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🏀 Good morning to everyone, but especially ... 


Luka Doncic was suited up for battle in Game 5: a sleeve over a bum knee, shoulder tape, a one-sleeved undershirt that looks like it's been through the wringer, and an illness to boot.

And then he, once again, showed why he's the soldier you want on your side in the biggest games. Doncic produced a rugged-yet-beautiful 35-point, 10-assist double-double, and Dallas thumped the Clippers123-93, to take a 3-2 series lead in what might have been LA's last game downtown before the team moves to Inglewood.

Dallas led by 10 at halftime and by 20 going into the fourth quarter, with Doncic's third-quarter takeover as the big difference, Colin Ward-Henninger writes.

Over on the East Coast, the Celtics are not messing around, and their first step of revenge is complete. Boston throttled Miami 118-84 to close out their first-round series, 4-1. It ties the second-largest playoff loss in Heat history and the second-largest win in a series-clinching game in Celtics history.

  • Derrick White continued his postseason surge with 25 points after his 38 in Game 4. The 63 points combined are his most ever in a two-game span, regular season or playoffs.
  • The Celtics had no issues in their first playoff game without Kristaps Porzingis (calf strain), who will likely miss all of the second round, too. In expanded roles, Sam Hauser scored 17 points and made five 3-pointers, and Luke Kornet was +21 in 18 minutes.
  • Miami shot just 10.3% (3 for 29) from 3. It's the second-worst percentage in a postseason game (with a minimum of 25 attempts) in NBA history.

Sans Jimmy Butler, Jaime Jaquez Jr., Terry Rozier and Josh Richardson, the Heat had no chance, going quietly against the team they knocked out last year. The Heat were once expected to land Damian Lillard, and it's hard not to think about how their season would have been different had that happened, Sam Quinn writes.

😊 Honorable mentions

😕 And not such a good morning for ...

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It's one thing to put your team on your back for a big playoff game. It's an entirely different thing to do it for a series. Once again, James Harden and Paul George couldn't do the latter.

  • Harden in Game 4: 33 points on 12-for-17 shooting | Harden in Game 5: 7 points on 2-for-12 shooting
  • George in Game 4: 33 points on 11-for-19 shooting | George in Game 5: 15 points on 4-for-13 shooting

It didn't help that Russell Westbrook's tough series continued -- 2-for-11 shooting -- and Kawhi Leonard (knee) remains out with no return in sight. The result? LA suffered its largest playoff loss ever.

The Clippers are on the brink of yet another early exit, and their biggest names seem unlikely to save them.

😓 Not so honorable mentions

👀 This should be LeBron James' next move if he wants to win a title

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LeBron James has gone out of his way to make sure people know he doesn't know what the future holds. The 39-year-old megastar has two months to weigh whether to return to the Lakers or head somewhere else.

A lot will change over those two months. James will certainly factor the status of head coach Darvin Ham -- whose future with the franchise is in jeopardy -- and the team's roster as a whole. Could Los Angeles draft Bronny James, fulfilling LeBron's dream to play with his son? Could it trade for Trae Young, an offensive inferno whose fit is questionable? There's a lot on the board, and don't expect a decision soon.

But eventually he'll have to make the decision, and if his main goal is his fifth title, James should join the 76ers, Sam writes.

  • Quinn: "With just Joel Embiid's $51.4 million salary and Maxey's minimal $13 million cap hold on the books, the 76ers are looking at practically limitless cap space. ... This makes constructing a roster relatively straightforward. ... Even a max contract for James would leave the 76ers more than $15 million in cap space as well as a revamped cap room mid-level exception that went for nearly $8 million last offseason. Philadelphia could use those resources to sign more free agents, but they could also use them in trades. Remember, the 76ers will have five tradable first-round picks this offseason thanks to their November trade of James Harden."

It all comes together nicely on paper, though games aren't played on paper, and Philly would need to add a lot of spacing and pacing around a hypothetical James-Embiid-Maxey Big Three.

Plus, as Sam notes, maybe James doesn't want to uproot his life. Maybe winning with the Lakers means more to him than winning anywhere else. Maybe it's not even worth speculating because we have no idea what he values most. But if it's ring number five, Philadelphia is an enticing -- and realistic -- destination. Before you dismiss it, read Sam's well thought-out, balanced piece.

⚽ Borussia Dortmund tops PSG 1-0 in UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg

Borussia Dortmund v Paris Saint-Germain: Semi-final First Leg - UEFA Champions League 2023/24
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Borussia Dortmund is halfway to its first UEFA Champions League final since 2013 after a 1-0 first-leg win over PSG. Niclas Füllkrug provided the lone goal in the 36th minute, expertly receiving a long Nico Schlotterbeck pass and making no mistake on the finish.

PSG, meanwhile, were denied by goalposts in the second half and wasted several other opportunities. But Les Parisiens can turn things around next week, Jonathan Johnson writes.

  • Johnson: "Expect Luis Enrique to tweak his attacking approach slightly going into that one with Kylian Mbappe's positioning and involvement much better in the second half and Ousmane Dembele in need of a slightly more clinical edge in front of goal. Randal Kolo Muani's cameo was interesting in terms of workrate but it might be Goncalo Ramos' predatory touch which makes the difference next week depending on Paris' approach to the scenario which still favors PSG -- just about."

🏈 College football teams with most 2025 NFL Draft talent

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 29 Goodyear Cotton Bowl - Missouri vs Ohio State
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In case you missed it amid the whirlwind of last weekend's NFL Draft, Ryan Wilson dropped his 2025 NFL first-round mock draft, and Blake Brockermeyer evaluated how strong each position group is a year out.

But what about the schools producing those potential picks? Chip Patterson took a look at the college teams loaded with the most 2025 draft talent, and atop the list is ...

  • Patterson: "Ohio State | Notable prospects: CB Denzel Burke, EDGE JT Tuimoloau, WR Emeka Egbuka, EDGE Jack Sawyer, RB Quinshon Judkins, DL Tyleik Williams, OL Donovan Jackson, RB TreVeyon Henderson -- As we wrote in the NFL Draft Winners and Losers over the weekend, Ohio State had a 2024 NFL Draft that cut two ways. On one hand, four picks marked a drop-off in production after having at least six players drafted every year since 2016. ... The other side of that is the handful of players who could have gone pro in 2024, but elected to come back to Columbus and lead what is going to be one of the most talent-heavy teams in the sport."

There's one program -- the premier NFL player producer over the past decade, in fact -- that surprisingly doesn't make Chip's list.

📺 What we're watching Thursday

🏀 Game 6: Bucks at Pacers, 6:30 p.m. on TNT
🏒 Game 6: Bruins at Maple Leafs, 8 p.m. on TBS
🏀 Game 6: Knicks at 76ers, 9 p.m. on TNT