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Boston Celtics’ Marcus Smart wins NBA Defensive Player of the Year award for first time

Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart has been named NBA Defensive Player of the Year, the league announced Monday.

It’s the first DPOY award for Smart, who is the first guard to take home the honor since Gary Payton in the 1995-96 season. Payton was on hand at the Celtics practice facility Monday to give Smart the award.

In a social media post later Monday, Smart stated he was “blown away” by the honor.

Smart received 257 points (37 first-place votes) to finish first in voting. Forward Mikal Bridges of the Phoenix Suns (202 points, 22 first-place votes) and center Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz (136 points, 12 first-place votes) ended up second and third, respectively, in voting from a panel of 100 sportswriters and broadcasters.

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Smart concluded the season ranked seventh in the NBA in steals per game (1.68) for a Celtics team that led the league in defensive rating (106.2) and points allowed per game (104.5). He also was ranked fifth among all NBA guards with a defensive rating of 105.2, and was first in the league with 1.1 loose balls recovered per game.

Smart, who started each of the 71 regular-season games he played, also finished tied for 10th in deflections (106) and charges drawn (16) and had a career-high 3.2 defensive rebounds per game.

The eighth-year player is the second Celtic ever to win DPOY, joining Kevin Garnett (2007-08).

Big men have dominated the award since its inception in 1982. Smart and Payton are only the two point guards to have won it. Shooting guards have won it another five times, but none since Michael Jordan in 1988. And centers and forwards have won all the rest, including Gobert in 2018, 2019 and 2021.

Speaking last month, Smart said guards deserve more respect in the voting. “I’m not taking anything from the bigs,” he told ESPN.

“A vital part of the game is protecting the paint. But, as guards, we do a lot more before [our man] gets to the paint. … Contesting the 3, contesting pull-ups, making sure he doesn’t get to his spots.”

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LA Clippers’ Paul George practices with team for first time since December

Paul George participated in his first LA Clippers practice in more than three months Thursday as he tries to return prior to the start of the postseason.

The Clippers said George, who has not played since Dec. 22, is in the next phase of his rehab program as he recovers from a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. He remains out for Friday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers.

George was cleared for practice after participating in a 4-on-4 drill with minimal contact against Clippers coaches on Sunday.

“He is doing good,” Clippers coach Ty Lue said prior to Thursday’s practice. “He hasn’t felt any pain so that is a positive thing. Just working on his conditioning and just making sure he can continue to go through the minimal contact without having any issue. So as of right now, it hasn’t been a problem.”

Around the All-Star break, George was seen shooting with his left hand from short range on the team’s practice court. Earlier this month, George was seen shooting with his right hand.

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The Clippers, who are in eighth place in the Western Conference standings, could get some much-needed reinforcements for the play-in tournament.

Norman Powell, who has been limited to three games after being acquired before the trading deadline, has begun shooting on the court with the team this week. Powell, who had a fracture in a bone in his left foot, has yet to be cleared for contact practice, Lue said.

With eight games remaining in the regular season, the Clippers (36-38) hope to reduce the minutes for veterans Reggie Jackson, Marcus Morris and Nic Batum before the play-in tournament

Lue said his preference is to see any of his injured players return for at least one regular season game before the postseason begins. The coach also said Monday that if any of the injured Clippers are medically cleared to play in the postseason, they’ll play.

So while the Clippers have not provided an update on Kawhi Leonard, who continues to work his way back from a torn right ACL injury suffered last June, Lue is keeping the door open for Leonard, George and Powell even if they don’t return by the end of the regular season.

“Hell yeah, I keep it open,” Lue said Monday. “… To hit the playoffs going at 100, from zero to 100, that is pretty tough. But if the medical guys say they are cleared and they are able to do that, that is totally up to them.”

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Las Vegas Raiders coach Josh McDaniels says contract talks with QB Derek Carr yet to begin but could start anytime

While Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is primed to enter the final year of the then-record five-year, $125 million contract extension he signed in 2017, new head coach Josh McDaniels acknowledged Wednesday at the combine that no new extension talks have taken place.

“But that doesn’t mean that’s not going to change,” McDaniels stated. “We are aware of where we’re at on that, in that process.”

Rather, McDaniels said, he has been focusing on getting his new staff assembled since being hired by owner Mark Davis on Jan. 31. “I’ve met and spoken to Derek a number of times now,” McDaniels said.

“Just trying to begin our relationship. I think it’s really an important one — the head coach, the playcaller, the quarterback, getting to know one another as people. Kind of how we think. How we work. The football part of that will come later, which I think is also an important part of the puzzle.”

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Carr, who turns 31 on March 28, is coming off a career-high 4,804 passing yards, though his 23 touchdown passes were only nine more than his career-high 14 interceptions, and he was sacked 40 times, the second-highest total of his eight-year career.

Despite the inordinate amount of turmoil the Raiders experienced both on and off the field last season, Las Vegas went 10-7 and Carr played in the postseason for the first time in his career.

Carr, who last summer said he would “probably quit football if I had to play for somebody else” and would “rather go down with the ship,” insisted after the wild-card round loss at the eventual AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals that he was not a “face-to-face guy” when it came to negotiations and that his “message will be talked about” when it came time.

The Raiders seemingly have three options when it comes to Carr and the 2022 season: 1) Simply guarantee the $19.8-plus million remaining on his deal and see if he would honor the final year of the contract, with the potential of a bigger payday or $35 million or so franchise tag on the other end; 2) Sign him to an extension before seeing if Carr and McDaniels truly mesh, basically sight unseen; 3) Entertain trade offers and start fresh.

Backup Marcus Mariota is scheduled to be a free agent. “[I’m] really happy with the opportunity that I’ve had to get to know him,” McDaniels said of Carr.

“He’s there in Nevada. He stays there in Nevada, so we’re aware of where things are and, again, as I said when I was introduced [as coach], I’m really looking forward to working with him. He’s won a lot of games. I feel good about what we can do with Derek as our quarterback.”

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New York Giants fire coach Joe Judge after just two seasons

The New York Giants fired coach Joe Judge on Tuesday after his two losing seasons with the crew.

The move comes a day after general manager Dave Gettleman retired after four seasons on the job.

Judge, a first-time head coach, went 10-23 in his two years. He is the third consecutive Giants coach to be fired after two seasons or less, following Ben McAdoo (13-15) and Pat Shurmur (9-23), as the once-proud franchise stumbles through one of the worst 10-year stretches in its history.

The move comes after Judge was left dangling for most of the past two days. He operated Monday as if he would stay, holding a team meeting before speaking with ownership in the afternoon. But the Giants did not mention that Judge would return when they sent out a news release revealing Gettleman’s retirement.

Judge had more meetings scheduled with ownership on the direction of the team Tuesday. It was during one of those meetings that Judge was informed he would not return for a third season.

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Judge, 40, appeared safe until late in the season, when the Giants started spiraling out of control after losing quarterback Daniel Jones to injury. They couldn’t move the ball and scored more than 10 points once in those six games with Mike Glennon and then Jake Fromm, claimed off the Buffalo Bills’ practice squad, starting.

The Giants used three starting quarterbacks in a single season for the first time since 1992. That was in Ray Handley’s second season as head coach, and he too was fired after the season.

Giants ownership had wanted to keep Judge. Mara even gave Judge a vote of confidence earlier this campaign despite a slow start.

But an animated 11-minute ramble after a loss to the Chicago Bears two weeks ago rankled the organization, and running back-to-back quarterback sneaks from inside their own 5-yard line on second and third downs during Sunday’s 22-7 defeat to the Washington Football Team made Judge an easy target and the Giants a running joke.

The Giants were big spenders last offseason, and the expectation from ownership was that they would at least be playoff contenders.

But a slow start, 1-5 this season, doomed Judge. New York started 0-5 under him in 2020 and has missed the playoffs nine of the past 10 seasons.

Judge’s .303 winning percentage is third worst in Giants franchise history, just above Shurmur, the man he replaced.

The Giants were among the league leaders in games missed due to injury this season. All their key offensive players — Jones, running back Saquon Barkley, left tackle Andrew Thomas, and wide receivers Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard and Kadarius Toney — missed at least two games.

Judge came to the Giants after eight seasons with the New England Patriots, mostly as the special-teams coordinator, and was highly recommended by Bill Belichick. Judge had previously worked under Nick Saban at Alabama.

New York lured Judge with a five-year contract. He was set to become the head coach at Mississippi State, his alma mater, before this opportunity arose. Two years and four days later, he’s out.

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Naomi Osaka ousted from Olympic tennis tournament in 3rd round by Marketa Vondrousova

It wasn’t the ending that tennis superstar Naomi Osaka — nor her fans across Japan and worldwide — had expected for the Tokyo Olympics.

Osaka lost to former French Open finalist Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic 6-1, 6-4 in the third round of the Olympic tennis tournament on Tuesday.

“I’m disappointed in every loss, but I feel like this one sucks more than the others,” said Osaka, who called lighting the Olympic cauldron during last week’s opening ceremony in Tokyo “undoubtedly the greatest athletic achievement and honor I will ever have in my life.”

As the highest-paid female athlete in the world and the host country’s face of the Games, the huge expectations were hard to handle. “I definitely feel like there was a lot of pressure for this,” Osaka said. “I think it’s maybe because I haven’t played in the Olympics before and for the first year [it] was a bit much.”

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The second-ranked Osaka, who was born in Japan and grew up in the United States, struggled with her usually reliable groundstrokes, while the left-handed Vondrousova produced a series of drop-shot winners and other crafty shots that drew her opponent out of her comfort zone.

“It’s tough for her also playing in Japan and in the Olympics,” the 42nd-ranked Vondrousova said. “It’s so much pressure, I cannot imagine.”

Osaka won her opening two matches in consecutive sets following a two-month mental health break. But conditions were different Tuesday with the roof closed because it was raining outside.

Osaka had talked earlier this week about how “happy” she was to be playing again. That came after she announced in May going into the French Open that she wouldn’t speak to reporters at that tournament, saying those interactions create doubts for her.

“I’ve taken long breaks before and I’ve managed to do well,” said Osaka, who initially did not comment after her loss, then came back out and met with a small group of reporters. “I’m not saying that I did bad right now, but I do know that my expectations were a lot higher.

“I feel like my attitude wasn’t that great because I don’t really know how to cope with that pressure, so that’s the best that I could have done in this situation.”

Playing Osaka for the first time, Vondrousova came out with her entire game clicking from the start and quickly ran out to a 4-0 lead in the first set as Osaka hardly had time to gather herself.

Osaka then broke Vondrousova’s serve in the opening game of the second set but almost immediately handed the break back when she double-faulted to make it 2-2.

After Osaka lost her serve again to end the match by hitting a cross-court backhand wide, she shook hands with Vondrousova at the net, walked to her chair, zipped her racket up in her bag and followed Vondrousova off the court.

But it wasn’t simply an off day for Osaka; it was also an outstanding performance from Vondrousova.

“I also [beat] Simona [Halep] twice, but I think now she [Osaka] is the greatest,” Vondrousova said. “The greatest in the game, and she was also the face of the Olympics, so it was tough for her, I think, to play like this.”

During one point midway through the second set, Vondrousova hit an underspin, scooped forehand approach shot that landed right on the line — prompting Osaka to stare at the line for a few seconds in apparent disbelief.

Osaka had break points to take a 4-3 lead in the second, but Vondrousova hit consecutive drop-shot winners to get back in the game. And then held.

About 10 minutes later, the match was over.

“I just really believed the second I stepped on the court,” Vondrousova said. “I think that that’s the main thing.” Vondrousova’s quarterfinal opponent will be either Paula Badosa of Spain or Nadia Podoroska of Argentina.

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Jon Lester makes Washington Nationals debut 2 weeks after surgery

Jon Lester was back on a mound Thursday, wearing a Washington Nationals uniform while facing opposing batters for the first time in spring training and striking out a couple during his two innings, less than two weeks after surgery to remove a parathyroid gland.

“Baseball, for me, is an escape. I come to the field, I’ve got stuff I need to do. I forget about this,” Lester said, pointing the scar on the front of his throat, after Washington’s 3-1 exhibition victory versus the New York Mets at Port St. Lucia, Florida.

“So you dive into that routine,” the 37-year-old left-hander said.

Wearing a red Nationals No. 34 uniform, Bryce Harper’s old number, along with a green hat the day after St. Patrick’s Day, Lester permitted one run and one hit while throwing 31 pitches, 21 for strikes.

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He went to 0-2 counts on each of the first three Mets hitters, getting the first two out before walking J.D. Davis and giving up a first-pitch RBI double to James McCann. Then Lester pitched a 1-2-3 second inning, and that was that.

His operation was March 5 for hyperparathyroidism, which can affect the amount of calcium levels in the bloodstream and lead to someone tiring easily.

Lester said he had a hard time sleeping Wednesday night.

“Regardless of the surgery, there was still excitement leading up to this day. New team. … I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t nervous,” said Lester, who signed as a free agent with Washington for one year and $5 million after six seasons and one World Series title with the Chicago Cubs. “I had the butterflies, which is always good.”

Another important takeaway: Lester thinks he’ll “be in a good position” to be ready when the regular season starts April 1.

Manager Dave Martinez agreed, figuring Lester should be up to about 75 pitches after three more exhibition starts.

“We’ll see how he gets up tomorrow,” Martinez said. “But I think he’s on the right track.”

Lester took it as a good sign that his changeup worked well. That’s usually the last pitch that gets into gear. “It’s definitely been a point of emphasis, as far as in my bullpens and just really playing catch with it,” Lester said.

“So it was nice to see the results, the couple swing and misses, out in front, and got maybe a couple foul balls on it.”

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