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The Houston Rockets are riding one of the craziest emotional highs you’ll see in the NBA. Looking dead and done in their series against the Los Angeles Clippers last Thursday night, down three games to two on the road and losing big in the second half, they began a nutty comeback that the league is still wrapping their heads around.
How did we get here? This is the most appropriate question after a whirlwind finish to a series that was about as predictable as divine intervention. The Golden State Warriors, Houston’s new opponent in the Western Conference Finals, are undoubtedly the favorites in the series. But, just as the Clippers’ surge of adrenaline after slaying the San Antonio Spurs turned them into a combustible element, capable of unusual things, the Rockets’ shocking conquest brings more than a dose of volatility into this series.
The Warriors killed the Rockets in the regular season, winning each of their four games by an average of 14.8 points. A 131-106 victory at Houston in January seemed especially damning at the time. But Houston is, in many ways, a new team now. Their historic comeback is the kind of experience that can galvanize a franchise for multiple seasons, and it came with emboldened performances from relatively new pieces like Josh Smith, Trevor Ariza, Corey Brewer and Pablo Prigioni.
The Rockets’ best weapon against Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Co. is not James Harden or Dwight Howard, the pivotal superstar duo whose faces always appear next to the headlines. It’s their depth, particularly with their bevy of lengthy wingmen, who catalyzed their revival against L.A. and who may be asked to take turns guarding Golden State’s world-class backcourt.
The Warriors, however, looked mighty impressive in their closeout of the Memphis Grizzlies, operating as close as they have to their 67-win excellence as they have in the whole playoffs. If they’re hitting top gear at just the right time, it’s likely that no amount of Houston momentum will be enough. Barring the improbable—a busy force these days—Golden State takes this series.
Prediction: Warriors in 6
— John Wilmes
The Pac-12 is one of college football’s top conferences for offense, and the league is loaded with talent headed into 2015. Even with Marcus Mariota leaving Oregon, there’s no shortage of proven options at quarterback, and the skill talent is deep at running back and receiver.
To help pick the top offensive triplets in each of the Power 5 leagues, we devised a simple formula. We ranked the quarterbacks, running backs and receivers and assigned a 12 to the No. 1 player, with the point total decreasing to just one point to the No. 12 ranked player at each position. Only one player from each team was ranked per position.
Ranking the Pac-12’s Offensive Triplets for 2015
Total Points: 29
QB: Anu Solomon (3)
RB: Nick Wilson (4)
WR: Cayleb Jones (3)
Arizona averaged 33.4 points per game in Pac-12 contests last season, and coach Rich Rodriguez’s offense could be even better in 2015. Quarterback Anu Solomon is returning to full strength after suffering from an ankle injury late in 2014. Wilson and Jones are among the Pac-12’s top playmakers.
Total Points: 27
QB: Vernon Adams (4)
RB: Royce Freeman (3)
WR: Byron Marshall (5)
Marcus Mariota will be missed, but the Ducks offense should still remain among the Pac-12’s best. Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams replaces Mariota at quarterback, and Oregon’s running back and wide receiving corps are among the best in college football.
Related: Oregon Football Turns the Page from "Emotional" Ending
Total Points: 27
QB: Cody Kessler (1)
RB: Justin Davis (10)
WR: JuJu Smith (1)
The only thing holding USC back from ranking No. 1 on this list is the committee approach at running back. Will someone step up as the go-to back in 2015? Cody Kessler ranks as the Pac-12’s best quarterback, and JuJu Smith should have a huge year as the Trojans’ top receiver.
Related: USC's Cody Kessler is the Pac-12's No. 1 QB for 2015
Total Points: 26
QB: Jared Goff (2)
RB: Daniel Lasco (5)
WR: Kenny Lawler (6)
The Golden Bears ranked No. 2 in the Pac-12 (conference-only games) by averaging 37.6 points per contest last year. Don’t be surprised if that number climbs even higher in 2015, as coach Sonny Dykes has a loaded receiver corps, one of the nation’s rising stars at quarterback in Jared Goff, along with an underrated running back in Daniel Lasco.
Total Points: 24
QB: Josh Rosen (9)
RB: Paul Perkins (2)
WR: Jordan Payton (4)
Uncertainty remains at quarterback with the departure of Brett Hundley, but true freshman Josh Rosen is one of the top recruits in the 2015 signing class. Running back Paul Perkins led the Pac-12 with 1,575 rushing yards last season, and receiver Jordan Payton averaged 14.3 yards per reception in conference games.
Total Points: 21
QB: Mike Bercovici (5)
RB: Demario Richard (6)
WR: D.J. Foster (7)
The Sun Devils have a balanced trio and could easily climb this list by the end of 2015. Bercovici has played well in limited action, and Richard is set to have a breakout year as Arizona State’s No. 1 running back. D.J. Foster will slide from running back to receiver to replace the production lost by Jaelen Strong.
Related: Arizona State's Todd Graham Ranks as the Pac-12's No. 1 Coach for 2015
Total Points: 19
QB: Sefo Liufau (7)
RB: Christian Powell (11)
WR: Nelson Spruce (2)
Expect to see plenty of Liufau to Spruce connections in Boulder this spring, as the Buffaloes ranked third in the Pac-12 with 545 pass attempts in 2014. Liufau is one of the conference’s rising stars, while Spruce tied for the Pac-12 lead with 12 touchdown catches last year. Christian Powell leads the way in the backfield after leading the team in rushing in each of the last three seasons.
Total Points: 18
QB: Travis Wilson (8)
RB: Devontae Booker (1)
WR: Kenneth Scott (12)
If the passing game takes a step forward, there’s potential for the Utes to rank higher on the list by the end of 2015. Devontae Booker is coming off a standout 2014 campaign and ranks as Athlon’s top running back in the Pac-12. Wilson cut his interceptions from 16 in 2013 to just five in 313 attempts last year.
Related: Utah's Devontae Booker Ranks as the Pac-12's No. 1 RB for 2015
Total Points: 17
QB: Kevin Hogan (6)
RB: Christian McCaffrey (8)
WR: Devon Cajuste (8)
The Pac-12’s overall offensive depth pushes Stanford down this list a bit, but the Cardinal has a balanced and effective trio. Quarterback Kevin Hogan finished the year on a high note, and the offense should benefit from a full year of Christian McCaffrey as the go-to running back. Devon Cajuste averaged 16.4 yards per catch in 2014.
10. Oregon State
Total Points: 10
QB: Seth Collins (12)
RB: Storm Woods (7)
WR: Victor Bolden (10)
Solving the quarterback position is new coach Gary Andersen’s biggest task this offseason. Collins enrolled in time to compete this spring and has an edge to start over redshirt freshman Nick Mitchell. Storm Woods should reach 1,000 rushing yards for the first time in his career, while Bolden is back after leading the team with 72 receptions in 2014.
Related: Oregon State Defensive Coordinator Kalani Sitake is a Coach on the Rise
11. Washington State
Total Points: 8
QB: Luke Falk (10)
RB: Jamal Morrow (12)
WR: River Cracraft (9)
This is another team poised to climb the rankings if the pieces fall into place. Luke Falk and Peyton Bender are locked into a tight battle for the starting quarterback spot, and the receiving corps is loaded with playmakers. Washington State won’t run the ball a ton, but Morrow caught 61 passes last year.
Total Points: 8
QB: K.J. Carta-Samuels (11)
RB: Dwayne Washington (9)
WR: Jaydon Mickens (11)
Second-year coach Chris Petersen has a busy offseason ahead. Washington returns only nine starters, has uncertainty at quarterback and must replace three standout defensive players from 2014. K.J. Carta-Samuels gets a slight edge at quarterback, but Jeff Lindquist and Jake Browning aren’t far behind. Washington rushed for at least 100 yards in three out of his last four games and should see an increased workload in 2015.
Eddie Lacy is pretty good on the field, off of it is a different story.
The Packers running back was at a Next Door Milwaukee charity event and decided to take on the kids in a tricycle race. Big mistake.
Having to be pushed by a little girl is nothing to be ashamed of.
Nobody wants to fight Ronda Rousey, but what would it take for her to ever take on Floyd Mayweather?
The UFC bantamweight champion sat down with Access Hollywood to talk about her role in the Entourage movie, and things got interesting from there. Rousey was asked if she could beat Mayweather, and she kept it brutally honest.
"Well, I will never say that I can't beat anyone," Rousey said. "But I don't think me and him would ever fight, unless we end up dating."
It'll be difficult, but let's make that happen.
Alabama opponents better watch out.
Crimson Tide running back Derrick Henry has an insane workout routine. Flipping tires and pushing a Ford F-150 all while wearing a weighted vest. Beast.
Watching guys trying to tackle this kid will be a sight to see.
Odell Beckham Jr. is the youngest cover star of Madden, but his real-life ratings may not be as good.
The Giants receiver went on "Garbage Time with Katie Nolan" and issued himself a few ratings that would apply to the real world.
Judging by his Instagram feed, Beckham's selfie game is more like a 99.
Mike Conley’s “broken face game” will serve as a defining highlight of the 2015 postseason. So will Tony Allen’s “first-team, all defense” brilliance as a stopper and a lovable character, before injuries forced him out of the Memphis Grizzlies’ 4-2 second-round loss to the Golden State Warriors.
But after that, the NBA’s Tennessee franchise has a lot of question marks. The biggest, most pressing one is whether they can bring back All-Star center and 2013 Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol, who’s a free agent this July.
Gasol is the most important piece of what the Grizzlies do. Next to Zach Randolph, he makes up a front court that is big, plodding and skilled enough to usually force teams into a grinding style that goes against every trend of the modern NBA. Memphis had Golden State locked into such a battle, but MVP Steph Curry’s dynamism and Allen’s absence eventually led to the Warriors winning the series and finishing it with an exclamation point, claiming their final two victories by 20 and 13 points.
Which leads to the more philosophical question of whether Memphis needs to change their strategy. The 2015 “pace and space” version NBA is no coincidence; it’s the result of years of aggregated rule changes and systemic coaching reactions. Steve Nash and Mike D’Antoni’s “seven seconds or less” era with the Phoenix Suns was merely the germ of a revolution that sees its most recent torch-bearer in Curry and Co.
Continuing to play foil to the direction of the rest of the league is quite the undertaking, with or without Gasol. Memphis, in all likelihood, needs to supplement their thunder down low with some lightning on the wings. Having Conley, an elite point guard, is a good start. But what the Grizzlies should be seeking this offseason is versatile guards, who can shoot from deep without giving up much where Memphis butters their bread: defense.
— John Wilmes
President Barack Obama is a huge Chicago sports fan. He loves the Bulls, Bears, White Sox, Blackhawks, and... that's it.
The President joined the majority of the world and finally got on Twitter today.
Hello, Twitter! It's Barack. Really! Six years in, they're finally giving me my own account.— President Obama (@POTUS) May 18, 2015
The first thing he did was follow all of his Chicago sports teams, except for the Cubs. Ouch. They felt the shade all the way from Wrigley Field.
Guess he won't be throwing the first pitch at Wrigley anytime soon.
The Tom Brady jokes just don't stop.
On "Saturday Night Live" the Patriots quarterback was impersonated and the results were pretty funny. The "Weekend Update" segment gave "Brady" a chance to speak out about the allegations and the NFL suspension.
The NFL can suspend him, but the "Brady charm" will never go away.
A week ago, the Los Angeles Clippers looked like bonafide title favorites. On the heels of their shocking, impressive first-round slaying of the defending champion San Antonio Spurs in seven games, they carried that momentum into a 3-1 series lead over the Houston Rockets, including a 128-95 dismantling in Game 4.
Today, the Clippers are done. The Rockets came back and crawled out of their hole, becoming just the ninth team to ever overcome such a deficit. Sizzling as their first unit was all season—it was probably the best in the league—their short bench inevitably did them in.
L.A. had the series all but won in Game 6, as they were up by 20 for much of the second half. But Houston’s super subs Corey Brewer and Josh Smith ran amok on them as Dwight Howard protected the rim, and a 40-15 fourth-quarter scoring edge for Houston turned the series.
The usual ghosts are certain to follow the Clippers this offseason. People will claim that Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, who have still never been to a conference finals, aren’t winners. DeAndre Jordan’s issues shooting free throws will be cited.
Make no mistake, though: This historical loss is a condemnation of Doc Rivers as a general manager. While Rivers is an excellent coach who gains the love and fire of his players like perhaps none other (and while he’s vastly overlooked as a tactician) his moonlighting duties as the roster’s transactional caretaker have been a problem for Lob City.
Rivers inherited all of his best players and has only managed to augment them with the likes of Glen Davis, Hedo Turkoglu, Lester Hudson, Spencer Hawes and, of course, his son Austin. All have had redemptive moments, but none of these pieces have given the Clips anything like consistent depth, and the wear on Paul, Griffin and Jordan has been more noticeable.
What can Rivers the GM do to help Rivers the coach this summer? Rivers doesn't have a lot of financial flexibility if he re-signs Jordan, a free agent, to the maximum contract he'll demand this summer, and finding bench help on the market will be a struggle. For better or worse, these are likely the same Clippers you'll be seeing for a while.
— John Wilmes
The hype train is pulling in Tampa Bay with a full head of steam.
The Buccaneers released a video for their superstar rookie Jameis Winston. The video featuring highlights of the former Florida State star during his tenure with the school, making play after play. Along with narration the team is hoping to be true, and shots of Winston in a Bucs uniform thrown in, it's all Tampa Bay fans need to get behind the new-look team.
The entire Buckeye nation is about to take a collective sigh of relief.
According to Eleven Warriors, Braxton Miller told Ohio State athletic director he's not going anywhere. Gene Smith is sure the quarterback is staying.
"If you pay attention to him, he's not going anywhere," Smith said. "He loves it here first and foremost. He has a child. He's from here. He's in a good position.
Smith says the school is going to take care of him in regards to his injuries and things of that nature, and Miller's ties to the school are too strong to break. The rumors are just rumors.
"My conversation with him was well before spring ball," Smith said. "He's working out in the weight room and we got into a conversation and I just asked him, I said, 'You good? All these rumors out there, you good? You need some help if you want to transfer?' He said, 'Mr. Smith, I'm not going anywhere. I love it here.'"
There you have it. Another rumor hopefully put to rest and Meyer will have his pick of quarterbacks this fall.
Proven offensive talent is plentiful in the SEC this year. Quarterback Dak Prescott should be among the frontrunners to earn first-team All-America honors, while running back Nick Chubb is one of the leading candidates to win the Heisman. Ole Miss receiver Laquon Treadwell should be back at 100 percent after a leg injury ended his 2014 season.
Ranking the best quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers by conference is a key part of any offseason preview. But what happens when you combine those three positions to form a trio? Of course, this is a fictional argument since there’s no game that compares the trios of any team. But it’s an interesting offseason question to debate.
To help pick the top offensive triplets in each of the Power 5 leagues, we devised a simple formula. We ranked the quarterbacks, running backs and receivers and assigned a 14 to the No. 1 player, with the point total decreasing to just one point to the No. 14 ranked player at each position. Only one player from each team was ranked per position.
Ranking the SEC’s Offensive Triplets for 2015
Total Points: 31
QB: Jeremy Johnson (2)
RB: Jovon Robinson (9)
WR: Duke Williams (3)
Gus Malzahn’s offense has averaged over 30 points per game in back-to-back seasons in SEC contests. The 2015 version of Auburn’s offense will be just as explosive, as quarterback Jeremy Johnson is a rising star, and there’s no shortage of skill talent, including All-America candidate at receiver Duke Williams.
Total Points: 29
QB: Joshua Dobbs (3)
RB: Jalen Hurd (6)
WR: Marquez North (7)
Tennessee is on its way back into SEC East title contention under third-year coach Butch Jones. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs shined in the second half of 2014, and the junior will be surrounded by a young and talented group of skill players. Hurd leads the way in the Volunteers’ backfield, but junior college recruit (and former Alabama running back) Alvin Kamara is a player to watch in 2015. Receiver Marquez North was limited by injuries last season.
Total Points: 27
QB: Dak Prescott (1)
RB: Ashton Shumpert (13)
WR: De’Runnya Wilson (4)
Mississippi State and Arkansas tied for the third spot on this list, but let’s give the edge to the Bulldogs with the SEC’s No. 1 quarterback in senior Dak Prescott. While running back Josh Robinson will be missed, there’s talent in place with Ashton Shumpert and Aeris Williams battling for carries. Wilson averaged 15.3 yards per catch in SEC games last year.
Total Points: 27
QB: Brandon Allen (6)
RB: Alex Collins/Jonathan Williams (4)
WR: Keon Hatcher (8)
The Razorbacks improved their scoring average by 11.2 points per game from 2013 to 2014. Expect this unit to take another step forward under new coordinator Dan Enos, as Arkansas returns an experienced quarterback in Brandon Allen and the nation’s top running back duo in Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams.
Total Points: 25
QB: Brice Ramsey (9)
RB: Nick Chubb (1)
WR: Malcolm Mitchell (10)
New coordinator Brian Schottenheimer doesn’t plan to alter the strength of Georgia’s offense, but the passing attack needs some work with a new quarterback and uncertainty at receiver. Running back Nick Chubb is one of the nation’s best, while the Bulldogs need a healthy year from receiver Malcolm Mitchell.
6. Texas A&M
Total Points: 24
QB: Kyle Allen (4)
RB: Tra Carson (11)
WR: Josh Reynolds (6)
The Aggies will have an explosive offense once again. Coach Kevin Sumlin’s team is loaded with talent at running back and receiver, while quarterback Kyle Allen should thrive in his first full season as the starter.
Total Points: 23
QB: Jacob Coker (8)
RB: Derrick Henry (3)
WR: Robert Foster (11)
It wouldn’t be a surprise if Alabama finishes higher on this list in 2015. But ranking higher than No. 7 in the postseason largely depends on how far the Crimson Tide’s passing attack develops. Jacob Coker is the projected starter here, but David Cornwell is still in the mix. There’s talent at receiver. But who steps up to replace Amari Cooper?
Total Points: 22
QB: Brandon Harris (12)
RB: Leonard Fournette (2)
WR: Travin Dural (6)
Quarterback remains a question mark for coach Les Miles, but LSU has one of the nation’s top running backs in sophomore Leonard Fournette, along with a cast of talented receivers. Travin Dural ranked third among SEC receivers with eight catches for 30 yards or more in 2015.
Total Points: 22
QB: Maty Mauk (5)
RB: Russell Hansbrough (5)
WR: Nate Brown (13)
Ranking Missouri ninth in the SEC in offensive triplets seems low considering the success this team has had in finding new receivers under coach Gary Pinkel. Nate Brown appears to be the next standout receiver for the Tigers, but the offense also needs better play from quarterback Maty Mauk in SEC games (48.9 percent in league games last year). Russell Hansbrough might be the league’s most underrated running back.
10. Ole Miss
Total Points: 20
QB: Chad Kelly (10)
RB: Jaylen Walton (14)
WR: Laquon Treadwell (1)
The Rebels have the SEC’s No. 1 receiver in Laquon Treadwell, but question marks remain at quarterback and at running back. Junior college (and former Clemson) quarterback Chad Kelly is the frontrunner to replace Bo Wallace, while Jaylen Walton, Akeem Judd and Eugene Brazley all could share carries at running back.
Total Points: 19
QB: Patrick Towles (7)
RB: Boom Williams (7)
WR: Ryan Timmons (12)
Kentucky has work to do on defense, but the offense returns nearly intact after averaging 29.2 points per game in 2014. Quarterback Patrick Towles ranked fifth in the SEC with 226.5 passing yards per contest, and receiver Ryan Timmons led the team with 45 catches last year. Boom Williams is one of the SEC’s top breakout candidates in 2015.
Total Points: 19
QB: Will Grier (11)
RB: Kelvin Taylor (10)
WR: Demarcus Robinson (5)
The pieces are in place for Florida’s offense to improve under first-year coach Jim McElwain. Will Grier edged Treon Harris for the starting quarterback job in the spring, and Kelvin Taylor and Demarcus Robinson should push for All-SEC honors. Offensive line isn’t a factor here, but the Gators have major concerns about their starting five.
13. South Carolina
Total Points: 18
QB: Connor Mitch (13)
RB: David Williams (12)
WR: Pharoh Cooper (2)
Pharoh Cooper was all-purpose threat for the Gamecocks last year, and the North Carolina native is also one of the SEC’s top receivers. David Williams and Brandon Wilds are expected to share carries in replacing Mike Davis. Both players averaged over five yards per carry in limited action last year. Connor Mitch is the frontrunner to replace Dylan Thompson and has only six career pass attempts.
Total Points: 9
QB: Johnny McCrary (14)
RB: Ralph Webb (8)
WR: C.J. Duncan (14)
New play-caller Andy Ludwig has a lot of work to do this offseason. The Commodores averaged only 12.8 points per game in SEC contests last season. Quarterback play remains a concern, but Ludwig has a promising running back to build around in sophomore Ralph Webb.
Tom Brady has a knack for never letting people see him sweat. He's made a career out of it.
The Patriots quarterback isn't letting the stress of Deflategate bother him. He was seen golfing with his buddy Michael Jordan in the Bahamas. That's one way to take the four-game suspension off his mind. Brady is making the most of his time away from the field.
Brady doesn't appear to be too upset about Deflategate. Playing golf with MJ. pic.twitter.com/WBtilFblFJ— Sean Wagner-McGough (@seanjwagner) May 17, 2015
Many people couldn't even imagine living a life as stress free as Brady's.
Penn State’s Anthony Zettel is one of the top defensive tackles in the nation. The Michigan native recorded 17 tackles for a loss and eight sacks in 13 games last season.
Despite his huge 2014 campaign, Zettel isn’t sitting idle this offseason. Instead, Zettel is keeping in shape by tackling a tree.
Showing proper tackling form, here’s a short video from Zettel just destroying a tree:
Penn State DT Anthony Zettel tackled a tree and uprooted it. WATCH: http://t.co/fMC3JGMTRA— ESPN (@espn) May 17, 2015
Forget Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, this is the fight no one expected to happen.
Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney is stepping in the ring with Evander Holyfield. Friday night we'll get to see another side of Romney. The fight is for charity, but if he's not careful he could get hurt. Holyfield has a definite size advantage.
Romney says he plans to fight the former heavyweight champ fair and square.
"I'm staying far away from his ears," Romney told The New York Times. "I don't for a moment want for him to confuse me with anyone from his past."
Officially, there are three coaching vacancies in the NBA. The New Orleans Pelicans, Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets are all on the lookout for new leaders after hitting the reset button.
Less officially, we’re headed for four. The Chicago Bulls are expected to part ways with head man Tom Thibodeau this offseason, and his availability is likely to beget a chain reaction in what’s been largely a holding pattern. With both Orlando and New Orleans waiting for Thibodeau to officially hit the market before they make a move, Denver is stuck with a field of wait-and-see candidates.
Mike D’Antoni, Scott Brooks, Scott Skiles, Vinny Del Negro and Alvin Gentry are all potential winners for any of these four slots. Thibodeau, the lead horse in the race for seemingly all coaching jobs, has also long been connected to the Los Angeles Lakers, where head coach Byron Scott is considered by many to be an honorary lame duck.
Many believe Thibodeau will end up in New Orleans, where he can build a new, elite defense around Anthony Davis (the most appealing young player the game has seen in some time) who he coached with Team USA last summer.
If this speculation becomes fact, the Magic would likely turn to Skiles or Brooks, both coaches who have had success with younger rosters. While Orlando is interested in Thibodeau, it seems more probable that he’d join a team looking to take the next step in their playoff contention, as opposed to an upstart roster.
Wresting Thibodeau from Chicago may take some sacrifice. His acrimonious relationship with the Bulls’ front office comes while he’s still under contract, and Chicago is a notoriously frugal franchise that wouldn’t want to pay multiple more years of his deal and not get anything back. We could see the rare—but perhaps increasingly frequent—instance of a coach trade this summer.
— John Wilmes
Perhaps the most drawn-out debate is LeBron James vs. Michael Jordan. Who would win one-on-one?
On ESPN's "First Take," Skip Bayless states his case for a 52-year-old Jordan defeating a 30-year-old James. The age difference is a factor, but the colorful ESPN personality says that given a little time and a change in diet, the six-time NBA champion can't lose to the Cavaliers star.
It would behoove the two to just get together and settle the debate once and for all.
Nick Chubb is expected to power the Bulldogs to the top of the SEC this year, but his cousin may not be far behind.
Nine-year-old Harlem Diamond of Cedartown, Georgia is the cousin of the Dawgs running back and resembles him in more ways than one. Speed and cutting ability must be in the family genes.
Georgia is definitely keeping its eye on this youngster.
It's never too early to go after a recruit in SEC country.
The Chicago Bulls had their best chance of the century, this year, to get through the Eastern Conference and fight for a title in the NBA Finals. But after an incredibly dispiriting 94-73 loss to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, it would appear this iteration of the Bulls is all but done, and facing a ton of change this summer. The Bulls lost their series to Cleveland 4-2.
A year of rumors backed up by every major league insider says that head coach Tom Thibodeau came into the postseason with the likely impossible task of doing well enough to save his job. Not even making to the conference finals surely marks his death knell, as he and his front office have far too much bad blood to proceed with anything less than a championship as their olive branch.
Center Joakim Noah, long considered a cornerstone, never looked like the same player in 2014-15 after arthroscopic knee surgery last summer. It’s healthy to wonder whether he ever will. Noah is now 30, and having spent five seasons gutting out every hurt he could under Thibodeau, his body could be facing an early breakdown.
Jimmy Butler, the Bulls’ breakout star of the year, is heading into restricted free agency. Keeping him around will cost a pretty penny, with many teams believed to be in the running to woo Butler with a maximum offer. If Chicago wants the breathing room to keep him and stay under the cap limit, they may need to trade someone off. All eyes point to veteran forward Taj Gibson, whose future was murky from the second the team brought rookie Nikola Mirotic over from Spain.
The one piece of good, solid news? Derrick Rose finally started to look like an elite impact player again in the playoffs. Building around him, Butler and an improving Mirotic going forward is a path that inspires some optimism.
— John Wilmes
Leave it to Jimmy Kimmel to ask the suave David Beckham a bunch of weird questions.
The soccer star was a good sport when the late night host asked him three ridiculous questions, and even took a hilarious selfie.
That was quick thinking by Beckham on the spice question.
The Big 12 had just three players rush for 1,000 yards in 2014, which was the fewest amount by a Power 5 conference. However, all three players – Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine, Baylor’s Shock Linwood and Texas Tech’s DeAndre Washington – are back in 2015.
Perine is one of the nation’s top running backs after recording 1,713 yards and 21 scores in his freshman campaign in 2014. Baylor’s Shock Linwood ranked second on the conference in yards with 1,252, while Texas Tech’s DeAndre Washington was third with 1,103 yards. There’s some emerging names to watch in this conference, including West Virginia’s Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood, along with Texas senior Johnathan Gray.
To help compile the rankings, there was some projection involved for 2015. This was not a ranking of running backs only based on accomplishments so far or pro potential. All factors - pure talent, supporting cast, 2015 projection and scheme changes (just to name a few) - were considered and projected to rank the running backs in the Big 12 for 2015.
Order the 2015 Athlon Sports Big 12 Preview, featuring previews, predictions and rankings, as well as everything you need to prepare for the upcoming season.
Ranking the Big 12’s Running Backs for 2015
1. Samaje Perine, Oklahoma
2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore
Even though the Sooners have a new offensive scheme and coordinator, Perine is still a major part of the gameplan. He led all Oklahoma rushers with 1,713 yards and 21 scores last season and recorded five 100-yard efforts over his last six games. Perine also set the FBS single-game rushing record with 427 yards in a 44-7 rout over Kansas. Joe Mixon and Alex Ross will be involved, but Perine should push for All-America honors in 2015.
2. Shock Linwood, Baylor
2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior
Baylor’s explosive passing offense gets all of the attention in Waco, but Linwood has quietly emerged as one of the Big 12’s top running backs over the last two seasons. Linwood rushed for 881 yards and eight scores as a freshman in 2013 and eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark with 1,252 yards and 16 touchdowns last year. He also recorded four 100-yard efforts in Big 12 games in 2014.
3. DeAndre Washington, Texas Tech
2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior
Washington ranked as the Big 12’s third-leading rusher last season, recording 1,103 yards and two scores on 188 attempts. The Texas native had just one game of more than 25 carries, but he made the most of his opportunities by averaging 5.9 yards per carry. Washington was also a key target in the passing game and showcased his versatility by catching 30 passes for 328 yards and two touchdowns.
Related: Texas Tech Needs David Gibbs to Reverse Defensive Woes
4. Aaron Green, TCU
2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior
Green quickly emerged as TCU’s go-to back after B.J. Catalon missed the final five games of 2014 due to injury. The Texas native recorded 922 rushing yards and nine scores on just 129 attempts. He was also a weapon for quarterback Trevone Boykin out of the backfield, catching 19 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns. Of running backs with at least 100 carries in the Big 12 last season, Green recorded the highest yards per carry average (7.2).
5. Johnathan Gray, Texas
2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior
It’s a close call between Gray and West Virginia’s Rushel Shell for the No. 5 spot on this list. Gray suffered a torn Achilles in 2013 and missed the final four games of the season. However, he showed little rust in his return, rushing for 636 yards and seven scores in a backup role to starter Malcolm Brown. Gray recorded one 100-yard effort (West Virginia) and averaged 4.4 yards per carry. With Gray a full year removed from Achilles surgery, he should push for his best career season at Texas.
6. Rushel Shell, West Virginia
2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior
Shell made an immediate impact in his first season as West Virginia’s go-to back. In 12 games, the Pittsburgh transfer recorded 788 yards and seven touchdowns, while averaging 4.5 yards per carry. Shell posted three 100-yard efforts, including 146 in the regular season finale against Iowa State. Expect the Mountaineers to use Shell as the No. 1 back once again, but Wendell Smallwood and Donte Thomas-Williams will see their share of opportunities.
7. Wendell Smallwood, West Virginia
2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior
Smallwood might be one of the Big 12’s most underrated players. In 13 games last season, the Delaware native ranked second on the team with 722 rushing yards and caught 31 passes for 326 yards. Smallwood should see a similar role in West Virginia’s offense this season and is one of the top all-purpose threats in the Big 12.
8. Joe Mixon, Oklahoma
2015 Year of Eligibility: Redshirt Freshman
Mixon was suspended for all of 2014 due to an off-field incident, but he’s primed for a breakout year for the Sooners. The California native was a five-star recruit in the 2014 signing class and ranked as the No. 21 overall prospect.
9. Alex Ross, Oklahoma
2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior
Oklahoma’s backfield is overflowing with talent, as Samaje Perine is already one of the best in the nation, and Joe Mixon is ready for a breakout year in his redshirt freshman campaign. But Ross shouldn’t be overlooked, as the Oklahoma native rushed for 614 yards and four scores in his first two seasons in Norman. Ross averages 6.7 yards per carry and was one of the nation’s top kickoff returners last year.
10. Corey Avery, Kansas
2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore
Avery is one of the few proven playmakers for new coach David Beaty. However, Avery’s status for 2015 is uncertain after he was suspended indefinitely at the end of spring. As a freshman last season, Avery rushed for 631 yards and five touchdowns and caught 18 passes for 189 yards and two scores.
Other Big 12 Running Backs to Watch in 2015
Tyler Brown/Mike Warren, Iowa State
Iowa State’s backfield is filled with uncertainty, but the coaching staff has promising options in Brown and Warren. Brown recorded 109 yards in limited action last season, while Warren spent 2014 as a redshirt.
Duke Catalon/D’Onta Foreman, Texas
Foreman rushed for 74 yards as a freshman last year, while Catalon spent 2014 as a redshirt. Both players will battle for carries and spell starter Johnathan Gray.
Rennie Childs/Chris Carson, Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State must replace its top two leading rushers from last season, and there’s a lot of uncertainty about this backfield going into fall practice. Childs rushed for 294 yards and three scores in a reserve role in 2014, while Carson was a key pickup on the recruiting trail from Butler Community College.
Johnny Jefferson/Devin Chafin, Baylor
Jefferson and Chafin combined for 907 yards and 14 rushing scores last season. Both players will work as backups to Shock Linwood in 2015.
Charles Jones/Dalvin Warmack/Alex Barnes, Kansas State
Jones rushed for 13 touchdowns last year, but Kansas State needs more from its rushing attack after averaging only 3.7 yards per carry in 2014. Warmack (redshirt) and Barnes are two potential breakout candidates - if they get enough opportunities in 2015.
De’Andre Mann, Kansas
If Corey Avery does not return to the team, Mann and junior college transfer Ke’aun Kinner will headline the Kansas rushing attack.
Shaun Nixon/Trevorris Johnson/Kyle Hicks, TCU
Aaron Green will handle the bulk of the carries for TCU. However, there’s a talented trio of backs capable of spelling Green when he needs a rest. Johnson averaged 5.7 yards per carry on 53 attempts last year.
Justin Stockton, Texas Tech
Stockton is one of the Big 12’s fastest players and averaged 8.3 yards per rush in 2014. Expect the sophomore to be one of the conference’s top big-play threats in 2015.
Donte Thomas-Williams, West Virginia
Four-star recruit in the 2014 signing class is ready to contribute after a redshirt year.
Auburn is usually known as the little brother to Alabama.
The team's offseason locker room renovations brought them a little closer in the sibling rivalry. The walls of the Tigers' locker room now features former quarterback Cam Newton, along with Nick Fairley, and the 2010 championship squad.
According to AL.com, the goal was to "extend (Auburn's) branding and story" and to "inspire their athletes" with "high-impact inspiration graphics."
The hype surrounding Bryce Harper has been snowballing since 2009 when the words “Chosen One” were plastered next to his wiry, 16-year-old frame on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
After three seasons of injuries, awkward interviews (“That’s a clown question, bro”), massive bat flips, arguments with managers, face-planting into outfield walls, and staring down opposing pitchers —Harper is finally getting it. And boy, is he really getting it.
The baby-faced teenager from Las Vegas has grown up. Harper, now 22, is a stout 6-foot-3, 225-pound, bearded hunk of baseball-crushing mass for the Washington Nationals — and still the second-youngest player in the National League. The first overall pick in the 2010 draft really began to turn heads during last October’s NLDS, when he hit three home runs and amassed 15 total bases in four games against Madison Bumgarner and the eventual World Series champion San Francisco Giants. Harper finished 2014 hot and began 2015 on fire.
So far this season, Harper has turned in an MVP performance. Entering Wednesday’s action, he is leading the NL in several major offensive categories including: HRs (12), walks (30), runs scored (29), and OPS (1.119). Harper is second in the NL in RBIs (31), total bases (81), WAR (2.2 according to FanGraphs, 2.6 to Baseball Almanac) and slugging percentage (.675), and finds himself in the top 10 in extra base hits (20, 3rd), on-base percentage (.444, 5th), and doubles (8, 7th).
The month of May is just two weeks old, but Harper is dominating it. In just 12 games, the Nationals’ right fielder is hitting .349/.451/.907 with seven homers, 16 RBIs, and 39 total bases. Within the past week Harper has been posting video-game-like numbers, with a slash line of .500/.577/.1.182 with four home runs, 11 RBIs, 26 total bases, and scoring eight times in just 26 plate appearances.
While the numbers are eye-popping, nothing grabbed the sporting world’s attention like Harper did last week in which he launched six home runs in three games. Harper started his onslaught on Wednesday, May 6 when he blasted three long balls against the Marlins’ Tom Koehler, sending two into the upper deck of Nationals Park, and knocking in five runs (Our sympathies to poor, poor Koehler). Harper hit two more blasts in his next game against the Braves two days later, and capped off the barrage with a walk-off, two-run shot against the Braves’ Cody Martin in the bottom of the 9th last Saturday.
Harper has come a long way since making his big-league debut back in April 2012. No longer does he blow kisses and stare down opposing pitchers after taking them deep, or argue with his own manager — but he still has a flare for the excess. Whether it’s stopping to admire every long ball he smashes until it lands in the upper deck, berating an umpire on a bad check-swing call, or the over-the-top hair flip after removing his batting helmet — Harper has baseball’s attention. And when you’re that good, and that young, you can pretty much flip your hair whenever you want.
Harper already has two All-Star Game appearances and a Rookie of the Year award on his short, but distinguished resume, and based on how Harper’s 2015 campaign has started, it appears he’s aiming for an MVP trophy to add to the mantle.
Here’s to hoping that Harper’s hot bat and fiery attitude don’t cool down anytime this summer.
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. An avid baseball fan, Rose also takes time to do some play-by-play work for the radio broadcasts of Middle Tennessee State Blue Raider baseball games. He can be reached on Twitter @JakeRose24.
Everybody’s got bad vibes with a former loved one. We’ve all come to blows with an old friend over how nostalgically, or not, we choose to reimagine the past. We’ve all lost a buddy or two as life takes us down different pathways.
Rarely, though, has the splitting of a bond been as public as that between Jalen Rose and Chris Webber. During a recent appearance on Dan Patrick’s radio show, Webber went on to make some disparaging remarks regarding the ESPN “30 for 30” documentary about the Fab Five squad Rose and Webber played on together, at the University of Michigan. Webber kept saying he wasn’t referring to anyone specifically, but he was clearly referring to Rose, who works for ESPN and Grantland and played a large hand in the film’s production.
“I was disheartened by … whatever someone is trying to create our legacy,” Webber said on Patrick’s show. “Because that’s not the legacy. Don’t try to go back and act like you were smart and a martyr and all this. Don’t do that. Just tell the story and let people have fun and be like us.”
Rose fired back, shortly after, by way of Larry Brown Sports:
“One dude traveled then called timeout. One dude lied to grand jury and hasn’t apologized. One dude tried to circumvent the documentary to HBO. One dude ignored multiple requests from everyone involved after agreeing to participate. One dude played like (President) Obama and sat in a suite during Michigan’s recent title game. One dude slandered Ed Martin after all he did for him and his family. One dude is not in contact with the other four (which is all good). One dude has been doing a rebuttal doc for four years. One dude clearly is delusional and still in denial.”
Harsh, harsh, harsh. Here’s to hoping these two can find a more private way to rebuild the bridge between them… if that’s even possible anymore.