New Balance wants us to believe Jack Harlow can ball with Kawhi Leonard

You mean to tell us that this guy can keep up with an NBA all-star?

Amid all the talk about load management and the L.A. Clippers’ legit chances of bringing home their first NBA title, we’ve totally neglected one blemish on the résumé of Kawhi Leonard. The fact that New Balance tries to sell the world that rapper Jack Harlow is a formidable opponent to “The Claw” on the court is absolutely absurd. And Kawhi going along with it is probably the most ludicrous.

Leonard might have a career in acting because he put ol Jackie boy over like a million bucks. I get that we’re in the age of everyone being a star on social media, but if this was New Balance’s veiled attempt at remaking the Michael Jordan “be like Mike” commercials, we’re not buying it. Playing in Kawhi’s shoes will not allow you or any of your friends to be competitive in a one-on-one game with the two-time NBA Finals MVP. Or any NBA play, for that matter. Don’t believe the hype.

In fact, the only person who seems to even be nearly that delusional is Mr. Harlow. This guy actually had the nerve to say he’s been told that Kawhi plays like him. It must be the shoes. “They see like flashes of me when he plays…”

Talk about drinking your own spiked Kool-Aid. This commercial made it feel like Harlow stood a chance against Leonard without help. Straight up, no teammates, no nothing, Harlow’s trading buckets with Kawhi. Get the fuck outta here. Indeed, Jack is loved by his legions of fans and probably excellent at what he does, but hooping on one of the NBA’s best isn’t one of ‘em.

Fred VanVleet has shown Chris Paul the way to an NBA Championship

Fred VanVleet’s costly rant appears to have paid off. Chris Paul should take note.

Precedent has been set. It is time for Chris Paul to take action. The Phoenix Suns are gearing up for a playoff run in the most wide-open Western Conference since Dennis Rodman and David Robinson were sharing the screen in stuffed-crust pizza commercials. With Kevin Durant likely to be available for the postseason, this season could be the best of Paul’s few remaining chances at an NBA Championship. In order to fully take advantage of this opportunity, Paul should pay attention to a recent Fred VanVleet administrative victory.

If he goes this route, it will certainly cost Paul some money. An astronomical figure for the average American, but a drop in the bucket for one of State Farm Insurance’s top salespersons. VanVleet was fined $30,000 for his expletive-laden diss track about NBA referee Ben Taylor, who has been responsible for three of his eight technical fouls during the 2022-23 NBA season.

Meadowlark Media’s Tom Haberstroh has noticed an irregularity in Taylor’s officiating assignments since that press conference. In the last two weeks, Taylor has spent very little time in his typical position as crew chief.

“In the last five games, Ben Taylor has only been the crew chief one,” Haberstroh said on The JD Bunkis Podcast. “He’s been the referee [No. 2] four times since that game, since that rant. Which is a real abnormality with Ben Taylor. If you look at his previous 52 games this season Ben Taylor was the crew chief in 41 of those games.”

Maybe this was simply a quick knuckle slap with a ruler by the NBA. Something to try and quietly tighten up shortly before the beginning of the postseason, while forgetting the fact “quiet” and “NBA” do not go together. The league insiders, the data experts like Haberstroh, and players on social media, all of whom are always alert. There is no moving under the cover of darkness in the NBA.

Taylor is an NBA veteran. He is currently in his 10th season as an NBA referee and has only been working postseason games since 2019. Foster is currently in his 29th season as an NBA ref. The league considers Foster one of its very best. If it didn’t, there is no way that he would have been working in enough postseason games for Paul to lose 14 of them in a row.

For Paul to properly pry open one of his final championship windows he had better tape a few extra insurance commercials, maybe even revive Cliff Paul again. One $30,000 series of F-bombs isn’t going to do it. He needs to pen a piece for the Players’ Tribune, make an appearance on The Shop, get fellow North Carolina native J. Cole to collaborate with him on an actual diss track.

Anything less than $1 million in fines and an early April suspension might not be enough. Foster has been officiating since before Paul began middle school, and will likely continue after the future Hall of Famer retires. When Foster steps down he will be right next to Joey Crawford as a legend among referees, and also in the NBA Fan Hall of Hate as one of the most dreaded faces to see with a whistle at a big game.

After last year’s unexpected battle with the 10-games-under-.500 New Orleans Pelicans in the first round, Paul had to think that there was no way around Foster. Luck of the draw would be his only hope that if he ever gets back to the NBA Finals, Foster wouldn’t again be crew chief when his team is facing elimination. Foster’s nickname might be “The Extender,” but he closed the finals in 2021.

It’s time to get desperate Chris. Offer Durant any healing remedy you have ever been recommended that you believe works, and then get to screaming from everywhere you can go viral about Foster. Use all of the foul — while also non-bigoted — language that comes to your mind. Make VanVleet’s tirade look like a campfire song by comparison.

If it can even get Foster away from you in the postseason for one game in which he would normally be assigned, your fine will be worth every penny.

The Kawhi Leonard-Paul George Clippers are proving load management doesn’t work

Tough break for the Clippers.

Very few games offer as clear a view of colliding worlds as the Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder did at the Arena on Tuesday night. Unfortunately, Paul George’s hyperextended knee put a damper on the evening. Midway through the third quarter, we witnessed the brilliance of George on display as he caught his defender sleeping with a shifty fake outside, then knifed into the paint, reeled in a bounce pass from Mason Plumlee, and then executed a smooth 360 dunk.

Late in the fourth quarter, George was being helped off the floor and carted from the arena after hyperextending his right knee. Ironically, the Clippers have been the most aggressive helicopter parents of the NBA. Their training staff has spent the entire season trying to control fate through load management. Sitting Kawhi Leonard on back-to-backs and resting George as a healthy DNP through injury management protocols, the tragedy of load management is that wear and tear aren’t the only causes of calamitous injuries.

Fittingly, it was Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the former Clipper Sam Presti obtained in exchange for Paul George, who finished off L.A. Gilgeous-Alexander led the way for Oklahoma City by logging 31 points on 12-of-25 shooting. His 40th 30-point game of the season put him in the exclusive company of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook as the only Thunder players ever to accomplish that feat. SGA also joins Joel Embiid and Luka Dončić as the only players leaguewide to put up 40-plus games of 30 or more points this year.

A former Clipper point guard rising into the superstar class, while Los Angeles rummaged through the bottom of the league’s drawers for a point guard, underscores the virtue of patience that the Clippers eschewed when they gutted their team culture in the summer of 2019 by going all in on Leonard and George.

We witnessed a more melodramatic, soap-opera version of this play out in Brooklyn over the last three years while they fought unsuccessfully to emerge from underneath the New York Knicks’ shadow. The Clippers may rue the day they traded SGA for George, but he wasn’t alone in his triumphant return.

Jalen Williams chipped in 20 points, shooting 50 percent from the field and from distance. Then Oklahoma City guard Lu Dort served Leonard some of his own medicine via a dose of All-NBA defense on the final possession of regulation to secure the win.

The Thunder, who built their core organically in contrast to the Clippers’ prosaic mercenary squad, are on the verge of breaking into the Western Conference’s top six and the ultimate payoff could play out over the long term.

On the Clippers’ side, their title chances will rest on the severity of George’s knee. After losing Leonard for consecutive postseasons, 2023 has been a dismaying experience. After all the overprotective protocols to effectively wrap their stars in bubble wrap, they poisoned whatever team chemistry they did have in reserves and are in danger of slipping into the play-in crevice. George may wind up being able to recover before the postseason, but their momentum is trending in the wrong direction.

The Golden State Warriors core is discovering its first gray hairs

“I just feel old playing these young bucks,” Klay Thompson told the media

The Golden State Warriors have been hovering at or around .500 all season long. In 2020 and 2021 you could chalk it up to injuries and the reloading process. That championship hill their overwhelming talent allowed them to ascend is starting to appear too steep for their core to climb on its own. A decade ago Steph Curry emerged as a scene-stealing superstar by dropping 54 on the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. They’ve bolted the nexus of wisdom and peak athleticism. In NBA dog years, a decade is a generational shift and the Warriors are beginning to discover their first gray hairs.

Since winning their fourth championship in eight years, the Golden State Warriors have found themselves plucking grays out left and right. It’s not all old age. On the road, they’re weighed down by their bench rugrats. By contrast, the five-man lineup consisting of Klay Thompson, Curry, Kevon Looney, Draymond Green, and Andrew Wiggins is still the league leader in net rating. They’re stuck in a race against time squeezing them on both ends. The Warriors odometer serves as an unofficial barometer of time and the mileage is racking up.

They definitely aren’t geezers yet, but the Splash Brothers are Splash Seniors. Green is on the verge of becoming a valuable relic as he plays out what could be the final year of his Warriors contract. The happy-go-lucky Warriors of the mid-2010s accelerated the NBA’s shift in offensive philosophies. Their verve, energy, that sparkle in their eye, and the avant-garde floor spacing their motion offense provided, has dwindled as has their advantage over the rest of the league. Instead, they just seem burdened these days.

‘This ain’t 2014 no more’

Green’s beard is more salt than pepper every day and he’s already begun planning his post-career endeavors. Curry relies more and more on his old man strength he’s earned by bulking up his frame. A week ago, Curry drove his shoulder into Chris Paul’s chest and muscled through him for a baseline drive and score before cameras caught him mouthing, “This ain’t 2014 no more.”

In a vacuum, it was harmless trash talk. Everyone knew it wasn’t 2014 anymore, but Curry instinctually referenced decade-old wars with superstars encroaching on 40, radiating oldheads recollecting at the cookout vibes. Thompson is 33 and Curry is 35.

Following Golden State’s victory over the Houston Rockets on Tuesday, Thompson couldn’t help but opine on the development of Houston’s young whippersnappers, the passage of time, and how the space Houston’s arena sits on used to be a forest. OK, he didn’t say that last part on the record, but he did go on an unprompted flashback.

“It is strange looking over there how young their team is,” Thompson explained during his presser. “The Rockets I used to play in the 2010s were seasoned vets, all littered throughout that roster.”

Curry’s newfound old-man strength aside, he’s still performing at a peak level. His perimeter-oriented game was always more conducive to aging well. Off the court, he’s leading the charge on some California NIMBYism. If real estate fires you up, congrats, you’re an old fogey.

Alternatively, Thompson has manifested ways to cook younger defenders since recovering from devastating injuries suffered in 2019 and 2020. He’s just gotten more ornery than ever. In the final seconds of Golden State’s blowout loss to the Memphis Grizzlies last week, an angry Klay Thompson, tabulated the number of titles he’s won to the Grizzlies’ bench with his fingers. He’s done that sort of thing before.

Klay could use some advice from Progressive’s Dr. Rick

Klay sounds like he needs Progressive Insurance’s Parenta-Life Coach Dr. Rick to keep him from spouting dad-isms or bragging about cleaning his trash can. In November, Ramona Shelburne published a glowing ESPN profile on Thompson and how his love of boats served as a distraction during his comeback from a torn ACL and ruptured Achilles. He even has different multiple names for his boat, calling it the Nordic Knife or Splash Express. Where’s Dr. Rick and his v-neck sweater offering stern advice when you need him?

During the Warriors 2021 Media Day, Thompson even volunteered an explanation of his boat names to NBC Sports Bay Area’s Kerithe Burke.

“She was made in Finland, so that’s Norwegian I think. She cuts the water like a knife, so I call her the Nordic Knife. People are like ‘why would you name your boat after a weapon?’ I’m like ‘it’s not a weapon it’s just the way she rides.’ It’s so fast. Then Splash Express is when I’m carrying my friends on board and we’re commuting.”

Steve Kerr’s innovative offense is still razor-sharp, but defenses have compiled the personnel and switchable defenders to blunt their proficient execution. Green is still an elite two-way point center, but his career mortality is more precarious than Steph and Klay’s.

Watching them mature with me through my adult years has me waking up every morning wondering when my first gray hair will grow in. 10 years from now? Five years? Next week? And where? Is it already peeking out? Will it start with a sprinkle in my head? Chest? From a nostril?

Golden State has had equivalent questions all season. Andre Iguodala has been a glorified assistant coach for two seasons. Can Green cover ground as well as he did a half-decade ago? Probably not. Will Curry suffer a third major injury this season? Hopefully, not. How much longer can they commit to Thompson given his contract expires after the 2024 season? Is Bob Myers moving on? Possibly.

The glimmer of hope is that the dynasty they succeeded was able to stave off time longer than most teams of yesteryear have. At the time of their final championship in 2014, San Antonio’s Big 3 of Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Tim Duncan were 36, 32, and 38, respectively. Curry, 35, Thompson, 33, and Green, 33 are on borrowed time, but they’ll need one of the young bucks to pick up the slack ala 2014 Kawhi Leonard. Maybe these Warriors will rediscover the fountain of youth in the postseason and rip off a run or rebound in 2024 when Jonathan Kuminga makes his next quantum leap forward, but until then their cracked hourglass is running out of sand. 

Dillon Brooks’ admiration for Kyrie Irving can’t be just about basketball


The recent rise in profile for Dillon Brooks is a credit to him. In the current landscape of the NBA, new stars are rising with LeBron James and Kevin Durant getting older. Luka Dončić, Nikola Jokić, and Giannis Antetokounmpo are firmly among the best needle-movers in The Association. Brooks isn’t close to that talent level, but the attention he’s getting for the things he does on the court and says to the press has carved out a lane for him in the league’s diaspora. Last night however was a new low for the Grizzlies’ standout.

During last night’s game against the Mavericks, Brooks drew the defensive assignment of Kyrie Irving and the two got into it early and had a long night of trash-talking. That’s not unusual for the NBA. After the close victory over Dallas, it appeared to be water under the bridge as Brooks attempted a jersey swap, more commonly seen in soccer, with Irving as a sign of respect. Brooks received Irving’s blue smock while the Mavs guard didn’t happily accept Brooks’ jersey. “I saw that after the game. I’ll probably get it next time. … Not this time though. I was really onto the next thing, my thought process-wise,” Irving word-vomited after the game, because what in the heck does that quote actually mean? You can’t live in the moment ever?

Brooks’ fascination with Irving didn’t end after adding to his closet. He was asked in the locker room about the exchange and said this as part of his answer: “I’m a fan of Kyrie, for everything he stands for, the way he uses his platform. … “He’s just like Kobe. He’s just like Jordan and those guys. He plays the game at a different pace. He uses both hands, mid-range God. And that’s where I want to be at one day, be able to shoot the ball more.” All the comparisons to all-time basketball greats is fine, but we can’t ignore Brooks’ admiration of what he stands for and how he uses his platform. Let’s see, Irving refused to get vaccinated and pushed conspiracy theories about the health risks of protecting yourself from COVID-19. He’s a flat-Earther, and as deranged as that is, might be a little far down the totem pole of awful things he’s put into the world. Irving also refused to condemn antisemitism late last year after promoting a documentary and book overflowing with lies about the Jewish people’s involvement in the Transatlantic slave trade. He only posted a statement to social media “apologizing” after being suspended by the Nets.

In a true basketball sense, Irving has asked for trades at the worst times and was fined $50,000 in January 2021 for attending an indoor party and breaking the NBA’s coronavirus protocols. He had been out of contact with then-Brooklyn head coach Steve Nash for several days before then. Brooks can support whoever he chooses and in terms of basketball ability, Irving isn’t a bad choice. When you mention what he stands for and how he uses his platform, Brooks doesn’t get to cherry-pick only what he views as positive. It’s either all of it or none of it. Whatever Brooks is referring to, those uglier parts of what Irving has shown over the years have to be included. When mentioning Irving, leaving his legacy to solely on-court events isn’t possible. Irving made sure of that by speaking publicly about non-basketball issues in the past. And Brooks’ desire to be more like Irving has to include those moments.

The Great Debates tournament: Sweet 16

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It’s Sweet 16 time. The primaries are over and it is time for the general election. In real-life debates, this is about the time when candidates would be making disingenuous retorts about each other’s bad-faith arguments.

Since this is a debate about debates, I guess you can just argue more strenuously with other Twitter users about which argument is better between who is the world’s supreme basketball player/human between Michael Jordan and LeBron James, or if Breaking Bad or The Wire is the television show most worth binge watching every summer.

Unfortunately, since the people have spoken, just like during primary season, we have to bid farewell to some memorable candidates. So, as we have done with Howard Dean, Bernie Sanders, and 776 different republicans in 2016, we say goodbye to “Is Die Hard a Christmas movie,” the Chicago vs. New York pizza rivalry, and Skip vs. Stephen A. (soccer fans, we see you.)

Be sure to go to @Deadspin on Twitter and vote on which argument you would most like to waste hours of your life screaming at another human about. If you want to catch up, check out the full field and the round of 32.

First Take Region No. 1: LeBron James vs. Michael Jordan

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For some the choice is obvious, for others it’s the type of sports debate that makes you feel like your T.V. is slapping you in the head at 10 a.m. Whether you hate or love this classic, it will make you feel something.

Michael Jordan is the face of the modern NBA. He took the interest that Magic Johnson and Larry Bird injected into the league in the early 80s and used it to build the first athlete economic empire. The NBA was selling its individual stars to market the games so Jordan’s agent — David Faulk — took it one step further with his client. He wanted Nike to market Jordan like a tennis star. Like a singular athlete.

LeBron James had seen the success of this his whole life and set a plan into action early. He signed a $90 million deal with Nike before he signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Since then, James has started a fast-food pizza restaurant and also owns a production company that remade both Space Jam and the early 1990s classic House Party.

These two are true A-list celebrities. Not just sports famous, but pop culture icons like Michael Jackson, Eddie Murphy, Jack Nicholson, etc. Also one has the highest points per game average in NBA history and the other holds the record for total points scored.

– Stephen Knox

First Take Region No. 5: Muhammad Ali vs. Mike Tyson

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These are two forces that the world of boxing had not seen before or since. The time in their careers when they were most dominant was short-lived, but that handful of years left a mark by which boxers are still measured.

Muhammed Ali and Mike Tyson were heavyweight boxers. This is a division in which ferocious punishment is both endured and delivered. These large men swing as hard as they can at each other. Yet, in their prime neither fighter took much damage.

Ali had near ballet movement in the ring in the 1960s. At 200-plus pounds, no one was able to close in on him. For those who believe he didn’t have power, the men he knocked out that decade might have a different opinion.

When Ali first beat Sonny Liston in 1964, he took the Heavyweight Championship from him. Sonny Liston was the baddest man on the planet and didn’t come out for the seventh round. Until Ali was stripped of his title for refusing to serve in the Vietnam War over religious objections, of his nine title defenses only two went to decision.

Tyson bulldozed his way through the heavyweight division in the mid-1980s. He was quite possibly the scariest man alive because he was knocking people out before a bag of popcorn could be popped. Fame and ego took Tyson’s Heavyweight Championship as opposed to a military draft, but at his best, his hands were real weapons.

In 11 Heavyweight title defenses — one of course the loss to Buster Douglas — only three of his victories lasted longer than six rounds. At only 5 foot 10, Tyson turned the heavyweight division into heavy bags.

At their peak, Ali and Tyson were the two best to ever put on the gloves and boots.

Stephen Knox

First Take Region No. 14: Best sports era

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It’s easy to romanticize the past. Times were simpler, the air was fresher, and sports were played by real men. Yes, can we please return to an era where point guards got dry-humped after stepping across half-court, Joe Theisman got crumpled into a heap of flesh and bone by Lawrence Taylor every other play, and pitchers threw curve balls until their arms fell off.

The last time two of my favorite teams were relevant was the ’90s, but I’ll be damned if I want to bring back the option, or 7-footers sweating all over each other, trying to see which team can make the most hook shots. Your dad, and, well, myself, might scream at the television when an edge rusher gets flagged for tackling a quarterback, and we overcorrect for past mistakes. Yet, give me high-octane offenses that put the best athletes in space as opposed to seeing what team can win a game of tug-of-war.

– Sean Beckwith

First Take Region No. 2: iPhone vs. Android

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The green bubble vs. the blue bubble.

Fashion dictates that anything a person walks out of the house with can be considered stylish if put together with intent and flaunted with confidence. However, there are usually some base requirements.

For a rapper in 2003, it meant wearing a jersey that extended to at least their mid-thigh. In the early 2010s, it meant the tighter the jeans the better for young people. Who cares if they want to procreate later in life?

Phones have been part of that as well, but in the aughts, it was mainly young people with their Razors and Sidekicks. Nowadays, an iPhone is almost considered as standard as a man wearing a tie to a business interview. How dare a group chat be besmirched with the site of that ugly green bubble. If you don’t have air pods, can you even hear?

For all of those white commas hanging out of people’s ears at the grocery store, there are still some people who are willing to part with standard formalities. They don’t need facetime, iCloud, or a phone that slows down when a new version is released.

Samsung is on its 23rd Galaxy and the NBA is advertising the new Google Pixel 7 during every game, so there are still many android users among the general population. Are those people tacky, or are they seeing with their third eye?

Stephen Knox

Siskel & Ebert Region No. 1: Cats vs. Dogs

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Let’s be a little more creative than splitting this down the gender line. You know cat people, I know cat people, and there are certain people who are just cat people. But this isn’t about which version of a crazy cat person or Best In Show dog obsessive is worse. It’s about the animals themselves.

The nicest dogs are as great as the nicest cats, and ditto for the worst dogs and worst cats. I just think your average run-of-the-mill (not puppy mill, please, responsible practices for both species) dog is better than an average cat. The upside of felines is less maintenance. You don’t have to walk them or make sure to let them out every so often. With dogs, you get to bring them outside and on camping trips and a lot of other places. (Probably too many, but again, let’s focus on the animals, not the terrible owners.)

I don’t know who prevails in cats versus dogs, but I do know who wins in journalists versus cats and/or dogs, so I am aware of just how pervasive this argument is.

– Sean Beckwith

Siskel & Ebert Region No. 4: Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson

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In 1984 a person’s answer to this question likely depended on pigmentation. If Bruce Springsteen made you want to shake your booty you were likely a Larry Bird fan. For those who preferred Rick James, Magic Johnson was probably the player for you.

Both are two of the best players in the history of the NBA. There were similarities in their basketball strengths, but they did not play the same way.

Bird was the prototype for the modern NBA forward. Give him a crack of daylight and that jump shot is falling right out of the bottom of the net. However, if the defense cheated to close in on him, he can flick a pass over an opposing player’s head or around their back for a quick assist. He was tenacious on the glass as well, averaging 10 rebounds a game for his career. Bird would also hit the ground like Dennis Rodman for a loose ball.

Johnson combined power and speed at guard in a way that the NBA had never seen, and wouldn’t again for some time. At 6 foot 9, Johnson had the Lakers’ offense rolling at a 100-meter-dash pace from the opening tip to the final buzzer. He bullied smaller players and dribbled by bigger ones. Johnson’s priority was to find the open man, but as strange as his shoulder heave of a jump shot looked, it worked. Bird never attempted 3.5 threes per game, but Johnson did once and made 38.4 percent of them.

They not only ruled the NBA for most of the 1980s but globalized a sport that televised the NBA Finals on tape delay the year that they were drafted.

Stephen Knox

Siskel & Ebert Region No. 6: Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels & Vince McMahon

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Did Survivor Series 1997 have to go down that way?

Bret Hart was on his way out of the WWF but was still the world champion. He had to relinquish the belt before bolting for WCW. Nothing could have been worse during the Monday Night Wars for WWF than Hart showing up on Nitro with its World Championship belt.

Taking the Wrestling with Shadows documentary’s word for it, Hart would never have left for WCW with the belt. He was willing to relinquish it but on his terms since he had reasonable creative control over the final days of his contract. Hart certainly didn’t want to lose in Canada to Shawn Michaels after an anti-Canadian storyline that the WWF had been building for months alongside Hart’s anti-American one.

However, a payoff like that is how pro wrestling works. The fans get riled up about the over-the-top storylines and performances, and there is eventually a payoff. There was no better payoff for WWF fans than Hart losing the title in Canada to Michaels before he left for WCW.

Hart didn’t want to do it. He instead agreed to a disqualification that allowed him to keep the belt and then cede it to the company on Monday Night Raw.

Vince McMahon didn’t find that satisfactory even though he agreed to it — per the surreptitiously recorded conversation he had with Hart in the documentary. Instead, McMahon ordered the bell to be rung and the belt was given to Michaels. Hart spit in the face of McMahon, who was standing ringside, then later punched him in the face backstage. And with that, the Attitude era was off and running.

Stephen Knox

Siskel & Ebert Region No. 2: Lionel Messi vs. Cristiano Ronaldo

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The people who think Cristiano Ronaldo is better than Lionel Messi eventually bring up Ronadlo’s dating history as if that’s supposed to sway an argument. Is it really about who he’s fucked, or are you fucking him? No judgment. Just be open with yourself. Ronaldo is a genetic freak who was created to score goals and serve as a role model for how not to handle stardom.

Messi is an artist, a savant, a genius, but he’s slight. And the argument folds in on itself from there. The internet has taken this debate to places no discussion should go, and it’s beyond personal for a lot of people (mostly Real Madrid and Barcelona fans).

From a purely GOAT point of view, Messi vs. Ronaldo is the best-running GOAT debate we’ve ever had. The era of men’s tennis that’s winding down right now is close, but Ronaldo and Messi took turns winning accolades and trophies for basically two decades.

– Sean Beckwith

Pardon The Interruption Region No. 8: The Rock vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin

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At the time, Stone Cold was the biggest wrestler ever, by far, at least in terms of his ability to draw money. He chugged beers, talked shit, and did it with as much charisma as anybody. That’s why it was so alarming when The Rock showed up with just as much cachet, if not more. It was one of those feuds that made fans not want to pick a side.

Of course, we did, and if you chose The Rock, good for you. It goes without saying who won the post-wrestling career arc, though I feel like things could’ve gone differently for Austin without the injuries. I mean there’s a chance this debate could still go to Stone Cold, but it’s less dependent on his future actions and more about how many Black Adams the People’s (but not Box Office) Champ has in him.

– Sean Beckwith

Pardon The Interruption Region No. 12: SEC vs. the field

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This relatively new debate arose along with Nick Saban’s run at Alabama. The SEC learned how to game the system, which is 85 percent of college athletics and has more or less run the sport of college football since, fuck, I guess Pete Carroll’s USC tenure. Fans in the South, hell people in the South, like to remind the rest of the country that their ways are the best ways.

However, this debate is about football, not whether COVID will rise again. I’m desperately rooting against all those jackass SEC fans who show up to games dressed like they’re going to a party at the plantation because I can’t take it anymore. The conference pride is taking on a tinge of something else, and we need a respite. (Paging Lincoln Riley.)

– Sean Beckwith

Pardon The Interruption Region No. 3: 72-win Chicago Bulls vs. 73-win Golden State Warriors

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The 73-win Golden State Warriors are the model of modern-day basketball. Predicated on poetic off-ball movements by the Splash Brothers and Draymond Green at the nexus of his mental and physical peak, they remain the Platonic Ideal for modern basketball. The 72-win Chicago Bulls were the gold standard. Two decades earlier, the Chicago Bulls Triangle offense starring Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were the model of consistency. In a more physical, stagnant league, Jordan was as automatic from midrange as anyone has ever been. Each team’s stans swear the other team couldn’t hang in the other’s NBA. They’re probably both wrong though. The Phoenix Suns are proof that the Bulls could still flourish today behind hyper-efficient mid-range scorers while Golden State’s analytically superior floor spacers would eat against defenses composed to battle in the trenches instead of around endless screens on the perimeter. These contrasting play styles are ripe for endless debate, which is why there have been so many through the years.

– D.J. Dunson

Pardon The Interruption Region No. 7: Breaking Bad vs. The Wire

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The anti-hero vs. an unflattering portrayal of America.

Both Breaking Bad and The Wire ran for five seasons. Breaking Bad actually first aired during the last few months of The Wire’s final season.

Your preference between these shows usually boils down to how you like your television world. Do you prefer that they revolve around a person or a more macro concept?

The Wire is a show about — as creator David Simon calls it — “the fall of a great American city,” A show about how, before judging the people on the corners selling drugs, one must take a look at how they got there. How their city, state, and country can turn kids into shotgun-wielding thieves.

Breaking Bad is a show about the fall of a person. Walter White is a sympathetic character at first. He is a school teacher who needs money because of a life-threatening illness — another dig at America’s shortcomings. However, in the process, he turns into a murderous drug kingpin.

While both shows are considered among the best of all time, The Wire achieved critical acclaim in the years after its final episode aired. It got buried during HBO’s golden era of television in the early 2000s. Breaking Bad was highly lauded throughout its run on cable television airwaves.

Stephen Knox

McLaughlin Group Region No. 1: Biggie vs. 2Pac

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Yes, Tupac Shakur was more famous. Biggie was great playing himself on Martin, but Tupac was an actor capable of owning movies. He was bigger than simply a musician. Tupac was a star.

His personality was a force both for good and bad. He could make some truly profound statements about the state of the world, but he also went to jail for sexual assault and reveled in an out-of-control persona.

Biggie was about the music, and few have ever spit better bars into a microphone. We only got two solo Notorious B.I.G. albums. His debut — Ready to Die — was of the same quality as The Chronic and Illmatic. The next one — Life After Death — was a strong project but fell just a bit short. As a musician sometimes it’s hard to get back to the hunger and raw storytelling of a debut album. Unfortunately, we never got to see him try again.

Two young people, gone too soon, who left indelible marks on American culture.

Stephen Knox

McLaughlin Group Region No. 4: Marvel vs. DC

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It’s been fascinating to watch the polarity of Marvel and DC’s trajectories over the last decade. On one side of the comic book franchise rift, Marvel has created the greatest shared universe known to mankind. The DCEU has manifested the messiest shared universe in the film industry. The Snyder-verse, Ezra Miller’s cult, Sad Batfleck, and the revolving door of Warner Bros. overlords, have made it impossible to keep track. Marvel has made it impossible to keep track due to their overcomplicated series of interconnected streaming series, movies that continue streaming series storylines, and multiple timelines. Marvel has hit a rough patch, but DC Comics and Marvel Comics have been in a tug-of-war for supremacy for decades. How will it end? Until we get Marvel’s starting five against DC’s starting five in a final showdown, this supes battle will rage on.

– D.J. Dunson

McLaughlin Group Region No. 3: Kobe Bryant vs. Shaquille O’Neal

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The greatest rivalry of the aughts. Forget Ja Rule and 50 Cent or the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots. After the turn of the century, everyone was tuned into The Real Housewives of Downtown LA.

A dynamic duo that has never been matched in the NBA. Two superstars in their MVP prime playing alongside each other, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. One had a Nintendo 64 game and the other advertised Nestle Crunch Bars and had a signature sneaker at Famous Footwear.

When playing together they were dominant, but to say their relationship had its “frosty” moments would be like saying February in Minnesota is brisk. Bryant didn’t appreciate O’neal’s offseason training and O’Neal did not appreciate any time that his name was in Bryant’s mouth.

If the Portland Trail Blazers could have made just a couple of more shots in Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals, those two likely go down as the most disappointing duo in the history of the NBA. Instead, the Blazers were as accurate as Tim Tebow at practice and a dynasty was born.

The people of Los Angeles are firmly on Bryant’s side and have been for a long time. For the rest of the county, this is certainly a “pick ‘em situation.

Stephen Knox

McLaughlin Group Region No. 7: Tom Brady tuck rule

Blue steel

Letter of the law vs. spirit of the law. That is the tuck rule game.

Tom Brady absolutely fumbled that football during the final game at Foxboro Stadium in 2002. It was ruled a fumble on the field. Anyone not blinded by New England Patriots fandom or the blowing snow would agree, but that is not the decision that the referees came to after a video review.

According to what would become known as “The Tuck Rule,” Brady kept possession of the football. He had already started a passing motion, so even though he cradled the ball like a runner, by rule the play should have been called an incomplete pass and the Patriots kept the ball.

A technicality that set the greatest dynasty in NFL history in motion.

In baseball, the “neighborhood play,” prevented situations like this. A base runner called out at second while a double play is being turned is still out if the defender’s foot wasn’t on the bag. If the foot is near the bag, we get the picture. The base runner was beaten to the bag by the defense. These days a play like that is reviewable and if the defender’s foot isn’t on the bag the runner is safe.

Is that better for the game or worse? With the tuck rule — which no longer exists — is reasonable doubt enough to overturn what looks like a clear win for the defense?

Stephen Knox

Patrick Mahomes will never make as much money as Roger Goodell

This guy is gonna get paid even more

For those who want to be a multi-millionaire, the secret is not on LLC Twitter. Starting a business in which you give people personal and financial life advice on TikTok when both aspects of yours are in shambles will not result in a massive payout from advertisers. The easiest way to a life of riches is to do what Roger Goodell has done. Put his privilege to good use and be the pin cushion that protects his employers from a prying media and sports public.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Goodell’s newest contract extension should be finalized next week. Per the New York Times, Goodell was already making nearly $64 million per year. That was already quite a bit more than Patrick Mahomes. The NFL’s biggest star had better continue to look to State Farm to make up the difference in income.

Born into privilege

Goodell is the son of former United States Rep. and Sen. Charles Goodell. His father served in Congress — representing the state of New York — from 1959-71. This is the world that young Roger was literally born into. He was born the same year that his father’s first term in the House began.

Goodell attended high school in Bronxville, N.Y., the same town where he conducted the 2020 NFL Draft from his home basement. Goodell has worked in the NFL since 1982 when he first served as an intern when Pete Rozelle was still commissioner. He stepped down a few years later, and Paul Tagliabue did the same in 2006. Goodell took over after Tagliabue and is responsible for taking the advantages the team owners already had, and increasing them exponentially.

Revenue splits

In both the NBA and NFL, ownership locked out the players in 2011 because they were unsatisfied with the revenue split. The players were taking home the larger percentage of revenue and ownership wanted a change. Unlike the NBA, the NFL missed no regular season action in its efforts for more cash. Before that lockout, the owners took home the first billion dollars of league revenue and the rest was split with the players receiving 60 percent. These days players receive 48-48.8 percent of league revenue.

The amount of revenue that the NFL receives is currently more than ever before. This is largely due to the fact that the NFL can guarantee something that no other live broadcast can — viewership. While Goodell was both being praised and castigated for his unilateral stiff punishment of players in the late 2000s, the number of people watching the NFL was already steadying the league for the change in television viewing habits over the next 10 years.

The Super Bowl just prior to Goodell’s takeover was the league’s highest-rated since the Dallas Cowboys defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1996. While the starting quarterbacks were Matt Hasselbeck and Ben Roethlisberger pre-motorcycle accident, this game outdid Donovan McNabb and Tom Brady the season before.

Four years into the job, Goodell presented the NFL team owners with his goal of $25 billion in annual revenue by the 2027 season. Per Sportico, the league is very much on track to reach that goal.

The dangers of playing football

While some may want to credit Goodell’s early punitive player punishments for the NFL’s dominance in content, his best work has been in keeping the team owners away from the questions about the existential danger for players in the NFL.

The team owners can answer questions about CTE and all of the other issues surrounding the health of NFL players if they so choose, but it’s Goodell who unflinchingly eats those arrows.

There is serious data available to the public that directly links playing football to future brain damage. Many players that football fans are quite familiar with have taken their own lives, and later been diagnosed with CTE. The number of brains of former football players that have been tested and confirmed to have the disease is frightening. Will Smith made a movie about it.

Yet, television’s most watched product still chugs along. In the front office, former Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson was living foul, and he stepped away. Dan Snyder is still technically in control of the Washington NFL franchise, but his dirt has been public knowledge for years. His local fanbase is a top-10 American market that is disgusted with him and actively chooses to withhold their dollars from his team. Maybe that hurts the NFL, but certainly not enough for the other team owners to vote him out of the league and forcefully speed up his exit.

Goodell took over a bulletproof product and arguably his largest contribution has been to be the first NFL employee standing in front of that glass. Aim all concerns, fears, and disgust his way. He can take it. Now in his early 60s, this son of a U.S. congressman will make more money than his father could have ever dreamed.

There is great value in this country to taking blows for wealthier people as long as you’re in a position for the money to rush down as opposed to trickling.

St. John’s makes it clear: Winning is more important than ethical standards with Rick Pitino hire

Good luck with allll that, St. John’s.

The last three decades have turned the St. John’s men’s basketball program from one of the most sacred brands in collegiate sports to an indifferent sigh. The Red Storm try to label themselves as New York’s college basketball team — the only non-low-major program inside America’s most populous urban area. Purists wouldn’t want Manhattan to adopt the Queens school, but any pathetic attempt from Syracuse (which is four hours from Madison Square Garden) or Rutgers (which might as well be four hours away with having to cross the Hudson River to get to the swamps of New Jersey) to draw in new fans by calling itself the “true team” of the Empire State will fall short. It’s still and will always be St. John’s mantle and the Red Storm are soiling their history in an attempt to resurrect the dormant program.

Both Rick Pitino and St. John’s public flirtation has led the former Iona coach to announce his move from the suburbs to New York City on a 6-year deal. The Red Storm didn’t have a secondary candidate, and Pitino had no problem speaking to the press about St. John’s while coaching the Gaels in the NCAA Tournament. Imagine what he did behind closed doors to get back to a relevant conference, where he hasn’t been since being fired with cause from Louisville in 2017. This couple eloping to provide what the other needs is exactly the seedy underbelly of college basketball showing itself. The worst part is, I’m not sure if the Red Storm and Pitino care, or have a level of self-awareness so low that these actions are deemed by both parties to be honorable.

Pitino’s history of scandals

Pitino’s first time under the ire of the NCAA for wrongdoing was in 1977, three years before Ronald Reagan was elected President and when Rocky won best picture. Seven Presidents and eight films in the Rocky film franchise later, controversy has surrounded the 70-year-old coach at nearly every step of his career. At Hawaii, Pitino was implicated in eight infractions that led the Rainbow Warriors to be placed on probation. Allegations included providing airfare for student-athletes and arranging for his players to have the use of cars during their time with the program. (Pitino denied any wrongdoing.)

He took over at Kentucky for Eddie Sutton when the Wildcats were under NCAA probation and somehow returned Rupp Arena into one of the sport’s most intimidating home court atmospheres. After a quick trip to the NBA, Pitino returned to the college ranks to take over at Louisville. After a decade of smooth sailing with the Cardinals, Pitino helped them win a national championship in 2013. Well, a stripped national championship. Due to an escort sex scandal involving recruits from 2010-14, Louisville’s championship and 2012 Final Four appearance were both vacated by the NCAA. The Cardinals also self-imposed a postseason ban for the 2015-16 season because of the investigation into the program paying for sex for prospective players. And that’s far from the end of Pitino’s troubles at the school.

In Sept. 2017, federal prosecutors announced an investigation into the school for an alleged “pay for play” recruiting scandal. The allegations involved an Adidas executive conspiring to pay the family of a top recruit to play for Pitino and then represent Adidas after turning pro. While the criminal complaint doesn’t specifically name the player involved in the scandal, Brian Bowen, who committed to Louisville in June 2017, has been identified by a federal judge as the recruit targeted. Pitino was placed on administrative leave and eventually fired, while Bowen now plays for the Iowa Wolves in the NBA G League. (After a lawsuit, Pitino’s termination was changed to a resignation.)

There was also an affair with one of his staffer’s wives, Pitino paying for her abortion, and then his attempts to turn himself into a victim by claiming he was being extorted. He admitted to the affair after meeting at an Italian restaurant but denied raping Karen Cunagin, who later married one of his assistants. Pitino avoided the ax in that 2003 situation, with Cunagin being found guilty of extortion and lying to federal agents in Aug. 2010. Pitino later said he used “extremely poor judgment” and that he “paid the price” for it in an interview with ESPN. The brief history lesson should be a reminder as to who the man St. John’s has solely focused on to lead it back to glory really is. Winning is the only thing that’s important, not having a standup coach to go alongside any of those wins, which might get vacated soon!

The NCAA spared Pitino of any punishment when the findings of its investigation into Louisville were announced last November. Pitino openly talked about it when flirting with the Red Storm after Iona’s loss to UConn in the 2023 NCAA Tournament. “I had to wait five years for them to basically stall my career out to finally get exonerated,” Pitino said Saturday. “I was exonerated by an impartial committee made up of legal people, legal people, not ADs and not people … they handpick. So for five years, they put me in the outhouse because they couldn’t get their stuff together. So it’s just the breaks of the game. You can’t look back. The past, it’s always cherished. You learn from it, you cherish the past. I’ve been to seven Final Fours, two championships, and I cherish that. I also learn from the mistakes that were made.”

St. John’s desperately needs a comeback

The rap sheet for St. John’s isn’t nearly as bad, with the major offenses being the drooling over Pitino and sucking for long portions of the last 30 years. Ever since Lou Carnesecca’s retirement in 1992, the Red Storm have been a shell of their former selves. Brian Mahoney led St. John’s to the second round of the tournament the next season. Since 1994, the Red Storm have made seven NCAA Tournament appearances, with only three coming over the last two decades. Mike Jarvis led St. John’s to the Elite Eight in 1999 and it hasn’t been beyond the second round since.

Let’s not pretend this hardwood marriage is a combination of using one another. Pitino’s itch to get back to the top levels of college basketball is scratched by a program that needs an accomplished coach, no matter how tarnished his legacy is. The sweetheart hire of Chris Mullin didn’t work out and after the failed tenure of Mike Anderson, who plans to file a lawsuit against the school after he was fired for cause, selling out to bring Pitino into the fold in the age of name, image, and likeness and the ever-evolving transfer is a massive risk.

Pitino likely will be around for a fun time, not a long time, as he enters his eighth decade on this planet. It’s time to put up or shut up for Pitino, who will either plunge the Red Storm further into basketball purgatory or help them regain some semblance of respectability and relevancy. Regaining public trust in the basketball industry should be a personal goal for Pitino too.

The best NBA games on this week’s schedule

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This is the time of year in which sports fans should be primarily focused on the Men’s and Women’s college basketball postseason tournaments. The “amateurs” have put on quite a show that deserves attention this week.

However, while college basketball has reached its annual zenith, the NBA is still playing highly important games. Luka Dončić, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant are still on the mend but their teams can ill afford to lose even a single regular-season game with only a handful remaining on the schedule.

Regardless of who is on the court from now through the rest of the regular season most of the upcoming games are highly consequential. For the teams securely in the bottom three of the NBA regular-season that are wishing upon a star for Wembanyama, their work is done. Most of the rest of the league is either fighting for prime postseason positioning.

*Disclaimer: Anthony Davis had to sit in a back-to-back that the Lakers desperately needed last week. For those in the fantasy playoffs, spend your spare time on injury watch.

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When: Mar. 20, 7:30 p.m. EST

Where to Watch: League Pass, Bally Sports North, MSG

Anthony Edwards is a game-time decision, but the Timberwolves had better be ready for game time even if their star isn’t ready to play.

Jalen Brunson returned to the floor for the Knicks after a three-game absence on Saturday and scored 24 points in a victory against the Western Conference No. 1 seed Denver Nuggets. The Knicks have a 2.5-game lead on the Brooklyn Nets for the fifth-seed in the Eastern Conference while the T-Wolves have a half-game lead on the 12th-seed New Orleans Pelicans for the No. 9 seed.

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When: Mar. 20, 8:00 p.m. EST

Where to Watch: NBA TV, Bally Sports SW, Bally Sports Southeast

Ja Morant will not be on the court for this game, and there is a possibility that Luka Dončić will return to the floor following a four-game absence with a thigh injury.

The Grizzlies are lucky that they hold a 4.5-game lead against the Phoenix Suns for the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference, so they can only fall so far in the standings. However, as of Sunday night, they are slightly behind the Sacramento Kings for the No. 2 seed. To pull off a potential NBA Finals berth, the Grizzlies need home-court advantage in the first two rounds.

For the Mavs, they are in that cluster of teams in the west fighting both for their postseason lives and to stay out of the Play-In Tournament.

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When: Mar. 21, 7:30 p.m. EST

Where to Watch: NBA TV, Bally Sports Ohio, YES Network

The Nets somehow still have not fallen into the Play-In Tournament even after trading both of their superstars, and Ben Simmons being a non-factor whether injured or healthy. They are currently the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference and hold a one-game lead on the Miami Heat.

The Cavaliers have a 2.5-game lead on the Knicks for the No. 4 seed and have proven from Day 1 of this season that when they traded for Donovan Mitchell, it was with the goal in mind to win an NBA Championship.

While both of these teams have been impressive this season, don’t watch this game thinking about playoffs. These are two of the most fun teams to watch in the league, so just enjoy some NBA basketball during the NCAA Tournament season.

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When: Mar. 21, 10:00 p.m. EST

Where to Watch: NBA TV, NBC Sports Boston, NBC Sports California

Hopefully, most sports fans have already accepted the fact that the Kings are a very good basketball team. They will have one of the top-three seeds in the Western Conference come playoff time.

What is surprising at this point of the season is how the Kings are soaring and the Celtics are sputtering. The Celtics have fallen to the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference after being considered an NBA Finals favorite both by gambling odds and analysts. They are .500 in their last 10 games while the Philadelphia 76ers are on a tear — 9-1. The Kings are in a similar position as the Celtics in the standings in their conference, except that while both teams are just as far out of first place as their closest conference foe, the Kings are ahead of the Grizzlies while the Celtics trail the 76ers.

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When: Mar. 21, 7:30 p.m. EST

Where to Watch: League Pass, Bally Sports Oklahoma, Bally Sports Southern California

A Victory Wembanyama and Chet Holmgren pairing is not going to happen for the Thunder. As of Sunday Night, the Thunder occupy the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. While far from championship contention, they play a beautiful brand of basketball that keeps them within striking distance in every game.

The Clippers, on the other hand, might have sugar plum fairies dancing with NBA Championship trophies in their heads while asleep. Kawhi Leonard is playing like the person who put the Clippers in prime position to knock off the Utah Jazz and their monster regular-season point differential prior to his ACL injury.

A game that in September would not have been considered a featured matchup now has serious postseason implications with the Thunder still alive and the Clippers in play for the No. 4, 5, and 6 seed as well as the play-in.

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When: Mar. 22, 7:30 p.m. EST

Where to Watch: ESPN, NBC Sports Bay Area, Bally Sports Southwest

More teams being stirred around in that Western Conference postseason gumbo. The Warriors always have a chance at victory with Stephen Curry, but he no longer has a top-tier NBA defense behind him. His 50 points not being nearly enough to beat the Clippers was further proof that the Warriors likely do not have what it takes to get back even to the conference finals.

But with him on the floor, they are always must-see T.V. If Dončić is ready to play, and Irving is still healthy, expect 3-pointers to be flung into baskets from every angle with these two teams not capable of guarding each other.

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When: Mar. 22, 10:00 p.m. EST

Where to Watch: ESPN, SportsNet LA, Bally Sports Arizona

That loss to the Houston Rockets really hurt the Lakers. They had no choice other than to keep Anthony Davis on the sidelines for that back-to-back. However, as of Sunday night, they are still a half-game out of the play-in even after defeating the Orlando Magic and winning six of their last 10 games.

All the Suns can hope for at the start of the 2023 postseason is to maintain home-court advantage in the first round. For that to happen they have to hold off the red-hot Clippers even with no date set for Kevin Durant’s return to the floor.

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When: Mar. 25, 10:30 p.m. EST

Where to Watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, Bally Sports Southern California

We’re due another update on Zion Willamson’s hamstring injury this week. The likely best possible news is that he can fully participate in practice. Don’t hold your breath expecting that to be the update.

The Pelicans will have to continue to play without their All-Star starter, while the Clippers’ health is as good as it has been since possibly the bubble. With five wins in their last six games and Leonard dunking on people, the Clippers will be a tall task for any team to take down.

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When: Mar. 26, 7:00 p.m. EST

Where to Watch: Bally Sports Oklahoma, ROOT Sports NW

Hopefully, the Trail Blazers will keep Damian Lillard active long enough for us to see this matchup. He has hit six or more 3-pointers in three of his last six games. Don’t expect the Trail Blazers to sneak into the postseason, but do enjoy every last one of Lillard’s masterpiece performances.

The entertainment from the Thunder largely comes from how well they play as a team, even though Shai Gilgeous-Alexander might be on his way to first-team All-NBA honors. They cut, they penetrate, they pass, they shoot, and they are just a delight to watch. With the Men’s Regional Final games having just ended, this a great matchup to get snapped back into the reality of the superiority of the NBA game.

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When: Mar. 25, 8:30 p.m. EST

Where to Watch: NBA TV, Bally Sports North, NBC Sports Bay Area

Two teams that did not expect to be fighting for their postseason lives come March Madness, but this is their reality. The Warriors’ youth has been disappointing for most of this season, and the Timberwolves came up short on the flop, turn, and river after betting hard on Rudy Gobert being the missing piece to a championship contender.

Both teams can ill afford to lose a game, especially to each other. As of Sunday night, they are only separated by one game in the standings, with several other teams hot on their tail. Hopefully, Edwards will be healthy enough to play, but even if both teams are undermanned this game has near NCAA Tournament-level importance.

The craziest storylines of the NBA season (so far)

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The NBA is never drama-free, and there’s a reason the NBA playoffs are one of the few reasons to remain on the toxic hellsite that is Twitter these days. But even for the NBA, this season has been a spectacle worth of Vanderpump Rules. As we inch ever closer to the post-season, here’s a look back at some of the shenanigans we’ve endured so far this season.

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Not since Wilt Chamberlain was traded at the 1965 deadline from the Golden State Warriors to the Philadelphia 76ers has there been such a mid-season seismic shift. Durant had requested a trade the last summer, only to come to terms with the Nets when they couldn’t find a team willing to meet their rightfully egregious bounty. But the chaos continued to fester in Brooklyn, led by the enigmatic Kyrie Irving, who Durant followed to Brooklyn in the first place. Irving demanded a trade from the Nets a few weeks from the deadline, which informed Durant to follow suit. The Nets have become the league’s top poverty team, even though the spare parts they got back for Durant and Irving have played well.

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What kind of functional team squanders James Harden, Irving, and Durant in their prime? Durant’s move to the Suns shifted the paradigm of Finals favorites in Phoenix’s favor. No superstar is more plug-and-play than Durant. Add him to any team and prepare to enjoy the spoils of his dominance. Players of Durant’s caliber aren’t typically traded like this. But the Nets’ timetable to win now and chaotic mismanagement for the top-down forced Durant to take his prime years seriously and get the hell out of dodge. Now with the Suns, they have become the perennial favorites. Pairing Durant with Devin booker is a cheat code.

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After recording personal bests in points (20.2), rebounds (7.0), and assists (3.8) last season, Bridges was arrested in the summer of 2022 for felony domestic violence stemming from an alleged physical altercation with the mother of their two children, whom he purportedly violently beat in front of their kids. It’s an awful story. Bridges ultimately entered a no-contest plea to a single felony domestic violence charge on Nov. 3. He was sentenced to three years of probation without serving any time in jail. Bridges will complete 52 weeks of domestic violence counseling and 52 weeks of parenting classes, perform 100 hours of community service, and undergo weekly narcotics testing.

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All that being said, Bridges should never play in the NBA again. There has to be a line the league draws in the sand regarding what kind of character they allow to participate in the NBA. Bridges violently assaulting the mother of his children in front of their children should be that line. When he said in a recent interview that he might be “back in a couple of months,” the NBA should have immediately issued a statement saying, “No, you won’t.” The league and the Hornets need to make this off-season about how they handle the future of Bridges’ career and future cases where one of their players allegedly brutally beats a woman.

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On the flip side, how the Brooklyn Nets and the NBA front office handled Irving’s sharing of Black Israelite propaganda on his social media platform was disgusting. Irving took longer than needed to apologize for sharing a video that used quotes from Adolf Hitler to make its case that African Americans are the true descendants of Biblical Israelites. But the laundry list of chores Nets owner Joe Tsai and NBA commissioner Adam Silver forced Irving to do before getting back in the league’s good gracias was disingenuous and pious. Irving deserved to be suspended for a few games for his inability to address the controversy head-on.

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The Nets, or any team, can choose not to do business with players who say or do things that go against their code of conduct. But the laundry list of goofy “to-do’s” the Nets organization demanded he completes before returning to the floor is too far. It’s a move meant to embarrass Irving, forcing him to bend the knee, not to the group he offended but to the Nets organization. As Shannon Sharpe eloquently said on Undisputed at the time, “I believe they’re trying to rob the man of his dignity,” Sharpe said. “They are trying to make him grovel to get his job back, and I don’t agree with that.”

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Things are approaching an apocalyptic level for the Dallas Mavericks. First, they lost Jalen Brunson for nothing last summer because they hired a glorified shoe salesman as their general manager. This summer, they could lose Kyrie Irving and Christian Wood, their second and third-best players, for nothing as unrestricted free agents. If that were to happen, it’s only logical Luka Dončić would be the next star to demand a trade out of town. So the Mavs made a desperate swing at pairing Dončić with a star co-pilot before the deadline, shipping off starting point guard and second-leading scorer Spencer Dinwiddie and glue guy Dorian Finney-Smith, their best perimeter defender. They got back Irving and washed veteran Markieef Morris in return.

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Irving has continued his stellar scoring spree with the Mavs, averaging 27.8 PPG, 6.6 APG, and 5.1 RPG. But the Mavs offense has struggled on defense, as they rank 23rd in defensive rating. The offense from out-of-timeouts, on inbounds plays, and at the end of games has been atrocious. Basically, boiling down to Dončić and Irving taking turns heaving near-impossible hero shots at the buzzer. Irving needs to resign this summer with the Mavs for the trade to be worth it. It has been reported he won’t settle for less than $50 million per year. If the Mavs lock into a four or five-year contract at that asking price, just for him to demand a trade next season or the one after, it might be a domino effect the franchise won’t be able to stop, much less slow down.

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The Grizzlies’ Ja Morant was recently caught on Instagram Live at a strip club with friends while brandishing a gun. Like many young people, Morant associates carrying a gun with being tough. His actions put himself and those around him in danger. At present, Morant is slated to make a comeback on Monday against the Dallas Mavericks. Initially, the Grizzlies had suspended him for two games, but later they announced that he would sit out at least four games for “conduct detrimental to the team.”. The NBA has decided to include the five games Morant has already missed in his suspension, and he will not receive payment for this time. In a recent interview with Jalen Rose, Morant admitted to entering counseling for his behavior, having recently discharged himself Wednesday.

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The recent gun incident wasn’t Morant’s first brush with controversy. Over the past year or so, Morant has been involved in at least four incidents. The first was in January, involving Morant’s entourage and the Indiana Pacers staff, where they claimed after the game someone in Morant’s SUV aimed a red laser at a security guard believed to be a gun. A month later, Morant was accused of allegedly assaulting a teenager and threatening him with a gun during a pick-up game at Morant’s house. Morant needs to learn the responsibilities that come with being one of the faces of the NBA. Millions of impressionable children are watching his every move, including on his social media, and seek to emulate him. While the televised interview came off slick and heavy on the PR, only time will tell if it sticks.

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The most maligned and misanthropic NBA franchises of the last 20 years are finally out of the gutter and in the playoff hunt. The Sacramento Kings and New York Knicks mirror each other in many ways. They both spent the better part of the last two decades drowning in bad contracts, worse players, and coaching carousels. But today, it’s a different story. Both have elite All-Star-caliber pick and roll tandem, the Knicks with Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle, Kings with De’Aaron Fox and Domantis Sabonis. Both have mostly built their cores through the draft (Fox, Davion Mitchell, Keegan Murray for the Kings, RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Immanuel Qucikley, and Quentin Grimes for the Knicks). Both have old-school coaches with imperfect playoff track records but have shown an ability to evolve (Mike Brown and Tom Thibodeau). And both have insanely loyal and knowledgable fanbases desperate for a winning team to root for.

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When their fanbases are activated, Madison Square Garden and Golden 1 Center are two of the toughest places to play, giving their respective teams an elite home-court advantage, with the fans acting as the sixth man. The Kings have the best offense in the NBA while sitting third in the West. The Knicks have the fifth-best offensive rating and are in fifth place in the East. Each team has a complimentary mix of veterans (Harrison Barnes, Kevin Huerrter for the Kings, Josh Hart, and Isiah Hartenstein for the Knicks) and young players.

Neither team has a bonafide superstar, but with Fox number one in clutch points, directly followed by Brunson at number two, plus two MVP candidates in Randle and Sabonis, the future is very bright. The pressure is now on in a good way, not to dig themselves out of the muck of the bottom standings but to get out of the first round and ride their feel-good storylines to a deep playoff run.

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Even Donovan Mitchell couldn’t believe he was not a New York Knick. After weeks of tense negotiations between the Knicks and the Jazz, executive Danny Ainge seemed annoyed with Knicks Executive Vice President William “World Wide Wes” Wesley’s presence in the front row of the Jazz and Mavericks’ first-round playoff series last season. Ainge decided to dash the Knicks’ hopes of trading for a hometown hero, sending Mitchell to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Oddly enough, that wasn’t Ainge’s most controversial move last summer. That would be the King’s ransom he got for his other former star, Rudy Gobert, from the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Jazz received Malik Beasley, Patrick Beverley, Leandro Bolmaro, Walker Kessler (No. 22 pick in 2022 Draft), Jarred Vanderbilt, and Minnesota’s 2023, 2025, 2027, and 2029 first-round picks plus a 2026 pick swap. That’s five years of draft control the TWolves handed over to the Jazz for a player who seemed an odd fit alongside TWolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns.

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But the rest of the league cared way less for how Gobert would fit with his new team, because the trade had wider ramifications for the trade market. The trade created a stalemate among teams looking to trade, as Gobert’s ridiculous trade return inflated the perceived with of players deemed better than Gobert. Teams with disgruntled stars like the Nets with Kevin Durant or the Spurs with Jakob Poeltl. Gobert’s return was a package better suited for a team acquiring Durant. The impasse wouldn’t be broken until Irving, a damaged asset with plenty of baggage, was traded for way less than he would have been two years ago by the Nets to the Mavericks. Once Irving was traded, the market was reset, and other dominos fell, leading to the wildest deadline in modern NBA history. But for a moment, it felt like Danny Ainge’s highway robbery might have broken the NBA’s trade machine.

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For those who watched LeBron James score his first points against the Sacramento Kings during his first NBA game on Oct. 30, 2003, breaking the scoring record this season was extra sweet. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time scoring record felt like one of the few unbreakable NBA records. In a Tuesday night game against the Oklahoma City Thunder in early February, James needed 36 points to break Jabbar’s record. In a stunning performance, he dominated the game with a remarkable 16-point third quarter, culminating in a beautiful jumper with only 10.9 seconds remaining. This propelled him to a career total of 38,388 points, surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s decades-long record. He already held the record for most total points scored in the NBA playoffs with 7,631 points.

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For a ceremony commemorating the occasion, the game was briefly halted for approximately 10 minutes, during which members of James’ family, including his mother, wife, three children, and even Jabbar, stepped onto the court to share the moment with James. As celebs, former teammates, and Lakers greats watched from the stands, James made history as the league’s all-time leader in points. Despite playing 224 minutes less than Abdul-Jabbar did at the same stage of their respective careers, James scored 530 more points than the former Lakers star did. He also benefited from the three-point shot, a scoring method Jabbar did not have in his arsenal. After the NBA introduced the three-point line in 1979, Abdul-Jabbar made just a single three-pointer in his 20-year career. In contrast, James has scored 17.5% of his points from beyond the arc, increasing his attempts as he ages. This season he’s averaging a staggering 29.5 PPG at 38 years old. It took Abdul-Jabbar 1,560 games over 20 years to tally 38,387 career points. James looks to have at least another three years left in him. The record he sets when he finally hangs it up could be truly insurmountable.

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It seems like yesterday Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George had united in Oklahoma City of all places. The “big three” was a bust before George demanded a trade to the Clippers right after signing an extension with OKC. Then came the Chris Paul-led underdogs, paired with a bunch of wily vets and youngsters Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lu Dort. Only Dort and SGA remain two years later, but they are both integral parts of the cornerstone rebuild Sam Presti devised after squandering having three MVPs simultaneously (Westbrook, Durant, and James Harden). Presti selected Josh Giddey, Tre Mann, Jalen Williams, Jaylin Williams, Isaiah Joe, and Chet Holmgren with a record number of draft picks.

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When Holmgren injured his foot during an exhibition before pre-season, this season looked like it would be a guaranteed tank job for projected number one pick, Victor Wembanyama. SGA and his young cohorts had other plans. The Thunder are currently two games under .500 and in 10th place, good enough for the Play-In Tournament. This season they are third in pace, 10th in defensive rating, and 14th in offensive rating. Not bad for only year three of the rebuild. The emergence of SGA as a superstar this season has accelerated the rebuild and forced Presti’s hand from committing another egregious tank job. Presti still has an absurd number of draft picks over the next five years and will eventually use them to outbid anyone for the next star that demands a trade out. When he does, the Thunder could be positioned for the best run to a championship in their franchise’s young career. Now it’s time for the OKC Thunder’s band of merry pranksters to shock the world this postseason with a playoff birth.