- Associated Press - Monday, February 29, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors clinched a playoff spot with more than six weeks to spare.

The defending NBA champions wrapped up a berth when the Houston Rockets lost Saturday night to the San Antonio Spurs. That assured the Warriors will finish among the top eight teams in the Western Conference.

A spokesman for the Warriors said they are the first team since the 1987-88 Los Angeles Lakers to secure a trip to the postseason before the end of February. The Boston Celtics clinched a playoff spot by Feb. 24 in 1985, and by Feb. 26 the following year, according to STATS.

About an hour after the Rockets lost, Golden State improved to 53-5 - the best start in league history - when Curry hit a 3-pointer from well beyond 30 feet with 0.6 seconds remaining in overtime to give the Warriors a thrilling 121-118 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

MIAMI (AP) - Joe Johnson signed with the Miami Heat and made his first appearance with his new team Sunday night when they beat the New York Knicks 98-91.

Johnson was bought out by the Brooklyn Nets earlier this week, cleared waivers Saturday afternoon and signed with the Heat not long afterward. He agreed in principle to a deal with Miami on Friday. He had 12 points against the Knicks.

Johnson averaged 11.8 points with the Nets this season, but his shooting is something Miami desperately wanted. Johnson has 85 3-pointers this season, more than any Heat player and will immediately help with Miami’s depth. The Heat have been playing with Chris Bosh, Tyler Johnson and Beno Udrih all out with illness or injuries.


BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) - Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington on Sunday acknowledged the team erroneously computed Gerrit Cole’s salary offer for 2016, which led to a public spat with their ace pitcher.

The Pirates initially offered Cole a $538,000 contract, which was a $7,000 increase over his base salary last year. According to Huntington, that was a franchise-record pay hike for a player with only two-plus years of big league service time.

However, Cole’s total earnings last season were $541,000 because he got a $10,000 bonus for making the National League All-Star team.

“I understand the business of this game, but it is hard to accept that a year of performance success does not warrant an increase in pay,” Cole told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Cole went 19-8 with a 2.60 ERA and finished fourth in the Cy Young Award voting. He was the Pirates’ starting pitcher in the NL wild-card game.

SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) - Free agent Ian Desmond has agreed to a one-year contract with the Texas Rangers that will include a move to the outfield for the one-time All-Star shortstop who was expected to be in their camp Monday.

The deal was near completion after Desmond passed his physical Sunday, according to a baseball official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because there was no official announcement from the team. The $8 million deal was first reported earlier in the day by Fox Sports.

Desmond is expected to play left field for the AL West champion Rangers. The 30-year-old has started only one of his 927 career games in the outfield while playing all seven of his major league seasons with the Washington Nationals.

Josh Hamilton will start the season on the disabled list for Texas, and is expected to miss at least the first month of the season because of issues with his surgically repaired left knee.


NEW YORK (AP) - The NFL’s salary cap for 2016 will be $155.27 million, an increase of nearly $12 million.

The NFL Players Association confirmed the figure Sunday, and will release the franchise and transition tag numbers on Monday. Free agency begins March 9, but teams must apply those tags by Tuesday.

Among the players whose contracts have expired and might wind up getting tagged are Super Bowl MVP linebacker Von Miller of Denver, and other All-Pros such as Carolina cornerback Josh Norman, Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin and Kansas City safety Eric Berry.

Since the 10-year labor agreement was reached in 2011, the cap has risen more than $35 million per team. The increase is the largest since 2006, when the salary cap went up from $85.5 to $102 million.

This year’s increase is based on several economic factors, including a new Thursday night TV package that includes both CBS and NBC. Other league revenues also exceeded projections in 2015.

Adding to the number last week was an arbitrator’s ruling that the NFL had misplaced certain revenues that should have been applied to the cap. That put another $50 million overall into the cap.

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Defensive linemen Joey Bosa and Emmanuel Ogbah had good workouts Sunday at the NFL’s annual scouting combine.

Bosa, the Ohio State star, could be the first pick in April’s draft.

He finished the 40-yard dash in 4.86 seconds, then tied Clemson’s Shaq Lawson for second in the 20-yard shuttle at 4.21 before finishing second in the three-cone drill at 6.89.

Ogbah, of Oklahoma State, was second in the 40 at 4.63, had a 35½-inch vertical jump and a broad jump of 10 feet, 1 inch.

Ohio State’s Darron Lee led the linebackers with a 4.47 in the 40 and turned in the best broad jump at 11-1. Washington’s Travis Feeney ran 4.50 in the 40 and went 10-10 in the broad jump.


RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Eric Staal will be no longer be the face of the Carolina Hurricanes franchise after the team traded its captain to the New York Rangers on Sunday.

In exchange for Staal, the Hurricanes acquired center Aleksi Saarela, who is currently playing in his native Finland, and New York’s second-round selections in each of the next two drafts.

Staal had spent his entire 12-year career with the Hurricanes and is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, once the final year of his seven-year, $55.75 million contract expires.

The trade was reached about an hour before the Hurricanes played host to the St. Louis Blues and a day before the NHL trade deadline.

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