Happy Thursday, sports fans. Wednesday was a busy night in the NBA, and we have a loaded schedule tonight with crucial matchups in the NFL, NBA and college football.
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Good morning to everyone but especially to...
THE GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS AND THEIR SUPER AWESOME ROLE PLAYERS
The general consensus surrounding the Warriors entering this season was "They should be solid, but it all hinges on Klay Thompson's return."
Whether they heard those comments or not, they're proving them wrong. After beating Minnesota last night, Golden State is 10-1 this season, the best record in the NBA. Stephen Curry is the early frontrunner for MVP, writes NBA expert Brad Botkin in this week's Star Power Index:
- Botkin: "For my money, (Kevin) Durant has been the league's best player thus far, but Curry's impact ... as usual, extends so far beyond his own traditional numbers (which are again terrific) that Golden State's success is disproportionately attributed to his presence and thus has him in the early MVP driver's seat."
It's not just Curry who has been outstanding, though. Jordan Poole is making a big leap in his third year, jumping up from 12 PPG last season to 17.8. And speaking of leaps, have you watched Gary Payton II defy gravity? If you haven't, watch these dunks from last night. And even if you have seen them, go watch them again.
The Warriors lead the league in defensive rating and are top-three in offensive rating. They will eventually get back a historically good offensive player who is also a terrific defender (some guy named Klay Thompson). Welcome to the good morning club, Warriors. I have a feeling this isn't the last time you'll be here.
- The Wizards are 8-3, tying their second-best start through 11 games in franchise history. The latest win featured a 10-point fourth-quarter comeback to beat the Cavaliers. Kyle Kuzma had some words for the Cleveland fans after hitting some big threes.
- The Bulls are also 8-3 after topping the Mavericks 117-107. They have great balance, and it showed again last night. Five players scored 15+ points, led by Zach Lavine's 23.
The latest NFL playoff projections are in 🏈
When when the Ravens and Dolphins face off tonight in Miami, it will officially open the second half of the 2021 NFL regular season. Through nine weeks, there have been plenty of surprises (hello, Jaguars beating the Bills this past weekend), breakout stars (come on down, Cooper Kupp), and, as is the case every season, plenty of drama (Odell Beckham Jr. still hasn't signed with a team, and he might not for a while!).
In general, though, we know who's looking good for postseason berths. Here's what the playoffs will look like, according to the latest projections from SportsLine.com's Stephen Oh:
- 1. Titans
- 2. Bills
- 3. Ravens
- 4. Chargers
- 5. Steelers
- 6. Patriots
- 7. Raiders
- 1. Cardinals
- 2. Buccaneers
- 3. Packers
- 4. Cowboys
- 5. Rams
- 6. Saints
- 7. Vikings
Who's the favorite to win it all? It may surprise you, writes NFL expert John Breech:
- Breech: "The Bills might not be projected to get the top seed in the AFC, but the computer still seems to like them the most in this conference. According to SportsLine, the Bills have a 15.71% chance of winning the Super Bowl this year, which isn't just the highest number in the AFC, but it's also the highest in the NFL, which means the computer views the Bills as the current Super Bowl favorite."
One question each MLB team has to answer this offseason ⚾
No matter how good (or bad) any team is, the MLB offseason is always full of questions. Who do you keep around? Who do you let go of? What are your strengths? Your weaknesses? Are you building a championship contender, or are you building from the ground up? Somewhere in between?
- The World Series-champion Braves: "Will they re-sign (Freddie) Freeman? -- "I would bet the farm on the answer being 'yes,' though St. Louis once let Albert Pujols walk right after a World Series win, so we can't etch it in stone. As the Braves went through their rebuild in the mid-2010s, Freddie Freeman was the one core player they refused to trade and instead built around, so it was fitting he recorded the final put out in the World Series clinching Game 6. Freeman turned 32 in September and decline years are coming, but he's also in 'retired number' territory for the Braves, and has built most of a strong Hall of Fame case."
- The star-studded Yankees: "How will they address shortstop? -- "The Yankees pulled the plug on Gleyber Torres at shortstop in August and will now look to fill the position this winter. Opening the wallet and spending on Carlos Correa or Corey Seager would be the easiest, most Yankee-like move. They need a shortstop and there are two 27-year-old franchise shortstops sitting in free agency, so sign one."
- Caesars Sportsbook's early 2022 World Series favorite Dodgers: "What happens with all their free agents? -- There's a chance the Dodgers will look very different when spring training rolls around in a few months. Kenley Jansen, Clayton Kershaw, Corey Seager and Chris Taylor are all free agents after serving as cornerstone players the last six-plus years, and other short-term Dodgers like Corey Knebel and Max Scherzer are free agents as well."
Of course one person who will have a big say in what happens isn't a player, coach or member of any MLB organization. Scott Boras, the agent who represents free agents Max Scherzer, Nick Castellanos and Corey Seager among dozens of other clients, said at the annual GM meetings on Wednesday that MLB has a "real cancer" with teams not trying to win titles and "17 (teams) at most" are trying to compete.
However, the most pressing issue is that there's a chance no one is competing for a title next year -- or at least not under normal circumstances. MLB players and owners are negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement and appear unlikely to agree to terms before the current CBA expires Dec. 1.
A lockout could be on the horizon. Don't say I didn't warn ya...
Odds and ends
- PSG women's soccer player Aminata Diallo was arrested Wednesday in connection with an attack on her teammate Kheira Hamraoui. According to a New York Times report, Hamraoui accepted a ride home from Diallo after a team dinner. During the ride, masked men stopped the car, and one of the men assaulted Hamraoui, hitting her legs with a metal bar. Diallo was uninjured.
- Josh Hader won his third NL Reliever of the Year award in four years and Liam Hendriks won his second straight AL Reliever of the Year award as MLB award season rolls on.
- NFL expert Bryan DeArdo examines who won the Odell Beckham Jr. trade between the Browns and Giants. The answer might surprise you.
- The PGA TOUR returns stateside with the Houston Open. Kyle Porter has a preview, storylines and picks.
Best thing I saw on the internet 🔥
I'm a LeBron James fan. I've enjoyed watching him no matter where he's played, and I think he does a ton of really great stuff off the court, too. I'll defend him in any GOAT argument. So I can only imagine what Duke freshman Paolo Banchero felt like when LeBron gave him a shout-out on Instagram on Wednesday, hours after Banchero dominated in Tuesday night's win over Kentucky.
Well, actually I don't have to imagine, because Banchero reacted like most of us would, tweeting in part "no way bron put me on tha story man." James debuted a few days before Banchero's first birthday and next year the two will likely face off in the NBA (Banchero is No. 1 in Kyle Boone's 2022 NBA mock draft). That will surely be another magical moment for Duke's freshman star.
What we're watching on Thursday
🏈 UNC at No. 25 Pittsburgh (-6.5), 7:30 p.m. on ESPN | Pitt leads the ACC Coastal by a half-game over Virginia. UNC is coming off a win over No. 13 Wake Forest.
🏈 Ravens (-7.5) at Dolphins, 8:20 p.m. on FOX & NFL Network | If you're looking to sprinkle some money here, the Ravens are 9-0 ATS against the Dolphins under John Harbaugh. That is... uh.... pretty good.
🏀 Heat at Clippers, 10:30 p.m. on NBA.TV | Miami is on the second half of an LA back-to-back and will try to slow down Paul George, who has started this season strong.