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Rocket climbers: Houston’s journey up the West standings

The Houston Rockets didn’t want to hear about the standings Tuesday night.

Sure, it was nice to get some help across the border as they pulled off another impressive win, fighting off a comeback bid and finishing strong in a 107-95 win over the Toronto Raptors. As the Rockets were running up a 38-point fourth quarter, the clock was ticking down on the two teams directly above them in the Western Conference standings, with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers suffering losses to lottery-bound teams (adding to the theme of the night, the West-leading Golden State Warriors also fell).cheap nfl nike jerseys from china

Right now, the Rockets are playing as well as any team in the NBA. The roster has been shuffled since the start of the season — goodbye Carmelo Anthony, James Ennis, Michael Carter-Williams, etc., welcome Austin Rivers, Kenneth Faried, Iman Shumpert — but the Rockets are finally performing at the elite level that was expected all along for a franchise that roared through last regular season and was a hamstring away from a title, as they like to say in Houston.6

Since that 11-14 low point, when the dysfunctional Phoenix Suns were the lone team the Rockets looked down on in the West standings, Houston has the NBA’s second-best win percentage (28-11, .718). Only the NBA-best Milwaukee Bucks have been better.cheap nfl jerseys china nike

Houston’s success for much of that stretch can be explained simply: Reigning MVP James Harden went on a historic tear. But that sort of one-man show isn’t sustainable for a title contender, as noted by Kobe Bryant, who won five titles when he had All-Star teammates but failed to lift the Lakers to elite status as a lone star.

Harden continues to put up offensive numbers that stack up favorably with the best of all time, but he doesn’t have to carry as heavy of a burden with Paul and center Clint Capela healthy, and the Rockets’ supporting cast clicking, settling into a comfort zone and embracing their complementary roles.

The win over the Raptors was evidence of that. Harden was off for most of the night, but Houston’s second unit tore up Toronto with Paul orchestrating. That’s the group that built a big lead in the first half and re-established command in the fourth quarter after the Raptors rallied.

Fantasy NBA Daily Notes: Don’t sleep on the Grizzlies

In his 750th career start, Memphis’ Mike Conley scored 40 points for the first time as a professional on Tuesday night in downing the Portland Trail Blazers in impressive fashion. The performance marked just the second 40-point game by a Grizzlies player in the past decade and the first since Marc Gasol in January of 2017.

Conley isn’t the only fun story on this lottery-bound Memphis team, as trading Gasol to Toronto, among some other smaller moves at the deadline, created real value for several members of Memphis’ rotation.china nike nfl jerseys cheap

Chief among these rising assets is Avery Bradley, who posted a modest 14-point line last night but has slashed for 17.1 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 4.1 APG, and 2.1 3PG in 10 games, all starts, with the Grizzlies. While Conley is universally owned in competitive fantasy leagues, Bradley is found in free agency in 90 percent of ESPN leagues.5

The free-agent fun continues in Memphis with Delon Wright, sent over from Toronto in the Gasol blockbuster, as he’s averaged 21 points and 9.5 combined assists and rebounds the past two outings and can be found for the price of a few clicks in 98 percent of ESPN leagues. Even Joakim Noah flirted with a triple-double on Tuesday evening and is rostered in fewer than 10 percent of leagues.

In his last game against Denver on Nov. 27, LeBron scored 14 points, one more than he needs on Wednesday to move past Jordan for fourth on the all-time scoring list. The 14 points were a season-low at the time and are his second-fewest in a game this season. The only time James scored fewer against the Nuggets was on Nov. 5, 2003 — the fourth game of his NBA career.cheap nfl nike jerseys from china

Denver is looking to bounce back from a close loss to the Spurs, with passing maven Nikola Jokic poised as a top DFS play tonight, given the Lakers have been uniquely generous on defense since the All-Star break.

With Vikings not tagging Anthony Barr, what’s next?

The clock had been ticking on Anthony Barr’s time in Minnesota after last offseason came and went without the linebacker receiving a contract extension. Now that the franchise tag window has passed, both sides are set to go in separate directions with Barr headed toward free agency.

The Vikings’ decision to let their former first-round pick hit the open market is among the least surprising news ahead of the new league year. Minnesota’s financial situation is tenuous. According to ESPN’s Roster Management System, the Vikings currently sit with $5,263,899 in cap space. The fact there just isn’t enough money to fork up for the franchise tag (an estimated $15.8 million for outside linebackers) and later come to an agreement on a long-term deal wasn’t lost on Minnesota’s decision-makers.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

“Anthony was my number one pick as a head coach, right?” coach Mike Zimmer said at the NFL combine. “I love him as far as the things he does for the organization, the football team. It’s just really going to depend on where the numbers go. … But the way it is with the cap, we have to budget where we’re going. So if it goes to, if Barr gets paid $18 million, it probably ain’t going to happen, you know?”6

Depending upon where he lands in free agency and what his next role becomes, Barr’s market could command somewhere in the $12 million to $15 million range. His value in a 4-3 scheme as an outside linebacker might not be as high as it would be should he move back into a role where he primarily plays on the edge and rushes the passer, similar to the type of responsibilities he carried during his career at UCLA.

What we know is this: The Vikings need to find a replacement for one of their defensive staples. Despite an up-and-down season in 2018 hindered by a hamstring injury, Barr is a very good off-ball linebacker and situational edge rusher. He led all linebackers in pass-rushing productivity, according to Pro Football Focus, generating 23 pressures on 94 pass-rush snaps last season. He wrestled at times to emulate the 2015 version of himself where he rushed quarterbacks like a defensive end while covering the back end like a safety, and his coverage skills were often critiqued, but Barr played a critical role over five seasons in one of the NFL’s top defenses. During his time with the Vikings, Barr notched 13.5 sacks and 31 QB hits, forced seven fumbles and had an interception. His production is one thing, but the impact he had on this defense goes beyond tangible things like stats.cheap nfl nike jerseys china

“He has a really good grasp on what we’re doing defensively,” Zimmer said in December. “He has a good grasp on what the offense is doing. He can communicate to the defensive line and the other linebackers and I think that helps a lot to be able to do the things we are trying to do.”

Barr wasn’t necessarily a “scheme fit” when he was drafted in 2014, but he became what the Vikings needed him to be in Zimmer’s defense. Finding a player whose value can match the former first-round pick’s could come from a number of different places.

Kevin Muscat confident Melbourne Victory can make Champions League impact as injuries mount

On the eve of an AFC Champions League campaign and with the race to the A-League finals in the home straight, Melbourne Victory coach Kevin Muscat has issues.

Any realistic chance the defending champions had of taking top spot from Perth evaporated into the steamy Geelong night air on Saturday when Newcastle inflicted a 2-0 loss.

It was the fourth match in succession that the Victory failed to claim maximum points and the fifth in a row where they fell behind on the score sheet.

In addition to scoring concerns, Muscat is dealing with injuries and suspensions.china nike nfl jerseys cheap

Georg Niedermeier missed the GMHBA Stadium encounter after a red card in the Melbourne derby, while star Swedish striker Ola Toivonen (illness), skipper Carl Valeri (hamstring) and winger Elvis Kamsoba (knee) were also absent.5

To rub salt into the wounds, James Donachie has a suspension coming after he was sent off in injury time for a second yellow card.

Muscat is taking a glass-half full approach ahead of Tuesday night’s opening Champions League clash with Korean side Daegu FC at AAMI Park.

“With the illness and injury, the players have done remarkably well considering all of the disruptions from week to week,” Muscat said.

“At this point in time is it starting to affect us? I don’t think so because the performance didn’t earn the result but there was a lot to like about it.nike nfl jerseys cheap paypal

“We’ll go into Tuesday night’s game with confidence, I’ll make that clear now.

“It’s exciting and we’ll use these extra games that we’ve got to get better and better for the run into the end of the [A-League] season.”

Harris, Butler lead first ever 76ers win in OKC

Jimmy Butler’s magnanimous presence in the locker room is unmistakable. He walks around singing loudly along to songs, taking his personal portable speaker to the showers and barely missing a lyric while he courts a lighthearted debate with Mike Scott and Jonathon Simmons — a debate drowned out by Butler’s country music.

There has been a lot written, said and assumed about how Butler fits with the Philadelphia 76ers and what happens beyond this season, but as coach Brett Brown said after their 108-104 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, Butler was the one trying to bring everything together.china nike nfl jerseys cheap

“There was an unselfishness,” Brown said. “I think that connects the dots to so many things. It’s a very unselfish group, and I thought Jimmy Butler tonight, especially, went way out of his way to live by that standard we’ve set. He was our bell ringer tonight.”7

The Process methodically, incrementally, painstakingly built the 76ers, but this group has sort of been assembled on the fly this season. Butler’s addition was the first significant shake-up, but following that with adding Tobias Harris right before the trade deadline is the big swing. And without Joel Embiid, the Sixers leaned on Butler’s playmaking (20 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists) and Harris’ scoring (32 points on 11-of-19 shooting). After the Thunder tied the game 93-93 with with 4 minutes, 40 seconds left, Harris went on an 8-0 run by himself as the Sixers took control.

“Take the shots you’re comfortable making, and he made ’em,” Butler said of Harris. “We want him to continue to be that player for us, and he’s going to win us a lot of games.”cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

The win broke a 19-game losing streak to the Thunder. It was the Sixers’ first win against OKC since Nov. 15, 2008, and only the second ever against the team since it relocated to Oklahoma City. Looking around the Sixers’ locker room, the longest tenured player is T.J. McConnell, but he has been with the team since only 2015, part of seven of those losses. How different were things on that November day in 2008? The teams took 21 3-pointers

Fantasy NBA Daily Notes: LeBron vs. Giannis

The Magic outscored the Warriors 14-2 in the final three minutes to pull out a compelling victory on Thursday. Orlando missed just one shot from the field during this clutch stretch, while Golden State went 1-of-7. This stretch is tied for the Warriors’ worst point differential in the final three minutes of a game under Steve Kerr.cheap nfl jerseys china nike

The Magic finished 8-3 in February and led the NBA in defensive efficiency (100) and net efficiency during that span (plus-11.9). Thursday also marked the Magic’s 18th outright win as underdogs, second most in the NBA behind the Hawks (19).6

It’s best to embrace variance when it comes to the Magic’s scoring microwave, Terrence Ross. The former Washington Huskie scored 28 points a week ago in Toronto against the team that drafted him and yet followed that with a three-point showing against the Knicks on Tuesday. Against the Warriors, Ross bounced back yet again with a team-best plus-17 net rating and scored 16 points off the bench in the critical win, evidence he’s going to shoot his way through any interim cold stretches.china nike nfl jerseys cheap

During Orlando’s stellar recent stretch of play, Ross has averaged 17.8 PPG, 4.2 RPG, and most importantly 3.2 3PG the past 12 games. Another quietly crucial element to Ross’ game is elite free throw efficiency, as he’s made 87 percent for the season and 96.6 percent from the stripe the past month. Ross doesn’t do much beyond shoot and score, but he’s a difference-maker in those categories and remains available in free agency in more than 60 percent of ESPN leagues. Ross should continue to thrive as Orlando’s version of Lou Williams in the weeks ahead.

Colts center Ryan Kelly expects to play in AFC wild-card game

The Colts are on their way to having their starting offensive line back together for the AFC wild-card playoff game against the Houston Texans on Saturday.

Center Ryan Kelly, the anchor of the offensive line, was a full participant in practice Wednesday. The Pro Bowl alternate said he has every intention of playing against the Texans after missing the regular-season finale at Tennessee with a neck injury.

Kelly suffered the neck injury, which caused pressure on his nerves and impacted his arm strength, against the New York Giants in Week 16.nike nfl jerseys cheap china

“It was a big week last week, and I felt after the [Tennessee] game and going through some walkthrough stuff [Tuesday], I felt like the strength was back,” Kelly said. “Doing some things to hopefully help my neck stay in the same spot and not move around too much. Other than that, I feel well.”6

The Colts will practice Thursday and have a walk-through Friday before departing for Houston. As long as Kelly doesn’t have any setbacks, the Colts will have their starting line back together for the first time since Nov. 18.

The Colts tied New Orleans for the fewest sacks allowed in the NFL with just 18 during the regular season.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

To no surprise, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton did not practice Wednesday as he continues to nurse his injured ankle. He originally suffered the injury during the second quarter of the Dec. 9 game at Houston.

Hilton said Tuesday that he will be playing vs. Houston, where he has 932 yards receiving and seven touchdowns in seven career games. He has only practiced twice, albeit as a limited participant, since the week leading up that Dec. 9 game due to ankle and shoulder injuries.

“[The ankle is] not allowing me to practice, which I love doing,” Hilton said. “I just have to rest it and get it as healthy as I can for Saturday.”

Adam Vinatieri, 46, finalizes return to Colts

Future Hall of Fame kicker Adam Vinatieri has agreed to terms on a new contract to return to the Indianapolis Colts, general manager Chris Ballard told 1070 The Fan on Friday.cheap nfl nike jerseys from china

The NFL’s all-time leading scorer with 2,598 points will return for a 24th season at the age of 46. League sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that Vinatieri was finalizing a one-year contract with the Colts.5

Vinatieri and the Colts were eliminated from the playoffs in the AFC divisional round by the Kansas City Chiefs. Vinatieri missed the shortest field goal of his career and an extra point in what was an overall abysmal performance by the Colts, whose season ended with a 31-13 loss.

Prior to the playoff miss, Vinatieri had been 194-of-200 in his career on field goals between 20 and 29 yards. He was 97-for-97 on field goal tries from 23 yards and shorter entering the game against the Chiefs.nike nfl jerseys cheap china

This season, Vinatieri was 23-of-27 on field goals, with a long of 54 yards, and made 44 of 47 extra points.

Pedro insists Kepa substitution row did not split Chelsea dressing room

The incident with Kepa was widely viewed as undermining Sarri’s authority and several reports this week claimed members of the Chelsea squad had sided with their goalkeeper over their head coach.

But speaking to ESPN after the Spurs win, Pedro insisted: “There has been a lot of talk this week and that always destabilises [things] a little, but the truth is that in the dressing room we are together, as a great team.cheap nike nfl jerseys paypal

“We have not given much importance to everything that has been talked about and in the end that is the most important thing. We are focused on doing well in every game to get the three points, because from here to the end of the season they will be all finals and we will try to fight to be in the top four.

“This was a great match for us to gain confidence and stay there [in the fight for the top four].6

“We have all talked to each other in the dressing room. We’ve also talked to Willy and we’ve talked to the coach. The truth is that we have solved all the problems and I think it has been a [small] incident rather than a serious problem.

“It always serves to learn. We are with Kepa, with Willy and with the manager. This is the path that we have to follow. Now we need to get ready very well for the match against Fulham because it is another final.”

Kepa’s moment of public insubordination at Wembley overshadowed an improved performance from Chelsea even in defeat on penalties to City, and they built on the positives on their return to Premier League action against Spurs.

Asked if Wednesday’s win could be a turning point in a difficult season, Pedro replied: “I think so. We have played very well in the last two games, we were more solid, more compact and we created more chances.cheap nike nfl jerseys free shipping

“Against City we already played a great game. It was a pity that we did not have luck in front of goal. Today we did have that and this is the way to go.

“We have to keep playing like this against the top teams and against any team every week to try not to drop points and be in the top [four], because now it is our main goal.”

England women’s Jordan Nobbs part of World Cup preparations despite long-term injury

England vice-captain Jordan Nobbs will still play a part in the squad’s preparations for this summer’s World Cup in France despite injury ruling her out of the tournament.

Arsenal midfielder Nobbs suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury in November and will not be available for the SheBelievesCup — a tournament which includes hosts United States, Japan and Brazil — which starts on Feb. 27.nike nfl jerseys wholesale cheap

However the assistant to England women’s head coach Phil Neville, Bev Priestman, said they are still including the 26-year-old in decisions because of her leadership qualities, despite her not travelling to the U.S.5

“She’s still part of our captains’ group, so instead of her not being involved at all, she contributes,” Priestman said. “It’s a leadership group of players that we use as a sort of two-way conduit between the players and the staff, making sure the environment gets the best out of them.

“She’s certainly still a big part of this team.If we have meet-up days in England, commercial days where she can be in and around the team, we get her in. The girls love having her around and she’s been in and around the environment because we see her as part of this team moving forward.cheap nike nfl jerseys paypal

“It would be short-sighted to move on without Jordan with [the Women’s Euros in England in] 2021, [Tokyo Olympics] 2020 in mind.”

Manchester City midfielder Jill Scott has withdrawn from the U.S. tournament in order to work on her fitness, and Priestman said the absence of the duo will present a “big opportunity” for others, including Brisbane Roar forward Chioma Ubogagu.