Articles By Athlon Sports

All taxonomy terms: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/2015-nascar-driver-profile-ricky-stenhouse-jr
Body:

The statistics say Ricky Stenhouse Jr. endured a 2014 season that didn’t mesh with the lofty expectations that came with his move full-time to Sprint Cup racing after a pair of Nationwide Series titles in 2011 and ’12. The temptation is to call last year his sophomore slump. But Stenhouse didn’t perform below his ability. Rather, he was just another Roush driver who struggled to find competitive speed in a season in which the three-driver team rarely found any.

 

“We all drive different, have different setups and crew chiefs, but we’re all complaining about the same thing,” Stenhouse says of RFR in 2014. “At least we know there’s a problem there somewhere that we’ve got to get out.”

 

For Stenhouse, those handling issues translated to a season with just one top-5 result, five top-10 finishes and an average finish of 22.4 — a drop of 3.5 positions per race from 2013, his first full season in Cup racing.

 

It was a clear disappointment, especially when Stenhouse was gift-wrapped his All-Star crew chief from past Nationwide success (Mike Kelley). It provided the 27-year-old with sage learning moments, ones he’ll have to use in order to stay employed beyond 2015.

 

“I need to make sure I don’t ask the crew chief or engineers to fix my car in a way that I know they probably can’t,” Stenhouse says. “Taking a 12th-place and trying to finish fifth with it is tough to do in the middle of a race. We need to work on it a little bit at a time instead of trying to make big adjustments. I think that threw us off a bit (in 2014).”

 

Athlon Sports’ 2015 Racing magazine delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2015 NASCAR coverage. Click here to order your copy today!

Driver No. 17 also enters this season with a keen sense of what he has to do to improve the car more quickly each weekend. In 2014, Stenhouse started studying the at-track performance data of his Ford counterparts more closely. The homework, while not providing instant success, changed his driving style.

 

 “I like to drive in the corner hard, use the brake and then jump right back into the gas,” Stenhouse says. “But last year I found a lot of race tracks where you change it up and kind of roll into the corner and get back to the gas, you go faster.”

 

That’s a good thing, as 2015 comes with the mantra “no excuses.” His best friend Trevor Bayne is now a teammate, and the duo now has reasonable Cup experience. They, along with veteran Greg Biffle, had input on offseason personnel shuffles to boost the team. It’s not the playoffs or bust for Stenhouse … but it’s close.

 

Jumping from 27th in points to Chase contention is a bit unrealistic. That leaves Stenhouse optimistic that a Chase-berthing win is in reach — ideally during one of two Bristol Motor Speedway stops, where he finished a career-best second last spring. A short track win for Stenhouse would earn him a spot in the Chase and end his pursuit for a first career victory.

 

“I think there’s no reason we can’t win a race in 2015,” Stenhouse said. “I really want to get that marked off our list.”

 

No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford

Primary Sponsors: Fastenal, Zest, Fifth Third Bank, NOS, Ford, Ecopower

Owners: Jack Roush/John Henry

Crew Chief: Mike Kelley

Year With Current Team: 3rd

Under Contract Through: 2015

Best Points Finish: 19th (2013)

Hometown: Olive Branch, Miss.

Born: Oct. 2, 1987

 

Career Stats

YearsStartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
47602810$11,343,905

 

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
2015 driver profile for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on the NASCR Sprint Cup circuit.
Post date: Monday, February 9, 2015 - 16:35
All taxonomy terms: Aric Almirola, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/2015-nascar-driver-profile-aric-almirola
Body:

Entering his fourth full season at Richard Petty Motorsports, Aric Almirola is a believer that a low level of offseason turbulence — a rarity for the organization — is reason to believe that his team can keep moving forward in 2015.

 

A Chase for the Sprint Cup contender for the first time last year, Almirola enters this season with the same crew chief (Trent Owens), the same core group of team members, a steady sponsor situation and a race team on substantially better financial footing.

 

“Everything being kind of status quo on that side is really good,” Almirola says.

 

RPM certainly hopes so, as its owners have opted to invest heavily in improving the program. The team moved into a larger race shop this offseason and started hanging the bodies on its cars, a step toward independence from fellow Ford team and technical partner Roush Fenway Racing.

 

“We’ll still work with (RFR) on the technical and engineering side,” Almirola says. “We’ll still share information, share wind tunnel time, all of those things. But we’re going to be putting the bodies on race cars in the way we think it should be done.”

 

The move in-house should have a positive impact on Almirola’s season, as RPM won’t have identical cars to those raced at RFR. It’s a solution that makes sense when considering RFR’s frustrating season-long 2014 slump.

 

Athlon Sports’ 2015 Racing magazine delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2015 NASCAR coverage. Click here to order your copy today!

However, striking out on its own is a long-term process for a team that still has distinct disadvantages. Just a two-car program, RPM is third on the Ford food chain, with financials that pale in comparison to both RFR and Penske, even with the increased support. Almirola must deal with a new teammate, Sam Hornish Jr., who’s had limited success on the Cup level.

 

Most important, Almirola — despite making the Chase — still has much to prove. He scored the fewest points in the 16-driver field, as mechanical failure at Chicagoland ended his title hopes in September. He earned just two top-5 finishes in 36 starts; believe it or not, that’s a career year for Almirola.

 

It’s a safe bet that his No. 43 team will need to score another win — like the unexpected one at Daytona last July in the rain-shortened summer race — to earn another Chase spot. Almirola is most confident that it could happen at a place where RPM can bridge the equipment gap, like a short track. Kansas, where the driver led a career-best 69 laps a few years back before suffering tire trouble, is another strength. It’s a running theme for the program — bad racing luck creeps up too often to kill consistency.

 

“We’ve had a lot of moments of brightness. We’ve had many weekends where we’ve run up front in the top 5, the top 10,” Almirola says. “But we just haven’t done that on a consistent basis.”

 

That means Almirola will likely pick and choose his opportunities to go for broke. If he hits, he’ll make the Chase. If he misses? Well, at least his team has a long-term plan for success; we’ll see if a midpack points finish has it staying the course.

 

No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford

Primary Sponsors: Smithfield Foods, STP, Fresh From Florida

Owners: Richard Petty/Andy Murstein/Doug Bergeron

Crew Chief: Trent Owens

Year With Current Team: 4th

Under Contract Through: 2016

Best Points Finish: 16th (2014)

Hometown: Tampa, Fla.

Born: March 14, 1984

 

Career Stats

YearsStartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
7143151910$19,633,191

 

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
2015 driver profile for Aric Almirola on the NASCR Sprint Cup circuit.
Post date: Monday, February 9, 2015 - 16:32
All taxonomy terms: Brian Vickers, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/2015-nascar-driver-profile-brian-vickers
Body:

Brian Vickers became one of NASCAR’s feel-good stories of the 2013 season. He played the role of the comeback kid, the former young gun with a Nationwide Series title and Hendrick Motorsports on his résumé who overcame a near-fatal blood clot to return to the track. A 2013 win at New Hampshire put Vickers in MWR’s No. 55 Toyota full-time last season and carried with it some veteran expectations.

 

Vickers had the experience to become a Chase contender again. The problem was, his return to competition coincided with MWR’s return to the basement.

 

The first Toyota program, which had once DNQ’d for 22 of 36 races with one of Waltrip’s cars in 2007, had fought hard to build up into a Chase-level outfit. But then, teammate Clint Bowyer intentionally spun his car, resulting in the infamous “SpinGate” scandal in the fall of 2013 that saw MWR trying to fix the final results of a race. The team’s downward slide seemed almost instantaneous from there.

 

The results were what you’d expect after that type of doomsday scenario. Vickers earned just one top-5 result away from the restrictor plate tracks of Daytona and Talladega and led just 53 laps for the entire season. He finished a disappointing 22nd in the standings.

 

“Not having the third team changed a lot,” Vickers says of last season. “Having that one extra resource is nice. I wish we still had that. But we tried to make it work. The two teams still worked well together.”

 

Both Vickers and Bowyer failed to win a race or qualify for the Chase. The disappointing finishes were a result of what Vickers felt were missed opportunities. “We had a lot of races where we didn’t reach our potential because something happened — a blown tire, an engine, whatever it may be — and that’s what hurt us,” he says. “But I think we learned from it.”

 

Athlon Sports’ 2015 Racing magazine delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2015 NASCAR coverage. Click here to order your copy today!

The poor season notwithstanding, Vickers knows time can be a major asset to any team — especially one that’s had time to recover from a traumatic period like MWR’s previous offseason.

 

Vickers, however, now needs his own time to heal. He announced mid-December that he was forced to undergo heart surgery a second time, a necessity after his body rejected the 2010 attempt to plug a hole in his heart. The recovery will force him to miss an unspecified number of races. Depending on how long he’s out, Vickers may not even earn the medical exemption necessary in order to qualify for the Chase. (Drivers must attempt every regular season race to be eligible).

 

When Vickers returns to the No. 55, he’ll find consistency both in the pit box and on the fenders. Engineer-turned-crew chief Billy Scott returns for his second full season, while Aaron’s will again provide the majority of sponsorship funding. But MWR still has quite the hill to climb, and another health issue for their driver doesn’t help. With Vickers’ contract up at the end of 2015, this pending free agent is facing an uncertain future both with his team and in the sport.

 

Vickers, however, now needs his own time to heal. He announced mid-December that he was forced to undergo heart surgery a second time, a necessity after his body rejected the 2010 attempt to plug a hole in his heart. The recovery will force him to miss an unspecified number of races. Depending on how long he’s out, Vickers may not even earn the medical exemption necessary in order to qualify for the Chase. (Drivers must attempt every regular season race to be eligible).

 

When Vickers returns to the No. 55, he’ll find consistency both in the pit box and on the fenders. Engineer-turned-crew chief Billy Scott returns for his second full season, while Aaron’s will again provide the majority of sponsorship funding. But MWR still has quite the hill to climb, and another health issue for their driver doesn’t help. With Vickers’ contract up at the end of 2015, this pending free agent is facing an uncertain future both with his team and in the sport.

 

Vickers, however, now needs his own time to heal. He announced mid-December that he was forced to undergo heart surgery a second time, a necessity after his body rejected the 2010 attempt to plug a hole in his heart. The recovery will force him to miss an unspecified number of races. Depending on how long he’s out, Vickers may not even earn the medical exemption necessary in order to qualify for the Chase. (Drivers must attempt every regular season race to be eligible).

 

When Vickers returns to the No. 55, he’ll find consistency both in the pit box and on the fenders. Engineer-turned-crew chief Billy Scott returns for his second full season, while Aaron’s will again provide the majority of sponsorship funding. But MWR still has quite the hill to climb, and another health issue for their driver doesn’t help. With Vickers’ contract up at the end of 2015, this pending free agent is facing an uncertain future both with his team and in the sport.

 

No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota

Primary Sponsor: Aaron’s

Owner: Michael Waltrip/Rob Kauffman

Crew Chief: Billy Scott

Year With Current Team: 4th

Under Contract Through: 2015

Best Points Finish: 12th (2009)

Hometown: Thomasville, N.C.

Born: Oct. 24, 1983

 

Career Stats

YearsStartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
1231632977120$38,266,887

 

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
2015 driver profile for Brian Vickers on the NASCR Sprint Cup circuit.
Post date: Monday, February 9, 2015 - 16:30
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/ranking-nba%E2%80%99s-title-contenders
Body:

10. Oklahoma City Thunder

Don’t count the Thunder out just yet. Even though they’re two spots out of the Western Conference playoffs at the moment, it would take just one signature winning streak to close their current two-game gap. And once Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook — the most talented duo in the whole game — are in the postseason, anything is possible.

 

9. Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers were climbing these rankings until Blake Griffin was taken out of action with an elbow infection that will require surgery and keep him out indefinitely. The L.A. depth chart is shallow behind Blake, so keeping things afloat will be a tremendous challenge. But if they can stay in the playoffs without their big man, then they’ll still have one of the best starting units around if he returns to action in the spring.

 

8. Chicago Bulls

The Bulls have been struck by a winter malaise that’s not common in the Tom Thibodeau era. And with starting forward Mike Dunleavy out and Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah still on the mend from injuries, Chicago has been hard to gauge. But we’ve seen them grab enough statement wins to know they’re still in this conversation.

 

7. San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs haven’t blown anyone away yet this season, but they’re also the consummate peak-when-it-matters squad. The dominance they showed in last year’s championship run evoked some of the best teams in NBA history, and if they can return to something resembling that scary form, they could become the favorites to take it all home once again.

 

6. Portland Trail Blazers

Through hell and the high water of injury troubles, the Blazers have improved by developing their bench into a unit much more effective than it was last year. Meyers Leonard and C.J. McCollum have become weapons as the Portland starting five continues to get better together, and the team’s defense has been surprisingly efficient. Now that they’re healthy again, we’ll see just how potent they can be.

 

5. Houston Rockets

James Harden might not win the MVP — Steph Curry’s eminent likability makes him the favorite in a media narrative sense, even if The Beard has put his team on his shoulders more than any other star this season. If Harden and Co. can continue to chug along with their defense-first attack, though, they’ll get Dwight Howard back in time for April and be a team who nobody wants to face.

 

4. Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks, by way of inertia, have proved themselves as contenders. No 42-10 team has ever not has serious potential to win the NBA Finals, and Atlanta’s newness to this realm shouldn’t disqualify them. Plus, as the Spurs showed us last year, no amount of star power is an appropriate match for a team that amasses into something much greater than the sum of its parts.

 

3. Cleveland Cavaliers

Ah, so, finally — the Cavs are who we thought they were. Winners of 13 of their last 14, they’ve begun to integrate Kevin Love into their offense in big ways, and their defense has been on a huge uptick ever since Timofey Mozgov came to town. It was fun to watch the Cleveland empire burn before it started, but now it looks like they’re building their throne quite effectively.

 

2. Memphis Grizzlies

Memphis’ grind-it-out style is moving in the opposite direction of the rest of the league. A spread-out, three-point-loving style has become the mark for most good teams, but the Grizzlies defy that trend by being so good at a slow, half-court style that they make you play it, too. It remains to be seen whether anyone has the antidote to this terrific, nostalgic molasses.

 

1. Golden State Warriors

The Warriors have simply been more impressive than any other team. Often ranking No. 1 on both offense and defense, they’ve even gone through their spectacular season without consistent health from multi-skilled center Andrew Bogut. Golden State can beat you in so many ways — they’re not just the jump-shooters many claim them to be — and they look poised to unleash their full arsenal this spring.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, February 9, 2015 - 13:41
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/nba-remembers-dean-smith-1931-2015
Body:
Dean Smith, the legendary coach who spent more than four decades bringing up some of the finest to ever play the game, has passed away at the age of 83, after a trying battle with dementia.

 

From 1961 to 1997, Smith was the head coach of the University of North Carolina Tar Heels. His lengthy list of accolades includes 11 Final Four appearances, two national titles, four National Coach of the Year designations, and an Olympic gold medal won in 1976. He trained many notable NBA players, including Vince Carter, Rasheed Wallace, Sam Perkins, Jerry Stackhouse, J.R. Reid, Kenny Smith, Brad Daugherty, James Worthy, and of course Michael Jordan. Jordan released the following statement, Sunday, in memory of Smith:

 

“Other than my parents, no one had a bigger influence on my life than Coach Smith. He was more than a coach — he was my mentor, my teacher, my second father. Coach was always there for me whenever I needed him and I loved him for it. In teaching me the game of basketball, he taught me about life. My heart goes out to Linnea and their kids. We’ve lost a great man who had an incredible impact on his players, his staff and the entire UNC family.”

 

Stackhouse sent out this tweet, and explained in an XM radio interview how Smith would even assist him with financial management.

 

Worthy kept it short and sweet:

 

And Worthy’s fellow Los Angeles Lakers trustee, general manager Mitch Kupchak, sent out the following:

 

“Coach Smith was one of the most influential people in my life, and his passing brings me great sadness. However, he was a great man and someone I loved and respected greatly, and I celebrate the fact that I knew him and had him in my life for as long as I did. His influence on my life didn’t end when I left Chapel Hill, as he was a trusted and valuable advisor to me when I became a player, then an executive in the NBA. He had a hugely positive impact on the lives of hundreds of young men who were lucky enough to call him Coach, and I was blessed to be among them.”

 

Rest in peace.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, February 9, 2015 - 10:24
All taxonomy terms: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers, NBA
Path: /nba/chris-paul-criticizes-rookie-woman-referee
Body:
Thursday night was a bad one for the Los Angeles Clippers. They lost 105-94 to LeBron James and the surging Cleveland Cavaliers — winners of 12 straight — but the final score was a lot closer than most of the game. L.A. was down by more than thirty for parts of the second half.

 

On top of the bad loss was a worse media gaffe by their point guard and leader, Chris Paul. Paul took to criticizing rookie female referee Lauren Holtkamp after the game. He wasn’t too pleased with a technical foul call in the third quarter.

 

"I think we have to show better composure, but at the same time some of [the technical fouls] were ridiculous," Paul told reporters. "The tech that I get right there was ridiculous. I don't care what nobody says, I don't care what she says; that's terrible. There's no way that can be a tech. We try to get the ball out fast every time down the court, and when we did that, she said, 'Uh-uh.' I said, 'Why, uh-uh?' And she gave me a tech. That's ridiculous. If that's the case, this might not be for her.”

 

Poor choice of words, CP3. While criticizing a rookie referee is hardly taboo, and while the “her” in “this might not be for her” is technically correct, many are going to read this as sexist.

 

Personally? Paul doesn’t strike me as the politically incorrect type; just a guy who got beat badly by one of his close friends — LeBron — on national TV, and was thus liable to say all kinds of dumb nonsense in his post-game frustration. He was throwing a bit of a hissyfit at the wrong time. That’s the peril of having a job where they throw microphones into your face right after you take a shower.

 

In any event, it’s a bad look for Paul, his team, and for the league, and it should surprise no one when he inevitably gets fined for his words.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, February 6, 2015 - 16:08
All taxonomy terms: Orlando Magic, NBA
Path: /nba/orlando-magic-have-fired-head-coach-jacque-vaughn
Body:

Add body No. 2 to the dispatched head coaches of the 2014-15 NBA season. Jacque Vaughn joined the previously fired Mike Malone in the unemployment line yesterday, when the Orlando Magic excused him as their man.

 

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports — who broke the news — reports that assistant coach James Borrego is expected to fill in as the interim leader for now, while rumors that Scott Skiles could step into the job on a permanent basis have been alive for at least a week. Skiles is a former Magic point guard and head coach for the Phoenix Suns, Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks. ESPN’s Chris Broussard is the one to connect him to the job opening, while Wojnarowski has also floated his name.

 

Vaughn, a 39-year-old who played point guard for five different NBA teams from 1997 to 2009, had just a .269 winning percentage over three-and-a-half years of leading Orlando. The Magic didn’t have high expectations for any of his teams; they handed Vaughn the keys at an obviously transitional moment, when Dwight Howard and Stan Van Gundy had been traded and fired, respectively, in the summer of 2012.

 

But there has been little-to-no improvement in central Florida, and the team’s front office clearly became convinced that Vaughn wasn’t the right man to get the most out of a young roster featuring Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton.

 

Is Skiles the man to right the ship for them? Who knows. The fiery coach has had success in turning teams around, but he also tends to grate on his players over time. He’s gotten all of his squads to the playoffs, while he’s also had ugly mid-season exits from every coaching job he’s had.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

 

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, February 6, 2015 - 10:20
Path: /nba/atlanta-hawks%E2%80%99-starting-five-are-all-nba-player-month
Body:
In an unprecedented move, the NBA has given January’s Player of the Month award to six different players.

 

Joining Houston Rockets MVP candidate James Harden (who gets the nod as Western Conference Player of the Month) is the entire starting five for the Atlanta Hawks, representing the Eastern Conference: Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll, Paul Millsap and Al Horford.

 

In Adam Silver’s NBA, this move isn’t entirely surprising. The league’s new commissioner — who just hit his one-year mark on the job — is all about grand symbolic gestures. 

 

When 2014 draft hopeful Isaiah Austin, a standout big man from Baylor University, saw his hopes dashed a by tragic diagnosis of Marfan Syndrome, Silver made him a ceremonial pick on draft night, offering him a job in the league so long as he finishes his degree at Baylor.

 

And there’s also, of course, Silver’s brash lifetime ban of disgraced former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling — the move that announced Silver’s presence to many followers of the league.

 

The decision to give the Hawks’ front five this award as a collective is, similarly, a sign of Silver’s relatively radical ethos. A celebration of teamwork and selflessness, the gesture could perhaps encourage other lineups throughout the league to skew their games in a direction less concerned with individual achievement, and more concerned with group achievement.

 

The curious announcement should also turn some more heads to what’s going on in Atlanta. Although they had their 19-game winning streak snapped by Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans this past Monday, the Hawks had a lossless January. And it’s not as if they did it with a creampuff schedule: their victim list through the month included the Los Angeles Clippers, Washington Wizards, Portland Trail Blazers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies.

 

Three of the Hawks’ starters (Teague, Horford, Millsap) were, additionally, selected as reserves for the Eastern Conference All-Star team.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, February 5, 2015 - 17:02
All taxonomy terms: Indiana Pacers, Paul George, NBA
Path: /nba/paul-george-could-play-soon-indiana-pacers
Body:

After suffering one of the most difficult-to-watch leg injuries in pro basketball history at a televised Team USA scrimmage, Indiana Pacers forward Paul George began to heal with alarming speed.

 

That trend has continued, and George is now looking almost ready to play. After Pacers president Larry Bird said things were looking good recently, George sent out this tweet:

 

"It seems like every week Paul is getting better and better," Bird said to reporters on Tuesday. "So if we do have an opportunity to get into the playoffs and [George] can get some games under his belt and get ready to go next year ... I always say if a player is ready to play, they gotta play. We're not going to hold him back if he's able to go out there and play. When you're out like that, you lose something. ... I still think it's important if he's able to play, he should be out there.”

 

Bird’s approach shouldn’t exactly come as a surprise. His Boston Celtics teams of yore frequently pushed through injuries. Then-teammate Kevin McHale played with a broken navicular bone in his right foot suffered in March of 1987, all the way through to an NBA Finals loss against the Los Angeles Lakers.

 

And while George isn’t promising to play in such a compromised state — McHale’s gambit has resulted in a visibly hobbled step he now displays on the sideline as coach of the Houston Rockets — he and his team look like they’re definitely not going to go down the maddening, confusing, constantly prolonged recovery route that teams like the Chicago Bulls have with ever-valuable superstar Derrick Rose.

 

In the shaky Eastern Conference, one month of George could be the difference between the playoffs and the draft lottery for Indiana. Despite having their worst season since 2009-10 at 17-32, the Pacers are just 4.5 games away from the conference’s eighth and final playoff spot.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, February 5, 2015 - 10:16
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/ranking-nba%E2%80%99s-all-star-snubs
Body:

6. Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors

If defense could be quantified es easily as offense is, The Warriors’ starting power forward would be a shoo-in for New York City this February. A “stretch-four” who makes the opposition run around with his 34 percent mark from deep, Green does everything well except for the stuff that typically makes the highlight reels. An unusually mobile 230-pounder, he’s quite the bulky utility man, and an indispensable piece for the Western Conference-leading Warriors. Helping teams win and lose on a high level doesn’t always result in glitzy accolades, but if it did, Green would be a star.

 

5. Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix Suns

The Suns are still ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference standings, but with zero all-stars, they have two fewer than the Thunder’s über-famous Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. And while Phoenix wins with a full-out, balanced assault of speed, shooting and athleticism, one Sun has stood out just a little bit more than the rest of them: Bledsoe. The 6’1” University of Kentucky alum is leading his team in points, steals and assists, nightly flustering other point guards with the uncanny court power that earned him the nickname “Mini LeBron.”

 

4. Tyson Chandler, Dallas Mavericks

The 33-17 Mavericks are four games better than they were this time last year, and right in the mix with the No. 6 seed amidst a historically potent Western Conference. But, like the Suns, they’ll have no representatives in this year’s exhibition game in New York. Chandler has been a terrific rim-protector for Dallas, and his typically productive self as a pick-and-roll finisher, clocking in with the second-highest NBA field goal percentage at .676. Tyson is just what the Mavericks have needed, and the Western All-Stars would have him along for the ride if their squad was a reflection of the truest difference-makers.

 

3. Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic

Because he plays on a bad team in year three of a transitional phase, Magic center Nikola Vucevic is still unknown to most casual fans. But he’s one of the best post-up scorers in the league, averaging 19.4 points per game as he regularly overwhelms other big men with his 7’0”, 260-pound frame and fancy touch around the rim. When Orlando’s unseasoned roster matures around him and the Magic (hopefully) bring in a defensive-minded coach, it’ll be real hard to keep Vucevic from the league’s shiny February summit going forward.

 

2. Kyle Korver, Atlanta Hawks

Kyle Korver’s having one of the best shooting years of anyone, ever. If he stays above 90 percent from the free-throw line, 50 percent from three, and 50 percent from the field (as he currently is) Korver will enter a new stratosphere of marksmanship that he can call all his own. So why isn’t he an All-Star? The 40-9 Hawks certainly have their fair share of ballers headed to NYC with Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague selected for the game, but perhaps the Eastern Conference coaches erred when they didn’t throw Korver onto the team as well.

 

1. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

The biggest snub of all has, of course, already let the world know how he feels about his exclusion. Here’s what Lillard put out on his Instragram account, after being left off the team last week:

 

Lillard’s made the fifth-most threes of anyone in the league this season, and he frequently drains them at will when it comes to crunch time. “Videogame Dame” has rightfully earned a reputation as one of the game’s most fearsome closers, and if he’s truly so motivated after being spurned by the league, then the Western Conference has a lot to be afraid of on his upcoming revenge tour.

 

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, February 4, 2015 - 10:11
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/must-watch-nba-games-week-0
Body:
Wednesday

-Chicago Bulls @ Houston Rockets, 8:00 PM ET, ESPN

Derrick Rose is slowly regaining his elite athleticism, and he’ll need every bit of it he can muster if he’s to challenge MVP candidate James Harden on Harden's home court. With Dwight Howard in and out of the lineup, The Beard has become the Rockets’ saving grace, as they’ve had to design nearly all of their offensive sets around his tricky forms of misdirection. See if Jimmy Butler and the rest of the Chicago defense have the formula to slow him down.

 

-Dallas Mavericks @ Golden State Warriors, 10:30 PM ET, ESPN

Rajon Rondo will be out of action for the Mavericks for some time with facial injuries, and that’s bad news for the Texas ballers. Particularly because the very hardest point guard to contain in the league, Steph Curry, is their assignment this Wednesday. The Mavericks will need some hot-handed shooting from Monta Ellis, Chandler Parsons and Dirk Nowitzki to come out of Oakland alive.

 

Thursday

-Los Angeles Clippers @ Cleveland Cavaliers, 8:00 PM ET, TNT

Quietly, the Clippers have been the Western Conference’s best team since mid-January. LeBron James and the Cavaliers have reeled off eleven in a row to take that title in the Eastern Conference, as they’re starting to finally live up to the huge hype that’s followed them around ever since the King came home. Between him, Kevin Love, Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, Blake Griffin and Co., this matchup proves to fertile ground for some true superstar fireworks.

 

Friday

-Golden State Warriors @ Atlanta Hawks, 7:30 PM ET

Whether or not anyone saw it coming — or believes in the sustainability of it — the Hawks and Warriors have been basketball’s two very best teams through January. Something must give as their insanely good records collide in Atlanta this Friday, and two of the smartest squads of recent memory meet to give us a dose of pure basketball pornography.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, February 3, 2015 - 10:07
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/parade-2015-football-all-america-team
Body:

Signing Day is one of the top events during college football’s offseason. After months (and potentially years of deliberating) high school prospects can officially fax a letter of intent on Wednesday, Feb. 4 to declare where they will continue their playing career.

Every year, Parade’s annual high school All-America team highlights the biggest stars headed to the next level.

The 2015 team is headlined by Kyler Murray, a dynamic dual-threat quarterback slated to sign with Texas A&M.

Here’s a look at Parade’s All-America team and the honorable mentions for 2015.

 

Parade 2015 All-America Team

 

Offense
POS.NAMEHT.WT.HIGH SCHOOLCOLLEGE*
QBKyler Murray5-11175Allen (Allen, Texas)Texas A&M
QBTy Storey6-3220Charleston (Charleston, Ark.)Arkansas
QBJake Browning6-2205Folsom (Folsom, Calif.)Washington
RBJacques Patrick6-2230Timber Creek (Orlando, Fla.)Florida State
RBMarkell Jones5-11205Columbus East (Columbus, Ind.)Purdue
RBKellen Overstreet6-0190Penney (Hamilton, Mo.)Wyoming
WRJ.J. Arcega-Whiteside6-3210Dorman (Roebuck, S.C.)Stanford
WRTrent Irwin6-2190Hart (Newhall, Calif.)Stanford
OLRichie Petitbon6-4320Gonzaga (Washington, D.C.)Alabama
OLTristen Hoge6-5300Highland (Pocatello, Idaho)Notre Dame
OLMartez Ivey6-6270Apopka (Apopka, Fla.)Uncommitted
OLMitch Hyatt6-6270North Gwinnett (Suwanee, Ga.)Clemson
OLChuma Edoga6-3275McEachern (Powder Springs, Ga.)Southern Cal
UTILChristian Kirk5-11195Saguaro (Scottsdale, Ariz.)Texas A&M

Defense
POS.NAMEHT.WT.HIGH SCHOOLCOLLEGE*
DLTrent Thompson6-4295Westover (Albany, Ga.)Georgia
DLByron Cowart6-4255Armwood (Seffner, Fla.)Uncommitted
DLAlbert Huggins6-3280Orangeburg-Wilkinson (S.C.)Clemson
DLDaylon Mack6-1330Gladewater (Gladewater, Texas)Uncommitted
LBMalik Jefferson6-2210Poteet (Mesquite, Texas)Texas
LBJustin Hilliard6-2230St. Xavier (Cincinnati, Ohio)Ohio State
LBPorter Gustin6-5240Salem Hills (Salem, Utah)Uncommitted
LBJohn Houston6-3210Serra (Gardena, Calif.)Uncommitted
DBIman Marshall6-1190Poly (Long Beach, Calif.)Uncommitted
DBDerwin James6-2200Haines City (Haines City, Fla.)Florida State
DBA.J. Gray6-2210Washington County (Sandersville, Ga.)Georgia Tech
UTILDeshawn
Capers-Smith
6-0175Warren Easton (New Orleans, La.)Texas A&M
K/PAustin Seibert5-10195Belleville West (Belleville, Ill.)Oklahoma

 

Honorable Mention

POS.NAMEHT.WT.SCHOOLCOLLEGE*
QBTucker Israel6-1200Lake Nona (Orlando, Fla.)Clemson
QBBrett Rypien6-2185Shadle Park (Spokane, Wash.)Boise State
QBJoe Burrow6-4210Athens (The Plains, Ohio)Ohio State
QBAlex Malzone6-2200Brother Rice (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.)Michigan
QBBrandon Wimbush6-2205St. Peters Prep (Jersey City, N.J.)Notre Dame
QBDe’Andre Johnson6-0175First Coast (Jacksonville, Fla.)Florida State
QBWill Hefley6-5205Pulaski Academy (Little Rock, Ark.)Tulsa
RBDominick Bragalone5-11210South Williamsport (Pa.)Uncommitted
RBReggie Gallaspy5-11205Southern Guilford (Greensboro, N.C.)N.C. State
RBKe’Shawn Vaughn5-11210Pearl Cohn (Nashville, Tenn.)Uncommitted
RBDarrell Henderson5-9190South Panola (Batesville, Miss.)Memphis
RBJamarius Henderson5-11215Dale County Chr. (Ozark, Ala.)Uncommitted
RBLarry Scott6-0205Hubbard (Hubbard, Ohio)Michigan State
WRDeondre Farrier6-0195Lake Nona (Orlando, Fla.)East Carolina
WRDamarkus Lodge6-3190Cedar Hill (Cedar Hill, Texas)Uncommitted
OLMaea Teuhema6-5340Keller (Keller, Texas)LSU
OLLester Cotton6-4325Central School (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)Alabama
OLDrew Richmond6-5310Memphis Univ. School (Tenn.)Ole Miss
DLD’Andre Walker6-2220Langston Hughes (Fairburn, Ga.)Georgia
DLBreiden Fehoko6-3295Farrington (Honolulu, Hawaii)Texas Tech
DLTim Settle6-3300Stonewall Jackson (Manassas, Va.)Virginia Tech
DLDarian Roseboro6-4265Lincolnton (Lincolnton, N.C.)N.C. State
LBRicky Deberry6-3240Atlee (Mechanicsville, Va.)Oklahoma
LBRoquan Smith6-2205Montezuma (Macon County, Ga.)Uncommitted
LBAsmar Bilal6-3205Ben Davis (Indianapolis, Ind.)Notre Dame
DBHolton Hill6-2185Lamar (Houston, Texas)Texas
DBMinkah Fitzpatrick5-11180St. Peter’s Prep (Jersey City, N.J.)Alabama
UTILKerryon Johnson6-1200Madison Academy (Madison, Ala.)Auburn
UTILAustin Kafentzis6-1200Jordan (Sandy, Utah)Wisconsin

Visit Parade.com for more on the 2015 Parade All-America Team and an in-depth read on quarterback Kyler Murray.

Teaser:
Parade 2015 Football All-America Team
Post date: Tuesday, February 3, 2015 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-2015-recruiting-all-name-team
Body:

The first Wednesday in February is essentially Christmas for every college football head coach. After months of hard work on the recruiting trail, coaches will hit the offices bright and early on Wednesday for National Signing Day to welcome a new class full of freshmen and maybe a few junior college transfers to chase a national championship.
 

With most college football teams signing around 25 prospects on Wednesday, there’s over 3,000 players coming to the FBS ranks next season. And it’s no surprise there are some rather entertaining names among the new group of college players. Athlon combed through the recruits for the 2015 signing class by using the databases at Rivals, Scout and ESPN and rounded up the best (and most interesting) names joining an FBS roster next season.

 

Note: Positions of players can very from recruiting service. Players in this article were listed by position according to Rivals.
 

2015 College Football Recruiting All-Name Team

 

Quarterback

Musa Alsulaimani (Simon Gratz) Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Austin Apodaca (Mesa C.C.) Mesa, Arizona

Bartimaeus Bell (Wekiva) Apopka, Florida

Li’Jon Cordier (Landry-Walker) New Orleans, Louisiana

Chris d’Entremont (Golden West C.C.) Huntington Beach, California

Cinjun Erskine (Barnegat) Barnegat, New Jersey

Gabe Gonslaves (Torrance) Torrance, California

Rockman Hunt (Oakland Tech Senior) Oakland, California

Grey Jackson (Fairhope) Fairhope, Alabama

Ryder Kuhns (St. Louis) Honolulu, Hawaii

Emil Neugent (Potomac) Oxon Hill, Maryland

Willy Pflug (Sunset) Portland, Oregon

Benji Philippe (Foothill College) Los Altos, California

Baylor Romney (Franklin) El Paso, Texas

Rope Ruel (Douglas County) Castle Rock, Colorado

Brion Sanchious (Northeast) Oakland Park, Florida

Chance Thrasher (Peachtree Ridge) Suwanee, Georgia

Ruvim Tyutyunnik (Riverview) Finley, Washington

Chason Virgil (West Mesquite) Mesquite, Texas

Chase Whetsel (Refugio) Refugio, Texas

DeUndre Pickett-White (Southwest) Miami, Florida

 

Running Back

Soso Jamabo (Piano West) Piano, Texas

Bry’Kiethon Mouton (Acadiana) Lafayette, Louisiana

Shi’kim Coward (Niceville) Niceville, Florida

Bolu Olorunfunmi (Clovis North) Fresno, California
Desherrius Flowers (Vigor) Prichard, Alabama

Mon Denson (La Grange) Lagrange, Georgia

Richard Worship (Valley Forge) Parma Heights, Ohio

Mufasa Abdul-Basir (St. Joseph’s) Trumbell, Connecticut

Jatory Sparks-Brown (DeSoto) DeSoto, Texas

Dare Odeyingbo (Cistercian Prep) Irving, Texas

Hekili Keliiliki (Bentonville) Bentonville, Arkansas

Venus Triplett (North) Olathe, Kansas

Superiorr Reid (Mount San Jacinto CC) San Jacinto, California

Sanjai Bruno (Miramar) Miramar, Florida

Jett Robertson (Ironwood) Glendale, Arizona

 

Wide Receiver

Keke Coutee (Lufkin) Lufkin, Texas

Jazz Ferguson (West Feliciana) St. Francisville, Louisiana

Spencer Tears (Richards) Oak Lawn, Illinois

Pace Temple (Geneva) Geneva, Illinois
Fundrail Quimbley (Lee County) Leesburg, Georgia
James Kicklighter (Windsor Forest) Savannah, Georgia
Penny Hart (King’s Ridge Christian) Alpharetta, Georgia
CoChese Temple-Laws (Russellville) Russellville, Arkansas
Richard Ukelegharanya (East Longmeadow, Massachusetts)
Chadwick Maycumber (Lake Nona) Orlando, Florida
Q’ Drennan (Americas) El Paso, Texas

Deric Phouthavong (Hamilton Township) Columbus, Ohio

Raleigh Beougher (Riverside Military Academy), Gainesville, Georgia
Zacchaeus Drew-Toles (College of the Desert) Palm Desert, California
Apollos Hester (East View) Georgetown, Texas

Lucky Jackson (Lafayette) Lexington, Kentucky
Furquan Shorts (Atascocita) Humble, Texas

Buzzy Yokoyama (Orange Coast CC) Costa Mesa, California

Equanimeous St. Brown (Servite) Anaheim, California
Hunter Register (Comeaux) Lafayette, Louisiana
Hamiid Pack (Neshaminy) Langhorne, Pennsylvania

Alex Stump (St. Edward) Lakewood, Ohio
Justice Shelton-Mosley (Capital Christian) Sacramento, California
Greyson Bankhead (Centennial) Corona, California

 

Tight End

Kyle Penniston (Mater Del) Santa Ana, California

Daniel Imatorbhebhe (North Gwinnett) Suwanee, Georgia

Alexx Zielinski (Brighton) Brighton, Michigan

Chis Copier (Snow College) Ephraim, Utah

Sebastian Sock (Valor Christian) Highlands Ranch, Colorado

Ceejhay French-Love (Poly) Long Beach, California

Case Brabham (St. Mark’s) Dallas, Texas

Tomond Hampton (Georgia Military College) Milledgeville, Georgia

Critt Johnson (Cox) Virginia Beach, Virginia

Devonaire Clarington (Booker T. Washington) Miami, Florida

Alize Jones (Bishop Gorman) Las Vegas, Nevada

 

Offensive Lineman

Bar Milo (Chaminade) West Hills, California

Cedric Bigge-Duren (Oceanside) Oceanside, California

Cutler Salmon (St. Mary’s) Stockton, California

Barnabas Baning (St. Mary Ryken) Leonardtown, Maryland

Levon Livingston (Ballou) Washington, District of Columbia

Will Ficka (Dodge City) Dodge City, Kansas

Bravery Ratcliff (Pomona) Arvada, Colorado

Riley Lovingood (Beech Senior) Hendersonville, Tennessee

Cap McClure (Cody) Cody, Wyoming

 

Athlete (as listed by Rivals.com)

Ray-Ray McCloud III (Sickles) Tampa, Florida

Kai Locksley (Gilman School) Baltimore, Maryland

D’Anfernee McGriff (Leon) Tallahassee, Florida

Shaquery Wilson (Coral Gables) Coral Gables, Florida

Ykili Ross (Riverside Poly) Riverside, California

Tyriuq Trotman (Landstown) Virginia Beach, Virginia

Britain Covey (Timpview) Provo, Utah

Tuli Wily-Matagi (Kahuku) Kahuku, Hawaii

Ernest Gunn (Selma) Selma, Alabama

Evan Rambo (La Salle) Pasadena, California

Ketner Kupp (A C Davis) Yakima, Washington

Olabisi Johnson (Bear Creek) Lakewood, Colorado

Shyheim Lineberry (Asheboro) Asheboro, North Carolina

Nasir Adderley (Great Valley) Malvern, Pennsylvania

Abu Daramy (Westerville South) Westerville, Ohio

KamRon Johnson (Saguaro) Scottsdale, Arizona

Deon Sanders (Centennial) Franklin, Tennessee

Chico McClatcher (Federal Way) Federal Way, Washington

Chukuemeke Egbule (North Sore) Galena Park, Texas

Mehdi El Attrach (Lake Nora) Lake Nora, Florida

Alisshuwa Becoat (Varina) Richmond, Virginia

Ish Seisay (St. Stephens & St. Agnes School) Alexandria, Virginia

Yannia N’Guetta (C.D. Hylton) Woodbridge, Virginia

Na Vonn Gurley (Morton Ranch) Katy, Texas

Raequawon Hascall (Putnam City North) Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

 

Defensive End

Prince Tega Wanogho Jr. (Edgewood Academy) Elmore, Alabama

Benning Potoa’e (Lakes) Lakewood Washington

Mizaire Cromartie (Dudley) Greensboro, North Carolina

Twazanga Mugala (Ardrey Kell) Charlotte, North Carolina

Stone Wolfley (Morgantown) Morgantown, West Virginia

Tipa Galeai (Trinity) Euless, Texas
Winston DeLattiboudere (Howard) Ellicott City, Maryland
Dondaycee Millbrook (Pike) Indianapolis, Indiana

Mufu Taiwo (McDonough) Pomfret, Maryland

Tommy Woo (Oceanside) Oceanside, California
Nicholas Czar (Highland) Highland, Illinois

Sie Doe (Butte CC) Oroville, California
Paris Black (Terry Sanford) Fayettevile, North Carolina
Kyle Power (Cheyenne) North Las Vegas, Nevada
J. Hunter Roman (New London) New London, Connecticut
Hezekiah Applegate (Johnston) Johnston, Iowa

Success Chandler (Merced CC) Merced, California

King Newton (Carroll) Southlake, Texas

 

Defensive Tackle

Shy Tuttle (North Davidson) Lexington, North Carolina

Olive Sagapolu (Mater Del) Santa Ana, California

Elu Aydon (Leone) American Samoa, NA

Boogie Sewell (Desert Hill) St. George, Utah

Army Motuapuaka (Salem) Virginia Beach, Virginia

Pedro Gomez (Ellsworth CC) Iowa Falls, Iowa
Kingsley KeKe (George Ranch) Richmond, Texas

Royal Silver (Washington) Cedar Rapids, Iowa

 

Linebacker

C.J. Stalker (Lakota West) West Chester, Ohio

Fotu Leiato (Steilacoom) Steilacoom, Washington

DJ Beavers (Crespi) Encino, California
Porter Gustin (Salem Hills) Salem, Utah
Nas Anesi (St. John Bosco) Bellflower, California

Sh’Mar Kilby-Lane (Hallandale) Hallandale Beach, Florida

Bo Wallace (John Curtis) River Ridge, Louisiana

Riley Whimpey (San Clemente) San Clemente, California

Bull Barge (Colquitt College) Moultrie, Georgia

Caileb Booze (Edmond North) Edmond, Oklahoma

Winner Watts (El Camino CC) Torrance, California

Ty Tyler (Charlotte) Punta Gorda, Florida

Emmitt Smith (Warren Central) Bowling Green, Kentucky

Sam Papa (Mesa CC) Mesa, Arizona
DonTwain Cornish (Lake Forest) Felton, Delaware
Colton Sis (McCook) McCook, Nebraska
Andre Jumper (American Heritage) Plantation, Florida
Sha’mond Squires (New Bern) New Bern, North Carolina
Jay Hockaday (Christ Presbyterian Academy) Nashville, Tennessee
Teamer Terry (Fullerton CC) Fullerton, California

Rufus Rushins (Bishop Fenwick) Peabody, Massachusetts

 

Defensive Back

Prentice McKinney (South Oak Cliff) Dallas, Texas

Simba Short (De La Salle) Concord, California

Shola Ayinde (George Ranch High School) Richmond, Texas

Tank Scott (Highland Springs) Richmond, Virginia

Abdurrahman Yasin (Southwest Dekalb) Decatur, Georgia

Jay’Onn Myles (Pierce C.C.) Woodland Hills, California

Ephraim Kitchen (South Panola) Batesville, Mississippi

Nyhre Quinerly (Lake Taylor) Norfolk, Virginia

Thaddeus Philyaw (De Anza CC) Cupertino, California

Deshadrick Truly (East Mississippi CC) Scooba, Mississippi

Ugo Amadi (John Overton) Nashville, Tennessee

Kode Mwirigi (Las Vegas) Las Vegas, Nevada

Boomer Bakich (Highland Park) Dallas, Texas
Lyrics Klugh (Byrnes) Duncan, South Carolina

Blessuan Austin (Milford Academy) New Berlin, New York

Taj-Amir Torres (Amherst Regional) Amherst, Massachusetts

Afolabi Laguda (Butler County CC) El Dorado, Kansas

Sir’Vegias Steele (New Mexico Military Institute) Roswell, New Mexico

Guy Stallworh (Southwest Mississippi CC) Summit, Mississippi

Cules Rose (Pinnacle) Phoenix, Arizona

Emile Hope (Laney CC) Oakland, California

Blair Manly (Cibola) Albuquerque, New Mexico

James Bond (Trinity Christian Academy) Jackson, Tennessee

Speedy Miles (West Mesquite) Mesquite, Texas

BoBo Jones (Xenia) Xenia, Ohio

 

Kicker

Stone Wilson (IMG Academy) Bradenton, Florida

Jarry Jones (Lenape Valley Regional) Stanhope, New Jersey

Chase Vinatieri (Roosevelt) Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Benedict Svwavarsson (Northeastern) Elizabeth City, North Carolina

- By Jesica Parsley

Teaser:
College Football's 2015 Recruiting All-Name Team
Post date: Tuesday, February 3, 2015 - 08:15
Path: /nba/kevin-love-booed-return-minnesota
Body:
The Cleveland Cavaliers visited the Minnesota Timberwolves this weekend, and won 106-90. But the game was only partially about what happened on the floor; more important was the feeling of franchise transition that swept over the Twin Cities when the home crowd booed their former beloved All-Star, Kevin Love.

 

Love shook off the negative energy, later, though. 

 

"Truth be told, I thought it was a pretty good reception, especially from people, familiar faces," Love told reporters after the game. "It was nice to see, shake hands, give a lot of hugs to different people and smile, wave… [Timberwolves owner] Glen and Becky Taylor came over to me and said some really nice stuff. Different teammates from the past, different guys over on the other bench. Flip [Saunders], as well, I gave him some love in the second half. It all went pretty well, and we ended up getting a win. Like I said earlier before the game, that's what we came here to do. We walked away with 10 straight.”

 

While Wolves fans might not love Kevin at the moment, they shouldn’t have too hard of a time moving past him. The man they got back when they traded him, No. 1 overall draft selection Andrew Wiggins, is thriving as he looks to have the Rookie of the Year race all but decided. The Canada native — whose “Maple Jordan” nickname seems increasingly apt — finished the contest with 33 points, even scoring a good amount of his baskets on LeBron James as he went 14-for-25 from the floor. In January, the 19-year-old took off, shooting 47 percent from the field and putting together an impressive highlight reel.

 

Love, meanwhile, is still struggling to find his optimal role in Cleveland. He missed the cut for the Eastern Conference All-Star squad this winter and has not been able to find his comfort zone in the Cavs’ offense. These challenges aren’t likely to last all season, as LeBron and Co. knew what they were getting in Love: one of the best offensive big men in the league. He’ll look more like that eventually. But for now, Wiggins’ ascension and Kevin’s stalled game are giving plenty of ammo to skeptics in Cleveland, and lots of relief to fans of the Wolves.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, February 2, 2015 - 10:50
All taxonomy terms: New England Patriots, Tom Brady, NFL
Path: /nfl/tom-brady-ties-record-third-super-bowl-mvp
Body:

Glendale, AZ (SportsNetwork.com) - New England quarterback Tom Brady was named the Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XLIX after leading the Patriots to a 28-24 come-from-behind victory over the Seattle Seahawks for his fourth career Lombardi Trophy.

 

Brady threw two of his four touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, the last a 3-yard strike to Julian Edelman that put the Patriots ahead with 2:02 remaining. The 37-year-old finished 37-of-50 for 328 yards and shook off a pair of costly interceptions, the first coming at the goal line in the opening quarter and the other leading to a Seattle touchdown in the third.

 

Making a record sixth Super Bowl start at quarterback, Brady earned his third career MVP award to tie boyhood idol Joe Montana for the most in the game's history.

 

Brady also earned his fourth career Super Bowl win, which was sealed by rookie Malcolm Butler's interception of Russell Wilson at the Patriots' 1-yard line with 20 seconds left. That ties him with Montana and Terry Bradshaw for the most by a quarterback.

 

The savvy veteran also broke Montana's record for most career Super Bowl touchdown passes during the game, with the four giving Brady 13 all-time. His 37 completions against the Seahawks, meanwhile, established a new Super Bowl mark.

 

Brady was also the MVP of New England's first two Super Bowl triumphs, which came in Super Bowls XXXVI (against St. Louis) and XXXVII (against Carolina).

 

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, February 2, 2015 - 08:02
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/louisvilles-montrezl-harrell-helps-us-celebrate-day-dunk
Body:

The college basketball Saturday has turned into the Day of Dunksand that’s before the primetime slate has started.

 

Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell gave us perhaps the alley oop of the season, but all good things have to wait.

 

Let’s walk through the Day of Dunk so far:

 

• From the morning session, Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes sprints from off screen to the rim to get the put back against Iowa.

 

 

• Then, Florida’s Alex Murphy shows us how to beat the press against Arkansas.

 

 

• In the same game, Florida’s Dorian Finney-Smith drives to beat the shot clock.

 

 

• And finally, this Montrezl Harrell alley oop for Louisville sends us to a different universe.

 

Teaser:
Louisville's Montrezl Harrell Helps us Celebrate the Day of Dunk
Post date: Saturday, January 31, 2015 - 18:11
Path: /nfl/ranking-repeat-super-bowl-champions
Body:

Seattle can join a rather exclusive club with a win over New England in Super Bowl XLIX. It would mark the ninth time in the Super Bowl era that a team was able to repeat as champion.

 

Where would the Seahawks rank among past repeat champs? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, they need to win first; but Super Bowl victories over slam-dunk Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tom Brady would be a strong start for any argument.

 

Here’s a look at the eight teams that have managed to repeat and how we rank them. Keep in mind, we are really splitting hairs here.

 

1. Miami, Super Bowls VII and VII

Regular season record: 26-2

Points in their favor:  This was perhaps the most dominant two-season run in the Super Bowl era. The Super Bowl VII champs remain the only undefeated team since 1929, led the league in offense and defense and can even boast a road playoff win, as some odd scheduling rules at the time sent them to Pittsburgh for the AFC title game.  Even though Miami didn’t go undefeated in 1973, the Dolphins still put together an impressive season, and they were more dominant in the postseason than they had been the year before.

 

What hurts their case: About the only knock you can come up with for this run would be that Miami’s Super Bowl competition was not as strong as some others on this list. The games were less than memorable, save for kicker Garo Yepremian’s ill-fated attempt at a pass that resulted in Washington’s only points in Super Bowl VII.

 

 2. Dallas, Super Bowls XXVII and  XVIII

Regular season record: 25-7

Points in their favor:  The Cowboys won the league’s toughest division at the time in both 1992 and ‘93. They also had to get by equally dominant San Francisco in the NFC title game both years, the first time on the road. While the two Super Bowls look like easy wins if you just look at the final scores, Dallas was not rolling over teams just happy to be there. Buffalo was loaded with Hall of Famers, desperate after two previous Super Bowl losses and in fact led in both games. The Cowboys just rolled over them.

 

What hurts their case: Both Super Bowls got out of hand, so perhaps there is a “clutch” factor missing here that can be found elsewhere on this list. But in terms of overall dominance for two seasons, including facing tough playoff competition, this run is difficult to beat.

 

3. San Francisco, Super Bowls XXIII and XXIV

Regular season record: 24-8

Points in their favor:  This was the height of the 49ers’ powers, as they were in the league’s top five offensively and defensively in both 1988 and '89. Their 10-6 record in 1988 sent them on the road for the NFC title game, but they routed Chicago, 28-3. The 1989 team was outstanding, going 14-2 and winning its playoff games by a combined score of 71-16. The Super Bowl wins may be the most impressive on this list when you consider they beat the league MVP (Boomer Esiason) in the first and a Hall-of-Famer (John Elway) in the second.

 

What hurts their case:  It’s impossible to ignore a 10-6 regular season when matching this team up against the undefeated 1972 Dolphins. Some may also be less-than-impressed with a rout of a Denver team losing its third Super Bowl in four years, but those Broncos had given up the league’s fewest points.

 

4t. Pittsburgh, Super Bowls IX and X

Regular season record: 22-5-1

Points in their favor:  We’re copping out a bit by not picking one Steelers’ repeat over the other, but it’s essentially the same cast of characters. The perception is that the Steelers’ first two Super Bowl teams were carried by the defense, and to some extent that is true. But both the 1974 and ‘75 squads were also in the league’s top 10 on offense, as stars such as Franco Harris, Lynn Swann and Terry Bradshaw were just hitting their primes. The 1975 Steelers were the league’s most dominant team all season as Bradshaw finally started every game at quarterback, adding a big-play element to a dominant running game.  It would make the difference in the Super Bowl as Swann caught four passes for 161 yards to earn MVP honors in a 21-17 win over the Cowboys.

 

What hurts their case:  The 1974 team may have dodged a bullet in that they hosted wild-card Buffalo in the divisional round of the playoffs despite having the AFC’s third-best record due to the league’s odd rotation for playoff matchups at the time. But the road win at Oakland in the AFC title game was impressive enough to make up for that, and the Super Bowl was no contest as the Steelers ran over the Vikings.

 

4t. Pittsburgh, Super Bowls XIII and XIV

Regular season record: 26-6

Points in their favor:  The 1978-79 Steelers were still dominant defensively (ranking third and second, respectively, in the NFL) but much more explosive offensively than the 1974-75 teams that won the Super Bowl. In fact, in six postseason wins on the way to winning Super Bowls XIII and XIV, Pittsburgh averaged 32 points per game. The Steelers also defeated a defending Super Bowl champ in Super Bowl XIII, one of only two teams on this list to do so.

 

What hurts their case:  While these may have been more balanced teams than the earlier Pittsburgh Super Bowl champs, the earlier teams faced tougher competition in the postseason. While the Super Bowl win over defending champ Dallas is impressive, it is cancelled out by facing a 9-7 Rams team in Super Bowl XIV.

 

6. New England, Super Bowls XXXVIII and XXXIX

Regular season record: 28-4

Points in their favor:  New England’s 28-4 regular season record is eclipsed only by the 1972-73 Dolphins when it comes this list. The Patriots also had impressive playoff wins along the way, beating Peyton Manning and the Colts both seasons and going on the road to defeat 15-1 Pittsburgh in 2004. While many others on this list cruised to Super Bowl wins, New England was tested twice and came out on the winning end of two 3-point games.

 

What hurts their case: Some would argue that two clutch Super Bowl wins could also be called “less-than-dominant.” Needing a last-second field goal to beat upstart Carolina was especially surprising. The Pats were also not loaded with Hall of Fame players like some teams on this list. It’s certainly harder to keep a team together and repeat in the 21st century, so perhaps that is in their favor; but in terms of overall dominance, this is a tough list with which to compete.

 

 

7. Denver, Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII

Regular season record: 26-6

Points in their favor:  The 1997 Broncos represent the only non-division champ on this list. But despite finishing second in the AFC West, they were top-five in offense and defense and had the league’s best point differential. They also defeated defending champ Green Bay in the Super Bowl. The 1998 team featured league MVP Terrell Davis and beat a 14-2 Atlanta team in the Super Bowl.

 

What hurts their case: We knocked the Niners down a peg for a less-than-dominant regular season, so we have to consider that Denver was a wild card team in 1997.  Also, while the 1998 Falcons were very good, the fact that they upset a 15-1 Vikings juggernaut in the NFC title game leaves us wondering what might have been in Super Bowl XXXIII.

 

8. Green Bay, Super Bowls I and II

Regular season record: 21-6-1

Points in their favor: The Packers are victims of bad timing here, because their two Super Bowl wins came at the tail end of a run that saw them win five NFL titles in seven seasons.  If the Super Bowl Era had started even one season sooner, odds are we are talking about the only three-peat ever.

 

What hurts their case: Green Bay’s stars were all aging at this point. In fact, legendary backs Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung moved on after Super Bowl I, while other stars such as Bart Starr, Ray Nitschke, Willie Wood, Forrest Gregg and Jerry Kramer were all on the wrong side of 30. There is no denying the greatness of this dynasty, but the pre-Super Bowl Packers were the stronger and more dominant teams.

 

-- By John Gworek

Teaser:
Ranking the Repeat Super Bowl Champions
Post date: Friday, January 30, 2015 - 14:44
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/nba-power-ranking-super-bowl-edition
Body:

1. Atlanta Hawks (38-8)

There’s no better way to put it: the Hawks have beaten the crap out of everybody, east and west, for multiple months running. Until their 17-game winning streak comes to a halt, there’s no reason to drop them from this spot.

 

2. Golden State Warriors (36-7)

Despite having their 19-game home court winning streak snapped by an inspired Chicago Bulls squad this week, the Warriors are still sitting pretty, and they’re still the favorites to represent their conference in the Finals.

 

3. Memphis Grizzlies (34-12)

Quietly, quietly, quietly — that’s how the Grizzlies have always compiled top marks in the regular season, and this year is no exception. Marc Gasol is finally getting some overdue recognition as a starter for the Western Conference All-Stars, but otherwise the Grizz are still an unseen title contender.

 

4. Los Angeles Clippers (32-14)

The Clippers have snapped out of their malaise and won six in a row, climbing up the prickly Western standings and finally looking urgent enough to perhaps meet their championship-or-bust expectations.

 

5. Houston Rockets (32-14)

The Rockets have endured a lengthy absence from Dwight Howard already, and the recent buzz about his knee suggests they might have to do it again. If they come out of this one still shining, James Harden’s MVP campaign will only grow stronger.

 

6. Washington Wizards (31-16)

John Wall has become the best pure point guard in the league, and the addition of Paul Pierce continues to give the Wiz an added calm and edge. Washington isn’t talked about as a potential Eastern Conference champion too often, but they should be.

 

7. Portland Trail Blazers (32-14)

LaMarcus Aldridge has foregone surgery on this thumb to play through the pain. He must believe there’s something special on the horizon with this Blazers squad to jeopardize his body that way.

 

8. Cleveland Cavaliers (27-20)

The Cavs’ trades for Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert have paid off, and LeBron James is spry and back to playing MVP-level ball. It doesn’t hurt that Kyrie Irving is having his most productive season yet, too.

 

9. Chicago Bulls (30-18)

A shocking win at Golden State — along with wins over the San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks — was par for the Bulls’ 2014-15 course. So was their double-overtime loss to the lowly Los Angeles Lakers. It’s been a confounding season for this so-called title contender.

 

10. San Antonio Spurs (30-17)

The Spurs are looking better with Kawhi Leonard back in the fold, but doubts about their remaining motivation will persist until they go on one of their signature late-season winning streaks. Do they have another one left in them?

 

11. Toronto Raptors (31-15)

The Raptors had a bad January. Their recent four-game winning streak is encouraging, but this team nevertheless looks day by day more like one that’s not built for a tough seven-game series just yet.

 

12. Dallas Mavericks (30-17)

Rajon Rondo’s been a strange, awkward fit in Dallas. They’ve made it work, for the most part, but a recent four-game skid has raised some questions — particularly about their thin front court behind Tyson Chandler.

 

13. Phoenix Suns (27-20)

The Suns are holding tight to the eighth and final playoff spot in perhaps the best Western Conference of all time, but the New Orleans Pelicans and Oklahoma City Thunder are coming. And in the case of Kevin Durant’s Thunder, they’re coming fast.

 

14. Oklahoma City Thunder (23-23)

OKC has a lot of questions to answer, but the response to almost all of them is this: more great play from Durant and Russell Westbrook, two of the most fearsome players of this era. You should be surprised if you don’t see them sneak into the playoffs.

 

15. New Orleans Pelicans (24-22)

Monty Williams is on the chopping block for his job with the Pelicans, but he probably shouldn’t be. After Anthony Davis, this is a team with a ton of problems and shortcomings, and that falls on general manager Dell Demps’ shoulders.

 

16. Milwaukee Bucks (24-22)

The young Bucks are one of the best surprises of the season, as they’ve created one of the league’s best defenses under second-time coach Jason Kidd. They could scare some overdogs in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

 

17. Miami Heat (20-25)

The Heat continue to struggle through the post-LeBron era, despite the emergence of big man Hassan Whiteside. The latest road bump? An indefinite absence from the freshly injured Dwyane Wade.

 

18. Charlotte Hornets (19-27)

After a disastrous start to the season, the Hornets have gotten their defense together and strung some wins together off the radar. They’re still falling well below expectations, but Charlotte should be able to fit into the playoff picture out East.

 

19. Denver Nuggets (19-28)

The Nuggets have as little direction as any of the NBA’s lost teams. The good news is that they did well to trade for rookie sensation Jusuf Nurkic, a 20-year-old from Bosnia who could be the best big man of his class.

 

20. Brooklyn Nets (18-27)

The Nets remain a depressing collection of bad contracts and ambitions no higher than the east’s eighth playoff spot. It’s no mystery why owner Mikhail Prokhorov wants to sell this underperforming team.

 

21. Sacramento Kings (16-28)

DeMarcus Cousins is an All-Star snub. What else is new? Boogie is the best offensive big man in the game, but the league still seems far from recognizing him as such.

 

22. Detroit Pistons (17-30)

Brandon Jennings’ tragic ACL tear has derailed one of the best stories of the NBA season, and the Pistons look as bad the last week as they did in their season’s terrible beginning. Can they get back on course without their point guard?

 

23. Utah Jazz (16-30)

The Jazz continue to lose competitive games, which is the very best they can do as a young, learning squad. Look for them to make a leap next year, after a summer spent absorbing the lessons of these growing pains.

 

24. Indiana Pacers (17-31)

The Pacers won’t be competitive until they get Paul George back. Even then, though, this season has demonstrated that they might need another significant piece before they can get back toward the top of the Eastern Conference.

 

25. Orlando Magic (15-34)

Head coach Jacque Vaughn doesn’t look long for the job these days. A talented young crew hasn’t made the expected jump this season, and the Magic are said to be actively seeking a replacement.

 

26. Boston Celtics (16-28)

The Celtics stay in their holding pattern, waiting out the season to make noise in the draft again — especially now that Jeff Green and Rondo are out the door, taking the chance of real Celtics’ competition with them.

 

27. Los Angeles Lakers (13-34)

The Lakers suck. Everybody loves it, because this never happens. Kobe Bryant’s out for the year, and things look bad for the short term. But don’t be surprised if a star reaffirms the glamour of playing in Tinseltown, and signs there this summer.

 

28. New York Knicks (9-38)

The Knicks have begun their rebuild in earnest, and any team interested in their leftover veteran pieces should not hesitate to call Phil Jackson about a trade. Losing is the new winning in New York.

 

29. Minnesota Timberwolves (8-37)

Andrew Wiggins has been the premier rookie in the league for quite a while now, and the Wolves look destined for another great prospect as they keep dropping contests. They’re not far from being the league’s best farm system, if they aren’t already.

 

30. Philadelphia 76ers (9-37)

The Sixers are tanking. Didn’t you hear? And guess what? It’s working. They’ll be back at the top of the draft this June, just like they planned.
 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

 

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, January 30, 2015 - 14:07
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/who-will-end-season-player-year-each-major-conference
Body:

Great college basketball teams can only go as far as their star players take them.

 

Where would UConn be last March without Shabazz Napier’s constant heroics? As the calendar flips to February and conference play intensifies, coaches are looking for their stars to separate themselves from the rest of the conference crowd and lead their teams deep into March. 

 

Here is our list of top Conference Players of the Year contenders with a little more than a month left in the season. 

 

ACC

 

The Favorite: Jerian Grant, Notre Dame

 

After sitting out most of last season for academic reasons, Jerian Grant has become the ACC’s most explosive and complete offensive weapon. Grant leads the Irish in points (17.4) and assists (4.6) while shooting better than 51 percent from the floor. After Wednesday’s 23-point, 12-assist, six rebound performance in a win over Duke, Grant has overthrown Jahlil Okafor as the favorite for ACC Player of the Year for the time being.

Other Candidates: Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, Virginia’s Justin Anderson

 

Big 12

 

The Favorite: Buddy Hield, Oklahoma

 

The Sooners have slumped of late, but Hield is still averaging better than 20 points per game in league play. Overall, he leads the Big 12 in scoring (18.6 points per game) while contributing 5.5 rebounds. He’ll have a better shot of holding off other contenders if Oklahoma can turn its fortunes down the stretch.

Other Candidates: Iowa State’s Georges Niang, West Virginia’s Juwan Staten

 

Big East

 

The Favorite: LaDontae Henton, Providence

 

A year ago, Providence had Bryce Cotton leading the Friars to the NCAA Tournament. Now, Providence has another prolific scorer who has Ed Cooley’s team on the way to a second consecutive Tourney for the first time since 1989-90. Henton is ninth in the country in scoring at 20.8 points per game while averaging 5.6 rebounds. His season-high 38 points in a 75-74 win over Notre Dame back on Nov. 23 looks more impressive now than it did at the time.

Other Candidates: Butler’s Kellen Dunham, Seton Hall’s Sterling Gibbs

 

Big Ten

 

The Favorite: D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State

 

Russell is the most complete and physical guard in the nation. Second in the conference in scoring (19.4 points) and fourth in assists (5.1 assists), Russell has almost single-handedly kept Ohio State in the NCAA conversation. He has posted 21, 27, 33, and 22 points in his last four Big Ten games. The Buckeyes will only go as far as their freshman point guard takes them in March. 

Other Candidates: Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell

 

Pac-12

 

The Favorite: Delon Wright, Utah

 

The 6-5 Wright has a sterling 6-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio to add to his 129.9 offensive rating and 14.6 points per game, making the Los Angeles native one of the nation’s most efficient players. A lockdown defender, Wright is the heartbeat of the No. 11 Utes, playing 31 minutes and pulling in four rebounds per contest. If Utah wishes to dethrone Arizona as kings of the Pac-12, Wright’s continued success is going to be vital.

Others Candidates: Stanford’s Chasson Randle, Arizona’s Stanley Johnson

 

SEC

 

The Favorite: Bobby Portis, Arkansas

 

Portis is the most versatile piece in the Razorbacks' high-scoring offense. Able to connect from behind the arc or play on the block, the 6-11 Portis is a matchup nightmare. Ports leads the SEC in scoring (17.7 points) and is fourth in rebounds (8.5) all while shooting 56 percent both from 2 and from 3. 

Other Candidates: Tennessee’s Josh Richardson, Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein

 

American

 

The Favorite: Ryan Boatright, UConn

 

With the departure of Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright is coach Kevin Ollie’s go-to player and senior leader. Boatright is responsible for 28.1 percent of the Huskies total scoring, shooting 27.1 percent of the team’s shots and connecting 42.7 percent of the time. The Huskies are a long-shot to make the Big Dance with just 11 wins, but if anyone knows about getting hot at the right time, it’s the American’s leading scorer and most efficient player.   

Other candidates  SMU’s Nic Moore, Tulsa’s Shaquille Harrison

 

-By Jake Rose

Teaser:
Who Will End the Season as Player of the Year in Each Major Conference?
Post date: Friday, January 30, 2015 - 13:29
Path: /nba/irving-drops-55-portland-parsons-says-harden-mvp
Body:
Holy hell, Kyrie Irving. 55 is a lot of points.

 

The Cleveland Cavaliers starting point guard was sensational last night, leading his team past the vaunted Portland Trail Blazers, 99-94. Irving shot 17-for-36, tallying 56 percent of his team’s points with LeBron James out of action, resting with a day-to-day wrist ailment.

 

It’s fitting that Irving’s performance came against Portland, too. The Blazers are one of the many teams the Cavs lost to at the peak of their early-season growing pains — 101-82, on November 4. Now, Cleveland has shifted course, and they’ve matched their season-best eight-game winning streak behind Irving’s scintillating play.

It’s particularly encouraging to fans in northeast Ohio to see their team beating a quality opponent without the basketball king, James, who recently said Irving is becoming a leader beneath him in his own singular way. With a game like last night’s, it’s hard to dispute that claim. Take a look as Kyrie torches the Blazers:

 

South in Texas, Irving’s Team USA running mate James Harden was getting props from an old frenemy. Former teammate Chandler Parsons — now a forward with the in-state rival Dallas Mavericks — says The Beard needs to be recognized as this season’s MVP.

 

“He's the best player in basketball right now," Parsons told reporters before his Mavs fell 99-94 to Harden's Houston Rockets. "The things he's doing are incredible. The scouting report is focused in on stopping him and you see he's still getting 30 a game. It's impressive. It doesn't really surprise me. I saw firsthand how talented he is. He works extremely hard. He's playing better defense this year. He's leading their team. He's hitting tough shots. There's not much he's not doing.”

 

Harden dropped 17 points, eight assists and five rebounds to lead Houston, who grabbed the victory despite Dwight Howard missing the contest. The resume continues to build.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, January 29, 2015 - 14:10
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/deflategate-nba-style-phil-jackson-admits-past-trickery-knicks
Body:
The reduction of air inside of footballs has been at the center of most sports media since the New England Patriots battered the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC championship game, and were subsequently accused of a years-long pattern of deflation trickery that led to insanely low fumble rates.

 

Hardly a physicist or investigator myself, I can’t offer any clarity on that one — that job is left, apparently, in Bill Nye’s hands. All I can give on this subject is the knowledge that such behavior is not unique to the sport of football.

 

Yesterday, Twitter user Todd Radom unearthed this bit of NBA trivia about the legendary Phil Jackson, from a 1986 Chicago Tribune article by Bulls scribe Sam Smith:

“In the history of the National Basketball Association, there were teams that would take your breath away, leaving those watching gasping for air at the sight of their extraordinary acrobatic feats. And there were other teams that were so methodically powerful that they would quickly take the air out of opponents.

 

"And then there were the New York Knicks of the early 1970s, a team that had Willis Reed, Dave DeBusschere, Jerry Lucas, Bill Bradley, Walt Frazier and Dick Barnett and that represented for many the apotheosis of the game.

 

"They simply took the air out of the ball.

 

"The team that basketball purists often called the best ever because they embodied many of the most respected elements of the game, such as sacrifice and intelligence, which they merged with efficient passing, aggressive defense and timely shooting, had this little gimmick that often gained them just enough of an edge to win.

 

"But it wasn`t cheating, exactly. It was more like creative invention that might come from the likes of some McHale, McAdoo or Machiavelli.

 

"'What we used to do was deflate the ball,’ recalls Phil Jackson, the cerebral reserve forward who was every bit as metaphysical as he was physical. 'We were a short team with our big guys like Willis, our center, only about 6-8 and Jerry Lucas also 6-8, DeBusschere, 6-6.

 

"'So what we had to rely on was boxing out and hoping the rebound didn't go long.

 

"'To help ensure that, we'd try to take some air out of the ball. You see, on the ball it says something like 'inflate to 7 to 9 pounds. We'd all carry pins and take the air out to deaden the ball.

 

"'It also helped our offense because we were a team that liked to pass the ball without dribbling it, so it didn't matter how much air was in the ball. It also kept other teams from running on us because when they`d dribble the ball, it wouldn't come up so fast.’”

 

Slower team? No problem: just make sure you’re playing with a slower ball.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, January 29, 2015 - 10:15
Path: /nfl/5-x-factors-super-bowl-xlix
Body:

Super Bowl XLIX between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks overflows with dramatic storylines and features fascinating characters that rival any Hollywood blockbuster. Tom Brady is the A-list superstar. Russell Wilson fills the role of the successful up-and-comer looking to steal Brady’s thunder. Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick are the leaders of men looking to cement their legacies as the conquering head coaches of the football realm, all supported by a fantastic ensemble cast of Richard Sherman, Rob Gronkowski, and Marshawn Lynch. This is better than Hollywood.

 

While those stories and leading men will garner so much of the attention this week leading up to the biggest football game of the year, here are some x-factors that also could play a big role in the outcome on Super Sunday.

 

Deflate-gate

 

The most over-dramatic headline in recent sports memory will surely be the elephant in the stadium all week long. While media outlets relentlessly pine over PSI and the science of pigskin in wet and cold conditions, the Patriots will be completely ignoring the “conspiracy” altogether — or at least try to. For the first time in his NFL career, Tom Brady is seemingly playing the role of bad guy after last week’s awkward press conference in which Brady was asked if he thought he was a cheater. As a franchise, New England has long been known for its constant stoicism and professionalism, but is the spotlight from another “cheating” allegation during the biggest week of the football calendar going to be too much of a nuisance for the business-like Patriots?

 

 

Patriots’ Receivers vs. The Legion of Boom

 

Defenses beware — every eligible player is an option in New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ playbook, something the Ravens and Colts know all too well. This offensive versatility is due in part to the variety of weapons that Brady has to throw to, as six players have more than 20 receptions this season.

 

Brady loves to use the middle of the field to exploit defenses. With tight end Rob Gronkowski being such a matchup nightmare for linebackers, wide receivers Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell typically have extra space underneath opposing teams’ coverages in which to operate. But this Seattle defense is a different animal. The Seahawks’ vaunted “Legion of Boom” makes a point to get in their opponents’ faces (and their minds) with their physical play and relentless swagger. Cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell are backed by hard-hitting press safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, and all four bring heavy pop to the field. It will be interesting to see how effective the Patriots’ receivers are against the LOB. Brady may have to rely on his running backs as pass-catching options out of the backfield more than he usually does.

 

LeGarrette Blount

 

Castaways, no-names, and journeymen have been lining up at running back behind Brady for the better part of a decade. And no running back fits the Patriots’ misfit mold quite like Blount does. Blount, in his second stint with New England, was claimed on waivers in November after being waived by Pittsburgh for leaving the field early during the Steelers’ win against the Titans on “Monday Night Football.”

 

Back with the Patriots, Blount didn’t see significant playing time until Week 15 against the Chargers when he rushed for 66 yards on 20 carries. Over the next three games Blount would total 21 carries for 80 yards, including three carries for one yard against Baltimore in the AFC Divisional round. But Blount came alive last week against the Colts, putting up 148 yards and three scores on 30 carries.

 

When Blount takes the field Sunday, the defense opposing him will be one of the best of the past decade. Seattle ranks first this season in total defense, first in passing defense, and third against the rush. If the Patriots are to have any success against the terrorizing Seattle defense, Blount may have to carry a lot of the offensive load. 

 

Luke Willson

 

Willson won't get the attention from opposing defenses that his tight end counterpart Rob Gronkowski does, but that doesn't mean he will be a non-factor in this Super Bowl. Wide receivers Jermaine Kearse and Doug Baldwin will attract the most attention from New England’s cover corners, Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, so Willson should see more balls thrown his way, especially in the fourth quarter. Willson has saved his best for last, as half of his catches and two of his three touchdowns this season have come in the final 15 minutes.

 

Willson caught just 22 passes during the regular season, but he averaged an impressive 16.5 yards per grab, making him a great option down the field. Fourteen of those catches also resulted in first downs and he has six receptions for 79 yards and a score thus far in the postseason. Due to Seattle’s efficient read-option run game, Willson could be most effective on play-action passes when linebackers are caught in-between reading the potential handoff to Marshawn Lynch or a Russell Wilson keeper outside of the pocket. The Patriots must also keep Willson in check on blitz packages, as he is averaging more than 14 yards per catch on plays in which defenses bring pressure.

 

Protecting Possessions

 

Both Seattle and New England are near the top in the NFL when it comes to protecting the football. While turnovers may be limited in this year’s Super Bowl, the consequences of those turnovers could be the deciding x-factor.

 

The Seahawks uncharacteristically turned the ball over five times against the Packers in the NFC Championship Game, but only surrendered two field goals from those extra possessions, leaving just enough room for Seattle to force overtime by forcing several turnovers of its own. On the other hand, the Patriots led the NFL in the regular season with the fewest turnovers (13) and were second in points off of turnovers (110 points), and net turnover points (+61). If the Seahawks want to raise their second straight Lombardi Trophy, not giving Brady and company extra opportunities will be imperative.

 

— By Jake Rose

 

Teaser:
5 X-Factors for Super Bowl XLIX
Post date: Wednesday, January 28, 2015 - 16:00
All taxonomy terms: Klay Thompson, Kyle Korver, Steph Curry, NBA
Path: /nba/curry-thompson-korver-enter-3-point-contest
Body:
All-Star weekend 2015 in New York City is rounding into shape. The NBA officially announced its slam dunk contestants, and now there’s exciting info coming out about who’ll be in the 3-point shootout on the same night.

 

Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, the “Splash Brothers” of the Golden State Warriors, and Kyle Korver of the Atlanta Hawks — all of whom are having historically effective seasons from beyond the arc — will participate in the contest. As will Wesley Matthews of the Portland Trail Blazers, and J.J. Redick of the Los Angeles Clippers. This according to Yahoo! Sports — the official announcement from the league is yet to come.

 

The group is one of the most potent fields to enter the competition in quite some time. While the dunk contest is populated with up-and-comers, the 3-point show will feature the very best in the game at what they do, and all of these players are in their primes.

 

Curry and Thompson comprise a backcourt that looks likely to go down as the best shooting duo the game has ever seen. And Korver, across the country, is the most potent weapon in an outstanding Hawks offense, flirting with numbers that no one’s achieved before.

 

An elite club of just six players (Dirk Nowitzki, Larry Bird, Mark Price, Kevin Durant, Reggie Miller and Steve Nash) has shot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three, and 90 percent from the charity stripe over a full season. Korver, through 44 games, has been transcendent with not just a 50-40-90 mark, but an otherwordly 50-50-90 line.

 

It’s fitting that the star power will be in the shooting contest this year, not the dunking contest. Floor-spacers have been on the rise in the modern state of the game for a while, and this season’s All-Star weekend will put that transition onto center stage.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, January 28, 2015 - 15:02
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/ranking-nba%E2%80%99s-coach-year-candidates
Body:
6. Terry Stotts, Portland Trail Blazers

The Blazers, quite quietly, have compiled one of the best records in the NBA, and they’ve done it without everything going as planned. Starting center Robin Lopez has missed 20 games, and crucial small forward Nicolas Batum is having one of his worst years since he entered the league. Much of the Blazers’ ascension is due to the exponential growth of Damian Lillard’s game, but Stotts deserves credit for Portland’s defense improving considerably in 2014-15.

 

5. Kevin McHale, Houston Rockets

Coming into the season, Mr. McHale’s job status couldn’t exactly be described as “secure.” His Rockets petered out early in last year’s playoffs, falling 4-2 in the first round to the Trail Blazers and often looking disorganized and uninspired as they did so. But McHale has helped shape Houston into something more fierce this year: a defense-first team that falls in line behind MVP front-runner James Harden, and plays selflessly. Harden deserves a lion share of credit for a better Houston with his emergence as a top-five force — as does the continued defensive dominance of Dwight Howard — but McHale has certainly earned himself a nod too.

 

4. Stan Van Gundy, Detroit Pistons

The Pistons’ post-Josh Smith turnaround is one of the more remarkable transformations within recent NBA memory. By kicking the highest-paid player off the team, Van Gundy (who also runs basketball operations in Detroit) created eminent authority for himself and made the necessary platform on which to effect change. But nobody saw things turning this quickly — the Pistons went on a 12-3 tear after shedding Smith, looking suddenly purpose-driven and anchored by a set of shrewd Van Gundy principles. He hasn’t done a full season of excellent work, but Stan gets recognition for one of the most uncanny months in NBA coaching history.

 

3. Jason Kidd, Milwaukee Bucks

It’s hard to believe how quickly Jason Kidd has brought change to Milwaukee. Last year’s worst team in basketball, the Bucks are a playoff team who surpassed their 2013-14 win total before we even hit 2015. And they’ve done it with minimal roster change: Their biggest transaction was drafting Jabari Parker at No. 2 overall, and the rookie left the team with a torn ACL more than a month ago. The team’s turnaround has been more about Kidd’s sense of direction than anything; under his tutelage, the young squad has become one of the very best defenses in the league. Be afraid of Kidd’s team as they go forward and get more experience under their belts.

 

2. Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors

No first-year coach has ever had a better record than Kerr does with the Warriors. This is in keeping with the former 3-point shooting ace’s biography: Be it either through correlation or causation, nearly every basketball scenario he’s been involved with has seem blessed. Golden State was a good team before Kerr came, but now they’re a great one. Their league-leading 36-6 record owes much to his maximization of their wide array of shooters, passers, defenders and all-around ballers.

 

1. Mike Budenholzer, Atlanta Hawks

In any other year, Kerr’s historic start would launch him into the clear top spot in the race to the top of the coaching hierarchy. But what coach Bud is doing in Atlanta is simply amazing. A team with zero superstars has been nearly perfect since late November, amassing a 30-2 record over their last 32 games. And they’re doing it in a way that only a team with an elite coach can: through exquisite passing, mutual trust, and top-to-bottom sacrifice in the name of a greater good. Budenholzer’s Popovichian system is the star for the Hawks, and the open man is their go-to scorer. If they keep this up, there won’t be a team who can beat them out of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, January 28, 2015 - 10:08
All taxonomy terms: New England Patriots, Super Bowl XLIX, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/5-reasons-new-england-patriots-will-win-super-bowl-xlix
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One way or the other, history will be made when the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks meet in Super Bowl XLIX this Sunday. Either Bill Belichick and Tom Brady will win their fourth Super Bowl rings, tying for the most among their respective positions, or the Seahawks will become just the seventh franchise in history to repeat as Super Bowl champions.

 

Coming up with five definitive reasons for why the New England Patriots will win any game, let alone a Super Bowl, is difficult. That’s not because they are unlikely to win, obviously; you are just never sure how they are going to do it.

 

The Patriots’ biggest strength under Bill Belichick has always been the ability to adapt to their opponent. Give him extra prep time like he has for a Super Bowl, and you can bet Belichick will find something about the Seahawks to exploit that no one saw coming.

 

But since we’re supposed to be the experts, and “just because” isn’t going to cut it, here are five reasons the Patriots come out on the winning side on Sunday.

 

Related: 5 Reasons the Seattle Seahawks Will Win Super Bowl XLIX

 

Tom Brady

Critics will point out Brady hasn’t won a Super Bowl in 10 years, and there’s no denying that fact. But you’d still be hard-pressed to find many postseason defeats that you can lay at Brady’s feet. He hasn’t thrown games away.

 

Still, he knows the critics are there, and since a Week 4 loss to Kansas City sparked whispers that he was no longer an elite quarterback, he has been as good as ever. Throw in the whole “Deflategate” fiasco, and Brady comes into this game with a giant chip on his shoulder.

 

But even beyond his motivations, Brady is just not likely to give the Seahawks any freebies. While many elite QBs become their own worst enemy by forcing passes to their top receivers or at an elite corner (Richard Sherman?) just to show that they can, Brady has always been content to take what is given.  If that means dumping the ball off 15 times to a running back, he’ll do it.

 

Of course, Brady does have a favorite target …

 

The Gronkowski factor

Seattle has two very good safeties in Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, and against most teams they are made better by the fact that they don’t have to worry about helping CB Richard Sherman. But New England is not most teams.

 

The equation changes against the Patriots because tight end Rob Gronkowski is their biggest weapon in the passing game. Seattle can’t just put Sherman on an island against him and dare the Pats to throw at him.

 

So now the Seahawks will need to pick their poison: Commit to stopping the run and leave Gronkowski in single coverage, or double-cover Gronkowski and risk the Patriots exploiting a run defense that was good on paper (third in the NFL in yards allowed in the regular season) but has allowed more than 130 yards on the ground to both Carolina and Green Bay in the postseason.

 

Seattle’s passing game won’t scare the Pats

This is one area where we are giving Belichick the benefit of the doubt a bit. While the Patriots were a top 10 defense against the run, they were vulnerable at times: Excluding the meaningless loss in the season finale, New England allowed 176 yards per game on the ground in its three other losses.

 

On the other hand, two of those losses were in September, and the other was against Green Bay, whose passing game gave the Pats more to worry about. Seattle’s passing game carries with it no such concerns.

 

No NFL team threw the ball less than Seattle in the regular season, and the Seahawks ranked 27th in passing yards. None of the receivers will strike fear into a Pats defense that ranked fourth in pass coverage according to ProFootballFocus.com.

 

We’re betting Belichick and the Patriots will find a way to stop the run and force Seattle to beat them through the air. Even if Russell Wilson doesn’t give the ball away like he did in the NFC title game, can he win a passing duel with Tom Brady? Not likely.

 

New England won’t give the game away

Perhaps we are guilty of overreacting to a couple of high-profile games here, but it’s hard to imagine the Patriots playing things the way the Packers did in the NFC title game or making big mistakes like the Broncos did in last year’s Super Bowl.

 

History tells us Belichick will not play safe and kick field goals the way Green Bay did if given the chance to put Seattle in an early hole.  And while there may be no tangible evidence one way or the other, can you imagine a Belichick-coached team bungling an onside kick?

 

And while we’d never suggest that Super Bowl XLVIII was just a couple big plays from going Denver’s way, when was the last time New England gave up a safety, interception return TD and a special teams TD in the same game? Right from the first snap over Peyton Manning’s head, Denver looked unprepared, overmatched, or both.

 

The Patriots will be none of those things.

 

The Pats vs. The World

This isn’t about a rousing pep talk before the game. As dominant as New England has been for 14 seasons now, Belichick can’t exactly play the “Nobody believes in us!” card. (And “They think we win because we cheat!” isn’t much better.)

 

But even before the whole “Deflategate” thing, this game was destined to have a huge impact on how history views Belichick and Brady. Winning Super Bowls 10 years apart with everything else changing around them would be unprecedented. And while their first three titles can’t be taken away, there is a huge difference between 4-2 in the big game vs. 3-3 with a three-game losing streak.

 

It also may be their last chance. Brady and the Pats recently restructured his contract to create cap space, but it also made it easier for them to part ways. Even if he sticks around, there’s no guarantee they ever get back here.

 

None of that will help them complete a pass or tackle Marshawn Lynch. In fact, maybe all that proves their best days are long behind them. But do you really want to bet against them?

 

— By John Gworek

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5 Reasons the New England Patriots Will Win Super Bowl XLIX
Post date: Tuesday, January 27, 2015 - 13:00

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