On the other hand, Lakers' opener did not go so well

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On the other hand, Lakers' opener did not go so well

From Comcast SportsNetLOS ANGELES (AP) -- Dwight Howard missed a two-handed dunk on his first shot, and the night never got much better for the Los Angeles Lakers.When Howard and Steve Nash took their places alongside Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol under the Hollywood spotlight, the Lakers opened a season of enormous expectations with an equally big dud of a performance.Darren Collison scored 17 points, Brandan Wright added 14, and the Dallas Mavericks spoiled the Lakers debuts of Howard and Steve Nash with a 99-91 victory over Los Angeles on Tuesday night.In his first regular-season game in a gold jersey, Howard had 19 points and 10 rebounds while missing 11 of his 14 free throws before fouling out with 2:02 to play.That's hardly the debut he anticipated after arriving in a trade with Orlando last August, but not much has gone according to plan in the first month for the Lakers' starters, who barely played together in their winless preseason due to injuries."It's not an excuse, but it will all come with time," Howard said. "We haven't had an opportunity to really play together as much as we want, but we're going to get it. ... We're going to chip away, and we're going to get better."The Lakers' superstar newcomers both had debuts to forget. Nash managed just seven points and four assists while trying to balance the Lakers' new motion offense with his own strengths on the pick-and-roll -- all while getting roundly outplayed by Mavs newcomer Collison."It's growing pains, and it's a struggle," Nash said. "We're out of sync, and we're going to probably have some more moments in games like that."O.J. Mayo had 12 points as the Mavericks pulled off a stunner in their opener, comfortably beating the Lakers without any help from injured Dirk Nowitzki. Dallas and Los Angeles both made big moves in the offseason, yet the Mavericks appeared to be much more together than their high-profile rivals."It's a great win," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. "If you execute in this league and have talent, you have a chance to win, and we did that. The Lakers are going to be fine. They've got a lot of new guys and a new system, but we were opportunistic tonight and got the job done."Bryant scored 22 points while playing on an injured right foot for the Lakers, whose loaded lineup followed up its 0-8 preseason with a largely passionless second-half effort in front of a sellout crowd expecting to see a super team capable of contending for the franchise's 17th championship -- a fact acknowledged by Bryant when he addressed the fans before the game."As you know, we have a lot of expectations this season," Bryant said. "We're trying to live up to the expectations. We're trying to bring another championship back to where it belongs, back to Los Angeles."Instead, the Lakers showed how much work they will have to do to challenge Miami and the NBA's best.Dallas steadily pulled away to a 16-point lead in the second half, never allowing any serious runs by their disjointed, disorganized opponents as the Lakers lost their opener for just the fourth time in the last 21 years."It's not the way we wanted it to go," said Gasol, who led the Lakers with 23 points and 13 rebounds. "We know it's not going to happen for us right away, but we've just got to stick with it."Vince Carter, Shawn Marion and Rodrigue Beaubois scored 11 points apiece for the Mavericks, who snapped a six-game skid against the Lakers over the past two seasons.Dallas also contained Howard by using his career-long free-throw ineptitude against him -- hardly a novel strategy, but one that worked particularly well when combined with Howard's opening-night nerves."When he had me in a bad position, I wanted to foul him," said Elton Brand, who had eight points and 11 rebounds in his Dallas debut. "Underneath the basket, he's a beast and he's hard to stop. I know he can dunk, and I know he can make those tough layups, so I'm playing the percentages. He obviously hasn't been a good free throw shooter, and tonight he was 3 for 14."The Lakers were 12 for 31 altogether from the free-throw line, a major factor in their inability to close the gap on Dallas in the second half."I've just got to stop thinking so much and get up there and make them," Howard said.Jae Crowder scored eight points in his NBA debut for the Mavericks, who are likely to be without Nowitzki for at least six more weeks while the German superstar recovers from arthroscopic knee surgery. Dallas also played without new center Chris Kaman, yet had little trouble containing the Lakers down low.NOTES:Dallas opened its season on the road for the first time since 2007. The Mavericks had opened the season against the Lakers three previous times, losing all three games. ... Howard was called for a flagrant foul in the third quarter for hammering Brand on an open shot in the lane. ... Katy Perry, Russell Brand, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Adam Levine, Jon Cryer and Los Angeles Galaxy stars David Beckham and Robbie Keane attended the game.

Patriots may get help from Foster . . . but not the one you think

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Patriots may get help from Foster . . . but not the one you think

As Patriots fans across New England worked themselves into a fine lather at the sight of Arian Foster in Boston over the weekend, another running back of the same last name prepared himself for his first-ever week of OTAs. 

D.J. Foster may not have the resume that Arian Foster has racked up over the course of his seven-year career, but the undrafted rookie running back's skill set is intriguing nonetheless. And he's healthy, whereas the former Texans Pro Bowler is coming off of a season-ending Achilles ailment and hasn't played a full season since 2012. 

Foster could be considered one of the players on the Patriots roster who stands the most to gain from this phase of the team's offseason program. Not only will he be taught to put into practice that which he's learned during his brief time in Foxboro this far, but there could be valuable reps available to him as Dion Lewis works his way back from a season-ending ACL injury suffered last fall. 

Foster, who played receiver during his final collegiate season at Arizona State, may slot in behind veteran sub backs James White and Donald Brown, but he'll still have an opportunity to show what he can do this spring. This is considered a "teaching camp" by the Patriots, not a "competition camp," meaning the lines between first, second and third string are a bit more blurry than they might be during training camp. Everyone gets a shake. 

At 5-foot-10 and 193 pounds Foster may be considered slight to run between the tackles, but his quickness could help him make defenders miss in the hole. He ran a 6.75-second three-cone drill at this year's combine, which was fourth among wideouts. Had he been considered a back, he would've topped the list at that position for that drill. 

Foster worked primarily with running backs coach Ivan Fears when he first arrived at Gillette Stadium, making it sound as though he'll be in the mix as one of the team's pass-catching backs. But knowing the Patriots, they'll be open to splitting him out wide as well. 

Wherever he's used, Foster will have his work cut out for him as he learns the offense and tries to develop an on-the-field rapport with his quarterbacks. Slow going as his development may be, his ceiling is exciting. 

One thing's for certain: At this point, he's of more use to the club than a veteran back coming off of a major injury who isn't quite ready to pass a physical. 

Despite discord, Goodell's reign may not be nearing end

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Despite discord, Goodell's reign may not be nearing end

Monday may have marked a low point in the relationship between the NFL and its on-field employees.

The fight between the league and its best player of the past two decades was in the headlines again. Tom Brady, tied to the NFL’s bumper and dragged around for almost 500 days, had his NFLPA legal team baring its teeth again in the Deflategate mess. The eye-gouging and hair-pulling in that imbroglio over a puff of air allegedly being removed from footballs has cost the league and the PA about $25M so far.

Meanwhile, NFLPA President Eric Winston was saying the league "cannot be trusted to do the right thing when it involves players.” That comment flowed from a Congressional report alleging the NFL tried to exert influence over who would conduct studies regarding Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), the condition that’s been blamed for a myriad of former players winding up addled, incapacitated or dead.

I say “may have marked” because the relationship between the two sides has cratered so frequently over the past two years, it’s hard to know exactly what the low point has been. Or how much lower it can go.

And, with the 10-year Collective Bargaining Agreement only half done, there is ample opportunity for things to get worse. Because, really, why would they get better?

With the NFL’s owners safe knowing that their emperor/puppet/human shield is still in place to take the hits and do their dirty work, there’s seemingly no groundswell among that group to relieve Roger Goodell of his duties. Despite reports of growing owner discontent over Deflategate, the Ray Rice investigation, and an appeal of a case in which the league was found to have withheld $100M from players, there is no Sword of Damocles dangling over the league to cut ties with Goodell.

He was able to oversee the league’s re-entry in Los Angeles (though that “triumph” was fraught with owner acrimony), is going to get a game played in China, keeps edging closer to getting a franchise based in Europe and may even land one in Las Vegas, has enhanced the league’s reach on social media (the announcement of some games being aired on Twitter) and keeps making billions hand over fist.

Goodell’s presence won’t be an impediment to a new labor deal getting done for another five years. By then, when the issues of Goodell’s role in player discipline, drug testing and his relationship with the union come to the fore, the owners might feel compelled to cut him loose after 15 seasons in charge.

But even then, the league’s owners will be in the business of pointing out to the players how good they’ve had it under the current CBA. The league’s salary cap structure – decried as a disaster in the first years of the deal – has seen the cap grow from $120M in 2011 to $155M this year. Players’ practice time and the wear and tear on their bodies has been reduced thanks to the new limits on contact enacted. Benefits are better. Retired players are getting better care. Players have more off-field marketing opportunities with companies that want to affix themselves to the most popular sport in the United States.

As bad as the headlines have been for Goodell, in five years (or probably fewer since negotiations on a new CBA will begin in 2020) who will remember the disaster that’s been Deflategate? How inspired will players be to miss games and paychecks for the satisfaction of knowing Goodell can’t be his own arbitrator anymore?

To sum it up, Goodell’s dark disciplinary reign may well continue unabated for a few more seasons. But as long as the league rains money on its players through the end of this decade, the clock isn’t ticking on Goodell and the owners in the form of labor strife.