Chiefs vs. Ravens booked to open 2024 NFL season; Nuggets, Pacers battle back;

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Breaking news to start the morning: The Ravens will visit the Chiefs to open the season. Lamar Jackson vs. Patrick Mahomes? I’m even more excited for the season than I was previously.

🏀 Good morning to everyone, but especially …

THE DENVER NUGGETS

For two games, the Nuggets had no answer for the Timberwolves‘ swarming defense, skilled offense and overall athleticism.

Two games later, it’s the Timberwolves who have no answer for Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. Denver’s elite offense is humming, once again, and the Nuggets’ 115-107 win has effectively turned this into a best-of-three series.

  • Jokic shouldered the load offensively, scoring 35 points and taking 26 shots — both personal highs this postseason. Murray, who added 19 points, is finally back after a tough start to the series.
  • Aaron Gordon was magnificent with 27 points on 11-for-12 shooting, scoring on dunks aplenty, two 3-pointers and even tough midrange shots.
  • Denver’s much-improved defense stymied everyone not named Anthony Edwards (44 points). Minnesota’s four other starters shot a combined 17 for 43 (40%).
  • It also helped that Denver had one of the craziest sequences we’ve ever seenfeaturing eight points in 20 seconds and highlighted by Murray’s 55-foot heave to close the first half.

The reigning champs, after looking bamboozled and overmatched, have turned the tables. What a series this is becoming.

👍 Honorable mentions

😬 And not such a good morning for …

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THE NEW YORK KNICKS

The Knicks have never had it easy. Now, they’re facing their toughest challenge: themselves. The Pacers demolished a hapless, hampered New York squad 121-89 to tie the series at 2-2. Indiana led by 28 at halftime — its largest postseason halftime lead ever — and by as much as 43(!) in the fourth quarter, after both teams had pulled their starters.

Speaking of starters, New York always relied heavily on them, even before Julius Randle‘s season-ending shoulder injury back in January. Now, they’re running out of reliable players, period:

  • Since the playoffs started, Bojan Bogdanovic (foot) and Mitchell Robinson (ankle) have both seen their seasons end.
  • In Game 2 against Indiana, both Jalen Brunson (foot) and AND Anunoby (hamstring) got hurt. Brunson returned; Anunoby hasn’t.
  • Including the playoffs, the Knicks are 26-5 with Anunoby and 13-16 without him since his midseason acquisition.

In Game 3, Brunson plus Donte DiVincenzo‘s red-hot shooting nearly got the job done. In Game 4, DiVincenzo and Brunson combined to shoot 9 for 30, and so the Knicks had no chance, because they simply no longer have the offensive firepower elsewhere. In fact, they might not have enough of anything elsewhere. James Herbert explains how a deep Indiana team overwhelmed the run-down Knicks.

  • Herbert: “During the regular season, and especially as the Pacers advanced to the inaugural In-Season Tournament championship game, it became clear that Indiana was the type of team that could beat anybody. The Pacers run hard, run off makes and run their halfcourt offense with a particular urgency. … Sunday’s 121-89 shellacking of the Knicks, dubbed the ‘Mother’s Day massacre’ by announcer Mike Breenshowed that they’re also the last team you want to face if you’re depleted and exhausted.”

I won’t give up on the Knicks. Led by Brunson and Tom Thibodeauthey’re as tough as they come. But they’re losing the battle of attrition, with no respite in sight.

👎 Not so honorable mentions

😲 Hawks win NBA Draft Lottery, Pistons slide again

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How’s this for overcoming the odds? The Hawks — who had just a 3% chance to win the NBA Draft Lottery — did just that, becoming the fourth least-likely team to win the No. 1 pick in the history of the event. Here’s the top five:

  1. Hawks
  2. Wizards
  3. Rockets (via Nets)
  4. Spurs
  5. Pistons

You’ll notice the last team on that list was also the team that finished last in the NBA this season. The Pistons had the league’s worst record for the second straight year. And for the third straight yearthough, they fell to fifth in the draft. Detroit was the biggest lottery loserColin Ward-Henninger writes, but all is not lost.

  • Ward-Henninger: “With last year’s No. 5 pick the Pistons selected Ausar Thompsonwho … has already shown tremendous potential as a wing defender and transition scorer. Also, if there’s any draft to have missed the No. 1 pick, this is it. There is no consensus franchise-changing prospect in this class, so there’s a decent chance the player you select at No. 5 could be even better than the top four.”

Speaking of that uncertain top of the class, Kyle Boone has a brand-new mock draft:

  1. Hawks: C Alex Sarr — “Atlanta has a chance to add a difference-maker at the center spot who can serve as an anchor on defense and help erase deficiencies for a Hawks team that lacks star power in the frontcourt.”
  2. Wizards: G Stephon Castle
  3. Rockets: PG Rob Dillingham
  4. Spurs: PG Nikola Topic
  5. Pistons: SF Zaccharie Risacher

🏌 Rory McIlroy wins Wells Fargo Championship ahead of PGA Championship

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On Sunday, Rory McIlroy turned a top-10 showdown into a laugher. Now he hopes it carries over. McIlroy surged to a five-stroke victory over Xander Schauffele to win his fourth Wells Fargo Championship and now turns his focus to the PGA Championship at Valhalla.

  • Scheffele eagled No. 7 to go up two strokes. McIlroy then went birdie-birdie-eagle to take the lead right back. He added two more birdies and another eagle and shot 32 on the back nine, even with a double-bogey on 18.
  • McIlroy’s win came a week after he and Shane Lowry teamed up to win the Zurich Classic.
  • McIlroy’s 26 career PGA Tour victories ties Henry Picard for 22nd all-time. McIlroy also made a cool $3.6 million with the win. Not bad!

While McIlroy has no problem winning (especially at Quail Hollow) he’s still chasing his fifth major. In fact, he’s been chasing it since 2014, coincidentally at the PGA Championship … coincidentally at Valhalla. Will he celebrate the 10-year anniversary with another Wanamaker Trophy? As Kyle Porter points out in his PGA Championship storylineshe’s not the only one coming in on a heater.

  • Porter: Brooks Koepka is once again center stage. Scottie Scheffler is going for something historic. Rory McIlroy joins both men as a trio of golfers entering the PGA each having won their last two starts. And then there’s this young guy — perhaps you have heard of him by now, Ludvig Åberg. Turns out he’s pretty good at major championship golf, too.”

⚾ MLB Power Rankings, weekend recap

Those Phillies are getting cozy in the top spot in Matt Snyder’s MLB Power Rankings for a second straight week, and according to the sportsbooks, they’re not even the favorite in their own division! Here’s Matt’s top five:

  1. Phillies (previous: 1)
  2. Orioles (2)
  3. Dodgers (3)
  4. Braves (4)
  5. Yankees (6)

Atlanta is still the betting favorite in the NL East, though, and Matt anticipates a close race over the rest of the regular season.

Here’s more from a busy MLB weekend:

📺 What we’re watching Monday

🏀 Game 4: Celtics at Cavaliers7 p.m. on TNT
🏒 Game 5: Hurricanes at Rangers7 p.m. on ESPN
🏀 Game 4: Thunder at Mavericks9:30 p.m. on TNT
🏒 Game 4: Stars at Avalanche9:30 p.m. on ESPN

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