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Carmelo Anthony finally has a home in the National Basketball Association. It will likely be his last, but the fact that he’s in the league once again makes it a moot point. Since being unceremoniously cut by the Rockets this time last year, he had tried, and failed, to find new digs. Never mind that he remained in shape, and that, despite his advancing age, he continued to possess a knack for scoring. As even casual fans of pro hoops know, his desire to remain relevant coupled with an isolation-heavy style of play limited his purpose within the high-efficiency offenses required to keep pace in the modern era.
Rafa Nadal was on the verge of a loss, and, as he admitted in the aftermath, considering that he would shortly be leaving the court. “In that moment, what you think is probably in five minutes, you are in the locker room,” he recounted. He was down 1-5 and 30-40 in the deciding set, and, facing a determined Daniil Medvedev, figured the end was near. He hadn’t exactly been playing well, and he was realistic enough to consider a second straight setback. Yet, if there was anything he could also count on doing, it was fighting for every point with the contest still in doubt.
Kawhi Leonard’s disposition in the aftermath of the Clippers’ match the other day wasn’t that of a proud competitor who just had his worst outing of the season. In fact, he was decidedly upbeat, clearly an offshoot of the outcome. For all his travails, he helped carve victory in his new digs at the expense of the Raptors, his immediate past teammates. They had, and still have, relationships outside the court that made, and make, results on it matter. And, even on a night where he made just two of 11 shots and could have had a tainted quadruple-double had he committed another turnover with an assist, the bragging rights were his.
By all account, the Lakers weren’t supposed to lose the other day. For one thing, they were in familiar confines and out to protect a spotless record in front of yet another sellout crowd of 18,997. For another, they faced weakened opposition, and not because of the departure of Finals Most Valuable Player Kawhi Leonard. Oddsmakers pegged the Raptors as decided underdogs largely due to the absence of vital cogs Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka. Meanwhile, they were riding on a league-best seven-game win streak that, supposedly, underscored their ascendancy in the face of inspired play from their Dynamic Duo.
When the Colts headed into the 2019 season, the last thing they figured on worrying about was the kicker position. It wasn’t simply that they had pressing concerns to address, not least among them the retirement of quarterback Andrew Luck. It was that they had Adam Vinatieri, the National Football League’s leading scorer of all time, to lean on. If he stands three digits clear of second-running Morten Andersen, it’s because he has been about as automatic as they come in terms of producing points.
Tiger Woods was again in the news heading into the weekend, but not for anything inside the ropes. He found eyes trained on him as he announced the finalization of Team USA’s contingent to the Presidents Cup. As skipper for the old red, white, and blue, he couldn’t help but wade into murky waters. He made four at-large selections that were, in and of themselves, justifiable, and yet subject to second-guessing given the depth of the talent at his disposal. He could have gone any which way, but instead opted to tread a path that was alternately predictable and unfamiliar.
In September 2017, the National Basketball Association approved rules designed to prevent healthy players from skipping nationally televised matches. That the Board of Governors would thumb up the changes underscored the alarming rate with which otherwise-fit marquee names chose to sit out high-profile set-tos. Ratings were down, and with reason; casual observers stayed away because of a lack of incentive to tune in. And so the body, composed of franchise owners traditionally loath to disrupt the status quo, acted accordingly; in their desire to protect their principal product, they even granted the commissioner the power to impose fines of at least $100,000 to those found violating the spirit of the provisions.
For a while there, the Bulls looked like legitimate contenders. Despite sporting anemic advanced numbers and claiming just two victories through seven games to start the season, they managed to outperform the vaunted Lakers for much -- make that most -- of the first three quarters of yesterday’s match. Playing inspired ball from opening tip, they had the overflow crowd at the United Center engaged and primed for an upset. They were making shots and, more importantly, acting like ungracious hosts to keep the visitors, and especially hometown hero Anthony Davis, at bay.
Disappointment was evident in coach Bill Belichick’s words even though they registered in a whisper. In fact, the dismay with which he met the Patriots’ loss the other day was underscored precisely by his soft delivery. “We did a lot of things we need to do better [in],” he told the assembled media. It wasn’t simply that they suffered their first setback in 13 outings spanning parts of two seasons and including Super Bowl LIII. It was how they did so, never mind that they faced the highly regarded Ravens on the road. They looked sluggish and out of sorts from the get-go, and even through a spirited second-half run that briefly made the set-to competitive.
Forget about the final score, which wrongly indicates a one-possession outing. Yesterday’s setback was one of the worst in the Jets’ history, period. For all their travails, there can be no excusing their 18-26 loss to the considerably overmatched Dolphins. It didn’t matter that they were on the road, and that they trekked to Hard Rock Stadium mired in a three-game rut while facing injuries to key players. Once the contest was under way, they should have been in position to assert their superiority.
Gerrit Cole was not happy with the obligation. He had just witnessed the Astros -- favored to claim the World Series from the very first game of the regular season to the last, winner-take-all outing of their campaign -- bow to the supposedly overmatched Nationals, and the disappointment he felt trumped the need for him to face the media for a post-mortem. It certainly didn’t help that he knew he would be asked about his status as a free agent, the formality of his declaration available to him as early as the next day. He wanted to hightail it out of Minute Maid Park, not stay in a clubhouse wallowing in, well, emptiness.
Max Scherzer was done. He tried his best, but he simply didn’t have it on a night he was needed most. The Astros tagged him early and often yesterday, and, all things considered, he did incredibly well to post a pitch count of 103 through five innings before manager Dave Martinez decided he was done. It certainly helped that he had luck and incredible defense on his side; his relative lack of control notwithstanding, he gave up only two runs, and, if nothing else, put the Nationals in prime position to craft yet another comeback in the very last set-to of the season.
Nationals manager Dave Martinez may or may not have deserved to be thrown out of the game yesterday. He did have some choice words against umpire Sam Holbrook, who made an eminently disputable runner interference call at the top of the seventh. And he did continue his tirade after the inning was over. Still, there was no disputing the subjective nature of the arbiter’s decision, not to mention its potential to alter the World Series. In fact, it was so controversial that Major League Baseball needed over four and a half minutes -- tantamount to an eternity under the circumstances -- to uphold, and a post-match on-record explanation from chief baseball officer Joe Torre to defend.
The Eagles were in turmoil, and something -- anything -- had to be done, fast. It wasn’t simply that they lost their second straight game. It was that they lost in a blowout anew, shining the spotlight on internal disagreements that would have otherwise been deemed typical through the course of a long season. And so, as recounted by ESPN, the players held an unprecedented closed-door meeting prior to their Week Eight set-to against the dangerous Bills. “We had a lot of internal conversations, a lot of tough conversations,” veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins, an acknowledged leader, was quoted as saying.
Tiger Woods didn’t quite know what to expect this time last week. He had just gone through a skins game that was, for the most part, meaningless save for pride, and he did well enough to finish second. Still, he remained nowhere close to peak form -- or, at the very least, the form that he felt he needed to contend in the upcoming Zozo Championship. And while he showed up with a win in mind, he was a mere two months removed from arthroscopic knee surgery. Even publicly, he acknowledged the need to temper expectations, and not because he had zero knowledge of the pride of the Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club in Chiba, Japan.
Draymond Green didn’t want to talk about silver linings. After having seen the Warriors’ unfurling of their brand-spanking-new Chase Center end in an embarrassing rout, he was blunt in his assessment. “We f--king sucked,” he argued. “I’m not a moral victory kind of guy. I’m not looking for something to build off on.” And yet, seeing as how the yellow and blue will have plenty of nights like the one they just experienced, “something to build off on” is what he will need to get used to, and fast. He and two-time Most Valuable Player Steph Curry may still be around, but their presence alone isn’t going to cut it in a cutthroat Western Conference.
Kyrie Irving put on a clinic in his debut with the Nets yesterday. He was a master with the ball in his hands, showing off his repertoire of moves to torch the Timberwolves en route to posting a whopping 50 points on the board. Needless to say, the pace of the match bordered on the ridiculous, producing 209 field-goal attempts through 53 minutes of play all told. And of the aggregate, 33 were his. Still, no complaints came from head coach Kenny Atkinson or from teammates only too willing to take in the spectacle unfolding right before their eyes.
Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry wasn’t merely being polite when he argued against discounting the Raptors’ chances in the 2019-20 season. Even as he acknowledged the impact of the departure of Finals Most Valuable Player Kawhi Leonard, he noted that disaster doesn’t necessarily follow. To buttress his contention, he turned to another sport; in Major League Baseball, he pointed out, the Nationals earned a trip to the World Series despite the loss of erstwhile cornerstone Bryce Harper. “I wouldn’t count these guys out just yet,” he said.
Nope, Brooks Koepka wasn’t showing up Rory McIlroy when he told Agence France Press on the eve of the CJ Cup in South Korea that he doesn’t have a rival. True, he’s World Number One, with his buddy right next to him in the rankings. True, they both won three events in the 2018–19 season. And, true, they split the sport’s Player of the Year awards. Nonetheless, he’s in good position to contend that he’s really competing against, well, himself when he has a club in his hand. “I’m not looking at anybody behind me,” he noted. “I’ve got open road in front of me. I’m not looking in the rearview mirror, so I don’t see ... a rivalry.”
For most fans with 12 options to turn to on a busy Sunday, a match featuring division doormats appeared to hold much appeal. Under the circumstances, it was arguably among the least favorable. Certainly, it didn’t help that the Chargers and the Titans sported a mere two wins through Week Seven, and, having lost four of their last five outings, evidently without momentum on which to bank their progress. Yet, those looking for gems in the rough and willing to gamble four hours of their time following, if nothing else, opponents on equal footing wound up cashing in. Big.
No eyebrows were raised when the Raptors opted to extend Pascal Siakam’s rookie contract for another four years. Even though it came with a nine-figure paycheck, the decision was a no-brainer in light of his importance to the cause. And nothing less than the maximum figure was in the offing for him. Ben Simmons and Jamal Murray, also from the 2016 draft class, received the same despite being relatively less crucial to the competitiveness of the Sixers and Nuggets, respectively, thus setting the stage for his windfall.
Lee Ann Walker didn’t expect to win when she showed up for the first round of the Senior LPGA Championship in French Lick, Indiana. After all, she last played a full season on tour 11 years ago, and the 8,102-yard, par-72 Pete Dye course presented a challenge even regulars in the circuit were slated to be hard-pressed to meet. Still, she figured to be competitive, as she has been in any undertaking. And, above all else, she was determined to have fun; at the very least, the event gave her an opportunity to catch up with old friends and make new ones.
LeBron James knew he was going to be asked about Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s tweet in support of the Hong Kong protests. He was in China when the fallout over its posting -- and despite its subsequent deletion -- erupted and disrupted the National Basketball Association’s schedule of events in the country. He was part of the Lakers’ contingent, and while their two matches against the Nets pushed through, ancillary functions, press conferences included, did not. And, apparently, he seethed, not at all enjoying the restrictions to his movements brought about by the backlash.
Carlos Correa would later say he doesn’t remember the celebration he unleashed after he went yard in the 11th inning to tie the American League Championship Series at one apiece. Considering how sure he was all day of his capacity to deliver exactly what he did, it’s hard to believe him. After all, he kept on telling teammates -- prior to and at various stages of Game Two -- that he would be the difference maker. Never mind that an injury-riddled campaign limited him to 75 games heading into the playoffs. And forget that he had hitherto gone three of 24 in the postseason. He knew what he wanted to do from the get-go. And he knew how he wanted to do it.
The Cowboys were supposed to win -- okay, not just win, but win big. Even as they were coming off a second straight setback, they faced the seemingly hapless Jets. Never mind that they trekked to MetLife Stadium missing tackles Tyron Smith and La’el Collins and wide receiver Randall Cobb due to a variety of injuries. Their opponents were winless through the first five weeks of the National Football League’s 2019 season for a reason, and far be it for them to stop the dubious streak. Not with oddsmakers favoring them. And not on franchise owner Jerry Jones’ 77th birthday.
Zack Greinke was already handicapped from the get-go. Even as an excess-capacity crowd of 43,311 at Minute Maid Park had his back, he understood the extent of the pressure he faced. The fact that he found himself on the mound for Game One of the American League Championship Series instead of Justin Verlander or Gerrit Cole underscored the need for him to deliver. The blowout loss he suffered in his last start extended the AL Division Series and forced Astros manager A.J. Hinch to use the pitchers ahead of him in the rotation just to overcome the challenge of the supposedly overmatched Rays.
It didn’t take long for A.J. Hinch to publicly announce that Justin Verlander would be his Game Four starter. The body that was Game Three of the American League Division Series hadn’t even turned cold yet, but he felt he couldn’t take any chances. Not with the Rays, supposedly overmatched against aces, instead blitzing Zack Greinke for six runs on five hits in just three and two-thirds innings. The extension of the future Hall of Famer’s playoff woes forced the Astros manager to tap Justin Verlander in hopes of a repeat of their dominant win in the opener.
By all accounts, Ben Simmons was the star of the Sixers’ preseason match yesterday. He certainly put up a heady stat line that included eight caroms and seven dimes, not to mention 21 markers off just 14 shots. For all his usual array of close-in makes, however, his most significant score came via a contested pull-up from 27 feet out. Launched with 2.3 ticks left in the second quarter of a blowout, it got leather and nylon to meet, resulting in hearty applause from the 13,407 who trekked to the Wells Fargo Center. No matter that the score was then 79-41 against the hapless Guangzhou Long-Lions, and that, despite the coverage, he faced no pressure in taking it after milking the clock close to halftime.
Nope, the Redskins didn’t fire coach Jay Gruden due to an inability to speed up the growth process of rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins. For all the obvious expectations that come with being drafted 15th overall, he continues to be a raw commodity that figures to be spoiled if rushed to produce. And forget about the bullishness of the front office in regard to his potential; Daniel Snyder may be the reason he was plucked from Ohio State after just 14 starts, but even the franchise owner knows the value of patience. No doubt, it’s also preached because of the way he performed well below par in relief last week.
Kevin Na had been putting on a clinic for practically the entire tournament. His penultimate 18 at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open was especially remarkable; he posted a 61 -- tying the lowest number of his career -- to set the 54-hole scoring record at TPC Summerlin in Las Vegas. No doubt buoyed by familiarity with his home-state course, he weaved his magic from tee to green, and especially with his putter, through which he carved a strokes-gained stat line that showed him steering clear of the field by a whopping five and a half strokes in each of the middle rounds.
Long before tipoff yesterday at the brand-spanking-new Chase Center, hoops fans knew the Warriors-Lakers tiff would not be like any other affair on the National Basketball Association’s preseason schedule. It certainly figured to be in stark contrast to the Rockets-Clippers match two days before, otherwise highly anticipated but ending up losing a lot of star power with the sidelining of Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard, and Paul George. The need for both sides to hit the ground running negated the option of treating it as a veritable scrimmage; the looks they sported were as novel as the court they were about to play in, hence their desire to test their planned rotations before the games really do get to count.
Bi-o Kim couldn’t help himself. A flash of rage overcame him after his drive on the third-to-last hole of a tournament he was leading by the thinnest of margins managed to travel a mere 100 yards. He was bothered on his downswing by the sound of a cellphone camera in the gallery, and, angered by the result, he turned to flip the bird at the offending party, pounded his driver to the ground, and gave a death stare that would have made hardened men look away. For avid followers of the sport long used to the sight of players momentarily losing their temper, his lapse in decorum seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary.
It’s fair to argue that Jonquel Jones has had a roller-coaster ride in the pros. Since being drafted sixth overall in the 2016 WNBA draft, she has seen her stock with the Sun rise and fall from year to year. She rode her elevation to the starting lineup as a sophomore to a Most Improved Player award, only to see her role diminish once more. This season, she’s again part of the first five and making the most of her time under the, well, sun; she finished the regular season as the leading scorer and rebounder of head coach Curt Miller’s equal-opportunity system.
The eye test proved -- and, significantly, still proves -- it. Viewed from any angle, the hit that Raiders linebacker Vontaze Burfict delivered to Colts tight end Jack Doyle in the second quarter of their match the other day could not have been any more vicious. It was the premeditated helmet-to-helmet kind that invariably gets those who witness it to cringe long before impact. And even on slow motion, the intent was clear; the defensive playcaller secured momentum and, from a mere half a dozen yards away, administered a headshot to his unsuspecting target. He braced for an impact the recipient (knees to the ground after completing a catch) was not expecting, immediately drawing a flag for unnecessary roughness and then, upon review, an ejection.
Fighting Maroons head coach Bo Perasol was not immediately available for comment in the aftermath of his charges’ loss to the Blue Eagles the other day. No doubt, he needed more time to gather his thoughts; not quite halfway through the third quarter, he went through a wave of emotions that belied his usually calm self and led him to confront referee Jaime Rivano in the middle of the court. Two technical fouls and an ejection later, he became even more upset and had to be restrained and escorted to the locker room.
As expected, LeBron James was the subject of headlines over the weekend. Even with a roster also featuring six-time All-Star Anthony Davis and made more colorful by such notables as Rajon Rondo and Dwight Howard, he remained the subject of scrutiny throughout and after Media Day. From pundits to punters to scribes to spectators came variations of the same question: How much should be expected of him coming off his worst season since his first in the league 16 years ago?
It would be an understatement to argue that the Magic are bullish on Markelle Fultz. After all, they didn’t think twice about picking up his $12-million option for the 2019 -- 20 season early last week. Never mind that they could have waited until October 31 to do so. In fact, they had incentive to delay their decision on his future until the last possible moment; he had been a bust with the Sixers, who drafted him first overall in 2017, and he had yet to play a single game for them since his arrival via a trade deal in February.
The pressure was evident from the moment the Sparks announced the appointment of Derek Fisher as their head coach for the 2019 season. Christmas was just three weeks away, and yet members of the media didn’t seem to be in a giving mood. They peppered him, general manager Penny Toler, and star Candace Parker with queries on the hiring process and his capacity to meet always-outsized expectations of the proud franchise and its demanding fan base conditioned to consider success as coming with the territory. And they had reason to; after all, the purple and gold boast of three WNBA championships off five Finals appearances in 17 postseason berths.
Antonio Brown didn’t do himself any favors when he began Sunday with a series of tweets against notable National Football League personalities. Evidently still smarting from his release by the Patriots in the wake of news he sent a woman he had allegedly propositioned “intimidating” text messages, he vented on social media and directed his ire at the league and team owners in regard to existing policy on the voiding of guaranteed money. Alluding to a double standard on the enforcement of rules, he specifically mentioned Patriots honcho Robert Kraft and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s brushes with notoriety and the resulting penalties, or lack thereof, they incurred.
Considering how free agency unfolded -- particularly through the first six hours of its opening -- over the summer, the National Basketball Association Board of Governors’ approval of more stringent measures against tampering and salary-cap sidestepping was to be expected. So, too, was the unanimous vote; the league aimed to deliver a clear message in pushing for the rules changes, after all, and thumbing them down would have been tantamount to creating the opposite impression. Even as there may have been reasonable cause to say no, doing so would have opened franchises up to the perception that they intended to skirt the law.
Clippers head coach Doc Rivers didn’t really reveal anything new in his interview with the Los Angeles Times early last week. Certainly, he was forthright and candid as he recounted to columnist Arash Markazi details behind Kawhi Leonard’s decision to head to “the other tenant” of Staples Center last July. Then again, he disclosed nothing of substance. Even casual observers knew the season-long courtship that occurred between franchise and primary target, and to a point, he said, where “we were warned that no more Clippers players, coaches, or employees could go to games in Toronto. We were sending guys to go sit in the stands.”
Isaiah Thomas just can’t seem to catch a break. Just when he looked primed for a comeback season with the Wizards, he found his preparations derailed by an injury during an otherwise-routine workout early this week. Tests revealed him to have torn the radial collateral ligament in his left thumb, requiring surgery and convalescence for the next eight weeks. Nonetheless, he was typically upbeat, noting in a tweet that he “[h]urt my damn thumb tryna play defense... Never again lol never again!” No doubt, his positive disposition was likewise spurred by prognoses that he, in general manager Thomas Sheppard’s words, will “make a full recovery.”
Not a few eyebrows were raised when Europe captain to the Solheim Cup Catriona Matthew used one of four at-large selections on Suzann Pettersen. After all, the latter was just eight weeks removed from a long -- okay, extra-long, at north of 600 days -- lay-off due to pregnancy and childbirth. Parenthetically, nothing in those eight weeks suggested the 38-year-old Norwegian’s form was ready for the rigors of match play in the sport’s preeminent team-based spectacle; to the contrary, two missed cuts and a 59th-place showing in three events gave all indications that rust remained a factor for the two-time major winner.
It’s a testament to the continued pull of Michael Jordan that he continues to command top billing even when mentioned alongside other marquee figures. Anything he does becomes fodder for hoops habitues, never mind that he hasn’t played competitively since April 2003, and that his transition to the front office as the principal investor of the Hornets has been far from smooth and successful. Not that it’s surprising; after all, he’s the best of the best of all time, and his image and likeness adorn the Jordan Brand line of Nike gear that netted close to $3 billion in revenues last year.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was understandably cautious in assessing new acquisition Antonio Brown’s progress on the field prior to yesterday’s match. Just a week removed from inking a contract that would net him $15 million for the 2019 campaign, he couldn’t possibly know all the play calls of the defending champions heading into yesterday’s set-to. “A long way to go,” the bench tactician told members of the media after practice Friday. “The systems that he’s been in are quite different ... He’s working hard to pick [ours] up, and we’re working hard to get it to him.”