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Gretzky Takes Indefinite Leave as Coach (AP)
Phoenix Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky, left, speaks to his players during the first period of the Coyotes' first home game of the season, against the Minnesota Wild in this Oct. 8, 2005 file photo in Glendale, Ariz. Gretzky took an indefinite leave as coach of the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday night, Dec. 17, 2005 to return to Canada to be with his mother, who has lung cancer. (AP Photo/Tom Hood)AP - Wayne Gretzky took an indefinite leave as coach of the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday night to return to Canada to be with his mother, who has lung cancer.


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Conroy Gives Kings 4-1 Win Over Coyotes (AP)
Los Angeles Kings' Joe Corvo reacts to his goal against the Phoenix Coyotes during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Dec. 17, 2005, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)AP - Just hours after Wayne Gretzky stepped down as their coach Saturday night, the Phoenix Coyotes lost 4-1 to the Los Angeles Kings. Craig Conroy ended a 13-game goal drought during a power play and set up set up goals by Pavol Demitra and Joe Corvo in the victory.


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Broncos Buck Bills, Clinch Playoff Berth (AP)
Buffalo Bills' Terrence McGee (24) walks away as Denver Broncos' Rod Smith (80) celebrates his touchdown reception during the second quarter of NFL football at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y., Saturday, Dec. 17, 2005. (AP Photo/David Duprey)AP - Leave it to the sure-handed Rod Smith to help the Denver Broncos clinch a playoff berth. Smith had 11 catches for 137 yards — both season-highs — and a touchdown, leading the Broncos to a 28-17 win over the Buffalo Bills on Saturday night.


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LeBron, Cavs Hand Riley First Heat Loss (AP)
Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James drives to the basket against Miami Heat's Jason Kapono in the fourth quarter of NBA basketball in Cleveland, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2005. James scored a team-high 41 points in the Cavaliers 115-107 win. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)AP - LeBron James scored 41 points and Donyell Marshall added a season-high 25 to help the Cleveland Cavaliers hold off Miami 115-107 Saturday night, handing coach Pat Riley his first loss since taking over the Heat on Monday.


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Artest Wants to Stay a Pacer, Agent Says (AP)
AP - Ron Artest doesn't want to be traded by the Indiana Pacers after all, his agent says.

Brady leads Patriots to division title (Reuters)
New England Patriots running back Corey Dillon (L) is congratulated by teammates Christian Fauria (top) and quarterback Tom Brady (R) after Dillon's two-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Foxboro, Massachusetts December 17, 2005. The Patriots won 28-0 to clinch first place in the AFC East Division. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)Reuters - Tom Brady threw three touchdown passes to help the New England Patriots clinch their fourth division title in five years on Saturday with a 28-0 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Foxboro.


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James scores 41 as Cavaliers down Miami Heat (Reuters)
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James dunks against Miami Heat forward Antoine Walker (8) in the second quarter of their NBA game in Cleveland, Ohio December 17, 2005. (Ron Schwane/Reuters)Reuters - LeBron James scored 41 points and had 10 assists as the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Heat 115-107 in the National Basketball Association Saturday, handing Pat Riley his first loss since returning to coach Miami.


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Column: Charlie Hustle Still Hustling (AP)
Pete Rose sits at a table waiting to sign autographs at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas on Friday, Dec. 16, 2005. Rose holds the Major League Baseball record for most hits with 4,256 and is not in the Hall of Fame. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)AP - Pete Rose was working his day job, which on this day meant he was inside a ritzy shopping mall at Caesars Palace, pen in hand.


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Man United Moves Within Six of Chelsea (AP)
AP - Ruud van Nistelrooy and Wayne Rooney scored in each half Saturday and Manchester United beat host Aston Villa 2-0 to move within six points of Premier League leader Chelsea.

Peca's OT Goal Leads Oilers Past Canucks (AP)
Edmonton Oilers' Ryan Smyth (facing camera) celebrates with his teammates after scoring against the Vancouver Canucks  during first-period NHL hockey action in Vancouver, Canada,  Saturday, Dec. 17, 2005. Alex Hemsky (83) assisted on the goal. (AP Photo/Richard Lam)AP - Mike Peca scored 4:08 into overtime and the Edmonton Oilers stopped the Vancouver Canucks' four-game winning streak with a 5-4 victory Saturday night.


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No doubt about it
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – You can't question the champion Patriots anymore, not after blanking the Bucs.

Patriots blank Bucs to clinch AFC East (AP)
The gray division championship T-shirt hung in the locker behind Tedy Bruschi. The Patriots linebacker preferred to look ahead. "I just don't want one T-shirt," he said. "I want two more." Getting conference and Super Bowl championship shirts seems possible after New England dominated one of its toughest opponents of the season, beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 28-0 Saturday.

Smith helps Broncos claim playoff spot (AP)
With a playoff berth on the line, the Denver Broncos put the ball in Rod Smith's sure hands. Smith sparked a sputtering offense, finishing with 11 catches for 137 yards -- both season highs -- and a touchdown in leading Denver to a 28-17 victory over the Buffalo Bills on Saturday night. "He's the leader of this team.

Barber, Giants run past Chiefs (AP)
Tiki Barber had no worries about playing behind a patchwork offensive line. It showed. Big time. Barber ran for a team-record 220 yards on 29 carries and scored two touchdowns, helping the Giants beat up-and-coming runner Larry Johnson and the Kansas City Chiefs 27-17 Saturday. If the Giants (10-4) beat Washington next week, they will clinch the NFC East.

Panthers place Stephen Davis on IR (AP)
The Carolina Panthers placed three-time Pro Bowl running back Stephen Davis on season-ending injured reserve Saturday with a swollen right knee. Davis, who ran for a career-high 1,444 yards in 2003 for the Panthers, developed soreness and swelling earlier this week in his surgically repaired right knee.

Martz medically cleared to return Jan. 1 (AP)
Rams coach Mike Martz, who stepped down in October with a heart ailment, has been cleared to return Jan. 1 but is unlikely to come back to the team. The Rams are expected to reach a settlement with the coach, who has one year remaining on a three-year contract and is due $3.25 million. Martz has clashed with the front office all season and likely would seek a head coaching job elsewhere in the NFL.

Elam scores 100th point again (AP)
Broncos kicker Jason Elam became the first NFL player to score 100 points in each of his first 13 seasons when he kicked an extra point in the third quarter against Buffalo on Saturday night. The kick came after Wesley Duke scored on a 1-yard touchdown reception. He also made an extra point earlier in the game.

Owens says teammates disrespected him (AP)
Before Terrell Owens was banished from the Philadelphia Eagles, the All-Pro wide receiver told GQ magazine that some of his teammates didn't want him to play in the Super Bowl last February. "A lot of people, they doubted me," Owens said in the January issue of GQ. "Some of my teammates didn't want to see me come back, but I came back.

Vikes upbeat despite boat party charges (AP)
The chatter was upbeat, smiles abounded and hip hop blared on the locker room stereo. If the Minnesota Vikings were shook up by the news that four of their teammates were charged with misdemeanors stemming from an October cruise on Lake Minnetonka, they sure did a good job of hiding it. "It's business as usual," quarterback Brad Johnson said Friday.

Dungy wants Colts to enjoy the streak (AP)
Forget the pressure. The Indianapolis Colts are having too much fun with this whole perfection thing. Sure each successive win intensifies the spotlight, but the Colts don't mind. They like the attention, welcome the scrutiny and are unfazed by the endless questions about chasing an undefeated season. Coach Tony Dungy expects nothing less.

Anthony's ascension
LeBron might be one of the NBA's best, but Carmelo isn't far behind.

King James hands Riley's Heat first loss (AP)
Pat Riley, meet LeBron James. James helped spoil an otherwise perfect week for the returning Miami coach, scoring 41 points and taking over late to give the Cleveland Cavaliers a 115-107 victory over Riley and the Heat on Saturday night. Riley, coaching against James for the first time, was impressed.

Finley's late jumper lifts Spurs by Kings (AP)
Being a starter again agrees with Michael Finley, and it seems to agree with the San Antonio Spurs as well. Finley, the longtime Dallas starter replacing the injured Manu Ginobili, hit a 20-foot jumper with 2.5 seconds left to give the Spurs a 90-89 win over the Sacramento Kings on Saturday night. In the three games since Ginobili went inactive with a sprained right foot, Finley has averaged just...

Billups, Pistons roll over Bobcats (AP)
Charlotte coach Bernie Bickerstaff thought the Bobcats would have to play a near perfect game to beat Detroit. When they came out flat, it was more than Bickerstaff could stand to watch. Chauncey Billups had 21 points and 12 assists and the Pistons routed the Bobcats 103-78 on Saturday night to improve to an NBA-best 18-3 -- the best 21-game mark in franchise history.

Agent: Artest wants to remain a Pacer (AP)
Ron Artest doesn't want to be traded by the Indiana Pacers after all, his agent says. Artest said last weekend that his past in Indiana haunts him, and he is interested in being traded to the New York Knicks or Cleveland Cavaliers. But Mark Stevens, Artest's agent, told The Associated Press on Saturday that Artest holds out hope he can remain with the Pacers.

Clippers end Rockets' win streak at five (AP)
Tracy McGrady has proven he can score 60 points in a game. After giving up 25 to him in the first half, the Los Angeles Clippers kept him from making it one of those games and generated enough offense to beat the Houston Rockets. Sam Cassell had 22 points, Elton Brand scored nine of his 20 points in the final 6 minutes, and the Clippers held McGrady to 2-for-12 shooting in the second half on...

Pacers hand Knicks sixth straight loss (AP)
If the Indiana Pacers do trade Ron Artest, Danny Granger is ready to step up. Jermaine O'Neal scored 31 points, including the go-ahead basket with 1:56 left, and Granger had the best game of his rookie season as the Pacers beat New York 102-96 on Saturday night, handing the Knicks their season-high sixth straight loss.

Grizzlies end three-game skid, beat Suns (AP)
Pau Gasol and the Memphis Grizzlies made sure they snapped a three-game slide. Mike Miller had 14 points and 11 rebounds and Gasol also scored 14 points to help the Grizzlies snap their longest losing streak of the season with a 91-87 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Saturday night. "I wanted to start out more aggressive and make my first two or three shots for a change," said Gasol, who was...

Sweetney leads Bulls past Celtics (AP)
Chicago coach Scott Skiles saw his team hit nine 3-pointers in the third quarter Saturday night, but what really caught his eye was the way the Bulls played defense a night after a 28-point loss in Detroit. "I'm really happy with our response after last night. Right from the beginning of the game, we were really into what we were doing.

Okur, Jazz outwork Bucks in Milwaukee (AP)
The Utah Jazz simply outworked the Milwaukee Bucks. Mehmet Okur had 14 points and 14 rebounds and Gordan Giricek and Deron Williams also each scored 14 points in Utah's 88-80 victory Saturday night. "They came out and played hard and we didn't match their intensity," Milwaukee coach Terry Stotts said.

Power rankings
With Marty Turco and Mike Modano playing like Olympians, the Stars have been anything but mediocre.

Gretzky leaves Coyotes indefinitely (AP)
Wayne Gretzky took an indefinite leave as coach of the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday night to return to Canada to be with his mother, who has lung cancer. Gretzky left the team before the Coyotes' 4-1 loss to the Kings in Los Angeles and went to Ontario to be with his parents, Phyllis and Walter. "We respect and support Wayne's decision," Coyotes general manager Michael Barnett said in a statement.

Coyotes lose after Gretzky steps down (AP)
The Phoenix Coyotes don't know when coach Wayne Gretzky will be back behind the bench. Their first game without him prompted many questions about how they will play without him. Just hours after Gretzky took an indefinite leave from the team to return to Canada to be with his mother who has lung cancer the Coyotes lost 4-1 to the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night.

Biron, Sabres again beat Penguins (AP)
Martin Biron is on a roll, and his teammates don't want it to end. Biron made 30 saves in winning his 13th straight start and the Buffalo Sabres withstood Pittsburgh's late rally to beat the Penguins 4-3 Saturday night. "It's definitely about team," said Biron, who became the first NHL goalie in nearly a decade to win 13 consecutive starts.

Lemieux has recurrence of heart problem (AP)
Penguins owner-captain Mario Lemieux had a recurrence of his irregular heartbeat and didn't travel to Buffalo for Saturday's game against the Sabres. "He didn't make the trip because in the third period last night he was having a recurrence of an irregular heartbeat," Penguins general manager Craig Patrick said between periods of Saturday's game.

Panthers' road losing streak reaches 13 (AP)
Michael Garnett did exactly what the Atlanta Thrashers needed him to do. Ilya Kovalchuk and Jim Slater scored 17 seconds apart in the third period and Atlanta beat Florida 2-1 on Saturday night, the Panthers' 13th consecutive road loss. But it was the other side of the ice where the difference was made.

Preds six-goal second crushes Jackets (AP)
Rick Nash was happy with Columbus' first period. The rest didn't go well at all. Jordin Tootoo netted his first goal of the season, and the Nashville Predators scored a team-record six times in the second period in a 7-3 victory over the Blue Jackets on Saturday night. Tootoo, Kris Beech, Marek Zidlicky, Steve Sullivan, Yanic Perreault, and Jerred Smithson's all scored in the middle period to set...

Sens get six PP goals in rout of Leafs (AP)
The Pizza Line's latest home delivery thrilled the Ottawa Senators' fans on so many levels. Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Wade Redden each had a goal and two assists, and Ottawa scored six power-play goals in an 8-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night. Dany Heatley added a goal and an assist, and Bryan Smolinski, Antoine Vermette and Chris Kelly also each had a goal and an...

Kiprusoff helps Flames blank Bruins (AP)
Miikka Kiprusoff didn't give the Boston Bruins a chance. Kiprusoff stopped 26 shots in his fifth shutout of the season and the Calgary Flames beat the Bruins 3-0 on Saturday night. "I see Kiprusoff was first star. Whoever made the three star selections is dead on, not just because he had the shutout." Calgary assistant coach Rich Preston said.

Peca's OT goal helps Oilers top Canucks (AP)
Mike Peca had a choice: shoot forehand but maybe miss the net, or go to the more conservative backhand. He picked the latter and netted the winning goal for the Edmonton Oilers. Peca scored 4:08 into overtime and the Oilers stopped the Vancouver Canucks' four-game winning streak with a 5-4 victory Saturday night.

All good things ...
Where should the NASCAR season end? Our readers chime in.

Auto Racing 2005: Stewart grows up amid youth movement (SportsTicker)
MOORESVILLE, North Carolina (Ticker) - In a season where youth was not only served it was showcased, Tony Stewart topped the auto racing headlines by simply growing up.

Judge: Speedway lawsuit against NASCAR will stay in Kentucky (AP)
A federal judge has ruled that Kentucky Speedway's $400 million antitrust lawsuit against NASCAR will be heard in Kentucky and not moved to a Florida court.

Talladega Superspeedway to get first repaving since 1979 (AP)
Talladega Superspeedway will be repaved next year, the first time since 1979, and several drivers say they're looking forward to a smoother ride.

NASCAR champ to drive midget races under his own name (AP)
Tony Stewart will drive a midget car again, and won't try to fool anybody. The two-time NASCAR champion will drive in a pair of U.S. Auto Club indoor midget car races at Fort Wayne, where he won a 60-lap feature a year ago under an assumed name in an old junker he bought during a poker game the night before.

Iowa Speedway project gets more financing (AP)
NEWTON, Iowa - An Iowa-based construction company said it has obtained the financing to complete construction of...

Price of returning racing to North Wilkesboro is $12 million (AP)
A grass-roots group is lobbying to return racing to North Wilkesboro Speedway, but a $12 million price tag might be too steep for Wilkes County. That's the asking price of Bruton Smith and Bob Bahre, who own the former NASCAR track. A group calling itself Save the Speedway, which wants to bring racing back to the .625-mile oval, retired an online petition last week after gathering 4,582 signatures.

NASCAR's Pacific Northwest expansion plan faces tough road (AP)
OLYMPIA, Wash. - Is the land of lattes ready to join NASCAR Nation? The sport's leaders are betting on it with a...

Motorsports companies down after NASCAR TV deal disappoints (AP)
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Shares of motorsports companies fell Thursday after NASCAR's new television rights...

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