Pictured: Alex Ovechkin
Source: Getty Images North America

Preview: Washington at Toronto

The Toronto Maple Leafs have refused to let two straight setbacks extend to a three-game losing skid on eight separate occasions this season. The Maple Leafs look to nip their latest two-game streak in the bud on Thursday when they bid for a season sweep of the visiting Washington Capitals.

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Although Toronto dropped the final two contests of its season-high six-game road trip (3-2-1), coach Mike Babcock generally was pleased with the team’s overall body of work. “I liked our road trip a lot,” Babcock said after the Maple Leafs settled for a 3-2 overtime setback to white-hot St. Louis. “I didn’t like our game in Phoenix (a 2-0 loss to Arizona). Other than that, I liked our game every night.” Washington has alternated losses and wins in the first four contests of its six-game trek, although superstar captain Alex Ovechkin pushed his NHL-leading goal total to 42 with four in the last three outings — including two in a 3-2 victory at Los Angeles on Monday. The three-time Hart Trophy recipient joined Russian countryman Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom in recording a goal and two assists this season against Toronto, although former Vezina Trophy winner Braden Holtby permitted nine goals on 64 shots to lose both encounters.

TV: 7 p.m. ET, NBCS Washington, TVAS, TSN4 (Toronto)

ABOUT THE CAPITALS (33-20-7): Washington waived pending unrestricted free agent Devante Smith-Pelly on Wednesday after initially planning to part ways with fellow forward Dmitrij Jaskin. “Right now, there is a lot of movement going on, especially for teams that are salary-capped strapped like we are,” coach Todd Reirden said. “Earlier in the day, we had made the decision to put Jaskin on waivers and we changed our mind and were notified during practice. We made that adjustment and now Devante has been put on waivers.” The 26-year-old Smith-Pelly has eight points (four goals, four assists) in 54 games this season after scoring seven goals and setting up one other during the Capitals’ run to their first Stanley Cup title in 2017-18.

ABOUT THE MAPLE LEAFS (36-19-4): William Nylander, who has struggled mightily since signing a six-year contract extension, publicly welcomed the added responsibilities that come with playing the center position with Nazem Kadri sidelined with a concussion. “I thought we were able to create some chances, so it was fun,” the 22-year-old Nylander told the Toronto Sun of his line of Andreas Johnsson and Connor Brown. “I’m feeling pretty good, skating well and the chances are there. They’re coming, that’s all you can say.” The 25-year-old Brown had a pair of assists in Toronto’s 4-2 win over Washington on Oct. 13 and two more in a 6-3 victory versus the Capitals on Jan. 23.

OVERTIME

1. Toronto C Auston Matthews has seven points (four goals, three assists) in his last four games overall and three (two goals, one assist) against Washington this season.

2. Capitals D John Carlson has four of his club-best 45 assists in his last three contests.

3. Maple Leafs RW Kasperi Kapanen has six points (three goals, three assists) in his last five games.

Posted in NHL, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: Brooks Koepka
Source: Ross Kinnaird / Getty Images North America

Koepka comes in rested after a long layoff

The World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship golf tournament is set for Feb. 21-24 at the Club de Golf Chapultepec in Mexico City, Mexico. 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 WGC-Mexico Championship 2019 lineup looks like:

Brooks Koepka ($7,200)

Brooks has been pretty scarce stateside of late, with zero appearances in the lower 48 since the Tour Championship (not counting the appearance of his buttcheeks in that viral thong photo). But that just means he’s rested. The reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year and World No. 2 could jump-start another dominant season this week.

Tony Finau ($6,600)

Real tempted to go with defending champion Phil Mickelson here, but fatigue has to be setting in for the arthritic 48-year-old. So instead, we’ll go with a guy who’s brimming with youthful energy and who saves some of his best golf for the big stages. Since a T27 here last year, he’s gone T17, T10, 2 at the WGC events, with three major top 10s thrown in. His second career Tour win has proved elusive, but it’s inevitable.

Bubba Watson ($6,200)

Bubba will be cleared for takeoff in the altitude of Mexico City; he’s 3rd on Tour in SG: Off-the-Tee. He also loves to shape shots, and the Club de Golf Chapultepec offers plenty of opportunity for Bubba’s particular brand of sorcery. He’s coming off a nice T15 at Riviera and a T4 at Phoenix, and that’s without making many putts.  

Gary Woodland ($5,900)

Woodland has three top 10s in four starts in 2019, including a solo second at the Sentry. He’s hitting the ball beautifully — 4th in SG: Tee-to-Green, 5th in GIR, 4th in Birdie Average. He hasn’t missed a cut in almost a year, and he’s two for two in playing the weekend at the Club de Golf Chapultepec. 

Matt Kuchar ($5,800)

Kooch contritely (if belatedly) attempted to put the caddie-stiffing controversy behind him this week by publicly falling on his sword and begging forgiveness — and now he returns to the country where the controversy was born. So why are we picking him this week? Simple — the guy’s playing great golf (6th in Driving Accuracy, 9th in GIR, 6th in scoring). Look for him to go out of his way to endear himself to the Mexico fans this week.

Tyrell Hatton ($5,500)

Hatton’s a course-horse play this week, after a T3 here last year and a solo 10th in 2017. He’s coming off a missed cut at Riviera, but he had a nice T15 at Phoenix a few weeks ago and should find the high 70s in Mexico City much more to his liking than the hand-stinging mid-50s of LA last week.

Posted in Golf, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: Collin Gillespie
Source: Ronald Martinez / Getty Images North America

Preview: Villanova at Georgetown

Georgetown has had 2 1/2 weeks to come up with a solution for Collin Gillespie. On Wednesday, the Hoyas will prove whether they can stop the Villanova sophomore when they host the 16th-ranked Wildcats in Big East action.

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The first matchup between the teams took place on Feb. 3, when Gillespie made six 3-pointers en route to a career-high 30 points. “We just gave him too much airspace and he was able to knock down all those 3s,” Georgetown coach Patrick Ewing said after his team held the rest of the Wildcats to 3-for-20 from 3-point range in contrast to Gillespie’s 6-of-11 effort. Villanova enters this one having lost two of its last three, while Georgetown has dropped three of its last four. Hoyas star Jessie Govan had a day to forget against Villanova earlier this month, shooting 0-of-9 before fouling out in 13 scoreless minutes.

TV: 6:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1

ABOUT VILLANOVA (20-6, 11-2 Big East): The Wildcats shot only 33.3 percent from the field against St. John’s with the team’s three top scorers on the season – Phil Booth, Eric Paschall and Gillespie – shooting a combined 5-of-30 from the field (2-of-20 from outside the arc). Booth is just 4-of-25 from 3-point land over the last four outings, while Paschall is seeking back-to-back double-doubles for the first time this season. Gillespie followed up the strong performance against the Hoyas with a 4-of-9 effort from long range versus Creighton, but in his last three games, he is 2-of-19 from beyond the arc.

ABOUT GEORGETOWN (15-10, 5-7): Govan led the team in scoring (20) and rebounding (six) in a 90-75 loss to Seton Hall the last time out and committed two turnovers or fewer for the 13th time in 14 games. Jamorko Pickett was 3-of-6 from long distance against Seton Hall and, in the last four outings, he is 12-of-18 from 3-point land. James Akinjo comes into this one shooting 2-of-23 over the prior three contests.

TIP-INS

1. The Hoyas haven’t won a game in which they’ve scored fewer than 75 points since the season opener.

2. Villanova F Saddiq Bey has made multiple 3-pointers in four straight games.

3. Wildcats G Joe Cremo had as many 3-pointers against St. John’s (four) as in his previous four games combined.

Posted in CBB, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: Paulo Dybala (center) & Cristiano Ronaldo (right)
Source: Getty Images Europe

Atletico ‘inspired’ by possibility of home final

Atletico Madrid and Juventus go head-to-head in the Champions League knock-outs for the first time on Wednesday night.

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The pair both hold unwanted European Cup records – Juventus have finished as runners-up seven times, more than any other team in the competition’s history, while Atletico are the only team to reach three finals without ever winning the tournament.

For the Spanish side though, there is an extra inspiration for victory at the Wanda Metropolitano on Wednesday; should they make it to the final, they will be back in their home stadium which will host the showpiece game for the first time.

“Of course we are inspired by playing a final in our own stadium, in our own city, in front of our own fans,” said manager Diego Simeone. “But it is pointless only to imagine it. The reality will be what we deserve.”

Juventus are running away with Serie A as they chase an eighth straight domestic title, and their 13-point lead over Napoli may well prove unassailable.

That has left their focus strongly on the Champions League – and Paulo Dybala, whose five goals in the competition so far have helped the club to their fifth last-16 clash in a row, thinks they can put that focus to good use and go all the way.

He said: “We’ve got a great squad with some top professionals, who have gained a lot of experience over the course of these years.

“We’re clearly contenders, but we have to go out there and prove it.”

Team news

Diego Costa is in contention to play having returned to action in Atletico’s win at Rayo Vallecano last weekend. But Lucas Hernandez missed that game, and looks unlikely to recover in time for Wednesday.

Juan Cuadrado is missing having been absent with injury since December. Alex Sandro, who missed their last game with Frosinone, may return having trained on Tuesday.

Stats

Atlético Madrid have met Juventus seven times previously in European competition, although five of those matches were played in the Fairs Cup in the 1960s. In fact, Juventus’ last victory against Atlético Madrid dates back to June 1965 in a Fairs Cup semi-final second-leg replay (3-1)

Atlético Madrid and Juventus’ only previous Champions League encounter was in the 2014/15 group stages. Only one goal was scored in the two matches, an Arda Turan winner for Atlético at their home stadium of Vicente Calderón

Atlético Madrid are unbeaten in the Champions League against Italian opposition under manager Diego Simeone (W4 D2). In those six games, they have only conceded one goal, by Kaká in a 4-1 win against AC Milan in March 2014

Atlético Madrid have reached the Champions League knockout stages in five of their six campaigns under manager Diego Simeone. The only exception was last season when they finished third in their Champions League group and went on to win the Europa League

Atlético Madrid are unbeaten in their last 12 home games in the Champions League knockout stages (W7 D5). In fact, they’ve only conceded one goal in their last 10 matches at home in the knockout phase, an Isco strike for Real Madrid in May 2017

Only Atlético Madrid (6) have conceded fewer shots on target from inside their own box than Juventus (9) in this season’s Champions League

Juventus have won four of their last five away games in the knockout stages of the Champions League (D1). Their last defeat dates back to March 2016 in the last-16 second leg against Bayern Munich

Antoine Griezmann has scored or assisted a goal in each of his six Champions League games at the Wanda Metropolitano (6 goals, 3 assists). This season, he’s been directly involved in six of Atlético Madrid’s nine Champions League goals (67%), with four goals and two assists – that’s the highest ratio among the 16 teams left in the competition

Paulo Dybala has scored six goals in his last seven Champions League appearances, that’s more than in his previous 24 appearances in the competition with Juventus (5 goals). All 11 of his goals in the competition have come with his left foot

Juventus’s Cristiano Ronaldo has scored only one goal in his last eight Champions League games; he’d found the net 11 times in his eight previous games. He has failed to score in four of his last five UCL games against Atlético Madrid.

Massimiliano Allegri has reached the knockout stages in each of his nine campaigns as manager in the Champions League. He was a beaten finalist in two of the last four seasons with Juventus.

Prediction

This is another belter. Cristiano Ronaldo is back in Madrid but Atletico don’t give too much away and it will be physical. I must admit that I don’t like watching Atletico Madrid play but I respect them. You could see them getting to 1-0 and then shutting up shop and blocking off Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala and sneaking a result with Antoine Griezmann getting the winner to keep his reputation floating along.

Posted in EPL/MLS, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: Joe Wieskamp (number 10)
Source: yahoo images

Preview: Maryland at Iowa

No. 19 Iowa looks to extend its winning streak to five games when it hosts 25th-ranked Maryland on Tuesday. Joe Wieskamp banked in a desperation 3-pointer as time expired to lift the Hawkeyes past Rutgers 71-69 on Saturday following Jordan Bohannon’s game-winning triple in the 80-79 victory against Northwestern on Feb. 10, and they hope to stay unbeaten in the month of February by avenging a 91-73 loss to the Terrapins last season.

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“It was a big shot, but we still got six Big Ten games left plus we want to play deep into the postseason,” Wieskamp told reporters. “It’s been a lot of fun out there and coach (Fran McCaffery) has a lot of confidence in me.” Maryland’s road woes against ranked teams continued as it dropped a 65-52 decision to Michigan on Saturday. The Terrapins fell to 0-19 in road games against Top 25 opponents under coach Mark Turgeon after being held to a season-low points total against the Wolverines. They hope to get back on track by knocking off a ranked team away from home for the first time since Jan. 19, 2008. “If I had the answer I would fix it,” Turgeon told reporters. “Hopefully we learn from it and do better on Tuesday.”

TV: 8 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network

ABOUT MARYLAND (19-7, 10-5 Big Ten): Aaron Wiggins was one of the lone bright spots on offense as the freshman guard led the Terrapins with 15 points to go along with six rebounds and three assists in the loss to Michigan. Bruno Fernando missed out on recording his eighth straight double-double as he finished with 12 points, which all came in the second half, and eight rebounds against the Wolverines. Anthony Cowan scored 10 points and pulled down five boards while Jalen Smith tallied eight points as Maryland was held to 36.4 percent shooting from the field.

ABOUT IOWA (20-5, 9-5): Bohannon knocked down three 3-pointers en route to a team-high 18 points and dished out five assists in the win against Rutgers to take sole possession of second place on the Hawkeyes’ all-time 3-pointers list. Isaiah Moss added 17 points and three steals while Tyler Cook produced 12 points, seven rebounds and four assists to help Iowa win for the ninth time in 11 games. Wieskamp finished with nine points, including the decisive desperation 3-point heave from the corner with two defenders draped all over him to silence a sellout crowd at the Rutgers Athletic Center.

TIP-INS

1. Iowa is 6-1 in games decided by five or fewer points.

2. Maryland has dropped 27 consecutive road games against ranked opponents.

3. The Terrapins lead the Big Ten in rebounding margin (+9.9).

Posted in CBB, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: Grant Williams
Source: Wesley Hitt / Getty Images North America

Preview: Vanderbilt at Tennessee

Fifth-ranked Tennessee must rebound from a defeat for the first time since just after Thanksgiving when it plays host to last-place Vanderbilt on Tuesday night in an SEC contest. The Volunteers had held the No. 1 spot in the USA Today Coaches Poll for four weeks and won 19 in a row, including an 88-83 overtime victory at Vanderbilt on Jan. 23, before being routed at Kentucky 86-69 on Saturday.

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“We weren’t Tennessee tonight,” leading scorer Grant Williams told reporters after the Volunteers allowed 54.7 percent shooting and were hammered off the glass 39-26 on Saturday. “We weren’t the team that we are. We needed this, I believe, though. We needed to be humbled. I feel like we had a sense of entitlement. But now we realize we have to compete. It’s not going to be easy every game.” Williams, a junior forward, made it look easy in the first meeting with the Commodores when he poured in a career-high 43 points as Tennessee won for the fifth time in six games between the state rivals. Vanderbilt – the 301st most-experienced team in the country – will be looking to avoid matching the program’s longest losing streak in its history of 14 (1934-36) after falling 64-53 at Auburn on Saturday. “It’s been a big character check,” Commodores coach Bryce Drew told reporters. “What is our program about? Where does our program stand? Where is our program going? As we’re walking through this adversity, I’m seeing a vision, even more of a better vision than I saw a few years ago.”

TV: 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

ABOUT VANDERBILT (9-16, 0-12 SEC): Forward Aaron Nesmith was named SEC co-freshman of the week after averaging 25 points along with 11.5 rebounds in the last two games, and scored 24 in the first meeting with the Volunteers. Nesmith (11.4) is one of three active players averaging in double figures scoring behind sophomore guard Saben Lee (13.1, team-high 3.8 assists) and freshman forward Simisola Shittu (11.5, team-best 6.8 rebounds). Shittu is scoring just 6.3 per game over the past six, but junior forward Yanni Wetzell stepped up to post his first career double-double Saturday with 10 points and 10 boards.

ABOUT TENNESSEE (23-2, 11-1): The Volunteers, tied with LSU atop the SEC standings, are a mediocre plus-3.7 in rebounding margin overall (plus-2.2 in SEC play) and coach Rick Barnes told reporters: “We’ve been telling (the team) for two and a half weeks that we’ve got to rebound the ball better.” Williams has taken just 12 shots and averaged 12 points the last two games to drop his season mark to 19.3 while leading the team in rebounds (7.4) and senior guard Admiral Schofield scores 16.7 per contest – 19.8 in the past two. Junior guard Jordan Bone (13.4 points, team-high 6.5 assists) scored a team-best 19 on Saturday.

TIP-INS

1. Vanderbilt junior F Matt Ryan is 8-of-29 from the field the last four games – all on 3-point attempts.

2. Tennessee junior G Jordan Bowden had three points against Kentucky after averaging 14.4 over his previous five contests.

3. The Volunteers are shooting an SEC-best 82.4 percent from the free-throw line in league games and Vanderbilt is last at 64.0 percent.

Posted in CBB, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: Francisco Lindor
Source: Gregory Shamus / Getty Images North America

Chicago White Sox

The safest prediction to make for the White Sox is that 2019 cannot be as miserable as 2018, even if the franchise manages to lose 100 games again.

It couldn’t be. Not after relief pitcher Danny Farquhar nearly died in the dugout with a blood clot on his brain in April. And 2017 top draft pick Jake Burger ruptured his left Achilles tendon in spring training before tearing it a second time in May. And top pitching prospect Michael Kopech was shut down for Tommy John surgery in early September after making four impressive starts in the big leagues. And the team’s aggressive rebuilding push was stalled when other top prospects Zack Burdi, Dane Dunning, Alec Hansen, Micker Adolfo and Luis Robert lost significant development time to injuries. The Sox needed more than a talent infusion — they needed an exorcism.

Add that backdrop to a team that set the major league record for strikeouts and lost 27 of its first 36 games, and the Sox have to be better this season, especially with the additions of Ivan Nova to the starting rotation, Alex Colome to the bullpen, catcher James McCann and first baseman Yonder Alonso.

But the primary improvement must come from the team’s young veterans as well as the touted arrivals from the farm system. 

Cleveland Indians

The Indians will dip their big toe into the uncertain waters of rebuilding this season. It’s not a total rip-it-down-to-the-studs rebuild, but the signs are there. Besides that, they’ll try to do the hardest thing in baseball — win while turning over big chunks of the roster. Thank goodness for the AL Central.

Manager Terry Francona’s team has won three straight division titles and is favored to win a fourth in 2019, but the cast of characters has changed. Free agents Michael Brantley, Andrew Miller, Lonnie Chisenhall, Josh Donaldson and Rajai Davis are gone. Edwin Encarnacion, Yonder Alonso, Yan Gomes and Yandy Diaz were traded so the Indians could reduce the payroll.

What remains is a finely tuned starting rotation led by two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber and two of the best young position players in baseball — Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez. The bullpen has closer Brad Hand and little else. The outfield is an empty page of players such as Bradley Zimmer, Tyler Naquin and Leonys Martin coming off injuries and/or life-threatening illnesses. The final story in the green pasture of Progressive Field is a long way from being written.

The Indians have posted six straight winning seasons. In that time they’ve made four postseason appearances, won three division titles, one pennant and reached Game 7 of the World Series. A seventh consecutive winning season is in order, and so is another trip to the postseason, but this is the most vulnerable the Indians have been since they shocked baseball by winning 92 games in 2013 after losing 94 games the previous year. If a hot team emerges from the rubble of the rebuilding AL Central, they’ll have a chance to beat the Indians.

Detroit Tigers

Four years after their last playoff appearance and 20 months after the trade of Justin Verlander signaled a new direction, the Tigers are deep in the throes of a difficult rebuild as the 2019 season approaches, having nearly halved their payroll from the free-spending days of just a couple years ago. Longtime designated hitter Victor Martinez, who retired, is the latest glory-era cornerstone to disappear into the sunset, but the Tigers are still hamstrung by the $55 million — roughly half their projected 2019 payroll — they will pay this year to untradeable veterans Miguel Cabrera and Jordan Zimmermann. The meager pickups the Tigers made this winter — lefty Matt Moore, shortstop Jordy Mercer, righthander Tyson Ross — are best viewed as stopgaps or potential trade chips in July. On the heels of consecutive 98-loss seasons, this should be another tough year at Comerica Park.

Kansas City Royals

Speed and defense (along with a shutdown bullpen) were at the heart of the Kansas City Royals’ surge, culminating with the 2015 World Series championship. The club hasn’t finished above .500 in the three seasons since, matching the second-most losses in franchise history in 2018 (104). But GM Dayton Moore has made it clear that nothing has changed philosophically for Kansas City, which plays in a relatively cavernous ballpark and still covets athleticism — the fuel for its speed and defensive preference. The Royals largely sat on the sidelines during free agency, but the addition of former Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton — one of the league’s fastest players and best defenders — reinforced Moore’s vision for victory as the rebuild enters its second year.

Minnesota Twins

In almost every way imaginable, 2019 will mark the dawn of a new era in Minnesota. New manager Rocco Baldelli takes over a team missing the on-field and off-field cornerstones of its last half-decade. The front office tandem of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine has a hand-picked skipper, a new-age coaching staff and a roster they’ve begun to reshape in a manner more affirmatively characteristic of their approach to the game. 

Joe Mauer’s retirement and various expiring contracts left the team tremendous payroll flexibility, and they used it to collect players whose price tags made them undesirable to other teams, despite good talent. Betting on talent, in the absence of consistent production, will define 2019 and could set the direction of the franchise in years to come.

Posted in MLB, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: (From Left to Right)
Nikita Kucherov, Andrei Vasilevskiy & Steven Stamkos
Source: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images North America

Preview: Dallas vs Tampa Bay

One of the major reasons the Tampa Bay Lightning have a healthy lead on everyone else in the league with 88 points is their depth and they hope to put it on display again Thursday night against the visiting Dallas Stars. The Lightning had six goal scorers, including at least one from each forward line, and 11 players posted a point in Tuesday’s 6-3 triumph against Western Conference heavyweight Calgary.

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“We’ve got the top guys going and we’re getting scoring contributions from the other guys as well,” Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos told reporters. “Pretty dangerous combination to have. That’s why I think we’re having a lot of success is we’re getting contributions from everyone. That’s when we’re at our best is when everyone’s rolling and it’s tough to keep up with everyone.” The Lightning have won the last four meetings, including a 35-save performance by Andrei Vasilevskiy in a 2-0 victory Jan. 15 at Dallas, which held Tampa Bay to 21 shots in the encounter. The Stars are 1-1-1 on their five-game road trip after blanking Florida 3-0 on Tuesday as red-hot center Tyler Seguin scored twice and set up another while Anton Khudobin turned aside 30 shots. “We had to have a couple guys get X-rays just to make sure their bones weren’t broken from blocked shots,” Dallas coach Jim Montgomery told reporters. “I mean, that’s a team commitment to our identity, and I’m just really proud of the positive talk on the bench. It was a real good group effort.”

TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, Sportsnet One, Sportsnet East, Sportsnet Pacific, FS Southwest (Dallas), FS Sun (Tampa Bay)

ABOUT THE STARS (29-22-5): Seguin leads the team in goals (24) and points (54) after scoring six times, setting up three others and posting a plus-7 rating in six contests during February. “Over the (All-Star) break I just took some time to – I don’t want to say reset, but it was a good break,” Seguin told reporters. “It was refreshing for me. I just felt a little more boost of energy. Personally just feeling good and glad the puck is going in.” Right wing Alexander Radulov registered five of his 46 points in the last five games while captain Jamie Benn owns four assists in the past four, but scored only one goal in his last 11 contests.

ABOUT THE LIGHTNING (42-11-4): Tampa Bay managed only seven goals in five games coming out of the NHLPA-mandated bye week/All-Star break, but have recorded 16 during a three-game winning streak. “We stick to the same routine and stay confident,” right wing Nikita Kucherov, who leads the league with 88 points after notching seven the past two games, told reporters Tuesday. “We’re just trying to play the same way every time. Sometimes pucks go in, sometimes they don’t.” Stamkos reached 30 goals for the sixth time in his career and fellow center Brayden Point scored his career-high 33rd against Calgary on Tuesday.

OVERTIME

1. Dallas D Esa Lindell scored his career-high eighth goal Tuesday and is a plus-6 in six games this month.

2. Tampa Bay D Erik Cernak (lower body) and Ondrej Palat (upper body) missed Tuesday’s game, but could be back as soon as Thursday.

3. The Lightning lead the NHL on the power play (29.6 percent) and the Stars are fifth on the penalty kill (83.2).

Posted in NHL, Top Fantasy Picks

Source: Justin K. Aller / Getty Images North America

Preview: Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech

Things could be better for No. 16 Virginia Tech, which enters Wednesday’s home contest against Georgia Tech riding a two-game losing streak and remaining without senior standout Justin Robinson. The point guard injured his left foot in a victory over Miami on Jan. 30 and has missed the past three games, a stretch in which the Hokies are 1-2 and are averaging just 54 points per game – 24.4 points fewer than before losing Robinson and his 14.4 points and 5.5 assists per contest.

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The offensive struggles continued in Saturday’s 59-51 defeat at Clemson, as the Hokies shot an abysmal 28.3 percent from the field in losing consecutive games for the first time this season. “I think they’re trying incredible hard,” Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams told reporters after Saturday’s loss when asked about revamping the team in Robinson’s absence. “I think our staff and our guys are trying really hard to do what we want to do.” The Yellow Jackets look to snap a five-game losing streak after falling 69-59 Sunday at Notre Dame, and despite holding the Fighting Irish to 32.8 percent shooting from the field could not overcome allowing 20 offensive rebounds and committing 14 turnovers. “They hurt us with those offensive rebounds and turnovers,” Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner told the media after his team was outscored 29-12 off turnovers and second-chance opportunities.

TV: 8 p.m. ET, Raycom

ABOUT GEORGIA TECH (11-13, 3-8 ACC): Freshman guard Michael Devoe hit 4-of-5 3-point attempts Sunday en route to a career-high 18 points, and has reached double-figures scoring in four of his past six games to bump up his scoring average to 9.2 per game. Junior forward James Banks finished with 12 rebounds against Notre Dame and is shooting 55 percent from the field on the season. The Yellow Jackets are last in the ACC in scoring at 65.5 points per game but limit opponents to 64.3 points per game (25th nationally).

ABOUT VIRGINA TECH (18-5, 7-4): Sophomore guard and leading scorer Nickeil Alexander-Walker shot 3-for-14 from the field against Clemson to finish with 13 points, and is averaging 13.7 points per contest since the Hokies lost Robinson – off his season average of 17.3 points per game. Junior forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. scored 17 points on 5-of-8 shooting Saturday, and the ACC’s seventh-leading scorer (17.3 points per game) is shooting 16-for-32 from the field in his past three games. The Hokies begin the week ranked second in the nation in 3-point shooting (41.5 percent).

TIP-INS

1. Georgia Tech’s seven 3-pointers Sunday is its most against ACC competition this season.

2. The Hokies tightened their playing rotation against Clemson, using just seven players and employing their bench for only 22 minutes total.

3. Virginia Tech senior G Ahmed Hill scored 15 points as the Hokies held off the Yellow Jackets 52-49 in the first meeting on Jan. 10 in Atlanta despite shooting just 18.5 percent from 3-point range.

Posted in CBB, Top Fantasy Picks

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