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Denver Nuggets fire coach Brian Shaw with team in slide

DENVER (AP) Last week, Denver Nuggets players broke their huddle with a chant of "1-2-3 ... Six weeks," interpreted by some as a countdown to the end of a season gone sour.

Brian Shaw didn't even make it that far. The first-time head coach was fired after 1 1/2 seasons on Tuesday, with the team at 20-39 and struggling to win at home. Assistant coach Melvin Hunt was promoted to interim coach and the Nuggets promptly won in his first game, beating the Milwaukee Bucks 106-95 to end a six-game slide.

The timing of the dismissal was somewhat surprising given that just last week general manager Tim Connelly seemed to signal Shaw's job was safe at least through the end of the season.

"We were hopeful we could dig ourselves out of the hole, play more respectful basketball," Connelly explained. "Unfortunately, our struggles have been pretty immense and led to today."

Bucks coach Jason Kidd said he had dinner with Shaw the night before and that Shaw didn't appear to have any sort of inkling his firing was imminent.

"This wasn't anything, I don't think, he saw coming," Kidd said after his team's morning practice. "It's unfortunate what happened with B-Shaw, being one of my mentors as a player and also a good friend."

Shaw went 56-85 for a .397 winning percentage. The Nuggets were in the midst of 10 straight losses at home - one shy of tying the franchise record set in 1997-98 - before ending the skid on Tuesday night. The team has also nosedived since the All-Star break, going 1-6, and attendance has suffered.

Forward J.J. Hickson said Shaw addressed the team before departing. Shaw's message was simply to "finish up strong and be pros. Wished all of us luck," Hickson recounted.

Asked if Shaw lost the locker room, Hickson said, "not in my opinion."

"Have to look in the mirror individually, and own up to some of the stuff that's going on around here," Hickson added.

Nuggets President Josh Kroenke said the team will look for a permanent coach after the season.

"This has been a trying season for all of us," Kroenke said in a statement. "And we appreciate Nuggets fans continued faith and patience as we build our proud organization back to the NBA's elite."

Shaw replaced George Karl, who was ousted after Denver won a franchise-record 57 games in 2012-13 only to be bounced from the first round of the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.

The first season as an NBA head coach for Shaw was marked by injuries and a dispute with point guard Andre Miller, who was eventually traded to Washington. The Nuggets went 36-46, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2002-03. The Nuggets returned to health this season, but failed to live up to expectations.

The affable Shaw was seemingly on the hot seat in November after Portland torched the Nuggets for 84 points in the first half. It was the most points scored in the first half by a Denver opponent since Phoenix scored an NBA-record 107 points on Nov. 10, 1990.

Things began to settle down, though, and the Nuggets went on a five-game win streak. Later, Shaw even eliminated morning shoot-arounds on game days to give his players more time to rest.

In January, Ty Lawson was arrested for investigation of driving under the influence. A month later, the speedy point guard skipped the first practice after the All-Star break when he missed his flight back from Las Vegas. That didn't sit well with Shaw, who kept Lawson out for a game.

Last Friday against Utah, Nuggets players uttered the "1-2-3. ... Six weeks" chant when Shaw wasn't around. Shaw told The Denver Post and other outlets Monday the chant "all stemmed from me saying that we hadn't won a game in six weeks on our home floor. So I just want to set the record straight in terms of that. That's the real truth behind what's taken off and put us all in a bad light."

After winning three titles with the Los Angeles Lakers during his playing career, Shaw won two more as an assistant under Phil Jackson before becoming associate head coach of the Indiana Pacers. He interviewed for a dozen head coaching positions before Kroenke hired him on June 25, 2013.

Kroenke called Shaw a "champion and a gentleman." He noted that since the Kroenke family purchased the franchise in 2000 "we have constantly strived to field a competitive team." In noting the 10 consecutive playoff appearances and 57-win season in 2012-13, he said: "Expectations have been raised and we want more."

Hunt, who's in his fifth season as an assistant for the Nuggets, said he will borrow some tactics from both Karl and Shaw.

"All 10 toes are in," Hunt said. "We're going to figure out a way to win games."

---

AP Sports Writer Arnie Stapleton contributed to this report.

Wed, 04 Mar 2015 04:50:00 +0000
AP Source: Greg Hardy to meet with NFL officials

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Panthers defensive end and soon-to-be free agent Greg Hardy will meet with NFL officials in New York on Wednesday to discuss his domestic violence case, a person familiar with the situation said Tuesday.

The person spoke with The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because no public announcement of the meeting has been made.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league had no comment.

The meeting means Hardy's lengthy legal saga could be coming to an end soon.

Hardy has been on the commissioner's exempt list since September.

He becomes a free agent March 10. While he's not expected to re-sign with Carolina, he could command millions on the market.

Hardy, 26, was convicted of assault on a female and communicating threats last summer, but charges were dismissed Feb. 9 during an appeal trial when his accuser couldn't be located to testify. Prosecutors say Hardy reached a civil suit agreement with the accuser.

The NFL has said it is investigating Hardy's case.

The league unsuccessfully petitioned to have evidence from Hardy's first trial unsealed. Without that evidence, it may be difficult for the league to suspend Hardy.

Hardy potentially faces up to a six-game suspension from the NFL for violating its domestic abuse policy even though the charges against him were dismissed.

Hardy is seeking immediate reinstatement from the NFL - before he hits the free agent market next week - after a federal judge cleared way for Adrian Peterson's return to the league. Like Peterson, Hardy spent the majority of last season on the commissioner's exempt list preventing him from playing football.

Hardy was Carolina's franchise player last season.

Despite being convicted last summer he was allowed to play in Carolina's first game before eventually being placed on the commissioner's exempt list when Roger Goodell began to toughen his stance on domestic violence offenders in the wake of the Ray Rice incident.

Still, Hardy collected $13.1 million last year from the Panthers as their franchise player. He had 15 sacks in 2013, tying a franchise record.

Hardy posted photographs from photographs on social media of New York on Tuesday, but did not mention a meeting with the NFL.

NOTES: The Panthers announced Tuesday they have re-signed defensive tackle Colin Cole to a one-year contract. Details on the contract were not available.

Wed, 04 Mar 2015 00:06:00 +0000
Trooper: Fingerprints show victim in Hernandez's rented car

FALL RIVER, Mass. (AP) A state police trooper who specializes in fingerprint analysis testified Tuesday in the murder trial of Aaron Hernandez that the fingerprints of the former NFL player and his alleged victim, Odin Lloyd, were found inside a car that was allegedly used to drive Lloyd to his death.

Prosecutors say Hernandez, then a New England Patriot tight end, and two friends, Carlos Ortiz and Ernest Wallace, picked up Lloyd from his home early on the morning of June 17, 2013, shortly before he was killed.

Hernandez also is charged in another case with the fatal shootings of two men in 2012, and prosecutors previously suggested as a possible motive for Lloyd's death that Hernandez may have showed Lloyd the spot where the double slayings took place. But a judge ruled last year that prosecutors can't tell the jury about the double slayings.

Massachusetts State Police Trooper David Mackin, who processed the fingerprints found inside a Nissan Altima that Hernandez had rented, testified Tuesday that Lloyd's fingerprints were found on the handle of the rear passenger side door.

Lloyd's sister testified Monday that she saw Lloyd get into the rear passenger side of a silver Nissan that night but could not see the driver. Video from a neighbor's surveillance camera also showed Lloyd getting into a car at 2:32 a.m. Prosecutors have said Lloyd was dead by 3:30 a.m., shot to death in an industrial park near Hernandez's home.

Mackin testified that Hernandez's fingerprints were found on the inside handle of the driver's side. Surveillance footage from the night of the killing shows Hernandez getting into the driver's seat of a Nissan Altima, which he had rented the previous week.

The fingerprints of Ortiz and Wallace also were found inside the car, Mackin said. Wallace's fingerprints were found in various places, including on the inside driver's side window, the driver's side seatbelt latch, the front passenger inside door handle and the inside rear passenger door window. Ortiz's fingerprints were found on the rear passenger inside door handle.

Ortiz and Wallace have also been charged with murder and have pleaded not guilty. They will be tried separately.

Around 2 a.m. the day of Lloyd's slaying, Hernandez and Ortiz were captured on video at a gas station south of Boston. It shows Hernandez putting gas in a Nissan Altima before entering the gas station and buying gum and cigars with Ortiz. They get back in the car, with Hernandez in the driver's seat and Ortiz in the back. They leave at 2:12 a.m. Prosecutors have said the group then drives to Lloyd's home in the Dorchester section of Boston.

During cross-examination Tuesday, defense attorney James Sultan went after Mackin's credentials, saying Mackin was not certified as a fingerprint expert.

The defense has tried to paint a picture of a shoddy police investigation, and suggested that Mackin was on the prosecution's side.

In other testimony Tuesday, prosecutors showed the jury text messages that Hernandez, sent to Lloyd hours before the shooting. In them, Hernandez says he wants to meet with Lloyd.

"I'm coming to grab that tonight u gon b around I need dat and we could step for a little again," Hernandez wrote in one text to Lloyd at 9:05 p.m. on June 16. He sent more messages urging them to get together.

Tue, 03 Mar 2015 23:56:00 +0000
Jimmie Johnson pulls away for another Atlanta Sprint Cup win

HAMPTON, Ga. (AP) Jimmie Johnson pulled away after the final restart with 13 laps to go Sunday, winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Johnson, a six-time Cup champion, started near the back after failing to get in a qualifying run because of inspection issues. But the No. 48 Chevrolet was the fastest car on the track at the end of the weekend, cruising across the finish line a comfortable 1.803 seconds ahead of Kevin Harvick.

It was the 71st victory of Johnson's career, and his fourth at the 1.54-mile trioval south of Atlanta.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was third, followed by Daytona 500 winner Joey Logano.

Sun, 01 Mar 2015 23:24:00 +0000
Thunder's Russell Westbrook has surgery on cheekbone

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook had surgery to repair a fracture to his right cheek Saturday and the NBA's hottest player will miss at least a game.

The Thunder said the surgery took place in Los Angeles, where they will play the Lakers on Sunday, and that Westbrook would be re-evaluated next week.

Westbrook was hurt in the final seconds of the Thunder's 115-112 loss Friday night in Portland, when he scored 40 points in his third straight triple-double. Teammate Andre Roberson's knee crashed into Westbrook's face, leaving a noticeable imprint on his right cheek.

The MVP of the All-Star Game, Westbrook has had triple-doubles in his past three games. For the month of February, he averaged 31.2 points, 10.2 assists and 9.1 rebounds and led the team to a 9-3 record.

The Thunder already were without reigning league MVP Kevin Durant, who had a screw replaced in his surgically repaired right foot last Sunday. Thunder center Steven Adams also has been out with a hand injury.

Sun, 01 Mar 2015 01:00:00 +0000

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