The NBA's most surprising team is the...

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The NBA's most surprising team is the...

From Comcast SportsNetOAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Mark Jackson received a congratulatory text message from Hall of Famer Reggie Miller that might have seemed a bit strange after his Golden State Warriors grinded out a win against the Western Conference's worst team.Big or small, no Warriors win goes unnoticed or is insignificant these days.David Lee had 26 points and nine rebounds, Klay Thompson scored 19 points and Golden State brought its surprising road run home with a 103-96 victory over the struggling New Orleans Hornets on Tuesday night."He congratulated us on the win, but he also said how impressive it was because of the first game being back at home after success for a young team," Jackson said of Miller, a longtime NBA friend and former broadcasting colleague. "For us, it could've been a setup game. But I've got a different group in there. They deserve a whole lot of credit."After going 6-1 on the season's longest road stretch, the Warriors built a 14-point lead in the second quarter and held off the Hornets late. Golden State (17-8) is off to its best start since the 1991-92 season, when the team began 21-8.A franchise that has missed the playoffs 17 of the last 18 seasons is suddenly starting returning to its winning ways."One of the hardest games in the NBA to play is your first game back at home after a road trip," Lee said. "I've been through too much losing to be disappointed in a win."Ryan Anderson scored 28 points off the bench and Anthony Davis had 15 points and 16 rebounds in his first start in a month for the Hornets, who lost their eighth straight to fall to 5-19 this season.Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack each scored 16 points to help Golden State hold off their former team, with each making a pair of free throws in the final minutes. New Orleans sent Jack to Golden State as part of a three-team deal with Philadelphia, and Laundry signed a free-agent deal with the Warriors.While Jack called facing the Hornets "just another game," Landry laughed off that notion."Not for me. And I don't think it was for him. Not at all, man," said Landry, who added nine rebounds. "Jarrett was extra amped-up and I was too, man. We didn't need a 5-hour (energy drink), we didn't need a speech, we didn't need nothing like that. We were ready to play yesterday."The Warriors hadn't played at Oracle Arena since Dec. 3 and treated fans to a video montage of the road trip during pregame introductions. They controlled the pace for most of the game, but the Hornets almost erased all the good vibes with a frantic fourth quarter rally.Davis caught a half-court pass from Greivis Vasquez and converted a layup over Landry for a three-point play that capped a 14-4 Hornets run to tie the game at 92. Landry answered with two free throws, Stephen Curry made a pull-up jumper and Jack added another pair from the line to put the Warriors ahead 98-92 with 1:24 remaining."It's just a tough loss for us, especially when you tie it up, you have a chance to win. All you need is a couple stops and a couple of buckets," Hornets coach Monty Williams said. "We just haven't found that closing mentality, a couple guys who can knock down a shot or even get to the free throw line."The Warriors extended the momentum from their East Coast trip -- which included a win at defending champion Miami -- and added some style points, too.Curry's left-handed pass off the dribble split two defenders en route to rookie Festus Ezeli, who tapped the ball to Lee for a dunk. And on the last play of the first quarter, Charles Jenkins brought an announced sellout crowd of 19,596 roaring to its feet with a buzzer-beating baseline jumper.Landry kept the surge going in the second quarter when he started a three-point play with a reverse layup over Roger Mason. He flexed his biceps in celebration and made the free to give Golden State a 38-24 lead.Williams had restructured the Hornets' starting lineup in hopes of shaking the losing streak. Anderson came off the bench and Robin Lopez moved from center to power forward to make room for Davis.Davis, the top pick out of Kentucky in June's draft, started for the first time since Nov. 17 at Milwaukee. He had come off the bench the previous four games after sitting out 11 games with a left ankle injury.The result remained the same."They just had some great plays at the stretch," Anderson said. "We were getting stops but we made some mistakes down the stretch, and we weren't running the plays right at the end. Just little things, a little slippage."NOTES:Lee's streak of consecutive double-doubles ended at seven games. ... Williams said he's still not sure when PG Eric Gordon will return from a right knee injury that has sidelined him all season. For now, he's trying to stay patient. "My pastor taught me something a long time ago called present discomfort for future gains," Williams said. "And that's what we're kind of going through as a team." ... A moment of silence was held before the game for the victims of the Connecticut elementary school shooting last week.

Wintrust Athlete of the Week: Jack Aho

Wintrust Athlete of the Week: Jack Aho

Jack Aho is the reigning state champion in Class 2A and recently shattered a course record at Warren High School. 

But beyond posting some of the area's fastest times, cross country is also a family affair for Aho.

See why he was named this week's Wintrust Athlete of the Week in the video above.

Football takes a back seat as Griffins honor PFC Aaron Toppen on Salute to Troops night

Football takes a back seat as Griffins honor PFC Aaron Toppen on Salute to Troops night

“Football is life. Until it’s not.”

That message Lincoln-Way East head coach Rob Zvonar relayed to his team in the week leading up to the Griffins’ Week 5 tilt against Thornton was an important one. For the 115 student-athletes who make up a team with legitimate state-title aspirations, high school football can feel like a life-and-death situation. Until it’s not.

Private First Class Aaron Toppen, a 2013 Lincoln-Way East graduate, was 19 when he was killed in Afghanistan two years ago. And on that June 9, 2014, a country lost a hero, a family lost a son, a brother and an uncle, and a community lost a friend who had walked through the halls of Lincoln-Way East High School and drove his famous pick-up truck through town just a year earlier.

So when the Griffins held their annual Salute the Troops night last Friday night, before blowing out the Wildcats 42-6, Aaron’s surviving family was an easy choice to join the team as honorary captains. Aaron’s mother, two sisters, uncle, grandmother and niece were recognized before the game, all in loving memory of a fellow Griffin graduate who gave the ultimate sacrifice to his country.

“Aaron’s passing was a big deal to our community,” athletic director Mark Vander Kooi said. “And we wanted to embrace his family and let them know that we cared about them, loved them and appreciated the sacrifice they made.”

When Lincoln-Way East principal Dr. Sharon Michalak contacted Aaron’s sister, Amy, about honoring her brother last week’s football game, the family jumped at the opportunity. Aaron and his family had been honored at a game in 2014, just months after Aaron’s death. And with the Griffins hosting “Salute to Troops” night, and that coinciding with the annual 5k run held in Aaron’s name the following day, the family accepted the invitation with open arms.

“It’s just amazing. The support never stops, and to hear that they want to keep Aaron’s name alive and honor him, it just really makes us feel wonderful,” Aaron’s mother, Pam, said. “It’s a way we’re getting through it, is through the support of everybody.

Many of the Griffins know the Toppen family – Amy and Amanda are also graduates – but for those unfamiliar with Aaron’s story – like the student-athletes who transferred from North – head coach Rob Zvonar made it a point to relay that message during practice week. Before the team dressed Friday night, all 115 players watched a pair of video tributes to Toppen in one of the school’s classrooms.

“It’s awesome playing in his honor,” senior Sam Diehl said. “We understand football’s just a game and that (Aaron) made the ultimate sacrifice, giving his life for our country, that we have more to give than just football to our community, that there are people out there we need to be more thankful of.”

Once the pregame festivities ended the Griffins put on a worthy performance. They scored touchdowns on their first six drives of the game into the third quarter. Jake Arthur threw three more touchdown passes, wide receiver Nick Zelenika topped 100 yards and the Griffins’ offense averaged better than 4.5 yards per carry.

Devin O’Rourke tallied five tackles for loss and two more sacks – he has five in the last two weeks – and the Griffins defense limited the Wildcats to only a late touchdown in the final minute. The Griffins first team defense has allowed zero points in its last six quarters and appears to be putting its early-season struggles behind them.

But the night belonged to the Toppen family and Aaron’s legacy. The night coincided with homecoming weekend, and it brought back more than a handful of Aaron’s old classmates. One of them, current Illinois offensive lineman Nick Allegretti, spoke highly of Aaron and the impact he left on the school and community.

“I always enjoyed talking in class sitting with him,” he said. “Any person that’s going to go out and fight for our country and fight for our freedom, I have unlimited respect for. So obviously it’s a sad thing to remember, but I think it’s awesome seeing the support we have out here, from the community to the school to the administration.”

The following day each member of the Griffins and the coaching staff traveled to Mokena to participate in the third annual Our Fallen Hero 5k run in Aaron’s memory. Zvonar and the seniors joked about the aches and pains they’d feel running the 3.1 miles less than 12 hours after a football game, but they also understood the importance of showing up, honoring a fellow Griffin and raising money for the Pat Tillman Foundation.

“We’re able to run if we have to, walk if we have to, do what we have to to get it done,” running back Nigel Muhammad said. “Because it’s not about us.”

Added the 285-pound Diehl: “We’re more than happy to run the 3.1 miles. Even us offensive linemen don’t mind.”

More than 600 people were expected to show up for the fundraiser run, which had raised nearly $50,000 in its first two years.

“Aaron would probably say, ‘Mom I don’t like attention, what’s going on here?’ Because he was never that type,” Pam said. “But such a tragedy has brought together a community, and like Amanda said we’re blessed to be a part of this community…We just love seeing everybody.”

Football is life. Until it’s not.

It would have been enough for Zvonar and the coaching staff to speak about who Aaron Toppen was, and the impact he left on a school, a community and a country. The Toppen family could have simply been honored at halftime. Attending the 5k could have been optional for the team to attend.

Instead, football took a back seat for a night in Frankfort. The Toppens were gracious enough to be placed front-and-center to remember a young man who gave his life to protect the freedoms of each one of the thousands in attendance that evening.

“You think back to Aaron Toppen, who a few years ago was walking the hallways of this school and in the same classroom as these guys, and going to the same homecoming dance, and this was just a little bit ago,” Zvonar said. “A young man that’s barely older than these guys and then he goes off and serves his country and fights for the rights for all of us, and pays the ultimate sacrifice. You certainly don’t let that go by unnoticed.

“You want to really make sure that that’s pointed out, that freedom doesn’t come free. And these young men have an opportunity to come out and play this great game tonight. And all these things they’re allowed to do because of the bravery of young men like Aaron Toppen. One of those situations where I know as long as Coach Vander Kooi and myself are here we’ll do everything we can to stop and talk about him.”