Kobe scores 40 with the flu; Lakers still lose

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Kobe scores 40 with the flu; Lakers still lose

From Comcast SportsNetLOS ANGELES (AP) -- Kobe Bryant is often at his most dangerous when he's fighting the flu, and the ailing superstar carried the Los Angeles Lakers to the brink of yet another under-the-weather win.One dramatic shot by George Hill left the Indiana Pacers feeling a whole lot healthier.Hill's high-arching shot banked in over Dwight Howard with 0.1 seconds left, and the Pacers withstood Bryant's 40-point performance and the Lakers' last-minute rally for a 79-77 victory over Los Angeles on Tuesday night.Hill scored 19 points for the Pacers, who benefited enormously from the Lakers' 23-for-43 performance at the free throw line. Indiana led for most of the night, but couldn't put it away until Hill took charge on a pick-and-roll play with David West, dribbling past Pau Gasol and delicately lofting the ball over the shot-blocking Howard."It's something you always dream about, to hit game-winners," Hill said. "So to do that and help this team win a game just makes it that much better."Coughing and wheezing on the court and in the locker room, Bryant still hit a tying 3-pointer with 24.5 seconds left and produced the 114th 40-point game of his career."It was just a tough game for us, because we didn't make shots," Bryant said. "On top of that, we didn't make free throws. I've got to minimize my mistakes. Ten turnovers is way too many for me, so I have to work on perfecting that and bringing that down. I just felt like I played to the crowd too much."The Lakers dropped to 2-3 under new coach Mike D'Antoni. They mostly played the way Bryant felt, flirting with the lowest-scoring game and worst shooting percentage in franchise history before finishing with 31.6 percent shooting and surpassing the club low of 70 points in a game with eight consecutive points in the waning minutes.Los Angeles tied it at 74 on Howard's dunk with 1:56 to play. After West made one free throw, Howard and Metta World Peace combined to miss four straight free throws. After Hill made a running shot, Bryant hit a 3-pointer in front of the Lakers' bench to tie it -- but Hill dribbled down the clock and won it for Indiana."I'm a little bit proud of the guys, the way they fought and had a chance to win, which defies statistical logic," D'Antoni said. "That was not nice. That was tough."The Pacers' sturdy defense stifled the Lakers' up-tempo offense for most of the night, turning the game into an ugly grind before the thrilling finish. Indiana won its third straight road game over the Lakers after losing its first 11 regular-season meetings after Staples Center opened in 1999.West scored 16 points and Paul George had 12 in the opener of a four-game road trip for the Pacers, who had lost six of eight away from home to start the season."We need road wins to build our togetherness, our belief in ourselves and our new identity, and to build confidence," Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. "This is a big one, and one that we were looking for."Before outscoring the rest of his team combined, Bryant missed the Lakers' morning shootaround when he fell ill. He spent the day in bed, drinking fluids and listening to Bob Marley, before giving another high-scoring performance, albeit with 10 turnovers and 12-for-28 shooting.Howard blocked four shots and scored 17 points despite 3-of-12 shooting at the free throw line."It shouldn't have got to that point," Howard said. "It's been a tough stretch for us early in the season. We can't lose our faith. We'll find a rhythm and we'll get in a groove, but we can't let what we're going through get us down right now."The Lakers returned from a three-game trip for a three-game homestand, their final multigame stretch at home before Christmas. After playing six games in a nine-day stretch earlier this month, the Lakers are clearly running near empty -- and they had little to give in the first half against Indiana.The Pacers jumped to an early lead and hung onto it despite falling into a 1-for-23 shooting slump in the first half, playing more than 12 minutes with just one field goal. The Lakers couldn't take advantage, missing 14 of their 18 shots in the second quarter and repeatedly failing to move the ball at D'Antoni's preferred pace.Bryant made five of his first six shots, but fell into a 1-for-10 slump before getting rolling again late in the third quarter while Los Angeles made a 13-2 run. Bryant had nine turnovers in the first three quarters, but also had 29 points -- more than his teammates' combined 28.NOTES:The Pacers stay in California to face Sacramento and Golden State before stopping in Chicago on the way home from their trip. ... The Lakers handed out bobblehead dolls in the likeness of the late Chick Hearn, their beloved broadcaster who would have turned 96 on Tuesday. ... Ashton Kutcher, David Beckham, Landon Donovan, Kaley Cuoco, Gene Simmons, Shannon Tweed and Tenacious D band members Jack Black and Kyle Gass watched from courtside.

Five things to look for from the NFL annual meetings this week

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Five things to look for from the NFL annual meetings this week

PHOENIX -- Bill Belichick may not be speaking with the media here this week, but there will be plenty for us to examine at the annual league meetings. 

Reporters were informed via a team spokesperson that the Patriots coach would not be in attendance at the AFC coaches breakfast Tuesday morning -- where in the past orange juice has been sipped and tape recorders have been bulldozed -- due to a scouting conflict. 

The breakfast is not mandatory for coaches so for Belichick to use his time at a college pro day (Florida, Texas and Iowa State all have theirs scheduled for Tuesday) or a private workout comes as little surprise. He's been busy on the Trail of Due Diligence in recent weeks, making visits to Vanderbilt, Ohio State and Michigan in order to get a closer look at prospects.

Five weeks behind, remember? No days off. 

Patriots owner Robert Kraft is planning to meet with reporters on Monday so we'll have an opportunity to hear from him on a variety of topics when that comes to pass. 

Here are some of the other Patriots-related stories we'll be doing some digging on this week as we keep you updated with blog posts, occasional television hits, tweets (@PhilAPerry), Instagram shots (@PhilAPerry), and maybe even a podcast or two.

* What does the rest of the league think when it sees the way the Patriots have attacked this offseason? How will the new pieces fit? Do other coaches and executives see it as Belichick going all in on 2017? Or is this just a case of a team adhering to its motto of doing "what's best for the football team" -- both in the short and long-term?

* What's next for the Patriots? They're not done building the roster so where might they turn next? Will they add other lower-level free agents? Will they be looking to trade back into the first and second rounds? Which positions seem to be of interest to them in the draft, and how might that signal the direction this roster is headed?

* What is the feeling on the future at the quarterback position in New England? We know the Patriots aren't looking to give away Jimmy Garoppolo, but do people around the league really feel as though a haul of draft picks really won't get the Patriots to think twice about trading him? Is it possible that in this rare scenario -- where the franchise quarterback is playing at an MVP-level but headed into his 40-year-old season -- people could see the Patriots paying two passers a starter's salary?

* Will anything happen with Malcolm Butler before the meetings are out? Some have speculated that if his status as a restricted free agent (with an unsigned first-round tender) is to change anytime soon, it could happen here, where presumably his agent will be able to hear offers from one or more clubs in person. Will Butler find a team willing to give him an offer sheet and relinquish its first-round pick to the Patriots? Or will he sign his tender -- whether it's with the intent to play for the Patriots in 2017, or to be traded?

* Rules changes are coming. We just don't know which ones. Will the linebacker leap (executed by Jamie Collins and Shea McClellin under Belichick) be eliminated? Will Stephen Gostkowski soon be looking to blast kickoffs through the uprights due to the passing of a rule that would place the ball at the 20 as opposed to the 25 for such a feat? Will real-time replay decisions suddenly shift from the officials on the field to the NFL offices at 345 Park Avenue? We'll let you know which proposals are held up, which fall flat, and how the Patriots might be impacted. Belichick and his staff did not submit any proposals for the second consecutive year.

Morning Skate: Old friend Warsofsky called up by Penguins

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Morning Skate: Old friend Warsofsky called up by Penguins

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while waiting for the next wave of announcements that the Bruins have signed college players out of the NCAA tournament.
 
-- Former Wild goaltender Josh Harding is finding his way after his MS diagnosis forced him out of the NHL prematurely.

-- Young D-man Seth Jones is becoming the “hoss” defenseman that the Blue Jackets will need come playoff time.

-- PHT writer Cam Tucker has Wild coach Bruce Boudreau calling a loss to the Canucks “embarrassing” as the hard times continue for Minnesota.  

-- Backup goalie Curtis McElhinney is ready to step up for the Leafs after they lost Frederik Andersen to injury.
 
-- Old friend David Warsofsky has been recalled from the AHL and will be with the Penguins as crunch time hits ahead of the playoffs.

-- USA Hockey is now reportedly reaching out to rec league and former Division III women’s hockey players to find a replacement roster for the world championships as the USA women continues their boycott.
 
-- For something completely different: We have an honest-to-goodness think piece about pulling the “Irish Exit.” Well, okay then.