Monday, January 24, 2022

Kyrie Irving’s legacy is on the line with the Nets now, plus will Novak Djokovic defend his Aussie Open title?

Happy Thursday, all! Fair warning: This might be the most drama-filled newsletter I’ve ever written.

Let’s get right to it.

Good morning to everyone but especially to…

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THE BROOKLYN NETS AND THEIR NEWEST (PART-TIME) STARTING POINT GUARD

Welcome back, Kyrie Irving. The superstar point guard made his season debut Wednesday night, scoring 22 points as the Nets overcame a 19-point deficit to beat the Pacers 129-121 in Indiana.

Irving, Kevin Durant and James Harden combined for 79 points, and the Nets wasted little time returning to the offensive juggernaut we saw last year on the rare occurrences all three were available, writes our NBA expert Brad Botkin:

  • Botkin: “With Durant and Harden, you can manage as a defense. But with a third elite shooter/scorer, you can’t stay attached to them all. You have to make choices. Who do you stay with and who do you leave? There won’t be a good answer, and that’s when Brooklyn becomes undefendable.”

Of course, the reason the team hasn’t spent much time at full strength is Irving’s own doing. By remaining unvaccinated, Irving cannot play in home games and will only be available on the road. Given the headaches Irving has caused and the immense accommodations the Nets are making, Irving’s presence has to lead to wins now more than ever writes NBA columnist Bill Reiter:

  • Reiter: Either Irving makes the Nets the title contender they’re supposed to be, pushing them to another level and helping them make a truly deep run once we reach the playoffs. Or else he is what he’s been hinting at for years: Not worth all the trouble.”

Honorable mentions:

And not such a good morning for…

Novak Djokovic

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NOVAK DJOKOVIC

In a shocking turn of events, Novak Djokovic’s ability to play in the Australian Open is once again in danger after his visa was canceled.

This one requires some explaining, so bear with me:

  • Djokovic is not vaccinated against COVID-19, and Australia requires vaccination — or an accepted exemption for not being vaccinated — to enter the country.
  • On Tuesday, Australian Open officials granted Djokovic a medical exemption, and he traveled to Australia.
  • However, when Djokovic landed in Australia, he was denied entry, and his visa was canceled due to insufficient evidence for a medical exemption. Furthermore, according to reports, the visa Djokovic applied for did not permit medical exemptions

Next steps remain unclear, although according to reports, Djokovic’s lawyers are challenging the country’s ruling, and the world No. 1 was being held in a hotel room as of Wednesday night.

Djokovic has won 20 Grand Slams, tied with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for most ever by a man. Djokovic’s tally includes a record nine Australian Open titles — his most recent of which came last year.

This year’s Australian Open begins Jan. 17. It remains to be seen if he will be able to defend his title.

Not so honorable mention

Antonio Brown shares his side of story, claims Bucs have ‘ongoing cover-up’ of his ankle injury 👀

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Getty Images

Antonio Brown has broken his silence on his shocking, shirtless third-quarter exit from Sunday’s game against the Jets.

In a lengthy statement released through his attorney, Sean Burstyn, Brown alleged several things against Tampa Bay, including:

  • An MRI on Brown’s ankle revealed “broken bone fragments stuck in my ankle, the ligament torn from the bone, and cartilage loss.”

  • The Buccaneers forced Brown to seek a second opinion with “a more junior doctor” after Brown had scheduled a surgery to fix the ankle following the first MRI.
  • Head coach Bruce Arians and general manager Jason Licht knew about Brown’s injury.
  • The Buccaneers staff used “a powerful and sometimes dangerous painkiller that the NFLPA has warned against” to help Brown handle the paint
  • The team is “promoting a totally false narrative that [Brown] randomly acted out without any explanation.”

Arians has denied that there were issues with how the team has handled the injury and has maintained the injury had nothing to do with the wide receiver’s exit. 

Brown, who ended his statement by saying he will undergo surgery and hope return next season, is still technically on the Bucs’ roster as the team works with the NFL to determine next steps to part ways with him.

Who’s going to nab the last playoff spots in Week 18? 🏈

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Seven teams. Three spots. One week left in the longest regular season ever to determine the playoff field.

In the AFC, there are two open spots and five potential teams to fill them: The Colts, Chargers, Raiders, Steelers and Ravens.

Overall, there are 256 different seeding scenarios in the AFC alone.

Thankfully, we have Stephen Oh of SportsLine.com to run the numbers, and John Breech to make sense of all of it. Here’s what the algorithm projects the AFC playoff field will look like:

  1. Titans (clinched playoff berth)
  2. Chiefs (clinched playoff berth)
  3. Bills (clinched playoff berth)
  4. Bengals (clinched playoff berth)
  5. Patriots (clinched playoff berth)
  6. Colts
  7. Chargers

These final two projections make sense to me. All the Colts have to do to make the postseason is beat the Jaguars, which seems likely (though Indianapolis has lost six straight in Jacksonville). If all goes as expected in Jacksonville, the winner of Chargers-Raiders is playoffs-bound as well.

On the NFC side, the 49ers and Saints are competing for one open slot. The 49ers just need a win over the Rams while the Saints need to beat the Falcons AND have the 49ers lose. I’ll leave you with a cliffhanger here: You’ll have to read the story to see who the numbers like in this one.

You can always check the entire playoff picture — and scenarios for all seven teams still looking to clinch a berth — right here.

Grading the college football coaching hires. Who earned an A? 🏈

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CBS Sports graphic

The college football season still isn’t over, but the “offseason” has already been a wild one for the coaching carousel that includes:

In all, 28 schools hired a new head coach this cycle, and Dennis Dodd handed out grades for each and every one. It’s no surprise who’s top of the class:

  • Dodd: Lincoln Riley, USC: A+ — As sudden and swift as Riley left Oklahoma, out on the West Coast the prospects at USC improved in a heartbeat. Riley carries the future of not only USC but the Pac-12 in his playbook. The league’s flagship program will start keeping California five-stars home. Riley has the coaching chops to move the Trojans back to the top.”

It’s been a tough offseason for Oklahoma with Riley leaving and Caleb Williams in the transfer portal, but Sooner faithful can be confident in the new regime:

  • Dodd: Brent Venables, Oklahoma: A- — This is a perfect fit with Venables having worked with or for Bob Stoops across 16 seasons. The Sooners will be better defensively. Considering the offense is being turned over to Jeff Lebby, the Air Raid concepts will stay in place. This is an impressive lineup to transition into the SEC.”

What we’re watching Thursday 📺

🏀 No. 13 Ohio State at Indiana, 7 p.m. on FS1

🏀 Celtics at Knicks, 7:30 p.m. on TNT

🏀 Iowa at No. 23 Wisconsin, 9 p.m. on FS1

🏀 Clippers at Suns, 10 p.m. on TNT

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