Chiefs OL Jeff Allen is doing something awesome for a homeless fan who helped him

Kansas City Chiefs guard Jeff Allen had an issue while trying to get to Saturday’s wild-card game in Kansas City – his car got stuck in the snow.
But then something awesome happened as a stranger jumped in to help, which led to a great story:

Thanks to the power of Twitter, Dave was found:

And it gets even more special:

Dave will now get to have a day he’ll never forget next Sunday, as he’ll be at Arrowhead cheering on his Chiefs as they take on the Patriots in the AFC title game.

It’s always great to be reminded that there are good people on this planet and Dave and Jeff Allen are certainly two of those people.

Original Article

By: Andy Nesbitt

Celtics’ locker room reportedly split amid recent struggles

The Celtics’ disappointing season may have split the locker room between veterans and some of the young players who helped reach the conference finals last year, suggests Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated (hat tip to Darren Hartwell of NBC Sports Boston).

The Eastern Conference favorites heading into the season, the Celtics are in fifth place at 25-17 as some players have been resistant to accepting new roles with the return of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward from injuries.

“It does seem like there’s a divide in that locker room between the veterans on that team and the younger players on that team,”  Mannix said Saturday on the Celtics’ post-game show. “I don’t know how big that divide is, how significant it is, is it fractured? But there does seem to be kind of a chasm that exists between those two sides.”

Boston is coming off a disastrous trip to Florida that included two losses and a pair of incidents that brought the internal conflicts to light. Marcus Morris and Jaylen Brown exchanged words during a timeout Thursday in Miami, and Irving was visibly upset after an unsuccessful play at the end of last night’s game in Orlando.

here’s more today from Boston:

  • Irving seemed to take a shot at his younger teammates in post-game comments Saturday, saying the Celtics are lacking the “experience” it takes to compete for a title, relays Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston. “You’ve got to appreciate being out there and just competing,”  Irving said as part of a long answer on why the team has gone through peaks and valleys. “It doesn’t matter who you’re going against. It matters the type of preparation you have, what you’re going out and trying to accomplish. What’s the big picture? What are we doing here? These are things I don’t think some of my teammates have faced just every single day. It’s not easy to be great.”
  • Morris’ brand of leadership is exactly what the team needs, contends A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston. In addition to being the Celtics’ most consistent player throughout the season, Morris has lived up to his reputation for being willing to confront teammates who he believes aren’t giving their best effort. “To be the team we want to be, we have to be open with each other and be able to discuss things that are going on, on the court,” Morris said. “If it leads to a little bumping, pushing and shoving … it’s nothing. You move past that type of stuff and keep going.”
  • Terry Rozier had another bad performance last night, missing all five of his shots in 17 minutes, and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge may have missed his best chance to trade him, writes Keith Smith on CelticsBlog. Rozier will be a restricted free agent this summer.

Original Article

By: Arthur Hill

White Sox have made eight-year offer to Manny Machado

The White Sox have offered an eight-year contract to free agent infielder Manny Machado, ESPN.com’s Jeff Passan reports. We heard last week that Chicago had formally put an offer on the table for Machado, as per USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, though it isn’t known if this eight-year pact is that same deal, or if the Sox have upped their offer. That previous deal was “likely closer to $200 million than $300 million” in Nightengale’s words.

The eight-year threshold seemingly represents a new step in the ongoing talks between Machado and the White Sox, as 670 The Score’s Bruce Levine had previously reported that the Sox were only willing to hand out seven-year deals to either Machado or Bryce Harper. The White Sox now seem to be a bit closer to Machado’s desire for at least a decade-long contract, though if he is “sitting on” Chicago’s offer, as Passan writes, it indicates that Machado is still holding out to see if another team can top the White Sox with a longer and more expensive offer.

There seem to be at least three suitors in play for Machado at this time, as Passan notes that the White Sox and Phillies (who are “still engaged” with Machado) have been told that a mystery team is also interested. The Yankees have been linked to Machado this winter, though they might not be the third suitor, as recent reports seem to indicate a waning interest in Machado’s services.

If the Yankees are indeed out, and the Phillies have now become the favorites to land Bryce Harper, Machado could find himself down to just two suitors.

It’s anyone’s guess, of course, about who the mystery team could be or what they might be willing to offer (or if the team exists at all, and isn’t just a negotiating tactic by Machado’s camp). While Passan suggests that Chicago’s willingness to go to eight years could indicate some flexibility to add a ninth or even a 10th year to an offer, the White Sox might not feel such pressure if they perceive that they already have the highest bid. The White Sox have already sailed well above their financial comfort zone in bidding on Machado — an eight-year deal in the $200 million-plus range dwarfs the previous largest deal in franchise history: Jose Abreu’s six-year, $68 million pact.

Original Article

By: Mark pollshuk

Alshon Jeffery played through cracked ribs on Sunday

For the second consecutive year, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery put his body on the line and played through extensive pain in the playoffs.

While it didn’t have a fairy tale ending this time, as Jeffery’s drop turned into a game-sealing interception, the veteran showed how much he is willing to put on the line for his teammates.

Jeffery hung around immediately after the game to answer questions from reporters about his huge drop on the final drive. What he didn’t reveal was a diagnosis from earlier in the week that he has several cracked ribs.

It’s no wonder Jeffery’s teammates quickly went to bat for him after the game. He played a deciding role in Philadelphia’s Super Bowl win over the New England Patriots last season with a torn rotator cuff.

The 28-year-old is clearly one of the most respected and beloved players in Philadelphia’s locker room. Even after a crushing loss with a missed opportunity he’ll never forget, Jeffery should remain beloved by the team, city and fan base as a true representation of everything Philadelphia represents.

Original Article

By: Matt johnson

Winners and losers from the Divisional Round of the 2019 NFL playoffs

The Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs got underway Saturday night with the AFC’s top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs in action against the Indianapolis Colts. A week off did nothing to slow the Chiefs’ offensive momentum.

Led by Patrick Mahomes, who did not find his first career playoff start nearly as intimidating as the pundits thought he would, the Chiefs jumped out to a 24-7 lead in the first half, and never looked back. The Colts hardly looked ready to play, nothing like the team that rode a 10-1 streak into the weekend. The Chiefs went on to win by a final score of 31-13.

The Cowboys and Rams met in LA for the late game on Saturday night to decide the first of the NFC Championship entrants. The Rams’ running game had no troubles against a usually stout Cowboys defense, and the home team rolled on for a 30-22 win.

On Sunday, the Patriots had no problems running around and through the Chargers, winning 41-28 to lock down their eighth consecutive appearance in the AFC Championship game.

The Saints turned aside the Eagles, sinking their hope of a Super Bowl repeat with a 20-14 win in New Orleans. The Saints will host the Rams there next weekend.

Winner: Michael Thomas

The postseason hasn’t been filled with inspiring performances from offensive skill players. But the Saints wide receiver changed that. He and Drew Brees single-handedly got the Saints offense rolling again after a slow start. His best catch of the day — and there were A LOT of them — was on the Saints’ go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter. Just watch it.

https://twitter.com/NFL/status/1084599206159908864

He finished the game with 171 yards and a touchdown on 12 catches.

Loser: Nick Foles’ magic

You can’t impugn what the guy did prior to this game. The Eagles wouldn’t have been playing this weekend, or last, if Foles hadn’t stepped up as the team’s “closer” again this season with Carson Wentz hurt. But he turned into a pumpkin again, underthrowing his receivers and just unable to get the ball to his receivers when the Eagles needed it the most.

With free agency looming this spring, Foles may have cost himself some money with his performance this week, maybe not much, but enough to notice.

Winner: Time of possession

It feels like we haven’t had a good conversation about time of possession since the early days of the Chip Kelly experience in Philly. This time it was the Saints putting on the clock clinic.

It happened in the third quarter. Trailing 10-14, the Saints got the ball at their own 8-yard line. From there they put together a grinding 92-yard touchdown drive over 18 plays and 11:29 minutes, essentially monopolizing the entire third quarter.

Winner: The Patriots defense

Absent most of the season, the Patriots defense looked like one of the NFL’s most fearsome in the first half of the game. Philip Rivers never had a chance against a pass rush that was previously dormant.

Loser: Philip Rivers’ legacy

He’s got more yards, more touchdowns and fewer interceptions over the course of his career than either Eli Manning or Ben Roethlisberger, but unlike those other two first-round picks from the 2004 draft, he does not have a Super Bowl ring. Instead, he and J.P. Losman have something in common.

Winner: Patriots running backs

The Chargers defense put on a clinic for how to stop a creative running game in last week’s win against the Ravens. Apparently, Patriots OC Josh McDaniels was able to find some holes in their game plan.

Sony Michel rolled up nearly 100 yards and scored three touchdowns … in the first half. He’s the first rookie running back in franchise history to rush for more than 100 yards in a playoff game. He finished the day with 129 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries.

James White, who led the team in receptions during the regular season with 87, was Tom Brady’s favorite receiver on the day, catching 15 of 17 passes for 97 yards.

The Patriots chewed up the clock with their running backs, leaving little time for Rivers and Co. to put points on the board. It also helped keep the workload light for their defense, and teased out what their game plan might be next week against Kansas City.

Winner: C.J. Anderson

The Rams signed C.J. Anderson in mid-December, when Todd Gurley was dealing with a knee injury. Anderson had been released by both the Panthers and Raiders earlier in the season and was really just supposed to be a warm body while Gurley could heal up.

Instead, Anderson has bulldozed every defense he faced. In two games to end the season, he carried the ball 43 times for 299 yards and two touchdowns — that averaged out to 7 yards per carry. But that was against two of the worst teams in the NFL, the Cardinals and 49ers. Next up was the playoffs — and a Cowboys defense that ranked fifth in the league against the run during the regular season. Last week, they held the Seahawks’ top-ranked rushing offense to just 73 yards on the ground.

Anderson had more than that in the first half alone: 12 carries for 78 yards. Even with a healthy Gurley back in the lineup, Anderson was a force in the Rams’ first playoff win in 14 years. He used his, uh, rotund frame to help the Rams dominate the time of possession and scored what proved to be the game-winning touchdown.

Anderson was the leading rusher with 123 yards and two touchdowns. Plus, he did this:

All the Winners and Losers here

 

 

10 things we learned from the college football season

The college football season is officially over. But that won’t stop some of us from watching Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney’s post-national championship press conference on repeat while listening to “Sweet Home Alabama” and gorging ourselves on South Carolina BBQ.

It was a wild ride with an ending that absolutely no one expected, and you are kidding yourself if you didn’t love every moment of it.  From the upsets, to the underwhelming performances, to the GIF’s for the ages — the 2018 college football season will forever be trapped in a glass case of emotion.

Here are 10 things we learned from it all:

1) You will never love anything as much as Swinney loves football. And his faith. The newly minted national champion Clemson head coach isn’t afraid to let people know that the Tigers final victory was due in large part to God working through them. “Only God could do this,” exclaimed Swinney in the postgame press conference. “A Hollywood movie Steve Spielberg or whoever one of them producer people are, they couldn’t write this script. They really couldn’t. Only God can do this.” Surely a higher power is at work, as the Tigers are the first 15-0 champion in 121 years.

2) Texas is back. I know. We have said this a few times over the course of this tumultuous season, but this time it’s for real. The Longhorns capped their first double-digit winning season this decade with a 28-21 Sugar Bowl win over Georgia. Quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who ran for three touchdowns and threw for 169 yards, had a message for Longhorn Nation after the game:

 

3) But Jim Harbaugh isn’t. I mean physically he is; he vehemently denied rumors yet again that he would be leaving for the NFL. Fans were less than thrilled this time around with the news that Harbaugh intended to stay. Might it be because that 11th win continues to elude the Wolverines? Or was it the 41-15 smackdown they received at the hands of Florida in this year’s Peach Bowl? One thing is for sure: That 62-39 loss to Ohio State is harder to explain now. Harbaugh is struggling to change Michigan’s ability to perform well on a big stage. Luckily, there’s always next year.

4) The Playoff format is fine. Dabo said it, so therefore it’s undeniably true. But I agree with him, mostly because as it turned out we didn’t need a bigger field — all the best teams were exactly where they were supposed to be. Swinney spoke out about how expanding the Playoff could diminish the value of non-Playoff bowl games. He also said that expanding the Playoff would put less meaning on the regular season, and to some degree he’s right. There are those who would argue that because he is on the inside looking out, his words don’t carry as much weight — or that Playoff expansion is really about the fans. But this year was proof that the fans got exactly what they deserved.

5) The Pac-12 wheel of death will never stop turning over. The Conference of Champions went a dismal 3-4 in this year’s bowl season, which is a far cry from last year’s 1-8 record but is still not impressive enough to win anybody over. Oregon defeated Michigan State with ONE fourth-quarter touchdown, Stanford beat Pittsburgh with an end-zone fumble and Washington State put down Iowa State in the Alamo Bowl with three touchdowns and nearly 300 yards from quarterback Gardner Minshew. The conference is a mess, top to bottom. From the Larry Scott issues to the cannibalistic tendencies of the teams, it is clear that some major changes need to be made:

https://twitter.com/SidelineSasss/status/1056475034917588992/photo/1

6.) People just need to stop trying to make Notre Dame happen. It’s not going to happen. Not in the capacity that everyone thinks, at least. Yes the Fighting Irish made the College Football Playoff field, but after one quarter against Clemson it was clear that Brian Kelly’s squad left a lot to be desired. In fact, the Tigers went 27-0 in the remaining three quarters against Notre Dame. Quarterback Ian Book was off rhythm, and the Clemson pass rush proved too much. So next time you want to say Notre Dame is ready for a national title, just don’t.

7.) Mascot Fights are the new Twitter feuds. And yes, I’m talking about Bevo charging Uga prior to the Texas vs. Georgia Sugar Bowl. The 1,600-pound longhorn bull went after Uga X during what was supposed to be a friendly photo opp. This exchange sparked PETA to revive its argument against universities using live mascots. But at the end of the day, live mascots are part of the rich tradition woven into the college football tapestry and the animals are well taken care of. Uga has his own air-conditioned doghouse at Sanford Stadium for goodness sake:

Full List

By Emily Van Buskirk

 

Ranking all the NHL alternate jerseys from the 2018-19 season

After a spell without them, third jerseys are back for the NHL! Now, that may cause fear to rise in your gullet. At least it will if you are old enough to remember that first wave of (largely hideous) third jerseys from the ‘90s. Somehow, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks managed to make themselves look even worse! The NHL didn’t have alternate/third jerseys last year due to switching all their jerseys to Adidas. Now Adidas is able to crank out third jerseys for what is expected to be about 15-20 teams. Some of the looks have been seen before but not for the past few years. Here’s a look at all the third jerseys we know about, ranked in terms of quality.

21. Arizona Coyotes

Apparently we’re at a place where we’re willing to nostalgically accept these Coyotes jerseys as existing? Until they changed their look to a simpler style, Arizona, then Phoenix, was rivaled by only the Minnesota Wild for worse look in the league. We don’t care if they’re ironically bringing back the Kachina jerseys. They still look bad and are WAY too busy for a sports uniform.

20. Anaheim Ducks

Sorry, we aren’t going to buy your nostalgia, take two. The Anaheim logo with the duck-shaped hockey mask was dumb then, and it’s dumb now. However, the purple-and-teal look feels like it has aged a little better. The stripes are nice. The logo is still hot garbage.

19. New York Islanders

There are two things going against the Islanders’ third jerseys. One, it’s basically a replicant of the black third jersey they wore before, but now it’s blue. Two, it’s not an interesting logo, and it’s much worse than the traditional Islanders logo. It also lacks the kitschy fun of the fisherman logo. Just blah all around.

18. Philadelphia Flyers

These jerseys are too basic to be offensive but also too boring to be interesting. They look fine. This is a shrug in hockey jersey form. They better wear it around Halloween.

17. Los Angeles Kings

Straight up, we miss the yellow-and-purple crown look from the expansion era. Instead of that, the Kings are going with another gray alternate, a slight tweak from their 50th anniversary look. It’s not a bad look, but it doesn’t really stir up much in the way of feelings.

 

16. Chicago Blackhawks

The Blackhawks and the Bruins aren’t wearing third jerseys, per se, but they did wear retro looks for the Winter Classic. Both are harkening back to their ‘30s looks. These Chicago ones are kind of crazy because they are just black and white. A Blackhawks jersey without a hint of red? That’s practically sacrilege!

15. Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers’ jersey is good and a reflection of their old look for their 40th anniversary. However, it’s not all that different from their usual look. They are just wearing a bright royal blue with the orange. It pops, but it’s not different enough to rank too high.

14. San Jose Sharks

Shocker! The Sharks have a black alternate jersey. Back in the day, “third jersey” basically meant “black jersey,” but now that isn’t the case so this isn’t quite as eye-rolling. They also have made the new logo blacker as well, borrowing from the aesthetic choices of “Spinal Tap.” And there’s a new shoulder logo with a fin poking out of the water, which is actually cool.

 

13. Ottawa Senators

Everything is terrible about the Senators…save for their expected third jersey. They are bringing back their centennial look, which has a great old school vibe. Their logo is just a big “O.” The simplicity works.

12. Pittsburgh Penguins

Like a character from the least-popular Austin Powers movie, the Penguins seem to love gold. That being said, these jerseys really pop. They are bright but not garish, and gold is deeply tied to Pittsburgh sports. The Stanley Cup may be silver, but gold still has its charm in the NHL.

11. Winnipeg Jets

The Jets’ look is cool. The blue they usually sport works great, the lettering of the logo is sharp, and I really like the stripe. It definitely is a classy jersey, but the Jets have such a good look normally, it feels like an unnecessary alternative.

10. Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto is expected to kick it very old school again by busting out its St. Pats jerseys, a shout out to a defunct hockey team based in the city. Hey, you can always wear it on St. Patrick’s Day and have it be a hit. It’s weird to see the Maple Leafs not wearing blue, but to be fair they also aren’t even wearing the words “maple” or “leafs.” That’s fun in and of itself, and the St. Pats jerseys are pretty nice as well

Full List

By: Chris Morgan

 

Mets sign Jed Lowrie to two-year, $20 million deal

The New York Mets are adding another infielder to the mix.

The Mets have signed Jed Lowrie to a two-year deal worth at least $20 million, as first reported by ESPN’s Jeff Passan. The move makes sense for new team GM Brodie Van Wagenen, who previously served as Lowrie’s agent and obviously believes in his former client.

Lowrie, who turns 35 in April, is coming off his first season as an All-Star. He had consecutive seasons in Oakland in which he posted an OPS over .800.

The surprise here is that the Mets signed another second baseman after already acquiring Robinson Cano in a trade with the Mariners, indicating one of the two will be switching positions.

Lowrie and Cano can both play second. Amed Rosario is the Mets’ shortstop, while Todd Frazier is set to play third. Lowrie could play shortstop or third base and mix things up with Rosario and Frazier, depending on who’s healthy and playing well. Another option could be Cano playing some first base, mixing with Jeff McNeil and whoever else the Mets end up keeping on the 25-man roster.

Original Article

By: Larry Brown

Phillies unlikely to beat Nationals’ offer to Bryce Harper?

Unless a mystery team emerges and blows Bryce Harper away with an offer, it is sounding more and more likely that the star outfielder could end up back with the Washington Nationals in 2019 and beyond.

Washington’s biggest competition for Harper at this point appears to be the Philadelphia Phillies. And while they have been willing to spend big this offseason, one MLB executive told Michael Duarte of NBC LA that he does not think Philly or any other team will beat the Nationals’ offer.

There have been reports that the Nationals have offered Harper more than $300 million, which can’t be that far off from what the slugger is seeking. Harper’s agent Scott Boras undoubtedly wants the richest deal in MLB history for his client, and the largest in total dollar amount is Giancarlo Stanton’s 13-year, $325 million contract. If that’s the number Harper and Boras have their eye on, Washington can’t be that far off.

The Chicago White Sox have also pursued Harper, but it does not sound like they are willing to spend nearly enough. Although the Nationals made it seem like they would not have a chance to re-sign Harper, that is now a legitimate possibility.

Original Article

By Steve DelVecchio

25 questions heading into the second half of the NBA season

1. Should the Pelicans trade Anthony this season or this summer?

The Pelicans are in 12th place in the Western Conference, and it’s time they start thinking about trading Anthony Davis. If they deal him this season, the Lakers might be willing to part with three of their four young assets (Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart). The 76ers might be willing to dangle Ben Simmons, too. Heck, the Warriors could even offer Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

If New Orleans waits until the summer, the Celtics will be eligible to acquire Davis (a provision in the CBA is preventing them from doing so this season without including Kyrie Irving) and could offer a package including Jaylen Brown and their war chest of valuable future draft picks. The Knicks could offer their unprotected 2019 first-round draft pick and Kevin Knox. The only downside to waiting for the summer is that if Davis demands a deal to a specific team, the Pelicans lose all their leverage. Lots to consider in the Big Easy, and none of it is all that promising.

2. What does the Lakers starting lineup look like this spring?

The best-case scenario includes LeBron James and Anthony Davis. A lineup with those two could win the title. The next best scenario probably involves James, Bradley Beal and whichever two youngsters remain. This lineup could hang with any team in the league but is probably an underdog in the Conference Finals and Finals. The worst-case scenario would be if they make no major moves at the deadline because their current lineup likely has a Conference Finals ceiling and it’d be malpractice to waste a year of LeBron’s prime, like when the team has a number of trade chips.

3. Which teams mortgage their futures at the deadline?

Out West, the Pelicans are sure to be in the middle of everything, as they hold the crown jewel in Anthony Davis. Yet there’s a chance the Pelicans hold onto Davis and make a big trade of their own — we know they were in the mix for Jimmy Butler earlier this year. Everyone knows that the Rockets and Lakers will be looking for deals too. The Kings are desperate to make the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade, so keep an eye on them as well.

Out East, any of the top five teams could justify pushing their chips in and try to capitalize on the Warriors’ perceived vulnerability. Also, keep an eye out for Pat Riley and the Miami Heat — they’ve straightened things out as of late and have been trying to land a blue-chipper ever since LeBron James left.

4. Does Michael Jordan deal Kemba Walker?

The conundrum of Kemba Walker: He means everything to the Hornets and wants to remain the face of the franchise, yet they can’t compete with him on their roster. He’s not quite elite enough to carry Charlotte deep into the playoffs, yet he’s too good to not carry the team to a .500 record. With no cap room (maybe you shouldn’t have maxed out Nic Batum, MJ!) and hardly any trade assets (maybe you shouldn’t have turned down four first-round picks to draft Frank Kaminsky, MJ!), Michael Jordan needs to seriously consider trading Walker for some future draft picks and/or cap relief if the Hornets ever want to quit toiling in mediocrity.

5. What do the Blazers do at the trade deadline?

The Blazers are having another solid season. They’re 25-17 and have an average offense and defense. They won’t miss the playoffs, but they probably won’t make it out of the first round if they don’t make a move at the trade deadline. Is this the year they break up the Damian Lillard-CJ McCollum backcourt? How does the passing of owner Paul Allen impact the team’s previously unwavering loyalty to its dynamic backcourt? Would the Wizards ever consider a Bradley Beal for McCollum plus an unprotected 2020 first-rounder swap?

6. Which teams should blow it up at the deadline?

A couple of teams that are teetering on the brink of falling out of playoff contention should seriously consider blowing up their rosters by trading away assets for future draft picks and high-upside prospects. The most obvious team is the Washington Wizards. At 17-25, no John Wall for the rest of the year and no cap space, the team should absolutely be looking to trade Otto Porter and his massive contract, Markieff Morris and his abrasive attitude and even Bradley Beal if a team like the Lakers offers multiple prospects and draft picks.

Just above Washington in the standings, the Magic, Pistons and Hornets are all fighting for the eight seed. If any of them falter, they’d be obvious “tank” candidates. In the West, everything is still congested in the standings, but the Grizzlies and Pelicans will want to listen to offers for their respective stars if they’re on the outside looking in a month from now.

7. Do the Bucks have enough to compete for a title?

When LeBron James was 24 years old, he won his first MVP and led the Cavs to a league-best 66 wins. He was so transcendent that the team didn’t think it needed to improve a roster with Mo Williams as its second-best player at the trade deadline. Everyone knows how that worked out for Cleveland — the Orlando Magic caught fire in the Conference Finals and upset the Cavs.

Milwaukee Bucks fans should be scared to death of history repeating itself with Giannis Antetokounmpo this season. Giannis is also 24 years old and an MVP front-runner, and he’s leading a surprisingly good Bucks team to the top of the conference as the deadline nears. While the Bucks have better secondary options than the 2009 Cavs had, their current roster is probably another scorer and versatile forward away from being threats to win it all.

8. Are the Raptors finally a legitimate title contender?

These dinosaurs are legit. Unlike past years, they have a roster built for the playoffs. Kawhi Leonard is back to being the Kawhi Leonard of old (albeit, a little better on offense and a little worse on defense). Danny Green is having his best season in years. Same goes for Serge Ibaka, whose switch to small-ball center appears to have triggered a Benjamin Button-like reverse aging in his body. Kyle Lowry is second in the league in assists, too.

And who could forget Pascal Siakam — wow, where the hell did this guy come from? In his third season, he’s made the jump from solid defensive presence off the bench to potential All-Star and two-way terror on the court. He’s always sprinting, making offensive players uncomfortable on defense and pushing the envelope on offense — just making winning plays all over the court. He’s like Toronto’s own mutated version of Draymond Green. If you haven’t seen him play yet, you’re missing out on the best spin move in the NBA.

9. Are the Houston Rockets still contenders?

James Harden probably answered this one at Golden State last week where he put on one of the most impressive performances of his career. His three-pointer between the outstretched hands of Klay Thompson and Draymond Green was the climax point of an on-going, 15-game stretch in which he’s averaging over 40 points per game. We know Harden will keep stuffing the stat sheet, but we also know that he’s prone to wear down in the playoffs if another teammate isn’t there to lighten his load. Can Chris Paul get back on track once he returns from his hamstring injury? Does Houston trade for another shot creator at the deadline?

10. Are the Nuggets a legitimate title contender?

Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets’ meteoric rise to the top of the Western Conference has been one of the biggest surprises of this NBA season. Jokic is proving to be a one-man elite offense, as the Nuggets have been able to withstand significant injuries to a number of their key players, including Paul Millsap, Gary Harris and Will Barton. Even if they sputter at some point during the second half of the season, they should finish with a top-four record in the West. The question then becomes what is their ceiling this season with a roster comprised mostly of players with little to no prior playoff experience? A safe bet is that they’ll win their first-round series and then lose a close battle in the second round to a more experienced team like the Warriors, Rockets, Thunder or Lakers. Regardless, the future is bright in Denver.

11. Have the Thunder quietly built a defensive machine to upset the Warriors?

With Paul George playing at a first team All-NBA level this season and Steven Adams, Dennis Schroder and Jerami Grant playing excellent two-way basketball, the Thunder might be the team best equipped to take down the Warriors. Notice I didn’t mention Russell Westbrook? That’s because the Thunder are often winning games in spite of Westbrook. While he is taking two fewer shots per game and has recommitted himself to defense (leading the league in steals), his shooting splits and shot selection are abysmal. He’s a key reason why OKC has the worst field-goal percentage in the NBA. It’s so frustrating because this team could absolutely steal some games from the Warriors in a series (they’re 3-2 vs. Golden State since acquiring Paul George) with its defense and overwhelming athleticism. However, Westbrook has to be a much more efficient player for the Thunder to take down Goliath.

12. Can the 76ers avoid a chemistry catastrophe?

There are layers to this one. For starters, the relationship between franchise cornerstones, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, is somewhere between “working partnership” and “icy.” It’s probably closer to the latter right now after their recent rebounding collision and Embiid’s subsequent freak-out. If that weren’t enough to worry about, Jimmy Butler is apparently already comfortable dressing down head coach Brett Brown in front of teammates about his role in the offense. Some teams can excel amid chaos like this; others fall victim to it. Will the Eastern Conference’s most talented team straighten things out for a long playoff run? Or will it implode from within?

13. Do the Pacers have enough offensive firepower to win the East?

It may come as a surprise to the casual fan, but the Indiana Pacers are a force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference this season. They’re currently in third place and have the NBA’s third-highest rated defense despite missing their star, Victor Oladipo, for 11 games this season. Their defense and plethora of excellent role players will keep them in every game come playoff time, but can Oladipo carry their offense enough for them to make a deep run? Look for the Pacers to add some more scoring pop at this year’s trade deadline.

14. What is the Clippers’ ceiling?

How many players do you think a casual NBA fan could name on the Clippers? Three? Four? Despite having no star power, the Clippers are 24-16 and in fourth place in the loaded Western Conference. This is no longer a cute story about the whole being greater than the sum of the parts — this team is legitimately good. Tobias Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell are all good players and have destroyed unsuspecting opponents this season.

How good are they? Can they win a playoff series? It’ll depend on the matchup and whether they pick up a better two-guard (Avery Bradley stinks now) and rim protector (Gortat isn’t cutting it). They could probably take down any team without an MVP-caliber player in a seven-game series, so if they play the Spurs, Blazers or Jazz in the first round, they’ll have more than a puncher’s chance to advance.

15. Will Jaylen Brown or Gordon Hayward get back on track?

If someone told you that Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward were averaging only a combined 23.6 points per game, you’d probably assume that the Celtics were having the season from hell. Fortunately for Boston, the “Marcuses” (Morris and Smart) have stepped up their respective games and covered for Brown’s and Hayward’s struggles. The team is comfortably in fifth place in the top-heavy Eastern Conference and will always have a chance in any playoff series with Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford and the Marcuses playing well. However, if the Celtics want to compete for a title, they’ll need at least one of Brown or Hayward to start playing better. Both have shown some signs of life recently, but an occasional good game won’t suffice come May and June.

16. Do the Jazz have another magical second half in store?

Quin Snyder has been a second-half miracle worker in his tenure as head coach of the Utah Jazz. Last season, after a 17-24 start to the season, the Jazz ripped off a 31-10 record the next 41 games and rode that momentum to a first-round upset over the Thunder. At 20-21 through 41 games this season, Snyder will need to once again work his second-half magic to get Donovan Mitchell and Co. back on track.

17. How does DeMarcus Cousins fit in with the Warriors?

As they attempt to three-peat and win their fourth title in five seasons, the Warriors are struggling with mental and physical fatigue. Even when they’re at full strength, they seem as vulnerable as they’ve seemed since Kevin Durant joined the team. That could all change when DeMarcus Cousins makes his debut. Will the Warriors be rejuvenated by their “new toy” and find new ways to throttle teams? Or will Cousins’ overwhelming but unnecessary offensive talent hurt the team’s on-court chemistry? Boogie’s commitment to defense could ultimately dictate this one.

18. Can Steph Curry really go 50-45-90 again?

Remember when Steph Curry won the first-ever unanimous MVP in 2015-16 and forced us to recalibrate how basketball was going to be played moving forward? That season he averaged 30.1 points per game and joined Steve Nash as the only players to ever join the 50-45-90 Club (FG percentage-3FG percentage-FT percentage). Well, he’s doing it again this season. Right now he’s averaging 28.9 points per game on 48-44-91 shooting splits. (And he’s been in a slump lately too.) Thanks to the equally ridiculous seasons guys like James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo are having, hardly anyone seems to be noticing how insanely well Curry is shooting this year.

19. Can we hand Luka Doncic the Rookie of the Year, already?

Barring injury, the answer is yes. Doncic has been a revelation in Dallas and is must-see television every time he steps on the court. He might even get voted in as an All-Star Game starter. And while he shouldn’t be an All-Star starter, nobody should have any issues with him making the team because he’s averaging 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game and absolutely has a case as being one of the 12 best players in the Western Conference this season.

20. Should the Knicks even bother bringing Kristaps Porzingis back this season?

If you recall, Kristaps Porzingis tore his ACL just before the All-Star break last season. With a crappy roster in place and their sights set on Kevin Durant, the Knicks have been in no rush to get their young star on the court before he’s completely healthy. They are going to evaluate Porzingis in mid-February, but there’s a chance he doesn’t play at all this season.

Should he play? On one hand, it’d be nice to get him back on the court for about 10-15 games to help him get his rhythm and confidence back heading into the offseason — this is what the Pacers did with Paul George following his broken leg. On the other hand, with a shot at the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, they might not want Porzingis winning games for them and screwing up their lottery odds.

Full 25

By Pat Heery