Archive | December 31, 2012

Clippers win 17th in row, finish December at 16-0

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.

Advertisements

San Diego’s Takeo Spikes freaks out after ejection, blasts referee John Parry on Twitter

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.

Ugueth Urbina will return to baseball after spending nearly six years in Venezuelan prison

Ugueth Urbina will return to baseball after spending nearly six years in Venezuelan prison

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.

Maine same-sex couples marry in first hours of law

Maine same-sex couples marry in first hours of law

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.”