CORONAVIRUS UPDATES… The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. has reached 20,630,543 and the nation’s death toll stands at 351,453, according to figures released last night by Johns Hopkins University… Two top U.S. health officials yesterday disputed President Trump’s claim that the numbers of reported cases and deaths in the country are overblown. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stressed during an appearance on ABC News’ “This Week” that “The deaths are real deaths.” Surgeon General Jerome Adams appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” and defended the accuracy of coronavirus data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
TRUMP PRESSURES GEORGIA OVER VOTE… Audio from an hour-long phone call released yesterday captured President Trump asking Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” votes necessary to overturn the state’s presidential election results. Trump cited baseless claims of fraud in warning Raffensberger and his office attorney Ryan Germany that they face potential legal and political consequences. Trump insists there is “no way” he lost Georgia, which has certified President-elect Joe Biden as the winner. Raffensperger and Germany tell Trump in the recording that the data his challenge was based on “is wrong” and voting machines have not been tampered with.
FORMER PENTAGON HEADS WARN REPBULICANS… All 10 living former U.S Defense Secretaries are urging the Republican Party to stop trying to overturn the results of the 2020 election. In an editorial published yesterday in the Washington Post, the former Pentagon heads wrote that “The time for questioning the results has passed” and warn that “Efforts to involve the U.S. armed forces in resolving election disputes would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory.” Both of President Trump’s defense secretaries, James Mattis and Mark Esper, signed on to the op-ed, as did former Vice President Dick Cheney.
PELOSI TO REMAIN HOUSE SPEAKER… California Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi was voted into her fourth term as House Speaker yesterday. Her victory came despite opposition from a handful of Democrats. Pelosi urged unity in her campaign to hold the position and told Democrats, “My opponent is COVID.”
PASTOR KILLED IN CHURCH SHOOTING… A shooting at a church in East Texas yesterday morning left one person dead and two others injured. The Smith County Sheriff’s office identified the fatality as the 62-year-old pastor of Starville Methodist Church. The pastor reportedly found a 21-year-old man hiding in a bathroom stall, pointed a gun at him and told him to leave. However, man captured the pastor’s gun and shot him with it, investigators say. Authorities say the man had been hiding in the woods behind the church following a police pursuit the night before.
PLAYBOY CARTI TOPS ALBUM CHART… Playboi Carti’s “Whole Lotta Red” sold 100,000 copies to debut atop the Billboard 200 album chart. Taylor Swift’s “Evermore” slid into second place after selling 71,000 units. Lil Durk’s “The Voice” jumped into third place on sales of 66,000 copies. Pop Smoke’s “Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon” finished fourth with 46,000 units sold. Ariana Grande’s “Positions” sold 38,000 copies to cap the top five.
ACTRESS TANYA ROBERTS DIES… Actress Tanya Roberts, who was best known as a Bond girl and for her work on “That ’70s Show,” died yesterday after a brief hospitalization. She was 65. Roberts, who was born Victoria Leigh Blum, began her career as a model before breaking into film with the 1975 horror flick “Forced Entry.” Her big break came when she landed the role of Stacey Sutton in the 1985 James Bond film “A View to a Kill,” opposite Roger Moore.
SINGER GERRY MARSDEN DIES… Gerry Marsden, lead singer of the 1960s British rock band Gerry and the Pacemakers, has died of a heart infection, friends confirmed yesterday. He was 78. Marsden was was known for his cover of the song “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from the musical “Carousel.” His other hits included “Ferry Cross the Mersey” and “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying.”
NFL POSTSEASON COMPLETE… The NFL postseason is set following yesterday’s regular-season finales. In the AFC, the Titans claimed the South division title while the Ravens, Browns and Colts all clinched playoff spots. The Bills locked down the conference’s No. 2 seed, with the Steelers sliding into the third spot. In the NFC, the Packers secured the top seed with a first-round bye, the Saints claimed the second seed and the Buccaneers locked themselves into the No. 5 seed. Washington captured the East division title, while the Rams and Bears clinched playoff spots.
AFC PLAYOFF PICTURE:
No. 1 seed: Kansas City
No. 2 seed: Buffalo
No. 3 seed: Pittsburgh
No. 4 seed: Tennessee
No. 5 seed: Baltimore
No. 6 seed: Cleveland
No. 7 seed: Indianapolis
AFC WILD CARD MATCHUPS:
Indianapolis is at Buffalo – Saturday, 1:05 p.m. ET
Tennessee hosts Baltimore – Sunday, 1:05 p.m. ET
Cleveland is at Pittsburgh – Sunday, 8:15 p.m. ET
NFC PLAYOFF PICTURE:
No. 1 seed: Green Bay
No. 2 seed: New Orleans
No. 3 seed: Seattle
No. 4 seed: Washington
No. 5 seed: Tampa Bay
No. 6 seed: L.A. Rams
No. 7 seed: Chicago
NFC WILD CARD MATCHUPS:
L.A. Rams are at Seattle – Saturday, 4:40 p.m. ET
Washington hosts Tampa Bay – Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET
Chicago is at New Orleans – Sunday, 4:40 p.m. ET
Tennessee 41 – HOUSTON 38… Sam Sloman’s 37-yard field goal on the game’s final play sent the Titans (11-5) past the Texans (4-12). Derrick Henry ran for 250 yards and two touchdowns. He has surpassed 2,000 rushing yards on the season.
Baltimore 38 – CINCINNATI 3… The Ravens (11-5) set a franchise record with 404 rushing yards in routing the Bengals (4-11-1) and punching their ticket into the postseason. J.K. Dobbins rushed for 160 yards and two touchdowns. Lamar Jackson hit Marquise Brown with two of his three scoring passes.
CLEVELAND 24 – Pittsburgh 22… The Browns (11-5) held off the Steelers (12-4) and are heading to the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Nick Chubb ran 47 yards for a first-quarter touchdown.
INDIANAPOLIS 28 – Jacksonville 14… Jonathan Taylor ran for a franchise-record 253 yards and scored two touchdowns as the Colts (11-5) doubled up on the Jaguars (1-15).
BUFFALO 56 – Miami 26… The Bills (13-3) rolled past the Dolphins (10-6) and bounced them from the playoffs. Isaiah McKenzie caught two of Josh Allen’s three touchdown passes in the second quarter and returned a punt 84 yards for a touchdown.
Green Bay 35 – CHICAGO 16… Aaron Rodgers threw four touchdown passes to finish with a team-record 48 on the regular season and the Packers (13-3) handled the playoff-bound Bears (8-8).
New Orleans 33 – CAROLINA 7… The Saints (12-4) took advantage of five interceptions to breeze past the Panthers (5-11). Drew Brees threw touchdown passes to three different receivers. Ty Montgomery rushed for 105 yards.
TAMPA BAY 44 – Atlanta 27… Antonio Brown caught two of Tom Brady’s four touchdown passes and the playoff-bound Buccaneers (11-5) put away the Falcons (4-12).
Washington 20 – PHILADELPHIA 14… Alex Smith threw for a pair of scores as Washington (7-9) fought off the Eagles (4-11-1).
L.A. RAMS 18 – Arizona 7… The Rams (10-6) rode their defense to a win over the Cardinals (8-8). Troy Hill returned an interception 84 yards for a touchdown. John Wolford passed for 231 yards and rushed for 56 more in his NFL debut.
Seattle 26 – SAN FRANCISCO 23… Russell Wilson found Tyler Lockett with two fourth-quarter touchdown passes as the Seahawks (12-4) came from behind to top the 49ers (6-10).
Minnesota 37 – DETROIT 35… Kirk Cousins passed for 405 yards and hit three difference receivers with touchdown passes as the Vikings (7-9) fought off the Lions (5-11).
NEW ENGLAND 28 – N.Y. Jets 14… Cam Newton threw for three touchdowns and caught a scoring pass in leading the Patriots (7-9) past the Jets (2-14).
N.Y. GIANTS 23 – Dallas 19… Daniel Jones threw a pair of second-quarter touchdown passes as the Giants (6-10) topped the Cowboys (6-10).
Las Vegas 32 – DENVER 31… Derek Carr’s pass to Darren Waller converted a two-point conversion with 24 seconds remaining and lifted the Raiders (8-8) over the Broncos (5-11).
L.A. Chargers 38 – KANSAS CITY 21… The Chargers (7-9) cruised past a Chiefs (14-2) team that was resting its starters for the playoffs. Justin Herbert passed for 302 yards and three touchdowns.
Boston 122 – DETROIT 120… Jayson Tatum knocked down a fallaway jumper with 2.9 seconds left as the Celtics held off the Pistons. Tatum finished with 21 points. Jayson Brown led all scorers with 31 points.
Washington 123 – BROOKLYN 122… The Wizards got a go-ahead dunk from Thomas Bryant with 14.9 seconds left and held on to edge the Nets. Bradley Beal had 27 points and 10 rebounds. Russell Westbrook scored 24 points and dished off 10 assists. Thomas Bryant totaled 21 points and 14 boards.
L.A. Lakers 108 – MEMPHIS 94… The Lakers shook off a rough start to blow past the Grizzlies. LeBron James scored 22 points and grabbed 13 rebounds.
Denver 124 – MINNESOTA 109… The Nuggets used a 41-point fourth quarter to put away the Timberwolves. Jamal Murray pumped in a season-high 36 points. Nikola Jokic racked up 19 points, 12 boards and 12 assists.
Utah 130 – SAN ANTONIO 109… The Jazz jumped out to an early double-digit lead and never looked back in their thrashing of the Spurs. Bojan Bogdanovic scored a game-high 28 points. Donovan Mitchell tossed in 22 points.
CHICAGO 118 – Dallas 108… Zach LaVine poured in 39 points, Coby White scored 21 of his 23 points in the second half and the Bulls got past the Mavericks.
L.A. Clippers 112 – PHOENIX 107… The Clippers built a 20-point halftime lead and held on to top the Suns. Paul George led the way with 39 points.
GOLDEN STATE 137 – Portland 122… Stephan Curry erupted to score a career-high 62 points as the Warriors outshot the Trail Blazers. Andrew Wiggins added 21 points.
TODAY’S NBA SCHEDULE…
Cleveland is at Orlando…
Philadelphia hosts Charlotte…
New York is at Atlanta…
Miami hosts Oklahoma City…
Boston is at Toronto…
Houston hosts Dallas…
Detroit is at Milwaukee…
New Orleans hosts Indiana…
Sacramento is at Golden State
TOP 25 COLLEGE BASKETBALL SCORES…
No. 5 Houston 74, SMU 60…
No. 16 MICHIGAN 85, No. 19 Northwestern 66…
No. 21 MINNESOTA 77, No. 25 Ohio State 60