The New Orleans Hornets defeated the Houston Rockets 101-93 and the Indiana Pacers beat the Washington Wizards 136-112 to clinch National Basketball Association playoff spots.
The Oklahoma City Thunder (52-26) sealed the Northwest Division title last night with their 112-108 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.
At Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Danny Granger scored 25 points to lead the Pacers (36-43) to their first postseason spot since 2006. The team had to wait until the Orlando Magic beat the Charlotte Bobcats 111-102 in overtime to complete the Eastern Conference’s playoff lineup.
In New Orleans, Chris Paul had 28 points for the Hornets (45-33), who made the playoffs for the third time in four seasons. Trevor Ariza and Jarrett Jack each scored 19 points.
In Oklahoma City, Kevin Durant scored 29 points and Russell Westbrook added 26 for the Thunder. It’s the first time the franchise has won the division since 2005, when it was based in Seattle. Blake Griffin had 35 points and 11 rebounds for the Clippers.
One playoff berth remains to be settled in the Western Conference. The Memphis Grizzlies (44-34) are eighth, 3 1/2 games ahead of the Rockets (41-38) in ninth, with the Phoenix Suns a further 2 1/2 games back. The Suns improved to 38-40 with a 108-98 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves last night.
The Grizzlies and Suns each have four games remaining, while Houston has three to play.
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The Lakers were hoping for leniency from the league. Bynum isn't known as a rough player with an angry demeanor.
He texted Beasley with an apology Saturday morning, according to reports in Minneapolis.
Even the Timberwolves' coach, former Lakers assistant Kurt Rambis, said the play wasn't symbolic of Bynum's typical behavior.
The Lakers were therefore perturbed.
"Like I said [Saturday], you never know. There's no [NBA] standard," Phil Jackson said. "There's nothing to go by. It's all subjective."
Actually, the fine print in league bylaws says the NBA metes out suspensions on flagrant fouls based on three factors: how hard the foul was, whether it led to an altercation, and the degree of injury sustained by the player who was fouled.
Kupchak was more subtle than Phil Jackson, conceding a one-game suspension after seeing it on replay when it happened.
"I am surprised it was two games," he said. "I thought if anything it would be one game. I thought [the penalty] was excessive."
The Lakers went with their relatively familiar frontcourt of Pau Gasol at center, Lamar Odom at power forward and Ron Artest at small forward against the Trail Blazers.
Odom played well after his promotion from reserve status, collecting 16 points, 11 rebounds and six assists.
Houston Rockets center Yao Ming was focused Friday on giving every effort to get back to the NBA, and was certain that, when he does return, it will be in a Houston Rockets jersey.
"I try continuing, I try continuing. It all still depends on this foot," Yao said at a Rockets charity event at Toyota Center on Thursday night, his first session with the media since undergoing season-ending surgery on his left ankle in January.
When asked if he believes he will play again Yao said, "That's the direction, that's the direction."
There had been speculation that Yao would not be able to play again after the surgery and until Thursday's charity event he was yet to express his opinion on the subject.
Yao's contract expires after this season, when he will become an unrestricted free agent. But he insisted he has no desire to wear another team's uniform.
"I like it here," Yao said. "I'm used to playing here. I feel really, really comfortable here. I have my family here and I'm not really planning to leave."
Rockets owner Leslie Alexander said he was looking forward to having a fit-again Yao back as well.
"If you can find me a 7-foot-6 big man who's great and is also a great person and can play for you, of course if he's healthy and the doctors say he can play, of course we want him back again," Alexander said.
Yao said a big milestone in his recovery will come in May.
"I think I probably need another ten weeks until I can start some running on the court as far as I know," he said. "At that time the foot will tell me how much I can get back."
Asked how he will feel if the ankle surgery ends his career, Yao replied, "That's a sad question. If this is a possibility that I'm not going to come back to play, I will tell myself I already did everything I can."
The final step in the NFL’s strategy against the union entails locking the players out, thereby depriving the players and the fans of football. The NFLPA’s final step entails decertifying in the hopes of blocking a lockout, thereby ensuring that football will continue, for the players and the fans.
For fans, the union’s strategy is far more appealing.
But it won’t be that easy, especially since the owners reportedly plan to try to impose a lockout even if the players decertify, according to Daniel Kaplan and Liz Mullen of SportsBusiness Journal.
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At that point, it wouldn’t be a lockout. It would be the NFL going out of business.
“If the union decertifies, it is not really correct to call it a ‘lockout,’” Gary Roberts, a former outside counsel for the league told SportsBusiness Journal. “As soon as you don’t have a union, it’s an employer ceasing operations.”
Some think that shutting the doors to a non-union work force would amount to an antitrust violation.
The easier path for the league would be to fight decertification as a sham. Two weeks ago, the NFL commenced that process by filing a claim before the National Labor Relations Board that the union isn’t bargaining in good faith because it wants to decertify, wait for the NFL to impose rules on behalf of 32 separate businesses, and file an antitrust lawsuit attacking those rules.
As SportsBusiness Journal points out, the process that the NFLPA would use technically is known as a “disclaimer of interest” by union leadership. Basically, the folks paid to run the union would walk away, making the union not a union any longer. It’s a gun that may have only one bullet, however; the fact that the union pulled the maneuver in the late 1980s before reformulating after the antitrust lawsuit supports a conclusion that union leadership is walking away for tactical reasons only, and that they fully intend to resume their duties once a new labor deal is finalized.
And . . . now you can wake up.
Sports Illustrated's 2011 swimsuit issue, but Irina Shayk is hardly a household name -- at least, not outside her native land of Russia.
But that's surely destined to change with the coveted SI cover, one of the most high-profile assignments in the modeling world. Here are five more things to know about the 25-year-old shapely swimsuit siren:
1. She's Cristiano Ronaldo's girlfriend
Shayk has been dating the Portuguese star of famed Spanish soccer club Real Madrid since 2010, and they make quite the power couple. But now Irina has one-upped her boyfriend. Widely considered the world's best soccer player, Ronaldo has yet to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated.
2. She hails from a small town near Chelyabinsk, Russia
She was "discovered" in 2004 while on a three-day train ride from Chelyabinsk to Moscow. Since then, Shayk has gone on to grace numerous magazine covers and been featured in ad campaigns for brands like Intimissimi, Lacoste and Guess. This is her fifth appearance in SI's swimsuit edition.
3. She called her mom and sister in Russia first after getting the SI cover
"They didn't sleep!" she tells PEOPLE of her relatives, who had stayed up into the wee hours, due to the time difference. Shayk adds that her mom and sister are her biggest fans, and they "always think I'm the best."
4. She wasn't expecting to get the swimsuit cover
"It was a total surprise," she says. The announcement was made on CBS's "The Late Show," with Shayk and nine other models listening backstage. Shayk says the other girls weren't jealous. "We're like a big family, and we work together all the time and we know each other," she says. "Everyone is very friendly and happy."
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5. She doesn't diet
Instead, she works out with a personal trainer to stay healthy and happy. "I love to eat everything," she says. "I think I love food too much to not eat."
It sounds like welcome news. The unemployment rate dropped from 9.8 percent to 9.4 percent, the sharpest one-month drop since 1998. After months of grim news about jobs, it finally seems like things are heading in the right direction.
[See 20 industries where jobs are coming back.]
But the fine print is discouraging. The economy did add 103,000 new jobs in the latest month, which accounted for about half of the steep drop in the unemployment rate, according to forecasting firm IHS Global Insight. But the number of new jobs is much lower than economists expected, and the current pace of job creation is far too weak to offset all the jobs lost during the recession. The other reason the unemployment rate fell is a shrinking labor force. Nearly 400,000 unemployed people stopped looking for work in the most recent month, because they felt no jobs were available. They gave up, in essence, and dropped out of the labor force. And that is not what is supposed to happen as the economy recovers and workers, in theory, become more optimistic.
Such "discouraged workers" have become a key variable in the jobless numbers, and in the overall direction of the economy. There are now about 4 million Americans classified as "discouraged" or "marginally attached to the labor force," which basically means they'd look for work if they thought it were available—but they don't, so they're not. That's in addition to about 14.5 million people who count as unemployed, because they're actively looking for jobs. Four million labor-force dropouts may not sound like a lot compared with a total labor force of nearly 154 million, but those marginal workers represent the difference between healthy growth that would bring the economy roaring back, and the kind of tepid growth we have now, which leaves millions of consumers feeling unsure about their jobs and anxious about the future.
[See why "recession-proof" jobs are a myth.]
A shrinking labor force also masks deeper weaknesses in the economy. The size of the U.S. labor force peaked at about 155 million in October 2008, right after the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the financial panic that led to millions of layoffs. Back then, the percentage of adults either working or looking for work was 66 percent, about average for the last two decades. The labor-force participation rate has since fallen to 64.3 percent, the lowest level since the early 1980s. Fewer Americans are working, and fewer Americans want to work. If the participation rate were still 66 percent, unemployment would be closer to 12 percent—a number nobody would tout as cheerful news.
There's usually a decline in the size of the labor force during recessions, as people who might ordinarily work decide to go back to school, or to stay home and help out around the house, until the job market improves. But the decline in the size of the labor force over the last two years is the sharpest since World War II, and economists now think the labor force could be shrinking permanently. Bank of America Merrill Lynch recently predicted that labor-force participation will tick upward as the recovery picks up, but then resume a gradual downward trend that's been in place since 2000. Their analysis shows that a shrinking labor force could whack a full percentage point off of GDP growth annually.
[See how U.S. consumers are conquering debt.]
That would have a tangible impact on millions of Americans. Slow economic growth means an indefinite oversupply of workers, which would continue to hold down pay levels--even for those with jobs that feel secure. That would make it harder to save, pay down debt, and keep up with inflation. Fewer earners in the economy also means fewer people paying taxes, which would exacerbate federal deficits and state and local budget shortfalls, which are already a big problem. And of course the unemployed will continue struggling to make mortgage payments, maintain health insurance, and in many cases simply put food on the table, straining the social safety net that working Americans pay for.
Economists still expect the unemployment rate to go back up as the economy improves, which, paradoxically, would be good news because it would signal that discouraged workers are regaining some hope and treading back into the job market. IHS Global Insight, for instance, predicts that unemployment will drift back toward 10 percent in 2011, then turn around and end the year close to 9 percent. But that up-and-down trend, typical at the end of recessions, was already supposed to be happening by now. Instead, workforce discouragement seems to be lasting much longer than usual. Optimism, for many, remains as elusive as a job itself.