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Nets face heavy road stretch which means more Kyrie Irving

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The Nets aren’t the only NBA team to post a decidedly better record on the road this season than they have at home, although their dilemma concerning Kyrie Irving’s part-time availability makes their situation unique.

After facing the Pelicans on Saturday at Barclays Center, the Nets will play nine of their next 11 games away from Brooklyn — split into segments of four and five games sandwiched around two home contests on back-to-back nights Jan. 25-26 against the Lakers and Nuggets.

The unvaccinated Irving was out of the lineup due to local COVID-19 mandates and Kevin Durant got a workload night of rest Thursday, when the Nets suffered a blowout loss to the Thunder and fell to 11-11 at Barclays Center this season, as compared to 15-4 on the road.

“It’s strange with the home stuff,” coach Steve Nash admitted after the game. “Not only for us, I couldn’t answer [why], but I know we’re not the only team.

Kyrie Irving, driving to the basket during a recent game against the Bulls, will be playing more games recently as the Nets prepare for a heavy road stretch.
Kyrie Irving, driving to the basket during a recent game against the Bulls, will be playing more games as the Nets prepare for a heavy road stretch.
Getty Images

“I think it’s going around the league a little bit where teams — good teams, in particular — are having less impressive records at home than on the road. I don’t really know why that is.”

Indeed, the Nets aren’t the only top-tier team with an odd home-road split this season. For instance, the 76ers entered their home game Friday against the Celtics 8-9 at Wells Fargo Center and 15-8 outside of Philadelphia.

The Nets’ upcoming nine away games will give Irving a chance to gain more familiarity with his fellow Big 3 stars, Durant and James Harden. He also will be able to acclimate himself to the rest of a roster, which has suffered six losses over its last nine games while recuperating from a nearly team-wide COVID-19 shutdown to land at the 41-game midpoint of the season with a 26-15 mark.

“As far as the halfway point, obviously we’ve had a tough stretch lately. When we came back and had everyone come back from COVID I would have said we were having a great season,” Nash said. “People thought we’d be a bottom-five or 10 team defensively going into the year. For the most part of this year we’ve been top-10.

Kyrie Irving goes up for a layup during the Nets' win over the Bulls.
Kyrie Irving goes up for a layup during the Nets’ win over the Bulls.
AP

“We’ve found a way to win a lot of games with 10 new guys and no Kyrie and having Kyrie back and then going back we’ve had a little bit of struggle with just trying to patch this thing together and start again. Otherwise, tons to build on and sometimes when you go through these difficult periods you learn more about yourselves.”

Harden noted Thursday night that a daunting schedule this week of four games in five days — including a makeup of a previous COVID postponement at Portland — has left him and his teammates “tired and exhausted.”

“Man, it’s just been crazy because of the COVID,” Harden said. “[Thursday] was definitely a little frustrating because we wanted to win. We played so well [Wednesday against the Bulls], so we wanted to have some kind of carryover. But it just didn’t happen.”

Nash said he believes the team’s struggles will pay dividends in a second half, which will feature the further reintegration of Irving, perhaps even in home games, eventually.

“You’re able to address things more head on, take a deeper look in the mirror and fix some of the problems,” Nash said. “I kind of enjoy some of these tougher stretches because I think it shows a team how to climb out, how to find resilience and how to find solutions.

“Overall we’ve had a good year and we’ve just got to try to find our stride and consistency again now that we’ve gone through that COVID interruption.”

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Texas synagogue terrorist Malik Akram’s last call: Of course he hated the Jews

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The newspaper I edit, London’s Jewish Chronicle, published a global scoop this week: a recording of a British terrorist’s final telephone call to his brother as he held four Jews hostage in a Colleyville, Texas, synagogue.

The contents of the conversation were pretty much as you’d expect — unless you’re a political, media or law-enforcement elite unwilling to admit the obvious.

Toward the end of the 11-hour standoff Saturday at Congregation Beth Israel, Malik Faisal Akram, the 44-year-old homegrown terrorist from northern England, ranted to his younger brother about issues close to any jihadist’s heart.

American imperialism in Muslim lands? Check. The plight of an Islamist prisoner? Check. An optimistic look forward to martyrdom? Check.

“I’m opening the doors for every youngster in England to enter America and f–k with them!” Malik told Gulbar, 33, who was on the line in a Blackburn, England, police station, urging him to surrender after his brother, armed with a pistol, took a rabbi and three congregants hostage.

“Live your f–king life, bro, you f–king coward! We’re coming to f–k America! F–k them if they want to f–k with us! We’ll give them f–king war!” Malik roared during the 11-and-a-half-minute recording, which the Chronicle obtained from a security source.

His family — and the FBI, which was listening in — soon realized that persuasion was pointless. “I’d rather live one day as a lion than 100 years as a jackal,” Malik declared. “I’ve asked Allah for this death. Allah is with me, I’m not worried in the slightest.”

“I’m going to go toe-to-toe with [police] and they can shoot me dead,” he told his brother. “I’m coming home in a body bag.”

The Brit told authorities he would free the hostages in exchange for the freedom of Pakistani terrorist Aafia Siddiqui, who’s serving an 86-year sentence in nearby Fort Worth after attempting to murder US service members in Afghanistan, and he confirmed that to his brother, claiming that “they f—ing framed her.”

But that wasn’t the only thing that led him to choose to take his hostages at a synagogue on the Sabbath, of course.

“Why do these f–king mother–kers come to our countries, rape our women and f–k our kids? I’m setting a precedent,” he yelled on the call. “Maybe they’ll have compassion for f–king Jews,” he shouted.

Naturally, he raged against the Jews. Indeed, the service was being livestreamed, and before the feed was cut, anyone could hear him rave, “But Americans don’t give a f–k about life unless it’s a f–king Jew!”

That matched other evidence our journalists had uncovered, notably that someone who heard Akram saying he wanted to bomb Jews reported him to the police a year ago. The police didn’t deem it necessary to act.

The entire incident was an obvious example of the grossest anti-Semitism. President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson called it such. But others were far more reluctant: Even “CBS Mornings,” which aired that livestreamed line, refused to call him Akram what he was: an Islamist terrorist.

But you didn’t need to hear that disgusting statement to know what motivated Akram. Never mind that he targeted a synagogue on the Sabbath. The woman he sought to free is an infamous anti-Semite. She actually demanded during her trial that possible jurors undergo DNA testing so that no one with a drop of Jewish blood stood in judgment of her. “If they have a Zionist or Israeli background . . . they are all mad at me,” she explained. “They should be excluded if you want to be fair.”

Incredibly — but not surprisingly — some Democrats were quick to cite “white supremacism” as a possible motive for a synagogue hostage-taking in the name of a woman dubbed Lady al Qaeda.

“My biggest concern, hearing that it’s at a synagogue, is that this is someone who’s intent on committing hate crimes and an act of domestic terrorism,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said on MSNBC. “Now, we don’t know that for certain, but we have seen an incredible rise in rhetoric that is anti-Semitic being trafficked all around the country,” she claimed, adding that we’re seeing “an exponential rise in the formation and the membership of these extremist organizations, many of which are white supremacy organizations.”

Even reporting on our recording, the BBC decided that it principally showed “the efforts made by Akram’s family to get him to surrender — as well as Akram’s deteriorating mental state and the increasing tension inside the synagogue.” The jihadist ideology? The Jew-hatred? Not so much.

But then, Matthew DeSarno, the FBI Dallas office’s special agent in charge, who had to know what the gunman was saying, described the terrorist to the press as “singularly focused on one issue, and it was not specifically related to the Jewish community.”

In this post-truth age, somebody needs to make the case for sanity. Proper reporting goes a long way to providing ammunition when people refuse to recognize the obvious.

Jake Wallis Simons is editor of the Jewish Chronicle.

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NCAA’s new constitution will give school and conferences more power

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INDIANAPOLIS — NCAA member schools voted to ratify a new, streamlined constitution Thursday, paving the way for a decentralized approach to governing college sports that will hand more power to schools and conferences.

The vote was overwhelmingly in favor, 801-195, and was the main order of business at the NCAA’s annual convention.

NCAA President Mark Emmert said in his state of college sports address — delivered via video conference to a convention ballroom because he is currently in COVID-19 protocols — the new constitution was more of a “declaration of independence.”

Now each of the association’s three divisions will be empowered to govern itself.

The new constitution is 18¹/₂ pages, down from 43, and mostly lays out guiding principles and core values for the NCAA, the largest governing body for college sports in the United States with more than 1,200 member schools and some 460,000 athletes.

The move is just part of a sea change for the NCAA and the first major shift in its governance model since 1996. It comes with the hope that it will reduce college sports’ exposure to legal challenges after a resounding rebuke from the Supreme Court last spring.

NCAA President Mark Emmert answers questions at a news conference
NCAA president Mark Emmert
AP Photo

For Divisions II and III, where athletics is treated more like other on-campus extracurricular activities, little will change. Still, most of the dissenting voices during the NCAA’s open forum that preceded the full membership vote came from those ranks.

“Why are we still trying to stick together?” asked Betsy Mitchell, athletic director at Cal Tech.

In Division I, the goal is a potentially massive overhaul that figures to be more challenging and contentious.

“Most of our challenges are D-I challenges and we needed to unlock the ability of D-I to be able to address those concerns,” DeGioia said.

Athlete compensation and benefits figure to be key topics. Notably, the new constitution states: “Student-athletes may not be compensated by a member institution for participating in a sport, but may receive educational and other benefits in accordance with guidelines established by their NCAA division.”

Co-chaired by Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey and Ohio University athletic director Julie Cromer, the Division I Transformation Committee begins its work in earnest next week. The 21-person panel, comprised mostly of athletic administrators and university presidents, does not have representation from all 32 Division I conferences.

The committee has been charged with a monumental task. Division I has 350 schools, with a wide range of athletic missions and goals. Schools like Texas A&M and Texas have budgets of more than $200 million but D-I also has small, private schools that spend less than $10 million a year on sports.

What tethers those schools is competition, such as the March Madness basketball tournaments.

The questions before the transformation committee range include the requirements for Division I membership; who has a say in making rules across the division; what schools and conferences get automatic access to championship events; how revenue is shared; and what limits, if any, should be placed on financial benefits to athletes?

“A model that treats student-athletes as employees is not one we want,” Patriot League Commissioner Jen Heppel said.

But in a new era in which athletes can be paid several thousand dollars by their schools just for staying academically eligible and they can be compensated by third-parties for use of their names, images and likenesses, what crosses the line?

The wealthiest and most powerful football-playing conference, such as the SEC and the Big Ten, do not want to be held back from spending their riches on athletes. Much of the rest of Division I worries about how to keep up.

“The big-picture questions, frankly, are focused on what does Division I want to be, how does it define itself? What holds it together? What differentiates different members of that division?” Emmert told the AP.

 March Madness 2020 tournament basketballs are displayed in a storeroom at the CHI Health Center Arena, in Omaha, Neb.
NCAA’s March Madness is what ties several schools and their goals together.
AP Photo

The so-called Power Five conferences, whose 65 schools tend to dominate Division I competition, include the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Atlantic Coast Conference.

The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics has recommended moving major college football from under the NCAA’s umbrella altogether and creating a separate organization to manage the 10 conferences and 130 schools competing in Division I’s Bowl Subdivision.

The NCAA has no jurisdiction over the College Football Playoff and the hundreds of millions in revenue it generates for FBS schools and conferences.

South Dakota State athletic director Justin Sell, whose school competes in the Summit League for most sports and the Missouri Valley for Championship Subdivision football, said he believes the Power Five can have the leeway they desire while maintaining Division I’s big tent approach.

But first the Power Five must come to an agreement and how they want to operate.

“Then we can weigh how that might end up interacting with a group of schools that certainly has a different funding mechanism,” Sell said.

The transformation committee is scheduled to meet weekly, both in person and online, over the next six months. Emmert has said he hope reforms can be in implemented as soon as August.

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Rangers seek statement win over Hurricanes, tighter grip on division lead

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The Rangers venture to Carolina on Friday with so much more than just first place in the Metropolitan Division on the line.

A win would not only maintain the Blueshirts’ solo position atop the division, but it would reverberate around the NHL and silence anybody who has written off their success on Broadway this season. To say it would be a statement victory would be an understatement.

For a team that has strived all season to prove — to itself and the rest of the league — that it can hang with legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, the Rangers have the opportunity to do just that when they take the ice at PNC Arena on Friday. The Hurricanes qualified for the playoffs each of the last three seasons, getting as far as the conference finals in 2018-19, and have established themselves as one of the fastest and hardest forechecking clubs in the NHL.

Asked how much he’s thinking about the standings heading into the game, Rangers coach Gerard Gallant didn’t mince words.

Jacob Trouba #8 of the New York Rangers skates against the Chicago Blackhawks at Madison Square Garden on December 4, 2021 in New York City.
Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba and his NHL brethren will be spending much of the time the league had set aside for the Olympics making up games postponed due to COVID.
NHLI via Getty Images
NHLI via Getty Images

“Not at all, to be totally honest with you,” he said Thursday after practice at MSG Training Center. “Obviously, we know the standings are real close in the top of our division. But it’s just another game, big two points and playing against a real good team. I mean, arguably the best team in the league right now. So we’ve got to play our best, we got to be ready to play and we know what the challenge we’re facing with a team like that.”

It’s been nearly a year and a half since the Rangers and Hurricanes last squared off, because the teams were in different divisions during the truncated 2020-21 season that featured only intradivision play. The Rangers haven’t seen the Hurricanes since Carolina hung 11 total goals on them and cruised to a three-game sweep in the qualifying round of the 2020 bubble playoffs.

There’s no doubt that series left a bad taste in the Rangers’ mouths. But that was then, and this is a different Rangers team — or so they’d like to validate. Still, no matter how much time has passed, the Rangers aren’t letting the past dictate how they approach this game.

“I didn’t even know that, it seems like so long ago,” defenseman Jacob Trouba said of facing the Hurricanes for the first time since August 2020. “For me, no not really [I don’t think about the qualifying-round sweep]. I think it’s just still plucking along at the season, I mean, we’re basically at the halfway mark. So I don’t think there’s a whole lot of backstory to it.”

Rangers
Gerard Gallant has the Rangers at the top of the Metropolitan Division.
NHLI via Getty Images

Carolina has won five of its last seven games, including the most recent 7-1 drubbing of the Bruins on Tuesday. Tied with the Rangers in wins (26), the Hurricanes enter Friday’s contest just two points shy of the top seed in the Metro.

Following the Rangers’ come-from-behind victory over the Maple Leafs on Wednesday, Gallant said he believes the fashion in which his team defeated Toronto will certainly pad its confidence heading into Friday’s game.

“I think it doesn’t matter who we’re playing,” Gallant said. “I think the confidence comes from coming from behind, playing the way we played, scored five straight goals. … I think it’s good for our team, not just because it was against Toronto — I don’t care what team it’s against — but it was a big win for us.”

There will be more than a few familiar faces in Carolina, which has become a landing spot for former Rangers. Trouba said it’ll be “unique” to see former teammates Brady Skjei, Tony DeAngelo, Jesper Fast and Brendan Smith don the red, white and black. Former Blueshirts Antti Raanta and Derek Stepan also play for the Hurricanes.

“It’s a big challenge, I think we really feel like we’ve grown as a team and we’re ready to take that next step,” Kevin Rooney said. “And in order to take those next steps, we got to beat the top teams. Just like that other night [against the Maple Leafs], going out and playing in a tough building. I think a lot of the guys are excited for the challenge.”

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