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Denver, the Jazz are not using injuries as a crutch.We cant make any excuses because guys go d

PARIS -- There is no such thing as the beginning of an end. An end is just an end. However short, the period until that finality remains one of possibilities, as Wayne Rooney will prove.Taking their cue from interim manager Gareth Southgates decision to drop Rooney from Englands starting XI for its 2018 World Cup qualifying match against Slovenia on Tuesday, some observers are now prematurely digging the 30-year-olds footballing grave, predicting that his time is running out.It doesnt take a genius to argue that age, the wear-and-tear of nearly 700 appearances for clubs and country and the displacement of older players by younger ones will, in the not unforeseeable future, combine to permanently sideline Rooney. Like weathermen who predict rain, those now pointing to that writing on the wall are bound to be right, eventually.But there are compelling footballing and sentimental reasons to both hope and believe that between now and the inevitable, Rooney will still surprise.First, the football.It has for several seasons been clear to all, including Rooney, that he no longer has the scything speed that made him such a bulldog forward in his younger days and that he is increasingly struggling with footballs ever-quicker tempo, notably in Englands Premier League.But by recognizing and accepting a variety of retooled roles for himself in the England and United midfields and on their benches, Rooney has shown intelligence, pragmatism, adaptability and no shortage of guts. Embarking on what is, essentially, a second career further down the pitch was never going to smooth. It hasnt been made any easier by the unsettling managerial churn at both United and England.On off-days, Rooney looks ponderous and a brake on, not a creator of, attacking momentum for his teams, unable to play box-to-box for extended periods or create enough goal-scoring chances for others.But on good days, which he still has, Rooneys sweet passes, industry, tactical brains and leadership make him an undeniable asset. Even though Southgate and, at United, Jose Mourinho may no longer think first of Rooney, his enduring value is proven by the fact they still want him on their benches when not in their starting lineups.There is no shame in that. That the all-time top scorer and most-capped outfield player for England and soon-to be top scorer for United (he is just three goals shy of Bobby Charltons record of 249) is willing to play cameo roles is the mark of a player who puts the team before himself.By sharing his experience with younger players and imposing his maturity on the dressing room, qualities that Southgate described as gold dust, and by shielding teammates from some of the intense media spotlight that so often unsettles the England team, Rooney can still chip in to its effort to qualify for the World Cup in Russia and shake off the disaster of being knocked out of the European Championship by Iceland this June.There is no embarrassment, Rooney said. Ill be ready to come off the bench if needed.On the sentimental side, Rooney stands as an example of how football can help polish rough kids from rough neighborhoods, of how the game offers opportunity for youngsters to better themselves and isnt solely defined by the corrupt officials who have soiled the sports reputation, at FIFA and elsewhere.The kid from a grim suburb of Liverpool, as thrilling as he was to watch with the ball at his feet, long disappointed as a person. His temper was short, his moods often foul, and the headlines he generated often bad. He stomped on Ricardo Carvalho (2006 World Cup, red card) and vented to pitch-side cameras (2010 World Cup; West Ham vs. Man United in 2011, two-match ban). His stock fell so low that the town of Edenbridge in Englands southeast burned a 30-foot effigy of Rooney in 2010, giving him the ears of cartoon ogre Shrek.In short, a very different character from the poised elder statesman who accepted Southgates decision to bench him against Slovenia with apparent good grace and insisted this was not the beginning of the end that some described it as.I understand this is part of football. It is something which you have to go through and I am big enough to deal with it, he said. I have said before that I will not stop playing for England and then think of going to Dubai for a few days in the international break. I will turn up when called upon and be ready.The fan of boxing may be down, but he is not out.---John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at) or follow him at See his work at The Denver Nuggets found something that works when Kenneth Faried was put into the starting lineup.Unfortunately, the results are mixed.Faried has been a beast since the move, averaging 12 rebounds in four games, but Denver continues to struggle for wins. The Nuggets have lost three of their last four, including two at home while searching for consistency.They get another chance Sunday when the Utah Jazz are in town. The Jazz are coming off a 111-102 loss to Houston on Saturday.The Nuggets, who are 1-4 at home this season, need to start establishing a home dominance if they want to take a serious run at the playoffs. Two of their losses at Pepsi Center came in overtime, including Friday nights 113-111 setback to Toronto.Denver had chances to put that one away but faltered down the stretch in the fourth quarter and again in overtime.Its encouraging to a point but these are games we have to win, Nuggers coach Michael Malone said. Yes, we are undermanned and have some injuries but no excuses. We had enough bodies on the floor to get the job done.The Nuggets (4-8) are thin in the backcourt because of injuries to Gary Harris (foot) and Will Barton (ankle). Harris is a few weeks away and Bartons return is still unknown.Malone has started his two point guards the last two games and brought rookie Jamal Murray first off the bench. He used forward Wilson Chandler at shooting guard in spots Friday.The Jazz (7-7) are dealing with their own injuries. Forward Boris Diaw miissed Saturdays game in Houston, center Derrick Favors is nursing a knee contusion and Gordon Hayward is still dealing with the effects of a broken finger suffered in the preseason.ddddddddddddLike Denver, the Jazz are not using injuries as a crutch.We cant make any excuses because guys go down in the NBA, Hayward told The Salt Lake Tribune. Thats kind of how it works. So we have to be professionals and figure it out in practice, figure it out in the games. Thats just something we have to do.Utahs offense has struggled since scoring 100 points in back-to-back road games against New York and Philadelphia two weeks ago. The Jazz managed just 77 points in a home loss to Chicago on Thursday before falling to the Rockets on Saturday.It was their third straight loss and dropped them to .500 after a 6-2 start. The offense did find some spark in the loss, but it wasnt enough against the James Harden-led Rockets.Hayward struggled from the field Saturday, going 4-for-13. Rodney Hood led Utah with 25 and Trey Lyles had 21The Jazz hope to get well in Denver.I think were doing well at moving the ball and finding open shots, guard Dante Exum told The Salt Lake Tribune. It just comes down to hitting the shots that we get. The group is still getting connected. Were just going to get better every game and continue to work on the shots. Theyll fall. ' ' '