Update on the latest sports


Canadiens fire coach Claude Julien amid losing stretch

UNDATED (AP) — The struggling Montreal Canadiens fired head coach Claude Julien (ZHOO’-lee-ehn) and associate coach Kirk Muller on Wednesday following a three-game skid.

Assistant coach Dominique Ducharme was appointed interim coach, and Alex Burrows was added to the Canadiens’ coaching staff.

After a one-week break in their schedule, the Canadiens have lost three in a row. They’ve lost five of six and six of eight since a strong start. The Canadiens were battling the Toronto Maple Leafs for top spot in the North Division earlier in the season but have since dropped into fourth.

A 5-4 shootout loss in Ottawa against the Senators on Tuesday night marked the end of the line for Julien, who returned for his second go-round as Montreal’s coach midway through the 2016-17 season.

Julien had to leave the team during the first round of the playoffs last year in Toronto when he had a stent installed in a coronary artery. Muller took over the head coaching duties and the Habs extended the top-seeded Philadelphia Flyers to six games before bowing out.

The Habs were the lowest-ranked team to qualify for the 24-team postseason last year and then upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in the qualifying round.

In other NHL news:

— San Jose’s game against Vegas scheduled for Thursday night has been postponed after a Sharks player entered the NHL’s COVID protocol. It’s the 36th NHL game this season to be postponed for virus-related issues and 40th counting the Texas snowstorm that affected Dallas. The Sharks’ facilities have been closed. The team canceled practice Wednesday, saying that decision and the postponement were made “out of an abundance of caution.” The NHL had a season-low eight players on its COVID protocol list Tuesday, five of them from Philadelphia. That’s down from a season high of 59 just 11 days ago.


Abreu tests positive for virus

UNDATED (AP) — American League MVP José Abreu (ah-BRAY’-oo) has tested positive for COVID-19 and will remain away from the Chicago White Sox for at least the next few days.

General manager Rick Hahn says the Cuban slugger is “completely asymptomatic.” Hahn says testing also showed the presence of COVID antibodies and Abreu believes he had a mild case of the coronavirus in January.

Manager Tony La Russa said Abreu will likely join the team by Monday, perhaps as soon as Friday.

Abreu powered the White Sox back to the playoffs for the first time since 2008. The three-time All-Star hit .317 with 19 home runs and a major league-leading 60 RBIs in the pandemic-shortened season.

In other baseball news:

— Brett Gardner and the New York Yankees have finalized a $5.15 million, one-year contract for the outfielder to return for a 14th season. New York also finalized its one-year deal with left-hander Justin Wilson. To clear roster spots, right-hander Luis Severino was put on the 60-day injured list as he recovers from Tommy John surgery last Feb. 27, and outfielder Greg Allen was designated for assignment. Gardner gets a $1 million signing bonus and a $1.85 million salary this year. His agreement includes a $2.3 million player option for 2022. Wilson’s deal includes a $2.85 million salary this year and a $2.3 million player option for 2022.

— The Atlanta Braves have claimed outfielder Guillermo Heredia off waivers from the New York Mets. Heredia was added to Atlanta’s 40-man roster. He was designated for assignment on Sunday when the Mets finalized a deal with center fielder Kevin Pillar. Heredia is the second veteran outfielder to be added to Atlanta’s roster this week. The Braves claimed Phillip Ervin off waivers from the Chicago Cubs on Monday.

— Minnesota Twins shortstop Royce Lewis has a torn ACL in his right knee that will sideline him for the 2021 season. Lewis is considered the organization’s top prospect. He was the first overall pick in the 2017 draft. President of baseball operations Derek Falvey said Lewis was diagnosed with the injury upon reporting to spring training. The 21-year-old Lewis will have reconstructive surgery Friday. The rehabilitation process will take between nine and 12 months. Lewis was not expected to be in the majors in 2021. He finished the 2019 season at Double-A.


Hectic finish awaits all NBA teams in 2nd half of season

UNDATED (AP) — The second half of the NBA schedule will be hectic, all the way to the end. The league on Wednesday released the list of games that will be played between March 10 and May 16.

Memphis and San Antonio — two of the teams that dealt with long unplanned shutdowns because of coronavirus-related issues — are set to play 40 times apiece, tied for the most in the league during the 68-day sprint to the end of the regular season. And every team is scheduled to play on the final day of the regular season, a rarity.

The 15 games on May 16 will mark the first time that every NBA team plays on the same day since Nov. 25, 2016 — and the first time all have done so on the final day of the regular season since April 16, 2014.

The season reopens following the All-Star break on March 10 when Washington visits Memphis and San Antonio goes to Dallas.

In other NBA news:

— The Houston Rockets have released DeMarcus Cousins after just 25 games. Cousins was waived this week after signing a $2.3 million contract with Houston in the offseason. He returned to the court this season after missing all of last season while recovering from a torn Achilles tendon. The 30-year-old Cousins was averaging 9.6 points and 7.6 rebounds this season playing in a reserve role. The four-time All-Star has averaged 20.8 points and 10.7 rebounds in an 11-year career in which he also played with Sacramento, New Orleans and Golden State.

— Backup guard Quinn Cook has been waived by the Los Angeles Lakers. The defending NBA champions announced the move shortly before Cook’s contract would have been guaranteed. Cook averaged 2.1 points while appearing in 16 games this season for the Lakers, who also waived him in November before re-signing him in December. Cook was a popular locker room presence who was also a backup on last season’s title-winning team, averaging 5.1 points while winning his second NBA championship ring in three years. Before joining the Lakers in 2019, Cook spent two seasons with Golden State.

— The leadership of the National Basketball Coaches Association is voicing its “concern and level of disappointment” with the way the Minnesota Timberwolves changed head coaches. The statement came from NBCA president Rick Carlisle of the Dallas Mavericks and NBCA executive director David Fogel. The Timberwolves fired Ryan Saunders on Sunday night and formally introduced Toronto Raptors assistant Chris Finch as the replacement on Monday. Timberwolves assistant David Vanterpool has support from several NBA players, many of whom expressed anger that he did not get the job or, at minimum, the appearance of being considered for it. Vanterpool is Black. Finch is white. Timberwolves president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas says the team did consider minority candidates.


Bill would allow college athletes to return from draft

UNDATED (AP) — The latest federal bill related to college sports would allow athletes to earn money from endorsements, loosen restrictions around transfers and permit players to return to school after entering a professional league’s draft.

The proposed legislation introduced Wednesday by Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran also would require the wealthiest athletic programs to increase spending on long-term medical care for athletes.

The bill is the fourth to emerge from the Senate since December and second from a Republican. Most recently, Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy introduced a bill narrowly focused on giving college athletes the right to earn money off their names, images and likenesses.

In other college sports news:

— A diversity study for racial and gender hiring across college sports found little change in scores that continue to lag behind the professional ranks. Wednesday’s report card from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at Central Florida assigned an overall C-plus grade, a B for racial hiring and a C-plus for gender hiring for the 2019-20 sports season. Those were the same grades from last year. The report examines a range of positions including leadership at the NCAA headquarters, conference commissioners, athletics directors and head coaches across Divisions I, II and III.

— The West Coast Conference men’s and women’s basketball tournaments will be held without fans due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Clark County in Nevada would have allowed a limited number of fans, but the conference decided it would be safer for athletes and staff with no one else in the arena. The tournaments are March 4-9 at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. The WCC has played its postseason basketball in Las Vegas for 13 years, selling out every time.


Original 9, Hewitt in Tennis Hall of Fame’s Class of 2021

UNDATED (AP) — Billie Jean King and the other members of the Original 9 who laid the groundwork for the women’s professional tour are the first group elected together to the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Last year marked the 50th anniversary of when King, elected to the Hall in 1987 for her accomplishments on the court, and eight other players — Peaches Bartkowicz, Rosie Casals, Judy Dalton, Julie Heldman, Kerry Melville Reid, Kristy Pigeon, Nancy Richey and Valerie Ziegenfuss — took a stand against the disparity in prize money between men and women in the sport at the time.

Lleyton Hewitt and Dennis Van der Meer are the other members of the Hall’s Class of 2021. Hewitt was the only one of five nominees in the Player Category voted in. He won the U.S. Open in 2001 and Wimbledon in 2002 and reached No. 1 in the rankings.

Van der Meer advocated for a universal teaching method in tennis and was elected in the Contributor Category. He died in 2019.

The induction ceremony is scheduled for July 17 at the Hall in Newport, Rhode Island.