Without Duncan, Parker, Ginobili, Spurs still win

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Without Duncan, Parker, Ginobili, Spurs still win

From Comcast SportsNetCHICAGO (AP) -- Tim Duncan was dressed in street clothes, with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili joining him on the bench. San Antonio's three biggest stars got up occasionally to cheer on their teammates, but that was the extent of their contribution on Monday.On this night, the NBA-best Spurs did just fine without them.Kawhi Leonard had a career-high 26 points and Danny Green scored 18, leading short-handed San Antonio to an impressive 103-89 victory against the Chicago Bulls."One would hope that you could play with anybody in your system, but it was a tough challenge for them tonight," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "And I couldn't be more proud of what they did."Parker, Duncan and Ginobili were all out with injuries, and swingman Stephen Jackson also missed the game due to "personal business," according to the team. With Duncan on the sideline, the Spurs were outrebounded 49-26, including a whopping 17-2 deficit on the offensive glass.And San Antonio still managed to win, due in large part to 19 Chicago turnovers that the Spurs turned into 29 points."The approach is still the same, you know, every game," Green said. "It starts with Pop. He does a great job of preparing us, tells us what we need to do. We listen to him."Nate Robinson scored 20 points and Richard Hamilton had 16 for the Bulls, who were coming off a 3-3 road trip -- their longest of the season. Carlos Boozer added 14 points and All-Star Joakim Noah pulled down 15 rebounds despite a nagging right foot injury."When you outrebound somebody like we did and to be in the position we were in, we beat ourselves," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said, lamenting all the turnovers. "They are terrific. They are going to make you pay for your mistakes."San Antonio led by 14 at three different points in the third quarter, but Robinson led the Bulls right back. The streaky point guard converted a twisting reverse layup to trim the Spurs' lead to 73-69 with 56 seconds left in the period.Chicago pulled within one in the fourth before the Spurs began to pull away. Boris Diaw had a three-point play and Leonard converted a layup in a 7-0 surge that made it 89-78 with 5:55 to go.Parker had 29 points and 11 assists in the Spurs' 111-86 victory at Brooklyn on Sunday night, but Popovich said his star's right knee became swollen during the game. Parker is having an MVP-type of season, averaging 20.7 points and 7.7 assists per game.Duncan missed his fourth straight game due to a sore left knee. Ginobili was out for the fifth consecutive game with tightness in his left hamstring."For sure it was a great win for us," said center Tiago Splitter, who had 16 points in 33 minutes despite an awkward fall in the first quarter. "We hope all the guys get better and healthy again soon and ready to help us."The injuries for All-Stars Parker and Duncan, plus key scorer Ginobili, meant San Antonio's three best players were reduced to a cheerleading role for the night, and their teammates gave them plenty of reasons to stand and applaud.Gary Neal also had 16 points for San Antonio (41-12), which improved the league's best road record to 19-10. Nando De Colo, subbing for Parker, had nine points and seven assists in his second career start.Luol Deng finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds for Chicago (30-21), which dropped to 15-12 at home this season."We didn't make shots down the stretch and we couldn't get stops for some reason," Robinson said. "They have the best record in the NBA for a reason."NOTES:Thibodeau said he thinks G Kirk Hinrich (right elbow) will travel with the team to Boston for Wednesday's game against the Celtics. Hinrich hasn't appeared in a game since Jan. 30 at Milwaukee. ... Splitter had a big bag of ice on his left ankle after the game. "It's painful right now, but we'll see tomorrow how it feels," he said. ... Deng addressed the crowd before the game and said he is looking forward to representing the Bulls at Sunday's All-Star game in Houston. ... Diaw and Splitter are the only players to appear in all 53 games for the Spurs this season.

Antonio Brown posts questionable locker room video after Steelers win

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Antonio Brown posts questionable locker room video after Steelers win

Showing a knee-buckling lack of self-awareness, Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown put up 13:35 of footage on Facebook Live after his team’s 18-16 win over Kansas City on Sunday night.

It was a weird betrayal of the team’s privacy by one of its star players. Brown, allowed viewers to see live (and on tape until it’s inevitably taken down) that, while head coach Mike Tomlin was around a bank of lockers addressing what Tomlin presumed was his entire team, Brown was mugging in front of his phone for a growing online audience.

The video starts with Brown and teammates having fun in front of their lockers. As the team is called together for a postgame prayer, Brown keeps the camera rolling. After the prayer, Tomlin made a statement.

“When you get to this point in the journey, not a lot needs to be said,” said Tomlin. “Let’s say very little moving forward. Let’s start our preparations. We spotted those a******* a day and a half. They played yesterday. Our game got moved to tonight. We gonna touch down at 4 o’clock in the f****** morning. So be it. We’ll be ready for that ass. But you ain’t gotta tell them we coming. Because some of us might not like the damn (woofkisses?) The chest pounding.  Keep a low profile.”

While Tomlin was issuing that low-profile request, Brown rolled on. Another Steeler then spoke up saying, “Keep cool on social media, this is about us, nobody else.”

Finally, what sounded like quarterback Ben Roethlisberger addressed the team saying of Foxboro, “That’s a lion’s den we’re going into this week. It’s a lion’s den. I’ve been there, a lot of us have been there. Keep your mouth shut.”

While people might fan themselves over Tomlin calling the Patriots a*******, that’s benign and likely will be matched in private by Patriots coaches this week.

What’s staggering is that a player of Brown’s ability and seeming intelligence would be so self-absorbed as to be agog at putting on a video show for Facebook followers at the expense of his coaches, teammates and franchise.  

Steelers survive, advance to visit Patriots despite red-zone woes

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Steelers survive, advance to visit Patriots despite red-zone woes

For the third time in the Belichick-Brady Era, the Patriots will be trying to step over the Steelers to get to a Super Bowl.

Pittsburgh went into Kansas City on Sunday night and outlasted a breathtakingly sluggish Chiefs team 18-16.

If you spent the day stewing about the Patriots adequate-against-Osweiler-but-probably-nobody-else offensive performance Saturday night, maybe Sunday night calmed your nerves.

Despite having a more than 2-to-1 edge in total yards entering the fourth, Pittsburgh had managed just six field goals from kicker Chris Boswell. Their best chance at getting six on the board was squelched when Ben Roethlisberger got picked at the goal line in the first half.

That Kansas City was even in the game with a chance to tie it in the final three minutes has to be humbling for the Steelers. They dominated every statistical category of consequence while the Chiefs played aimlessly behind Alex Smith, who may be a cut above Brock Osweiler but is definitely a cut below every other quarterback in the Divisional Playoff round.  

On this night, Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t much better.

Still, Pittsburgh’s got the best 1-2 punch in the NFL at running back and receiver – LeVeon Bell and Antonio Brown were both at 101 yards after halftime – and New England’s entire defensive game plan will revolve around corralling those two and getting them horizontal.

The Patriots beat a Roethlisberger-less team in October, 27-16. Landry Jones was at quarterback that day.

The Steelers were in the Patriots’ red zone four times. They came away with 10 points. They were inside the Patriots’ 40 six times and finished with 16.

“In an offense like that with a bunch of very explosive players, one slant can turn into a touchdown so you have to be really careful in your coverages,” defensive end Rob Ninkovich told me after that game. "There’s not just one go-to guy. They got a running back that can catch it out of the backfield and make plays (Le’Veon Bell). [Antonio Brown] can catch it anywhere on the field and make plays. You just have to make sure with a guy like [Landry Jones] to have him make the throws. It’s hard in this league to be perfect. So to have him sit back there and try to make all the throws was what we chose and the secondary did a great job.”

Bell and Brown combined for 268 yards from scrimmage against the Patriots.

The Steelers scored one touchdown.

The ever-dawdling Bell, who practically walks to the line of scrimmage then skips around like a little kid with a full bladder before finding a crease to exploit, is where it will start for the Patriots.

If the Patriots are going to go to their seventh Super Bowl since Belichick’s hire, Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Donta Hightower and Elandon Roberts – their two best interior linemen and their two inside linebackers – will be the ones who start the bus. The overwhelming majority of Bell’s runs are between the guards so building a wall and out-patienting him as he probes for a crease is Job One.

The Chiefs weren’t stout enough at the line of scrimmage and Bell brutalized them. It will, of course, fall to more than just those four. Trey Flowers, Rob Ninkovich, Chris Long, Vincent Valentine and Shea McLellin will also be in focus. Run-support from safeties Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty will be a part of it as well, but that’s where the Steelers become tough to deal with.

Once Bell’s established himself, the Steelers can start to work play-action and get Brown into space. Creep too far and the numbers on the back end could wind up being insufficient to deal with one of the NFL’s fastest players.

That’s why you can expect the Patriots to not overexert themselves with pressures and blitzes against Ben Roethlisberger. They’ll want as many back in coverage as possible to deal with Brown and some of the other Steelers speed merchants.

The Patriots have dealt with Pittsburgh’s defense enough to know where to attack. LeGarrette Blount ran for 127 yards on 24 carries in the first meeting and

Tom Brady went 19 for 26 for 222 with two touchdowns.

The Patriots had Gronk that day and the Steelers didn’t have Roethlisberger. That tips the scales some when measuring the differences. But after watching Pittsburgh kick six field goals and keep afloat an underperforming Chiefs team, the issue that dogged them in October – red zone offense – looks like its still around.

And they are going to visit a team that does that led the NFL in preventing points.