Pictured: Stephen Curry
Source: Harry How / Getty Images North America

Preview: Warriors at Trail Blazers

The Golden State Warriors look to wrap up play before the All-Star break with their 17th victory in the past 18 games when they visit the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday. The Warriors have scored at least 100 points in 27 straight games after registering a 115-108 home win over the Utah Jazz on Tuesday.

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Golden State has opened up a three-game lead over the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference and will be shooting for its sixth straight win before getting in a bit of relaxation. “That week off is nice but we got to finish the job,” Warriors star point guard Stephen Curry said in a postgame television interview. “We want to end on a high note, go up to Portland and get a win and feel good about ourselves and get rejuvenated and come back looking forward to that playoff push.” Portland has lost three of its past four games after falling 120-111 to the host Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday. Trail Blazers star point guard Damian Lillard is averaging 28 points against Golden State this season, including a 40-point effort during a 115-105 loss on Dec. 29.

TV: 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN, NBCS Bay Area (Golden State), NBCS Northwest (Portland)

ABOUT THE WARRIORS (41-15): Shooting guard Klay Thompson scored 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting against Utah despite dislocating the ring finger on his left hand in the first quarter. Coach Steve Kerr said after the contest that Thompson will play against Portland and marveled at the reliability of the eight-year veteran. “His availability every single night is one of his best attributes as an NBA player,” Kerr said. “It is just incredibly valuable to have a guy you just know you can count on. Even on nights where he gets banged up, he seems to kind of shake it off and come right back.”

ABOUT THE TRAIL BLAZERS (33-23): Lillard scored 31 points against Oklahoma City for his second 30-point outing and his sixth in his past 11 appearances. Shooting guard CJ McCollum scored 30 or more points in three straight games and four of six before struggling with 11-of-37 shooting – averaging 13.5 points – in back-to-back losses to Dallas and Oklahoma City. Backup guard Rodney Hood is getting incorporated into the mix and is averaging 10.3 points while making 13-of-19 shots in three games since being acquired from the Cleveland Cavaliers.

BUZZER BEATERS

1. The Warriors are 2-1 against the Trail Blazers this season and have won 18 of the past 24 meetings.

2. Golden State SF Kevin Durant scored 28 points against Utah and has scored 20 or more in 28 of the past 29 contests.

3. Portland backup SF Jake Layman scored 17 points in the loss to the Thunder and has scored in double digits in 10 of the past 13 games.

Posted in NBA, Top Fantasy Picks

Source: Tom Pennington / Getty Images North America

Preview: South Carolina at Tennessee

Tennessee puts its No. 1 ranking – and its program-record 18-game winning streak – on the line when it hosts South Carolina for an SEC matchup on Wednesday. The Volunteers have matched the best start to conference play in school history by winning their first 10 SEC games, including eight by double digits.

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That includes a 92-70 rout of the Gamecocks at South Carolina on Jan. 29 in which Tennessee shot 56.3 percent. The Gamecocks have been much better defensively in their three games since and held Arkansas to 38.6 percent from the field in a 77-65 home win on Saturday. South Carolina remains one of the biggest surprises in SEC play, sitting fourth in the league standings after a disappointing non-conference slate. The Vols have won 22 straight at home dating to last season, the second-longest active streak in the nation.

TV: 6:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network

ABOUT SOUTH CAROLINA (12-11, 7-3 SEC): Coach Frank Martin’s teams typically are known for their defensive prowess, but this year’s squad has broken the mold a bit and ranks higher in offensive efficiency than defensive efficiency. The Gamecocks have developed a strong one-two punch at the offensive end with Chris Silva (13.7 points, seven rebounds) and freshman guard A.J. Lawson (13.7 points). Hassani Gravett (10.7 points) also has emerged as a scoring threat, shooting 40 percent from 3-point range.

ABOUT TENNESSEE (22-1, 10-0): The Vols are one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country and shoot 51.6 percent from the field, which ranks second in the nation. They also limit their mistakes as their 10.6 turnovers per game are the fewest in the SEC, which is a testament to point guard Jordan Bone (13.3 points, 6.6 assists). Bone has plenty with which to work, including star forward Grant Williams (19.9 points, 7.3 rebounds) and versatile swingman Admiral Schofield (16.5, 6.3).

TIP-INS

1. Tennessee has scored 40 or more points in the paint in 14 games this season, including five of its last seven.

2. South Carolina is 1-13 all-time against top-ranked teams, with the win coming at home against Kentucky in 2010.

3. The Vols are 16-0 when they shoot 50 percent or better from the field.

Posted in CBB, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: Phil Mickelson
Source: Harry How / Getty Images North America

Mickelson has made the last nine cuts at Riviera

The Genesis Open golf tournament is set for Feb. 14-17 at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif. That means it’s time to pick your optimal FanPicks fantasy golf lineup. Fortunately, our fantasy golf experts are ready to help.

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Here’s what our best Genesis Open 2019 lineup looks like:

Phil Mickelson ($7,000)

A loaded field — six of the world’s top 10, plus Jordan and Tiger — and a classic venue give this week something of a major feel. But nobody checks the dual fantasy boxes of course history and current form quite like Phil. He’s made the last nine cuts here, with two wins and two seconds, and he has a win and a T2 over the last three weeks. He put on an absolute clinic at Pebble. He’s first on Tour in birdie average, and he just keeps giving himself makable looks. Ride the wave.      

Bubba Watson ($6,900)

Another Riviera ringer, Bubba’s the defending champ and has three Genesis wins in the last five years. Last seen finishing T4 in Phoenix, where he struck the ball beautifully. Success at Riviera seems to portend success at Augusta, and our top two picks this week have five green jackets between them.      

Matt Kuchar ($6,300)

Your current FedExCup leader arrives playing as well as anyone in the world, with two wins and six top 25s in seven starts for the young season. The numbers are a buffet of tasty morsels — 3rd in Driving Accuracy, 5th in GIR, 20th in SG: Total. He’s been so good that a T22 at Pebble was a major disappointment.    

Charles Howell III ($5,900)

CH3’s last five tournaments look like this: 1, T14, T8, T34, T20. He’s won this tournament before (2007), and he’s playing well right now. That two-fer puts him on our radar.    

Keegan Bradley ($5,600)

It all comes down to the putter with this guy. He’s striking it well — 33rd in SG: Tee-to-Green — but he’s an abysmal 213th in SG: Putting. He could probably manage that with his eyes closed (which may be worth a try at this point). Still, he’s a cut-making machine — 17 in a row, and 31 of his last 33.  

Ernie Els ($4,900)

Els, who turns 50 in October, likes the idea of being a playing captain for the 2019 Presidents Cup matches before he turns his attention to his fellow greybeards. And his game is showing flashes of its former greatness — a T12 at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic that included a second-round 65, and a T28 this past weekend at Pebble. 

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Posted in Golf, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: Cassius Winston
Source: Abbie Parr / Getty Images North America

Preview: Michigan State at Wisconsin

It will be a battle to stay in contention for the Big Ten regular-season title Tuesday night when No. 12 Michigan State travels to face No. 23 Wisconsin. The Spartans, who broke a three-game losing streak with a 79-55 victory over Minnesota on Saturday, are a game behind first-place Michigan entering this contest while the Badgers, who fell to the No. 7 Wolverines 61-52 in their last outing, are two games behind and need a win to stay in the hunt.

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Junior guard Cassius Winston (team-high 18.6 points, league-best 7.4 assists, 44.5 percent 3-point shooting) is the spark plug for the high-powered Michigan State offense, which averages 81.9 points, best in the Big Ten. Forward Nick Ward (15.5 points) came alive in the win over Minnesota, scoring 22 points and grabbing nine rebounds, while guard Matt McQuaid had a season-high 18 points and a career-best eight assists in the contest. Wisconsin will pose a challenge for the Spartans, though, as the Badgers are second in the league in scoring defense (61 points) and field-goal percentage defense (39.5 percent), just behind Michigan State’s league-best 37.1 percent. Senior forward Ethan Happ is Mr. Everything for coach Greg Gard, averaging 18.3 points, 10.5 rebounds and 4.9 assists – all of which rank in the league’s top ten – as he attempts to become the first player in Big Ten history to average at least 15 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.

TV: 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2

ABOUT MICHIGAN STATE (19-5, 10-3 Big Ten): Coach Tom Izzo has been mixing his freshmen in at varying times this season, though he may be forced into using one a little more than he’d planned in the next few games. Against Minnesota, forward Kenny Goins went down early with an elbow injury, playing only seven minutes, and reserve forward Xavier Tillman was hampered by foul troubles, which opened the door for 6-8 freshman forward Thomas Kithier to play a career-high 18 minutes. Kithier responded to the extra playing time, scoring a career-high eight points, and with uncertainty about Goins’ availability in the next few games, it’s likely that Kithier will see even more court time.

ABOUT WISCONSIN (17-7, 9-4): Sophomore guard Brad Davison already has a history against Michigan State, going for a career-high 30 points in a home loss to the Spartans last February. But it could be his defense that makes a difference in this game, with his penchant for drawing charges and Michigan State desperate to keep Winston out of foul trouble and in the game. The Spartans – and Winston in particular – had a difficult time with the on-the-ball pressure applied by Illinois in last week’s Illini win, with Winston turning the ball over nine times, and that kind of pressure is just what Davison will look to apply to the Spartans’ leading scorer in an effort to get him off his game.

TIP-INS

1. Michigan State leads the nation in assists per game, averaging 20.2, and is coming off a game against Minnesota in which it handed out 27 assists on 31 made field goals for a season-best 87.1 assist percentage.

2. Badgers G D’Mitrik Trice – younger brother of former Spartan G Travis Trice – is fourth in the Big Ten in 3-point shooting at 44.9 percent, and Wisconsin as a team leads the conference, hitting 39.5 percent from beyond the arc.

3. Since the start of the 2001-02 season, Wisconsin is the only Big Ten team to own a .500 or better record against Michigan State, going 17-17 against the Spartans over that span.

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Posted in CBB, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: Joel Embiid
Source: Getty Image North America

Preview: Celtics at 76ers

The Philadelphia 76ers made significant improvements at last week’s trade deadline and have since played like a team that is headed in the right direction. The Boston Celtics, who visit the 76ers on Tuesday, failed to make any upgrades prior to the deadline and are looking like a team that needed a shake-up.

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After a quiet deadline day last Thursday, the Celtics lost on a buzzer-beater to the Los Angeles Lakers and then blew a 28-point lead before falling to the Los Angeles Clippers 123-112 on Saturday in a demoralizing defeat. “I mean, for me, it’s not really about the loss,” forward Marcus Morris told reporters in an eye-opening session after the game. “It’s about the attitude that we’re playing with. Guys are hanging their head. It’s just not fun, it’s not fun. We’re not competing at a high level. Even when we’re winning it’s still not fun. I just don’t see the joy in the game.” The sour note cast by Morris stands in stark contrast to what’s going on in Philadelphia, where the Sixers are coming off impressive wins over the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers since making a series of deadline moves. Joel Embiid went off for 37 points and 14 rebounds in Sunday’s 143-120 rout of the Lakers as Philadelphia moved one game ahead of Boston for fourth place in the Eastern Conference.

TV: 8 p.m. ET, TNT

ABOUT THE CELTICS (35-21): Saturday’s collapse began late in the first half after All-Star guard Kyrie Irving suffered a sprained knee that will leave him on the sidelines Tuesday and potentially Wednesday against Detroit at home. Gordon Hayward had a team-high 19 points off the bench while Irving’s fellow starters combined to shooting 14-for-42 from the floor without their leader. “There’s no excuses,” coach Brad Stevens told reporters of the Irving injury. “Those things happen and we all have to pick up for that. So, I’ll go back and figure out what I can do better, what we can do better, and we’ll go from there.”

ABOUT THE 76ERS (36-20): Embiid was 12-for-16 from the floor in Sunday’s win while newly acquired forward Tobias Harris had 22 points on 9-of-14 in his second game with the team. Point guard Ben Simmons contributed seven assists and stunned the masses with a rare 3-point attempt that rattled in and out, potentially signalling an addition to the dynamic All-Star’s repertoire. “I think just being more aggressive, taking more open shots and just trying to grow my game in that way,” Simmons, who is 0-for-14 in his career beyond the arc, told reporters. “I think I’m getting there. It just takes time, but I’m going to get there.”

BUZZER BEATERS

1. The Celtics took the first two meetings — both at home. Irving scored 40 points in an overtime triumph against the Sixers on Christmas Day.

2. Hayward averages 9.4 points while shooting 25.9 percent from 3-point distance on the road, compared to 11.8 on 36.4 percent at home.

3. Sixers PG T.J. McConnell is 8-for-8 from the floor with zero turnovers in 33 minutes over his last two games.

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Posted in NBA, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: Kevin De Bruyne
Source: Alex Livesey / Getty Image Europe

This is it. The UEFA Champions League kicks back off this week as the knockout rounds are here.

With all four Premier League teams competing in the last 16, three of them (Man City, Liverpool, Tottenham) face Bundesliga opponents over two legs in the coming weeks, while Manchester United square off with Paris Saint-Germain.

Huge clashes between Ajax and Real Madrid, plus Atletico Madrid v. Juventus, Roma v. Porto and Barcelona against Lyon make up a mouthwatering first knockout round.

Below is a prediction of how each of the eight last 16 clashes will go, as Liverpool, Man City, Man United and Spurs all eye deep runs in the competition.

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AS Roma v. FC Porto
First leg: Feb. 12 at Stadio Olimpico
Second leg: Mar. 6 at Dragao
Score prediction – Roma will have too much going forward for Porto and their experience will count here. 4-2 aggregate win to Roma.


Manchester United v. Paris Saint Germain
First leg: Feb. 12 at Old Trafford
Second leg: Mar. 6 at Parc des Princes

Score prediction – Injuries to PSG’s key players is a huge help for United. 3-3 draw on aggregate, United to go through on away goals.


Tottenham Hotspur v. Borussia Dortmund
First leg: Feb. 13, at Wembley
Second leg: Mar. 5 at Signal Iduna Park

Score prediction – Not having Harry Kane and Dele Alli for the first leg hurts, but Spurs will fancy their chances with the duo back for the second leg. Tottenham to win 5-4 on aggregate.


Ajax v. Real Madrid
First leg: Feb. 13, at Johan Cruyff Arena
Second leg: Mar. 5 at Santiago Bernabeu
Score prediction – Given their wobbles all season long, Ajax will aim to end Real’s dominance in the UCL. I just can’t see it happening. 4-1 win on aggregate to Real Madrid.


Liverpool v. Bayern Munich

First leg: Feb. 19 at Anfield
Second leg: Mar. 13 at Allianz Arena
Score prediction – Such a tough tie for Jurgen Klopp‘s men against an improving, and experienced, Bayern. Everyone expects Liverpool to win, but this is so close to call. 4-4 on aggregate, Bayern to win on penalties.


Lyon v. Barcelona
First leg: Feb. 19 at Groupama Stadium

Second leg: Mar. 13 at Nou Camp
Score prediction – Over the past few years Lyon’s youngsters have punched above their weight, but Barcelona look hungry. Messi and Co. will take care of business. 6-2 aggregate win for Barca.


Schalke v. Manchester City
First leg: Feb. 20 at Veltins-Arena
Second leg: Mar. 12 at Etihad Stadium
Score prediction – A tricky test for Pep Guardiola‘s men who are the heavy favorites. Schalke sit in midtable in the Bundesliga and their full attention will be on these games. City’s attack will have too much for them. 5-3 win on aggregate to Man City.


Atletico Madrid v. Juventus
First leg: Feb. 20 at Wanda Metropolitano
Second leg: Mar. 12 at Allianz Stadium
Score prediction – What a tie this promises to be. Two teams used to making deep runs in this competition and Ronaldo returning to try and haunt Atletico again. Diego Simeone’s men have stumbled a few times this season. Juve will get the job done at home in the second leg. 3-2 to Juventus on aggregate.

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Posted in EPL/MLS, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: James Harden
Source: Harry How / Getty Image North America

Preview: Mavericks at Rockets

James Harden will try to push his streak of 30-point games to 30 in a row when he leads the Houston Rockets into a home matchup with the Dallas Mavericks on Monday. Harden continued his phenomenal scoring run with 42 points in Saturday’s 117-112 loss to Oklahoma City, leaving him two 30-point games away from tying Wilt Chamberlain for the second-longest such streak in NBA history.

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The 29-year-old Harden is averaging exactly 30 points in two meetings with the Mavericks this season, but both of them were losses and the team knows it sometimes needs more than his scoring punch to get by. “We have to be consistent for four quarters,” Harden told reporters Saturday after his team fell to 19-9 at home. “It’s pretty simple.” Dallas has taken six of its last nine games after a furious rally gave it a 102-101 win over Portland at home Sunday. Luka Doncic scored 28 points, Tim Hardaway Jr. added 24 and the Mavericks held the Trail Blazers to just nine fourth-quarter points to finish 2-1 on their three-game homestand.

TV: 8 p.m. ET, NBATV, FS Southwest (Dallas), AT&T SportsNet Southwest (Houston)

ABOUT THE MAVERICKS (26-29): Doncic played the entire fourth quarter Sunday and scored 13 points while helping Dallas keep Portland from putting up a single point for nearly seven minutes during one stretch. “Luka was great in the fourth,” coach Rick Carlisle told the media of his star rookie. “Not only did he score and make plays but he had a lot of big rebounds down the stretch. I don’t normally play him a whole quarter but when we began to make the push early in the fourth it was just one of these times that he was going to have to finish if you’re going to have a chance.” Carlisle also gave credit to Hardaway Jr., who had a total of 24 points on 10-of-28 shooting through his first two games with Dallas following last week’s blockbuster trade with the New York Knicks.

ABOUT THE ROCKETS (32-23): While Harden piles up the milestones, newcomer Kenneth Faried is quietly working on an impressive streak of his own with four straight double-doubles. He shot 8-of-11 from the floor in the loss to the Thunder and is hitting 63 percent of his shots in 10 games since joining Houston last month. Point guard Chris Paul seems to be rounding into shape roughly two weeks after returning from a hamstring strain and fell an assist shy of a triple-double against Oklahoma City.

BUZZER BEATERS

1. Doncic was one of six Mavericks in double figures with 21 points in a 107-104 win over Houston in the last meeting.

2. Harden averages 7.8 assists but has a total of only two over his last two games.

3. Mavericks PF Dwight Powell has hit 50 percent of his shots or better in nine straight games.

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Posted in NBA, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: Cristiano Ronaldo
Source: Getty Image Europe

With the Champions League group stage in the books, the Round of 16 draw produced some juicy matchups.

Trash talk, compare notes and/or talk football during all champions league fantasy contest. It’s new and available at FanPicks

Highlighting the results is a trio of clashes between English and German sides, plus Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Madrid.

Schalke did what needed to be done in a weak Group D but scored just six goals doing so, the lowest goal total for any of the teams that advanced to the knockout stage. With all due respect, Manchester City should progress to the final eight with relative ease.

7) AS Roma vs. FC Porto

Roma is not the same side that advanced to the semifinals in last year’s competition, and expectations should be tempered as a result. Porto, meanwhile, enters the Round of 16 as just one of three undefeated group stage teams and could be a dark horse to make a surprise run.

6) Olympique Lyonnais vs. FC Barcelona

Lyon gave Manchester City fits in Group F, handing the defending English champion its only loss of the group stage and playing to a 2-2 draw in the reverse fixture. And though they lead La Liga, this is not the dominant Barcelona of years past so we could see a closer tie than expected.

5) AFC Ajax vs. Real Madrid

Real Madrid ended the group stage in disgrace, falling 3-0 to CSKA Moscow for the title holder’s worst-ever European defeat on home soil. And another upset could be in the cards: led by highly-touted Dutch youngster Frenkie de Jong, Ajax challenged Bayern Munich in the group and came within minutes from finishing above the German giants. If Real Madrid is going to challenge for a fourth straight European title, it will have to get past this tricky tie.

4) Manchester United vs. Paris Saint-Germain

There is some concern for PSG going into this one. Both Neymar and Cavani are out because of injuries. It now all comes over the shoulders of Mbappe to lead his team to victory. At the same time, it will be on Jose Mourinho shoulders to lead the Red Devils past the french squad and guarantee his job security.

3) Atletico Madrid vs. Juventus

Ronaldo’s return to Madrid against his former club’s arch-rival will be sure to dominate the headlines in the lead-up to this mouth-watering Round of 16 tie. And it’s likely CR7 will be a difference-maker here, as these are two of Europe’s stoutest teams – goals will be at a premium.

2) Tottenham Hotspur vs. Borussia Dortmund

Spurs got into the knockout stage by the skin of their teeth and are rewarded with a clash against the current Bundesliga leaders, who are off to a scorching start under new manager Lucien Favre. Tottenham boasts loads of English talents, but one of the country’s most exciting young talents plays for the opposition: Jadon Sancho, who leads the Bundesliga with seven assists.

1) Liverpool vs. Bayern Munich

The best tie of the Round of 16 features the Premier League leaders and the only remaining undefeated club in England’s top flight against six-time defending Bundesliga champions Bayern, who are struggling in third place in the league. Munich is a team Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp knows well from his time on the Dortmund sidelines.

Posted in EPL/MLS, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: Mookie Betts
Source: Ezra Shaw / Getty Image North America

Baltimore Orioles

The teardown of the Orioles began in July as they spiraled deeper into last place in the American League East. The task of rebuilding was next on the docket and ensured that they wouldn’t contend again for at least a few years. There’s no timetable given and no reason to believe in a quick fix. Changes have ripped apart the organization like a tornado — a new head of baseball operations, new assistants, a new manager and new director of player development and director of scouting. The Orioles got a late start in making the hires and evaluating the talent on their roster, which doesn’t stack up to their division rivals. It isn’t close. They took a hard fall into last place with 115 losses, worst in the majors, and reaching triple-digit losses again is a realistic possibility.

Boston Red Sox

And now comes the hard part — when the encore doubles as the farewell tour. The Red Sox shocked baseball with a run of wire-to-wire dominance unwitnessed since the 1998 Yankees, winning 108 games and their fourth World Series title since 2004. They cleared every obstacle in their path, from Opening Day, when the bullpen imploded vs. Tampa, to Game 3 of the World Series, when a walk-off homer beat them in the 18th inning. They return basically their entire roster, but change is coming. In the next two years alone, free agency looms for standouts such as Chris Sale, J.D. Martinez, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Rick Porcello and Jackie Bradley Jr. They’ll be motivated to go for broke, because this isn’t the start of a budding dynasty. It’s already the last waltz.

New York Yankees

This will give you an idea of the lofty expectations the Yankees face in 2019: Last year’s 100-win campaign, which ended when the Yanks gave the eventual champion Red Sox their toughest October series, is generally considered a flop in New York. Too harsh? Maybe. But the loaded Yankees are a World Series-or-bust team again, thanks to big-name stars such as Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, blooming youngsters like Gleyber Torres and a velocity-crazed bullpen. 

GM Brian Cashman re-signed Brett Gardner and CC Sabathia and bolstered the rotation by trading for Seattle lefty James Paxton and re-signing J.A. Happ. Paxton could be the October ace the Yankees crave, and he and Luis Severino should lead a rotation that just might be the key to toppling Boston in the brawny American League East. 

The Yankees, with all their young talent, are set up to contend for years, but they might have to go through Boston to get back to the World Series — which would be a nice way to celebrate the 10th anniversary of their last championship season.

Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays were quite pleased to win 90 games in a 2018 season that started brutally bad and included a string of key injuries that forced them to employ some innovative strategy.

But they were far from satisfied.

Team officials started talking that way right from the start of the offseason, plotting to be aggressive and take advantage of some rare financial flexibility to do so at a higher price point. And they showed they were serious about making the most of their window to contend, working an early November trade to acquire catcher Mike Zunino in a sell-high deal for outfielder Mallex Smith in the first in a series of moves that may continue up until Opening Day.

By Christmas, the Rays had let veteran closer Sergio Romo and outfielder Carlos Gomez become free agents, DFA’d leading home run hitter C.J. Cron (getting only the $50,000 waiver fee), signed free agent starter Charlie Morton to a two-year, $30 million deal, swapped supposed cornerstone first baseman Jake Bauers for hard-hitting Yandy Diaz and traded three minor league pitchers in a deal that netted reliever Emilio Pagan (plus a draft pick).

Rather than seeking to plug specific holes, senior VP Chaim Bloom said their approach was more about saying, “Okay, we have this group now that did what they did last year, that we feel strongly about their futures; how can we help support that group to put them in the best position to do what we didn’t do this past year, which is pop champagne and get to the postseason?” 

Toronto Blue Jays

The Toronto Blue Jays head into the new season firmly fixated on building for the future after definitively closing their previous competitive window during a miserable 2018. At the transition’s forefront is top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who tore through Double-A and Triple-A while earning wide acclaim as the best prospect in baseball. Guerrero, who will be 20 on Opening Day, is the first such franchise-altering talent acquired and developed internally since Carlos Delgado, and for the team to avoid an extended period of pain, he’ll need to hit the ground running after Josh Donaldson became the latest star slugger to depart the club. Once called up, likely after his free agency has been pushed back a year, Guerrero will arrive to find a new manager in Charlie Montoyo and a mostly new coaching staff. A return to contention hinges on how the Blue Jays manage to fill in around their budding star, as there’s very little certainty on the roster beyond him. 

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Posted in MLB, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: Jeremiah Martin
Source: Getty Image North America

Preview: Connecticut at Memphis

Connecticut has had its share of ups-and-downs in the first year under coach Dan Hurley, but it is about to face perhaps its biggest challenge playing without senior star guard Jalen Adams for the next four to six weeks – which could mean the season. Looking for a new leader, the Huskies will take to the road Sunday to play a Memphis team that is 11-2 at home with both defeats coming against ranked opponents.

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UConn began the season 6-1, including a win against Syracuse, and fans seemed attracted to Hurley’s intense attitude and aggressive play on the court, but the club has dropped all five of its road games in American Athletic Conference play and seven of its last 11 games overall. Adams, who played just six minutes in the 81-63 defeat to Temple on Wednesday before suffering a sprained MCL in his left knee, was leading the team in scoring (17.0 points) while contributing 3.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.1 steals per contest. Memphis has its own star guard in Jeremiah Martin, who made a career-high eight 3-pointers and scored a game-high 26 points against No. 23 Cincinnati, but it wasn’t enough as the Bearcats rallied from an 11-point deficit early in the second half for a 69-64 victory on Thursday. “We didn’t rebound the ball (well) in the second half and they got a couple of easy baskets,” said Martin, who was coming off a career-high 41-point effort at South Florida. “That’s what allowed them to push away.”

TV: 2 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network

ABOUT CONNECTICUT (13-10, 4-6 American): Sophomore forward Josh Carlton (8.6 points, 5.9 rebounds) didn’t post a double-double in his first 54 games at UConn, but the 6-9 forward had 18 points and 13 boards against Temple for his second straight, following a 20-point, 16-rebound performance against East Carolina. Junior guard Christian Vital (14.0 points, 6.0 rebounds) had 18 points and 13 rebounds against the Owls, while Eric Cobb added 13 points and five boards as guard Alterique Gilbert (13.0 points, 3.8 assists) missed his third straight game with a shoulder injury. UConn won the battle of the boards, 41-30, but shot just 40.3 percent, including 4-of-18 from 3-point range, and allowed the Owls to shoot 52.7 percent, including 11-of-23 beyond the arc. 

ABOUT MEMPHIS (13-10, 5-5): Senior forward Kyvon Davenport (14.3 points, 7.4 rebounds) had 12 points and 10 boards as the Tigers lost for the first time this season when holding an opponent to less than 40 percent from the field (39.7 percent). In his past two games, Martin (16.7 points, 4.3 assists, 4.0 rebounds) has scored 67 points and connected on 22-of-39 field goals and 15-of-23 shots beyond the arc to reach 1,301 career points – 20th most in school history. Freshman guard Tyler Harris, a Top-100 recruit, is averaging 12.1 points but is shooting just 37.2 percent from the floor, including just 31.8 percent on 7.7 attempts beyond the arc per game.

TIP-INS

1. Memphis swept the season series last season. 

2. Martin is four points behind David Vaughn (1992-95) and 18 points behind his coach, Penny Hardaway (1992-93) and Alvin Wright (1975-78) on the school’s all-time list.

3. Richard Hamilton, who was named the Most Outstanding Player of the 1999 Final Four after leading UConn to its first NCAA National Championship, is scheduled to return to Connecticut to join his former teammates for a celebration on Sunday, Feb. 24.

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Posted in CBB, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: LeBron James
Source: Harry How / Getty Image North America

Preview: Lakers at Celtics

The Los Angeles Lakers are at the center of a media circus in front of Thursday’s NBA trade deadline, and the rumors seem to be getting to some of the young players on the team. The Lakers might look like a completely different team when they visit the rival Boston Celtics on Thursday.

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Los Angeles is reportedly in hot pursuit of disgruntled New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis to pair with superstar LeBron James and offered up just about every young player on the roster in negotiations, including Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball. The rumors left the Lakers looking lifeless at Indiana on Tuesday, when they suffered the worst loss of James’ career 136-94 while Ingram and company were serenaded with “LeBron’s gonna trade you” chants at the free-throw line. The Celtics, who would very much like to get into the Davis trade discussions but have to wait until July 1 to pair him with All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, are winners of 10 of their last 11 games and eased past the Cleveland Cavaliers 103-96 on the road Tuesday despite missing Irving, center Aron Baynes and forward Marcus Morris. “That’s what makes us so dangerous, that we have depth in that aspect, where we can bring guys off the bench and we can sit guys, or we can go without guys, and guys are going to step up and have a good game,” Boston guard Marcus Smart told reporters.

TV: 8 p.m. ET, TNT, Spectrum SportsNet (Los Angeles)

ABOUT THE LAKERS (27-27): James sat on the end of the bench with several empty seats between him and the rest of his teammates toward the end of Tuesday’s setback and acknowledged that what the young players are going through isn’t easy. “I know it has to be tough on a lot of our guys, especially our young guys,” James told reporters. “Right now, they’ve just never been a part of it and they’re hearing it every single day — and I know that the worst thing that you can do right now is be on social media. And I know all young guys love social media. So, that definitely can’t help.” The Lakers dropped 13 of 20 games since James went down with a groin injury on Dec. 25 and sit in 10th place in the Western Conference.

ABOUT THE CELTICS (35-19): Boston is not expected to make any big moves in front of Thursday’s deadline and already enjoys enviable depth on a team that took James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to the seventh game of the Eastern Conference finals last season. “I think it should stay the same,” Morris told the Boston Herald of the team’s roster. “Guys are playing into what’s going on, (the All-Star Game) is about to pass and that’s when it ramps up. Guys want to play the way they’re supposed to during winning time, like we did last year when the intensity picked up. We should stay the same.” One difference from last season is the health of swingman Gordon Hayward, who is battling some inconsistency but put up 18 points on 9-of-14 shooting, six rebounds and five assists off the bench on Tuesday.

BUZZER BEATERS

1. Irving (hip) and Morris (knee soreness) are both day-to-day.

2. James (32,008) became the fifth player in NBA history to reach 32,000 points on Tuesday.

3. The teams split the two meetings last season, with each protecting homecourt.

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Posted in NBA, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: B.J. Taylor
Source: Jared Wickerham / Getty Image North America

Preview: Houston at Central Florida

It didn’t take long for Central Florida to get rid of the bad taste in its mouth from a 20-point loss to Memphis as the Knights went out and beat Connecticut 73-67 last Thursday for their 11th victory at home. But now the going gets tougher for the Knights as they welcome 12th-ranked Houston to Orlando on Thursday for a battle between two of the top three teams in the American Athletic Conference.

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“Our whole thing after the Memphis game was to get right,” UCF senior guard B.J. Taylor told reporters after the UConn victory. “We knew we had to come back and get back to being who we were and get back to winning.” The Knights came out on fire against the Huskies, surging out to a 15-point lead in the first half but they had to hang on for the win as their usually tough defense loosened up after the break, letting UConn hit 53 percent of its shots in the second half, including 6-of-12 from 3-point range. The Cougars, likewise, rely on their defense and it has carried them to six straight victories, including a 73-66 triumph over Temple Thursday night that avenged the team’s only loss of the season (73-69 to the Owls on Jan. 9) during which each opponent was held to 70 points or less during that streak. “We win with defense,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson told reporters. “The thing we hang our hat on — and good teams have something they can hang their hat on — is the way we defend and rebound.”

TV:
7 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network

ABOUT HOUSTON (21-1, 8-1 AAC): Junior guard Armoni Brooks entered the last outing as the Cougars’ leading scorer at 14.8 points per contest but he had an off night against Temple due to foul trouble and was held to a season-low three points, dropping him to second (14.3) on the team in scoring to senior guard Corey Davis Jr. (15.0), who had 24 points against the Owls. Brooks paces the team in rebounds (6.1) while senior point guard Galen Robinson Jr. sits second in the conference with 5.3 assists per game. The Cougars rank sixth in the nation in scoring defense (60.5) and they limited Temple to 34.3 percent shooting from the field to push them up to second nationally in field goal percentage defense (36.3).

ABOUT UCF (16-4, 6-2): The Knights have matched the 2003-04 squad for the program’s best 20-game start in the Division I era, and a victory over the Cougars would give them their best nine-game record in AAC play. UCF ranks second in the conference to Houston in field goal percentage defense (39.3) and third behind Houston and Cincinnati in scoring defense (63.9), but it’s a much-improved and efficient offense — the AAC’s best (46.8 percent) — that is the difference in the team this season. Taylor (16.9 ppg) came up big in carrying the Knights past UConn with his first 20-point game (21) since he totaled 24 in the AAC opener against Temple, but guard Aubrey Dawkins, the team’s second-leading scorer(15.1), was held below 10 points for the second straight game after he scored in double digits the first 18.

TIP-INS

1. Houston owns a 14-10 series lead and has won three straight and five of the last six meetings, including an 84-56 victory in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament a year ago.

2. The Knights are just 5-44 against ranked teams, but two of those victories (Alabama, Cincinnati) came in the last two seasons under head coach Johnny Dawkins.

3. The Knights have won 31 home games in a row, the nation’s longest active streak.

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Posted in CBB, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: Matthew Tkatchuk
Source: Derek Leung / Getty Image North America

Preview: Sharks at Flames

Tensions may come to a boil when the San Jose Sharks visit the Calgary Flames on Thursday in a battle of the Pacific Division’s top two teams. While San Jose has won three in a row and 10 of 13 and Calgary is on a torrid 9-1-1 run, their physical New Year’s Eve contest was ratcheted up a notch after Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk’s hit on defenseman Radim Simek caught the ire of several Sharks players.

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“We’ll see,” San Jose’s Evander Kane told reporters when asked if the late actions in Calgary’s 8-5 win will play into Thursday’s tilt. “It’s something hopefully everyone in this room remembers because it doesn’t matter who you are – whether you are a skilled guy, a big guy, a tough guy, a small guy, it’s on each and every person in this room to stick up for one another.” Captain Joe Pavelski scored his team-leading 29th goal 2:49 into overtime of Tuesday’s 3-2 victory versus Winnipeg to give him eight points (three goals, five assists) in his last four outings. While San Jose appears charged for the rematch, Calgary star Johnny Gaudreau said he is focused on his team’s play as it heads toward a pivotal stretch in the schedule. “This is the most important part of the season, these last 30 games,” said the 25-year-old Gaudreau, who leads the team in goals (29), assists (45) and points (74). “You’re still trying to string together wins, other teams are battling, trying to make wild-card spots. It gets harder down the stretch. This when you need your best players to show up, night in and night out.”

TV: 9 p.m. ET, ESPN-Plus, NBCS California (San Jose), Sportsnet 1 (Calgary)

ABOUT THE SHARKS (31-16-7): Defenseman Brent Burns set up Pavelski’s short-handed goal in overtime on Tuesday to boost his club-high totals in assists (48) and points (58). Like Burns, Logan Couture is also riding a four-game point streak after his power-play versus the Jets gave him three tallies and three assists in that stretch. Joonas Donskoi hasn’t been as fortunate of late as he has been held off the scoresheet in four consecutive contests heading into the tilt with Calgary, against which he has three goals and an assist this season.

ABOUT THE FLAMES (34-14-5): Tkachuk wasn’t interested in providing bulletin-board material when he met with reporters on Wednesday to discuss the rematch with the Sharks. “I don’t think I’m going to be the guy who’s going to give you what you want on that quote,” the 21-year-old said. “… We have guys that can play that style, too. (Kane) is a good player. They’re a really good team. It’s going to be a great game.” Sean Monahan notched five assists for a career high in points for a game in the last meeting with the Sharks, while Gaudreau and Tkachuk each scored two goals and set up two others.

OVERTIME

1. Calgary and San Jose combined for 64 penalty minutes in the final 41 seconds in their New Year’s Eve game.

2. The Sharks have surrendered the second-most goals in the league in the first five minutes of a period (48).

3. Calgary F Mikael Backlund, who had two goals in the last meeting with San Jose, has five points (three goals, two assists) in his last four games overall.

 

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Posted in NHL, Top Fantasy Picks