Jacksonville Jaguars

Griffin coming back to the lineup is a sign of hope.

Super Bowl aspirations in Pittsburgh a year after it lost the AFC title game in New England are warranted … even though the Patriots did more than the Steelers to improve during the offseason.

The offensive firepower, health permitting, remains intact, and Le’Veon Bell playing on the franchise tag apparently feels the need to produce even more. The key for the Steelers again will be the continued development of the relatively young defense that allowed 431 yards in that AFC championship loss.

It wasn’t his best performance. In his first game since Dec. 20, Griffin tallied 12 points on 3-for-11 shooting (6 for 10 from the free-throw line). He also added 11 rebounds, five assists and six turnovers.

Griffin coming back to the lineup is a sign of hope. He was able to play 30 minutes without any physical issues. During his recovery from surgery, the Clippers were 10-8. Having him back couldn’t come any sooner since the team is missing Chris Paul.

“It’s so good having him Blake back,” DeAndre Jordan told Sporting News. “It’s been so frustrating lately, we get off to a hot start then we have two of our big guys go down. At our best, we’re a championship contender. We just haven’t been at our best in awhile. But this is a good start to getting it right.”

Few teams have overcome as much adversity as the Clippers over the past few years. This team survived the ownership of Donald Sterling. Last season, the team lost its dynamic duo of Griffin and Paul within 36 hours. Thus killing the playoff hopes once again.rangers_094-115x115

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the first four months have shown the club is on the right track.

Holland said that the ritual took root while he was still with the Rangers, and though he brought that with him to the White Sox, he was quick to defer personal credit for its effect on the clubhouse.

“My goal is just to bring the team closer together. I have been on some really good teams, and that’s something they do,” Holland said. “And for a team that’s growing, a young team like this, that’s the whole objective.”

Braves (vs. Cubs)
Status heading into series: 45-45, 7 back in the NL Central, 8 out of a wild-card spot
The bright side: Nobody expected the Braves to be in position to have a decision to make at the trade deadline, and maybe they’re not really contenders. But at this point in the rebuilding process, maybe it’s more important to keep guys like Brandon Phillips, R.A. Dickey and Jaime Garcia and push to finish the season strong, instead of trading them for prospects who won’t crack a strong farm system’s top-25 prospect list.

On the other hand: Regardless how this season finishes, the first four months have shown the club is on the right track. Can you ever have too many prospects? Veterans Phillips, Dickey, Garcia, Nick Markakis, Matt Kemp, Jim Johnson, Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki have done admirable jobs, but they’re not part of the franchise’s future, so why not move them now and add to the stable? And then there’s Matt Adams, the first baseman they picked up from the Cardinals as a fill-in when Freddy Freeman went down with an injury. He’s been pretty amazing — 14 homers, .944 OPS in 46 games — and they’d certainly get more by trading him now than they gave to the Cardinals to get him. But he’s quickly become a fan favorite, and maybe they use the offseason to make a full-time outfielder of him. Yet another good decision the Braves didn’t expect to have to make. broncos_047

Jacksonville Jaguars

LaVar Ball: Don’t compare us to the Kardashians

Don’t tell LaVar Ball and his family they are like the Kardashians.

Lonzo Ball’s father indicated he was over being compared to the reality TV moguls and said they were nothing alike.

“I ain’t no Kardashain, I ain’t Kris Jenner,” LaVar Ball told TMZ Sports. “We the Balls, welcome to the Ball era.”

The similarities between the families are striking: Kris Jenner and her children have made a lifestyle out of being on reality TV. LaVar Ball said he and his family are getting a reality TV show. Kris Jenner is known for managing her children’s careers and securing their signature brands. Lavar Ball has created Big Baller Brand and is trying to make an empire off his family’s name. Both clans are also based in southern California

However, LaVar Ball doesn’t even want his name associated with the Kardashians.

“I don’t like them, I don’t dislike them. Kardashians are Kardashians.” LaVar Ball said. “We’re separate. We’re ball players.”

On one hand, this is a backup point guard for a Cleveland team that has desperately needed one. He’ll help the team run offense when LeBron James and Kyrie Irving sit.

On the other, he took a big nose dive last season in Los Angeles and Atlanta. There’s not a lot of evidence he’s a better option than Deron Williams was last season, and Williams struggled in the playoffs. Also, Calderon’s defense has always been a sieve, and Cleveland’s biggest issue is its defense.

This doesn’t really fill any holes, and the true cost to Cleveland is in the area of $6-7 million given their luxury tax bill. Given that the team can simply stagger LeBron and Kyrie’s minutes, I’m not sure that a point like this at a relatively high cost to the organization makes a ton of sense.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Kawhi Leonard shines as Spurs bounce back to even series

The Spurs are back in it.

Just watching the ball and watching where guys shoot, Thompson said. If a guy is shooting a shot in the corner, 70 percent of the missed shots usually come off that other side, and 30 percent hits off the front rim. So just playing the percentages and kind of studying your teammates’ shots throughout the course of the game.

For instance, a guy like Channing (Frye), if he misses a shot, he has a lot of arc on his shot, so if he misses it’s probably going to be close. J.R. (Smith), his shot is a little bit more, not as much arc as Channing, so if he misses, it might be a little bit more long rebound. Just understanding your teammates. But I’m hoping they make every shot. But if not, I tell them, ‘Don’t worry, there’s a good chance I will be able to get that offensive rebound.’

Thompson is below the trees at 6-9 but has a 7-1 wingspan, great lateral quickness for his size and an impressive second jump. (These are all traits that have also made him a force on the defensive end this postseason.) The biggest part of his offensive rebounding success, though, is his ability to read the ball. Thompson explained the process at Wednesday’s practice.

The Raptors were forced to play without All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry, who is still nurisng an ankle injury. Cory Joseph started in his place, but scored just four points on 2 of 12 shooting. DeMar DeRozan scored 37 points to led Toronto, but he ultimately didn’t receive enough help down the stretch.

Cleveland has been pretty nonchalant about this series, which has caused Raptors players to feel disrespected. This series, which never looked all that competitive from the start, is now virtually over.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Chauncey Billups reportedly pulls out of running for Cavaliers GM job

Chauncey Billups apparently isn’t ready to leave television for an NBA front office job just yet.

The ESPN analyst pulled out of the running for the Cleveland Cavaliers’ president of basketball operations job, ESPN reported Monday.

The report came a day after Billups told reporters he was “still pondering” an offer to replace David Griffin as the man in charge in Cleveland.

It would be tempting to pair a 20-year-old Tracy McGrady with a 23-year-old Vince Carter from the 2000 Raptors, but instead we’re going with Lowry, DeRozan and Valanciunas, who have led the Raptors to 51, 56, 49 and 48 regular-season wins in the last four years, respectively, which are the four highest single-season win totals in Toronto’s history.

Anchored by two Hall-of-Famers in point guard John Stockton and power forward Karl Malone, with a career-40 percent three-point shooter on the wing in Jeff Hornacek, the Jazz could have assembled an absolute force of a 3-on-3 team in the 1990s.

All three players were members of the franchise during its Baltimore Bullets days in the 1960s and ’70s. Earl “The Pearl” Monroe was a star as soon as he entered the league, averaging more than 20 points and four assists per game in each of his first four seasons, while Gus Johnson and Wes Unseld were two of the league’s best rebounders. Unseld averaged 18.2 rebounds per game as a rookie and shot better than 50 percent from the field for his career.

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Bucks returning to historic MECCA for one game in 2017-18 season

Bucks fans can take a pilgrimage down memory lane during the 2017-18 NBA season.

That night, as the Cavaliers celebrated at Oracle Arena, Green sat in the parking lot and made two phone calls, he told ESPN.com: One to Warriors general manager Bob Myers, urging him to sign chargers_002 in free agency, and another to Durant himself, the likely Finals MVP this season if the Warriors can close the deal.

It was then when Green and the Warriors unofficially began recruiting Durant, who signed a max deal just two weeks later. Green was blamed in part for the Warriors’ collapse last year after getting suspended for Game 5 after getting tagged for his fourth flagrant-foul point of the playoffs.

“If we win the championship, I’m like 99 percent sure we don’t get (Durant),” Green told ESPN.com. “There are silver linings to everything.”

On the verge of sweeping the Cavaliers, there will be no silver for the Warriors, only gold.

So even though Green claims he would react that way again, we have to wonder if maybe he’s grown enough to the point where he realizes the type of impact his outbursts have. If not, expect the Cavs to try and get under his skin again in this current series.

After the draft lottery, LaVar said (via Lakers Nation), “That’s all we working out for is the Lakers. Just the Lakers. There’s nobody else that we need to work out for.”

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Sporting News NFL awards 2016: Players of the year, All-Pro Team, more

Sporting News this week announced it’s annual NFL awards, voted upon by current players, coaches and executives throughout the league. SN’s 2016 All-Pro Team, voted upon by the league’s head coaches, also was announced.

SN has announced player awards since 1954, including Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year awards since 2012. SN’s Coach of the Year award has been announced since 1947.

Here are the award recipients and All-Pro Team for the 2016 NFL season.

(Editor’s note: SN’s Executive of the Year award will be announced and presented during the annual league meeting in March.)

Kaepernick was a second-round draft pick of the 49ers in 2011 and he’s just one example of Baalke’s failed picks. Others include Anthony Davis, LaMichael James, Tank Carradine, Marcus Martin, Brandon Thomas, A.J. Jenkins, Taylor Mays and Chris Culliver.

San Francisco’s roster is a mess, and, in the end, Baalke was the scapegoat for the team’s miserable 2016 season.

It didn’t surprise me, Baalke said. Weve done some awful good things. Some very successful seasons. Unfortunately regret we werent able to bring a championship to the Bay Area, which they so deserve. I think The Faithful has been great. Wish this organization nothing but the best moving forward. I do see a bright future for them.steelers_005

Tennessee Titans

Hue Jackson admits adding QB to Browns is ‘imperative’

The Browns hold the top spot, and the No. 12 pick in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, and their fan base wants to know who will head to Cleveland.

Many expect the Browns to take a quarterback, considering the position held them back last season. Robert Griffin III didn’t show a whole lot as a starter, and Cody Kessler is still pretty unknown.

The second, more likely option is that the Yankees will keep running him out there in hopes that he figures out what’s wrong, which is something Girardi has reinforced several times. On the surface, Tanaka’s issues are pretty simple: As a pitcher who doesn’t rely on pure power stuff, has been living in the upper half of the zone in ’17. His velocity hasn’t changed much from 2014 to now, according to Fangraphs.

But there’s still a third option that may seem farfetched. But given the Yankees’ recent selling spree, it might not be.

Let’s say that Tanaka goes on an absolute tear from this point. With the way Yankees GM Brian Cashman has been dealing these past 365 days, maybe Tanaka could be a trade option. A risky, high-priced trade option for other teams, but if there’s a team really looking to hammer down its contender status, looking for depth, and would be willing to take the risk of future years of Tanaka, it could be on the table.rams_001

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Baseball dismissed Leo Mazzone and Johnny Sain — the Hall of Fame doesn’t have to

Sometime after the Braves hired Leo Mazzone in 1979 to be a pitching coach within their organization, he went to see Johnny Sain.

Sain won 20 games four times for the Boston Braves between 1946 and 1950, helping lead the team to the 1948 World Series. Later, Sain embarked on a successful second career as a pitching coach. So many of the best pitchers of the 1960s crossed paths with Sain, from Whitey Ford to Jim Kaat to Denny McLain.

Partially because his track record of wins and losses is pretty solid (three first-place finishes, two second-place finishes in his five full seasons), but also because Matheny checks so many of the boxes that owner Bill DeWitt Jr., believes are so very important to the well-being of the franchise as a whole.

Still …

This past road trip was a disaster, by any interpretation. And this season has been an up-and-down roller coaster nobody expected, swings of awful baseball and awesome baseball.

With a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and a hard, upper-80s slider, scouts are split on whether Bukauskas will remain a starter at the next level or make a move toward the bullpen, likely in a closer role.

Whether he is taking the ball at the beginning of games or at the end, he has a very good chance to climb to the majors very quickly. Much like Wright, Bukauskas competed in a very tough conference for the past three years, giving scouts a good idea of where he will stack up against professional hitters.

If he remains a starter, look for the Ashburn, Va., native to spend a couple seasons in the minors and make his major league debut in either late 2019 or 2020. However, if the team that selects him makes him a closer immediately, his path to the top could be much shorter, with him getting the call up next summer.

Tennessee Titans

Eric Berry-Chiefs sequel is another reminder that franchise tag must go

Eric Berry and the Chiefs are back to square one with the franchise tag, according to various local and national news reports. Which makes this as good a time as any to remind everybody of how much the franchise tag should be abolished.

Face it. All sorts of speculation connect Cousins with his former coordinator in D.C., Kyle Shanahan, in San Francisco. If Cousins wants no part of the 49ers, he hasn’t let on in any way. That should tell you plenty — the promise of Shanahan’s regime or not, that carnival act in Santa Clara hasn’t been ruled out.

What’s out there that’s flakier than what’s going on where he already is? Does everybody out there know who’s calling the shots, who has the final say? Not completely. Guess what. They do in Washington — at least now, two years after the fact, after McCloughan was presented as the team builder, then was abruptly sent to an undisclosed location this offseason.

Also, no talk show host/game analyst on the 49ers’ flagship radio station is dropping random, unverified observations about anybody’s fitness for the job, or about major addiction relapses. Unlike what’s happened in Washington recently.

“That’s a hard one in the locker room,” Quinn said afterward. “No place to put that one mentally for us.”

Falcons owner Arthur Blank then came into the interview area to hear his head coach speak (which is customary postgame). Blank’s face was anything but. It displayed all the emotion of someone who had watched Atlanta’s 28-3 lead midway through the third quarter gradually get chipped away through a combination of Patriots perseverance and self-inflicted wounds.