Isaiah Thomas surprises 14-year-old Celtics fan … twice

When 14-year-old Robbie McNulty saw someone walking toward him on a playground in Cambridge, Massachusetts, last week, he didn’t think it was anything out of the ordinary. The man looked a lot like the usual hoopsters he might encounter while getting up shots at St. Peter’s Park.

A closer inspection revealed it was actually Boston Celtics 5-foot-9 All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas, who asked McNulty if he could shoot with him for a bit.

“[McNulty] was the only kid there,” Thomas told the Globe. “So I’m like, ‘I’m just going to go get some shots up with him.’ When I walked over, he rebounded his own shot and turned around and I’m like, ‘Can I get a couple shots?’ And he stopped. He didn’t even say a word, like his eyes were so big. He just stopped and froze and I’m like, ‘Pass me the ball.'”

McNulty, who just entered his freshman year of high school, posted the picture on Instagram with a caption that noted, “Isaiah Thomas played basketball with me.” Thomas even replied to the post from his Instagram account writing, “Nice rebounding for u.”

Make sure you draft point a point guard in the first two rounds.

This might seem like common knowledge for longtime fantasy hoops players who realize the importance of a point guard-heavy roster, but it rings truer in 2016-17 than it has in years.

Humor me for a second and think back to your youth, when you passed time by playing tic-tac-toe. You remember, don’t you? If you were anything like me, typically your first turn always seems like a good move.

That’s similar to the way the first round of fantasy hoops drafts feel this year.

Looking through ESPN’s updated rankings, you see a top 12 filled with big names like James Harden, Karl-Anthony Towns, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Paul George, who tantalize you with their upside and overall talent at positions other than point guard.

While there are other lower-ranked point guards, the problem is the steep drop-off after the first two rounds; Rajon Rondo (46) and Goran Dragic (50) are the next two point guards in the top 50, and both are over 20 picks lower than Bledsoe.

What we learned: Kyle Hendricks is great, and Rougned Odor is clutch

It’s time to admit that Kyle Hendricks is the Cy Young front-runner. Right? No? Maybe? I don’t actually know. What I do know is that the Chicago Cubs’ starter is 15-7 with a 2.03 ERA after he took a no-hitter into the ninth against the Cardinals. He lost the no-no when Jeremy Hazelbaker led off the ninth with a home run on an 0-2 changeup. Hendricks is so good at manipulating the ball and working it around the edges of the strike zone:

“I don’t want to say I had to make levity of the situation, but I definitely had to have something distracting because I was going to some pretty dark places,” Blanck said. “I immediately named the tumor ‘Yankee’ because I hate the Yankees. And then, when I got introduced to what treatment was going to be like, it seemed very fitting to name the chair ‘Big Papi’ because he’s a Yankee killer.”

The first round of chemo began March 21. Four and a half months later, Blanck had lost his hair but not his faith, because he passed time during many of his most draining treatments by sitting on “Big Papi” at the University of Vermont Medical Center and watching Ortiz wallop opposing pitchers in one of the greatest seasons ever by a 40-year-old slugger.

“Early in the season in April, when you’ve got a lot of day games, I was always sitting there watching the Red Sox,” Blanck said. “The nurses, every day when I came in, they would put a sign up, a picture of Big Papi with a quote and tape it to my chair. I was always wearing one of my Red Sox shirts. So they all started getting into it as well. For those first several months, sitting there and reading about it and watching the Red Sox every afternoon when I was getting sicker and sicker, it was a relief. It was an awesome distraction all summer.”

Blanck chronicled his fight on Facebook and his wife, Shalagh, kept a blog. At one point, Blanck wrote that he hopes somebody, “I’ll be able to get one of those Big Papi hugs,” that Ortiz has doled out to his Red Sox teammates since 2003.

It didn’t happen Tuesday, although Blanck and his family got the next-best thing. Through friends, they were given tickets to the Red Sox game against the Baltimore Orioles and sat in box seats next to the dugout. They also were escorted onto the field before the game. While they didn’t get to meet Ortiz, Geoff, Shalagh and their daughters Emma, 13, and Annecy, 11, took pictures in the dugout and were greeted by Red Sox president Sam Kennedy.

Stephen Strasburg dealing with strained flexor mass in elbow

Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg is dealing with a strained flexor mass in his right elbow but his UCL is intact, trainer Paul Lessard said Thursday.

Strasburg had an MRI on the elbow earlier Thursday, one day after leaving a start in the third inning.

Lessard said the injury is not necessarily season-ending but offered no timetable for Strasburg’s return.

“I’m thinking let’s take care of the swelling and get him to a pain-free range of motion, and then we’ll start a strengthening program,” Lessard said. “I’m just worried about the next four or five days right now.”

Strasburg felt a pinch in the back of his elbow Wednesday night, and was forced to make an early exit in his first start since returning from the disabled list.

“Unfortunately, it just happened on one pitch,” Lessard said. “It’s just an acute injury vs. an overuse injury.”

Strasburg previously had been out since Aug. 17 because of soreness in his right elbow. He left Wednesday’s start after 2 1/3 innings and 42 pitches, allowing a run on two hits, before NL East-leading Washington went on to defeat Atlanta 5-4 in 11 innings.

Before going on the disabled list, Strasburg allowed 19 runs over his final three starts, including nine over 1 2/3 innings in a loss to Colorado his last time out. In his first 17 starts, he was 13-0 with a 2.51 ERA.

It was Strasburg’s second stint on the disabled list this season. The right-hander missed 17 games in June with an upper back strain.

How to define “in the hunt”? That’s its own problem, so to keep things simple, I’m just including everyone within five games of a playoff spot as of Sept. 8. We’ll proceed in alphabetical order. Here are the reasons why each good team could come up short.

Tebow won the Heisman Trophy for the Florida Gators in 2007 and helped the team take two national championships. He played professionally for the Denver Broncos and New York Jets from 2010 to 2012. He spent training camps with the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles in 2013 and 2015, respectively, but never played in the regular season for those teams.

Since 2013, Tebow has been a college football analyst for ESPN. Alderson said Tebow will be excused a couple of days each week from fall instructional league to fulfill that commitment.

“Tim is committed to his role at SEC Network and ESPN this fall,” Stephanie Druley, ESPN senior vice president, event and studio production, said in a statement. “We have always been supportive of Tim’s athletic pursuits. His new schedule will allow him to continue as a college football analyst on SEC Nation this fall.”

Former major league pitchers Dallas Braden, who is now an ESPN analyst, and C.J. Nitkowski questioned how serious Tebow was about playing baseball based on the arrangement to give him excused days off each week.

Mike Leake sent to DL after case of shingles

MILWAUKEE — The St. Louis Cardinals placed pitcher Mike Leake on the 15-day disabled list Monday because of shingles and recalled left-handed reliever Dean Kiekhefer from Triple-A Memphis.

The Cardinals, 68-61 entering Monday, own the second wild-card spot in the National League.

The staff ace is on his way back after throwing two innings in a simulated game earlier this week, but more still needs to happen before he takes his rightful place atop the Dodger Stadium mound.

All of this is speculative, of course, and dependent on how Kershaw’s back responds until his next outing.

And now they get to see what happens as he tries to make it in their sport, baseball.
On Tuesday in Los Angeles, former Heisman Trophy winner, two-time national-champion Florida Gators and former Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow will hold a showcase for Major League teams as he attempts to land a contract to begin a new career in professional baseball.

As usual with Tebow, who has been working as a broadcaster on ESPN, there are many supporters and probably just as many doubters. Ever since his agent, Brodie Van Wagenen of CAA Sports, announced Tebow’s intent to try to play pro baseball, the social media universe and skeptics have swarmed on this story. Many called it a publicity stunt.

But a handful of current and former Major Leaguers who have observed Tebow closely and from afar over the years seem to agree on three main points: that Tebow’s sincerity shouldn’t be questioned, that he faces a long, tough road to the Major Leagues, and that even despite the odds, an athlete of his caliber with a work ethic as solid as his deserves to at least be taken seriously.

“He works his tail off, and you know the intangibles are there,” Aardsma said. “For me, it’s about baseball IQ. Where does he stand with the baseball part of it? The athleticism, the work ethic, the clubhouse demeanor, that all plays. And you see the passion. Honestly, he’s losing money by doing this, so you know it’s not a publicity stunt. If he wanted that, I mean, he’s already on TV. What more do you need?”

Aardsma added that Tebow is in incredible shape and that his power is “no joke” and neither is this latest pursuit.

“I don’t think it’s a crazy notion, because I know the athleticism that it takes to play baseball and I know he’s got that athleticism,” Aardsma said. “Plus I love the idea that somebody’s still passionate about this game, no matter who you are. We need to be passionate about this game.”

Despite humility lesson in minors, Yasiel Puig preferred trade

Dodgers’ outfielder Yasiel Puig would have preferred a trade to another team instead of being demoted to the minors, but admitted to have learned some humility since joining the organization’s Triple A team in Oklahoma City.

Puig, who was placed on revocable waivers by the organization on Sunday, spoke with ESPN’s Marly Rivera in Oklahoma City about lessons learned and his future in the majors — whether that is back in Los Angeles or somewhere else.

Puig apologized to both current Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and former skipper Don Mattingly for his previous behavior, which included showing up late to meetings and batting practices.

“It is the same rules whether you in Cuba or in the U.S.,” Puig said. “If you don’t train, if you don’t respect your coaches, whether you are amateur or professional, you will have the same problems.”

It just might happen, too.

Uehara threw an encouraging 25-pitch session of live batting practice Monday at Fenway Park, his most rigorous workout yet since he went on the disabled list July 19 with a strained right pectoral muscle.

According to Red Sox manager John Farrell, Uehara is scheduled for a bullpen session Wednesday in Boston and will throw to hitters again Saturday, one day later than he otherwise would have because the field at Oakland Coliseum won’t be available after a Raiders preseason game Thursday night.

If all goes well, Uehara could be reinstated to the roster as soon as next Monday for the opener of a three-game interleague series in San Diego.

The Red Sox can use Uehara, too. Since he was sidelined, they have lacked a primary eighth-inning setup man. Although submarining right-hander Brad Ziegler hasn’t pitched poorly, Farrell prefers not to use him against left-handed hitters. Junichi Tazawa and Matt Barnes have struggled, and lefty Fernando Abad has been a disappointment since being acquired from the Minnesota Twins at the trade deadline.

So, although Uehara is 41 years old and has allowed eight home runs in his past 20? innings, he figures to help stabilize a group of relievers that has been searching for more definition to their roles.

“A healthy Koji certainly adds to our bullpen. And I know that he senses that,” Farrell said. “But I can’t say that he’s short-cutting any work or rehab for the sake of just getting back.”

Cleveland has rocked — now it’s time for the city to hustle

“We’re giving people an opportunity to … chase their dreams. I’ve been able to chase mine, so I want people to chase theirs as well.”

That’s how LeBron James described CNBC’s newest TV show, Cleveland Hustles, when he visited Trevor Noah on The Daily Show last week. Hustles, which debuts at 10 p.m. Wednesday, features four Cleveland business leaders who act as the pseudo-Sharks: Kumar Arora, Kathy Futey, Alan Glazen and Jonathon Sawyer.

What the investors provide the eight local businesses throughout the show (and to the four winners after it all ends), goes beyond money. “The four of us have decided that besides our personal investment, if we could choose, we want to help others,” said Kathy Futey, one of the show’s investors. “We want to give an opportunity to people that wouldn’t normally have access to capital like that or to talent.” She believes this is going to be bigger than even James envisioned. “He’s gonna see that the four of us have opened our hearts. That’s just who we are.”

Despite some of Cleveland’s documented economic hardships, the city is booming in some important places. Just last year, Cleveland came in at No. 35 on a Top 50 Entrepreneur Friendly Cities list, ahead of places such as Atlanta and New Orleans. “You know,” Arora said of Cleveland, “we work a little harder, we care about the people next to us, we care about our neighbors.” Arora is from Cleveland and went to high school there. “I was the last kid picked in school,” Arora said. “I was the nerd who was building robots and programming and doing DNA research when I was in high school, and so the fact that LeBron chose me as one of the investors — just some kid from Cleveland? It means a lot to me.”

Though they’ve been paired together since Beal’s rookie season of 2012, Wall and Beal admit they haven’t exactly found common ground yet.

“I think with Coach Brooks coming in, he’s going to hold everybody accountable, starting with me,” Wall said. “Just make sure everybody know what their role is. If everybody buys into their role, we’ll be fine.”

Part of the problem, according to Beal, might be that he and Wall are so alike.

“When you fail in your hometown, that’s as bad as it gets, and I love my hometown,” said Walton, who grew up in La Mesa, 9 miles east of downtown San Diego. “I wish we had NBA basketball here, and we don’t because of me.”

When Walton signed with the San Diego Clippers in 1979, he had missed the previous season with a foot injury. But the center was arguably the NBA’s best player after leading the Portland Trail Blazers to the 1976-77 championship and winning the league’s MVP award for 1977-78. The Buffalo Braves had relocated to San Diego and been rechristened in 1978, and his homecoming was supposed to jump-start the franchise in its second season on the West Coast. But it wasn’t meant to be.

“It’s my greatest failure as a professional in my entire life,” Walton said. “I could not get the job done in my hometown. It is a stain and stigma on my soul that is indelible. I’ll never be able to wash that off, and I carry it with me forever.”

He appeared in just 14 games his first season with the Clippers and missed the following two seasons because of multiple surgeries on his foot. Walton returned in 1982-83 and played in 88 games over the next two seasons, which would prove to be the Clippers’ last in San Diego. They moved to Los Angeles in 1984, and Walton played one season in their new home before being traded to the Boston Celtics. He finished his career in Boston and in 1985-86 won an NBA title and was named Sixth Man of the Year.

Now a college basketball analyst for ESPN, Walton is known for his penchant for hyperbole. But there’s no exaggeration as he somberly recalls his five injury-riddled seasons in San Diego. Had he stayed healthy and been the player he was in Portland, Walton believes the Clippers would have won and never moved north.

Michael Bennett: Pete Carroll is like Benjamin Button, Willy Wonka

RENTON, Wash. — Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett was asked Monday to identify when he’s seen Pete Carroll at his angriest.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen him angry, honestly,” Bennett said. “I always tell him he’s like Benjamin Button. I see him happy all the time. Willy Wonka. He’s just having a good time.”

“A lot of coaches, they have philosophies, but what does their philosophy really mean?” Bennett said. “It means s—, because they don’t win games. So here you’ve got a guy who’s telling you about philosophy about how to win when he’s never won. When you’ve got a coach that’s really won, he understands his philosophy, people buy in a lot faster because they understand that this guy knows what he’s talking about. There’s a lot of coaches that talk about championships, they talk about being in the moment, but they don’t even know what that moment feels like. They don’t know how to express it, how to talk about it so they can’t really hone in on it. And I think Coach Carroll does a great job of doing that. He’s elevated the mindset of people to understand that there is more in them and they can be greater.

“Before, I had a whole bunch of guys spitting a whole bunch of garbage about stuff that they said that they knew and how you win championships, and they never won. So when I got here, I understood that Pete knew how to win. And that was what it was about.”

Bosa and the Chargers are still locked in a contract stalemate over offset language and the earlier payment of deferred signing bonus money.

Chargers head coach Mike McCoy would not provide a timetable for Bosa getting into game shape, if and when he reports to Chargers Park.

However, asked if someone playing defensive end in San Diego’s system could function, given a slimmed-down version of the playbook, McCoy said: “We’re going to play everybody. If you have a uniform, you’re going to play. And that’s what the good teams do up front. They’re going to rotate everyone and keep everybody fresh.”

The Chargers dropped Bosa from third string to fourth string at defensive end on the team’s latest depth chart. Darius Philon is listed as the starter, followed by Tenny Palepoi, Zamir Carlis and Bosa. With the Chargers preparing for the team’s regular-season dress rehearsal — Sunday’s preseason matchup against the Minnesota Vikings — San Diego must move forward as if Bosa will not be available for the season opener in three weeks.

“We’ll have a plan for him whenever he’s here,” McCoy said. “We’ve talked about it over time, from the very beginning of camp. So we’ve got a plan for when he’s in the building. But I’m very pleased with the other 89 guys in camp at this point in time.”

Specifically, McCoy indicated that he has been pleased so far with the play of Bosa’s replacements, second-year pro Darius Philon and 2014 undrafted rookie Tenny Palepoi.

Texans QB Brock Osweiler makes progress in second preseason game vs. Saints

Who got hurt? Several players, including defensive end Watt (back) and tackles Duane Brown (quadriceps) and Derek Newton (hamstring) did not dress, but there were no injuries announced during the game.

A surprise player who impressed: Fifth-round pick D.J. Reader, who played just 18 snaps last week and had not made much of an impact during training camp, played well Saturday. He finished with three tackles, and though he won’t start, the nose tackle looked like he could hold his own if starter Vince Wilfork were to miss any time.

When it was starters vs. starters, the Texans looked …: much better than they did last week. It wasn’t just Osweiler, either. The defense’s work on tackling during practice this week paid off, and veteran inside linebacker Brian Cushing was all over the field, with six tackles and a pass defended in the first quarter. The starters played a little longer than they did last week, and most importantly, they came out of the game without injuries.

One reason to be concerned: The starting offensive line is not getting playing time together. Tackles Duane Brown (quadriceps), Derek Newton (hamstring) and center Nick Martin (ankle) all missed Saturday’s game. Right guard Jeff Allen was not at the game due to a death in the family. Although missing preseason games isn’t too concerning, the starters have not had an opportunity to play together so far in training camp. O’Brien pointed out earlier in the week that it has been good for the backups to get more reps, but he acknowledged that it is important for the starters to get reps together soon.

RB Tyler Ervin is getting chances on kick and punt returns: O’Brien said earlier in camp that one of the reasons the Texans drafted Ervin this year was because of film they saw on punt returns during his time at San Jose State. O’Brien gave Ervin plenty of opportunities Saturday, but he did not make much of an impact. He did muff a punt last week but was clean Saturday.

Kicking battle: O’Brien gave kicker Nick Novak the chance to attempt all three field goals, and he hit all three (from 49, 46 and 36 yards). Rookie kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn, who made the Texans’ only field goal last week, did not attempt a kick. O’Brien has not yet named a starter and said he does not have a deadline in mind to do so.

SEATTLE — Prior to the Seattle Seahawks’ second preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday night, running back Troymaine Pope chatted with his 3-year-old daughter, Cassidy, who had a request.

“She called me before the game, told me she wanted a playroom full of toys,” Pope said. “So I’m trying to go out here and get it for her.”

Pope, an undrafted free agent out of Jacksonville State, was the Seahawks’ leading rusher in their second preseason game, carrying 10 times for 86 yards and a touchdown.

As recently as a few weeks ago, friends and family were urging Pope to consider alternate career paths. He attended an orientation for a factory job near his hometown of Anniston, Alabama. Pope didn’t want to give up on football, but he had a daughter to think about.

“[The Seahawks] called me, and I just broke down crying,” Pope said.

“I was working at a car factory, working on cars and putting tools and stuff together for cars, something like that. But it was just something I didn’t want to do. … It was hard labor. I really didn’t want to work the job, but I had to provide for my daughter, so I was willing to do anything for her.

“I’m never going to move on past this game. This is something I love. My family was trying to convince me to get a job, but I took a long time to even attempt for a job because I knew this was what I wanted to do.”

Pope is still a long shot to make the roster. Thomas Rawls and Christine Michael are in line to be the Seahawks’ top two backs. The team also spent three draft picks on running backs — C.J. Prosise, Alex Collins and Zac Brooks.