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LOS ANGELES — Chargers tight end Hunter Henry tore an anterior cruciate ligament during practice, likely sidelining him for next season.
The team announced the injury on its Twitter account on Tuesday. It did not specify which knee or how the injury occurred.

Hunter, a second-round pick in 2016, had 45 receptions for 579 yards and four TDs last season for the Chargers, who finished 9-7. For his career, he has 81 catches for 1,057 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Hunter was expected to see a bigger role after the team decided not to bring back longtime star Antonio Gates.
The Chargers also signed tight end Virgil Green as a free agent from Denver last month.

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LOS ANGELES — Cooper Kupp ran an underwhelming 4.62-second 40-yard dash at the scouting combine in March 2017, and Les Snead celebrated.

The Los Angeles Rams general manager figured Kupp’s time would cause him to slip behind a plethora of more physically gifted wide receivers in his class, which meant Snead could snatch him in the later rounds for what would eventually become one of the biggest steals from that year’s draft. Snead had already seen Kupp shine against elite college talent while playing actual football at the Senior Bowl, a showcase Rams decision makers and evaluators have leaned on heavily in recent years.

Scouting the Senior Bowl
A look at which teams selected the most players who took part in the Senior Bowl from 2017 to 2018.
Rams 9
Bills 9
Chargers 8
Giants 7
Packers 7
Vikings 7
Cowboys 7
Patriots 6
Buccaneers 6
From 2017 to 2018, the Rams drafted nine players who took part in the Senior Bowl, tied with the Buffalo Bills for the most in the NFL during that time. This includes the Rams’ top picks each year, tight end Gerald Everett in 2017 and offensive lineman Joe Noteboom in 2018. It also includes Kupp, fellow wide receiver Josh Reynolds, safety John Johnson, outside linebacker Obo Okoronkwo, defensive lineman Tanzel Smart, offensive lineman Jamil Demby and fullback Sam Rogers.
It’s hardly a coincidence.

Said Snead: “You get to see guys go compete against really good seniors in their class.”

In many ways, the Senior Bowl represents college football’s premier showcase. The game itself is valuable. But even more so are the three days of practice leading up to it, which offer scouts, coaches and executives an extended look at high-end prospects competing against one another. It proved exceedingly valuable to the Dallas Cowboys two years ago. Their staff was selected to coach the North team, and one of the quarterbacks on the opposite side was Dak Prescott — a fourth-round pick by the Cowboys who became the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Snead selected more Senior Bowl players in the last two drafts (nine) than he did in the previous five (eight).

One potential reason for is the Rams have recently leaned on more seasoned players to offset a roster that was the NFL’s youngest — and thus one of its rawest — for several years running. An even bigger reason, perhaps, stems from the reassurance that comes with watching players perform against elite competition on the field at the Senior Bowl. This is especially important for a Rams organization that needs to hit on what little draft capital it possesses.
Using the Jimmy Johnson Value Chart, the Rams’ draft capital from 2017 to 2018 ranks 1,388th among 1,413 based on two-year stretches since 1970, according to research from ESPN’s Bill Barnwell.

The better they do with that, the longer their contending window will stay open.

The Senior Bowl has allowed the Rams to evaluate how small-school players match up against prospects from FBS programs they never face. Last year, they saw it with Kupp, who broke records against inferior competition while playing at Eastern Washington. This year, they saw it with Demby, who played at Maine and was actually able to spend time blocking Okoronkwo, from Oklahoma.

“You wouldn’t get to see that when you’re watching him play at Maine, and you get to see it at the Senior Bowl,” Snead said. “I do think it helps you go, ‘OK, some of the traits that he has will transfer to this league.’”

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Breaking down the Indianapolis Colts’ 2018 draft class.

Round 1, No. 6 overall: Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame


All 256 picks are in. Full coverage »

•Insider Kiper: Draft grades for every team »
•Insider McShay: Every team’s best pick »
• Nation: Top post-draft questions to follow »
• Nation: Breaking down picks by team »
• Graziano: Biggest post-draft stories »
• Trade tracker: Every move, by team »
•Insider McShay: Top undrafted prospects »
• Barnwell: Who aced Round 1 trades »
• New digits: Picks get jersey numbers »
•InsiderKiper’s winners: Day 1 » | 2 »
•InsiderMcShay’s awards: Day 1 » | 2 »
• Nation: Pros, cons for first 32 picks »
My take: Nelson doesn’t play a headline-grabbing position, but he plays a position of significant need for the Colts. General manager Chris Ballard has repeatedly said they have to be able to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. It has been obvious over the years that the Colts have struggled on the offensive line, as they gave up an NFL-high 56 sacks last season, and poor play up front has played a factor in quarterback Andrew Luck missing 28 games over the past three seasons. The 3.7 yards per rush by the Colts ranked 28th in the NFL last season. Nelson excels in zone and gap-run schemes, according to coach Frank Reich. “He’s just instinctive,” Reich said. “He’s not only big and tough and strong and got all the football character, but when we started talking, we want instinctive football players that process it quickly. They find ways to be playmakers. We talk about it all the time: playmakers on the edge. We talk about playmakers up front, as well, and this guy is in that category.”

Trading back paid off: Ballard, based on the number of quarterbacks that could go in the top five, felt the Colts would still be able to get one of the eight premium players they believed were in the draft, while also acquiring two second-round picks and an additional second-rounder next year after swapping picks with the New York Jets. Nelson, Penn State running back Saquon Barkley and NC State pass-rusher Bradley Chubb were the top three of those eight players in the Colts’ eyes. Barkley went No. 2 to the Giants, and Chubb went to Denver at No. 5. Ballard got Nelson and the necessary additional picks to help speed up the rebuilding project ahead for the franchise. “There were a couple other guys in that group that we were perfectly content [with]. We think [they] are going to be really good players. But we had it narrowed down to about four guys that we thought would be instant starters for us, impact players and be Pro Bowl players eventually in time,” Ballard said.

Using first-rounders on the line: This is the second time in the past three drafts that the Colts have used their first-round pick on an offensive lineman. They selected center Ryan Kelly with the No. 18 pick in the 2016 draft. Kelly and Nelson join left tackle Anthony Castonzo, a 2011 first-rounder, as the foundation of the Colts’ offensive line. The Colts still have questions at the other guard position and at right tackle. Jack Mewhort and Matt Slauson are the early candidates for the other guard position. Mewhort is the younger of the two players, but he only has played a total of 15 games over the past two seasons due to injuries. Denzelle Good and Joe Haeg were the two primary right tackles last season. “When you’re good up front, offensively and defensively, it creates a dynamic, it creates an attitude throughout the whole team that you can win,” Reich said.
Darius Leonard is added to a Colts linebacker corps that needs a spark. Doug Buffington/Icon Sportswire
Round 2, No. 36: Darius Leonard, OLB, South Carolina State

My take: The Colts have so many needs on their roster that they really couldn’t go wrong with any position group at No. 36. They took Leonard over Boston College pass-rusher Harold Landry, who had 21.5 sacks in his final two college seasons. South Carolina State plays in the Football Championship Subdivision. Leonard planned to sign with Clemson out of high school, but he didn’t get the necessary test scores until after the signing period. He had 19 tackles against Clemson in a game in 2016. Leonard had 14 tackles in the Senior Bowl. Leonard had 394 tackles, 22 sacks and six interceptions in 43 career games.

How he fits: Snaps will potentially be there for Leonard because the Colts are in desperate need for help at linebacker. John Simon and Jabaal Sheard are moving to defensive end in the 4-3 defense under new coordinator Matt Eberflus. Leonard is an athletic linebacker capable of playing on third down because of his ability to drop back into coverage. Leonard joins a linebacker group that also features Antonio Morrison, Jeremiah George, Anthony Walker and Najee Goode.
Scott Donaldson/Icon Sportswire
Round 2, No. 37: Braden Smith, OG, Auburn

My take: Ballard is fully committed to improve the offensive line for quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Jacoby Brissett. Smith is the second offensive lineman selected by the Colts in their first three picks. They selected Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson with the No. 6 pick on Thursday. One source told me that the Colts were tired of getting “bullied” on the offensive line. They gave up an NFL-high 56 sacks and 113 quarterback hits last season and have given up at least 32 sacks in five of the last six seasons.

How he fits: Depth and competition are the two important factors for the Colts on the offensive line. Smith said he also played some tackle while at Auburn, but his primary position was guard. Smith will compete with Jack Mewhort, Matt Slauson, Joe Haeg and Jeremy Vujnovich for a starting guard position. Nelson has the inside track for the starting left guard spot. Ballard has repeatedly said the Colts have to dominate the line of scrimmage on offense and defense if they expect to be able to have any kind of success.

Round 2, No. 52: Kemoko Turay, DE, Rutgers

My take: Pass-rusher has been a position of need for several years for the Colts. They haven’t had a legitimate one since Robert Mathis had 19.5 sacks in 2013. Turay had an impressive freshman season at Rutgers, recording 7.5 sacks. But consistency was an issue for Turay, who played standing up a lot. He had only seven sacks total in his final three college seasons. Part of the reason Turay was inconsistent was because he underwent two shoulder surgeries while in college.

How he fits: Turay will join a defensive-end rotation that features John Simon, Jabaal Sheard, Tarell Basham, Denico Autry and Henry Anderson. Matt Eberflus’ defensive scheme puts an emphasis on speed and getting up the field. The Colts want to be able to rotate bodies in so that they can wear down opponents by the fourth quarter. “I’m a hard worker,” Turay said. “I’m going to chase the ball 15 yards and make a play. They’re going to get a winner. I’m the new generation of [Denver’s] Von Miller.”

Round 2, No. 64: Tyquan Lewis, DE, Ohio State
The Colts took Ohio State’s Tyquan Lewis in hopes of bolstering the run defense and pass rush. Aaron Doster/USA Today Sports
My take: Ballard’s plan has become obvious as the draft has unfolded: build on the inside and work to the outside. Four of the Colts’ first five draft picks were on the offensive and defensive lines. The Colts were 26th in the NFL against the run (120.4 yards per game) and 31st in the league in sacks (25) last season. Lewis joins Turay on the defensive line. “I had some frustrating moments last year where I thought physically we didn’t match up, especially against teams in our division,” Ballard said. “These are young players and they’re going to have to grow and work and become NFL players. They all have talent.”

How he fits: Lewis is about to join a defensive line that will likely rotate players throughout the game. He had at least seven sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss in each of his final three seasons at Ohio State. The Colts don’t plan on having one key pass-rusher; they want to be able to have several so opponents can’t focus on just one player each week. “You win up front, you win when you rush, you win with speed and that’s how we’re going to play,” Ballard said. “We’re going to play in waves. The defensive line is always going to get the priority with us.”

Prospect Profile: Nyheim HinesTake a look at NC State RB Nyheim Hines’ college highlights.
Round 4, No. 104: Nyheim Hines, RB, North Carolina State

My take: The Colts decided against re-signing veteran Frank Gore during the offseason as they make the transition to being younger in the backfield. Hines is joining a crowded backfield that already has Marlon Mack, Robert Turbin, Josh Ferguson and Christine Michael. There may end up being a primary back, but the Colts plan to rotate running backs depending on the situation of the game.

How he fits: Speed, speed and more speed. Hines’ 4.38 40-yard dash was the fastest among running backs during the combine. Hines fits in with coach Frank Reich’s offensive system of moving players around the field to force mismatches. Hines spent his first two seasons as a receiver at NC State before moving to running back last season. He describes his style of play as similar to Darren Sproles, Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara. Hines rushed for 1,113 yards and 12 touchdowns last season at North Carolina State. Hines will also have the opportunity to be a return specialist for the Colts.

Round 5, No. 159: Daurice Fountain, WR, Northern Iowa
Wide receiver Daurice Fountain says that he will be the steal of the draft. Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire
My take: Receiver became a position of need after the Colts didn’t re-sign Donte Moncrief and Kamar Aiken. T.Y. Hilton and Chester Rogers are the only returning receivers that caught a pass for the Colts last season. K.J. Brent, Dres Anderson, Ryan Grant, Seantavius Jones, Krishawn Hogan, Justice Liggins and Kolby Listenbee, DeAndre Smelter and James Wright are the other receivers on the roster.

How he fits: The opportunity will be there for Fountain to get snaps. Hilton, Rogers and Grant are projected to be the top three receivers on the roster. Fountain doesn’t have great speed, but he’s known for his leaping ability. He only had four games of at least 100 yards receiving last season while playing in the Football Championship Subdivision. “My numbers don’t define how I play,” Fountain said. “I’m a big receiver, I can stretch the field and can play in the slot for mismatches.” Fountain said he’ll be the steal of the draft.

Round 5, No. 169: Jordan Wilkins, RB, Mississippi

My take: Wilkins is the second running back the Colts selected on the final day of the draft. They picked Hines in the fourth round to bring the running back total up to six players on the roster. It will be a tough training camp for snaps as the Colts work to figure out who will be in their running back rotation.

How he fits: Wilkins rushed for 1,011 yards and nine touchdowns while averaging 6.5 yards a carry last season at Ole Miss. He missed the 2016 season because of an academic suspension. Wilkins only had 32 receptions in three seasons in college. He’ll have to show he can catch the ball out of the backfield in Reich’s offensive system in order to get on the field.

Round 6, No. 185: Deon Cain, WR, Clemson

Prospect Profile: Deon CainTake a look at Clemson WR Deon Cain’s college highlights.
My take: The Colts focused on the offensive and defensive line in the first two days of the draft and shifted to the skill positions on the final day. Cain is the second receiver — along with two running backs — selected on Day 3. Some people had Cain projected to be selected in the second or third round.

How he fits: Cain, who had 2,040 yards and 20 touchdowns in his three seasons at Clemson, was suspended for the College Football Playoff in 2015 for reportedly failing a drug test. He ran a 4.43 40-yard dash at the combine. Cain has a great combination of speed and size, but also earned a reputation for having too many drops while at Clemson. He said he was surprised that he was still on the board in the sixth round. “I was hearing because of off-the-field issues, production level,” Cain said. “I’m still a growing player, growing person. I learned from my mistakes made in college.”

Round 7, No. 221: Matthew Adams, LB, Houston

My take: The Colts finally added to their depth at inside linebacker with the addition of Adams. Inside linebacker can be looked at as one of their weaker positions. Antonio Morrison started there last season. The Colts signed Najee Goode, who spent the past five seasons in Philadelphia, and they also have Anthony Walker, a rookie last season, on the roster.
How he fits: Matthews only had 6.5 sacks in his career at Houston to go with 20.5 tackles for a loss. He led Houston in tackles (82) in 2016 and finished second (88) last season. Matthews started 22 games over his final two seasons with the Cougars.

Round 7, No. 235: Zaire Franklin, LB, Syracuse

My take: The Colts ended the draft with their second straight linebacker. By taking just two linebackers in the draft, the Colts don’t appear to be too worried about that position. Franklin, Adams, Najee Goode, Anthony Walker, Jeremiah George, Jermaine Grace, Antonio Morrison and Darnell Sankey are the inside linebackers on the roster. The Colts are shifting to a 4-3 defense next season.

How he fits: Franklin had 101 tackles during his junior season at Syracuse. Don’t expect Franklin to get after the quarterback, as he had only 8.5 sacks in his four years at the school. He’ll likely have to make an impact on special teams in order to make the roster.

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Anthony Davis stole the show and the New Orleans Pelicans stole home-court advantage from the Portland Trail Blazers.

Davis had 35 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks, Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo won the backcourt battle, and the Pelicans held on for a 97-95 victory on Saturday night in Game 1 of their Western Conference first-round series.

Holiday added 21 points, outplaying both Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, and had a big blocked shot in the closing seconds as New Orleans escaped after Portland erased almost all of a 19-point deficit.

“It’s the playoffs,” Holiday said of his final block. “A lot of excitement and a lot of energy especially in the building. Obviously, that was a really big stop and at that moment it felt good to get a stop. It felt good to know that all the hard work we put in this game, we got the win, so we did a really good job at that.”

Rondo finished with 17 assists, eight rebounds and six points.

Portland made a charge that cut it to 93-92 on McCollum’s 3-pointer just inside a minute left. Lillard missed in the lane with 15 seconds remaining with the Blazers still down one, and after Davis made two free throws, Holiday blocked Pat Connaughton’s layup with 6.3 seconds to go.

Blazers coach Terry Stotts and several players said that the play was designed for a 3-pointer, but the Pelicans successfully took those options away.

Perhaps that had something to do with Rondo knowing everything the Blazers were ready to throw at them and relaying that knowledge to his teammates.

“He’s in a different mindset,” Davis said. “He was up all night watching film. When they were calling plays out there he was telling us what it was in our version before they had a chance to run it. He’s definitely locked in. The way he played tonight with 17 assists, he’s just in a different mode for the playoffs.”

Lillard finished with 18 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, while McCollum had 19 points.

The sixth-seeded Pelicans were the only road team to win on the opening day of the NBA playoffs. Nikola Mirotic had 16 points, 11 rebounds and also blocked four shots to help Davis earn the first victory of his playoff career.

It looked like it would come easily, as the Pelicans extended a nine-point halftime lead to 69-50 on Holiday’s dunk with 4:25 left in the third quarter. It still seemed safe when Davis threw down a thunderous alley-oop slam from Rondo with 6:09 to play, letting out a scream as Portland took an 86-72 lead.

Portland’s rally came up short, but the Blazers vow to do better in Game 2 with regards to going after Davis.

“Getting to the basket, he’s around,” McCollum said. “You know, he blocked my shot in the first quarter, maybe made some contact. But he’s always there, he’s always around roaming. But there’s no excuses. We got to play better.”

Portland’s two stars finished with just three combined free-throw attempts. McCollum says it’s on them to force the issue.

“Maybe we need to be more aggressive getting downhill,” McCollum said. “You’ve got to figure out how the referees are reffing the game and go from there.”


Pelicans: New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry is a believer in “Playoff Rondo,” the idea of Rondo elevating his game in the postseason. “I think there is a sense of confidence that he has, especially this time of the year,” Gentry said. “He’s a really bright player. One of the smartest guys I’ve ever been around. I’ve obviously had the opportunity to coach Steph (Curry), Chris Paul, Steve Nash, Grant Hill. When you start talking about the extremely smart players, he’s one of those guys. I also think he has a way of giving confidence to the other guys. He makes them believe in themselves.”
Gentry says he relishes having someone who can lead the team in the way Rondo can. “I know it’s like an old clich�, but it really is like having an extra assistant coach.”

Trail Blazers: Among the challenges for the Blazers in this first-round series, none ranks higher than defending Davis. Terry Stotts said that he would begin the series with Jusuf Nurkic, who did not see much time on Davis in the regular season, on the All-Star big man.

Nurkic played 24 minutes, finishing with 11 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks.

In a surprise, rookie Zach Collins played 22 minutes off the Blazers bench, up from his regular- season average of 16 minutes per game.


Game 2 is Tuesday night in Portland.

Check out the team sites for the New Orleans Pelicans and the Portland Trail Blazers for more game coverage.

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A breakdown of the initial wave of free agency for the Pittsburgh Steelers:

Overall grade: B-plus. The Steelers entered free agency with minimal cap space and still got two starters to fill defensive needs, each for less than $7 million per year — a classic navigation of free agency’s second wave. They also released three veteran defensive backs to signal improvements are coming. But staying away from the top inside linebackers could hurt the defense if the Steelers don’t get the right player in the draft.

Most significant signing: Safety Morgan Burnett. The long-time Green Bay Packer brings polish and versatility to a secondary that needs it. Burnett was one of the biggest free-agent signings in a sagging safety market, and the Steelers proved they are serious about improving the position by committing three years and up to $14.5 million. Burnett can cover in the slot, play either safety position or line up at linebacker if needed.

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Most significant loss: Right tackle Chris Hubbard. The Cleveland Browns showed Hubbard’s worth by signing him to a five-year, $36.5 million deal on the first day of free agency. Hubbard turned a swing-tackle role into 10 starts in the 2017 Steelers offense and a mega-deal. With five starting offensive linemen under long-term contracts, the Steelers knew they couldn’t match Hubbard’s market. But he will be missed.

Player they should have signed: Tyrann Mathieu. The Honey Badger’s one-year, $7 million deal with Houston signals a weak market that the Steelers could have attacked more aggressively. The Steelers got a great value deal with Burnett, committing $5.25 million in Year 1, so why not go all the way and get one of the most dynamic players at the position? The 25-year-old Mathieu has injury concerns and is undersized, but he’s a splash playmaker.

What’s next: The Steelers sound optimistic they will re-sign slot receiver Eli Rogers once he clears medical hurdles coming off a torn ACL. And the team could add a veteran or two. But they are strapped against the cap and have Le’Veon Bell’s $14.5 million franchise tag to handle. They won’t be major players in the second or third waves of free agency.

Additions: S Burnett, LB Jon Bostic, RB Fitz Toussaint, DT Dan McCullers

Losses: RT Hubbard, S Mike Mitchell, S Robert Golden, CB William Gay

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MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Bucks pushed the pace and kept their composure late in the fourth quarter. The Atlanta Hawks struggled to regain their footing in the closing minutes after their best ball-handler fouled out.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and his teammates capitalized for a 122-117 win on Saturday.

Antetokounmpo had 33 points and 12 rebounds, and Khris Middleton added 23 points for Milwaukee, which finished off the worst team in the Eastern Conference with a game-ending 11-5 run.

“We just trust one another, and we focused on our strengths,” Antetokounmpo said. “Then we were able to make some shots and then get multiple stops in a row.”

Two key stops late ended with lob passes downcourt to point guard Eric Bledsoe, who handed off the ball each time to teammates for easy transition buckets.

The Hawks didn’t have an answer after Dennis Schroder fouled out with 2:46 left. To make matters worse for Atlanta, Schroder was called for a technical foul after exchanging words with an official on the way to the sideline.

Middleton hit the free throw that started the run. The Hawks looked rushed on their next two possessions with a turnover and a blocked shot.

Trailing by 13 at one point, Atlanta put up a spirited fight before losing its 50th game of the year.

“It’s (Dennis’) sixth foul, it’s a shooting foul. You compound it with getting a technical,” coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Just giving up points when it’s that close, when it’s that tight. It’s hard. It’s a learning experience for all of us.”

Taurean Prince tied a career high with 38 points on 13-of-26 shooting, while Schroder finished with 18 points.

But his technical foul turned out to be a turning point in the game.

“It can’t happen. I’ve just got to be quiet and go to the bench and be better,” Schroder said.

The Bucks needed this victory to keep up in the crowded Eastern Conference playoff race after an ugly loss on Wednesday at 49-loss Orlando, with the Cleveland Cavaliers up next on Monday.

“That’s important at the end of the day, closing the game out and getting the win,” coach Joe Prunty said.

Milwaukee had the early comeback, rallying from an 11-point deficit to take a 56-50 halftime lead after figuring out Atlanta’s effective pick-and-roll game.


Hawks: Second in the league in forcing 15.6 turnovers a game, Atlanta got Milwaukee to cough up just 12 on the night. … Prince had averaged 28.3 points over his previous three games. … F John Collins left in the third quarter with a sprained left ankle.

Bucks: C Tyler Zeller missed the game with lingering back soreness. … G Brandon Jennings played 17 minutes and scored two points in his first home game since being signed by his former team to a 10-day contract last week. … Jabari Parker was assessed a technical foul late in the second quarter after appearing to get in the face of Atlanta’s John Collins after dunking over the forward. Parker had 11 points off the bench in the first half on 5-of-9 shooting.


Collins got hurt after landing on Antetokounmpo’s right leg while attempting a 3. Officials called a flagrant foul on Antetokounmpo, who said after the game there was no intent on his part. Antetokounmpo had his back turned on Collins to watch the ball, and he did not appear to move when Collins landed on Antetokounmpo’s right foot.

“I think it’s just the rule this year, when you are going to contest,” Budenholzer said. “I don’t think it was anything intentional by Giannis. It’s just one of those unfortunate plays.”

Parker added 15 points off the bench for Milwaukee and tormented the Hawks with two thunderous dunks in the first half. Five weeks after returning from a knee injury, the fourth-year forward is showing that he can once again serve as Antetokounmpo’s frontcourt running mate.

“I’m just playing like I’m practicing,” Parker said. “Right now, I know where my shots are going to be. … It hasn’t been easy, but it has been working.”

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INDIANAPOLIS — We’re just days away from general manager Dave Gettleman and coach Pat Shurmur taking their bulldozers to the New York Giants’ offensive line. When they’re done it will barely resemble the unit that took the field to start last season.

The first move when free agency opens on March 14 could be signing Carolina Panthers guard Andrew Norwell. It won’t be easy — there will be competition — and it won’t be cheap, but the feeling around the league is that it will happen.

“Gettleman loves Norwell,” according to one source.

Gettleman signed the All-Pro guard as an undrafted free agent in 2014 with the Carolina Panthers. Four years later, there is a growing sense they will be reunited. The belief is that offers to Norwell could be in the range of $13 million per year with total guarantees over $30 million, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the guard market.

It is further proof that guards don’t come cheap. Just last year the Cleveland Browns paid Kevin Zeitler $60 million over five years. That is $12 million per season.

Norwell should get more. The NFL’s salary cap is expected to increase another six percent this year. Zeitler’s $12 million last season will probably have to be closer to $13 million this year, and Norwell might even be considered a better player.

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These exorbitant numbers are normally reserved for left tackles. Only four offensive tackles average more than $12 million per season on their current deals. No right tackle averages $12 million.

Norwell is believed to be the best of the bunch at guard this offseason. He’s known as a mauling run blocker and solid pass-blocker. His 88.8 Pro Football grade was third among all guards.

“He’s really, really good,” according to one scout. “He even moves better than you’d think.”

Another personnel evaluator wasn’t quite as sold. He called Norwell “OK” but conceded he would be extremely well compensated as the best available option in a weak offensive line class.

Giants guard/tackle Justin Pugh may be the second-best option as a free agent guard.

This is where the NFL stands. Quality offensive linemen are hard to find. They’re even rarer on the free-agent market. And with interior rushers such as Aaron Donald, Fletcher Cox, Calais Campbell and Gerald McCoy consistently pummeling quarterbacks on the inside, quality guards can command major paydays.

That bodes well for Norwell and Pugh. It even means the next tier of players such as Tennessee’s Josh Kline, Indianapolis’ Jack Mewhort, Josh Sitton and the Giants’ D.J. Fluker should do well.

Guards are a valuable commodity these days, and the Giants are committed to finding upgrades this offseason. Gettleman seems intent on improving the interior of the Giants’ offensive line. He noted last week that the New Orleans Saints had a dominant guard tandem during their Super Bowl run several years back and again last year during their resurgence.

The Giants are hoping to replicate that approach. But with veterans John Jerry (known as a better pass-blocker than run blocker) and John Greco the only guards under contract, there is plenty of work to be done.

Improving the running game and offensive line is a priority for Gettleman this offseason. He appears set to start at the guard position, with Norwell the intended target at a hefty price.

“At the end of the day, if it’s keeping your quarterback upright and out of the hospital, there are a bunch of guys that are getting paid. They are getting paid,” Gettleman said last week. “If you think about it, they’re close to the quarterback and whatever.”

Price be damned. Is $12-$13 million too much for a guard?

“Listen, it’s the market. Is that car worth $150,000?” Gettleman asked rhetorically. “If somebody buys it, it’s worth it. You know what I mean? It’s no different.”
Whether Pugh fits into the mix as well remains more of a mystery. It would be difficult for the Giants to afford two high-priced guards. Pugh is more likely being viewed as a contingency plan if they don’t land Norwell or a right tackle option. Regardless, Pugh is expected to do well on the market. There will be plenty of interest, and there’s a good chance he will top $10 million per season.

He’s just not likely do as well as Norwell, who is 26 and coming off his best professional season at exactly the right time. He was named an All-Pro right before free agency in a year when his former boss is in a new job and looking for a player of his caliber at his position.

Consider it the perfect free-agent guard storm, one that should make him a very rich man wherever he lands.

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BALTIMORE — Second baseman Jonathan Schoop and the Baltimore Orioles have agreed to an $8.5 million, one-year contract.

The deal Tuesday was $250,000 above the midpoint between the $9 million Schoop asked for and the $7.5 million the Orioles offered when the sides exchanged proposed salaries last month. Schoop can earn additional award bonuses.

An arbitration hearing had been scheduled for Thursday in Phoenix.

The 26-year-old made $3.55 million last year, when he was a first-time All-Star and hit .293 with 32 homers and 105 RBIs. He played in 160 games last season after participating in all 162 in 2016.

Schoop has a .264 career batting average with 89 homers and 272 RBIs. He is eligible for free agency after the 2019 season.

Baltimore right-hander Kevin Gausman remains scheduled for a hearing.

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San Jose Sharks star Joe Thornton has one of the most resplendent beards in the NHL.

It’s a bushy, multicolored masterpiece that he has grown out since the 2015 season. It’s also now a little lighter than it was before his game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night, after a chunk of it was ripped out during a fight.

Thornton and Leafs center Nazem Kadri traded slashes before the opening faceoff. After getting thrown out of the circle by the linesman, they dropped their gloves for a fight just two seconds into the Sharks’ 3-2 shootout loss in Toronto.

At the end of the tilt, which featured Kadri skating away from Thornton while the Sharks center connected on a few blows, a large hunk of whiskers from Thornton’s beard hit the ice like a tumbleweed, having been snatched from his face by Kadri.

“I ended up with a piece of it in my hand,” Kadri said. “I have no idea how that happened.

“I thought I was a hockey player not a barber. I didn’t mean to grab him there. I mean, he’s a big boy. I couldn’t reach all the way across his shoulder. I felt like I just grabbed him in the middle of his jersey and just came down with a handful of his hair.”

Thornton didn’t comment after the game.

As Thornton was in the penalty box following the fight, the beard trimming eventually ended up on the Sharks’ bench. Specifically, it ended up in the catching glove of backup goalie Aaron Dell, who showed it off to teammates.

“We were trying to figure out what it was,” Sharks forward Chris Tierney said.

Kadri, who was giving up at least 4 inches and 30 pounds to Thornton, had a welt on the side of his face as a souvenir of the fight.

“I didn’t see that coming,” said former Shark Patrick Marleau.

Thornton, 38, is in his 20th NHL season and has eight goals and 19 assists in 27 games for the Sharks. This was his second fight of the season, and by far the hairiest.

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The Sugar Bowl is still weeks away, but we’ll be tackling the best question from Alabama football fans each day. Look for our Alabama Question of the Day every Tuesday through Friday.

Alabama football earned the No. 4 seed in the College Football Playoff. It will be the Crimson Tide’s fourth appearance in the playoff’s four-year history. Alabama will face No. 1 Clemson on Jan. 1 in the Sugar Bowl semifinal. No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 3 Georgia will meet in the Rose Bowl semifinal.

Will Alabama be healthy for Sugar Bowl matchup vs. Clemson?

The answer to this one is yes and no. From an injury standpoint, Alabama should be healthy at linebacker by game time. Alabama coach Nick Saban said the Crimson Tide’s linebackers who have been banged up — Mack Wilson, Christian Miller and Terrell Lewis — will be back for the game.

That’s huge. Wilson, Miller and Lewis all played in the Iron Bowl, but they weren’t 100 percent. They should be there, or really close to it by Jan. 1.

Star defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick (hamstring) and left guard Ross Pierschbacher (ankle) should also have time to heal, as well as any other players who were dealing with nagging injuries.

The bad news is that Alabama will be without starting safety Hootie Jones, whom Saban said suffered a knee injury against Auburn.

Jones was a staple at one of the safety spots in Alabama’s nickel and dime packages. He’ll likely be replaced by junior Deionte Thompson. Thompson is a physical safety, who will benefit from this experience heading into next season.