elections, and the drafting of a new constitution. But it was a non-starter with the opposition because of Russia’s insistence that the plan leave the door open for Assad being part of the transition process and the fact that it didn’t mention possible U.N. sanctions.
Brahimi said that while some “little adjustments” could be made to the original plan, “it’s a valued basis for reasonable political process.”
With the opposition offensive gaining momentum in Syria, there is little hope that the initiative would have any more chance of success than it had when it was approved.
Lavrov has said that Moscow is ready to talk to the main Syrian opposition group, even though it had earlier criticized the United States and other Western nations for recognizing the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
On Friday, coalition leader Mouaz al-Khatib rejected the Russian invitation for talks and urged Moscow to support the opposition’s call for Assad’s ouster. Lavrov said Saturday that al-Khatib’s statement was surprising after his earlier contacts with Russian diplomats in Egypt during which the opposition tentatively agreed on a meeting in a third country.
Lavrov said the coalition leader should “realize it would be in his own interests to hear our analysis directly from us.”
Lavrov rejected the opposition claim that Russia’s continuing weapons supplies to Assad’s regime make it responsible for mass killings in Syria, saying that Moscow bears no responsibility for the Soviet-era weapons in Syrian arsenals. He said that defensive weapons such as anti-aircraft missiles that Russia has continued to supply to Damascus couldn’t be used in the civil war.
“We aren’t providing the Syrian regime with any offensive weapons or weapons that could be used in a civil war,” Lavrov said. “And we have no leverage over what the regime has got since the Soviet times.”
Georgy Mirsky, a leading Mideast expert with the Institute for World Economy and International Relations, a top foreign policy think tank, said President Vladimir Putin’s stand on Syria is rooted in fear that joining international calls for Assad’s resignation would make him look weak at home. “It would look like an inadmissible concession to America, a virtual surrender. The Kremlin would lose its face, look like a loser,” said Mirsky.
He wrote in his blog that Putin is resigned to Assad’s eventual collapse and the loss of any Russian influence in a future Syria, but firmly opposes international sanctions. That stand allows Putin to tell his domestic audience that Russia has defended its ally until the end against overwhelming odds, said Mirsky.