Articles By Athlon Sports

All taxonomy terms: Phil Mickelson, Golf
Path: /golf/golf-experts-poll-will-phil-mickelson-ever-win-another-major
Body:
Athlon polled a number of golf insiders on a variety of topics, but we start with this question: Are Tiger's problems primarily physical or mental? - See more at: http://athlonsports.com/golf/golf-experts-poll-are-tigers-problems-mental-or-physical#sthash.ovLdgVAh.dpuf
Athlon polled a number of golf insiders on a variety of topics, but we start with this question: Are Tiger's problems primarily physical or mental? - See more at: http://athlonsports.com/golf/golf-experts-poll-are-tigers-problems-mental-or-physical#sthash.ovLdgVAh.dpuf

After a winless 2014, Lefty's game seems to be rounding into shape just in time for The Masters, where he's at his most comfortable. But major championship wins are hard to come by for guys in their mid-40s who are also battling arthritis. The heart says yes, he can win another one, but what do smart observers of the game say? We asked some.

 

Participants

Jay Coffin, Editorial Director, Golf Channel, @JayCoffinGC

Jason Deegan, Senior Staff Writer and Golf Advisor with The Golf Channel online, @WorldGolfer

Steve DiMeglio, USA Today, @Steve_DiMeglio

Bob Harig, ESPN, @BobHarig

Dan Jenkins, Author, Golf Digest Contributor, @danjenkinsgd

Garrett Johnston, Golf journalist, @JohnstonGarrett

Dave Kindred, Golf Digest, Sports on Earth Contributor, @DaveKindred

Alex Miceli, Senior Writer, Golfweek, @alexmiceli

Dan O’Neill, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Dave Shedloski, Golf World, @DaveShedloski

Art Spander, Global Golf Post, @artspander

 

Will Phil Mickelson ever win another major?
Yes          6
No           4

Maybe     1

Comments

• Yes, the U.S. Open this year.

 

• Augusta National suits lefties, and if he has one magical putting week, he can win another green jacket.

 

• He has one more in him.

 

• Yes, Mickelson has given some back that he should’ve won.  Mickelson will for the next 3 to 5 years always have a chance at Augusta, but the other majors are close to out of his reach.

 

• He has a better chance to win one than Tiger, but he’s also older and history shows you don’t win majors at Phil’s age.

 

• His British Open performance at Muirfield tells me never to count him out, but it’s getting late early.

 

• Phil came close once more at the PGA last year, but couldn't hold on. That has happened more times than not when he was been in contention. He's at an age now where it seems unlikely he will be in contention many more times.

 

• No. He's 45.

 

• The window has closed greatly on Phil, but the view here is he's got one more in him.

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, April 8, 2015 - 10:26
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/tiger-woods-injury-history-visual-break-down
Body:

Tiger Woods has suffered an alarming litany of injuries, to the point that we have to wonder whether he’ll ever be truly 100% healthy again. As he prepares for this year’s Masters, we look back on the “break down” of this iconic athlete. 

 

(Click image to enlarge)

Tiger Woods Injuries

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, April 8, 2015 - 10:16
All taxonomy terms: Rory McIlroy, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-1-rory-mcilroy
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 1: Rory McIlroy

 

Born: May 4, 1989, Holywood, Northern Ireland | Career PGA Tour Wins: 9 (10 on European Tour) | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 4 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $6,883,785 (1st) World Ranking: 1

2014 Key Stats:

      Strokes Gained, Total: 2.266 (1st)

      Driving Distance: 310.5 (3rd)

      Par-4 Performance: -39 (1st)

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

McIlroy, should he win The Masters at age 25, will be the second-youngest player to complete the career grand slam. Of the five men who have won all four of golf’s major championships, Ben Hogan completed the slam when he was 40, Gene Sarazen was 33, Gary Player was 29 and Jack Nicklaus was 26. Only Tiger Woods, who completed the slam at 24, did so at a younger age then what Rory is now. Of those five, three players — Hogan Nicklaus and Woods — completed the slam by winning the Open Championship; Player did so at the U.S. Open in 1965; and only Sarazen completed the slam at The Masters when he won in 1935. Unlike the other majors venues, which rotate from year to year, Augusta National is the home of the Masters, so Rory has the rest of his career to conquer one course and join the most exclusive club in golf.

But there is a reason he has not won The Masters. Rory is a streaky putter but not a great one, and in particular he struggles on really fast greens, which are the distinguishing feature at Augusta National. In the last four years he has averaged more than 30 putts per round at Augusta, and his 125 putts en route to an eighth-place finish in 2014 equaled his worst performance on the greens all year, matched only at the U.S. Open. Nor is Rory great around the greens; he finished 88th and 145th in scrambling the last two years, respectively, and invariably even the best ball-strikers miss upwards of 20 greens through four rounds in vying for the Green Jacket.

But the primary reason why Rory is likely to struggle in getting the fourth leg of the career Grand Slam is his tendency to miss left, and there is a severe penalty for missing left at Augusta. An even greater penalty, though a less obvious one, comes with the timidity that plagues a player who is prone to left misses. At Augusta it’s not the hook that kills you — it’s the fear of hitting the hook. This fear shows up on the par 5s, where Rory made five bogeys last year and played them even par, eight shots worse than winner Bubba Watson, who finished eight shots ahead of Rory for the tournament. It is no coincidence that Ben Hogan didn’t win the Masters until he was 40 years old — a few years after he learned to play the game without the fear of hitting a hook.

The Masters aside, 2015 will be another great year for McIlroy, who has done what everyone is trying to do from a fitness standpoint. In increasing his flexibility and strength, his swing has gotten longer and faster. As a result, Rory has improved his clubbed speed every year he’s been on tour, making his driver one of the most lethal weapons in golf — which, combined with his mile high irons, makes him a threat to accumulate wins at a rate reminiscent of Tiger Woods in his prime.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 25
Wins: 4

2014 Performance:
Masters - T8
U.S. Open - T23
British Open - 1
PGA Championship - 1

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T8 (2014)
U.S. Open - 1 (2011)
British Open - 1 (2014)
PGA Championship - 1 (2012, '14)
Top-10 Finishes: 10
Top-25 Finishes: 15
Missed Cuts: 4

 

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, April 8, 2015 - 10:12
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/ranking-nbas-best-kentucky-alumni
Body:

On the heels of Kentucky’s nearly perfect season, we rank the school's best alumni now in the NBA.

 

13. Tayshaun Prince, Detroit Pistons

One of only two players on this list with a championship ring, Prince was once of the very best wing defenders in basketball. Now, he’s a 35-year-old journeyman with a bank of knowledge that any locker room would be lucky to have.

 

12. Patrick Patterson, Toronto Raptors

Patterson has found a home in Toronto after bouncing around with with the Houston Rockets, Sacramento Kings and the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the D-League. This season, the big man has been an invaluable defense-stretcher with his 37 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

 

11. Jodie Meeks, Detroit Pistons

The Pistons’ sharp shooter earned himself a $19 million contract with Detroit over the summer—one that turned some heads—by having an excellent season with the Los Angeles Lakers. Now the Nashville native is a key piece of a Pistons squad with a promising future.

 

10. Enes Kanter, Oklahoma City Thunder

Enes Kanter loves playing for the Thunder. After languishing in the thick of a log-jammed Utah Jazz front court, his trade to OKC has seen him develop uncanny chemistry with Russell Westbrook, and become one of the most productive down-low scorers in the league. Look for Kanter, an upcoming free agent, to lobby for a longer stay in Oklahoma.

 

9. Terrence Jones, Houston Rockets

The Rockets’ young power forward has struggled with some scary health issues, including a collapsed lung and some recurring nerve problems. But the former NCAA champion (with the 2012 iteration of the Wildcats) is a freewheeling terror when he’s healthy, and a big X-factor for this title-contending Houston squad.

 

8. Brandon Knight, Phoenix Suns

If Knight has indeed found a landing place in Arizona—after a mid-season trade from the Milwaukee Bucks—it’s a fitting one. Alongside fellow Wildcat of the past Eric Bledsoe, he could make up one half of one of the league’s most exciting young backcourt duos.

 

7. Rajon Rondo, Dallas Mavericks

Rajon Rondo certainly isn’t what he used to be. The only other NBA champion on this list (with the 2007-08 Boston Celtics), he’s seen a huge decline in his scoring ability, including a dip in free-throw percentage that’s frankly hard to believe. But Rajon still possesses an elite gamer gene, and could surprise some people anew in a Mavericks postseason run this May.

 

6. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Hornets

One of the NBA’s best perimeter defenders, Kidd-Gilchrist has failed to reach the proper level of attention from fans due to a mismatched Hornets roster that’s too short on shooting to do much winning at all. Perhaps one day, though, MKG’s tenacious efforts will find a better context.

 

5. Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers are widely criticized for eschewing functional talent in the name of future, asset-based goods, but in Noel they have themselves a blooming winner. As a rookie, he’s already one of the fiercest rim protectors in the NBA, with terrific hair to boot.

 

4. Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix Suns

Bledsoe, like Kidd-Gilchrist, has seen his star fade some for reasons beyond his control. The off-court mayhem that has been the Suns’ season has robbed us of a playoff run from Phoenix and “Mini LeBron,” the full-court terror that is Bledsoe. Don’t be surprised to see him shutting down other elite point guards in the years to come, though.

 

3. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings

DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins is the most compelling big man talent in the NBA. His mixture of bullying post moves, deft footwork and outside shooting makes him essentially unguardable when he’s on. If Sacramento can provide him with some coaching and roster consistency… watch out.

 

2. John Wall, Washington Wizards

Wall has developed into more than an All-Star in his fifth season. The Wizards’ superstar is one of the very best players in the game, matching his speed and instincts with a new court vision that takes Washington to another level at times. If his team decides to can his underachieving coach and replace him (maybe with John Calipari?), Wall will quickly invade even more living rooms.

 

1. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

The Brow is the future of the NBA—but he’s the present, too. As a 22-year-old, Davis is already a bonafide MVP candidate, reaching the rare air of a 30.0 player efficiency rating in just his third season. There’s truly no precedent for how good this guy can get.

 

— John Wilmes
@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, April 7, 2015 - 15:34
Path: /nba/joakim-noah-wants-face-lebron-cavaliers-playoffs
Body:

Things haven’t gone exactly as planned for the Chicago Bulls this season. With the return of Derrick Rose, the additions of Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic and the continuity between reigning Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah and hard-charging coach Tom Thibodeau, many slotted them in as the favorites to win the Eastern Conference.

 

Rose, of course, is injured again — though believed to be close to a return — Thibodeau’s job is in question, and Noah hasn’t been himself for much of the season after knee surgery over the summer. The Bulls can still surge into the NBA Finals, but in the eyes of most analysts they’ve taken a distinct backseat to the Atlanta Hawks, and the team who beat them Sunday afternoon 99-94 — the Cleveland Cavaliers.

 

But outside perception (and even scoreboard results) don’t seem to change the Bulls’ swagger. “I think we're a confident group," Noah said after the game. "And it would be great to play [the Cavs] in the playoffs. It would be very, very exciting, something that I really hope happens.”

 

This, of course, after Noah called LeBron James some nasty words amidst the heated contest. Feast on this, lip-readers:

 

Noah also stoked an old fire, by clowning on the city of Cleveland — a place he finds very boring. "This is a great place to play basketball," he said. "Other than that, there's not much else to do. But when you get onto that court, it's a great place to play basketball. That's as much love as I'll give to Cleveland.”

 

 

If the Bulls and Cavs do indeed meet in the playoffs, there will be one clear winner: us. This is a fun, old-school rivalry, with major characters who have genuinely negative feelings for each other, and a ton of personality on both sides of the court. This is not to mention the potentially terrific level of play, if Rose comes back in effective form.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, April 7, 2015 - 10:39
All taxonomy terms: Tiger Woods, Golf
Path: /golf/clone-golf-experts-poll-game-trouble-if-tiger-never-regains-his-form
Body:
Athlon polled a number of golf insiders on a variety of topics, but we start with this question: Are Tiger's problems primarily physical or mental? - See more at: http://athlonsports.com/golf/golf-experts-poll-are-tigers-problems-mental-or-physical#sthash.ovLdgVAh.dpuf
Athlon polled a number of golf insiders on a variety of topics, but we start with this question: Are Tiger's problems primarily physical or mental? - See more at: http://athlonsports.com/golf/golf-experts-poll-are-tigers-problems-mental-or-physical#sthash.ovLdgVAh.dpuf

The media frenzy surrounding the decision to play The Masters of a player who hasn't won a major in seven years is a clear indication that Tiger is still the game's dominant figure. But what if he never finds his game again? Can golf survive on a crowded sports landscape? Athlon asked the experts for their opinions.

 

Participants

Jay Coffin, Editorial Director, Golf Channel, @JayCoffinGC

Jason Deegan, Senior Staff Writer and Golf Advisor with The Golf Channel online, @WorldGolfer

Steve DiMeglio, USA Today, @Steve_DiMeglio

Bob Harig, ESPN, @BobHarig

Dan Jenkins, Author, Golf Digest Contributor, @danjenkinsgd

Garrett Johnston, Golf journalist, @JohnstonGarrett

Dave Kindred, Golf Digest, Sports on Earth Contributor, @DaveKindred

Alex Miceli, Senior Writer, Golfweek, @alexmiceli

Dan O’Neill, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Dave Shedloski, Golf World, @DaveShedloski

Art Spander, Global Golf Post, @artspander

 

Is the game in trouble if Tiger never regains his form?
Yes    6
No     5

 

Comments

• It (the game’s popularity) will never again be what it was at Tiger's peak.

 

• Whenever he is in contention, TV ratings soar. America either needs a great rivalry ... Rickie Fowler vs. Rory McIlroy? ... or great individual - Jordan Spieth? - to emerge.

 

• He was the ONLY needle. The PGA Tour can tells us it won’t hurt, that the Tour will be just fine, but you can’t say a drop in TV ratings, hits on websites for stories won’t suffer. Outside of the majors, Tiger is the only one that got on the front pages of major newspapers.

 

• No. The spectacle of the circus coming to town, and the importance of the majors, will always be of more value than any individual.

The game was fine before Tiger and will be fine after Tiger. He gave the game a huge spike, because he transcended the sport and bring in casual observers. Some of them have stuck around and golf is better for it. But the game remains a niche sport and will also appeal to those who are avid about it.

• The game's popularity is stable. Whether it continues to reach a broad audience without Tiger is questionable.

 

• No, the professional game is strong with or without Tiger. It’s the other game, the one where you go out and play with your friends, that is in trouble with or without Woods.

 

• Certainly it won’t help without Tiger, but the game isn’t going anywhere. There are plenty of young stars who have shown potential to do great things over the next two decades. There may never be another Tiger Woods, but that doesn’t mean that four or five men doing great things can’t help sustain interest.

 

• The game's popularity already is in trouble. Tiger impacts audience, but the game has been losing popularity for years.

 

• Yes, because be brought in the non-golfers.

 

• Yes, it is in trouble with the general sports fan.

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, April 7, 2015 - 10:09
All taxonomy terms: Adam Scott, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-2-adam-scott
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 2: Adam Scott

 

Born: July 16, 1980, Adelaide, Australia | Career PGA Tour Wins: 11 (9 on European Tour) | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $4,098,588 (13th) World Ranking: 6

2014 Key Stats:

      Par Breakers: 24.18% (2nd)

      Par 5 Birdie or Better Leaders: 55.88% (1st)

      Approaches from 100-125 Yards: 15’8” (2nd)

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Scott will be the object of a lot of scrutiny this year, the last in which he’ll be able to use an anchored putter, as he will inevitably have to begin testing alternative methods for 2016. He has said, however, that he will use the long putter until he has to change. If that is the case, then I don’t expect much to change in Adam’s game this year from the previous four. Since 2011, when Adam first went to the anchored putter in majors, he has six top fives in the game’s biggest events, and in two of those years, 2012 and 2014, he did not finish worse than 15th in a major, something Tiger Woods has managed to do only three times in his career (2000, 2005 and 2007).

Scott is the game’s most consistent performer as evidenced by his Tour leadership in consecutive cuts made and the All-Around category at the end of the 2014 season. He simply does not have a weakness. In an age where players seek high launch-low spin numbers to maximize distance and suffer with accuracy off of the tee, Adam does not give into this trend. He has the power to have much more control with low launch-high spin tee shots and then the ability to adjust and hit green-grabbing, towering irons. At 35 of years of age, turning 36 in July, Adam is in the prime of his career, when experience, talent and ability are at their peak, and nobody in golf is better equipped to do more this year than he is.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 55
Wins: 1

2014 Performance:
Masters - T14
U.S. Open - T9
British Open - T5
PGA Championship - T15

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - 1 (2013)
U.S. Open - T9 (2014)
British Open - 2 (2012)
PGA Championship - T3 (2006)
Top-10 Finishes: 13
Top-25 Finishes: 26
Missed Cuts: 15

 

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, April 7, 2015 - 09:59
Path: /nba/spurs-spank-warriors-late-season-statement-game
Body:

Last week, we told you the San Antonio Spurs were back in championship form. Over the weekend, they confirmed this theory emphatically.

 

Their 107-92 thrashing of the league-leading Golden State Warriors was never close. Kawhi Leonard made the Warriors’ usually impeccable offense look helpless against the veritable giant quid he creates with his long, relentless arms — Leonard had seven steals in the game. And the Spurs’ passing has rarely been as gorgeous as it was yesterday; with their thrilling chain reactions of ball movement they find open men that even the most expert of viewers have a hard time noticing.

 

The Warriors have enjoyed a 63-win season largely by being smarter than anyone they face. From their terrific coaching staff — including Steve Kerr and major luxury assistants Ron Adams and Alvin Gentry — to their role players, Golden State has a very impressive brain trust. But San Antonio showed us yesterday that theirs is probably better. They had the Warriors’ moves figured out before they were made, on both sides of the ball.

 

They were also able to thwart the Warriors’ scintillating perimeter shooting perhaps better than anyone has all year. Golden State shot just 9-for-28 from beyond the arc in the contest, with Steph Curry ultimately getting his (5-of-10 from deep for 24 points overall) but with Klay Thompson being held to just six points, and Harrison Barnes a mere four.

 

The loss is a reality check for the Warriors. As excellent as they’ve been all season, they need to be even better to take down a dialed-in version of the 2014 champions. Golden State might be making history this season, but the title is still the Spurs’ to lose.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, April 6, 2015 - 10:40
All taxonomy terms: Justin Rose, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-3-justin-rose
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 3: Justin Rose

 

Born: July 30, 1980, Johannesburg, South Africa | Career PGA Tour Wins: 6 (7 on European Tour) | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $3,926,768 (15th) World Ranking: 11

2014 Key Stats:

      Strokes Gained (Tee to Green): 1.505 (4th)

      Bounce Back: 25.14% (4th)

      Approaches from 175-200 yards: 29’1” (3rd)

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Rose has won in each of the last five seasons on tour, and it seems he plays his best golf on the best courses, winning at revered venues such as Muirfield Village, Aronomink, Congressional and Merion Golf Club. His great ball-striking is most rewarded where tee-to-green mistakes are hard to overcome. If his putting were anywhere close to his ball-striking — he hasn't finished better than 108th in Strokes Gained on the greens in the last three years — he would be higher placed on this list. Also of some concern is his inability to play links golf courses well, evidenced by only one top 10 in The Open Championship in his career, and that came when he was a 17-year-old amateur. Given the links nature of three of this year’s four majors — and one could argue that Augusta National falls into this category as well — Justin will need to find a more imaginative game in the inevitably windy conditions if he is to add to his one career major championship. Majors aside, Justin’s win streak will not come to an end any time soon; his swing and attitude are simply too good not to serve him well for many more years.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 43
Wins: 1

2014 Performance:
Masters - T14
U.S. Open - T12
British Open - T23
PGA Championship - T24

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T5 (2007)
U.S. Open - 1 (2013)
British Open - T4 (1998)
PGA Championship - T3 (2012)
Top-10 Finishes: 8
Top-25 Finishes: 22
Missed Cuts: 14

 

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, April 6, 2015 - 10:02
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News
Path: /mlb/mlb-predictions-2015-national-league
Body:

Opening Day of the 2015 MLB season is here with the San Francisco Giants in place as defending World Series champions for the third time in the last five seasons. There is no lack of National League teams aiming to knock the Giants from their perch, starting in their own division. The NL West was transformed during this offseason thanks to a flurry of trades.

 

The team to beat in the Senior Circuit could come from the NL East, thanks in part to the addition of Cy Young winner to an already formidable starting rotation. And the NL Central could end up being the toughest division in all of baseball, depending on the healthy return of some key players and how one new manager fares with his young charges.

 

Related: 2015 American League Predictions

 

Here is how Athlon Sports sees the NL shaking out in 2015, including a look at the leading candidates for MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year.

 

2015 National League Predictions

 

 

NL East

NL Central

NL West

1

2

3

4

5

Wild cards: Pittsburgh, San Francisco

 

NLCS

    over    

 

World Series

    over    

 

 

NL East Breakdown

The Nationals made the biggest splash in free agency this offseason, signing Max Scherzer to a seven-year, $210 million contract. The 2013 AL Cy Young winner gives them a starting rotation built for October. However, postseason success has eluded Washington to this point, and a rash of injuries during spring training has only added pressure to the team many are expecting to not just get to the World Series, but win it. Elsewhere, the Marlins and Mets bear watching as both teams hope the return of their aces from Tommy John surgery can propel them into playoff contention. The Braves began their rebuilding project in earnest this offseason while everyone is still waiting for the Phillies to do the same.

 

NL Central Breakdown

This could end up being the most competitive division in the majors, as it’s not out of the realm of possibility that both wild card teams come from the NL Central. While the Cardinals and Pirates remain the class of the division, the Cubs, Brewers and Reds are each capable of defying expectations and emerging as a playoff contender. Chicago’s extensive rebuilding project overseen by Theo Epstein and company could finally bear fruit with manager Joe Maddon and ace Jon Lester among the new faces for an organization that has a wave of talented prospects waiting in the wings.  Milwaukee’s fate is largely tied to the health of Ryan Braun’s right thumb, while Cincinnati is hoping for bounce-back years from the likes of Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Homer Bailey.

 

NL West Breakdown

The Giants are the reigning champs, but the Dodgers revamped their infield in their continued pursuit of getting back to the World Series. No team was busier this offseason, however, than the Padres, as first-year general manager A.J. Preller overhauled his roster through a series of trades, landing Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Wil Myers (and Craig Kimbrel on Sunday), as well as signing free agent workhorse starter James Shields. The Diamondbacks just want to get off to a better start this season, while the much of the focus on the Rockies will be on Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. Will either or both All-Stars finish their season on the DL and/or with another team?

 

NL MVP

1. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins

The runner-up last season, Stanton is the reigning NL home run champion and could get the extra benefit of playing for a team in playoff contention. As long as he stays healthy, Stanton’s numbers should be MVP-worthy with better lineup protection (Dee Gordon, Martin Prado, Mike Morse added in offseason) around him.

2. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates

3. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

4. Buster Posey, Giants

5. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies

6. Bryce Harper, Nationals

7. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks

8. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs

9. Anthony Rendon, Nationals

10. Carlos Gomez, Brewers

 

NL Cy Young

1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

The winner three of the past four years and the reigning NL MVP to boot, the Cy Young probably belongs to Kershaw as long as he stays healthy. Don’t forget he missed more than a month last year and still placed the majors in wins (21), ERA (1.77) and complete games (six).

2. Max Scherzer, Nationals

3. Madison Bumgarner, Giants

4. Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals

5. Johnny Cueto, Reds

 

NL Rookie of the Year

1. Kris Bryant, Cubs

The best prospect in baseball will start in the minors, but it shouldn’t be long before he takes his place in the heart of the Cubs’ lineup. Bryant should still get more than enough at-bats and hit enough tape-measure home runs to get the votes at season’s end.

2. Joc Pederson, Dodgers

3. Jorge Soler, Cubs

Teaser:
MLB 2015 National League Predictions
Post date: Monday, April 6, 2015 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News
Path: /mlb/mlb-2015-american-league-predictions
Body:

The American League champion has won just one of the past five World Series. Will the 2015 MLB season produce a different result for the Junior Circuit? Last season, the Kansas City Royals put an end to their 29-year playoff drought in dramatic fashion, venturing on a magical postseason run that came just one game shy of winning it all. This season, the Royals figure to have a tough road just to get back to the playoffs, as they must navigate a crowded AL Central.

 

The AL East features a little bit of everything – a team that spent big in free agency this offseason, one that’s pinning their hopes on several young players, another that’s hoping their aging superstars can turn back the clock, and a franchise that’s going through a makeover both on the field and in its front office.

 

The AL West has seen plenty of change too, as one team that’s made it to the playoffs three straight years could take a few steps backward in 2015, while the team that strung together three consecutive 100-loss campaigns from 2011-13 is slowly making its way back towards respectability.

 

Related: 2015 National League Predictions

 

Here is how Athlon Sports sees the AL shaking out in 2015, including a look at the leading candidates for MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year.

 

2015 American League Predictions

 

 

AL East

AL Central

AL West

1

2

3

4

5

Wild cards: Cleveland, Seattle

 

ALCS

    over    

 

World Series

    over    

 

 

AL East Breakdown

From last place in 2012 to World Series champs in ’13 and back to the basement last season, Boston is looking to go from worst to first yet again. The additions of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval along with the emergence this spring of dynamic leadoff hitter Mookie Betts gives the Red Sox the deepest lineup in the majors. Now it’s up to the pitching to hold up their end of the bargain. Elsewhere, defending division champion Baltimore stood relatively pat, while Toronto is banking on several young, unproven players and the addition of third baseman Josh Donaldson to end its 21-year playoff drought. Derek Jeter has retired, but the Yankees don’t lack for veteran leadership, while Tampa Bay is under new management both on and off the field, and could struggle to score runs in support of the Rays’ underrated starting rotation.

 

AL Central Breakdown

Detroit has won the last four division crowns, but don’t be surprised if this ends up being a four-team race. The Tigers still have Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, but neither are getting any younger and underwent surgery in the offseason. Justin Verlander will start the season on the DL, putting even more pressure on David Price, and the bullpen is suspect at best. Cleveland looks to have the pitching, fronted by reigning Cy Young winner Corey Kluber and finished off by closer Cody Allen, so it will be up to the offense to take care of the rest. Chicago was the most aggressive team in the offseason, adding Jeff Samardzija, David Robertson and Melky Cabrera to its one-two punch of Cy Young contender Chris Sale and MVP candidate Jose Abreu. Kansas City was the story last season, but the Royals lost more than they added and will rely on their pitching, defense and team speed even more in 2015. Minnesota should be a better team, but this may not be reflected in the win column due to the depth of this division.

 

AL West Breakdown

Los Angeles is still smarting from last year’s brief playoff stay, but the Angels have a pair of MVPs in Mike Trout and Albert Pujols to lead their offense and appear to have enough pitching and depth to defend their division crown. Seattle has its own award contenders in Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano, and has added enough pieces that should make the Mariners a thorn in the Angels’ side all season long. Texas is healthier, but has already suffered a big blow in the loss of ace Yu Darvish (Tommy John surgery). If Prince Fielder and Shin Soo-Choo bounce back and Adrian Beltre stays productive, the Rangers should at least surpass last year’s win total (67). Houston may not be able to match it’s 19-win improvement from last season, but the Astros have plenty of budding superstars that bear watching, starting with Jose Altuve and George Springer. Oakland won the division in 2012 and ’13, but this is a completely different A’s team, as GM Billy Beane cashed in on most of his valuable assets this offseason in hopes of building a team that can contend for many years in the future. In other words, don’t be surprised if the A’s take their lumps in 2015.

 

AL MVP

1. Mike Trout, Angels

Trout won his first MVP award after two runner-up finishes his first two seasons, and he did so with arguably his worst numbers (.287-36-111, 115 R, 16 SB). Just 23 years old, the sky is seemingly the limit for the best player in the game.

2. Robinson Cano, Mariners

3. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers

4. Jose Abreu, White Sox

5. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays

6. Michael Brantley, Indians

7. Victor Martinez, Tigers

8. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox

9. Adam Jones, Baltimore

10. Adrian Beltre, Rangers

 

AL Cy Young

1. Felix Hernandez, Mariners

The 2010 recipient finished a close second to Corey Kluber last season despite posting career-bests in ERA (2.14), strikeouts (248) and WHIP (0.915). As long as he stays healthy, Hernandez should receive enough offensive support to challenge his high-water mark for wins (19 in 2009).

2. David Price, Tigers

3. Chris Sale, White Sox

4. Corey Kluber, Indians

5. Alex Cobb, Rays

 

AL Rookie of the Year

1. Rusney Castillo, Red Sox

Similar to NL Rookie of the Year favorite Kris Bryant, Castillo will start the season in AAA. However, the only thing that stands between the Cuban import and the necessary at-bats to flash his power/speed potential is 34-year-old Shane Victorino, who underwent back surgery in August.

2. Steven Souza, Rays

3. Dalton Pompey, Blue Jays

Teaser:
MLB 2015 American League Predictions
Post date: Monday, April 6, 2015 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/nba-power-rankings-april-edition
Body:

1. Golden State Warriors (62-13)

The Warriors are winning at a rate that puts them up there with the best squads in league history, and the question of whether they’re title favorites need to be answered with a clear “yes” by now. The real ask is whether you’d take them or the field to win the Finals.

 

2. Atlanta Hawks (56-19)

The Hawks have been laggard for weeks, but that all seems to be part of coach Mike Budenholzer’s plan. They’re a napping giant, resting their bones, and they’re still the team to beat in the East.

 

3. Cleveland Cavaliers (49-27)

LeBron James and Co. look better with every day, and only Atlanta appears good enough to beat them in the East. A seven-game series between the two might see Cleveland take the super-talented pieces of their game to an unbeatable stratosphere, though.

 

4. Houston Rockets (52-24)

James Harden’s MVP campaign is the spearhead at the center of the Rockets’ surprising season. And with Dwight Howard back as the defense’s final line, they seem like the team to meet Golden State in the conference finals.

 

5. San Antonio Spurs (49-26)

A rejuvenated San Antonio squad is the biggest remaining threat to the Warriors’ throne. The defending champs have regained form behind the amazing play of Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker, and it should surprise no one if they shock the world in the playoffs.

 

6. Los Angeles Clippers (50-26)

Chris Paul is having one of the least noticed MVP-worthy seasons within recent memory, and the Clippers’ starting five remains one of basketball’s very best units. They’ve still got glaring holes all over their bench, though.

 

7. Memphis Grizzlies (51-24)

After looking the part of a championship fighter for much of the season, the Grizzlies have underwhelmed since the All-Star break — they essentially been a .500 team. Memphis hopefuls are praying that the postseason will ratchet their intensity back up.

 

8. Portland Trail Blazers (48-26)

The Blazers have won a surprising amount of games with Wesley Matthews out for the year. But the numbers (and the eye test) have turned out terrible results for their defense without Wes, and their Western Conference peers will know just how to attack them in the postseason — on the perimeter.

 

9. Chicago Bulls (45-30)

The Bulls continue to struggle through identity issues and fall short of the ideal dream their hyper-talented roster offers. But if they reach their ceiling in the playoffs, watch out.

 

10. Toronto Raptors (45-30)

The Raptors might be on the verge of an overhaul, if they experience another first-round exit this spring. General manager Masai Ujiri isn’t one to sit on his hands with a middling collection of talent.

 

11. Dallas Mavericks (46-30)

Rajon Rondo is starting to look like his scrappy, creative old self as the postseason approaches, and that’s great news for the Mavericks. Now if only they could get Monta Ellis in the right mood…

 

12. Washington Wizards (42-33)

John Wall is one of the best point guards in the game, but it’s hard to see him overcoming his coach’s strange, nostalgic court vision and a mediocre, aging supporting cast to push Washington deep into the second season.

 

13. Oklahoma City Thunder (42-33)

How far can Russell Westbrook’s insanity take the Thunder? Without Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka… probably not very far, especially seeing as they’re likely to draw the Warriors in the first round. But it’s still impossible not to get drunk on Westbrook’s inspired play.

 

14. New Orleans Pelicans (40-34)

Anthony Davis has had as good of a season as any 22-year-old ever has. Maybe next year, he’ll have the coach and supporting cast to help him take New Orleans Pelicans to the postseason.

 

15. Utah Jazz (34-41)

The Jazz have had arguably the NBA’s best defense since the All-Star break, and things are looking way, way up for them as soon as next season.

 

16. Milwaukee Bucks (37-38)

Time will tell whether the Bucks made the right moves at the trade deadline, reshuffling the deck of their youth. For now, though, they’ve lowered their ceiling demonstrably.

 

17. Miami Heat (34-41)

Goran Dragic hasn’t been the shot in the arm to the Heat’s offense that they were hoping for, but they’ve still got enough firepower to make things interesting in a likely first round matchup with LeBron and the Cavs.

 

18. Phoenix Suns (38-38)

The future is dubious for the Suns, who’ve had a tragic, tough-to-stomach season by losing Dragic and an unheard-of number of games decided in the waning seconds.

 

19. Brooklyn Nets (34-40)

The Nets are a team about nothing, with management more concerned with saving lost money than making playoff noise, and no visible plan for team-building success in place.

 

20. Boston Celtics (34-41)

The Celtics are the friskiest, most fun candidate for the East’s eighth and final playoff spot. Of all the cores fighting to get blown out by the Hawks, the one with a progressing Marcus Smart is the most compelling.

 

21. Charlotte Hornets (32-42)

The Hornets, like the Nets, are stuck with a bunch of questionable investments, and look to have no way out of them anytime soon. Optimism isn’t easy, here.

 

22. Indiana Pacers (32-43)

Paul George’s return looks less and less likely every day, and there’s really no reason for it as Indiana falls further and further away from postseason contention.

 

23. Orlando Magic (22-53)

Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo have established themselves as perhaps the most exciting young backcourt in the NBA. Now the Magic need to solidify the future with the right coaching hire this summer.

 

24. Sacramento Kings (26-48)

DeMarcus Cousins is one of the most intriguing talents in the game, and he deserves a consistent culture to grow in. Hopefully George Karl can finally provide that for him next season.

 

25. Detroit Pistons (29-46)

Stan Van Gundy has tinkered with his roster a ton this season, which has resulted in a lot of inconsistent play. But he’s shown an encouraging knack for player development.

 

26. Denver Nuggets (28-47)

The Nuggets, like the Magic, need to nail their coaching hire to get fans excited again. A lot is resting on what they do during this offseason.

 

27. Minnesota Timberwolves (16-59)

The Timberwolves are right where any young team should be: at the bottom of the standings, ready to add another potent piece to their already terrific farm of talent through the draft. The future looks real fun up north.

 

28. Philadelphia 76ers (18-58)

Nerlens Noel isn’t getting enough attention in the Rookie of the Year race. He’s been on a tear that puts him among the very best rim protectors of the game, but the constant moral outrage over the Sixers’ tanking endeavor has covered it up.

 

29. Los Angeles Lakers (20-54)

What’s new, here? Nothing. The Lakers are terrible, and the only way out seems to be another big-name signing in free agency. Does L.A. still have enough glamorous appeal to pull one off?

 

30. New York Knicks (14-61)

The Knicks are awful, and Phil Jackson has his work cut out for him to prove he’s the man to shift their sorry trend. If New York still sucks in 2015-16, will his legend start to diminish?

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, April 3, 2015 - 15:09
All taxonomy terms: Tiger Woods, Golf
Path: /golf/golf-experts-poll-are-tigers-problems-mental-or-physical
Body:

Tiger's decision regarding The Masters dragged on into the 11th hour, much like waiting through a boring Oscars telecast for the Best Picture announcement. We finally know that he will, in fact, be on hand for the season's first major.

 

Although he's decided to tee it up at Augusta National on Thursday, he's clearly not the steely-eyed golf machine he once was, having displayed an all-too-human vulnerability to an aging body and decaying confidence. We never thought we'd say this, but we hope he doesn't embarass himself come Thursday.

 

Athlon polled a number of golf insiders on a variety of topics, but we start with this question: Are Tiger's problems primarily physical or mental?

 

Participants

Jay Coffin, Editorial Director, Golf Channel, @JayCoffinGC

Jason Deegan, Senior Staff Writer and Golf Advisor with The Golf Channel online, @WorldGolfer

Steve DiMeglio, USA Today, @Steve_DiMeglio

Bob Harig, ESPN, @BobHarig

Dan Jenkins, Author, Golf Digest Contributor, @danjenkinsgd

Garrett Johnston, Golf journalist, @JohnstonGarrett

Dave Kindred, Golf Digest, Sports on Earth Contributor, @DaveKindred

Alex Miceli, Senior Writer, Golfweek, @alexmiceli

Dan O’Neill, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Dave Shedloski, Golf World, @DaveShedloski

Art Spander, Global Golf Post, @artspander

 

Are Tiger's problems mental or physical?
Mental       4
Physical    1
Both          6

 

Comments
• Started mental as the scandals ended his aura of invincibility and led to a loss of confidence in every aspect of his life, even the swing.

 

• He's worn out between the ears after nearly two decades of carrying the game on his shoulders.

 

• Mental. Everybody but him seems to know it.

 

• It's 90 percent in his head and 50 percent physical. Yeah, the math doesn't add up, but that's how I see it.

 

• He will never be 100% healthy physically, but his mental game pulled him through. Now with his mental game in flux his game in general is substandard.

 

• He’s in a vicious circle right now. He needs to play a lot of golf to get out of his funk, but his body isn't healthy enough to do that.  

 

• Based on his play this year, he obviously has some confidence issues. He admits to being less focused than he was in the past and his physical problems hinder his ability to practice, much less play frequently. Not a good combination.

Both, I believe. If you have back or knee troubles, in golf or baseball (or tennis), well, they are games of swinging. And once doubts creep into the mind, you have what you had in Phoenix, the former greatest golfer in the world  chili-dipping and blasting long. That's a man untrusting of his game at the current time.

 

• Both. His back problems might be better, but he was still away from the game for long period of time and he needs to practice. In the meantime, he changed coaches, altered his swing and saw those problems creep into his short game. For one of the best ever around the greens, it is surely more than physical. There are issues of confidence and doubt that have come along with all the other changes.

 

• Tiger's struggles are more physical than mental. His inability to perform physically is hurting the mental part, however.

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, April 3, 2015 - 10:51
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/florida%E2%80%99s-billy-donovan-might-be-headed-nba
Body:

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

 

University of Florida’s long-tenured head coach, Billy Donovan, is said to be looking for an opportunity in the NBA. The 49-year-old saw his Gators disappoint this season, finishing below .500 and missing the NCAA tournament, so now he’s reportedly peering toward the pros for his next campaign.

 

Donovan’s most likely landing spot could be with his in-state Orlando Magic, a team that already has a coaching vacancy lined up for the summer.Donovan would, in theory, be a terrific fit with the team’s young core, including Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo and Nikola Vucevic.

 

The Magic may be hesitant to get involved with Donovan, though — he’s left them feeling burned before. In 2007, Orlando and Donovan went so far as to introduce Billy as their new head coach at a press conference, only to have Donovan retract his agreement in the coming days, after having second thoughts about leaving the college ranks.

 

The Denver Nuggets will also have an opening on their bench, and the New Orleans Pelicans and Chicago Bulls are candidates to follow suit.

 

Donovan’s friend Rick Pitino believes the 49-year-old is ready to make the jump after nearly two decades in Gainesville. "I think Billy has looked at it,” Pitino said on ESPN Radio, “I think he has an urge to coach in the NBA — a strong desire to coach in the NBA — and would like to try it, very similar to Brad Stevens, who is doing a wonderful job with the Celtics. I think people like that, with that type of personality, will do very well.

 

“If Billy doesn't do well, he can go back to college. Brad Stevens can go back to college. When you get to be our age, Tom [Izzo] and my age, where are you going back to? The McBurney's YMCA on 37th Street or 34th Street? If you're happy where you're at, it's a good place to stay."

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, April 3, 2015 - 10:25
All taxonomy terms: Dustin Johnson, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-4-dustin-johnson
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 4: Dustin Johnson

 

Born: June 22, 1984, Columbia, S.C. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 9 | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $4,249,180 (12th) World Ranking: 7

2014 Key Stats:

      Driving Distance: 311.0 (2nd)

      Fairway Proximity: 27’9” (1st)

      Par Breakers: 23.39% (4th)

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Starting with his rookie year in 2008, Johnson has won in eight consecutive seasons on the PGA tour, which is something very few players have done. In fact, going back over 50 years, only Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer have matched this feat, putting the South Carolinian in Hall of Fame company. That Dustin is amongst the most talented golfers in the world is no question — he gets so much for free, it seems — but just as big as his talent are the questions that follow his commitment to the game and his off-the-course activities. In taking a leave of absence for professional help with personal problems late in 2014, Dustin missed the Ryder Cup and the PGA Championship, the latter being the second major he has missed in recent years for questionable reasons. His return to the PGA Tour is accompanied by a lot of buzz, and for good reason, since he’s one of the longest and straightest hitters in the game. Nobody on tour hit their approach shots closer to the hole on average in 2014, and with the improvement he made in his short shots and putting, only Adam Scott ranked higher than him in the All-Around category. He could be one of the greatest players of all time if he respected his talent the way his peers do.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 20
Wins: 0

2014 Performance:
Masters - Cut
U.S. Open - T4
British Open - T12
PGA Championship - DNP

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T3 (2013)
U.S. Open - T4 (2014)
British Open - T2 (2011)
PGA Championship - Cut (2013, '14)
Top-10 Finishes: 1
Top-25 Finishes: 3
Missed Cuts: 3

 

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, April 3, 2015 - 10:17
All taxonomy terms: Jordan Spieth, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-5-jordan-spieth
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 5: Jordan Spieth

 

Born: July 27, 1993, Dallas, Texas | Career PGA Tour Wins: 2 | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 2 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $4,342,748 (11th) World Ranking: 4

2014 Key Stats:

      Birdie or Better Conversion Percentage: 34.24% (2nd)

      Total Birdies: 389 (2nd)

      Scrambling from the Rough: 62.01% (9th)

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Spieth, after having a share of the 54-hole lead at the 2014 Masters, went on to finish second, and in doing so became the youngest-ever runner-up at the year’s first major. One month later, he very nearly captured The Players Championship. For most of the rest of the year his play was not as spectacular, but it’s what he did in the brief offseason that turned heads and dropped jaws. There is no bigger predictor of superstardom than contending in majors at an early age and winning tournaments by a wide margin while one is still in their early 20s. Though Jordan didn’t win The Masters, his play there left no doubt that major wins are in his future, and his six stroke win at the Australian Open and 10-stroke blowout at the Hero World Challenge in December showed a gear that no one knew he had. For the year, he led the tour in one-putt greens and was 13th in scrambling but struggled with his driver until an offseason fix by his teacher Cameron McCormick put him on track. It is that change and his runaway wins that put him among the favorites to win multiple times this year. His play thus far in 2015 — a win at Valspar, a runner-up at the Valero Texas Open and three other top-7 finishes — has done nothing to diminish those expectations.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 8
Wins: 0

2014 Performance:
Masters - T2
U.S. Open - T17
British Open - T36
PGA Championship - Cut

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T2 (2014)
U.S. Open - T17 (2014)
British Open - T36 (2014)
PGA Championship - Cut (2013, '14)
Top-10 Finishes: 1
Top-25 Finishes: 3
Missed Cuts: 3

 

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, April 2, 2015 - 10:14
Path: /nba/san-antonio-spurs-are-beautiful-again
Body:

After a season spent lying about with a championship hangover, the San Antonio Spurs finally look like title contenders again.

 

Following a 12-3 March campaign, they seem like the only legitimate Western Conference threat to the dominant Golden State Warriors. The Spurs have regained their dazzling, selfless form — the giant has awakened from its slumber, with no game more telling than their recent 114-95 road spattering of the Atlanta Hawks.

 

Atlanta has been the apple of the league’s eye for much of the year, running out to the East’s No. 1 seed with a formula that coach Mike Budenholzer brought over from the decade-plus tenure he had under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio. But the Spurs quickly reminded the league that no one plays their brand of ball as well as they do, with the win.

 

At the center of their resurgence is Tony Parker, who shot 56 percent from the field through March — an almost unheard-of figure for a point guard. Parker had shot around 40 percent for the previous two months, clearly exhibiting some malaise and creaky body issues, but now he’s back to being the dark horse leader that’s fueled the Spurs’ offense for years.

 

Alongside Parker’s rise back to prominence has been the continued improvement of Kawhi Leonard, who missed games with various injuries throughout the year but now looks more and more every day like he’s eclipsing Carmelo Anthony, to enter the rare air of top-three NBA small forwards — Kawhi’s still got work to do to stand up to LeBron James and Kevin Durant. But Leonard’s relentless length on defense is difficult for any team to account for.

 

The ever-steady Tim Duncan, meanwhile, continues to amaze. The soon-to-be-39-year-old has been the Spurs’ most consistent player in 2014-15, netting the seventh best defensive real plus-minus in the league — Leonard’s is fourth.

 

Perhaps most encouraging of all, though, is the rejuvenation of the league’s most consummate postseason wild card — Boris Diaw. Parker’s French friend is the crazy glue that turns the Spurs into something unstoppable, and that’s just what San Antonio might be again… even against the Warriors.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, April 1, 2015 - 16:31
Path: /nba/warriors-clippers-rivalry-rages
Body:

If L.A. is basketball’s capital city, then California is most certainly its most important republic. And no NBA storyline is doing the state more good these days than the current rage between the Clippers and the Golden State Warriors.

 

Golden State beat Lob City 110-106 last night, and the game provided a rare dose of intrigue during the stale final weeks of the regular season. The Clippers are still fighting for optimal playoff seeding, and while the Warriors have already locked down the West’s No. 1 seed, their season-long mission toward perfection wasn’t about to stop against their thorniest foe.

 

Steph Curry delivered a deep blow to the Clippers swagger in the contest, when he crossed L.A. leader Chris Paul over so hard that all he could do was engage in crab-walk stance:

 

The Warriors overcame a terrific performance from Blake Griffin, who dropped 40 points and 12 rebou nds at the Staples Center, on 16-of-25 shooting. Perhaps even more encouraging, though, was who Golden State got the victory without — Defensive Player of the Year candidate Draymond Green sat for this one. 

 

 

But Draymond, as he’s wont to do, still made his presence felt. When asked by reporters about his reason for missing action (rest) Green said, “I’ve got Blake-itis,” taking a jab at Griffin.

 

Dubs coach Steve Kerr also beamed confidence before the game, stating matter-of-factly that "this game is really important to them. It's more important to them than it is to us… If this meant anything,” he said about Green, “we would play him.”

 

The Clippers have been playing very well this spring, coming into the game against G.S. on a seven-game winning streak. But what the Warriors are doing is singular, historical, special. They’ve now won ten games in a row when their regular season stakes are all but risen to zero, because they’re a cocky, destructive winning machine now. At 61-13, they’re still in the running for one of the league’s all-time best records.

 

Can anyone in the West hope to beat them?

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

(h/t Diamond Leung, Bay Area News Group)

 

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, April 1, 2015 - 09:59
All taxonomy terms: Sergio Garcia, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-6-sergio-garcia
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 6: Sergio Garcia

 

Born: Jan. 9, 1980, Borriol, Castellon, Spain | Career PGA Tour Wins: 8 (11 on the European Tour) | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $4,939,606 (5th) World Ranking: 8

2014 Key Stats:

      Scoring Average (Actual): 69.38 (2nd)

      Strokes Gained, Total: 1.984 (2nd)

      Scrambling: 66.67% (2nd)

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Garcia is no longer called El Nino (“the little boy”), as he was referred to when he first skipped-jumped into golf stardom at the age of 19. Nor is he El Jefe (“the boss”) as the world of golf might have thought he would’ve grown into by the age of 34. What he is, is a victim of his own early success and exuberance. It seems that nothing that he has ever achieved has been good enough for his critics — nor, at times, for him. Chronologically cursed to play in his youth against Tiger Woods and now as a thirtysomething against Rory McIlroy, he plays the role of immensely talented supporting player to superstars, a similar fate to ‘70s players Tom Weiskopf and Bruce Crampton. Those two had the misfortune to play when Jack Nicklaus was playing his best as well, leaving them both endlessly frustrated, which is not an unfamiliar disposition for Sergio. In recent years though, Garcia’s smile and his game have returned, perhaps in conjunction with his newfound aptitude around and on the greens to complement his genius from tee to green. Only Rory had a lower scoring average than Sergio in 2014 and only Jim Furyk was able to get up and down around the greens more frequently than the talented Spaniard. With the U.S. Open being played at Chambers Bay on the Puget Sound southwest of Tacoma, Wash., and the PGA Championship being played at Whistling Straights on Lake Michigan, links golf will be rewarded more than usual in 2015, and given his penchant for that style of play, so too might Garcia.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 65
Wins: 0

2014 Performance:
Masters - Cut
U.S. Open - T35
British Open - T2
PGA Championship - T35

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T4 (2004)
U.S. Open - T3 (2005)
British Open - 2/T2 (2007, '14)
PGA Championship - 2/T2 (1999, 2008)
Top-10 Finishes: 19
Top-25 Finishes: 28
Missed Cuts: 18

 

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, April 1, 2015 - 09:49
All taxonomy terms: New York Knicks, NBA
Path: /nba/phil-jackson-sends-video-letter-knicks-ticket-holders
Body:

It’s been a historically bad year for the New York Knicks. At 14-60, they’re the worst team in the NBA, with little sight of Carmelo Anthony or any other recognizable star at Madison Square Garden for months.

 

Maybe that’s a good thing, though. Team executive Phil Jackson is hoping season ticket holders can believe so, anyway.

 

In a recent video letter from Jackson to the Knicks’ customers, he made sure to mention that the Knicks, for the first time in a long time, will have a top pick in June’s draft, and enough cap space to lure a big-name free agent. The bottoming out of 2014-15, unsightly as its been, is laden with silver linings; this is what it takes to move on from the bloated mistakes of years past, goes the argument.

 

"We have a clear plan and expect our efforts to take really take shape as we enter the 2015 draft and free agency in the months ahead," Jackson said in the video, as reported by ESPN’s Ian Begley. "I ask that you remain optimistic and hope you will join us on our continued journey as we build a team that once again reflects the spirit of being a New York Knick.”

 

Of course, “the spirit of being a New York Knick” hasn’t meant anything too honorable for the better part of the young century. Skeptics of the team and Jackson’s vision for the future will be quick to note that large salary offers and the glitz of Manhattan have only done so much to build title-worthy teams in years past, and that young talent hasn’t blossomed in New York, either.

 

Jackson, of course, has nothing to do with those sorry old campaigns — only his own, inaugural folly of the 2014-15 season. He deserves fair judgment, to be sure, but the chips are stacked way against the Zen Master as he strives to break the Knicks’ curse.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, March 31, 2015 - 17:01
Path: /nba/raptors%E2%80%99-derozan-scores-42-bests-childhood-friend-james-harden
Body:

Los Angeles is the basketball capital of the world. The home of the Lakers, the sport’s most storied franchise, is also the breeding ground for many of the NBA’s best ballers, and will likely continue to be for a long, long time.

 

Two of the most notable current alumni of the city of angels squared off in Toronto last night, and got to reawaken some friendly childhood rivalry while they did so. DeMar DeRozan and James Harden go way back, and DeRozan’s 42 points in a 99-96 Raptors victory over the Houston Rockets sent DeRozan into some delightful nostalgia about their bond.

 

"He didn't have no beard back then," DeRozan kidded about Harden, after the win. "It's definitely cool because we've been playing against each other since we were kids. That’s one of my close friends in the league to this day. I'm close to his family, he's close to my family, so it's always cool. Now we can cherish this 20 years from now, 30 years from now, just joking, you know, have fun together."

 

DeMar, of course, might end up cherishing it more than James. Harden’s 31 points, five rebounds and five assists weren’t enough to push Houston to a road victory, one they needed in their race toward optimal playoff seeding. As the Western Conference standings lie today, they’re in the conference’s No. 3 spot, and would face the San Antonio Spurs in the first round. Taking the second position from the Memphis Grizzlies would net them the much more beatable Dallas Mavericks.

Toronto, meanwhile, is trying to bump up from No. 4 in the East, and displace the three-seeded Chicago Bulls. As it stands, they’d face John Wall and the Washington Wizards to start the playoffs. If they can get ahead of Chicago, though, they’ll go up against the unseasoned Milwaukee Bucks. Stay tuned as these races develop.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, March 31, 2015 - 10:06
All taxonomy terms: Martin Kaymer, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-7-martin-kaymer
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 7: Martin Kaymer

 

Born: Dec. 28, 1984, Dusseldorf, West Germany | Career PGA Tour Wins: 3 (11 on the European Tour) | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 2 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $4,532,537 (10th) World Ranking: 13

2014 Key Stats:

      Approaches from 125-150 Yards: 19’6” (3rd)

      All Around Ranking: 480 (28th)

      Strokes Gained, Putting: -.114 (120th)

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Kaymer has one of the most fluid swings in the game today; his move is a perfect combination of elegance and fury. When he is winning, as he did wire-to-wire last year at both The Players and the U.S. Open (the latter by eight shots), one wonders how it is that he doesn't win every week. If he improves his short game, which is the main reason he struggles at Augusta National and fails to contend when he is not spot on tee to green, then he could become as consistent as he is brilliant. This year’s majors line up well for him, as the PGA Championship returns to Whistling Straits, site of his first major win in 2010, and The Open goes to St. Andrews, where he finished seventh during that same year.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 28
Wins: 2

2014 Performance:
Masters - T31
U.S. Open - 1
British Open - 70
PGA Championship - Cut

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T31 (2014)
U.S. Open - 1 (2014)
British Open - T7 (2010)
PGA Championship - 1 (2010)
Top-10 Finishes: 5
Top-25 Finishes: 7
Missed Cuts: 10

 

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, March 31, 2015 - 09:58
All taxonomy terms: Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks, NBA
Path: /nba/bucks-guard-khris-middleton-breakout-star
Body:

Among the NBA’s most devoted followers, one previously obscure name keeps coming up, over and over again, throughout the 2014-15 season: Khris Middleton.

 

The Milwaukee Bucks shooting guard has swiftly become one of the game’s most admired young players, modestly developing into one of the best “three-and-D” guards in the league. He has the best defensive real plus-minus among anyone at his position, and shoots 41 percent from deep. He’s also quite adept at creating his own shots.

 

An alumni of Texas A&M and the D-League’s Fort Wayne Mad Ants — where the Detroit Pistons had him assigned in 2012, before trading him to Milwaukee — Middleton is headed for restricted free agency this summer. The Bucks can match any offer sheet a competing team may send his way, and they’re likely thanking their lucky stars for that.

 

Middleton has improved consistently under new head coach Jason Kidd, with his star peaking when he hit one of the season’s most memorable shots against the Miami Heat last week. Here’s his buzzer-beating game-winner, which sent the Bradley Center into a tizzy:

 

The shot was not only exciting in isolation — it also carried big playoff implications. The Bucks have struggled to hold onto their seed since a roster mixup at the trade deadline, in which they sent Brandon Knight to the Phoenix Suns in a multi-team trade that netted them Michael Carter-Williams from the Philadelphia 76ers.

 

 

Losing Knight hurt in the short term, but it was done in anticipation of free agency. The Bucks calculated that they didn’t want to pay both Knight and Middleton big money, so they opted to carve out a space in their purse for Middleton, instead. Alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker, the guard is part of one of the most promising young trios in all of the NBA.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 30, 2015 - 14:14
Path: /nba/ranking-nba-playoffs%E2%80%99-biggest-x-factor-players
Body:

6. DeMarre Carroll, Atlanta Hawks

If the Cleveland Cavaliers can be stopped from reaching the NBA Finals, Carroll might have more to do with it than anyone. He’s been the closest thing to a LeBron James antidote this season, holding James relatively in check through three Hawks victories over the Cavs since November. Carroll’s peripheral role in the Hawks’ offense — in which he usually takes the fewest shots among fellow starters — means he’s one of the less noticeable players to the casual eye. But his defense on the wing could very well prove to be the fulcrum that decides whether LeBron can make it five straight trips to the championship round.

 

5. Nikola Mirotic, Chicago Bulls

It’s not often that you see a rookie like Nikola Mirotic. The 24-year-old has already been the MVP in one of the better non-NBA pro leagues, in Spain, and now he’s a serious difference maker for an American contender. In March, Mirotic has been the Bulls’ saving grace through injury issues, averaging 20.8 points per game off the bench, often acting as the team’s deadly closer as he lights it up in the fourth quarter. Tom Thibodeau and Co. have found especially compelling use of the Montengro native by occasionally slotting his 6’10” frame into the small forward spot — a role made possible by Mirotic’s unusual mobility for his size.

 

4. Timofey Mozgov, Cleveland Cavaliers

If there was an annual award for “best role player,” Mozgov would be in contention for this season’s trophy. The Russian center has filled huge dividends since coming over from the Denver Nuggets in a winter trade. Cleveland needed someone who’d be happy to do dirty work down low on defense, and act as a screen-setting pylon on offense — and to be okay without the ball in his hands very often. Mozgov has more than risen to that task, as the Cavs have thrived with him in the lineup as their thunderous, selfless tree.

 

3. Andrew Bogut, Golden State Warriors

The Warriors have been basketball’s best team this year, and the competition hasn’t been especially close behind them. Golden State’s +10.9 point differential is the stuff of legends, and nothing like it has been seen since the Boston Celtics’ magical first year with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen — an outfit that finished the season with a +10.2 difference. Bogut is the least recognized piece of the Warriors’ equation, but he’ll likely be their second-most important player behind MVP candidate Steph Curry in their race to an NBA title. His robust rim protection and uncanny wingman skills as a seven-footer are what can take the Warriors to the extra level they’ll need to squeak by the defending champion Spurs.

 

2. Jeff Green, Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies’ midseason trade for Jeff Green makes total sense, in a vacuum. The former Celtics’ wing is an able scorer, and Memphis was able to get him for relatively little. But the strength of the Grizzlies lies in their cohesive, steely core, and Green hasn’t been an entirely natural fit in their typically bone-crunching defense. Green has remained a minus defender as he’s switched from green jersey to blue. And while’s certainly helped their spacing on offense, the playoffs will truly tell us whether the Grizzlies’ identity barter was a worthwhile endeavor.

 

1. Boris Diaw, San Antonio Spurs

Don’t look now, but the Spurs are beautiful again. The defending champions appeared to be struck by an unusually large dose of malaise for much of the season, but in March they’ve gone 11-3 as they’ve manhandled more than one fellow playoff team. The Spurs are undeniably back in the title mix with their suddenly revitalized chemistry, and everyone knows that Diaw will be the extra-difficult piece of the puzzle to account for. At an agile, hyper-intelligent 250 pounds, Boris creates headaches for wingmen all over the league, and no team is better suited to capitalize on his very rare skill set like San Antonio is.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 30, 2015 - 10:41
All taxonomy terms: Rickie Fowler, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-8-rickie-fowler
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 8: Rickie Fowler

 

Born: Dec. 13, 1988, Murrieta, Calif. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 1 | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 0 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $4,532,537 (10th) World Ranking: 12

2014 Key Stats:

      Bounce Back: 24.07% (9th)

      Putting from 5-15’: 50.36% (7th)

      Scrambling from the Rough: 61.27% (15th)

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Fowler works under the tutelage of Butch Harmon, who is as much a sport psychologist as he is teacher. With Harmon, Fowler has retooled his very idiosyncratic golf swing to become more consistent, and in a very short period of time, he laid the groundwork for one of the most memorable years in the majors that the game has ever seen. Only Jack Nicklaus in 1971 and 1975 and Tiger Woods in 2000 and 2005 were able to do what Rickie Fowler did in 2014 — finish in the top five in all four of the game’s biggest events. Of course, both Nicklaus and Woods won majors in those years, and the best finish Rickie could muster was a runner-up in both the U.S. Open and Open Championship, but the conclusion to draw from those finishes is a big 2015 for the 26-year-old. Increased clubhead speed, improved putting and an uptempo freedom to his play give Fowler the aura of a superstar that belies his lone PGA Tour victory, but that win total will increase this year and be more commensurate with his stature in the game.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 20
Wins: 0

2014 Performance:
Masters - T5
U.S. Open - T2
British Open - T2
PGA Championship - T3

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T5 (2014)
U.S. Open - T2 (2014)
British Open - T2 (2014)
PGA Championship - T3 (2014)
Top-10 Finishes: 6
Top-25 Finishes: 8
Missed Cuts: 4

 

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 30, 2015 - 10:31

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