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Atlanta Hawks

    One season was not enough for Igor Kokoskov to convince the Phoenix Suns that he was the man to lead the franchise into the future. The Suns fired Kokoskov Monday night, ending the tenure of the NBA's first European-born coach after one disappointing season. 'After extensive evaluation, I determined it is best to move in a different direction with our head coaching position,' Suns GM James Jones said in a statement. 'I want to thank Igor for his work this past season and wish him the best with his future endeavors.' Kokoskov arrived in the desert with hopes of rebuilding a franchise coming off its second-worst record at 21-61. He was hired to replace Jay Triano, named interim coach after Earl Watson was fired last season. The Suns entered the 2018-19 season with one of the NBA's most dynamic scorers in Devin Booker and added the No. 1 overall pick of the 2018 draft, big man Deandre Ayton. Instead of a revitalizing season, the Suns continued to mire in mediocrity, missing the playoffs for the ninth straight season. Phoenix had a franchise-worst 17-game losing streak in 2018-19 and became the first team in the shot-clock era (1954-55) to be held under 10 points in the first quarter of consecutive games. The Suns finished 19-63 in Kokoskov's only season in the desert, worst in the Western Conference. Jones became the full-time GM after the Suns removed the interim tag earlier this month and his first big move was to fire Kokoskov, an assistant with the franchise from 2008-13. Now, Phoenix is in limbo again, searching for its fifth coach in five seasons. The Serbian Kokoskov spent 18 seasons as an NBA assistant before becoming a head coach, including stints with Utah, Orlando Cleveland, Detroit and the Los Angeles Clippers. He also was the head coach of the Georgia national team from 2008-15 and led Slovenia to its first EuroBasket title in 2017. ___ More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
  • Atlanta Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce has been added as an assistant coach for USA Basketball this summer, when the Americans will compete in the FIBA World Cup in China and try to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Pierce is replacing Indiana Pacers coach Nate McMillan, who withdrew because of scheduling conflicts. Pierce, the Golden State Warriors' Steve Kerr and Villanova's Jay Wright will be the assistants under head coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs. The World Cup stretches through Sept. 15. The demands of the schedule and the travel would have likely been too daunting for McMillan — whose Pacers are scheduled to open training camp not long after the World Cup gold-medal game, and will then travel to India for a pair of preseason games on Oct. 4-5. 'It's an honor to receive this opportunity to represent our country and to work with such great coaches and staff,' Pierce said. 'My family and I are excited about and committed to enjoying this journey.' Pierce has history with U.S. men's national team managing director Jerry Colangelo. When Colangelo was working for Philadelphia, Pierce was an assistant coach there. 'He has demonstrated the ability in particular to be an outstanding defensive coach,' Colangelo said. 'Also, it was evident during our time together in Philadelphia that he was a strong leader, players respected him a great deal. I think we're fortunate to have someone of his abilities. I think he's really a good addition.' The U.S. is ranked No. 1 in the world and will face the Czech Republic, Japan and Turkey during Group E games in Shanghai. The Americans will hold training camps in Las Vegas and Los Angeles in August, then have exhibition games in California and Australia before arriving in China. The U.S. is seeking its third consecutive World Cup gold medal.
  • The Milwaukee Bucks had the best record in the NBA this season, so it would be no great surprise to see them playing for the title in June. Of course, for this franchise, advancing at all would be a significant step. The Bucks are an unusual top seed — one that hasn't made it past the first round of the playoffs since 2001. Advancing to round two may be the absolute minimum expectation this time, when Milwaukee starts its postseason journey Sunday night against eighth-seeded Detroit. It's an intriguing series mostly because it will be the first chance to observe how these Bucks handle playoff pressure as title contenders. This is a team that didn't even have home-court advantage in the first round a year ago. Now Milwaukee has it for the whole postseason. 'We know what's at stake. We know we have to get past the first round. We haven't been yet,' Milwaukee's Khris Middleton said. 'But at the same time, it's no pressure for us. Just keep doing what we do. Play the way we play, be who we are. We'll be fine.' The Bucks improved by 16 victories from last season, winning 60 for the first time since 1980-81. With Giannis Antetokounmpo leading the way, this might be Milwaukee's most formidable outfit since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson were there during the first half of the 1970s — or at least since the Don Nelson-coached teams of the 1980s. The Bucks lost to Boston in seven games last year. They'll do their best to avoid any winner-take-all scenarios against the Pistons, who haven't won a playoff game since 2008. Detroit secured a playoff spot this year by winning at New York on the final night of the regular season. It was a step forward for the Pistons in their first season under coach Dwane Casey, but it's not clear how much more Detroit can expect from Blake Griffin, the man who did more than anyone to lift this team to the postseason. Griffin has been dealing with a troublesome knee, and he missed the all-important game against the Knicks. Even if Griffin is healthy, everyone understands who is expected to win this series. 'Nobody on this planet that's an NBA fan is going to expect us to win. That's great. That's good,' Casey said. 'I think a lot of our guys have been underdogs all their lives.' Some more things to know before the start of this series: HISTORY The Pistons swept the Bucks in the second round in 1989 en route to the NBA title. That was the last time Milwaukee won a playoff series until the Ray Allen-led Bucks went to the conference finals in 2001. Detroit also beat the Bucks in the first round in 1976, 2004 and 2006. FAMILIAR FACES The Pistons acquired 7-foot-1 Thon Maker from Milwaukee in a trade earlier this season. He could be a key player, especially if Griffin is limited. 'Playing against Thon is going to be the weirdest thing,' Antetokounmpo said. 'It's going to be fun. I know he's going to come and play hard and do the best for his team. I love that about him.' Middleton was drafted by the Pistons in the second round in 2012. STRENGTH AGAINST STRENGTH Milwaukee had the second-best defensive rebounding percentage in the league during the regular season. But the Bucks will be tested by Detroit's Andre Drummond, who led the NBA with 5.4 offensive rebounds per game. 'They do a very good job of sending all their guys in, from the point to their 5-men are all in the paint to make sure that nobody gets the offensive rebound,' Drummond said. 'It's going to come down to really just me fighting it out. We don't need our guards coming in. ... They are very good in the open floor when we do miss.' HEALTH Griffin's status is the big question heading into this series, but Milwaukee has some injuries too. Nikola Mirotic, who broke his left thumb March 19, could play in Game 1. Tony Snell (sprained ankle) is not likely to be available until the middle of the series. Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon went down with a right foot injury last month. EARLY MEETINGS Milwaukee won all four matchups between these teams in the regular season. Only one of them was decided by single digits. The four games were all between Dec. 5 and Jan. 29. ___ Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister ___ More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
  • Milwaukee's Mike Budenholzer has won this season's coach of the year award, presented by the National Basketball Coaches Association. Budenholzer led the Bucks to a league-best 60-22 record this season, leading Milwaukee to its best season in nearly 40 years. Milwaukee was the only team in the league to rank in the top four in both offensive and defensive rating. Budenholzer was one of eight coaches to receive votes from NBA peers this season. The others were Brooklyn's Kenny Atkinson, Denver's Michael Malone, Indiana's Nate McMillan, San Antonio's Gregg Popovich, the Los Angeles Clippers' Doc Rivers, Utah's Quin Snyder and Portland's Terry Stotts. The NBCA award is voted on by the league's 30 head coaches. This is the third season where it was awarded; Mike D'Antoni and Erik Spoelstra shared the award in 2017 and Dwane Casey won it last season. The award is separate from the NBA's coach of the year award. That winner will be announced at the NBA Awards Show in Los Angeles on June 24.
  • The Celtics and Pacers aren't interested in talking about the past as they prepare to tip off their first-round playoff matchup. Indiana doesn't want to dwell on injuries, like the season-ending right knee injury Pacers guard Victor Oladipo suffered in January. Likewise, the Celtics aren't thinking about Gordon Hayward early struggles and eventual demotion from the starting lineup in his first season back from a devastating ankle injury. And neither team wants to focus on the inconsistencies that have gnawed at Celtics coach Brad Stevens and Pacers coach Nate McMillan throughout the season. Both teams began 2018-19 expecting to challenge for the Eastern Conference throne abdicated by LeBron James' departure to the Los Angeles Lakers. The only thing certain as the fifth-seeded Pacers and fourth-seeded Celtics take the TD Garden floor on Sunday is both teams still believe they can find redemption in the postseason. 'Everything is just about the true essence of basketball. Nothing else about the drama or extra-curricular stuff,' said Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving. 'I'm excited to be focused on the game and actually talk about basketball instead of sensationalism.' Fair enough. But the spotlight will certainly be on Irving, who can explore free agency this summer, with at least part of the decision about whether he returns to Boston probably hinging on how the Celtics perform over the coming weeks. After reaching the Eastern Conference finals last year without both Irving and Hayward, Boston's youthful core, led by Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, had trouble jelling with Irving and Hayward back in the mix. It also led to some locker room squabbling with Irving, who in a frustrated moment during a January losing streak said the younger players 'don't know what it takes to be a championship-level team.' He later apologized after Brown took issue with the comments. Hayward said the team is looking forward. 'The goal is still the same. It's a new season and what happened, happened,' Hayward said. 'We're trying to move on. You almost get a fresh start.' For the Pacers, it's about proving that even without Oladipo they can be the same formidable team that nearly upset the Cavaliers in the first round last year. After Oladipo was sidelined Jan. 23, the Pacers allowed only 108 points per 100 possessions, placing them as one of the top 10 defensive teams in the conference. But in translated into only a 7-12 record over the final two months of the regular season. 'We've got to get it together,' power forward Thaddeus Young said. 'We have to be ready at all costs.' Here are some things to watch for in the first-round series between the Pacers and Celtics: INJURY UPDATE Boston will be without Marcus Smart 4 to 6 weeks after he was diagnosed with a partial tear to his left oblique abdominal muscle. Smart was injured during the third quarter of Boston's home loss to Orlando on April 7. Tatum is also on the mend with a shin contusion but is expected to be ready in time for Sunday's opener. Stevens is mum on who will take Smart's place in the starting lineup, but it likely falls to either Tatum or Hayward. GETTING PHYSICAL Indiana was often outrebounded and pushed around late in the season. The list includes Boston, which had more rebounds, blocks and steals than the Pacers in their final regular-season meeting on April 5. The Celtics' victory gave them a 2-1 season series edge and effectively wrapped up home-court advantage in this round. Making sure Indiana plays tougher will be on players such as 6-foot-11, 240-pound center Domantas Sabonis and 6-foot-8, 220-pound Thaddeus Young, two of the Pacers most physical players. 'We've got to get it together. We have to be ready at all costs,' Young said. 'Right now the biggest thing for us is locking in and doing the things we need to do defensively, physically and mentally.' NO LEAD SAFE Two of the Celtics' three losses before the All-Star break also exposed their tendency to blow big leads. What might be most troubling is two of the most egregious examples were at home. 'We all need to consistently play better as a group,' Stevens said. 'We've done that at times, and we've rode Kyrie in a lot of cases, and he's carried us in a lot of games. And we need everybody at their fullest and there's no question about it.' ___ AP Sports Writer Mike Marot in Indianapolis contributed to this report. ___ More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
  • Alexandria “Alex” Goodman takes a deep breath and pauses before trying on a billowy black graduation robe with a gold insignia. Goodman’s face flushes pink. Her smile fades, and then returns as she places a cap with a gold tassel on top of her long, wavy blond hair, the weight of the moment sinking in. “I’m excited and I am nervous,” said an emotional Goodman. “Is that OK?” Goodman, who has Down syndrome, is on the cusp of a major milestone. The 25-year-old is one of seven seniors in the first graduating class later this month at Georgia Tech for students with intellectual disabilities. It wasn’t long ago when high school was the end of the educational line for those with disabilities. Job prospects were bleak and many graduated to the couch. Most continued living at home as adults with a family member or in a supervised home. There are growing efforts to change that. The Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency is assisting nearly 8,000 people between the ages of 16 and 24 with intellectual disabilities, helping some obtain certifications for everything from nursing to robotics. The program at Georgia Tech, one of the country’s elite universities, represents perhaps the most ambitious attempt yet to “mainstream” such young adults after a long history of segregating, isolating and giving up on them. Goodman and her six fellow graduates, who have birth defects or traumatic brain injuries, won’t get a typical Georgia Tech degree. They will receive instead certificates of achievements in academics, social skills and career development. No small pieces of paper, they are designed to dramatically change the course of their lives. For the last four years, they have experienced college campus life side-by-side with traditional students. They have cheered for the Yellow Jackets at football games, joined student clubs from astronomy to anime, and spent late nights studying at Starbucks. The students audit regular Georgia Tech courses such as psychology, sociology and an introduction to business. They also take special classes like cooking, budgeting and conflict resolution to help them live independently. Such programs are becoming more common around the U.S. There are now 140 students with intellectual disabilities enrolled at nine Georgia colleges and universities, including the University of Georgia, Georgia State University and Kennesaw State University. While other programs offer one and two-year programs, Georgia Tech only offers a four-year program. Early results are encouraging. Only about 20 percent of adults with intellectual or physical disabilities have jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The employment rate for those with intellectual disabilities is only 15 percent, estimates The Arc, an advocacy group. But 75 percent who graduated from one of the Georgia campus programs - known as Inclusive Post-Secondary Education - in 2017 are employed and the others are continuing their education. Five of the Georgia Tech graduates-to-be already have jobs lined up; the other two are interviewing. “I’m not sure of all of the answers, but this is one answer,” said Susanna Miller-Raines, statewide coordinator with the Georgia Inclusive Post-secondary Education Consortium, which provides research, funding and coordination for inclusive higher education programs. Zumba, physics and groceries  Goodman was born with Down syndrome, a genetic disorder affecting one’s ability to think and learn. The Fayetteville native loved going to school, especially her science classes and learning about plants and nutrition. She was on her high school swim team. Well liked by her peers, she was voted high school prom queen. As the middle child, Goodman wanted to go college like her older sister and younger brother. Parents Paula, a stay at-at-home mom, and David, an orthopedic surgeon, wanted the same thing. The timing was just right. She applied and landed a spot in Georgia Tech’s new program EXCEL (Expanding Career, Education and Leadership Opportunities). Four years ago, the parents helped her move into a high-rise apartment in midtown Atlanta. Pillows, butterflies and string lights adorn the room, decorated in bright pink, her favorite color. They hung a heart painting prominently in the living room that says, ‘Never forget you are loved.’ Paula worried Alex would get homesick or be scared on her own. “After a couple weeks, she called and said she was too busy to get together,” said Paula with a smile, “and now she tells us when she can fit us in.” Alex Goodman has remained busy, taking Zumba classes at the rec center and joining students at holiday parties in common spaces at her residence. She’s taken classes in art history, intro to film and the physics of weather as well classes for her certificate program: financial literacy, technology and career exploration. Once or twice a week she meets with a student “coach,” Charlotte Densmore, a junior public policy major. Earlier this year, Densmore helped Goodman with budgeting and helped teach her the cost of everyday items. She presented a slideshow at a coffee shop, and at first Goodman was afraid to guess. She is a rule follower and hates to disappoint. Densmore reassured her not to worry. Goodman guessed $75 for a package of toilet paper. They headed to a grocery store and scanned everything from shampoo and detergent to a bag of apples and toilet paper. Over time, Densmore said the relationship has evolved into a friendship, and she adores Goodman, who is kind, hard working and full of enthusiasm. It’s also been a learning experience for Densmore. “I think it makes [college] a more real experience,” Densmore said, “and not like we are in this bubble of students but with students who may have to work a little harder.” From campus to Hotel Indigo  Every year, about 700 students graduate from special education programs at high schools across Georgia. The number of students enrolled in inclusive post-secondary programs is expected to rise to 250 students at 13 colleges within five years. Since 2015, the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency has spent $2.6 million on inclusive college programs - a sliver of its annual vocational rehabilitation budget of more than $100 million for adults with intellectual and physical disabilities. About 70 percent of the state agency’s budget for rehabilitation is federally funded. Annual tuition for Georgia Tech’s EXCEL program is $19,100 and 60 percent of the students receive full funding from the agency. Other programs smaller in scope are less expensive. The inclusive program at Albany Technical College is under $2,500 a year but currently only offers a one- or two-year certificate program for a business office assistant and no housing. There are now 266 inclusive college programs across the country, according to Think College, a national organization dedicated to improving inclusive higher education options for people with intellectual disabilities. Kennesaw State was the first university in Georgia to offer an inclusive education program, starting with three students in 2009. During the first couple years at Kennesaw State, the program provided a college experience but that wasn’t enough for parents who wanted to see a more concrete return. The programs are now highly focused on career development. Academic advisors, career counselors and professors help students with everything from resume building to closely monitoring internships. Four students in Georgia Tech’s program are interning at midtown’s Hotel Indigo. Drew Schulman, a junior, has a front-desk job waiting for him when he graduates. Gabriele Webster, the general manager, said Schulman has impressed her with his computer savvy and eagerness to help guests, with a natural ability to anticipate questions. When Webster went on a business trip, Schulman also took care of Indie, the hotel dog, keeping his bowl filled with water and ice chips, just the way Indie likes it, and texted his boss photos. The internships don’t always go perfectly. When another Indigo intern came to work with his shirt untucked, a program advisor showed up every day for the next two weeks to make sure he was neat. Getting attention of lawmakers Joining Goodman at Georgia Tech’s first EXCEL graduation ceremony on April 27 will be Kurt Vogel, a 26-year-old Decatur native. At first, Vogel, wasn’t entirely comfortable being part of a program exclusively for students with intellectual disabilities. Some of the students seemed too loud, and he distanced himself from other students. Within a year, his perspective changed. He started making friends and advocating for people with disabilities. He lobbied and addressed state legislators to urge them to approve a state bill to eliminate the word “retarded” from Georgia laws. The word, he told lawmakers, “makes me feel that I am lesser of a person.” The bill passed in 2017. Vogel has a birth defect caused by the abnormal migration of neurons in the developing brain. “At first I wasn’t sure I fit in,” said Vogel about the program at Georgia Tech. “But I think a lot of people feel that, not sure if you fit in. I might be on the edge of the spectrum but that’s OK. We are each in a different place.” During his final semester, Vogel interns three days in downtown Atlanta and takes classes in the legal aspects of business and in career development. On dry, sunny days, he takes a stroll around campus. At night, he enjoys reading articles on howstuffworks.com. At least once a week, he spends time with his coach Daniel Lee, a senior business major at Georgia Tech. Lee is a huge Atlanta Hawks fan; Vogel is not interested in sports. Lee likes meeting friends at restaurants; Vogel prefers getting together in a quieter space on campus. But Lee says they’ll be lifelong friends. Getting to know Vogel also has changed the way Lee views people with disabilities. “I would try and coddle them, speak slower, like your usual stereotypical behaviors. Hanging out with Kurt made me realize how stupid I was,” said Lee. “The Kurt I got to know loves life. He is happy, cracks jokes and hanging out with him makes me happy. I see him figuring out so much in life.” A working life In addition to their April 27 ceremony, Goodman, Vogel and the five other seniors in Georgia Tech’s special program will be recognized at the May 4 commencement for all students. That follows an online petition by more than 8,000 students, graduates and parents of students to include them. Then the seven students will tackle jobs and living on their own. Frankie Sanders, a 22-year-old from Decatur, will work as a forklift operator at an Atlanta warehouse. Natalie Jackson, 23 and from Dacula, plans to work as a cashier or in customer service. Goodman is wrapping up her internships at Rural Sourcing, an IT solutions company, and a Barnes & Noble book store. Reshma Patel, the store manager, said Goodman is punctual, hard working and getting faster at jobs like stocking shelves. At first, she lost track of time during her 10-minute breaks, so Patel gave Goodman a timer. It’s no longer an issue. Goodman has accepted two part-time jobs, one at Georgia Tech’s campus recreation center, and another with food service at the university. Vogel has a full-time job at the Center for the Leadership in Disability at Georgia State University. He will start in an administrative role, but is expected to also take on computer support and research project responsibilities. “It’s relationships and interacting with people,” said Vogel of his time at Georgia Tech. “Ultimately, I think that’s what it means to be human.” Meet Georgia Tech's first EXCEL graduating class:  Carrie Crayton, 24, from Atlanta, was involved with Campus Christian Fellowship and interned with the Georgia Tech Women's Volleyball Team, and the MLK Aquatic Center. Carrie is planning to work at sporting events or at a senior center.  Alex Goodman, 25, from Fayetteville, has been involved in Georgia Tech Chorale and swim club. Alex has interned at Barnes and Noble and Rural Sourcing. Alex plans to work two part-time jobs, one at Georgia Tech's campus recreation center, and another one with Sodexo, the food service at Georgia Tech.  Rashad Isaac, 23, from East Point, was active in Outdoor Recreation Club at Georgia Tech and Campus Christian Fellowship. Rashad volunteered on a service trip to Juarez, Mexico. Rashad will work at Paradies Lagardère as a customer service crew member.  Natalie Jackson, 23, from Dacula, is an avid sports fan and worked for the 2018 NBA Summer League. Natalie is currently employed by Sodexo and plans to work as a cashier or in customer service.  Faith Roman, 27, from Rutledge, has participated in For the Kids, a campus organization that raises money and awareness for the Children's Miracle Network and Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, and the Student Mental Health Coalition. Faith interned at Signature Healthcare Lutheran Towers, and the Atlanta Children's Museum. Faith plans to work as an activities assistant at an assisted living residence or in customer service.  Frankie Sanders, 22, from Decatur, has participated in the chess and wrestling clubs. Frank has interned at the Georgia Tech Police Department, GT Warehouse and Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. Frank works at I.K. Hofmann as a warehouse forklift operator.  Kurt Vogel, 26, from Decatur, has participated in Christian Campus Fellowship and volunteered for flood relief in West Virginia. Kurt has interned at the Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC), and completed a summer internship with the US Access Board and American Association of People with Disabilities in Washington, DC. Kurt will work at Center for Leadership in Disability at Georgia State University. The center says Kurt will be its first full-time employee with an intellectual disability. MORE ABOUT EXCEL AT GEORGIA TECH AND OTHER INCLUSIVE PROGRAMS:  EXCEL (Expanding Career, Education and Leadership Opportunities) is an inclusive four-year program with students auditing classes alongside traditional Tech students, some of whom are their tutors and mentors. Those who complete the program receive two certificates: one in academic enrichment, social fluency and career exploration and another in social growth, leadership and career development.  EXCEL is the brainchild of co-founders Terry Blum and Cyrus Aidun. Blum is the former dean of the Scheller College of Business, and founding director of Georgia Tech's Institute for Leadership and Entrepreneurship. She also is the mother of Faith Roman, one of the seven graduates from the EXCEL program. Aidun is a professor of fluid dynamics in Georgia Tech's School of Mechanical Engineering and the father of a son with an intellectual disability.  EXCEL is a competitive program with an acceptance rate of about 25 percent. The program seeks highly motivated young people who have a knowledge of basic mathematics, an ability to use a computer or tablet, and no significant behavioral or emotional problems.  While most inclusive programs in Georgia are two years long, with some offering additional programs for another year or two, Georgia Tech only offers a four-year program. 
  • The Golden State Warriors are set to begin their quest for a third straight title, and this time it's up to someone else to try to stop them. With LeBron James gone to the West and this year gone entirely from the postseason, the Eastern Conference headquarters for the NBA Finals won't be in his home for the first time since 2010. He played for the title for eight straight years, which may have been great for the TV ratings but lately wasn't much good for the competition. The Warriors swept Cleveland last year after winning 4-1 in 2017. Teams are lining up to seize his old spot atop the East, all capable of providing the intrigue that was absent the last couple years. There's Milwaukee, with Giannis Antetokounmpo in position to exit June fully atop the NBA with a title and an MVP award. Or Toronto, humiliated by the Cavaliers in the last two years but armed now with a former NBA Finals MVP in Kawhi Leonard. It could be Philadelphia, with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons anchoring perhaps the most talented starting five outside of the Bay Area. And don't forget Boston, the presumptive East favorite in the preseason that can still live up to expectations. The best player is gone, but maybe things will be better. 'I think the parity and the competition in the East, and not knowing and everyone having a sincere chance maybe in the East that did not, when not you look between Toronto, Boston, Philadelphia,' TNT analyst Chris Webber said. 'All of those story lines, new young stars that's coming in.' The long road to get to the finals begins Saturday with four games, including the top-seeded Warriors against the Los Angeles Clippers in the West. No. 2 Denver faces No. 7 San Antonio in the other West opener, while No. 3 Philadelphia meets No. 6 Brooklyn, and No. 2 Toronto takes on No. 7 Orlando in the East. On Sunday, the overall No. 1 seed Bucks face No. 8 Detroit, and No. 4 Boston hosts No. 5 Indiana in the East. In the West, No. 3 Portland and No. 6 Oklahoma City meet in a matchup of Northwest Division rivals, and No. 4 Houston and No. 5 Utah square off in the opener of a series between two of the strongest teams in the second half of the season. It's the start of postseason that looks different far beyond just the absence of James for the first time since 2005. It includes Denver, in the playoffs for the first time since 2013. Brooklyn is a playoff team for the first time since 2015 and Orlando is back for the first time since 2012. The Warriors, of course, haven't just been going to the postseason every year, but getting all the way to the finals once they do. They've done that four straight years, winning three of them, and with a strong finish after some occasional lapses surged to the best record in the West. Still, this playoff path could provide them plenty of obstacles. The Warriors may need to get by scoring champion James Harden and the Rockets, who took them to a seventh game last year in the conference finals, just to get back to that round this time. 'It doesn't matter who you play in the playoffs, you're going to get tested. Everybody's good,' Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. Get out of the West, and the Warriors may have to then get on a plane. They had home-court advantage in all four finals against Cleveland, but Milwaukee and Toronto both finished with better records and would host Games 1 and 2 if they win the East. And there could be the distractions about their future, with Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson able to become free agents this summer. The Warriors wouldn't be alone when dealing with that. Toronto (Leonard), Philadelphia (Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris) and Boston (Kyrie Irving) all will be trying to win a title with players who could then leave them. But those are issues for July. First, it's all about just getting to June. 'It's a great feeling,' Bucks All-Star Khris Middleton said. 'Playoffs don't always come around. I've been a part of that couple years but it's been a great season so far. I know guys been itching to get to this first playoff game.' ___ More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
  • The Atlanta Hawks made a modest improvement in the standings this season, finishing with 29 wins, up from 24 the previous year. John Collins sees a far more dramatic improvement in the Hawks' outlook. 'Completely different,' Collins said Wednesday night after closing the season with a career-high 25 rebounds and 20 points. 'I feel we have more of a foundation, more of a solid base than last year. I feel like that's going to give us a lot of comfort going into next year.' Rookie point guard Trae Young is the new face of the franchise, but Collins also is part of the foundation . The 6-foot-10 forward, only 21 years old, saw his scoring almost double from 10.5 points as a rookie to 19.5 in his second season while averaging almost 10 rebounds per game. The Hawks' makeover in 2018-19 included the additions of three first-round picks and coach Lloyd Pierce. More youth is coming with two first-round picks in the June 20 NBA draft. Kevin Huerter, a 3-point shooter, joined Young as rookie starters. The third first-rounder, forward Omari Spellman, started 11 games. Young, who averaged 19.1 points per game, was the key to reshaping the Hawks' look. Some second-guessed general manager Travis Schlenk's decision to draft and then trade Luka Doncic to Dallas for Young and a 2019 first-round pick. 'I don't think anyone is doubting anymore,' Pierce said. Young was inconsistent early, especially with the accuracy of his frequent extra-long 3-point shots that helped fuel comparisons with Stephen Curry. Young settled in and proved to be both durable and dynamic with a flair for clutch, game-winning shots. Young posted 30 double-doubles and led the Eastern Conference with 18 games of at least 20 points and 10 assists. He recorded the first triple-double by a rookie in team history on March 9 against Brooklyn and had a career-high 49 points with 16 assists against Chicago on March 1. 'It didn't look like fluke performances because it looks like he's legit and belongs,' Pierce said. Young knew early in his career he belonged. Asked after Wednesday night's final game, a last-second loss to Indiana, if he was no longer a rookie, Young said 'I didn't feel like a rookie for a long time, to be honest with you.' Young, Collins, Huerter, Taurean Prince and others provide a base for the rebuilding effort. The expected additions of two more first-round picks this summer give Pierce more reason for optimism. 'I can't do anything but smile,' Pierce said. Here are some more things to know about the Hawks' 2018-19 season: ROOKIE OF THE YEAR Pierce made a pitch for Young to be named the league's top rookie — and then noted awards aren't the ultimate goal. 'He's meant more to us than I think any other rookie has meant to his team and he's done more for us than any other rookie has done for his team,' Pierce said. 'I also want him to understand that award doesn't define what he accomplished this year. It doesn't define what we set out to accomplish next year.' CARTER'S PLANS Vince Carter , 42, said he'd like to play another season in Atlanta after averaging 7.4 points, mostly as a backup, 'if they'll have me.' Pierce said Carter 'showed us what a true leader looks like. He showed us an unbelievable talent in this game can also be an unbelievable teammate. ... We're not worried about what decisions he's going to make moving forward. I'm still in awe we were able to get him all year the way we got him.' LOTTERY DREAMS After finishing with the fifth-worst record in the league, Atlanta has a 10.5% chance to land the No. 1 pick in the draft lottery on May 14. IDENTITY AND CULTURE Pierce is most proud of the way the young players blended with such veterans as Kent Bazemore, Dewayne Dedmon and Carter to establish an identity and a culture. 'I think those were home runs for us,' Pierce said, before applauding Young's lead role. 'We have an identity,' Pierce said. 'We have a culture. We've created a style of play and he's been at the forefront of that. His numbers back it up.' COLLINS' DOUBLE-DOUBLES Collins finished with 32 double-doubles, the high mark among members of the 2018 NBA draft class. ___ More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
  • Sacramento's best season in 13 years wasn't enough to save coach Dave Joerger's job. General manager Vlade Divac fired Joerger on Thursday after he helped develop the young Kings into playoff contenders before ultimately falling short in the franchise's 13th straight losing season. 'I think he did a great job to make that step,' Divac said. 'But moving forward, I just felt like we had to go a different direction. It's been three years and we made some progress. This year was a good season but I think we could do more, especially after All-Star break.' Divac said he had been contemplating the decision to change coaches for a while and ultimately made it after the team stumbled to the finish with a 9-16 record after the All-Star break. The poor stretch run left Sacramento with a 39-43 record, nine games out of a playoff spot after being tied for the eighth spot in the West heading into the final game before the break. The Kings had their most wins since having a 44-38 record in coach Rick Adelman's final season in 2005-06. That ended a run of eight straight playoff berths and Sacramento hasn't been back to the postseason since for the NBA's longest active drought. 'After the All-Star break, I felt very confident we'd be in the race and we were in the race,' Divac said. 'Unfortunately, we fell short.' Divac made the move official just hours after he was given an extension through the 2022-23 season by owner Vivek Ranadivé. Divac took over as GM before the 2015-16 season and helped bring in some of the key pieces that have led to the improvement this year, including guards Buddy Hield and De'Aaron Fox and big men Marvin Bagley III, Willie Cauley-Stein and Harry Giles. Divac also made a trade this season to acquire forward Harrison Barnes from Dallas in hopes of making a playoff push but the team faltered down the stretch. 'Vlade has been vital to what we are building here and I am so pleased to announce his extension,' Ranadivé said. 'Throughout his entire career, Vlade is someone who has always made those around him better, both on and off the court. I look forward to our bright future ahead.' Joerger was the ninth coach since Adelman was fired in 2006 with none able to post a winning record or a playoff berth. In fact, since moving to Sacramento before the 1985-86 season, the only winning seasons for the Kings came in Adelman's eight seasons at the helm highlighted by a trip to the Western Conference final in 2002. Divac is now counting on coach No. 10 being the one that can get the team back to the level it had under Adelman, when the Kings were a contender for several years and played an entertaining brand of basketball. 'The next level is to be a team that is going to be a playoff team and down the road a contender,' Divac said. 'I think our kids are very talented. We have to believe in them and give them a chance to take advantage of their work and talent.' ___ More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
  • The Indiana Pacers' final playoff warmup generated a rare triple dose of good news — rest for the starters, valuable experience for the backups and a win for all. Edmond Sumner sank three free throws with three-tenths of a second remaining, lifting the playoff-bound Pacers over the Atlanta Hawks 135-134 Wednesday night in the final regular season game for each team. Indiana, which had lost two straight and five of seven, gained needed momentum for its first-round playoff series against Boston. The Pacers pulled out the win despite coach Nate McMillan's decision to rest his top five scorers. 'We wanted to get our guys what they needed,' McMillan said, meaning rest for some and minutes for others. Added McMillan: 'We wanted to play this game to win it.' It wasn't easy.  Taurean Prince's 3-pointer with 1.1 seconds remaining gave Atlanta the lead, but DeAndre Bembry's foul on Sumner's last-second 3-point attempt changed the game. TJ Leaf set career highs with 28 points and 10 rebounds for Indiana. With their fifth seed and matchup with fourth seed Boston already set in the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Pacers were in full lookahead mode. Darren Collison was the only regular starter in Indiana's lineup, and he didn't play in the second half. McMillan said he wanted to give minutes to 'some guys who need to play' while others with 'tweaks' needed the rest. Leaf said the Pacers were motivated to enter the playoffs 'with a little bit of momentum, go in with a little bit of confidence. But we know what we can do in this locker room, so we're excited to get to Boston and get this series going.'  Tyreke Evans scored 27 points and Sumner had 22 for Indiana. Prince and Trae Young each scored 23 points for Atlanta. John Collins scored 20 points and set a career high with 25 rebounds. A floater by Young gave Atlanta a 129-128 lead. Following a timeout, Leaf and Atlanta's Alex Len traded jams, leaving the Hawks with a 131-130 lead. But Atlanta couldn't pull out the win, even after Prince's late 3-pointer. 'The lesson is we've got a lot of work to do,' said Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce after completing his first season. 'We had a great first year in a lot of ways, but a long way to go,' he added. The Pacers completed their first season sweep of the Hawks since 2004-05. TIP-INS Pacers: McMillan said F Myles Turner (sore right ankle) 'should be ready' for the playoffs. McMillan said G Wesley Matthews (sore right toe) would be questionable if the playoffs started Wednesday night. ... Leaf's previous high was 18 points against Minnesota on Feb. 28. Hawks: Len had 20 points and 10 rebounds. ... Young had 11 assists and six turnovers while Atlanta's other rookie starter, Kevin Huerter, scored 17 points while making five 3-pointers. ONE MORE YEAR Fans chanted 'One more year!' when Vince Carter stood at the free-throw line in the third quarter. It looks like they'll get their wish. Before completing his 21st season, Carter, 42, said he'd like to play another season. 'If they'll have me I'm all for it,' Carter said before the game. Pierce said the decision belongs to Carter. FLAGRANT FOUL Pacers center Kyle O'Quinn was ejected with 5:39 remaining for his Flagrant 2 foul on Young. O'Quinn reached out and hit Young in the head, knocking the rookie to the floor, following a steal by Young. The blow did not appear to be intentional. The hard foul seemed to motivate Young, who made both free throws before sinking an extra-long 3-pointer and then adding a three-point play, giving Atlanta a 59-58 lead. Indiana led 73-69 at halftime. UP NEXT Pacers: As Eastern Conference fifth seed, Indiana will play at fourth seed Boston for the first two games of the first round of the NBA playoffs. Hawks: Atlanta's focus shifts to the NBA draft lottery on May 14. The Hawks hope to draw the No. 1 overall pick in the June 20 NBA draft. __ More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

News

  • A California girl managed to avoid a man following her in a car as she walked through a Vacaville neighborhood by hiding behind a parked truck. >> Read more trending news  Home surveillance video captured the incident, which happened earlier this month, and shows the girl being followed by a dark colored Pontiac driven by an adult man. The girl is clearly trying to avoid the man as he repeatedly turns around and tries to approach her. Vacaville police Capt. Matt Lydon said when the girl first noticed she was being followed, she walked to a different neighborhood and the driver followed.  Trending: Children find their lost puppy hanging from noose in woods behind home “As she walked into the adjacent neighborhood, she saw the Pontiac again,” Lydon said, according to KRON-TV. “She hid behind a parked truck on the street as the male went up and down the street a couple of times attempting to get her attention and attempting to have a conversation with her.” The video shows the girl hide behind the truck as the car repeatedly drives by, backs up and stops as the driver tries to engage in a conversation with her. >> Trending: Opossum found living in 7-year-old’s bedroom for 3 days before parents find it  When the car appears to drive off, the girl takes off running. Police are hoping someone may be able to help identify the driver and the car.
  • Nine explosions hit multiple churches, hotels and other locations in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, killing more than 300 people and injuring hundreds more, according to The Associated Press and other media outlets. >> Read more trending news  The victims included at least four Americans, State Department officials said Monday. Here are the latest updates:  Update 11:30 p.m. EDT April 23: Police said the death toll in the Easter attacks has risen to 359 and more suspects have been arrested. Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara also said Wednesday morning that 18 suspects were arrested overnight, raising the total detained to 58. The prime minister warned on Tuesday that several suspects armed with explosives were still at large. Update 1 p.m. EDT April 23: Sunday’s bombings claimed the lives of 45 children, officials with the United Nation’s Children’s Fund said Tuesday in a statement. “Many children have lost one or both parents, and countless children have witnessed shocking and senseless violence,” UNICEF officials said. More than 320 people were killed and 500 injured in the bombings. Update 7:11 a.m. EDT April 23: The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the deadly Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka, the Guardian and the Washington Post are reporting. The group, which has lost all the territory it once held in Iraq and Syria, has made a series of unsupported claims of responsibility. Update 5:55 a.m. EDT April 23: Sri Lankan officials said the death toll from Sunday’s bombings has risen to 321, the Guardian and the Washington Post reported Tuesday. The news came as Sri Lankan Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardene said the attacks were “carried out in retaliation” for the deadly mosque shootings in New Zealand last month, according to The Associated Press. So far, at least 40 people have been arrested in connection with the attacks, authorities said. Meanwhile, the country observed a day of mourning, including a three-minute moment of silence Tuesday morning. Mass burials also were held in Negombo, the Guardian reported. Officials have declared a state of emergency in Sri Lanka, giving military officials “enhanced war-time powers,” the AP reported. Authorities also are facing criticism amid reports that a top police official sent a letter April 11 to four security agencies warning that terror group National Towheed Jamaar was planning suicide bombings at churches, the AP reported. Update 9:45 p.m. EDT April 22: Ranil Wickremesinghe, the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, issued a statement in response to the bombings.  “Today as a nation we mourn the senseless loss of innocent lives this past Easter Sunday. I would like to thank the military and police forces, the medical personnel and all those who have worked bravely and tirelessly without concern for their own safety, to ensure the safety and security of our citizens. It is imperative  that we remain unified as Sri Lankans in the face of this unspeakable tragedy.” A three-minute moment of silence for the victims of the explosions will be held at 8:30 a.m. local time, according to BBC reporter Azzam Ameen. Update 8 p.m. EDT April 22: The two Australians who officials said had been killed in the explosions have been identified by a family member. Sudesh Kolonne told Australian Broadcasting Corp. his wife, Manik Suriaaratchi, and their 1-year-old daughter Alexendria were killed in an attack in Negombo, which is north of Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo. Kolonne said he was outside when the explosion happened. “I heard a huge noise and I jumped into the church and I saw that my wife and my daughter were on the floor,” he said. “I just saw my daughter on the floor and I tried to lift her up, (but) she was already dead. And (then) exactly the same… next my wife is there.” Kolonne said he and his family moved from Melbourne to Sri Lanka in 2014 when his wife started a consultancy business.  “I don’t know what to do,” he said. “We used to go to that church every Sunday. We never expected this.” Update 4:50 p.m. EDT April 22: A spokeswoman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation confirmed to The AP that the agency is providing assistance with the investigation into the bombings. She would not provide specifics. Update 3:50 p.m. EDT April 22: In an email to parents, officials at Sidwell Friends, a private school in the Washington-area, confirmed one of their students was killed in Sunday’s bombings, The Washington Post reported. School officials identified the student as Kieran Shafritz de Zoysa, a fifth-grade boy who had been on leave in Sri Lanka for the last year, according to the Post. “Kieran was passionate about learning, he adored his friends, and he was incredibly excited about returning to Sidwell Friends this coming school year,” school officials said in the letter. “We are beyond sorry not to get the opportunity to welcome Kieran to the Middle School.” State Department officials said earlier Monday that at least four Americans were among the nearly 300 people killed in Sunday’s attacks. Officials with the English education management company Pearson confirmed that one of the company’s Denver-based employees had also been killed in the bombings. Update 3 p.m. EDT April 22: Officials with the U.S. State Department confirmed Monday that at least four Americans were among the nearly 300 people killed in Sunday’s bombings in Sri Lanka. The department said that in addition to those killed, several others were seriously injured. Officials gave no details about the identities of the victims, citing privacy concerns. Earlier Monday, officials with the English education management company Pearson confirmed that one of the company’s Denver-based employees had been killed in the bombings. Pearson CEO John Fallon said Dieter Kowalski died shortly after arriving at his hotel in Sri Lanka for a business trip. Update 2:10 p.m. EDT April 22: President Donald Trump said he spoke Monday to Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe after a series of bomb attacks in the country. In a tweet, Trump said he told Wickremesinghe “the United States stands by him and his country in the fight against terrorism.” “(I) also expressed condolences on behalf of myself and the People of the United States,” Trump wrote. Earlier Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo vowed the government would provide “all possible assistance” to help in the investigation. Update 1:50 p.m. EDT April 22: Sri Lankan President Maithrpala Sirisena declared April 23 a national day of mourning in a statement obtained Monday by The Associated Press. In the statement, Sirisena said he planned to meet with foreign diplomats to seek international assistance. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said earlier Monday that the U.S. would provide “all possible assistance” to help in the investigation. Officials said nearly 40 foreign tourists from 11 countries were killed in Sunday’s attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka.  Update 11:20 a.m. EDT April 22: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday mourned the victims of Sunday’s bomb attacks in Sri Lanka and promised the government would provide “all possible assistance” to Americans and Sri Lankans alike. Related: Sri Lanka attacks: Who are the National Thowheed Jamath? “We urge that any evil-doers be brought to justice expeditiously and America is prepared to support that,” he Pompeo said. “We also stand with the millions of Sri Lankas who support the freedom of their fellow citizens to worship as they please.” Pompeo confirmed that Americans were among those killed in Sunday’s attack, though he didn’t specify the number of American victims. “It’s heartbreaking that a country which has strived so hard for peace in recent years has been targeted by these terrorists,” he said. Related: Sri Lanka attack: Danish billionaire loses three of his four children in bombings Update 9:50 am. EDT April 22: A Denver man has been identified as one of the nearly 300 people killed Sunday in bombings in Sri Lanka, his employer confirmed Monday. Dieter Kowalski worked as senior leader of the operation technical services team for Pearson, an education management company. Though the company is based in England, Kowalski worked in Pearson’s Denver office, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported.  “Colleagues who knew Dieter well talk about how much fun he was to be around, how big-hearted and full-spirited he was,” Pearson CEO John Fallon said in a statement shared with company employees and posted Monday on LinkedIn. “They tell of a man to whom we could give our ugliest and most challenging of engineering problems, knowing full well that he would jump straight in and help us figure it out. Dieter, they tell me, was never happier than cheer-leading for our customers and our company and inspiring people in the best way he knew how – by helping them to fix things and doing it with joy, happiness and grace.” Fallon said Kowalski died shortly after arriving at his hotel Sunday for a business trip. Update 7:55 a.m. EDT April 22: Three children of Anders Holch Povlsen, who owns Bestseller clothing, were killed in Sunday’s attacks, The Associated Press is reporting. The 46-year-old Danish billionaire, who is also the largest shareholder in ASOS, and his family were on vacation in Sri Lanka, the AP reported. Authorities said 39 foreigners were among the 290 people killed in Sunday’s attacks.  Meanwhile, a vehicle parked near St. Anthony’s Shrine, one of the churches that was bombed Sunday, exploded Monday as police tried to defuse three bombs inside, according to the AP. At least 87 bomb detonators have been found in Colombo, officials said. Police have detained at least 24 suspects in connection with Sunday’s bombings. Update 5:15 a.m. EDT April 22:  Government officials said the National Thowheed, a Sri Lankan militant group, was responsible for Sunday’s deadly attacks, the Guardian is reporting. However, a government spokesman said an “international network” helped the attackers. Seven suicide bombers caused six of the nine explosions Sunday, a forensic analyst told The Associated Press. Authorities also said a second Chinese citizen and two Australian citizens were among those killed in Sunday’s attacks. So far, the dead include citizens of the United States, India, Britain, China, Australia, Japan and Portugal, the AP reported. Meanwhile, a Sri Lanka military official said crews defused a homemade pipe bomb discovered late Sunday on a road to the airport outside Colombo, the AP reported. Update 12:10 a.m. EDT April 22: The death toll in the bombings has increased to 290 and more than 500 people have been wounded, according to police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara. Among those killed are five Indians, who were identified in tweets from India’s external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and the Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka, The AP reported. China and Portugal also said they lost citizens, and the U.S. said “several” Americans were also killed in the bombings. The AP reported Sri Lankan officials said they would examine reports that intelligence failed to heed or detect warnings of a possible suicide attack.  “Some intelligence officers were aware of this incidence,” Telecommunications Minister Harin Fernando said in a tweet, according to The AP. “Therefore there was a delay in action. Serious action needs to be taken as to why this warning was ignored.”  Update 9:50 p.m. EDT April 21: Japan has confirmed at least one citizen death and four injuries from the bombings. The country has issued a safety warning to Japanese people in the country, telling them to avoid mosques, churches and public places like clubs, malls and government offices, The AP reported. Foreign Minister Taro Kono expressed solidarity with Sri Lanka and sent his condolences to victims of the explosions. He also said Japan was committed to “combating terrorism.” Update 5:40 p.m. EDT April 21: The Associated Press reported that, according to internet censorship monitoring group NetBlocks, social media has been blocked across the country after the attacks. Most services, including YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook have been temporarily blacked out to curb false information spread, according to Sri Lankan officials. According to NetBlocks, such blackouts are usually ineffective. Related: Sri Lanka explosions: Sri Lanka shuts down social media in wake of Easter attacks “We are aware of the government’s statement regarding the temporary blocking of social media platforms,” Facebook, which owns Instagram and WhatsApp, said in a statement to The AP. “People rely on our services to communicate with their loved ones and we are committed to maintaining our services and helping the community and the country during this tragic time.” Update 3:28 p.m. EDT April 21: Police have 13 suspects in custody, impounded a vehicle they believed was used by suspects and located a safe house used by the attackers.  Related: Photos: Easter Sunday blasts at Sri Lanka churches, hotels kill dozens No one has claimed responsibility for what Sri Lankan officials have described as a terrorist attack by religious extremists. Update 9:28 a.m. EDT April 21: Police have so far arrested three people in connection to the blasts, The Guardian reported. A motive for the bombings is still unclear, investigators said.  Update 8:46 a.m. EDT April 21: At least 207 people were killed and 450 hurt in Sunday’s attacks, The Associated Press is reporting. Officials said eight blasts targeted three churches, three hotels, a guesthouse and an area near a Dematagoda overpass, the AP reported. Authorities reportedly have arrested seven people in connection with the incidents. Update 8:07 a.m. EDT April 21: Sri Lankan officials say at least 190 people, including at least 27 foreigners and two police officers, were killed in Sunday’s attacks, The Associated Press is reporting. Seven people have been arrested in connection with the eight explosions, which rocked at least three churches and three hotels, as well as a guesthouse, officials said. Update 7:35 a.m. EDT April 21: President Donald Trump tweeted condolences to the Sri Lankan people Sunday morning. “The United States offers heartfelt condolences to the great people of Sri Lanka,” Trump tweeted. “We stand ready to help!” Update 7:19 a.m. EDT April 21: Hours after explosions at Sri Lankan churches and hotels left dozens dead and hundreds more injured, Pope Francis prayed for the victims during his annual Easter message at the Vatican. Related: Sri Lanka explosions: Pope denounces attacks during Easter blessing “I wish to express my heartfelt closeness to the Christian community (of Sri Lanka), wounded as it was gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence,” Francis told the crowd in St. Peter’s Square, according to Vatican News. He later added: “I entrust to the Lord all those who have tragically perished, and I pray for the injured and all those who suffer as a result of this tragic event.” Every year after leading Easter Mass, the pope delivers an “Urbi et Orbi” (“to the city and the world”) message, which addresses global issues and conflicts. Update 5:32 a.m. EDT April 21: Two more blasts have been reported in Sri Lanka. A seventh explosion hit a hotel in Dehiwala, and an eighth blast was reported in the capital, Agence France-Presse is reporting. Update 4:20 a.m. EDT April 21: At least 156 people were killed in blasts at three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka, Agence France-Presse is reporting. The dead include 35 foreigners, officials said. Update 3:34 a.m. EDT April 21: At least 137 people were killed in blasts at three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka, Agence France-Presse is reporting. The dead include 45 people in Colombo, 67 in Negombo and 25 in Batticaloa, officials said. At least nine of the people killed were foreigners, the news agency reported. More than 500 people were hurt in the explosions, according to The Associated Press. Original report:  Explosions hit three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, killing dozens of people and injuring nearly 300 more, news outlets are reporting. According to The Associated Press, blasts occurred Sunday morning at St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo and a church in Batticaloa. Explosions also rocked the Kingsbury, Cinnamon Grand and Shangri La hotels in Colombo, the BBC reported. The Agence France-Presse news agency said 52 people died in the blasts. At least 283 people were taken to the hospital, the AP reported. Suicide bombers may have caused at least two of the church blasts, a security official told the AP.  The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • Britney Spears appeared on Instagram on Tuesday evening to tell her fans that “all is well.” >> Read more trending news In the very brief Instagram video, Spears checked in, saying she “just needed time to deal,” but promised that she would be back very soon. “I wanted to say hi, because things that are being said have just gotten out of control!!! Wow!!! There’s rumors, death threats to my family and my team, and just so many things crazy things being said. I am trying to take a moment for myself, but everything that’s happening is just making it harder for me. Don’t believe everything you read and hear. These fake emails everywhere were crafted by Sam Lutfi years ago... I did not write them. He was pretending to be me and communicating with my team with a fake email address. My situation is unique, but I promise I’m doing what’s best at this moment 🌸🌸🌸 You may not know this about me, but I am strong, and stand up for what I want! Your love and dedication is amazing, but what I need right now is a little bit of privacy to deal with all the hard things that life is throwing my way. If you could do that, I would be forever grateful. Love you” Earlier this month, Spears checked herself into a mental health facility as her father, Jamie Spears, continues to have health issues, according to TMZ. The celebrity news site reported that, according to unnamed sources, the singer has been distressed over her father’s illness, which the site claims is not getting better. In January, Spears announced that she was putting her planned Las Vegas residency — and the rest of her career — on hold for the sake of her father. The 37-year-old Spears has sons aged 13 and 12. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • Children as old as 12, and even 13, may find themselves back in car booster seats under new legislation signed into law by Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee. >> Read more trending news  The new law updates children’s car seat regulations, requiring all children under 4 feet, 9 inches tall to ride in car booster seats.  According to House Bill 1012, children are required to sit in booster seats in vehicles “until the vehicle lap and shoulder seat belts fit properly, typically when the child is between the ages of eight and twelve years of age, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, or must be properly secured with the motor vehicle's safety belt properly adjusted and fastened around the child's body.” The new law also requires all children under 13 to ride in the back seat and requires children under 2 to ride in rear-facing car seats. “Children aged 2 to 4 can be forward-facing in a car seat until they reach the specifications for a booster seat,” according to the new law. >> Trending: Opossum found living in 7-year-old’s bedroom for 3 days before parents find it  People in violation of the law can be ticketed.
  • An Ohio 9-year-old boy performing in drag at a Lancaster bar prompted an Ohio lawmaker to introduce a bill to expand the definition of child endangerment. State Rep. Tim Schaffer, R-Lancaster, introduced House Bill 180 to prohibit a performance in a bar where a child simulates sexual activity. The business could lose its liquor license and the parent could face misdemeanor criminal charges, if the bill becomes law. >> Read more trending news “Given our heightened focus on human trafficking and the role money plays in trafficking children, I knew I had to take action to make sure this activity does not occur again,” Schaffer said. “We can do better to protect innocent children and we must do better.” Related: Video of the boy’s performance Jacob Measley has been performing as Miss Mae Hem for several months, according to The (Toledo) Blade. His performance includes cartwheels, high kicks, splits and dancing in costume. He got interested in drag queens while watching RuPaul’s Drag Race, a reality TV show, with his mom, Jerri Measley, The Blade reported. She could not be reached for comment on this story. Video of a Dec. 1, 2018 performance at JD Hendersons bar in Lancaster led to complaints and an investigation by Lancaster police and state agencies, said Lancaster Mayor David Scheffler. No law violations were found, he said. After the investigations ended, a “social media outbreak” occurred when a website purporting to be the city of Lancaster made it sound like it was an ongoing issue, Scheffler said. “It was all dead, gone, over. Investigation found no violations. Then someone anonymously on this site posted inaccurate information.” The posting led to threats of violence and demands to close the bar from people across the country, the mayor said. “It got really nasty.”
  • A Georgia woman has pleaded guilty to fatally stabbing her husband and four children, and stabbing a fifth child, who survived, the Gwinnett County District Attorney’s Office said. >> Read more trending news Isabel Martinez, 35, entered guilty pleas to five counts of murder, one count of aggravated assault and one count of cruelty to children Tuesday. Martinez's defense attorney, Don Geary, said she pleaded guilty, but mentally ill. Martinez called 911 on July 6, 2017. When paramedics arrived at her Loganville home, they found Martinez with her wrists slashed. Martinez’s husband, Martin Romero, 33, was found stabbed to death, along with 10-year-old Isabela Martinez, 2-year-old Axel Romero, 7-year-old Dacota Romero and 4-year-old Dillan Martin-Romero. Diana Romero, then age 9, was found with stab wounds, but survived. Diana Romero told a DFCS worker that Martinez began stabbing the children first; when Martin Romero tried to stop her, Martinez stabbed him, according to a DFCS report. Martinez was not crying or screaming as she killed her family members, and told Diana Romero that she was “going to the sky to see Jesus,” Diana Romero told a DFCS worker. Martinez confessed to the killings in the following hours and was arrested, according to the DA’s office. Later, she claimed a “family friend” committed the stabbings in her Loganville home, but she did not give police the name of that alleged friend.  The Gwinnett County District Attorney’s Office declined to seek the death penalty in this case in part due to Martinez’s “apparent mental issues,” District Attorney Danny Porter said in 2018. Family and neighbors said Martinez was depressed in the weeks before she killed her family. Her father had died and Martinez was unable to attend the funeral in Mexico. She worried that he would go to hell because he practiced witchcraft, her brother-in-law, Orlando Romero, told the AJC. She told a Department of Family and Child services worker after her arrest that she felt a “devil-like spirit” was trying to take her children when they were playing in the ocean near Savannah shortly before the killings.  Martinez was sentenced to five life sentences with the possibility of parole plus 21 years after entering her plea Tuesday, according to the DA’s office.