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In Sports from United Press International

  |   May 2, 2003 at 1:33 AM
Lakers set up meeting with Spurs

LOS ANGELES, May 2 (UPI) -- Boston, New Jersey, San Antonio and the Los Angeles Lakers all had a chance to end their playoff series Thursday night and all managed to do so.

Those four joined Sacramento in the conference semifinals with three series yet to be determined.

The Lakers, who trailed after three games of their first-round series against Minnesota, won the last three and finished off the Timberwolves Thursday night, 101-85.

Boston eliminated the Indiana Pacers, 110-90; New Jersey rushed past Milwaukee, 113-101; and San Antonio outfought Phoenix, 87-85. All four of the series that ended Thursday night went six games.

Boston will face New Jersey in the second round and San Antonio will tangle with the three-time defending champion Lakers.

Kobe Bryant scored 31 points and Shaquille O'Neal contributed 24 in carrying the Lakers to their date with the Spurs.

Minnesota was within six points at the start of the fourth quarter, but Los Angeles opened the period on a 14-2 run. The Timberwolves faded after winning the second and third games of the series and putting the Lakers' hopes of winning a fourth straight title in jeopardy.

In Milwaukee, Kenyon Martin scored 29 points and Jason Kidd recorded his sixth career playoff triple-double.

New Jersey has won playoff series in consecutive postseasons for the first time in the franchise's NBA history.

Martin came off a foul-plagued, nine-point outing in New Jersey's Game 5 triumph and surpassed that in the first quarter with 12 points as the Nets grabbed a 30-18 advantage. He scored 10 points in New Jersey's game-opening 17-6 tear.

Kidd finished with 22 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds for his fifth playoff triple-double with New Jersey. Kidd had three triple-doubles in the six-game series with Boston last season.

In Boston, the Celtics made 14 straight shots in the first half to advance to the conference semifinals for the second straight year.

Paul Pierce scored 27 points for Boston, which made surprisingly easy work of Indiana. The Celtics set the tone for the series with a huge comeback win in Game 1, turned the trick again in Games 3 and 4 and countered the inside strength advantage of the Pacers with perimeter shooting and experience.

It was the third straight first-round exit for the third-seeded Pacers, who have one of the deepest rosters in the NBA but appear to be lacking the veteran leadership needed to win in the postseason.

In Phoenix, Tim Duncan's passing in the fourth quarter led to a flurry of three-pointers that allowed the Spurs to close out the Suns.

Duncan had 15 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists for his second career postseason triple-double, adding four blocks. He did not score in the fourth quarter but controlled the game as he repeatedly passed out of swarming double-teams to open temmates on the perimeter.

On four straight possessions midway through the final period, the Spurs made shots from beyond the arc. They turned a two-point deficit into an 81-74 lead with 3:48 to play.

Two of the three-pointers came from rookie Manu Ginobili and the other two from Stephen Jackson, who scored 11 of his 21 points in the final six minutes. His layup at the 2:21 mark gave San Antonio an 83-76 advantage.


Flyers deadlock series with Senators

PHILADELPHIA, May 2 (UPI) -- Michal Handzus scored his first career playoff goal and Roman Cechmanek was perfect Thursday night, giving Philadelphia a 1-0 win over Ottawa.

The outcome deadlocked the Eastern Conference semifinal series at 2-2.

After allowing numerous scoring chances in Tuesday's Game 3 overtime loss, Philadelphia shut down Ottawa's inside attack, limiting the Senators to perimeter shots.

In the last six minutes, the Flyers kept Ottawa in its own zone until the final seconds with strong forechecking and a neutral zone trap, a style that led them to a share of the Jennings Trophy during the regular season.

Cechmanek posted his second shutout of the series and third of his playoff career. The unorthodox Czech Republic goaltender stopped 12 shots in the first period, five in the second and 11 in the third, including a save on Magnus Arvedson alone in the slot with 7 1/2 minutes remaining.

Handzus gave his compatriot all the support he needed, deflecting defenseman Chris Therien's point shot past goalie Patrick Lalime late in the first period for his first postseason tally in 34 games.

The series shifts back to Ottawa for Game 5 on Saturday.


Rivera records first save of 2003

NEW YORK, May 2 (UPI) -- Mariano Rivera recorded his first save of the season Thursday, giving the New York Yankees a 2-1 win over Seattle.

Rivera, who gave up a run in a non-save situation Wednesday night in his season debut, missed the Yankees' first 25 games with a strained groin. He tossed a perfect ninth Thursday to preserve Mike Mussina's major league-leading sixth win. Rivera needed just nine pitches.

Rivera struck out Randy Winn, then got Bret Boone and Edgar Martinez on weak grounders.

Mussina improved to 6-0, allowing one run and six hits in eight innings with no walks and nine strikeouts. Dating to last season, Mussina has won eight straight decisions, matching a career high.

Jorge Posada and Alfonso Soriano provided the offense with solo home runs.

The Mariners grabbed a 1-0 lead in the fifth on consecutive two-out singles by Mark McLemore, Jeff Cirillo and Dan Wilson. But the Yankees tied it the bottom half -- Posada leading off the inning by drilling a 1-1 pitch over the fence in left-center field.

Soriano led off the sixth with his 10th homer, belting a 2-1 pitch just inside the left field foul pole.

Other American League results: Minnesota 6, Tampa Bay 5 in 13 innings; Boston 6, Kansas City 5; Toronto 7, Texas 6; Chicago 7, Oakland 5. Baltimore swept a double header from Detroit, 6-5 and 4-2; and Anaheim's scheduled game at Cleveland was rained out.


Baker enjoys successful return

SAN FRANCISCO, May 2 (UPI) -- Alex Gonzalez delivered a decisive three-run homer in the 10th Thursday as the Chicago Cubs downed the San Francisco Giants, 5-1.

Cubs Manager Dusty Baker's first series as visiting manager at Pacific Bell Park was a successful one as Chicago took advantage of a costly error by Giants third baseman Edgardo Alfonzo to score four times in the 10th.

Ramon Martinez opened the inning against Tim Worrell (1-1) with a single but was erased when Damian Miller bunted into a force out. Pinch-hitter Lenny Harris bounced out but Alfonzo failed to field a chopper by Mark Grudzielanek and Gonzalez lined Worrell's next pitch over the left field wall.

Gonzalez, had not homered since Sept. 25 -- a span of 122 at bats -- but recorded his fifth career multi-homer game. After opening the season with 15 hits in 28 at bats, the 30-year-old shortstop was just 16 for 79 when he homered off Giants starter Damian Moss in the sixth.

Sammy Sosa followed Gonzalez's second blast with his sixth homer of the season and first in extra innings since Aug. 3, 1997.

Other National League results: Montreal 5, Milwaukee 0; Cincinnati 7, Colorado 2; St. Louis 6, New York 5 in 10 innings; Pittsburgh 5, San Diego 2; Atlanta 8, Houston 7; Florida 4, Arizona 3; Philadelphia 4, Los Angeles 1.


All-Star Game tied to home-field advantage

NEW YORK, May 2 (UPI) -- The Major League Baseball Players Association Thursday agreed to give the All-Star Game more weight than ever.

The union agreed to a two-year experiment in which the league that wins the All-Star Game will receive home-field advantage in the World Series.

Commissioner Bud Selig wanted to increase the importance of the game following last year's 11-inning tie, which drew widespread criticism. As a result, this year's game -- scheduled for Comiskey Park on July 15 -- will feature some rule changes.

Chief among them will be an expansion of the rosters.

"On behalf of the clubs, I am very pleased that we have agreed to this important structural change to the All-Star Game," Selig said. "Baseball, like all institutions, must continually re-evaluate and reassess itself, and make necessary changes to sustain its fan base and attract new ones."

"We are pleased to have been able to reach an agreement on this matter," union executive director Donald Fehr added. "Part of that agreement is a joint commitment to having further discussions about other structural changes in both the All-Star Game and postseason.

"In that respect, it is a platform for change. The sport has always prided itself, and justifiably so, on its sense of tradition. But change that is tailored to the times does not necessarily detract from tradition. It can sustain it."


Derby favorite gallops despite sore foot

LOUISVILLE, Ky., May 2 (UPI) -- Empire Maker, the 6-5 favorite for Saturday's Kentucky Derby, was sent out for a gallop Thursday despite having a tender right front foot.

Trainer Bobby Frankel said the minor problem might even work to Empire Maker's favor -- provided he wins the 129th Run for the Roses.

"If he does win," Frankel said, "people will think he's a wonder horse. 'He overcame that bad foot,' they'll say."

Empire Maker is thought to have suffered the bruised foot while winning the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 12. He won that race by a half length over Funny Cide without being asked for his best run. Earlier, Empire Maker won the Florida Derby for fun -- finishing 9 3/4 lengths over rivals who are no longer running at this level of competition.

The second choice in the morning line odds, Illinois Derby winner Ten Most Wanted, galloped on Thursday and trainer Wally Dollase explained why he chose post position No. 16 for his son of Deputy Commander.

"He's okay in the gate," Dollase said. "But he doesn't like waiting for them to load. He gets a little tight. That's why I took 16. He won't have to wait long out there."

The horses are loaded two at a time for the Derby, starting from the rail and the middle of the field and working outward.


Japanese rookie leads PGA Tour event

NEW ORLEANS, May 2 (UPI) -- Rookie Akio Sadakata of Japan shot an 8-under 64 Thursday that gave him a share of the lead at the HP Classic of New Orleans.

Sadakata, 24, who came to the United States last year to qualify for the PGA Tour, has missed the cut in six of nine starts. His best finish was a tie for 53rd at the BellSouth Classic in early April.

But he tamed the English Turn Golf & Country Club, carding a 7-under 29 on the front after recording an eagle on No. 9. Sadakata could have had sole possession of the lead but suffered a double-bogey at the 16th. That left him tied with Paul Stankowski for the top spot.

It appeared that defending champion K.J. Choi of Korea would steal the spotlight from Sadakata as he got to 9-under through 15 holes. But Choi double-bogeyed the last hole and dropped into an eight-way tie for third at 65.

Also carding a 65 were Jeff Sluman, Stewart Cink, Stephen Ames, Mark Wilson, Davis Love III, Scott Verplank and Brian Gay.


MLS players form union

CHICAGO, May 2 (UPI) -- MLS players agreed Thursday to form a union to represent their interests.

They sent documents to the league for review prior to a meeting between the sides.

The documents seek clarification of several issues, including player salaries and an explanation of the salary cap, which many sources have said borders on the artificial.

Washington lawyer Newman has been retained as union counsel and point man. He said Thursday that the key issues are obvious.

"The minimum salary has not moved, and players have no freedom of mobility," Newman said. "We are looking for some relief in the single-entity structure. We also want to have a set of rules for everyone to operate off of. There is an air of mystery about how MLS operates and we want to clarify things."

Newman said the union also will seek to address the lack of a pension plan for the players and group licensing rights.


Lugo arrested for alleged wife beating

HOUSTON, May 2 (UPI) -- Houston Astros shortstop Julio Lugo was arrested early Thursday after Wednesday night's game against the Atlanta Braves.

Police say he was charged with assaulting his wife in the parking lot of Houston's Minute Maid Park.

At the news conference, Houston General Manager Gerry Hunsicker revealed that Lugo had been designated for assignment. They have 10 days to either release or trade him.

To take Lugo's roster spot, the Astros recalled infielder Dave Matranga from Class AAA New Orleans of the Pacific Coast League. Matranga was batting .209 with no homers and three RBI in 17 games for Zephyrs.

The alleged incident occurred before Wednesday's game.

According to the police report, Lugo is accused by his wife of striking her in the car on the way to the ballpark and slamming her head onto the vehicle in the parking lot.

Mabely Lugo, Lugo's wife, was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital, where she was treated and released.

Lugo faces a misdemeanor charge of family violence-contact.


Ford to turn pro

AUSTIN, Texas, May 2 (UPI) -- After winning the Naismith and Wooden Awards as national player of the year, Texas point guard T.J. Ford will try his hand at the NBA.

Ford announced Thursday he would forego his final two years of college eligibility and enter the June draft.

Ford has not hired an agent and left open the possibility of returning for his junior year. He has until June 19 to withdraw his name from the draft-eligible list.

Considered the best pure point guard in the country, Ford had an injury scare two weeks ago when he spent four hours in an emergency room after falling during a pickup game on campus.

He 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, Ford became the first freshman to lead the nation in assists, averaging 8.27 per game.

Also announcing they would enter the draft were Marquette forward Dwayne Ward and Washington State guard Marcus Moore.


Arenas named most improved player

NEW YORK, May 2 (UPI) -- Golden State Warriors guard Gilbert Arenas was named Thursday as the NBA's Most Improved Player.

Arenas went from a rookie benchwarmer to an explosive scoring point guard in little more than a year.

He received 41 first-place votes and 288 points from a panel of 118 writers and broadcasters who cover the NBA. He is the first Warrior to win any league postseason award since Chris Webber was the top rookie in 1994.

In his second season, the 21-year-old Arenas averaged 18.3 points per game, second on the team behind Antawn Jamison. He helped the Warriors improve 17 games to a 38-44 record in the rugged Western Conference. It was the best one-season turnaround of any team this year.

Arenas was not the only Warrior responsible for the team's improvement. Forward Troy Murphy finished third and forward Antawn Jamison and guard Earl Boykins also received votes.


Seattle loses bowl game

INDIANAPOLIS, May 2 (UPI) -- The NCAA announced the certified bowl games for the 2003-04 season Thursday and nearly half of all Division I-A teams will play in one.

Twenty-seven bowl games were recertified by the NCAA, including the Sugar Bowl, which will host the national championship game on Jan. 4, 2004.

The Seattle Bowl was not recertified as the NCAA football certfication committe cited financial issues and failure to adhere to administrative requirements. At the 2002 Seattle Bowl, which was just the second one, only 38,241 showed up at the 67,000-seat Seahawk Stadium.

The committee certified one new game, the Fort Worth Bowl, which will be played on Dec. 23. The game will feature a team from Conference USA against one from the Big 12 Conference.

A team needs at least six wins over Division I-A opponents to be eligible for a bowl game. There are 117 schools competing in Division I-A football.

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