Good morning, friend! It's Monday and that means we're back to the grind once again. Happy to have you back in the saddle.
I spent the weekend finishing up "WandaVision" and, honestly, I'm still not even sure how I feel about that show. It had its moments but it didn't quite hit as hard as "The Mandalorian" for me. Maybe I just don't "get it," or maybe I just can't fully enjoy a show that doesn't have Grogu anymore. Could be either one.
But now that I've got you here, we'll be getting to some good stuff this morning, including plenty of takeaways from yesterday's unique NBA All-Star Sunday. We're also going to be looking ahead to this week's conference tournament action across college basketball, so I hope you're ready for plenty of hoops.
📰 What you need to know
1. Winners and losers from the NBA All-Star Game 🏀
You may not have asked for it -- and certainly some of the players didn't -- but the NBA All-Star Game came and went last night. A lot of the buzz and fanfare surrounding the game seemed to be stripped away due to the pandemic, and the skills competitions being held before/during the game made the whole thing go by in a flash.
That being said, things went relatively well. Team LeBron cruised to a 170-150 win, but we all know that the event isn't really about the scoreboard. With that in mind, let's get some winners and losers from our Colin Ward-Henninger:
- Winner: Giannis Antetokounmpo -- Giannis took home the game's MVP award after pitching a perfect game from the field. He went 16-for-16 (including 3 for 3 beyond the arc) en route to a game-high 35 points. Arguably more importantly, he was a beacon of joy and entertainment all night long.
- Loser: LeBron -- His team may have come away victorious but it wasn't because of his performance on the court. James went 2-for-7 and had just four points in 12 minutes of play (he sat out the entire second half). It wasn't exactly a whopper of a night for him but he also didn't really want to be there and a 36-year-old LeBron James certainly doesn't need to prove anything in an ASG.
- Winner: Steph Curry -- In case anyone forgot, Curry reminded us of his absurd shooting skills on Sunday. Not only did he win the 3-point contest in thrilling fashion, he also continued to put on an incredible display of range during the actual game. Curry hit multiple shots from just inside half-court and one legitimately from half-court.
- Losers: Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons -- The 76ers stars flew to Atlanta on Saturday night only to find out that they couldn't play in the ASG because their barber tested positive for COVID-19. Instead of getting to partake in the festivities, they had to quarantine in their hotel rooms.
You can get plenty more winners and losers in this recap right here. In my opinion, the only person who might be a more unfortunate loser than Embiid and Simmons is Obi Toppin, who got robbed in the Slam Dunk Contest. (A rather unspectacular dunk contest, by the way.) He deserved better than what he got from a panel of former champions.
All things considered, it was a pretty fun night...even if it was still a bit unnecessary.
2. Conference tournament season is here 🏀
College basketball's regular season is now in the books and it was a pretty thrilling final weekend of action across the board -- one that was highlighted by an insane finish to Houston-Memphis on Sunday.
But before you start getting too excited about March Madness and the Big Dance, it's first time to embrace conference championship season. Here's a little rundown who's sitting atop all the major conference tourneys:
- ACC: Virginia claimed the No. 1 seed after Florida State fell to Notre Dame on Saturday.
- Big East: Villanova has earned the top seed for the sixth time in nine years.
- Big Ten: Michigan is still the top dog despite being upset by Michigan State on Sunday. Illinois is right on the Wolverines' tail though.
- Big 12: Baylor finished the season 20-1 to earn the top seed. They'll be gunning for the first Big 12 Tournament championship in program history.
- Pac-12: Oregon beat rival Oregon State to win the league title for the second year in a row, edging out USC.
- SEC: Alabama continues to enjoy one of the best seasons in program history and will enter the conference tourney as the top seed.
Because I love making your life as easy as possible, you can find full conference tournament brackets and schedules in each of those links above. We've also got this very handy conference tournament tracker that you might appreciate in the coming days.
We're all probably a little eager for the NCAA Tournament at this point (especially after missing out last year) but I feel as though I should remind you that you don't have to wait until the field of 68 is announced to have some fun with brackets. You can play our Conference Bracket Games and pick the tournaments for a $10,000 cash prize or start a pool and compete against your friends. At the very least, it might remind you of the sweet, beautiful misery that comes with seeing your bracket get shot to hell after just a few games.
Also, if you take home the $10,000 prize you're pretty much obligated to cut me in on the winnings. Just make a note of that.
3. Blake Griffin is heading to the Nets 🏀
The All-Star Game wasn't the only piece of notable NBA action on Sunday, as the Nets managed to add another big name to their ever-growing stable of veteran stars. It was announced Sunday that Blake Griffin cleared waivers and agreed to to sign with Brooklyn for the remainder of the season.
- Griffin, 31, agreed to a buyout with the Pistons on Friday in which he gave back over $13 million in order to secure his free agency
- He's averaging a career-low 12.2 points on 36.5 percent shooting (including 31.5 percent from 3-point range) and more than half of his shots have been 3-pointers. He's also averaging just 5.2 rebounds per game
It's clear that Griffin wants to win and he's not afraid to make sacrifices to be a part of a serious contender, which has escaped him for most of his career with the Clippers and Pistons. It's also clear that he's not the player (or the jaw-dropping athlete) that he once was, and the realization that he's closer to the end of his career than the beginning probably feeds into that competitive desperation.
The Nets plan on using Griffin as a small-ball center off the bench, but will he make a big difference? Our Michael Kaskey-Blomain doesn't think so (and he does a great job of explaining why here) but that doesn't mean it's a bad signing.
- MKB: "So what exactly will Griffin bring to Brooklyn? ...At the very least he could serve as a serviceable big off of the bench who could eat some minutes and not be a net negative. He has a high basketball IQ, and can still be productive for stretches. Plus, he has developed into a willing floor-spacer over the course of his career, and virtually every team, including the Nets, could use added floor-spacing. The more space that can be generated for [James] Harden, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving, the better."
At the end of the day, Griffin is a low-risk add that has potential, even if the star power attached to his name is rapidly fading at this point. And adding him to that roster gives them one more intriguing storyline, not that they really needed it as this point.
And, for what it's worth, if the championship aspirations don't pan out for Blake, I'm pretty sure Brooklyn has better comedy clubs than Detroit.
4. Brooks Koepka withdraws from Players Championship 🏌
There was plenty of good golf to enjoy over the weekend. Bryson DeChambeau earned his eighth PGA Tour win with a dramatic display of power and finesse at the 2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational, and he provided some incredibly fun moments as he attempted to hammer his tee shot to the green on the par-5 6th hole at Bay Hill.
But there was a bit of unfortunate news to hit the golf circuit on Sunday as well, as Brooks Koepka announced that he won't be taking part in this week's 2021 Players Championship.
- Koepka had to withdraw after straining his right knee. He's scheduled to undergo further evaluation this week
- He was slated to be in a featured group for the first two rounds of TPC Sawgrass
- Koepka has continued to battle knee problems over the past few years (though most of his issues have been with the left knee)
The news especially sucks because Koepka has been playing well lately -- he won at the Phoenix Open last month and contended at the WGC-Workday Championship last week. He's typically played well at TPC Sawgrass in the past but won't get the chance to continue his hot streak this year...and now attention will turn to his status for the Masters next month. Hopefully it's a minor setback that doesn't sideline him for too long.
📝 Odds & Ends
- A mint condition Kobe Bryant rookie card sold for nearly $1.8 million at auction over the weekend
- Multiple teams are reportedly calling the Eagles about Zach Ertz and a deal could happen soon
- The Vegas Golden Knights were kicked out of a team hotel in San Jose that suddenly filed for bankruptcy and shut down
📺 What to watch today
🏒 Golden Knights vs. Wild, 8 p.m. | MIN +100 | TV: NHL Network
🏀 Saint Mary's vs. No. 1 Gonzaga, 9 p.m. | ZAGS -17.5 | TV: ESPN
🏒 Canadiens vs. Canucks, 10 p.m. | VAN +140 | TV: NHL.tv