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Hochul vows to fight lawsuit over vaccine mandate

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Hochul vows to fight lawsuit over vaccine mandate

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York Gov. Kathy Hochul vowed this week to fight a lawsuit launched by a group of Christian health care practitioners who argue that New York’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for many health care workers is unconstitutional because it lacks a religious exemption.

On Tuesday, a federal judge temporarily blocked the state from enforcing any part of its mandate that prohibits religious exemptions for health care workers. The court will hold arguments in the coming weeks. The judge’s order means health care workers must still get vaccinated before September 27—but for now, they can ask for religious exemptions.

Hochul said Wednesday she’s not aware of any major religious group that has prohibited adherents from receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. “Everyone from the Pope on down is encouraging people to get vaccinated,” she said, referring to Pope Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic Church.

The nurses, doctors, and other New York health care workers in the lawsuit say they don’t want to be forced to take any vaccine that employs aborted fetus cell lines in their testing, development, or production. Fetal cell lines were used during the research and development of the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines and during the production of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

New York is now averaging around 5,200 new cases of COVID-19 per day, up from a low of around 300 per day in late June.

Thomas More Society senior counsel Stephen Crampton, who’s representing the anonymous group of nurses, doctors, and other health care workers, said he’s confident the courts will find that people have a right to refuse the vaccine on religious grounds, even if they are part of a religious group that is endorsing the shots.

“My sincere religious convictions may not be 100% the same as the leader of my church or my denomination,” Crampton said. “And the law respects that and it should.”

New York has a long history of requiring health care workers to be immunized against diseases that pose a major public health threat, including measles, mumps, and rubella. Schoolchildren are required to be vaccinated against many diseases, too.

The state doesn’t offer religious exemptions for vaccination requirements for schoolchildren or health care workers and has argued it isn’t obligated to do so for the COVID-19 vaccine, either. Courts have agreed states don’t have to offer a religious exemption for childhood immunization.

Students at colleges and universities, however, can be exempt from New York’s vaccine mandates if they hold “genuine and sincere religious beliefs which are contrary to the practices herein required.” New York also has a religious exemption for a requirement to vaccinate infants born to a mother with Hepatitis B.

The use of human cell lines is commonplace in the manufacture of vaccines including rubella, chickenpox, shingles, and Hepatitis A. For decades, researchers have multiplied cells from a handful of legally aborted fetuses from the 1960s to produce human cell lines that provide cell cultures used to grow vaccines. Those cell lines are also used to make drugs treating rheumatoid arthritis and cystic fibrosis.

Religious leaders have disagreed over the issue: the Vatican issued guidance saying it’s morally acceptable to receive COVID-19 vaccines developed or tested using cell lines originating from aborted fetuses when alternative vaccines aren’t available.

On Sunday, a federal judge in New York City rejected a similar lawsuit lodged by Long Island nurses who argued the lack of a religious exemption violated their constitutional rights.

When asked whether the health care practitioners have received other vaccines, Crampton said the group isn’t “anti-vax” in general. Hochul, a Democrat, said getting vaccinated is the “most beautiful way” for individuals in healing professions to demonstrate their passion and concern for others.

Seven other states besides New York don’t offer a religious exemption for school and childcare immunization requirements, according to the Immunization Action Coalition. Some have removed exemptions in recent years over concern about outbreaks of once-contained diseases; Maine’s sweeping law removed both religious and personal belief exemptions.

The Thomas More Society is a national not-for-profit law firm that describes its mission as “restoring respect in law for life, family and religious liberty.” Last year, the law firm represented two Catholic priests and three Orthodox Jews who successfully overturned then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s attendance limits for houses of worship during the pandemic.

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Bones Hyland erupts in Nuggets’ overtime loss to T-Wolves

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Bones Hyland erupts in Nuggets’ overtime loss to T-Wolves

If there’s a fine line between preseason basketball and regular season basketball, the Nuggets and the Timberwolves blurred it Friday night.

Even though it was the preseason, there was no love lost between Nikola Jokic and Karl-Anthony Towns, who wrangled throughout most of the night. But the story of the night was Bones Hyland, whose offensive eruption was marred by the Nuggets’ 114-112 overtime loss to Minnesota to drop to 0-3 on the preseason.

The rookie sunk what appeared to be a game-winning 3 late in regulation only to, inexplicably, concede a layup to force OT. The end of regulation and overtime was filled with lapses, turnovers and miscues that didn’t sit well with Michael Malone even though the game didn’t matter.

Led by Jokic, Michael Porter Jr. and Hyland, the Nuggets shattered their stated goal of 40 3-point attempts per game, going 21-of-58 from outside. Those three took 26 attempts alone.

Joker vs. KAT: The two All-NBA caliber centers locked horns like it was the conference finals. Jokic toyed with Towns on the interior en route to a near-triple-double, while Towns barked at Joker following his made baskets. Each possession that funneled through either star yielded bangs and bruises for both parties.

Halfway through the second quarter, Malone picked up a technical foul with Towns draped all over Jokic in the post. The tech was about protecting his star.

Towns had eight points in the first half, while Jokic padded his stats, dropping 10 points, six rebounds and five assists on his counterpart in 16 minutes. One of his dimes was a 3/4-length touchdown pass to Aaron Gordon where Jokic caught the T-Wolves sleeping. Another was a smooth slip pass to P.J. Dozier in transition.

Though Towns probably wouldn’t admit it, Jokic got the best of him. Joker finished with 10 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds in 26 minutes of action.

Bones hype: Hyland earned the second-half start alongside Jokic, Porter, Gordon and Dozier while Monte Morris rested.

The buzzing rookie may have won over the entire crowd with the ensuing 12 minutes. Hyland proceeded to hang 18 points in the third quarter, including five 3-pointers. His teammates were hunting for him, and Hyland didn’t hesitate when presented with a window. On the last one, Hyland had the Nuggets’ entire bench standing, with Dozier waving a towel as if to cool him off.

Not only did the run inspire confidence that Hyland might crack Malone’s rotation, it was an intriguing look with him alongside the starters. Hyland finished with 21 points, eight rebounds and four assists before fouling out in overtime.

Before the game, Malone pushed back on the narrative that he’s loath to give rookies a chance. He mentioned Jokic, Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez and Emmanuel Mudiay as examples.

“If you can help this team win, you will play,” Malone said prior to Hyland’s eruption.

Friday night only helped his cause.

Bench woes: And yet part of the reason the game was close was because Denver’s second unit struggled to find any rhythm offensively. In the first half, Denver’s five-man unit of Facu Campazzo, Austin Rivers, Hyland, JaMychal Green and Jeff Green combined for just 2-of-15 from the field. With three turnovers, Rivers was particularly sloppy with the ball.

The Nuggets were sitting on 24 points when Jokic subbed out with 3:28 left in the first quarter. When he returned, at the 7:43 mark of the second quarter, Denver had just 32 points.

Though JaMychal made an impact on the boards, no reserve outside of Hyland finished with more than five points in regulation. The sloppiness was epitomized when Campazzo, leading a fastbreak, threw a bad pass to a trailing Zeke Nnaji that resulted in a turnover. The Nuggets have two more games to go, both at OKC, to sort out their rotations before the regular season arrives.

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State wants leeway on sentencing rules in Daunte Wright case

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Former Brooklyn Center officer seeks dismissal of new charge in Daunte Wright killing

Prosecutors are seeking approval for a more severe penalty than what is outlined in state guidelines if a former suburban Minneapolis police officer is convicted in the shooting death of Daunte Wright.

Former Brooklyn Center Officer Kim Potter is facing charges of first- and second-degree manslaughter in the death of Wright, who was shot while he was trying to drive away from officers during a traffic stop in April. The sentencing guidelines for first-degree manslaughter range from 6 to 81/2 years in prison.

Potter has pleaded not guilty. She is scheduled to stand trial in December.

Kim Potter

The move is similar to one made by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison in the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer convicted in George Floyd’s death. In that case, a judge approved Ellison’s request for an upward departure because Floyd was particularly vulnerable and Chauvin abused his authority as a police officer.

Ellison wrote in a court document filed Wednesday that Potter “caused a greater-than-normal danger to the safety of other people” because she fired into a vehicle with a passenger and two officers were standing close to the vehicle.

Potter is recorded on body-camera video an instant after the shooting saying she mistakenly drew her firearm instead of her stun gun. Potter is white. Wright was Black. His death sparked several nights of protests.

Potter’s attorney, Earl Gray, did not return a phone message left late Friday.

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4A football: Palmer Ridge rallies from three touchdown deficit to beat Ponderosa

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4A football: Palmer Ridge rallies from three touchdown deficit to beat Ponderosa

PARKER — Palmer Ridge football got blanked in the first half and trailed Ponderosa by three touchdowns.

The Bears never flinched in a wild comeback victory, 35-28, on Friday night at Echo Park Stadium. No. 5 Palmer Ridge (6-1) rattled off five touchdowns in the second half with senior Connor Cook running in the go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter.

No. 8 Ponderosa (5-2) opened the night with a pair of touchdown passes from freshman quarterback Andrew Heidel to senior wide receiver Alex Tongren. Its defense was also suffocating.

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U.S. appeals court lets Texas resume ban on most abortions

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U.S. appeals court lets Texas resume ban on most abortions

AUSTIN, Texas — A federal appeals court Friday night quickly allowed Texas to resume banning most abortions, just one day after clinics began racing to serve patients again for the first time since early September.

A one-page order by the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals reinstated the nation’s strictest abortion law, which bans abortions once cardiac activity is detected, usually around six weeks. It makes no exceptions in cases of rape or incest.

“Patients are being thrown back into a state of chaos and fear,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents several Texas clinics that had briefly resumed normal abortion services.

She called on the U.S. Supreme Court to “step in and stop this madness.”

Clinics had braced for the New Orleans-based appeals court to act fast after U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman, an appointee of President Barack Obama, on Wednesday suspended the Texas law that he called an “offensive deprivation” of the constitutional right to an abortion. Knowing that order might not stand long, a handful of Texas clinics immediately started performing abortions again beyond six weeks, and booked new appointments for this weekend.

But barely 48 hours passed before the appeals court set accepted Texas’ request to set aside Pitman’s ruling — at least for now — pending further arguments. It gave the Biden administration, which had brought the lawsuit, until Tuesday to respond.

“Great news tonight,” Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton tweeted. “I will fight federal overreach at every turn.”

Texas had roughly two dozen abortion clinics before the law took effect Sept. 1. During the brief period the law was on hold, many Texas physicians remained unwilling to perform abortions, fearful that doing so could still leave them in legal jeopardy.

The new law threatens Texas abortion providers with lawsuits from private citizens, who are entitled to collect at least $10,000 in damages if successful. That novel approach to enforcement is the reason why Texas had been able to evade an earlier wave of legal challenges prior to this week.

The 5th circuit appeals court had already once allowed the law to take effect in September, and stepped in this time only hours after Paxton’s office urged them to act.

His office told the court that since the state does not enforce the law, it cannot “be held responsible for the filings of private citizens that Texas is powerless to prevent.”

It is unclear how many abortions Texas clinics performed in the short time the law was put on hold. On Thursday, at least six abortions providers had resumed normal services or were gearing up to do so, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Prior to Pitman’s blistering 113-page order, other courts had declined to stop the law, which bans abortions before some women even know they are pregnant. That includes the Supreme Court, which allowed it to move forward in September without ruling on its constitutionality.

One of the first providers to resume normal services this week was Whole Woman’s Health, which operates four clinics in Texas.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, president of Whole Woman’s Health, said her clinics called in some patients early Thursday who were on a list in case the law was blocked at some point. Other appointments were in the process of being scheduled for the days ahead, and phone lines were again busy. But some of the clinics’ 17 physicians were still declining to perform abortions because of the legal risk.

Pitman’s order had amounted to the first legal blow to the law known as Senate Bill 8. In the weeks since the restrictions took effect, Texas abortion providers said the impact had been “exactly what we feared.”

Planned Parenthood says the number of patients from Texas at its clinics in the state decreased by nearly 80% in the two weeks after the law took effect. Some providers have said Texas clinics are now in danger of closing while neighboring states struggle to keep up with a surge of patients who must drive hundreds of miles for an abortion.

Other women, they say, are being forced to carry pregnancies to term.

How many abortions have been performed in Texas since the law took effect is unknown. State health officials say additional reporting requirements under the law will not make September data available on its website until early next year.

A 1992 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court prevented states from banning abortion before viability, the point at which a fetus can survive outside the womb, around 24 weeks of pregnancy. But Texas’ version has so far outmaneuvered the courts because it leaves enforcement to private citizens to file suits, not prosecutors, which critics say amounts to a bounty.

“This is an answered prayer,” said Kimberlyn Schwartz, spokeswoman for Texas Right to Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion group.

___

Associated Press Writer Jamie Stengle contributed from Dallas.

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For Twins, collective bargaining agreement negotiations cast uncertainty over offseason

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For Twins, collective bargaining agreement negotiations cast uncertainty over offseason

When Taylor Rogers took over as the Twins’ Major League Baseball Players Association representative before last season, the Twins’ reliever could have had no way to guess how much the job would entail over the next two years.

“I think I’m done. I’m done after this,” Rogers said with a laugh. “After this CBA’s done, I’m done.”

Last year, Rogers was thrown straight into duty as the team’s rep when the league and MLBPA engaged in discussions over the length of the COVID-shortened season and health and safety protocols. Ultimately, after the two sides could not come to an agreement, Commissioner Rob Manfred imposed a 60-game season.

This year, an even more difficult task lies ahead: The sport’s collective bargaining agreement expires on Dec. 1 and the league and players association must come to an agreement on a new CBA to govern the sport.

And as a result, the baseball world faces plenty of uncertainty this offseason.

“I think it’ll be pretty dark until the World Series ends, I’m assuming,” Rogers said late last month. “It’s been dark for almost a month or so, so I really don’t know, and this is my first CBA as a rep, so who knows what it could bring?”

ISSUES AT HAND

Major League Baseball has not had a work stoppage since the 1994 season when a player strike began in August with owners insisting on a salary cap and didn’t end until the next April, wiping out the entire postseason.

While the two sides have reached agreements since then — most recently in 2016 — this one isn’t expected to come as smoothly, as the relationship between the two sides has become increasingly strained over the years.

“Our No. 1 priority is to get a new agreement without a work stoppage,” Manfred said in July while meeting with members of the Baseball Writers Association of America ahead of the All-Star Game. “It’s that simple.”

But actually coming to agreement won’t be that simple.

“I don’t think it’s going to be done at the deadline by any means, but I think for everyone’s sake that it gets done quicker than ending in March or something like that,” Twins reliever Tyler Duffey said. “I just hope everyone realizes that we’ve got a good thing going and it’s good for all of us ultimately to get it done.”

Player compensation will, of course, be at the heart of the conversations — per a report from The Athletic in August, MLB’s first proposal included a salary floor, which does not currently exist, and a lower luxury-tax tier, which is sure to be unpopular with the MLBPA.

Service time, which players contend is in some cases being manipulated to gain another year of team control and keep a player’s salary down, will be an important topic, as will the arbitration system. Other issues like the universal designated hitter and expanded playoffs are expected to be touched on, too.

“I think to me, the number of years it takes to (get to) free agency is probably a big number. … It takes a lot of time for guys to make it to free agency,” veteran third baseman Josh Donaldson said when asked about the important issues to him. “ … Or if it’s not that, maybe it’s trying to get to arbitration earlier. Maybe if it’s once you get to two years versus being the super-two versus going to three to four seasons to make it to your first year of arbitration, which is difficult now. I think there’s a few things that are really big issues we’re discussing.”

Rogers, the Twins’ union rep, said he had spoken often with Donaldson throughout the process, as well as catcher Mitch Garver, who is the Twins’ assistant player rep.

Garver, who like Rogers and Duffey are among the Twins who are arbitration-eligible this offseason, would like to see changes to that process.

“From a personal level, we don’t really know how arbitration is going to work, if they’re going to come up with a formula or if they’re going to keep it as is,” Garver said last month. “It’s a broken system. We know that. It’s kind of hard to tell. Everything’s kind of up in the air right now. We don’t even know if we’re going to start on time.”

While there are plenty of items up for discussion, Duffey said he was hopeful that after the two sides talked through some issues last year, like the universal designated hitter and the expanded playoffs — both of which were implemented for the COVID-shortened season but not in 2021 —  that it might be easier work through the list of items this year as a result.

“I think for our side, it’s like, look, everybody just wants to be on the same page and play a game that we all love, and you assume the owners love the game, too, and want to put their best product out there,” Duffey said. “I think at the end of the day, that’s all anyone wants is everybody who should be getting an opportunity to get an opportunity and get rewarded for that.”

PLAN AS NORMAL

Derek Falvey isn’t sure what to expect. He’s hardly alone — no one does — but it does make his task of team building infinitely more difficult.

With no control in the situation, the Twins’ president of baseball operations is planning on approaching the offseason the same way he normally would, and then reacting as necessary.

That means lining up the players who are available in free agency, lining up the ones who could be potential trade targets and doing the necessary groundwork the front office would put in in a normal offseason.

While movement in the offseason has been slow in recent years, it’s possible that it’s even slower this year as free agents wait for the CBA process to conclude before signing a deal.

“Hopefully in some cases if we feel players are a priority and we get some conversations going with them, maybe there is a path there,” Falvey said last month. “But I can also see a path where it may be a little slower than normal just because uncertainty tends to breed a little bit of ‘why don’t we wait and see what happens’ a bit. That’s my gut reaction but I don’t have any reason to believe one way or the other right now.”

Before the Twins parted ways for the season, manager Rocco Baldelli said they had to prepare for all possibilities, especially if there winds up being a situation where communication between teams and players halts.

That means having everything mapped out beforehand so players are confident in what they need to do to prepare for the season, regardless of what happens with the CBA, regardless of when it may start.

After a 2020 season like no other, the sport may be heading into a 2021 offseason like few others.

“It’s really hard to know what’s coming,” Baldelli said. “We have to prepare for the scenario of no work stoppage and we make sure everyone is fully prepared and ready to go for spring training. We have to prepare for, I don’t know if there are different versions of a work stoppage, but we have to prepare for those. And the one thing we have to do is just be prepared that if there is one, that our players are fully prepared for their offseasons and have their plans set.”

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Ramsey County sheriff’s office releases dash cam video of chase that ended in deadly Maplewood crash

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Ramsey County sheriff’s office releases dash cam video of chase that ended in deadly Maplewood crash

Ramsey County authorities on Friday released dash cam footage from a deputy’s squad car of a chase Sept. 3 that ended with the stolen vehicle crashing, killing two teen boys.

The video lasts four minutes and 47 seconds and starts with the deputy driving east on Larpenteur Avenue in Maplewood after North St. Paul police reported seeing the stolen light blue car, but had lost sight of it.

This was the third time the North St. Paul police had seen the car, pursued and either cut off pursuit because of traffic, or lost sight of the car.

The video picks up about 20 minutes after North St. Paul police reported the car’s location. The Ramsey County deputy cuts north on Van Dyke Street and turns right on North St. Paul Road. It’s about 3:40 p.m., overcast with a light rain falling.

About 30 seconds into the video, the deputy spots the car and activates his lights. At 40 seconds, he turns on the sirens and begins narrating the directions.

The car, driven by a 15-year-old, takes off with the deputy following behind. They travel south on Holloway Avenue, then south on Beebe Road.

The teen attempts to lose the deputy in the parking lot of Mounds Park Academy, speeding through parked cars to the other side and then turning west on Larpenteur.

The car picks up speed — police estimate speeds reach at least 90 mph — passing cars on the two-lane road, running through stop signs and an intersection.

The deputy asks if any other officer is near to get in front of the car and put out stop sticks to puncture the tires and end the chase. No one is immediately available.

About three minutes into the video, the deputy says he is going to back off. He slows down and momentarily loses sight of the car.

About 19 seconds later, he passes the car which has crashed into a residential yard near the intersection of Larpenteur Avenue and Chamber Street.

The deputy reports the crash, exits the vehicle and can be heard yelling, “Get on the ground” several times. He reported that three people were running south.

Two passengers — Alyjah Thomas, 15, of Oakdale, and Marcoz Paramo, 14, of Maplewood — died in the crash.

Two of the three that ran away were stopped, but the third got away only to be taken into custody later that night. The Ramsey County attorney’s office has charged that teen, who has a record of auto theft, with two counts of criminal vehicular homicide. He also faces a charge of fleeing a peace officer and three counts of criminal vehicular operation.

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26-year-old man accused of first-degree murder in Denver homicide

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Two suspects arrested for shooting death of Denver man in Adams County

One man is dead, and another is accused of murder, Denver police said Friday.

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For Karl-Anthony Towns to join contemporaries among NBA’s elite, Timberwolves need to win

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For Karl-Anthony Towns to join contemporaries among NBA’s elite, Timberwolves need to win

It was refreshing and a bit surprising to hear out of Karl-Anthony Towns’ mouth.

After after a practice this week, reporters lobbed questions toward the 7-foot center about the Timberwolves’ intention to play with greater effort and purpose on defense — a popular annual preseason storyline in Minnesota — something the team put on display in its first preseason game.

“Obviously it sounds great right now,” Towns said. “But how many years have you guys been hearing the same hoopla? It’s up to us to go out there and prove it.”

Less talk, more action. It’s an approach Minnesota has needed for years, Towns included. He seems to enter his seventh NBA season realizing just that. That was, perhaps, most palpable in an answer he gave about Anthony Edwards and how the standout can grow between his rookie and sophomore seasons.

“You come in and try to show the whole bag and all your tricks and everything when you really don’t need to. It’s about getting a result,” Towns said. “It’s not about performing, it’s about competing. There is a difference.”

Towns has been performing for years in Minnesota, averaging well over 20 points and 10 rebounds a game in each of the past five seasons. Towns has twice been an all-star, and was an All-NBA player at the ripe age of 22.

But as far as competing, at least from a team perspective? Not really. In the one statistic that matters most in this league — wins — Towns and the Timberwolves repeatedly have come up woefully short. That has reflected negatively on the 25-year-old — who will turn 26 in November — in the public eye.

Towns was once considered by NBA general managers to be the player they would most like to build a franchise around. In this season’s preseason GM poll, he did not receive one vote in the category of the NBA’s best center.

He has been passed by his contemporaries in the eyes of everyone. A few years ago, many would have taken Towns over Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid. But last season, Jokic and Embiid finished first and second in MVP voting. Reigning NBA Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo is just 11 months older than Towns.

Think of the past two NBA Finals series Towns witnessed. He was drafted No. 1 overall in the 2015 NBA Draft. His good friend, Devin Booker — who is 11 months younger and was selected 12 picks after him in that draft — led Phoenix to the Finals. The year before that, it was Towns’ nemesis, former teammate Jimmy Butler, starring in Miami’s surge to an Eastern Conference championship.

“I went into this offseason mad as hell seeing my contemporaries in playoff positions with me home,” Towns said. “It didn’t make the vacations any better.”

Certainly, there are legitimate reasons for Towns either regressing or, at the very least, plateauing over the past couple of seasons. Off the court, he has experienced unfathomable personal tragedies that have rocked his world. On the court, he has battled injuries and even experienced his own bout with COVID-19.

“He’s just got to get back to where he was two years ago and keep building on that platform,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said. “All-NBA player, picked by most general managers to be the guy they’d start a franchise with. The talent isn’t going anywhere. It’s been circumstantial. It’s been injury. Team performance. These things have probably weighed him down.”

But now it looks like Towns is ready to lift himself back up into that elite tier. He used the success of others to motivate himself this offseason, specifically in the weight room. Towns has always dedicated himself to lifting, but he took a different approach this offseason, which included workout plans from Hall of Fame big man Ben Wallace. Instead of aiming for flexibility and quickness, he aimed to be bigger and stronger. It’s part of Towns’ plan to be in the best possible position to succeed as he enters his prime. He entered training camp at a chiseled 240 pounds.

“I joked around the whole offseason I wanted to be a GI Joe. My workouts consisted of lifting the heaviest dumbbell in the whole gym every single time,” Towns said. “I think I accomplished that very well, and I feel very strong. Not only am I stronger but confidently stronger. That’s a different thing. Not only am I physically feeling it but mentally I feel it, as well.”

Finch has commended Towns specifically for his improved core strength. At the team’s pre-camp workouts in Miami, the coach noted a few instances when Towns would absorb a blow while defending the rim and maintain his verticality, an area in which he struggled in years past.

“I got to do a better job of making sure I’m not causing unnecessary fouls. I’m being smart while being effective at the rim, but also the second part I’ve got to hold all of us accountable,” Towns said. “We can’t also put me in a position where I have to defend that because you got blown by. There was penetration into the point and they’re touching the paint too easily. That’s when I got to get held accountable, so everything falls on me at the end of the day. Now I got to make sure everyone is in the right spot.”

The Timberwolves plan to defend the pick and roll in a way where Towns will now play more at the level of the screener, versus falling all the way back toward the rim. That should better fit the big man’s skills. But Towns still will need to be more effective on that end of the floor if the Wolves are to improve.

“If we have the type of year we were wanting to have, he’d obviously be a center point for that,” Finch said.

Offensively and defensively. Towns needs to be complete if Minnesota is to win big. Now can he do it? Finch has said he believes Towns is a “top-five” talent. On a recent edition of his Lowe Post podcast, ESPN’s Zach Lowe said, at some point, Towns should be a top-10 player. But he currently wouldn’t be listed in the top 15, or maybe even 20.

“I think he’s the most skilled scoring big man, probably in NBA history,” Lowe said on his podcast. “Minnesota has a play-in or bust kind of mandate this year. I don’t want to be talking about Karl-Anthony Towns in three years like, ‘Boy, it’s Kevin Love 2.0.’ … I want to see, in full bloom, in his prime, a monster.”

That seems to be Towns’ plan.

“This is a big season for me. I’ve just got to go out there and get it done. I’m prepared to give everything I have. I plan to do that. I’m more than prepared,” Towns said. “And to top it off, I’ve said it before, I said it in an article: I’m ready. I’m mentally ready for this season. So it’s much different than how I felt coming in last year. So you start from Ground Zero last year, at least I can have two steps up. Everything is going to be better. I’m grateful for the opportunity, grateful for where my mind is at right now, and I’m very happy to get the season started.”

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NFL’s lowest-ranked cornerback, Vikings’ Bashaud Breeland looks to overcome ‘rough start’

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NFL’s lowest-ranked cornerback, Vikings’ Bashaud Breeland looks to overcome ‘rough start’

Cornerback Bashaud Breeland has gone from a Super Bowl starter to a major disappointment.

When the Vikings signed him to a one-year, $3 million contract in June, they had high hopes for Breeland, who was starter in each of the past two Super Bowls for Kansas City. Breeland then beat out Cameron Dantzler, who started 10 of the 11 games he played for the Vikings last season as a rookie.

In Minnesota’s first four games, though, it hasn’t gone well.

“It’s a rough start,” Breeland admitted Friday. “New team, new scheme, trying to get fundamental with the team and the play-calling. It’s been a rough start, but I mean we’ve got a lot of football left to play.”

How bad has it been for Breeland? Pro Football Focus ranks him dead last out of 103 NFL cornerbacks

“It doesn’t bother me,” Breeland said of the rating. “It just keeps me going. I’m just getting ready to play the next game. I’m a DB. One-track mind, baby.”

The next game is Sunday against Detroit at U.S. Bank Stadium, and indications are Breeland will be in the Vikings’ starting lineup for the fifth straight time. There has been speculation in recent weeks that Dantzler could replace him, but he’s on the COVID-19 reserve list and did not practice all week.

After Dantzler was placed on the list Monday, he tweeted that he was fully vaccinated and would return soon, though Vikings coach Mike Zimmer wouldn’t confirm that on Wednesday.

The Vikings could be down two cornerbacks against the Lions since Harrison Hand also is on the COVID-19 list. Co-defensive coordinator Adam Zimmer said Thursday the Vikings could elevate Parry Nickerson or Tye Smith off the practice squad for cornerback depth. Nickerson has had his allowed two elevations for the season but could be a COVID-19 replacement.

The Vikings are expected to get cornerback Kris Boyd back after he sat out last Sunday’s 14-7 loss to Cleveland with a hamstring injury. But there’s been no indication he could replace Breeland, 29, who has received support from Zimmer.

“I don’t think he’s lost a step,” Zimmer said Friday. “I think he’s had some technique flaws in the red zone, but he seemed to correct them pretty well this week (in practice). I like him. He’s got good acceleration. He’s tough. So, we’ll see how it goes.”

Against the Browns, Breeland left the game after six snaps and was replaced by Dantzler, who played the final 72 defensive plays and looked good. The Vikings announced during the game that Breeland’s departure was due to an illness.

Breeland said Friday he had an upset stomach but that he could have returned to the game if needed.

“I was good enough to go if they needed me to go,” he said. “We just felt like Dantzler could get the job done, so we just kept on rolling.”

Breeland’s last play against Cleveland was a 21-yard catch by Rashard Higgins after there looked to be confusion in the secondary. Breeland shrugged off a question about whether that gain on third-and-10 played a role in his departure from the game.

Breeland is in his eighth NFL season, and has had his share of good moments. Entering this year, he started 88 of the 94 games he played with Washington, Green Bay and Kansas City. He had seven tackles, including two for loss, and an interception in the Chiefs’ 31-20 victory over San Francisco in Super Bowl LIV in February 2020 and he had four tackles in their 31-9 loss to Tampa Bay in Super Bowl LV last February.

The Chiefs elected to not re-sign Breeland when he became a free agent in March. And when Minnesota played at Kansas City in the preseason finale, Breeland was beaten by Tyreek Hill for a 35-yard touchdown pass.

The regular season hasn’t been any better. In the Sept. 12 opener at Cincinnati, Breeland was called for a 26-yard pass interference penalty that led to a touchdown, and he was beaten on a 50-yard touchdown catch by Ja’Marr Chase. He has been the lowest-ranked NFL cornerback by Pro Football Focus since that game.

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Picked to finish last in Big Ten, Gophers men’s basketball team has ‘chip on our shoulder’

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Picked to finish last in Big Ten, Gophers men’s basketball team has ‘chip on our shoulder’

Big Ten Network host Dave Revsine asked Friday how the Gophers men’s basketball team will be defined under new head coach Ben Johnson.

“I think a lot of things,” Johnson responded from Big Ten Media Days inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. “I think obviously we are all defined by winning.”

Victories are expected to be hard to come by for Johnson’s first team at Minnesota. The U is picked to finish last in the 14-team Big Ten this season, according the annual poll conducted by The Athletic and Columbus Dispatch. Twenty-eight beat reporters across the conference picked the Gophers to finish no higher than 12th.

The Gophers received  34 total votes, while Northwestern and Penn State were tied for 12th with 81. Michigan and Purdue both received 373 total votes, with the Wolverines receiving one more first-place tally.

Continuing his answer about defining traits to Revsine, Johnson laid out more: a focus on individual and team development, toughness and togetherness.

“We’ve got to be the team of all teams,” Johnson said. “That these guys are laying the foundation to, that we will be able to use as a launching pad to really take off.”

On BTN, Johnson didn’t outright address the Gophers’ projected standing in the pecking order, although he did allude to it.

“We all kind of have that chip on our shoulder, and I know we all want to do the thing that I’m sure a lot of people don’t think we can do,” Johnson said. “And that’s OK.”

The Gophers have 11 incoming transfers among its 15 players, with just one healthy scholarship player returning from last season, center Eric Curry, who has overcome multiple injuries throughout his career at the U.

Curry and guard Payton Willis, who has transferred back for his second stint at Minnesota, are the only two players who have taken the court together.

“You are really building that chemistry piece from the bottom up,” Johnson said. “What we really try to do in the recruiting process and with the (transfer) portal is if you are going to take this many transfers and new pieces, they better be like-minded. They better be like-minded on the court and off the court. If they don’t have similar values and they are not like-minded, that is when ego can come into play, that is when agendas can come into play.”

Johnson was hired in May and saw almost their entire 2020-21 roster leave before bringing guys in for his inaugural roster.

“This team has come together from a chemistry standpoint way quicker than I would have ever guessed,” Johnson said. “It started before guys even got to campus with a text chain that they got on their own. So when they got here, I think they felt like they already kind of knew each other.”

Willis said the team’s strengths are “our IQ and our unselfishness that we have and our experience, We have a handful of guys that have had success at the mid-major level, and they have chips on their shoulders that they want to prove that they can do it here, too.”

BIG TEN PRESEASON POLL

1. Michigan — 373 (13)
2. Purdue — 373 (12)
3. Illinois — 320 (3)
4. Ohio State — 316
5. Maryland — 269
6. Michigan State — 262
7. Indiana — 219
8. Rutgers — 208
9. Iowa — 150
10. Wisconsin — 149
11. Nebraska — 105
12. Northwestern — 81
12. Penn State — 81
14. Gophers — 34

Source: The Athletic and Columbus Dispatch
Note: Total points (first-place votes)

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