CORONAVIRUS UPDATES… The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. has reached 18,445,655 and the nation’s death toll stands at 326,088, according to figures released last night by Johns Hopkins University. There were 232,342 new cases and 3,401 deaths, Worldometer reported… Tennessee has emerged as the newest transmission hotspot after averaging nearly 128 new infections per 100,000 people over the last week. California’s 111 new cases per 100,000 residents was second… The Centers for Disease Control said yesterday that more than 1 million people nationwide have been given the first of the two doses required for the two coronavirus vaccines that have been approved. However, it could take six months or more before most Americans are eligible for the shots.
TRUMP VETOES DEFENSE BILL… President Trump cited provisions to rename Confederate-honoring military bases and aired other grievances in vetoing the annual defense spending bill yesterday. The National Defense Authorization Act carried bipartisan support in passing both houses of Congress earlier this month with veto-proof majorities. Democrats and Republicans both objected to the veto and vowed to override it. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House would return next Monday for a vote.
TRUMP ISSUES NEW ROUND OF PARDONS… President Trump last night announced 26 new pardons that cover loyal political allies and lower-profile recipients. Former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner’s father, Charles, headed the list of those who received pardons. Earlier this year, Trump commuted Stone’s sentence for obstruction of Congress and threatening a witness days before he was set to surrender. Manafort spent close to two years in prison for bank and tax fraud, illegal foreign lobbying and witness tampering conspiracies before being released to home confinement due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Kushner pleaded guilty to 16 counts of tax evasion, one count of retaliating against a federal witness and another count of lying to the Federal Election Commission.
FBI BLAMES IRAN FOR ELECTION INTIMIDATION… The FBI is blaming Iran for creating a website to sow discord in the U.S. following the last month’s presidential election. The FBI released a statement yesterday claiming it has “highly credible information” that identifies Iranian cyberactors as being “almost certainly” responsible for the creation of the Enemies of the People website that listed personal information and photographs of U.S. election officials and workers in calling for their deaths. Threatening emails were also sent to officials from email accounts associated with the website, which is no longer active.
CHRISTMAS WEATHER… Severe storms bringing rain, gusty winds and snow are on the forecast for much of the nation through Christmas. Heavy snows were expected in parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska. Forecasters called for rain and damaging winds from the eastern Carolinas northward. South Florida is preparing for its coldest Christmas in 26 years.
WHODINI FOUNDER DIES… John “Ecstasy” Fletcher, who was a founder of the pioneering hip-hop trio Whodini, has died of undisclosed causes. He was 56. Ecstasy formed Whodini with Jalil Hutchins in Brooklyn, New York, in 1982. DJ Grandmaster Dee joined four years later. The trio had hits with “The Haunted House of Rock,” “Friends” and “Freaks Come Out at Night.” Whodini received the Hip Hop Icon Award at the third annual Black Music Honors in 2018.
MOUNTAIN GUITARIST DIES… Leslie West, a hard-metal guitarist best known for performing the song “Mississippi Queen” with his band Mountain, died of cardiac arrest in Florida yesterday morning, his brother confirmed. He was 75. “Mississippi Queen” was released on Mountain’s 1970 debut album, “Climbing!” The previous summer, the band performed between Canned Heat and the Grateful Dead on the second day of the Woodstock festival. After Mountain broke up in the early ’70s, West continued recording with different versions of the band, producing solo albums and touring.
NBA SEASON OPENERS…
CLEVELAND 121 – Charlotte 114… The Cavaliers used a big second quarter to build a 21-point halftime lead and coasted past the Hornets. All five starters scored in double figures, led by Colin Sexton’s 27 points. Darius Garland added 22 points. Andre Drummond finished with 14 points and as many rebounds.
INDIANA 121 – New York 107… Domantas Sabonis pumped in a career-high 32 points and Victor Oladipo 16 scored of his 22 points in the second half of the Pacers’ win over the Knicks. Malcolm Brogdon tossed in 21 points.
ORLANDO 113 – Miami 107… The Magic used a fourth-quarter surge to get past the Heat. Evan Fournier led the rally and finished with 25 points. Aaron Gordon added 20 points.
PHILADELPHIA 113 – Washington 107… Joel Embiid powered his way to 29 points and 14 boards in leading the 76ers past the Wizards. His go-ahead basket with 1:09 remaining gave Philadelphia the lead for good.
BOSTON 122 – Milwaukee 121… Jayson Tatum banked in a fallaway, go-ahed 3-pointer with less than a second remaining to lift the Celtics over the Bucks. Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo missed a tying free throw with four-tenths of a second left. Tatum finished with 30 points. Jaylen Brown lit it up for 33 points.
New Orleans 113 – TORONTO 99… The Pelicans came on strong in the second half to erase an 11-point deficit and knock off the Raptors in Tampa. Brandon Ingram scored 24 points to lead all scorers. J.J. Redick converted a 4-point play with just over a minute left and finished with 23 points.
Atlanta 124 – CHICAGO 104… The Hawks scored 83 first-half points in building a 32-point lead through three quarters in routing the Bulls. Trae Young scored 37 points as all five starters scored in double figures.
San Antonio 131 – MEMPHIS 119… The Spurs shook off a slow start to get past the Grizzlies. They got 29 points from DeMar DeRozan and 21 points from Dejounte Murray. Ja Morant’s 42 points weren’t enough for Memphis.
MINNESOTA 111 – Detroit 101… The Timberwolves rallied in the fourth quarter to put away the Pistons. Malik Beasley led a balanced scoring attack with 23 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 11 rebounds.
Sacramento 124 – DENVER 122 (OT)… Buddy Hield’s tip-in of a Harrison Barnes miss at the buzzer sent the Kings past the Nuggets. Hield led Sacramento with 22 points. Barnes and De’Aaron Fox tossed in 21 points apiece.
Utah 120 – PORTLAND 100… Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell scored 20 points apiece as the Jazz blasted the Trail Blazers. Gobert also grabbed 17 boards. Five other players scored in double figures for Utah.
Dallas 106 – PHOENIX 102… Devin Booker scored 22 points to lead six players in double figures as the Suns held off the Mavericks. Dallas’ Luca Doncic tallied a game-high 32 points in a losing effort.
HOUSTON – Oklahoma City (ppd)… Last night’s Rockets-Thunder game was postponed after Houston had fewer than the league-required eight players available. Three Rockets players have returned tests that were either positive or inconclusive for the coronavirus under the NBA’s testing program. Four other players are quarantined under contact-tracing protocol and Chris Clemons is out with a ruptured Achilles tendon.
TONIGHT’S NBA SCHEDULE…
No games scheduled
TOP 25 COLLEGE BASKETBALL SCORES…
No. 5 Villanova 85, MARQUETTE 68…
No. 8 TENNESSEE 80, South Carolina Upstate 60…
No. 23 OHIO STATE 80, No. 11 Rutgers 68…
No. 13 CREIGHTON 66, No. 22 Xavier 61…
No. 18 Illinois 98, PENN STATE 81