Thursday, June 30, 2022

You probably hate the teams atop our MLB Power Rankings, plus expert picks for NBA conference finals

Happy Tuesday, everyone.

Let’s get right to it.

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Good morning to everyone but especially to…

THE DALLAS MAVERICKS, GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS, MIAMI HEAT AND BOSTON CELTICS

After a one-day break, the NBA playoffs return tonight, with the Heat hosting the Celtics in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, while the Warriors and Mavericks will open the Western Conference Finals tomorrow night.

Our NBA experts have made their picks, and — *spoiler alert* — they all like Boston to advance to the NBA Finals. As our columnist Bill Reiter explains, Boston is just too good.

  • Reiter: “Miami is a very good basketball team. But the Celtics are great — and maybe the game’s best since late January. They have the NBA’s second-best defense, its defensive player of the year, a superstar in Jayson Tatum, remarkable depth, a supreme amount of momentum and seemingly an answer to every question thrown their way this season.”

I won’t give away how our experts picked the Western Conference Finals, but it wasn’t unanimous.

Meanwhile, as the shock of the Suns‘ collapse fades away, our NBA expert Brad Botkin ponders if the Warriors got lucky by not having to face the NBA’s top seed. The answer? Yes… kind of:

  • Botkin: “The Warriors have no answer for Luka Doncic, who’s as inevitable a point creator as exists in the world today. His approach, and pace, are immune to coverage. Double team him, he’ll beat you with forceful, pinpoint passes to shooters. Don’t double him, and, well, good luck. … Still, there’s only one Doncic. This isn’t a knock on Jalen Brunson or Spencer Dinwiddie, but against the Suns there were two elite backcourt scorers to account for in Chris Paul and Devin Booker. … If you asked the Warriors if they’d rather be trying to stop Brunson or Booker, my guess is they’d take their chances with Brunson.”

Honorable mentions

And not such a good morning for…

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ARSENAL

Even after a 3-0 loss to Tottenham last week, Arsenal controlled their destiny regarding a top-four Premier League finish and, in turn, a Champions League berth.

Now, though, it is out of their hands.

The Gunners suffered a 2-0 defeat yesterday against lowly Newcastle, and they’ll need some unlikely help to finish in the top four. Ben White‘s own goal and Bruno Guimarães‘ late tally did the trick for Newcastle. It’s a tough one to swallow, writes our soccer expert James Benge.

  • Benge: “In a moment, a season of burgeoning unity, one in which Arsenal supporters fell in love with their team again, may have been swept away, certainly if the most vocal elements of the club’s online fanbase are to be believed (though that is generally an unwise thing to do). For a young side, this could be a defining moment for the right reasons, one where they decide they never want to go through so crushing a low again. And yet as the grim specter of Thursday-Sundays in the Europa League looms large, as another year without St. Totteringham ticks past, it must be hard for anyone in red to see that. This merely felt like a gut punch.”

Here’s what the top five of the Premier League table looks like.

  • 1. Manchester City* 90 points (1 match remaining)
  • 2. Liverpool* 86 points (2 matches remaining)
  • 3. Chelsea* 70 points (2 matches remaining)
  • 4. Tottenham 68 points (1 match remaining)
  • 5. Arsenal 66 points (1 match remaining)

    * = clinched Champions League berth

In order to qualify for the Champions League, Arsenal will now not only have to beat Everton on Sunday but also have Tottenham find a way to lose to last-place, relegation-bound Norwich City.

Not so honorable mentions

You may not like the teams atop our latest MLB Power Rankings ⚾

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Another week means a new version of MLB expert Matt Snyder’s MLB Power Rankings, and this time two of baseball’s biggest villains — the teams you either love or love to hate — occupy the first two spots. Here’s the top five:

Now, it’s not hard to figure out why the Yankees and Astros are where they are. The Yankees have won 21 of their last 25 games. Houston, meanwhile, has won 12 of its last 14 and allowed two runs or fewer in 11 of those games.

However, neither of those teams was this week’s biggest riser. That honor belongs to a team on the rise, even after blowing a 4-0 lead Sunday against the Dodgers…

  • 13. Phillies (last week: 20) — “Obviously that was a really rough finish to the week, but the Phillies still went 5-2 on a road trip out west that included four games in Dodger Stadium. That’s a wildly successful week.”

Jordan Spieth, Tiger Woods among top storylines at PGA Championship ⛳

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The second major of the year is just days away as the PGA Championship begins Thursday at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla. There are plenty of headlines to get to, including Tiger Woods‘ second tournament since his car accident, but we’ll start with someone who’s been playing a lot — and playing well — heading into this week: Jordan Spieth.

After all, there’s a huge accomplishment on the line for Spieth, notes our golf expert Kyle Porter.

  • Porter: “It gets lost in the handful of slam attempts we see every year, but Spieth will try for his own career grand slam at Southern Hills this week … He’s lost to one golfer in two tournaments since the Masters and takes a ton of confidence into a championship that, along with the U.S. Open, is probably least suited to his style. The thing to watch with Spieth this week is that he’s driving the ball tremendously, but the rest of his game hasn’t quite caught up yet. If it does, and especially if that happens in a major week, it’s going to be an absolute show.”

As for Woods, he says he’s “a lot stronger since the Masters” where he finished 47th. Woods expects to have more endurance for the weekend, and Southern Hills is a much easier walk than Augusta National, which should help.

Unsurprisingly, Woods and Spieth land No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, on golf scribe Patrick McDonald’s players to root for this week. Coming in third is another recognizable name.

  • McDonald: “If Sunday at the Masters taught us anything, it is that Rory McIlroy still gets the people going. He never had more than a 5% chance of winning, yet it still felt as if he was right on the heels of Scheffler. McIlroy has been shut out on the big stage since his 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla where he got the better of two other fan favorites. With a win, he would find his name alongside the likes of Seve Ballesteros and Byron Nelson as players with five major titles.”

Also be sure to check out odds and sleepers, as well as SportsLine’s expert picks.

What we’re watching Tuesday 📺

And also…

⚾ Astros at Red Sox, 7:10 on TBS

🏀 Mystics at Wings, 8 p.m. on CBS Sports Network

🏀 Mercury at Aces, 10 p.m. on CBS Sports Network

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