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Many Felt David Stern’s Wrath. He’ll Be Missed Anyway.


The last time I saw David Stern was the day after the greatest night of my professional life.

It was a Friday in September in Springfield, Mass., minutes before the Basketball Hall of Fame’s 2019 induction ceremony. The previous evening, I had noticed Stern in the crowd as I nervously ambled through my speech after receiving the Hall’s Curt Gowdy Award, but we missed each other in the aftermath.

So I was thrilled when I spotted him heading toward the red carpet outside Symphony Hall, where the ceremony would soon begin. Impartial journalists probably aren’t supposed to say such things, but I couldn’t help my ever-nostalgic self.

“I miss you,” I told Stern.

“I don’t miss you,” Stern replied, explaining that he was actually seeing my work more often now as a voracious reader of The New York Times.

He then skipped right past the pleasantries about the peak achievement of my career to tell me he had been wanting to call me about several things I had written.

“And tell you how wrong you are,” Stern said.

The Commish was not finished.

“When are you going to get it right about player empowerment?” Stern said. “Have you forgotten Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wanting out of Milwaukee and forcing a trade to the Lakers? Have you forgotten Wilt Chamberlain living in New York when he played for Philadelphia? This has been happening in our league for years.”

With that, Stern trudged away. If he wasn’t pressed for time, I’m sure the lecture would have been louder and longer, because with Stern lectures always were. It was our final interaction before he died on Wednesday, nearly three weeks after he had surgery for a sudden brain hemorrhage.

Throughout his 30-year run as commissioner, as anyone who ever jousted with the Columbia-schooled lawyer would tell you, engaging with David J. Stern meant you had to be prepared for him to castigate you. My longtime colleague Jack McCallum, who chronicled Stern for decades for Sports Illustrated, likened such interactions to “trying to do the Times crossword puzzle while he shouted insults at you.”

For all of his unmatched impact in steering the league from its darkest days in the late 1970s and early 1980s to a position of global prominence second only to world soccer, Stern ran the N.B.A. in an unforgiving manner befitting his surname. He was a workaholic, a perfectionist and, yes, often a bully.

“It’s terrifying go in his office,” Charles Barkley recently shared on an “Inside The N.B.A.” broadcast on TNT, recounting the dread Stern could inspire in those he summoned to his old mahogany-paneled lair at Olympic Tower in Midtown. Yet Barkley, the Hall of Fame player turned broadcaster, was quick to add that “even when he was giving it to me, he did it like a father figure.”

He was the commissioner I grew up with, too, as a teenager mesmerized by those unforgettable commercials in the 1980s, invariably set to a lively track from The Pointer Sisters, proclaiming basketball to be “America’s Game.” Then, suddenly, I was writing daily about Stern and his “fannntastic” league in the 1990s soon after Michael Jordan’s gravity-defying brilliance and the worldwide appeal of the Dream Team had taken the game to Europe, Asia and beyond.

Mark Cuban’s arrival as the owner of the Dallas Mavericks on Jan. 4, 2000, 20 years ago this weekend, changed my interactions with Stern forever. The brash, outspoken Cuban was the Barkley of team owners; reporters assigned to cover the Mavericks could scarcely dare to leave his side for fear of missing the latest inflammatory quote or sideline fit that would bring a fine from the league office.

Through Cuban’s first few seasons, stalking Stern became mandatory for me as staff writer for The Dallas Morning News. It was my responsibility to chase Stern as he walked away from any public appearance in hopes he would answer a few one-on-one questions about Cuban’s latest transgressions.

The greeting was always the same: “What do you want now, Stein?” — except there was almost always an expletive thrown in.

“He and I had many battles, but most ended with a hug or a laugh,” Cuban said by email Wednesday night. “We didn’t always see eye to eye, but we always knew we were on the same side.”

Maybe Stern was overly cranky and combative at the end of his reign. Maybe Stern should have stepped down sooner than he did. Maybe Stern should have shown more remorse about his role in the SuperSonics’ exit from Seattle in 2008 — or the league’s failure to expel Donald Sterling, the former team owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. Stern’s successor, Adam Silver, quickly did so after taking over when recordings emerged of Sterling making racist statements.

Yet for all the negativity in Stern’s later years, it is hard to quibble with the assessment put forth by two of the most influential voices in the modern game. Golden State Warriors Coach Steve Kerr and the popular writer Bill Simmons both described Stern in recent days as the most important non-player who ever graced the league.

At his worst, Stern was branded an effective dictator, but I see it as a tribute to Silver that his first five seasons in charge, with such a gentler style, featured so many more highs than lows. I’ve always believed that a commissioner needs to stray closer to dictator status, and inspire the sort of fear Barkley described, to maintain the requisite authority. Silver’s collaborative approach is certainly more appropriate in 2020, with the Stern approach increasingly frowned upon, but in some ways it may be even harder to pull off.

Stern loyalists counter the tales of condescension, arrogance, fury and other unflattering portrayals with reminders of his compassion, social consciousness and how hard he fought for minorities and women in the game. For all of Stern’s willingness to play the villain, Stern’s death inspired the sort of heartfelt condolences and tributes befitting a political dignitary.

Lon Rosen, the longtime agent for Magic Johnson, called to make sure I hadn’t forgotten how Stern wouldn’t stop at ensuring that Johnson would be able to play in the 1992 All-Star Game mere months after announcing he had contracted H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS.

“Earvin’s real dream was to play in the Olympics,” Rosen said. “David had to make that happen. It was not a fait accompli, but David was able to get Earvin permission to play on the Dream Team.”

Rosen, for me, was a natural for swapping Stern stories. Now the executive vice president and chief marketing officer of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Rosen helped assemble the unforgettable news conference on Nov. 7, 1991, where Johnson, now one of the Dodgers’ primary owners, suddenly retired from the Lakers “because of the H.I.V. virus that I have attained.”

My first N.B.A. assignment as an out-of-college journalist was joining the Los Angeles Daily News army covering that news conference. My specific instructions: a sidebar on Stern.

Rosen went on to share that, as close as Johnson and Stern were, there were times even Magic got scolded. In 1990, Rosen was pursuing a one-on-one game in Las Vegas pitting Magic against Michael with a pay-per-view television audience and a huge cash prize. Stern implored Johnson to back out, convinced that it was a bad look for the league for its stars to duel like boxers, and Magic did.

“There was another time we were in a contract dispute with Converse and he yelled at me like I was a child: ‘You’re going to ruin Magic Johnson!’” Rosen recalled. “But that was David.”

That was Stern — to everyone. You understood and accepted it, which is why I urged him in that last encounter to please call any time he wanted to highlight my stupidity.

You understood, most of all, that Stern wanted anyone who had anything to do with the N.B.A. to care as deeply as he did. Even the pesky scribes like me who just covered it.



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Virginia vs. Syracuse odds, line: 2020 college basketball picks, Jan. 11 predictions from proven model


The No. 18 Virginia Cavaliers will take on the Syracuse Orange at 4 p.m. ET on Saturday in ACC action at John Paul Jones Arena. Virginia is 11-3 overall and 8-1 at home, while Syracuse is 8-7 overall and 1-1 on the road. These teams met in the season opener on Nov. 6, and had one of the lowest-scoring games of the season as UVA won 48-34. This time around, the Cavaliers are favored by eight points in the Virginia vs. Syracuse odds, while the over-under is set at 115. Before entering any Syracuse vs. Virginia picks, you’ll want to see the college basketball predictions from the model at SportsLine.

The model, which simulates every game 10,000 times, has crushed its top-rated college basketball picks against the spread the past three years, returning $2,770 to $100 players. Anybody who followed it during that span has seen huge returns.

Now, it has simulated Virginia vs. Syracuse 10,000 times and the results are in. We can tell you that the model is leaning over, and it’s also generated a point-spread pick that is hitting in over 50 percent of simulations. You can only see the pick at SportsLine.

The Cavaliers came up short against Boston College on Tuesday, falling 60-53 for their third loss of the season and their second setback in the last four games. Tony Bennett’s squad is elite on the defensive end as usual, ranking No. 1 in the nation in points given up (47.6). 

They’ve really struggled on the other end, however, scoring just 55.7 points per outing. Some of that can be explained by Virginia’s slower pace of play, but the Cavaliers are hitting just 40.7 percent of their shots from the field and 27.4 percent from beyond the arc. They’re also averaging just 34.7 rebounds per game, which ranks 286th nationally. 

Syracuse, meanwhile, is off to a 1-3 start in ACC play and comes into this matchup off consecutive losses to to Notre Dame and Virginia Tech. The Orange are led in scoring by forward Elijah Hughes (19.6 ppg) and guard Buddy Boeheim, the son of coach Jim Boeheim, who averages 15.3 points. 

Both sides have been poor against the spread this season with Syracuse coming into this matchup 4-11 against the number, while Virginia is 4-10. 

So who wins Virginia vs. Syracuse? And which side of the spread hits in over 50 percent of simulations? Visit SportsLine now to find out which side of the spread you need to jump on Saturday, all from the model that has crushed its college basketball picks.





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Lakers Extend, Promote Rob Pelinka


The Los Angeles Lakers have promoted general manager Rob Pelinka to vice president of basketball operations while additionally agreeing to extend his contract, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports.

The commitment to the former player agent comes on the heels of a successful run throughout which Pelinka played a major role in transforming the Lakers from a rebuilding young organization to a legitimate, established title contender.

Pelinka initially signed on with the Lakers as general manager to serve under then-vice president of basketball operations Magic Johnson. Pelinka and Johnson cleared the way for the team’s 2018 free agent addition of LeBron James.

It was in the past year, however, that Pelinka helped to take the organization to the next level. Pelinka managed the franchise through Johnson’s surprising resignation last April and eventually went on to complete the much anticipated but previously inaccessible Anthony Davis trade.

While the Lakers organization has publicly announced the promotion, the terms of the extension were not disclosed. Pelinka’s previous five-year deal would have expired in 2022.





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NBA trade rumors: Knicks reportedly interested in Andre Drummond, would be next big (man) mistake


Once upon a time, the New York Knicks surrendered three first-round draft picks to build a front-court around Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph. The plan was derided around the league, as teams were already beginning to trend smaller, but Isiah Thomas insisted that zigging while the rest of the league zagged was a wise idea. It wasn’t. That combination never made the playoffs. This was 13 years ago. 

You would think that the Knicks would have learned their lesson in that time, but alas, this summer’s spending spree ended with the Knicks guaranteeing four separate power forwards nearly $80 million combined. Already in place were promising young center Mitchell Robinson, a former lottery pick in Kevin Knox best-suited to be playing power forward, and incoming No. 2 pick R.J. Barrett, who has had to slide all the way down the positional spectrum to shooting guard to accommodate his team’s deluge of big men. Amazingly, though, the Knicks don’t feel as though they have enough of them. 

The Knicks recently inquired about Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond, according to Shams Charania of Stadium. Talks reportedly didn’t go far. The Pistons are apparently asking for one or two first-round picks along with expiring contracts as matching salary, but the price is hardly relevant from the Knicks’ perspective. The process that led to asking in the first place is. The Knicks looked at their broken roster, and if only for a second, thought the solution would be more size. 

Size is the one thing that the Knicks have an abundance of. Putting aside their fleet of power forwards, Robinson has been arguably New York’s player this season. He is shooting 73 percent from the field and averaging nearly two blocks per game since David Fizdale was fired. He is one of the most athletically gifted big men in the league, is under contract for less than $4 million total over the next two years, and he in no way, shape or form fits with Drummond. 

The Knicks could theoretically acquire Drummond and keep Robinson as a backup, but Drummond plays 34 minutes per game. That hardly gives Robinson much of a chance to shine. Neither has made a 3-pointer this year, and both take most of their shots near the rim, so playing them together wouldn’t work. 

Considering their reported disinterest in giving away picks, there is only one realistic structure for a Drummond trade involving the Knicks: expiring salaries, which New York has a plethora of, and Robinson. No team in their right mind would give up a 21-year-old with over two years of team control at essentially a minimum salary for a similar player who is five years older making a near-max salary, especially one with a player-option at the end of the season, but then, who has ever accused the Knicks of being in their right mind?

All reports have indicated that Knicks owner James Dolan needs to see progress in order to bring team president Steve Mills back next season. While the initial returns under Mike Miller playing against lottery teams were promising, the Knicks have now lost five games in a row playing against playoff-caliber competition. Progress is likely to remain elusive with the Knicks set to play against five championship contenders in their next seven games. Given the already flawed nature of this roster, it is probably going to have to be manufactured. 

Which is the crux of where this rumor likely comes from: desperation. Adding Drummond makes almost no sense in the context of this roster and the organization’s apparent long-term plans, but if Mills needs to win a few extra games to save his job, swapping Robinson for Drummond is a theoretical way to go about it. Whether Dolan allows Mills to mortgage the future of a franchise he may not work for in a few months is unclear, but Ian Begley of SNY reported that the Knicks are interested in adding a starter-level player. 

Mills won’t go down without a fight. It’s not as if this would be the first move he’s ever made out of self-preservation. In the summer of 2017, he used the brief window following Phil Jackson’s departure but before David Griffin’s interview to replace him to sign Tim Hardaway Jr. to a much-maligned $72 million contract. That deal, and the apparent power it proved Mills still possessed within the organization, led to Griffin losing interest in the Knicks job, according to Frank Isola of The Athletic

There is no good reason for the Knicks to trade for Drummond, but rarely are Knicks moves made for a good reason. Any trade for Drummond would be made for the benefit of the man running the Knicks rather than the Knicks themselves. At least adding Drummond would help the Knicks avoid the embarrassment of failing to sign a star free agent this summer. His new contract would take away the cap space they’d do it with in the first place. 





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Believe in Giannis Antetokounmpo. But the Milwaukee Bucks?


I’d usually wait until after the N.B.A. season to take stock of all the basketball takes I got wrong and issue a mea culpa. But with slightly less than half of this campaign completed, I am finding that the season has flummoxed me more than any other in my years of watching basketball. So many trends I thought I was seeing have already reversed themselves, some in spectacular fashion.

So I need to come clean. New year, new me, as they say.

There was the time I predicted the Knicks would make the playoffs. I considered out loud whether the Toronto Raptors were that much better than the Knicks after they lost Kawhi Leonard. I speculated that Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns would become a candidate for the Most Valuable Player Award after his hot start. I wrote that the Philadelphia 76ers “look like a top contender” with their approach of valuing height over shooting and starting four players at least 6-foot-8. I unironically wondered if the Phoenix Suns were for real.

It’s easy — and fair — to laugh at me now. And many of you have! The Raptors appear to be resilient and deep. The Knicks were 10-24 (and minus one head coach) going into Friday night’s game after a three-game winning streak. The Timberwolves are in the midst of yet another disappointing season, and the chatter is that Towns wants out.

The Suns are the Suns, and the Sixers, tall as they are, have been just O.K.

I’ve been trying to figure out where I went wrong. With the Knicks, I overlooked how much fit matters and put too much weight on new talent. With the Suns, I thought a new culture under Monty Williams and the addition of solid veterans like Aron Baynes and Ricky Rubio would reverse years of lackadaisical franchise building.

But more than all of that, the game has been harder to predict because of greater parity than usual. And injuries — lots of them. They have affected league standings more than in any season in recent memory.

I’ve been more Nostradonotbelieveme than Nostradamus. But here’s a fresh batch of takeaways as we enter a new decade, and along with that, hopefully more accuracy.

The Milwaukee Bucks are 31-5, easily the best record in the league. They are beating teams by an average of almost 13 points a game. They have Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has only improved, especially as a shooter, since his M.V.P. Award-winning campaign last year. They are the best defensive team in the N.B.A. and play at the fastest pace. They have several fun role players, including Donte DiVincenzo, George Hill and the Lopez brothers. There is an outside chance that the Bucks win 70 games.

But.

I predicted the Bucks would make the finals this year. And now I’m taking it back, especially after watching their Christmas Day loss to the Sixers. I underestimated how much better the rest of the Eastern Conference is compared with previous seasons. And I’m skeptical of a team with only one elite playmaker.

In the playoffs, as games slow down and defenses key in more on Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton won’t be a strong enough secondary playmaker to take much pressure off Antetokounmpo. Milwaukee reminds me too much of the 2009-10 Cleveland Cavaliers with LeBron James: a world-beating superstar surrounded by O.K.-to-good role players who fizzled out in the second round.

The Bucks are sixth in the N.B.A. in running isolation plays, according to the league’s tracking stats, further fueling my skepticism. Antetokounmpo’s usage rate is nearly 38 percent — on pace for a career high, by far. That’s a lot to put on him in the playoffs. A miffed Bucks fan would point out that Antetokounmpo plays only 31 minutes a game and that the offense barely dips with him on the bench. Or that no team has outscored its opponents by as many points, on average, as the Bucks since the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, one of the greatest teams of all time. All true! But I surmise that this will change in the playoffs.

(I pre-emptively apologize for being totally wrong about this.)

The early national television games featuring the Denver Nuggets were filled with pronouncements of disappointment, in spite of their 10-3 start. It was noted that there was something missing from this team. That Nikola Jokic wasn’t himself. That once again, the Nuggets needed more from Jamal Murray and Will Barton.

And yet, Denver finds itself in second place in the Western Conference. It has won 10 of its last 12 games. Jokic, after a less-than-stellar beginning to the season, reasserted himself in December, averaging 20.8 points, 9.4 rebounds and 7.4 assists on an efficient 62.9 true shooting percentage. The Nuggets have done all this despite playing below-average defense since Dec. 1. And much of their recent schedule has been soft, including a double-digit win at Staples Center against the Los Angeles Lakers, who were missing James that night. But there’s no discounting a road win on Thursday against the Indiana Pacers, who have been dominant at home.

The Nuggets are one of those teams that are extraordinarily difficult to gauge. They have a bona fide M.V.P. talent in Jokic, and every top-tier contender needs one of those. They have solid surrounding talent, with Murray, Barton and Paul Millsap, and productive players who don’t try to do too much, like Mason Plumlee. The rookie Michael Porter Jr. is making the most of his recently expanded playing time (due to the team’s injuries), averaging 15.5 points a game in his last four contests on 74 percent shooting. If he gets comfortable on the court, watch out.

The Nuggets are second in the West — only three games behind the Lakers before Friday’s action — and on pace for more wins than last season.

Yet, you want more from the Nuggets. You expect them to have made a leap the way the Bucks have. Sure, they’re in second place in a tough conference. But while the Nuggets are outscoring their opponents on average by about 4 points a game — more than last season and good for ninth in the league — they’re not dominant. They do just enough to get by. For the third straight season, they are playing at one of the league’s slower paces. They don’t drive to the basket often, but they move the ball well.

The team is not especially great at anything, but after struggling to score to start the season, Denver has had a top-five offense since the beginning of December. That’s a start.

The Nuggets aren’t disappointing per se, but this season is another second-round playoff exit in the making. Still, not to worry, Denver fans. Before you take up the pitchforks, remember that given my recent track record, I will most likely be toasting the N.B.A. champion Nuggets come June.





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College basketball picks: Predictions against the spread for Ohio State vs. Indiana and other key games



You ready for a little noise? 


College basketball’s weekend slate features 12 ranked teams — nearly half the AP Top 25 — playing road games. That means losses will come in abundance and slight separation is inevitable across the country.


Below, our experts have tapped the most prominent and interesting games on Saturday and Sunday and offered their picks straight up and against the spread. The biggest game of them all: No. 4 Baylor at No. 3 Kansas at 1 p.m. ET on CBS on Saturday. The Bears have never won at Allen Fieldhouse in 17 previous tries, while Kansas is looking to make a case for having the best resumé in college basketball with a win over a top-five team that’s got a pretty strong dossier itself.


Here’s where to keep your eyes locked this weekend in college hoops.


Eye on College Basketball Podcast: Weekend picks


All times ET


Georgia at No. 5 Auburn (-10.5)


6 p.m. on ESPNews 


We’re approaching the point in the season where it becomes principle to blindly fade the remaining undefeated teams against the spread as they face conference opponents. That principle is reinforced here with Anthony Edwards and a Georgia team that will be more than happy to run with Auburn. The up-tempo pace leaves the opportunity for backdoor covers even if Auburn is able to establish the upper hand throughout the game, but I think the Kentucky loss might have gotten the Bulldogs’ attention and this game is within single digits for most of the evening. Put simply: it’s too many points for Auburn when the best player on the floor is wearing red and black. Pick: Georgia +10.5 (Chip Patterson)


No. 11 Ohio State (-1.5) at Indiana


Noon on Fox, streaming on fuboTV (Try for free) 


The Buckeyes have lost three straight and four of six since starting the season 9-0. So they’ve been struggling, undeniably. But two of those losses have come without Kyle Young, who has been sidelined after having his appendix removed. And Ohio State has only shot 26% from 3-point range in its four losses. So if the Buckeyes get Young back Saturday, and make shots more in line with the way they’re capable of making of them, I won’t be surprised by Ohio State leaving Assembly Hall with a win that drops Indiana to 2-3 in the Big Ten. Pick: Ohio State -1.5 (Gary Parrish)


Georgetown at No. 16 Villanova (-6.5)


Noon on FS1, streaming on fuboTV (Try for free) 


Line is strangely low here. Georgetown might well now be the worst team in the Big East, while Villanova is one hot 3-point-shooting performance away from beating the Hoyas by 25. Nova outclasses Georgetown in the frontcourt and backcourt. Easiest pick of the day. Pick: Villanova -6.5 (Matt Norlander)


No. 4 Baylor at No. 3 Kansas (-8)


1 p.m. on CBS, streaming on CBSSports.com and CBS Sports App


Bears are the play here, as they’ve played up to or beyond their competition in every game this season. This should be a good defensive battle. The spread’s just a bit too large to bank on Kansas, especially if the teams can’t get out of the 60s. Pick: Baylor +8 (Matt Norlander)


No. 22 Texas Tech at No. 17 West Virginia (-4.5)


6 p.m. on ESPN2 


Texas Tech has only lost twice all season when freshman star Jahmi’us Ramsey is in the lineup — and one of those was Tuesday to a top-5 Baylor team. This team has a completely different complexion when he’s healthy and contributing. And Saturday he’ll be healthy and contributing coming off a four-game heater in which he’s averaged 18.3 points and made 14-of-28 from 3 during that span. I think the Red Raiders would be a sneaky underdog play on the moneyline here, so I’ll take the +4.5 for a West Virginia team that’s struggled to generate offense its last couple games. Pick: Texas Tech +4.5 (Kyle Boone)





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Post Up: Lakers Defeat Mavericks in Final Regular Season Meeting


Wizards 111 (13-25), Hawks 101 (8-31)

The Wiz have played admirably without star guard Bradley Beal. Jordan McRae scored 29 points, Troy Brown Jr chipped in 18 and 10 boards off the bench and Davis Bertans treated us to a surprising flush.

Pelicans 123 (14-25), Knicks 111 (10-29)

Watch out for the Birds. After a pitiful start to the season, they’re finding their stride, with an easy schedule and Zion Williamson on the horizon. In the present, Brandon Ingram went off for 28 points, Lonzo Ball had 11 assists and rookie Jaxson Hayes had 18 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks.

No matter how many starting lineups they try, the Knicks still find a way to lose. At least all five starters scored, and we glimpsed signs of life from the mysterious Frank Ntlikina.

Nets 117 (17-20), Heat 113 (27-11)

Spencer Dinwiddie is so under-appreciated. He’s kept the entire Nets boat afloat while Kyrie nurses a shoulder injury, and tonight was no different. Dinwiddie dropped 26 points and 14 assists to take down the Heat.

Pacers 116 (24-15), Bulls 105 (13-26)

Without arguably their best player Malcolm Brogdon (plus Victor Oladipo having missed the whole season thus far), the Pacers still took care of business against an inferior Bulls team. Center Myles Turner produced one of his best games yet, with 27 points, 14 rebounds and 2 blocks.

The Bulls wasted a fantastic Zach LaVine 43-point scoring outburst (he scored 20 in a row at one point), and look poised for another year in the lottery.

Grizzlies 134 (17-22), Spurs 121 (16-21)

The new guard beating the old guard. There’s something symbolic about that, and Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson are the future, but the present is pretty damn good too. Jaren had 24 points on an efficient 8-11 shooting. Ja also had a complete game with 22 points, 14 assists and 7 rebounds.

The Spurs had beaten the Bucks and Celtics in recent games, yet they succumbed to the pesky Grizzlies. DeMar DeRozan had a 36-9-9 stat line, but it was not enough.

Suns 98 (15-23), Magic 94 (18-21)

The Magic were leading the Suns 94-90 with less than a minute to go.

Then, Devin Booker happened. The star shooting guard drained a 3-pointer, then caught a steal on defense and came back down to splash another 3. Game, set, match.

Jazz 109 (26-12), Hornets 92 (15-26)

The Jazz are rolling. Trading for Jordan Clarkson has been a godsend, as the seemingly minor trade simultaneously excised poor, yet consistently injured Dante Exum and brought in a much needed bucket-getter. Clarkson scored 20 points on 8-15 shooting, while Rudy Gobert provided his usual dose of stingy defense with 5 blocks and a modest double-double. The Jazz have won 13 of their last 14 games.

Lakers 129 (31-7), Mavericks 114 (23-15)

LeBron James did LeBron James things with his superstar sidekick Anthony Davis sidelined. Bron dropped 35 points, 16 rebounds and 7 assists to dismantle the Mavs, making him the first Laker to put up such stats since Shaq in 2003. Kyle Kuzma stepped into the starting lineup admirably with 26 points of his own.

Bucks 127 (34-6), Kings 106 (15-24)

Another day, another Bucks win while Giannis doesn’t even play 30 minutes. Khris Middleton (27 points, 11 rebounds) and Eric Bledsoe (24 points, 5 assists) led the way to crush the Kings, who actually stayed competitive through halftime.

De’Aaron Fox was phenomenal stuffing the stat sheet, with 19 points, 9 boards, 10 assists, 4 steals and even 2 blocks in the loss.

Clippers 109 (27-12), Warriors 100 (9-31)

The Dubs played them close, but the Clippers still took care of business even without star Paul George. Kawhi had a monster slam dunk, and 36 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. Pat Beverley was one assist shy of a triple-double.





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Luka Doncic tears his jersey nearly in half after missing two free throws against Lakers


Luka Doncic is a basketball player, and basketball players are emotional people. That much should be stated for the record. When things aren’t going their way, players tend to lash out. Sometimes that means yelling at opponents. Sometimes it can mean a hard foul. In Doncic’s case, it meant a particularly aggressive fashion choice. 

His Dallas Mavericks were getting absolutely blown off of the floor by the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday. The Lakers scored 45 points in the first quarter and led by 20 or more points for much of the first half. This naturally frustrated Doncic, but his anger came to a head when he missed two free throws in the second quarter. Doncic is an 80 percent free-throw shooter this season, so missing both shots caused him to snap. He tore his jersey nearly in half, right down the center. 

When it comes to jersey-tearing, Doncic is not a first-time offender. He took it way further last season during a game against the Los Angeles Clippers.  

Ironically, Doncic happened to be playing in this game against LeBron James, who once tore the sleeves off of one of the NBA‘s ill-fated sleeved jerseys. No jersey should feel safe in this game. 

To those wondering, yes, Doncic came out for the second half wearing a new jersey, though how he managed to procure one remains unclear. Perhaps the Mavericks keep spares in the arena for just these situations, especially considering Doncic’s history, or perhaps they ran up to the team store and grabbed one off of the shelves. 

Still, Doncic managing to play the final few minutes of the second quarter with a torn jersey is an achievement in itself. If the Mavericks didn’t throw the jersey away, it will no doubt become a coveted piece of memorabilia among Mavericks fans. 





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Kyrie Irving Says He May Need Shoulder Surgery

Nets guard Kyrie Irving, addressing the media for the first time in two months, said on Saturday that he had taken a cortisone shot in an attempt to avoid surgery on an ailing shoulder that has kept him out of games since Nov. 14. He did not give a concrete timetable for his return but said that he was “doing a lot better.”

“It just sucks, man,” Irving said. “It really is disheartening.”

The 27-year-old point guard, who has missed the Nets’ last 23 games including Saturday’s, said that he has felt pain when lifting his right shoulder during jump shots and that he had also been dealing with bursitis, a condition that causes joint pain. Irving said he began feeling pain in his right shoulder after a Nov. 4 game against the New Orleans Pelicans, in which he scored 39 points. The pain became progressively worse afterward. If the cortisone shot does not work, Irving raised the possibility of arthroscopic surgery.

“It’s very unique,” Irving said. “It’s the first time I’ve ever had such a significant feeling in my shoulder where I’m going up to shoot jump shots and I can’t really lift my shoulder.”

Irving, one of the Nets’ marquee free-agent acquisitions over the summer, has played only 11 games for the Nets this season, but he had been dominant. He was averaging 28.5 points and 7.2 assists, both on pace for career highs. Speculation that Irving’s injury was more serious than initially thought had been rising for weeks, especially since the team has not provided many details about it.

But the team has held on in Irving’s absence, winning 12 of 22 games heading into Saturday night’s matchup with the Toronto Raptors. Joining the Nets for the first time since Nov. 10 was Caris LeVert, the talented young swingman who went down with a thumb injury around the same time as Irving. The Nets entered Saturday’s game against the Raptors seventh in the Eastern Conference. Kevin Durant, Irving’s close friend who came to the team from the Golden State Warriors in the off-season, is expected to miss the season with a torn Achilles’ tendon.

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Basketball

Threat of severe weather forces Georgia at Auburn, Marshall at UAB games to change Saturday tip times


Due to the threat of severe weather in the state of Alabama on Saturday, several college basketball game times have been moved for the sake of safety for those attending. On Friday afternoon, Auburn announced its home game against Georgia — originally scheduled for a 6 p.m. ET tip — will now tip at noon. Elsewhere, UAB’s game against Marshall, which was scheduled for 3 p.m. ET, will now tip Saturday night at 8 p.m.

The Georgia-Auburn game was moved for broadcasting purposes to ESPNNews. Marshall-UAB will be carried by Stadium.

“The National Weather Service has determined the Auburn area to be in a heightened risk for winds in excess of 70 mph Saturday afternoon, to include the potential for tornadoes,” Auburn said in a statement, adding that the risk for severe weather is expected between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. local time, with the worst of it expected around 3 p.m.

Rain is also in the forecast for Alabama over the next 24 hours in addition to severe weather, which could include tornadoes. 

Auburn is 14-0 on the season looking to keep its perfect record intact Saturday against 10-4 Georgia, which has won four of its last five games. 





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