Happy Thursday, team. You’re on the back end of the week. Today’s edition looks ahead to the 4th-quarter question marks in the NBA regular season and ties a bow on soccer highlights that dominated the week.
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Analyzing the New-Look NBA Landscape Down the Stretch After the All-Star Break & Trade Deadline
The NBA returns tonight with 18 teams in action after a lengthy All-Star Weekend pause, and it’s officially time to tip off the stretch run. Teams have played (roughly) 60 games out of the 82-game season, which means we’re entering the fourth quarter of the regular season. What have we learned so far? The East is top-heavy with four teams posing as serious title contenders — Celtics, Bucks, 76ers and Cavaliers — while the West is wide open behind the Nuggets.
NBA Playoff Picture
1. Celtics (42-17)
2. Bucks (41-17)
3. 76ers (38-19)
4. Cavaliers (38-23)
5. Nets (34-24)
6. Knicks (33-27)
7. Heat (32-27)
8. Hawks (29-30)
9. Wizards (28-30)
10. Raptors (28-31)
In the Hunt: Bulls (26-33), Pacers (26-34), Magic (24-35)
1. Nuggets (41-18)
2. Grizzlies (35-22)
3. Kings (32-25)
4. Clippers (33-28)
5. Suns (32-28)
6. Mavericks (31-29)
7. Pelicans (30-29)
8. Timberwolves (31-30)
9. Warriors (29-29)
10. Thunder (28-29)
In the Hunt: Jazz (29-31), Blazers (28-30), Lakers (27-32)
1. What Teams Look Different?
While we can analyze the first 3/4 of the season, the trade deadline and playoff push shifted the mentality for a number of teams. After a flurry of deals at the deadline that revamped some rosters and prepped others for draft season, the league is eyeing a few teams with new pieces. In the West, it’s the Suns (Kevin Durant), Mavericks (Kyrie Irving), and Lakers (multiple changes) that have a heightened sense of urgency. In the East, the Cavaliers and Bucks made a few additions, but the Heat (Kevin Love), Hawks (coaching change), and Knicks are looking to leap the Nets for the 5-6-7 seeds in the East.
2. KD or Kyrie: Who Gets Last Laugh?
While the love between Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving appears to be alive and well, fans can’t help but watch the Suns-Mavericks storylines down the stretch (and in the playoffs). Both players gave up on trying to win a championship together. Which one will have the better situation and better postseason positioning when it’s all said and done?
3. Which L.A. Team Will Turn It Around?
The Lakers made more moves than anyone in the past few weeks, acquiring Rui Hachimura, D’Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt, Malik Beasley, and Mo Bamba while shipping off Russell Westbrook — who ultimately ended up down the hall in the Clippers locker room. With LeBron now 38 years old, is his final championship window closing? And can the loaded Clippers make it work with Westbrook and finally get to the promised land? The Clippers are the 4-seed and the Lakers are currently 13th, but they’re separated by just five games.
4. Can Anyone Bust Up the East?
Those four teams at the top of the East — Celtics, Bucks, 76ers, and Cavs — are head-and-shoulders better than the rest of the conference, but the Knicks, Heat, and Hawks have the star power to make waves. I think it’s Boston and Milwaukee on a crash course for the East Finals, but one of those Eastern Conference sleepers may have something to say.
Tonight’s Marquee Games
Nuggets at Cavaliers (7:00 pm ET)
Celtics at Pacers (7:00 pm ET)
Grizzlies at 76ers (7:30 pm ET)
Warriors at Lakers (10:00 pm ET)
Yahoo! Sports: NBA Predictions for Season’s Second Half
B/R: Fresh NBA Playoff Predictions & Championship Odds
CBS Sports: NBA Power Rankings: Celtics Lead Pack After All-Star Break
Round of 16: Leg 1 Rewind
Champions League: Man. City & RB Leipzig Play to Draw (1-1) While Inter Edge Porto (1-0) as Leg 1s Shake Out
Leg 1 of the Round of 16 is a wrap! Wednesday’s action saw a scintillating draw between Manchester City and RB Leipzig (1-1) that will set the stage for a thrilling Leg 2. City struck first with a fast-break finish from Riyad Mahrez (27’) before Josko Gvardiol evened the score with a header in the second half (70’). Over in Italy, Inter dominated FC Porto for most of the match before a Porto red card in the 78th minute gave Inter the advantage, and Romelo Lukaku (86’) found the winner a few minutes later. Leg 1 is in the books, and seven of the eight matchups are separated by just two goals entering Leg 2 in two weeks.
RB Leipzig draw Manchester City (1-1)
Round of 16 – Leg 2 Preview (Aggregate Score)
Dortmund leads Chelsea (1-0)
Benfica lead Club Brugge (2-0)
Bayern lead PSG (1-0)
Milan lead Tottenham (1-0)
Inter lead FC Porto (1-0)
Real Madrid leads Liverpool (5-2)
Napoli leads Eintracht Frankfurt (2-0)
Man. City tied RB Leipzig (1-1)
Leg 2: March 7-8 & March 14-15
CBS Sports: City’s Draw to RB Leipzig Underlines Importance of Kevin De Bruyne
ESPN: Champions League Stats: Benzema’s 32, Vinicius Emulates Cruyff & More Stats From A Historic Week
The Must-Watch Calendar
Sports are constantly moving, and knowing when the biggest events are happening shouldn’t be a chore. The Sportsletter’s Must-Watch Calendar delivers a one-stop destination for users to see how each sport’s biggest events fit into their day simply by adding it to the place they check the most — their personal calendar. With the events added to your own Google calendar, you will be able to easily see when certain events occur, and it will be even easier to fit them into your busy schedule. If you read The Sportsletter each week, you’re familiar with our “Must-Watch List” on Fridays. It just got bigger and better.
If you have any feedback on the calendar, please email us (email@example.com) with any questions or concerns.
SOC: USWNT Wins 4th Straight SheBelieves Cup
For the fourth straight time, the U.S. Women’s National Team is champions of the SheBelieves Cup! The USWNT beat Brazil (2-1) behind Alex Morgan and Mallory Swanson’s goals before Brazil added one late. They defeated Japan (1-0) in the first round, and they’ll now look ahead to the FIFA Women’s World Cup in July.
NHL: Blackhawks Win 4th Straight Behind Kane, Domi
Just when you thought the Blackhawks were dead in 2023, here they come. Patrick Kane (2 goals, 1 assist) powered a Chicago comeback last night against Dallas (4-3) along with Max Domi (2 goals, 1 assist). The Blackhawks trailed 3-0 before the rally that gave them their fourth straight win — the last three against top-tier playoff teams.
NCAA Scoreboard (Men’s)
#1 Houston def. Tulane (89-59)
#2 Alabama def. South Carolina (78-76, OT)
Boston College def. #6 Virginia (63-48)
Best Fits for Top-50 NFL Free Agents
NFL free agency officially opens on March 15, two days after the negotiation window begins. We’ll see new deals for many talented playmakers around the league, but which teams make the most sense for each of the top players set to be available? (ESPN+)
The Victor Wembanyama media blitz is officially on. The 7-foot-4 NBA prospect is apparently still growing, and he prefers not to play center, so which NBA rebuilder is best suited for the next generational phenom? (CBS Sports)
Underrated MLB Players Ready to Explode
There are a handful of players across baseball who do not receive the attention they deserve relative to their contributions. We’ve highlighted 10 underrated MLB players who are poised to explode onto the national stage during the 2023 season. (Bleacher Report)