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Who gets Golden State in Round 1? OKC’s worst-case scenario looms

It was supposed to be the kind of night that could jump-start the Oklahoma City Thunder. For a moment, it even appeared poetic.

On a night when the organization retired the jersey of Nick Collison, a prototypical glue-guy role player known for his charge-taking and backdoor bounce passing, the Thunder roared back in the fourth quarter to tie the Toronto Raptors on Russell Westbrook’s streaking layup with 4.8 seconds left. The Raptors cleared out for Pascal Siakam on their final possession. He drove hard at the basket, but Dennis Schroder stepped in and took a charge.

The Thunder’s first possession of overtime was a scrappy grind, but eventually Steven Adams connected with Westbrook on a backcut near the baseline. Westbrook didn’t quite handle the pass and dropped it off to Jerami Grant, who couldn’t finish at the rim. With Paul George fouled out, the Raptors eventually scored the first nine points of overtime, with the Thunder’s first basket coming with just 31 seconds left as Toronto handed OKC a fourth straight loss, 123-114.cheap nfl jerseys china nike

Once viewed among the elite in the Western Conference only a month ago, a couple injuries and a few other setbacks sent the Thunder sliding to eighth in the conference based on tiebreakers. If the playoffs were to start today — OKC does have 10 games remaining — the Thunder would draw the first-place Warriors in the opening round.6

George has said he checks the standings and watches the scoreboard some. After the game, he looked up and saw the Thunder were now eighth. At the All-Star break, they were 17 games over .500, third in the West. They’re 5-10 since the break, with two separate four-game losing streaks.

There’s some context there, like George’s shoulder injury that left OKC without its MVP candidate for three games and has obviously affected him some since coming back. Or Westbrook’s one-game suspension served against the Miami Heat on Monday, a game during which the Thunder clearly missed his explosive energy and playmaking.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

But that’s a self-inflicted wound, a compromised position Westbrook created himself after accumulating 16 technical fouls this season. After avoiding the topic following the game on Monday with only “next question” responses, he skirted past taking any responsibility for it again on Wednesday morning.

It’s somewhat indicative of what ails the Thunder: There’s an understanding of what’s going wrong — such as going 15-of-29 as a team from the free throw line against the Raptors — but an inability to course correct. In spurts, they’re very good. But it comes out of desperation, such as the frantic comeback that forced overtime with a 32-18 fourth quarter.

Westbrook was brilliant with 42 points on 16-of-29 shooting (5-of-10 from 3-point territory). But with teams loading up on George, the Thunder’s auxiliary players, much like over the past month, didn’t produce.

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.

Hamidou Diallo wins dunk contest; Jayson Tatum best in skills challenge

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Hamidou Diallo knew he’d have to make an impression to win the slam dunk contest. So he decided to find a way to make the biggest one possible: by dunking over the biggest person in the building.

Wearing a Superman shirt underneath his teal Thunder jersey, Diallo threw down a slam after jumping over 7-foot-1 Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal and then hung on the rim by his elbow to steal the show and come away as the winner of this year’s competition.

Diallo’s dunk was one of the few highlights of a competition that featured some compelling slams — including New York Knicks guard Dennis Smith Jr. dunking over rapper J. Cole while wearing Cole’s high school jersey, and Atlanta Hawks forward John Collins jumping over an airplane prop — but also lengthy delays because a few contestants required multiple tries in order to complete their dunks.

Two players — Smith and Charlotte Hornets forward Miles Bridges — failed to convert one of their attempts.cheap nfl nike jerseys china

Smith’s failed attempt came on his first dunk in the final round, but he earned a 50 on his second dunk of the final, jumping over Dwyane Wade while getting an alley-oop from Stephen Curry.6

Diallo needed at least a 43 on his second dunk of the final to win the title. After pulling rapper Quavo out of the crowd and having him hold the ball over his head, Diallo leaped over him, took the ball out of his hands and slammed it home to score a 45.

As it turns out, Diallo had actually planned on dunking over Wade, his childhood idol, but when Smith used Wade for his dunk, Diallo switched to Quavo.

“It was great,” Diallo said of winning the competition. “Dennis stole my third dunk. I was going to use D-Wade last. That was my favorite player growing up. But it all worked out.”

The dunk contest was boring enough that the skills challenge — typically the least interesting event of the night — was arguably more compelling.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

That was thanks to the theatrics of Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, who fell behind in each of his three rounds — first to Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley, then to Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, and finally to Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young — but rallied to win each and start the night off with a victory.

Life without LeBron in Los Angeles and Cleveland looks about the same

LeBron James’ second stint in Cleveland — the four NBA Finals appearances, the first championship in franchise history that snapped a 52-year title-less drought for the city — was an unabashed success.

And on Sunday, before his former team beat Los Angeles 101-95 at Staples Center in a game against the LeBron-less Lakers, a member of the Cavaliers told ESPN he thought last season “took a lot out of” the now 34-year-old James.nfl nike jerseys cheap china

It stands to reason that James’ mileage was the motivating factor behind Lakers president Magic Johnson telling SiriusXM NBA Radio back in November, “We are trying to make sure that we watch his minutes but also that we don’t run everything through him because now it is Cleveland all over again.”5

In one sense, Johnson already has assured that James’ time in L.A. will be nothing like it was with the Cavs. The Lakers constructed their roster around the four-time MVP in 2018 much differently than the Cavs who surrounded him in 2014. That Cleveland team was built on a star system — James, flanked by Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — and then filled out with 3-point specialists who could feast off James’ ability to create.

These Lakers have James surrounded by a handful of hopeful stars — Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball — and a supporting cast full of players who can theoretically play both ways while also providing some playmaking.

Johnson continued his interview by saying, “We want to get up and down.”cheap nike nfl jerseys from china

And to his credit, the past couple of months have proved Johnson to be right on those two points. James’ 34.6 minutes per game are indeed a career low for him in this his 16th season. And the Lakers are playing the brand of basketball Johnson wanted to see: They rank third in the league in pace at 104 possessions per game.

Here’s the thing, though. There’s one undeniable way in which the Lakers are eerily identical to those recent Cavs teams: They stink without James.

In James’ last four seasons in Cleveland, the Cavs went 4-23 in games in which he missed because of rest or injury. And that number probably would have been worse had James not played every single one of Cleveland’s 82 games in 2017-18.

Alternate broadcast of some Wizards games to focus on betting

The future of sports-betting-infused game broadcasts will be on display Friday, when the Washington Wizards host the Milwaukee Bucks.
Friday’s game will be the first of eight that are scheduled to have the gaming-focused broadcasts, which were first reported by SportsBusiness Daily.nike nfl jerseys wholesale cheap

The predictive contest, “Predict the Game,” will ask approximately 30 questions throughout the game, such as: “Will Wizards forward Trevor Ariza score 10 or more points in the first half?”

In addition, odds, point spreads and over/unders will be shown on broadcast graphics.6

“Combining the excitement of live Wizards games with engaging predictive gaming and data feeds will deliver a very entertaining experience for viewers, from first-time gaming players to savvy sports bettors,” NBC Sports Washington senior vice president and general manager Damon Phillips said in a news release. “The level of interest from fans, partners and sponsors in this area continues to increase, so we are pleased to offer this compelling product this season.”

“It’s the 1.0 version of where we’re ultimately going,” Zach Leonsis, senior vice president of strategic initiatives at Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Wizards, told SportsBusiness Daily. “This will get more advanced. … The challenge for operators will be to make sure that the game play is supportive and not interruptive of the broadcast itself.”china nike nfl jerseys cheap

Last May, the United States Supreme Court overturned a federal statute that had prohibited states outside of primarily Nevada from offering sports betting. Since the decision, legal sportsbooks have opened in Delaware, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia.

The District of Columbia has passed legislation to allow sports betting, including at sports venues like Capital One Arena, home to the Wizards and Washington Capitals, but the law is awaiting final approval.

In recent months, NBC Sports has registered sports-betting-related web domains, including NBCSportsbook.com and NBCSportsSportsbook.com.

Additional alternate broadcasts are scheduled for Wizards games on Jan. 27 at the San Antonio Spurs, Jan. 30 against the Indiana Pacers, Feb. 2 against the Bucks, Feb. 22 at the Charlotte Hornets, March 3 against the Minnesota Timberwolves, March 19 against the Utah Jazz and April 5 against the Spurs.

Houston Astros reach two-year deal with Michael Brantley

Brantley, 31, who missed most of the 2016 and 2017 seasons with injuries, enjoyed an impressive bounce-back season with Cleveland in 2018, hitting .309 with 17 homers and 76 RBIs. He also scored 89 runs in 143 games and posted an .832 OPS.

Brantley, who was acquired by Cleveland in the CC Sabathia deal with Milwaukee in 2008, was one of the majors’ best all-around players before his run of injury woes, capable of making a key play at the plate, on the bases or in the field.cheap nike nfl jerseys from china

He had a breakout season in 2014, batting .327 with 20 homers, 97 RBIs and 23 steals in 156 games. He was working on another good year in 2015 when he hurt his right shoulder diving for a ball in Minnesota.5

The two-time All-Star needed two surgeries to fix his shoulder and played just 11 games in 2016, missing Cleveland’s run to the World Series. He appeared to be back on track in 2017 and was a strong candidate to be the AL’s Comeback Player of the Year when he injured his ankle while chasing a fly ball to left field during a game Aug. 8.nfl nike jerseys cheap china

Brantley made a surprising return late that season and was selected for the playoff roster against the New York Yankees, but he went just 1-for-11 in the five-game series. Despite the string of injuries, Cleveland decided to pick up his $11.5 million option for 2018.

Indians president Chris Antonetti said in November that the team was interested in re-signing Brantley for 2019 as well but did not want to commit $17.9 million for one year.

How does Markelle Fultz fit with the 76ers, Jimmy Butler?

From the moment Markelle Fultz double-clutched the second of two free throws midway through the second quarter of Monday night’s game against the Miami Heat, his shooting form once again became a blazing-hot topic of conversation.cheap nike nfl jerseys from china

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown, however, had no time for such discussions. Instead, his focus is on something else: balancing his personal and emotional investment in trying to get Fultz back on track with his job to lead this season’s Sixers to a credible challenge for the Eastern Conference title.

And now that the Sixers have acquired Jimmy Butler, who will join the team for Wednesday’s road game against the Orlando Magic, Brown’s already difficult task has suddenly become nearly impossible.6

“It is [difficult],” Brown told ESPN.com after Monday’s game, a 124-114 Philadelphia victory. “Because you’ve got a human side, and a responsibility to the individual, but mostly you’ve got a responsibility to the team, and somewhere in that pyramid of layers I’ve got to figure it out.

“There’s no book that tells you how to do that. I use my gut feel and best judgement and just keep it very candid. When I feel something, or see something, and you can convey it to you, or the team, or whatever, that’s when I feel comfortable.
The Butler trade — which saw Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Jerryd Bayless and a future second-round pick go to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Butler and Justin Patton — marked the end of “The Process,” the much-discussed rebuilding plan the Sixers embarked on several seasons ago.nfl nike jerseys cheap china

Fultz was supposed to be that final cornerstone piece, joining with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons to form a young triumvirate of stars who would lead Philadelphia into championship contention. But while Embiid and Simmons have more than lived up to their end of the bargain, Fultz’s odyssey over the past 17 months has been one of an endless series of twists and turns — and, along the way, him losing the ability to consistently shoot a basketball.

It is a trip that could be encapsulated by that second free throw he took with 6 minutes, 9 seconds remaining in the second quarter, and with Philadelphia trailing 46-44. Despite Fultz having just made the one before it, he practically pump-faked on the second attempt before letting it go. It clanged off the side of the rim and bounced away.

A Rodgers-Belichick ‘limitless’ combo? Imagining ultimate ‘what if’

Aaron Rodgers was lucky when he fell to the 24th pick in his draft, just not as lucky as Tom Brady was when he fell to the 199th in his. In 2005, Rodgers was picked by an iconic franchise with a history of fielding special players at his position.

Five years earlier, Brady was picked by a coach whose system helped land the quarterback in the Super Bowl in half of his 16 healthy seasons as a starter.china nike nfl jerseys cheap

“I’m really a product of what I’ve been around, who I was coached by, what I played against, in the era I played in,” Brady told ESPN.com last year. “I really believe if a lot of people were in my shoes, they could accomplish the same kinds of things.”

What if Rodgers had been in those shoes for his entire career, playing for Bill Belichick in a New England Patriots system that rarely produces players who make the mistakes Green Bay’s Ty Montgomery made Sunday, when he cost Rodgers a chance to beat the unbeaten Rams — and ultimately got himself traded to Baltimore — by turning the preferred touchback into a kick return and then fumbling the ball?5

Rodgers, the 34-year-old one-time champ, is more physically gifted than Brady, the 41-year-old five-time champ, and nobody in Tom Terrific’s household would bother debating that. In a conversation with an NFL coach within the past few seasons, Brady said that if Rodgers had the Patriots’ offensive system and exhaustive knowledge of opposing defenses, “He’d throw for 7,000 yards every year. He’s so much more talented than me.”

As such, it’s no surprise that Sunday night’s duel in Foxborough, Massachusetts — hyped in an NBC promo by the GOAT of GOATS, Michael Jordan — has been billed by some as a rare meeting between The Most Talented Quarterback Ever and The Greatest Quarterback Ever. Yes, there is a difference.

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But with Belichick, Brady has enjoyed the benefit of playing for arguably the greatest coach of all time. On the other side, Rodgers has been paired with Mike McCarthy, a good coach and a Super Bowl winner who deserves his fair share of credit for developing Rodgers the way Vince Lombardi and Mike Holmgren deserved theirs for developing Bart Starr and Brett Favre, respectively. If McCarthy is a widely respected character actor in this drama, a Brian Dennehy or Paul Giamatti, Belichick is a Marlon Brando or Robert De Niro.

Packers squander what could’ve been season-changing win over Rams

Either way, those two sequences could be what prevents the Packers from salvaging their season.

And the shame of it is, they ruined what could have been a season-changing victory.

Maybe the Packers will take their near-takedown of the unbeaten Rams and use it as a galvanizing moment but the way this season has gone, that looks less and less likely with each passing week.

“It better be,” Clay Matthews said. “That’s the best team in the NFL, we hung toe to toe with them and had a chance at the end to win it. We’ve got to take that moving forward. I know we lost, but we’ve got to take that capability moving forward.”cheap nfl jerseys china nike

The Packers, twice in control of the game, let it get away from them not just at the end of the first half but in crunch time, too, in a gutting 29-27 loss.5

The final blow was Ty Montgomery’s fumbled kickoff return that the Rams recovered with 1 minute, 56 seconds to play.

But before that, it was former Packers cornerback Sam Shields’ tip-toeing in front of the goal line to down a punt and pin the Packers. Then, whatever you think of coach Mike McCarthy’s play call — a run with Aaron Jones up the middle — it didn’t work, and the snowball kept rolling downhill. An improbable 10-0 lead over the NFL‘s only unbeaten team was all but lost after Jones got stuffed for a safety with 2:47 left and the Rams scored on their ensuing possession.

Just when it looked like they survived that — and regained the lead thanks to more second-half magic from Aaron Rodgers — a Packers’ defense that played perhaps its best game in years, couldn’t hold it. To be sure, they didn’t get much help at the end from rookie punter JK Scott, whose 25-yard kick gave the Rams a short field for the go-ahead score. And just to make sure the Packers would have no chance at all, Montgomery fumbled it away.cheap nike nfl jersey

To that point, almost everything had come up green and gold.

From a Los Angeles Coliseum that was close to half Packers fans to a dominant start by defensive tackle Kenny Clark (two first-half sacks) to pass breakup after pass breakup from first-round pick Jaire Alexander (an NFL-high five) to Jones’ fast start (eight carries for 44 first-half yards), the Packers looked poised for a hallmark victory. That’s just what they needed to start a bruising stretch that takes the Packers to New England next and then to Seattle and Minnesota after a home game against Dolphins.

What it means for the Dodgers to get all the way back to the World Series

The Dodgers begin a star-laden, highly anticipated World Series showdown against the juggernaut Boston Red Sox on Tuesday. It is yet another opportunity to claim the championship trophy that has eluded this franchise for 30 years. But nothing the Dodgers do the rest of this month can erase what took place 355 days ago, when the Houston Astros defeated them in Game 7.

“We can win two or three World Series in the future,” Turner said, “and I’ll probably remember losing the Game 7 more than winning the championships.”cheap nfl nike jerseys from china

The culprit was actually Game 5. The Dodgers jumped to a 3-0 lead with Clayton Kershaw on the mound, a premium opportunity to capture a pivotal swing game in the 2017 World Series. But they blew three leads and lost in 10 innings. They came back to win Game 6 but couldn’t recover from Yu Darvish’s five-run meltdown in Game 7.5

“We had plenty of chances,” Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal said. “The whole series came down to a few pitches.”

“It stung, man,” starter-turned-reliever Alex Wood said. “It stung for a long time.”cheap nfl jerseys china nike

Dodgers players did their best to distance themselves from the memory in the offseason, but they couldn’t keep from bumping into each other. Joc Pederson, Ross Stripling, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Austin Barnes, Turner and Wood all got married over the winter, constantly bringing everybody together again.

The World Series loss was a frequent topic of conversation early, but it quickly dissolved, replaced by the typical camaraderie of a team that grew so close throughout the journey.