Monthly Archive 26 February 2024


Celtics, Timberwolves lead new Power Rankings as NBA returns; Predicting expanded CFP field

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🏀 Good morning to everyone but especially …
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After a week away for the All-Star break, the NBA returns tonight, and Colin Ward-Henninger has new Power Rankings, complete with one reason for hope or concern. Here’s his top five:

Celtics (previous: 1) — “Reason for concern: The Celtics are obviously an excellent basketball team, but if the goal is a championship it’s time to nitpick. Boston simply doesn’t get to the rim.”
Timberwolves (2) — “Reason for hope: Minnesota has the best record in the NBA (23-11) against teams above .500.”
Thunder (9) — “Reason for concern: OKC’s offense has been downright bad without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on the floor. They score a ridiculous 122 points per 100 possessions with him on the court, but that falls to 111 with him on the bench.”
Clippers (5) — “Reason for hope: When Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are on the floor the Clippers are virtually unstoppable. They score 122 points per 100 possessions in Leonard and George’s minutes, while allowing just 108.”
Cavaliers (3) — “Reason for concern: The Cavs have been the league’s hottest team since Jan. 1, rattling off an 18-3 record. But, if you look closely, you’ll see a lot of wins are over the NBA’s bottom-dwellers.”
As for five storylines to watch … here are mine:

Where do the Lakers and Warriors end up? They’re currently ninth and 10th in the Western Conference — the final two spots in the play-in — and a postseason without LeBron James and/or Stephen Curry would be odd. But the play (and emotional status) of Draymond Green may ultimately be the determining factor.
When does Joel Embiid return, if at all? The 76ers are fifth in the East but haven’t had Embiid since late January due to a meniscus injury. They’re 26-8 when he plays and 6-14 when he doesn’t.
Who wins the West? The Celtics are running away with the East, but in the West, the Timberwolves are up just 1.5 games on the Thunder, two games on the Clippers and three games on the defending champion Nuggets.
What’s up with the Bucks? They’re the elephant in the room. They fired Adrian Griffin despite a 30-13 start. Successor Doc Rivers is just 3-7. But, hey, at least he has the support of Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Who wins MVP and the other individual honors? Remember, the 65-game minimum has already ruled out several potential candidates.
With under two months left in the regular season, buckle up and enjoy the ride.

😁 Honorable mentions
Five-star 2024 center Derik Queen committed to Maryland.
Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant and Luc Longley announced a “No Bull” tour. Michael Jordan will surely be a big talking point.
Jonny Brodzinski and the Rangers agreed to a two-year extension.
Eric Hosmer called it a career.
Speaking of former Royals, Kelvin Herrera was elected mayor of his hometown.
⚽ And not such a good morning for …
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Arsenal came into Wednesday’s match against Porto riding high, and rightfully so. The Gunners had won five straight Premier League matches, outscoring opponents 21-2 over the span. Surely that would carry over to the Champions League against a susceptible defense, right?


Galeno curled in a stunning effort in the 94th minute to beat the Gunners, 1-0. Arguably even more stunning? Arsenal put exactly zero shots on goal, a far, far cry from the attack that was running rampant recently. You can blame Gabriel Martinelli, who gave the ball away late, blame the attackers and blame manager Mikel Arteta. But at the end of the day, inexperience was a deciding factor, James Benge writes.

Benge: “This was Arsenal’s junior moment, a young side, many of whom were playing in their first Champions League knockout game, failing to appreciate that it was only halftime in the tie, as the old cliche goes. Better to preserve parity before you get them back on your ground.”
Chuck Booth dropped the Gunners from third to eighth in his Champions League Power Rankings. Here’s the top five:

Manchester City (previous: 1)
Real Madrid (2)
Inter (5)
PSG (8)
Lazio (14)
Meanwhile, Napoli and Barcelona drew, 1-1, with star strikers Robert Lewandowski and Victor Osimhen trading second-half goals.

😕 Not so honorable mentions
The Mavericks missed out on keeping Jalen Brunson for cheap … twice.
Sorry, Expos fans: Netflix is making a documentary about the team’s downfall.
🏈 Predicting the 12-team 2024 College Football Playoff
Now that the 5+7 model is official, it’s prediction time. Chip Patterson made his early prediction on the 2024 playoff field.

The first thing that caught my eye? In an even more loaded SEC, there’s a familiar name at No. 1.

Patterson: “1. Georgia (SEC champion): Pre-spring practice ratings of the top teams in college football have Georgia at No. 1, and then there’s a gap before you get to the more interesting discussions about teams Nos. 2-4. Quarterback Carson Beck returns after leading the Bulldogs offense to stellar and often overlooked results in 2023, and after missing the playoff due in part to some rough injury luck, there will be no motivational issues in the 2024 season.”
The SEC and Big Ten both put four teams in Chip’s predicted field.

Oh, and by the way, now that we’re finally expanding to 12 … the CFP Management Committee is exploring expanding to 14.

🏈 Pete Prisco’s Top 100 NFL free agents, ranked
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We’re officially inside of three weeks until the start of NFL free agency, and that means lots of big names potentially hitting the market. Pete Prisco has graciously ranked the top 100 players who could be available, and here’s his top six:

Kirk Cousins, QB, Vikings
Chris Jones, DE, Chiefs
Josh Allen, LB, Jaguars
Justin Madubuike, DT, Ravens
Danielle Hunter, DE, Vikings
L’Jarius Sneed, CB, Chiefs
You’ll notice I included six instead of my normal five, and that’s because Sneed is too good to not get a mention here. Plus, how Kansas City manages Jones’ and Sneed’s free agencies could play a major role in the Chiefs’ quest to be the first NFL team to achieve the elusive three-peat.

As for some other good players you should know who didn’t make the top six …

  1. Saquon Barkley, RB, Giants — His position didn’t help his ranking, but I’m convinced Barkley can have a Christian McCaffrey-esque impact on the right team. Imagine him surrounded by a legit passing attack and a legit offensive line.
  2. Bryce Huff, DE, Jets and 83. Josh Uche, LB, Patriots — Pass-rush specialists are always helpful. Neither Huff nor Uche play a ton of snaps, but they make them count: Only Micah Parsons had a better pressure rate than Huff last year (min. 200 pass-rush snaps), and Uche led the category in 2022.
    Here’s our free agency primer for all 32 teams.

⚾ Five MLB teams that could make the playoffs in 2024 after missing out in 2023
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Believe it or not, there is baseball on TV today. The Dodgers and Padres open spring training game action, and while Shohei Ohtani won’t play, it’s a welcome reminder that Opening Day isn’t far away — and Ohtani is on track to be back by then.

Hope springs eternal — no pun intended — and Mike Axisa is feeling the good vibes with five teams that could make the 2024 playoffs after missing the postseason last year, including …

Axisa: “1. Yankees: That 82-80 finish prompted the Yankees to attack their weaknesses in a meaningful way. Juan Soto was the best hitter to change teams this offseason, and New York also added Alex Verdugo to improve an outfield that was very weak in the two non-Aaron Judge spots last year. Also, they are two high-contact lefty bats, something the Yankees sorely lacked. Marcus Stroman provides stability in the middle of the rotation and the ability to keep the ball in the park at homer-happy Yankee Stadium.”
Mike also mentions that the Yankees should be much healthier this year, and one of those players returning is among Mike’s 10 players whose return from injury could impact the playoff race.

R.J. Anderson, meanwhile, has teams that could miss the postseason after making it in 2023.

📺 What we’re watching Thursday
⚾ Dodgers vs. Padres, 3:10 p.m. on ESPN
🏀 Rutgers at No. 3 Purdue (M), 7 p.m. on FS1
🏀 Alabama at No. 1 South Carolina (W), 7 p.m. on SEC Network
🏒 Capitals at Lightning, 7 p.m. on ESPN
🏀 Suns at Mavericks, 7:30 p.m. on TNT
🏀 No. 4 Iowa at No. 14 Indiana (W), 8 p.m. on Peacock
🏀 No. 6 NC State at North Carolina (W), 8 p.m. on ACC Network
🏀 No. 18 Utah at No. 12 UCLA (W), 9:30 p.m. on ESPN
🏀 Lakers at Warriors, 10 p.m. on TNT
🏀 No. 21 Washington State at No. 4 Arizona (M), 11 p.m. on FS1


2024 NBA picks, Feb. 22 best bets from proven computer model

The Boston Celtics (43-12) will try to extend their six-game winning streak when they face the Chicago Bulls on Thursday night. Boston’s most recent outing was a 136-86 blowout win over the Nets last Wednesday, and the Celtics are six games ahead of Cleveland for first place in the Eastern Conference. Chicago lost two of its final three games before the All-Star break, including a 108-105 setback at Cleveland last Wednesday. The Bulls are in ninth place in the conference, sitting four games behind eighth-place Orlando.

Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. ET on Thursday at the United Center. The Celtics are favored by 8.5 points in the latest Bulls vs. Celtics odds, while the over/under is 225.5 points per SportsLine consensus. Before entering any Celtics vs. Bulls picks, you’ll want to see the NBA predictions from the model at SportsLine.

The SportsLine Projection Model simulates every NBA game 10,000 times and has returned well over $10,000 in profit for $100 players on its top-rated NBA picks over the past five-plus seasons. The model enters Week 18 of the 2023-24 NBA season on a sizzling 60-36 roll on all top-rated NBA picks this season, returning nearly $2,300. Anyone following it has seen huge returns.

The model has set its sights on Boston vs. Chicago. You can head to SportsLine to see its picks. Here are several NBA betting lines for the game:

Bulls vs. Celtics spread: Bulls +8.5
Bulls vs. Celtics over/under: 225.5 points
Bulls vs. Celtics money line: Bulls: +274, Celtics: -342
Bulls vs. Celtics picks: See picks here
Why the Bulls can cover
Chicago will be excited for a chance to play against the top team in the Eastern Conference at home, especially since it has not played at the United Center since Feb. 6. The Bulls beat the Western Conference-leading Timberwolves as 5.5 underdogs in that outing, powered by 33 points apiece from DeMar DeRozan and Coby White. They trailed by 23 points in that game before rallying for an impressive victory.

Veteran Andre Drummond had 16 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks, while Nikola Vucevic added 24 points. The Bulls picked up wins at Memphis and Atlanta during their four-game road trip, and every game matters with their current playoff positioning. They have covered the spread in four of their last five games, while the Celtics have only covered twice in their last 10 contests.

Why the Celtics can cover
Boston has won eight straight games against Eastern Conference opponents and has won six consecutive games overall. The Celtics closed the first half of the season with a 136-86 win over Brooklyn last Wednesday, giving Joe Mazzulla his 100th win as the head coach. Point guard Payton Pritchard, who is only averaging 8.1 points per game, poured in 28 points in the win over the Nets.

All-Stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown combined for 56 points in the East’s win over the West in the All-Star Game, adding to their momentum. The Celtics have five players averaging double digits, led by Tatum (27.1 points per game) and Brown (22.0). Chicago has not been over the .500 mark this season and has only covered the spread three times in its last 11 games against Atlantic Division opponents. See which team to pick here.

How to make Bulls vs. Celtics picks
The model has simulated Celtics vs. Bulls 10,000 times and the results are in. We can tell you that the model is leaning Under, and it’s also generated a point-spread pick that is hitting in well over 50% of simulations. You can only see the pick at SportsLine.


Lakers star out vs. Warriors with ankle issue, putting 40,000-point chase on hold

LeBron James will miss the Los Angeles Lakers’ game against the Golden State Warriors on Thursday, the team announced Wednesday. He is listed as out with left ankle peroneal tendinopathy.

James was excused from Wednesday’s practice. Before the All-Star break, he missed the Lakers’ game against the Utah Jazz last Wednesday because of the ankle issue.

On Sunday in Indianapolis, James said he got treatment “the last few days, trying to get my ankle as strong and as back to where I feel confident that I can finish off this last third of the season,” and he’d get more treatment the next day. He played only 14 minutes in the All-Star Game, all in the first half, and said that he is trying “to be as healthy as I can be physically” because “this last part of the season is very important for us.”

The Lakers have won six of their last seven games, but, because so many teams near them in the Western Conference standings have been seeing similar success, they haven’t made up much ground. With 26 games remaining in the regular season, Los Angeles is 30-26 and ninth in the West, with a slightly negative point differential. Golden State is in 10th place at 27-26.

James is averaging 24.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 7.8 assists in 34.9 minutes in his 21st season. Already the NBA’s all-time scoring leader, he is 132 points away from becoming the first player in league history to reach the 40,000-point mark James is on pace to do it in his sixth game after the break (March 4 against the Oklahoma City Thunder, assuming he’s in the lineup for every game after Thursday’s) .

Los Angeles also announced that backup big man Christian Wood has an effusion (i.e. swelling) in his left knee and will be re-evaluated in approximately two weeks. The Lakers are optimistic that this is a minor, short-term issue, according to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin.