Happy Thursday everyone!
Let’s get right to it.
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Good morning to everyone but especially to…
THE BROOKLYN NETS…
It’s a good morning for the Brooklyn Nets, and they didn’t even have to do anything to earn it. On Wednesday, New York City mayor Eric Adams said he “can’t wait” to remove the city’s vaccine mandate — a step many other major East Coast cities have already taken or are currently taking.
That means the Nets’ star point guard Kyrie Irving — who is unvaccinated and has played 14 games (all on the road) this season — could be coming back full-time sooner rather than later. This is big news for the Nets, who are eighth in the Eastern Conference and lost 12 of their final 14 games before the All-Star Break.
Brooklyn, of course, traded away James Harden for Ben Simmons (and others) and has been without Kevin Durant since Jan. 15 — though Durant is making steady progress toward a return from his knee injury. Irving’s potential full-time presence would give Brooklyn the on-ball scorer they lost in the Harden trade and ease the burden on Simmons as he adapts to his new team.
Check out the Nets’ net ratings this season:
- Durant and Irving both on court: +14.8 in 82 minutes
- Durant on court, Irving off court: +3.8 in 1,231 minutes
- Irving on court, Durant off court: -3.0 in 425 minutes
- Durant and Irving both off court: -4.4 in 1,104 minutes
Yes, it’s an extremely small sample size when both stars are on the court — too small to make too much of it — but we don’t really need numbers to know the Nets are going to be scary good when all the pieces fall into place. Until Wednesday, we didn’t know if that “when” would ever come. While we still don’t have an exact date — the vaccine mandate still needs to be overturned officially, Durant still needs to get healthy and Simmons still needs to actually play — it appears to be moving in the right direction.
… AND ALSO A GOOD MORNING TO THE PROVIDENCE FRIARS
- Jared Bynum came off the bench to score a game-high 27 points, including a huge three late in the third overtime.
- All five Providence starters also scored in double figures.
- Providence is now 23-3, and its 13 Big East wins are its most in conference play in program history
If it feels like all Providence does is play close games, you’re not wrong. This was the Friars’ 12th game this season that was decided by five points or fewer and/or went to overtime. But they don’t mind close ones: They’re 11-1 in those games.
The close game magic (or luck, or skill, or… whatever you want to call it) is creating a nightmare for the metrics: The Friars are 11th in the AP Poll but entered yesterday 28th in the NET rankings, 43rd in Kenpom and 40th in ESPN’s BPI. In the one ranking that matters most, they were 15th in Saturday’s 16-team bracket reveal — good for a 4 seed in the South region.
Living on the edge isn’t always the greatest idea — that’s why some metrics don’t love the Friars — but wins are wins, and there’s a reason they win the nail-biters more often than not. Seven of Providence’s eight rotation players are either seniors or juniors. On Saturday against Creighton, the Friars can do something they’ve never done before: win a Big East regular-season title. They’ll wake up today tired and sore, but they’ll also wake up one game away from history. That’s a good morning indeed.
- Last night’s other big college basketball winners: No. 7 Duke (at Virginia), Juwan Howard-less Michigan (over Rutgers) and Colorado State (over Wyoming).
- Zach Johnson will captain the U.S. Ryder Cup team in 2023.
Not so honorable mentions
- Marcus Stroman had some not-so-nice comments on his former team, the Mets.
- Kemba Walker and the Knicks agreed he won’t play again this season.
- Here’s what some past Olympic venues that have become abandoned look like. It’s not pretty.
NBA returns tonight: Lakers have toughest remaining schedule ?
The NBA is back tonight following the week-long All-Star Break. While it’s not really the “second half” of the season — every team has played at least 57 of their 82 games — the break did provide us some time to re-assess where things stand and what’s to come. Our NBA expert Brad Botkin took a look at the remaining strength of schedule for all 30 teams, and Lakers fans, it’s not good news.
Here are the toughest schedules remaining according to Positive Residual:
- 1. Lakers (.552)
- 2. Bulls (.552)
- 3. Warriors (.551)
- 4. Bucks (.537)
- 5. Kings (.529)
Remember, the Lakers will have to make their push (they’re currently No. 9 in the West) without Anthony Davis, who is out several weeks. On the other end of the spectrum, here are the five easiest remaining schedules:
- 26. Heat (.463)
- 27. Pacers (.461)
- 28. Cavaliers (.457)
- 29. Magic (.448)
- 30. Nuggets (.427)
Because of that — and other factors — watch out for the Nuggets, Botkin writes:
- Botkin: “Denver not only has the easiest remaining schedule, but there’s a chance Jamal Murray and/or Michael Porter Jr. will return at some point. The Nuggets are only three losses back of a top-four seed.”
Champions League recap: Draws for Atletico-Man United and Benfica-Ajax ⚽
The final two first legs of the Champions League Round of 16 took place yesterday with Atletico Madrid drawing Manchester United 1-1 and Benfica drawing Ajax 2-2. It was not the Red Devils’ strongest performance, but 19-year-old substitute Anthony Elanga made sure his squad would go back to Manchester on level terms with his strike in the 80th minute.
Meanwhile in Lisbon, it was an entertaining battle between two high-powered attacks. Thursday’s action concluded all the first legs in the Round of 16. Here’s where we stand:
- Manchester City (5) vs Sporting CP (0)
- Real Madrid (0) vs PSG (1)
- Bayern Munich (1) vs Salzburg (1)
- Liverpool (2) vs Inter Milan (0)
- Lille (0) vs Chelsea (2)
- Juventus (1) vs Villareal (1)
- Ajax (2) vs Benfica (2)
- Manchester United (1) vs Atletico Madrid (1)
If that first scoreline stood out, it should. Manchester City’s domination of Sporting has the Premier League leaders on top of soccer expert James Benge’s UCL power rankings:
- Benge: “Without living up to their own lofty standards City ripped through Sporting, all but guaranteeing themselves a spot in the last eight with a 5-0 win. The loss to Tottenham that followed in the Premier League might offer opponents something of a blueprint — drawing the press before hitting fast balls into the space behind the high line — but it will take a special performance indeed to both execute that plan and stop this devastating attack from scoring a hatful of goals.”
What we’re watching Thursday ?
? Capitals at Rangers (-1.5), 7 p.m. on ESPN
? Celtics (-7) at Nets, 7:30 p.m. on TNT
? No. 22 Ohio State at No. 15 Illinois (-6), 9 p.m. on FS1
? No. 1 Gonzaga (-9.5) at San Francisco, 9 p.m. on ESPN2
? Warriors (-9) at Trail Blazers, 10 p.m. on TNT