Four teams try to close out playoff series
ORLANDO, Fla., April 30 (UPI) -- The NBA made the first round of the playoffs longer, but four teams will try to keep their series short on Wednesday night.
The first-round format was expanded from a best-of-five to a best-of-seven this season, and Orlando, Philadelphia, Dallas, and Sacramento all hold 3-1 leads in their respective series.
The biggest surprise involves the Magic, who visit the Detroit Pistons, and try to become just the third No. 8 seed to topple a No. 1 seed when their Eastern Conference series continues.
The others were the Denver Nuggets against the Seattle Sonics in 1994, and the New York Knicks against the Miami Heat in 1999.
The Magic have not won a postseason series since advancing to the Eastern Conference finals in 1996, when they were led by Shaquille O'Neal and Penny Hardaway. They have been eliminated in the first round in their last four playoff appearances, including two straight with superstar Tracy McGrady.
"I'm just trying to get this franchise back on track, like it was when I was a young fellow watching Shaq and Penny here," McGrady said.
He had 27 points in a 100-92 home victory over Detroit on Sunday.
Detroit is shooting a mere 38.6 percent in the first four games, the worst of any team.
"We have our backs up against the wall now, and we do have a lot of fight," said Detroit guard Chauncey Billups. "It's not the best of situations, but the good thing is we get to go home in front of our crowd."
The Pistons are facing a 3-1 deficit in a best-of-seven series for just the fourth time in franchise history. They have lost the previous three series, including the 2002 Eastern Conference semifinals against the Boston Celtics.
The Sixers will try to close out their Eastern Conference series against the Hornets.
Allen Iverson scored 22 points as the 76ers played a virtually flawless fourth quarter on the way to a 96-87 win Monday in New Orleans.
It was Iverson's lowest total in the series. He made just 9-of-28 shots after scoring a team playoff-record 55 points in the series opener. He has averaged 37.3 points in the first three games.
The Hornets have averaged 17.3 turnovers per game, and are now on the brink of elimination Wednesday in Philadelphia.
The Mavericks and Kings also can wrap up their Western Conference series on their respective home courts.
The Portland Trail Blazers snapped a 10-game postseason losing streak with a 98-78 rout of Dallas in Game Four at the Rose Garden on Sunday. Dallas looks to rebound and advance to the conference semifinals for the third straight season.
The Kings can earn their third straight trip to the Western Conference semifinals with a victory over Utah.
Sacramento is undefeated in three prior series when holding a 3-1 advantage. After losing Game Three, the Kings bounced back Monday with a 99-82 rout of the Jazz in Game Four at the Delta Center.
Bruce Weber named at Illinois
CHAMPAIGN, Ill., April 30 (UPI) -- Bruce Weber, the men's basketball coach at Southern Illinois the past five years, Wednesday was named to a similar post at Illinois.
Weber, who went 103-54 in five seasons at Southern Illinois, replaces Bill Self, who left last week to become coach at Kansas.
During his tenure at Carbondale, Ill., he went 103-54, taking the Salukis to the regional finals of the NCAA Tournament in 2002. They lost, 72-71, to Missouri in the first round of the tournament this year on foul call in the final seconds.
Southern Illinois was 24-7 this past season, and won the regular season Missouri Valley Conference championship.
Creighton Coach Dana Altman and Northern Illinois Coach Rob Judson were considered the front-runners for the Illinois job after Tom Crean elected to stay at Marquette, but Illinois apparently decided on the Weber, 46, who has roots in the Big Ten after spending 18 seasons as an assistant under Gene Keady at Purdue before going to Southern Illinois in 1998.
His association with Keady allowed Weber to gain experience on the international level. He was an assistant coach for the USA Team at the World University Games in 1989, and the Pan American Games in 1991.
The Omaha World-Herald had quoted a person close to Altman as saying the Bluejays coach informed the Illini that he was no longer interested. That person also said no formal contract was offered to Altman.
Weber stresses strong defense and an aggressive offense.
Illinois went 78-24 in three seasons under Self, sharing two Big Ten regular-season titles, and winning a conference tournament championship. The Fighting Illini advanced to the NCAA Tournament in each of those seasons, and reached the "Sweet 16" in 2002.
There was a vacancy at Kansas after Roy Williams left for North Carolina.
Report: T.J. Ford to turn pro
HOUSTON, April 30 (UPI) -- Point guard T.J. Ford of Texas, who was named the best player in college basketball this past season, apparently will enter the NBA Draft.
According to the Houston Chronicle, Ford will announce his intention to forego his final two seasons of NCAA eligibility to enter the NBA draft on June 26.
Considered the best pure point guard in the country, the 5-10 Ford became the first player from Texas to win the Wooden and Naismith Awards, which are given to the best player in the nation.
"When you get to where you can't improve your position, you almost have to go," a source told the paper. "His stock can't get any higher than it is now. You have to support that. I think he's gone."
Ford averaged 15 points, 7.7 assists, and 2.0 steals, and led Texas its first Final Four appearance in 56 years, where it lost to eventual champion Syracuse. In the 2001-02 season, he became the first freshman to lead the nation in assists, averaging 8.27 per game.
The paper said Ford is projected to be among the next group of players.
Cieplicki named women's coach at Syracuse
SYRACUSE, N.Y., April 30 (UPI) -- Keith Cieplicki, who spent the last six seasons as women's basketball coach at Vermont, was named to the same position at Syracuse on Wednesday.
Cieplicki replaces Marianna Freeman, who resigned after guiding the Orangewomen to their first NCAA Tournament appearance this past season since 1988.
A two-time America East Coach of the Year, Cieplicki compiled a 127-53 record at Vermont, becoming the school's all-time winningest coach. His teams won America East Conference regular season championships in 1998, 2000, and 2002, and participated in the NCAA Tournament three years ago. He also guided the Lady Catamounts to the third round of the WNIT in 2002.
Cieplicki led Vermont to a 21-8 mark this season, his fourth 20-win campaign at the school and sixth consecutive winning season.
Prior to taking over the reins at Vermont, Cieplicki was the girls' basketball coach at Rice Memorial High School, which he attended before becoming a three-time all-conference performer at William & Mary. He was a seventh-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Lakers in 1985.
Cieplicki later was a graduate assistant at Vermont from 1991-93, and served as an assistant from 1993-95, both times working under Cathy Inglese.
Stars, Lightning try to get even
ANAHEIM, Calif., April 30 (UPI) -- The Dallas Stars finally handed Anaheim a loss Monday to avoid a nearly insurmountable deficit in the NHL Western Conference semifinals.
The New Jersey Devils hope for the return of one of their leaders and some revenge Wednesday night when they face the Tampa Bay Ligthtning in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
On Monday, All-Star Bill Guerin played for the first time since late February, and the Stars edged the Mighty Ducks, 2-1, in Game Three of their best-of-seven playoff series. Jere Lehtinen scored twice, and Marty Turco made 31 saves for Dallas, which has won only one of nine all-time series when losing the first two games.
The Stars will try to draw even in Game Four Wednesday in Anaheim.
While Guerin played just under eight minutes, his return meant a lot to teammates.
"Billy's influence began well before he stepped on that ice," Turco said. "He's such a great leader and vocal guy who does all the right things when it matters most. Just to hear his voice and see him skating around in warmups probably meant more to us than playing."
The Mighty Ducks, who were swept by the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 in their only prior semifinal appearance, had won six straight one-goal games, and were the last remaining unbeaten team this postseason.
Anaheim had a pair of overtime wins in completing a stunning sweep of the defending Stanley Cup champion Red Wings in the quarterfinals, and had a five-overtime win in Game One at Dallas before Mike Leclerc scored 1:44 into the extra session for a 3-2 win in Game Two.
The series moves back to Dallas on Saturday for Game Five.
New Jersey also built a two games to none lead in its series before Tampa Bay earned a 4-3 home-ice win Monday night. Martin Brodeur allowed three first-period goals in a playoff game for the first time in his career before New Jersey tallied three times in the second.
Former Devil Dave Andreychuk got the game-winning goal with 13:52 remaining after Devils Coach Pat Burns was unable to complete a player change, leaving his team with four forwards and one defenseman.
While the Devils were left with one defenseman on the ice as Tampa Bay scored the game-winning goal, they played nearly the entire game without Scott Stevens, who left 77 seconds into the contest after he suffered a lacerated ear when he was hit by a shot from Lightning defenseman Pavel Kubina. After the game, some players questioned whether it was intentional, while Kubina and Lightning Coach John Tortorella both denied it.
Stevens, 39, has played in 137 consecutive playoffs games with the Devils.
Tampa Bay, like Anaheim, is trying to advance past the semifinals for the first time.
Game Five is Friday in New Jersey.
Brodeur a finalist for two top honors
TORONTO, April 30 (UPI) -- Martin Brodeur of New Jersey, the first goaltender to win 40 games in four consecutive seasons, has been named a finalist for both the Vezina and Hart Trophies.
Last season, Jose Theodore of the Montreal Canadiens won both trophies.
Brodeur also is the only goalie to win 35 games in seven straight seasons, but never has won the Vezina, which is given to the outstanding goaltender. This season, he led the league in victories, going 41-23-9 with a 2.02 goals-against average, and has been a finalist for the Vezina Trophy three other times.
Marty Turco of the Dallas Stars, who set an NHL modern-era record with a 1.72 GAA, and Ed Belfour of the Toronto Maple Leafs are the other finalists for the Vezina.
Belfour won the Vezina in 1990-91 and 1992-93 with Chicago, and spent five seasons in Dallas before going 37-20-5 with a 2.26 GAA with the Leafs.
Forsberg had three points in the final game of the regular season to finish with 106, becoming the first Swede to capture the Art Ross Trophy. Naslund, his boyhood friend, finished second in points, recording career highs with 48 goals and 56 assists.
The Norris Trophy, which goes to the outstanding all-around defenseman, features a couple of familiar names.
The winner of the last two Norris Trophies, Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings, joins the 1998-99 winner, Al MacInnis of the St. Louis Blues, and Derian Hatcher of the Dallas Stars, as finalists this year.
MacInnis, who has one of the most potent slap shots in the NHL, is a finalist for the sixth time, while Hatcher is nominated for the first time after ranking fifth in the league with a plus-37 rating as the Stars finished with the best record in the Western Conference.
Jacques Lemaire, who won a Stanley Cup with New Jersey in 1995, is a finalist for the Adams Award as the outstanding coach after guiding the Minnesota Wild to a playoff appearance in just their third season. Lemaire won the Adams Award for the 1993-94 season.
Jacques Martin of the Ottawa Senators, who won the award in 1998-99, and John Tortorella of the Tampa Bay Lightning are the other finalists.
Columbus Blue Jackets left wing Rick Nash is the first player from his team to be a finalist for an NHL Award. Nash, Detroit left wing Henrik Zetterberg, and St. Louis defenseman Barret Jackman are the finalists for the Calder Trophy, which goes to the outstanding rookie.
New Jersey center John Madden, who had a career-high 41 points, is a finalist for the Selke Trophy, which goes to the outstanding defensive forward. Madden won it in 2000-01.
Dallas right wing Jere Lehtinen, a two-time winner, and Minnesota center Wes Walz are the other finalists.
Lidstrom also is a finalist for the fifth straight year for the Lady Byng Trophy, which is presented for sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct. Dallas center Mike Modano and Toronto right wing Alexander Mogilny are the other finalists.
All voting for the awards is conducted at the end of the regular season. The Hart, Norris, Selke, Calder, and Lady Byng Trophies are voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association.
The NHL Broadcasters' Association votes for the Adams Award, and the league's general managers select the winner of the Vezina Trophy.
The winners of the awards will be announced June 12 in Toronto.
Packers re-sign Davis, Pederson
GREEN BAY, Wis., April 30 (UPI) -- The Green Bay Packers have re-signed veteran tight end Tyrone Davis, who was the backup to Bubba Franks last season.
Terms were not disclosed.
The seven-year veteran from the University of Virginia played in nine games and started twice for the Packers last season, catching nine passes for 107 yards and a touchdown. His one score came in a 34-21 Monday night win over the Chicago Bears on Oct. 7.
The Packers have also re-signed backup quarterback Doug Pederson, 1 10-year veteran, who had become an unrestricted free agent on Feb. 28.
The 6-3, 220-pound Northeast Louisiana alumnus, who has worn Green Bay's green and gold for five of the past seven years, punctuated his 2002 season with the most productive appearance of his Green Bay tenure.
He completed 9-of-15 passes for 78 yards and no interceptions, leading three scoring drives for 13 additional points to convert a 17-6 Green Bay halftime lead into a 30-9 victory.
Pederson, who spent 1999 with Philadelphia and 2000 with Cleveland, has played in 46 games for Green Bay, completing 33-of-52 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns without an interception.
He the most productive year of his career in 1999 when, with the Eagles, he completed 119-of-227 passes for 1,276 yards, with seven touchdowns and nine interceptions.
For his career, he is 273-of-497 for 2,626 yards, with 12 touchdowns and 17 picks.
Laffit Pincay Jr. retires
HOLLYWOOD, Calif., April 30 (UPI) -- Laffit Pincay Jr., has retired, nearly two months after breaking his neck in a spill at Santa Anita Park.
Pincay, 56, who has over 1,000 wins, more than any thoroughbred jockey in history, suffered two fractures on the same bone in his neck after being thrown to the ground when his horse, Trampus Too, clipped heels with Rainman's Request in the fifth race March 1 at Santa Anita.
The injury was not believed to be serious as Pincay was treated at the track and released, but the pain persisted, and an examination revealed the fractures, which required the use of a halo brace.
"It's definitely a sad day for me," Pincay said. "The doctor recommended that I never ride again."
During a 39-year career, the jockey, a native of Panama, accumulated 9,530 victories, won the 1984 Kentucky Derby, claimed three Belmont States victories, was honored with five Eclipse Awards, and earned induction into racing's Hall of Fame in 1975.
Pincay, whose mounts included the great Affirmed and John Henry, still was one of the best jockeys in the country when he was hurt. He was second in the Santa Anita standings with 52 victories, winning 21 percent of his races.
Pincay was originally scheduled to be in Kentucky this week to ride Indian Express for trainer Bob Baffert, but his injury changed those plans, and the horse is expected to be ridden by 20-year-old Tyler Baze.
On Dec. 10, 1999, Pincay became the winningest jockey in history when he rode Irish Nip to victory at Hollywood Park. His 8,834th win broke the record held by the great Bill Shoemaker, who remains second.
On Oct. 29, 2000, Pincay reached the 9,000-win mark. Needing three to get there, he became the first jockey in the 65-year history of Santa Anita to claim five stakes races in one day.
Pincay had his first winner on May 19, 1964, riding Huelen, his second career mount, in the Presidente Ramon in Panama. His first victory on American soil, his first mount in the United States, came aboard Teacher's Art on July 1, 1966 at Arlington Park.
Venus Williams withdraws from Rome event
WARSAW, Poland, April 30 (UPI) -- World No. 3 Venus Williams has decided to pare down her schedule, and has withdrawn from the Italia Masters tennis event in Rome.
Williams will not take part in the Rome tournament, which begins on May 12, cutting down on the number of tournaments she plays in prior to the French Open, the second Grand Slam of the season.
She is competing in only her fourth event of the season this week at the J&S Cup in Warsaw, Poland, after teaming with her sister, world No. 1 Serena, to lead the United States to a rout of the Czech Republic last weekend.
"I'm so disappointed to have to withdraw from Rome this year," the American said from her hotel room in Warsaw. "I've been successful in Rome before, having won in 1999, so I was looking forward to returning to the tournament."
In her press conference in Warsaw on Tuesday, Williams also hinted she would not be appearing in Europe again before Roland Garros, despite being scheduled to appear in Berlin next week.
"I enjoy playing in a good amount of tournaments, but not too many," she said. "After Warsaw, I'll return to the United States to train for the French Open at the end of May."
Serena Williams announced earlier this month that she would not play at Berlin because of fatigue.