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Panthers DE Johnson gets 4 game suspension

The Panthers will be without starting defensive end Charles Johnson for this Sunday’s pivotal NFC showdown with the New Orleans Saints.

Johnson, an 11-year veteran, has been suspended without pay for the team’s next four games for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing substances. The NFL announced the suspension Friday. Johnson’s suspension begins immediately. He’s eligible to return to the Panthers’ active roster on Dec. 25.

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Panthers coach Ron Rivera said the suspension is disappointing. He said Julius Peppers will start in Johnson’s spot and Bryan Cox Jr. will work into the defensive line rotation.

Johnson released a statement through the team’s website saying he accepts full responsibility. The linemen says he has “been recovering from back surgery, dealing with the daily grind of football and mistakenly thought this could help. It was an error in judgment.”

It’s the first time Johnson has been suspended in his 11 seasons with Carolina.

From 2011-14, Johnson recorded 9.0, 12.5, 11.0 and 8.5 sacks, 11th in the NFL over that span. The Georgia football alumnus has started every game this season while compiling 16 tackles and 1 pass defensed. Johnson, who ranks second on the team’s all-time sacks list with 67.5, also is subject to a fine of four-seventeenths of his 2017 salary. He re-signed with the Panthers prior to this season on a two-year deal worth $9.5 million. His base salary this year is $1 million.

Julius Peppers, the franchise’s career leader with 89.5 sacks, will replace Johnson in the starting lineup opposite Mario Addison. Rookie Bryan Cox Jr., who has played in two games, will be active and join the rotation that also includes Wes Horton.

The Panthers will activate Damiere Byrd from injured reserve to replace Johnson on the 53-man roster. The plan already was to activate Byrd to add more speed at receiver with second-round pick Curtis Samuel out for the year with an ankle injury.

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Russia ready for World Cup draw

The real countdown to the 2018 World Cup in Russia begins on Friday as the draw for the tournament is held at a star-studded ceremony in the Kremlin.

President Vladimir Putin is expected to address the footballing world that has descended upon Moscow, in the midst of a freezing Russian winter, to find out who will play who, when and where at the competition next year.

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The moment has come for Germany to discover who they will meet as they look to become the first nation to successfully defend the title since Brazil in 1962.

Messi and Ronaldo, the two players who have dominated the game’s biggest individual accolades over the last decade, will hope to avoid tough draws for Argentina and Portugal respectively in what will surely be their final opportunity to lift the trophy.

Germany, Brazil and Argentina are all in the first pot along with France, European champions Portugal, Belgium, Poland and the hosts.

But if those nations are certain of avoiding each other, danger lurks in pot two, where the Spanish — the 2010 winners rebuilt into a formidable force by Julen Lopetegui — lie along with England.

“Whatever happens we will accept it gladly and sportingly. I don’t waste energy thinking about who I prefer and who I don’t,” said Lopetegui, but Spain and England must be crossing their fingers in the hope of being paired with Poland or the Russians.

Looking forward to the occasion more than most will be Iceland, the Euro 2016 quarter-finalists making their World Cup debut, and Central American outsiders Panama.

Also eagerly awaiting the draw will be Peru, qualified for the first time since 1982, and Egypt, back after a 28-year absence.

Those nations will add something new to a tournament that will be deprived, among others, of four-time winners Italy, the Netherlands and the United States.

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D-Backs acquire boxberger in trade with Rays

The Rays traded reliever Brad Boxberger to the Diamondbacks for minor-league righty Curtis Taylor on Thursday, according to announcements from the clubs.

The trade is the first move of the offseason for both clubs and comes one day before Tampa Bay would be forced to decide whether to tender Boxberger a contract for next season. Boxberger was considered by some to be a non-tender candidate for a Rays team that will be faced with decisions on players like Brad Miller and Adeiny Hechavarria tomorrow, so today’s move allows the Rays to get something back for a player they may have let go for nothing.

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Boxberger, 29, has appeared in only 57 games over the last two seasons due to injury, registering a 4.02 ERA and 4.38 FIP in 53.2 innings. The ex-Padre had a career year for Tampa Bay in 2015, earning an All-Star selection en route to a 3.71 ERA while saving 41 games on the year.

Boxberger, who is under control for two more seasons, has not closed since 2015, so it’s likely he’ll slot into a set-up role for an Arizona club that could use Archie Bradley Jr. to save games in 2018. Fernando Rodney’s likely departure in free agency means the D-Backs will be active in their search for back-end bullpen help this winter.

The right-handed Taylor, 22, was 3-4 with a 3.32 ERA in 13 starts for Class A Kane County in the Midwest League. He stuck out 68 and walked 23 in 62 1/3 innings pitched before a shoulder impingement ended his season. He is expected to be ready for the 2018 season.

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Pelicans’ Davis ejected for first time in career

Anthony Davis was ejected after he complained about a questionable foul call in the second quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves. The foul in question was on Davis when Karl-Anthony Towns went up for a shot at the rim.

This was Davis’ 355th game and his first career ejection. He wasn’t satisfied with the call and let the official have an earful.

It took three Pelicans to hold Davis back from the official after he charged at him before he was ejected. DeMarcus Cousins was among the peacemakers in the scenario.

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Davis earned himself a second technical foul before he was ejected, so it wasn’t quite the same as LeBron James’ ejection against the Heat. Davis also nearly made contact with the official.

“That play was a hard play to officiate,” Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Because of the size of DeMarcus [Cousins], Anthony and Karl-Anthony Towns, it can get pretty physical in there. You can probably call a foul on any play when those guys are matched up against each other.”

Davis finished with 17 points and five rebounds.

Following the Davis ejection, the Timberwolves went on a 12-0 run to extend a 45-43 lead to 57-43. A 13-point deficit at halftime proved too difficult to overcome as the Pelicans never got closer than within nine points the rest of the way.

Jrue Holiday led the Pelicans with 27 points as he found the range from the outside, making five of 11 three-point attempts. Andrew Wiggins led the Wolves with 28 points and Jimmy Butler added 19.

“When asked his thoughts on the game, Head Coach Alvin Gentry didn’t have much to say, but his displeasure regarding the ejection of one of his best players was noticeable.

“Obviously, that changed everything,” said Gentry. “He did exactly what we told him to do which was take the ball strong to the basket… We tell our big guys to take the ball to the basket hard and try to create contact. I’ll leave it at that.”

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Eli Manning benched for first time in Career

The Giants announced on Tuesday the two-time Super Bowl MVP was being benched for the first time in more than 13 years so they could evaluate the other quarterbacks on the roster over the final month of a lost-and-injury-filled season.

The decision to sit the 36-year-old Manning was totally unexpected, especially with five games left in the regular season.

Manning expressed his unhappiness but once again he played the good soldier, voicing his support for veteran Geno Smith, who will start against Oakland on Sunday.

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His emotional pain was all over his face. His eyes welled with tears talking to reporters. His chin quivered when asked about how much this hurt. His face got red the more he talked.

McAdoo said he made the decision to start Smith over the weekend, and co-owner John Mara and general manager Jerry Reese were in agreement.

“This is not a statement about anything other than we are 2-9, and we have to do what is best for the organization moving forward, and that means evaluating every position,” Reese said in a statement.

“I told Eli this morning that an organization could not ask for anymore in a franchise quarterback. He has been that and more. Nobody knows what the future holds, but right now, this is what we think is best for the franchise.”

McAdoo, the second-year head coach, said the organization needed to learn more about Smith and rookie third-round draft pick Davis Webb in the final weeks of the season. Smith took four snaps in a blowout loss to the Rams. Webb has not played.

McAdoo also plans to give Webb an opportunity, but probably not this week. Manning, who recently passed the 50,000-yard mark, will be the backup. Webb called Manning the best teammate he has ever had.

Manning’s streak is the second-longest streak by a quarterback in NFL history, behind Brett Favre’s 297. Manning has started every Giants game since Nov. 21, 2004, when he took over for veteran Kurt Warner in the 10th game of his rookie season. Manning has also started 12 post-season games, and twice led the Giants to Super Bowl victories.

Manning holds almost all of the franchise’s major passing records. This season, he has thrown 14 touchdown passes and seven interceptions. He will turn 37 on Jan. 3.

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Isaiah Thomas to return Mid-December

Cavaliers guard Isaiah Thomas has progressed to three-on-three drills and reportedly could return to the court by mid-December.

The King in the Fourth is nearing a return in Cleveland. The Cavs have targeted mid-December, which leaves former Celtics All-Star Isaiah Thomas only a couple of weeks away from action.

The Cavs have also, as it happens, figured things out. They’ve won nine straight since a 5-7 start, easily handling the last two teams to beat the Celtics — the Heat and Pistons — in the process.

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Last night, the Cavaliers defeated the Miami Heat, earning their 14th win of the season and moving up in the standings. At the moment, Cleveland ranks third in the Eastern Conference and fifth in the entire league. Considering they were two games under .500 just a few weeks ago, this is an impressive achievement.

Isaiah Thomas hasn’t appeared in an NBA game since Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Thomas finished that game with only 2 points and 6 assists in 18 minutes of action. He re-aggravated hip injury in the game and he has been sidelined ever since then.

The point guard has made a lot of progress lately and he even participated in a contact practice. While the Cavaliers expected him to return before the end of this year, probably in late December, it seems that Thomas will return even sooner.

Brian Windhorst said the Cleveland Cavaliers are targeting a mid-December return for Isaiah Thomas. There is no exact return date for the point guard, but it seems that he will come back within the next two or three weeks.

Cleveland is shorthanded at the moment and Thomas’ return will mean a lot to the team whenever it happens.

The Cavaliers guard said that he would return when he gets back to 100 percent. At the end of the day, there is no reason to rush things, especially now when theCavaliers are on a win streak. “I’m protecting myself, so, even if they wanted me to hurry back, I’m not going to hurry back, just because I’ve got a long career ahead of me and an important summer as well,” Thomas said. “So, I’ve got to make sure I’m 100 percent healthy before I step out on the floor.”

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New York Giants signed defensive backs Brandon Dixon and Darryl Morris.

The Giants announced Tuesday that Dixon was signed off their practice squad. Morris, who has played for the 49ers, Texans and Colts, was released by Indianapolis on Oct. 3. Dixon played in 14 games with Tampa Bay in 2014.

New York placed four players on injured reserve Monday, including cornerback Donte Deayon. Fellow cornerback Janoris Jenkins’ status for Sunday’s game in Oakland is uncertain because of an ankle injury.

Dixon, 5-11 and 203 pounds, has been on the practice squad since Oct. 12. He had eight solo tackles and an interception in 14 games with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2014.

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Dixon entered the NFL out of Northwest Missouri State as a sixth-round draft choice of the Jets in 2014. In addition to his stint with the Bucs, Dixon was in training camp with the New Orleans Saints in 2016, and has been on the practice squads of the Seattle Seahawks, Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers, who released him on Sept. 2.

Morris, 5-10 and 190 pounds, has played in 48 games with three starts for San Francisco, Houston and Indianapolis. His career totals include 73 tackles (58 solo), two interceptions and 12 passes defenses. In 2016, he played in 12 games with two starts for the Colts and had a career-high 34 tackles (27 solo).
Morris was released by the Colts on Oct. 3. He started 43 of 46 games at Texas State, where he had 223 tackles (162 solo) and five interceptions.

The Giants need as much help as they can get in their secondary. Giants 2016 first-round pick Eli Apple has been inactive for the team’s last two games and starting cornerback Janoris Jenkins has reportedly been playing on an injured ankle for eight weeks.

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Sebastian Janikowski’s career with Raiders may be over

The Raiders designated cornerback Antonio Hamilton to return to practice from injured reserve Tuesday – a move that officially means kicker Sebastian Janikowski will not play this season.

Oakland had already brought one player back from IR in safety Obi Melifonwu, who returned in Week 9. They used their second such designation on Hamilton, who has been out since Week 5 after suffering a knee injury on a kickoff against the Ravens.

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Janikowski, the Raiders’ longest-tenured player and all-time leading scorer, has spent the whole season on IR with a back injury. Drafted in 2000, the left-footed kicker has made 414 field goals and scored 1,799 points for the Raiders in his career.

The Raiders and Janikowski reportedly agreed to a restructured contract before the season that is paying Janikowski $3 million in guaranteed salary.

Janikowski’s replacement, Giorgio Tavecchio, has made 12 of 15 field goals and 25 of 26 extra-point attempts on the season.

The Raiders can activate Hamilton after two weeks of practice or place him on season-ending injured reserve. Offensive lineman Denver Kirkland, who remains on IR, also will not play this season.

Considering his age and injury status, Janikowski is unlikely to command the type of salary he’s been accustomed to in recent years. His last contract extension in 2013 was for four years and $15.1 million.

Janikowski could decide to come back and compete with a job, possibly with incumbent Giorgio Tavecchio, look for a new team or retire from the NFL.

The Raiders have been non-specific about Janikowski’s back condition, with coach Jack Del Rio saying only that the kicker was “mending.”

The team clearly feels comfortably enough with the work Tavecchio is doing to let him keep the job the remainder of the season. Alternately, they may not feel comfortable with Janikowski’s back being right.

This offseason Janikowski will turn 40-yard-old. He said he wanted to play into his 40s which means that after 18 years in Oakland, this could be it for Seabass aka the Polish Cannon.

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Tigers sign reliever Blaine Hardy for one year to avoid arbitration

The Tigers and left-handed reliever Blaine Hardy have agreed to a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration, the team announced Saturday.

The deal is worth about $750,000, a slight raise from last season. He made barely above the league minimum last year, about $520,000.

Hardy, 30, has been a member of the Tigers bullpen the last four years, though he’s coming off his rockiest season. In 2017, he posted a 5.94 ERA and a 1.770 WHIP, and spent much of the year trying to figure things out at Triple-A Toledo. He allowed seven homers, more than his first three years total.

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His first three seasons, he appeared in 129 games and posted a 3.00 ERA and 1.381 WHIP.

Hardy will enter spring training competing with the likes of Chad Bell, Jairo Labourt and Daniel Stumpf for the situational lefty spots.

Hardy is a former 22nd-round pick by the Kansas City Royals. He signed with the Tigers in April 2013.

The following arbitration-eligible players are still unsigned for 2018: shortstop Jose Iglesias; outfielder Nicholas Castellanos; relievers Alex Wilson, Bruce Rondon and Shane Greene; and catcher James McCann.

The Tigers waived three arbitration-eligible players last month: utility man Andrew Romine, outfielder Alex Presley and catcher Bryan Holaday.

Romine was claimed by the Seattle Mariners; Presley and Holaday cleared waivers and are now free agents.

Players with more than three but less than six years of Major League service time are eligible for arbitration. Hardy is among a small number of “Super 2” players who have less than three years of service but are still eligible for arbitration.

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Spurs’ Tony Parker set to return Monday against Dallas

The Spurs on Sunday upgraded Parker to questionable for tonight’s home game against Dallas, but Parker said via Facebook he would definitely play in the 7:30 game.

“Get ready #SpursNation, I’m coming back on tomorrow’s game against Dallas!” Parker posted. “I’m really excited to play again. It has been some tough months with a lot of recovery, patience and mental strength. I wanted to thank everyone who believed in my return. Fans, Family, Friends, my Recovery Team and the San Antonio Spurs, I couldn’t have done this without your support. Go Spurs!”

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It will be Parker’s first action since he underwent surgery May 5 to repair the torn left quadriceps he suffered in the fourth quarter of Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals.

It also means the 35-year-old Parker will beat 26-year-old Spurs All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard back to the court, a remarkable development considering the severity of Parker’s injury and his age.

The Spurs list Leonard, who hasn’t played yet this season because of right quadriceps tendinopathy, and rookie guard Derrick White (right wrist fracture) as out for the Dallas game.

With the Spurs’ 106-86 win over Charlotte on Saturday night, Leonard has sat out all 19 games this season, one more than he missed the previous two regular seasons combined.

Leonard has been sidelined since just before the start of the preseason. The ailment first showed up last season and has resulted in what Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has termed a “difficult” rehabilitation for the two-time All-Star and two-time defensive player of the year.

Parker’s original timeline to return was January, but he changed it at the start of training camp to November.

“It will take some time because when I come back, I want to come back like I was playing in the playoffs,” he said.

Parker was averaging 15.9 points and 3.1 assists in the postseason at the time of his injury after averaging 10.1 and 4.5 during the regular season.

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