Broncos turn to Lynch to snap six-game slide (Nov 26, 2017)
Denver Broncos quarterback Paxton Lynch will make his season debut when he and his teammates visit the Oakland Raiders on Sunday afternoon.
Lynch, 23, started two games as a rookie last season but has been sidelined this year because of a shoulder sprain. The former Memphis standout was named the starter this week ahead of Trevor Siemian and Brock Osweiler.
Denver (3-7) has made hard changes on and off the field to try to stop a six-game losing streak that has plummeted the Broncos to last place in the AFC West. Earlier this week, the team fired offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and promoted Bill Musgrave to the role of interim offensive coordinator and play-caller for the rest of the season.
Article continues below …
Musgrave is expected to simplify the offense with Lynch under center.
“Sometimes, it’s doing the same thing more often,” Broncos head coach Vance Joseph told the Denver Post. “You can kind of master it. I feel that we have a good offense and a lot of good plays that we miss. But we hadn’t mastered anything. I think it’s going to bring a sense of consistency to our offense that we can master four or five concepts, and that’s good enough to get better.”
Oakland (4-6) also shook up its coaching staff this week in attempt to salvage its playoff hopes. The Raiders are the only team in the NFL without an interception, and they rank last in the league with six takeaways. As a result, the team fired defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. and named John Pagano as his replacement.
Pagano served as the San Diego Chargers’ defensive coordinator before the team moved to Los Angeles, and he was a Raiders defensive assistant this year.
“Everybody felt it in this building,” Raiders safety Reggie Nelson told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Players, we love Norton regardless. Unfortunately, the production wasn’t at a high standard this year. … My experience with coach Pagano, it’s all been good. We shouldn’t skip a beat ’cause he’s been in that room all year.”
The Raiders trail the first-place Kansas City Chiefs by two games in the AFC West, and they remain optimistic that they can make a playoff push in the season’s final six games. The top reason for optimism is quarterback Derek Carr, who has an 88.2 passer rating this season with 2,191 passing yards, 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Wide receiver Michael Crabtree serves as Carr’s top target with 42 catches for 502 yards and six touchdowns. Meanwhile, veteran tight end Jared Cook has hauled in 41 passes for 535 yards and one touchdown.
On the ground, Marshawn Lynch has amassed 390 yards and four touchdowns for Oakland.
“We need to hold up our end of it as an offense,” Carr said. “Everything that we want, everything that we planned and put out as a goal is out there for us. If we can just get hot and get on a run, I’m sure the bandwagon will get full again and all those things. It’s definitely possible. There’s no doubt in our mind that we can do it, but we have to go out there and do it.”
Broncos linebacker Von Miller will try to do what he can to spoil Carr’s optimism. Miller leads Denver’s defense with eight sacks to go along with one forced fumble, two pass break-ups and 34 tackles in 10 games.
On the opposite side of the ball, Lynch will aim to rejuvenate a Denver offense that has failed to score 20 points in seven of its last eight contests. Lynch passed for 497 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in 2016.
Running back C.J. Anderson leads Denver with 573 rushing yards and two touchdowns, but second-year player Devontae Booker could carve out a bigger role against the Raiders. The Broncos are led in the receiving game by Demaryius Thomas, who has 53 catches for 633 yards and three touchdowns despite the quarterback carousel.
Strangely enough, the Broncos’ most recent win was against the Raiders in Week 4 on Oct. 1. Denver grinded out a 16-10 victory as Carr was knocked out of the game with a back injury.
Now, both teams are hoping that a new coordinator can fix old habits.
“I just felt we needed a change,” Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said this week. “It wasn’t comfortable. It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was very difficult to do. At the end of the day, I felt like I had to do it to give us a spark, give us a chance. I had to shake things up.”
The Raiders are 2-3 at home this season; the Broncos are 0-4 on the road.
49ers stick with Beathard to face Seahawks (Nov 26, 2017)
After finally earning their first win of the season, the San Francisco 49ers will attempt to damage the Seattle Seahawks’ playoff aspirations when the teams meet Sunday in Santa Clara, Calif.
The Seahawks (6-4) won the first meeting between the teams 12-9 at home in Week 2.
The 49ers (1-9) are coming off a Week 10 win over the New York Giants that propelled San Francisco into its bye week.
Article continues below …
The Seahawks lost at home 34-31 to the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night, and the short week of rest will do nothing for a team that has been ravaged by injuries.
Seattle is already without All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman for the year with an Achilles tear, and star strong safety Kam Chancellor probably won’t return this season due to a neck injury.
On Monday, up and coming cornerback Shaquill Griffin left the game after just two plays due to a concussion sustained in a collision with Atlanta running back Tevin Coleman. He will need to clear concussion protocol to play Sunday.
Other injuries across the board for the Seahawks caused the team to waive defensive end Dwight Freeney this week. Freeney, who ranks 17th on the NFL’s all-time sack list with 125.5, had three sacks in four games for Seattle this season.
The Seahawks needed Freeney’s roster spot to fill in for injuries at running back, offensive line and cornerback.
The one position that has been stable for the Seahawks in 2017 is quarterback. Russell Wilson is playing at an MVP-type level and is looking to bounce back from an up-and-down game against the Falcons.
Wilson trails only New England’s Tom Brady (3,146) for passing yards on the year at 2,801. Wilson has thrown for 21 touchdowns against just seven interceptions, and he has a 64.4 completion percentage.
Wilson’s top target has been wide receiver Doug Baldwin, who is tied for 10th in the NFL with 56 receptions. Those catches have accounted for 673 yards and four touchdowns. Baldwin also has 10 catches of more than 20 yards on the season.
The odds indicate that Seattle tight end Jimmy Graham could have eight catches against the 49ers. In the past five games, Graham has three, four, five, six and seven catches. In the past six games, Graham has accounted for seven touchdowns after being shut out of the end zone in Seattle’s first four games of the season.
The Seahawks’ offense face a San Francisco defense that is has been banged up this season. The bye week seems to have healed some of those ills.
Defensive linemen Solomon Thomas and Tank Carradine and defensive end Aaron Lynch all hope to be full-time participants on the practice field this week leading into the Sunday game.
Thomas has missed two games with a sprained knee. Carradine would like to return from a seven-game absence caused by an ankle issue. Lynch has missed four games with a calf strain.
The 49ers need all hands on deck along the defensive front against a Seattle offense that is ninth in the NFL in points scored at 24.2 per game. The Seahawks are seventh in the NFL in yards gained at 367.6 per game, and the Wilson-fueled passing attack is averaging 263.4 yards per game.
While the quarterback position has been stable in Seattle, the signal-caller role is in flux in San Francisco.
Brian Hoyer started the last time the NFC West opponents met. He was later benched in favor of rookie C.J. Beathard. The rookie has been sporadic in his starts but did produce the lone win on the season.
General manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan traded for Jimmy Garoppolo before the deadline, and indications out of the Bay Area point to Garoppolo playing sooner than later. However, Shanahan said Wednesday that Beathard would remain under center for the game against the Seahawks.
“We know what we like about Jimmy Garoppolo,” Lynch said. “And that’s only been strengthened by the time that’s he’s been here. We’re just going to let these things play out. That’s in Kyle’s hands.”
Beathard has completed 54.3 percent of his passes for 1,229 yards with four touchdowns and five interceptions. In the 31-21 victory over the Giants, he was 19 of 25 for 288 yards with two scoring passes and one interception.
Titans aim to end nine-year Indy losing skid (Nov 26, 2017)
The Tennessee Titans will try to snap a nine-year losing streak at Lucas Oil Stadium when they visit the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday afternoon.
Tennessee (6-4) has not beaten the Colts on the road since Dec. 30, 2007, when Vince Young and Kerry Collins split quarterback duties in 16-10 win. Since then, the Titans have gone 0-9 in Indianapolis, and they failed to reach the playoffs in each of the past eight seasons.
Tennessee coach Mike Mularkey would like to reverse both of those storylines. He is keeping a narrow focus as the Titans enter the weekend within a game of the first-place Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC South.
Article continues below …
“We’re looking at what we have to do, and we have to win a division game on the road, and that’s all we’re focused on,” Mularkey said. “Nothing else will be talked about other than that all week.”
Indianapolis (3-7) is eager to bounce back after dropping four of its past five games. Injuries and inconsistency have hampered the Colts, who are one loss away from securing their third straight season without a winning record under embattled coach Chuck Pagano.
Both teams will be well rested entering the Week 12 matchup. The Colts are coming off a bye and have not played since Nov. 12, when they lost 20-17 to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Titans will play on nine days’ rest after a Thursday night matchup in Week 11 in which they were embarrassed in a 40-17 loss to the Steelers.
Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett is expected to make his 10th start. He began the week in the NFL’s concussion protocol after Steelers defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt hit him in the back of the head in his previous game.
Brissett has an 86.7 passer rating this season with 2,172 passing yards, nine touchdowns and five interceptions. The 23-year-old also has scrambled for 154 yards and three touchdowns.
Veteran Frank Gore anchors the running game for the Colts. He has compiled 509 rushing yards and two touchdowns this season and ranks No. 7 in NFL history with 13,574 career rushing yards. He needs 89 rushing yards to pass Jerome Bettis (13,662 yards) for sixth place on the league’s all-time list, and he needs 111 yards to pass LaDainian Tomlinson (13,684 yards) for fifth place.
Gore, 34, is far more focused on trying to turn around a frustrating season for the Colts.
“The bye week was good,” Gore told the team’s official website. “Now we need to get ready for a division game and still got a chance, especially looking at the AFC. There’s the wild card, two games out. We’ve just got to continue believing in ourselves, keep working and go out there Sunday and try to get a win.”
In the passing game, T.Y. Hilton leads the Colts with 36 catches for 725 yards and three touchdowns. He is averaging 20.1 yards per reception.
Tennessee’s offense is led by quarterback Marcus Mariota, who will try to recover from a miserable game against the Steelers in which he threw four interceptions. The performance lowered Mariota’s season passer rating to 79.9 (2,089 passing yards, eight touchdowns, 10 interceptions). He also has rushed for 186 yards and four touchdowns.
DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry present a challenging one-two punch in the Titans’ rushing attack. Murray has rushed for 443 yards and four touchdowns, while Henry has amassed 441 rushing yards and three scores.
Wide receiver Rishard Matthews leads Tennessee with 626 receiving yards to go along with three touchdowns. Veteran tight end Delanie Walker has a team-high 49 receptions for 550 yards but remains in search of his first touchdown of the season. His next reception will cement his fifth consecutive season with 50-plus catches.
The Colts’ secondary will try to limit big plays by Mariota and the rest of the Titans’ offense. Top defenders on Indianapolis include safety Malik Hooker (three interceptions) and linebacker Jabaal Sheard (4 1/2 sacks).
Tennessee’s top-tier defender this season is safety Kevin Byard, who leads the league with six interceptions and has his eyes on a postseason run and possible Pro Bowl selection. Linebacker Derrick Morgan (six sacks) and defensive tackle Jurrell Casey (three sacks) have proved to be the most effective pass rushers.
The Sunday game will be the second meeting of the year between the Colts and Titans. In Week 6, the Titans stormed to a 36-22 victory thanks to a strong finish. Tennessee trailed 19-15 after three quarters before outscoring the Colts 21-3 in the fourth.
Indianapolis is 2-3 at home this season. Tennessee sports an identical 2-3 record on the road.
Cardinals in must-win situation vs. Jaguars (Nov 26, 2017)
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Reeling at 4-6 after back-to-back losses for the first time this season, the Arizona Cardinals know their playoff chances are virtually dead if they even lose one of their remaining six games, starting Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium against the surging Jacksonville Jaguars.
Going 5-1 to finish 9-7 probably isn’t going to be good enough to even make it as a wild card this year.
Or is it?
Article continues below …
“You know what, the way the league is now 9-7 might win the division,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “I don’t know this year. We’ve just got to win one. We’ve got this nice (three-game) home stretch. Take advantage of it and see how they fall.
“But yeah, the way this is going this year, I don’t know who is going to win what.”
Winners of four straight, the Jaguars (7-3) are a lot more confident in what lies ahead for them. They are in sole possession of first place in the AFC South entering Week 12 for the first time since 1999. Riding their longest winning streak in 10 years, their final six games come against teams with a combined 24-36 record.
After this game, their next three games are all at home. Jaguars players are sensing just how special this season has become and what could be in store for them down the road. Coach Doug Marrone, however, said his team isn’t looking ahead.
“We try on a daily basis. I do not talk to them about that,” he said. “Basically, I was brought up in a system of trying to win each quarter. So, the first quarter we started out 2-2 and had an opportunity to win it and lost in overtime. The second quarter, we were 3-1, so we won that one. Then, we’re in the third quarter, and we’ve won the first two.
“And right now we’re just concentrating on seeing if we can put ourselves in a position where we have a chance to win this third one in the third quarter. I’ve tried to keep the focus basically on the quarters and each game that we play.”
Cardinals quarterback Blaine Gabbert has been looking forward to this game ever since Arians named him the team’s third starter a week ago following injuries to Carson Palmer (arm) and Drew Stanton (knee).
Coming off a career-high three-touchdown performance last week in a 31-21 loss to the Texans, Gabbert will be making his second start of the season and his first ever against his former team.
He was a first-round pick by the Jaguars in 2011, the 10th player selected overall, but was traded to the 49ers after three unproductive seasons in Jacksonville.
He’s now with his third team and his eighth head coach since entering the league out of Missouri.
“I mean, yeah, that was the team that drafted me,” Gabbert said when asked if Sunday’s game will hold something special for him. “Things didn’t work out there, but looking back on it, hindsight is always 20/20 and that was a long time ago. … It’s been four years.
“Everything happens for a reason. I’m a firm believer in that. It didn’t work out there. There were things in my control, some things out of my control. But for whatever reason, it just didn’t work. But I wouldn’t change it at all. I learned a lot, met a lot of great people there. The past is the past and I’ve moved on. I’m happy to be a Cardinal.”
Sunday’s game, meanwhile, is a homecoming for Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell, who entered the week tied for the NFL lead in sacks with a career-high 11 1/2 sacks. He spent each of his previous nine NFL seasons with the Cardinals, where he was a two-time Pro Bowl selection until leaving in the offseason to sign a four-year, $60 million free-agent deal with the Jaguars.
“I don’t mind saying that this game has been circled from day one, when the schedule came out,” Campbell said. “I’m very excited to play back in University of Phoenix Stadium — a lot of good memories there in front of that crazy, intense crowd, and I’m really looking forward to it.
“I really don’t know how I’m going to feel. Right now, it feels just like a regular work week, but I’m sure when I step into that stadium, it’s going to really take over me and just have some fun out there.”
It has been anything but fun the majority of this season for the Cardinals, who are a combined 11-14-1 since going 13-3 in 2015 and advancing to the NFC Championship, where they were destroyed by the Carolina Panthers.
Arizona has had to place 11 players on injured reserve and has lost several key players along the way, starting with star running back David Johnson back in Week 1 due to a dislocated wrist. The Cardinals have since added future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson in a trade with Saints, but other than a pair of 100 plus-yard games, Peterson has been held in complete check behind a reshuffled and piecemealed offensive line.
Going up against Jacksonville’s explosive defensive front seven won’t make things any easier for the Cardinals. Not only can they derail an opponent’s running game, but they are the best in the league at getting after the quarterback with 40 sacks, and they’re also allowing a league-low 162 passing yards per game.
“You’ve got to stay balance (between the run game and pass game),” Arians said. “You hope you stay balances, successfully, but you still have to stay balanced. You can’t let this front tee off on you. They lead the league in takeaways (with 23) because they all have such good ball skills and they have a lot of eyes on the quarterback. They don’t always play man-on-man.”
Jacksonville’s two starting cover corners, Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, are as good of a tandem as there is in the NFL and with possibly up to three new pass catchers starting for the Cardinals, that is where this game could flip.
Unless, of course, veteran receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who ranks second in the league in receptions (69) at age 34, decides to take the game over.
“The guys in the back end have done a really good job of being able to make the quarterback hold the ball a little bit longer,” Marrone said. “I think if you look at all the sacks from our team, or the pressures, … you would say we’re pretty much 50-50, where guys are winning up front and creating a sack and, obviously, half of those sacks are coverage sacks.”
The Cardinals, of course, have a pretty talented cornerback, too, in All-Pro Patrick Peterson.
Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, who has thrown 12 touchdowns against seven interceptions this season, will have to be watchful if he decides to throw any passes in Peterson’s general direction.
“Patrick is probably the best corner, right now, in the league,” Marrone said. “He’s outstanding, has really great length, really savvy, really can beat you with routes, really does a good job at the line of scrimmage and has the speed. He’s been a good football player for a while now, and there’s a reason why he’s a Pro Bowl player.”
Russell Westbrook savors sweet win after string of losses to Warriors
Westbrook on emotions: “On the court, I have no friends” (0:29)
Russell Westbrook describes his emotions after Oklahoma City’s big win over Golden State, where Westbrook and Kevin Durant had multiple altercations throughout the game. (0:29)
1:59 AM ET
OKLAHOMA CITY — Russell Westbrook stood at midcourt, looking in the direction of the Golden State Warriors’ bench. He had an expression on his face that suggested he was trying to make it look like he wasn’t looking at anything in particular, but he definitely had a reason for it.
With his hoodie wrapped tightly around his head, Kevin Durant popped up and walked into Westbrook’s field of view. Westbrook said something, sort of to nobody but loudly enough for Durant to hear. With the Oklahoma City Thunder up 23 midway through Wednesday’s fourth quarter and Durant on the bench, Westbrook was “wondering” why Durant wasn’t in the game. Durant looked at the scoreboard and made the equivalent to the thinking emoji.
Durant didn’t come back in, and that was the last interaction of the night between the two, as the Thunder stomped the Warriors 108-91 behind 34 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists from Westbrook. He was electric, he was dynamic, he was nearly flawless. With each play he made, whether a big shot or a cannonball at the rim, he glanced at the Warriors’ bench.
The Westbrook-Durant story has plenty of history, and another chapter was written Wednesday. The only place they speak nowadays is on the basketball court, and it’s always under tense circumstances.
Westbrook makes sure everyone knows that he plays every game the same way, and though that’s largely true, it was clear that he had a little something extra for the Warriors. When he and Durant ended up forehead-to-forehead in the third quarter, with both getting technical fouls, it was a crescendo of the inevitable. It’s always difficult to read lips in those situations, but let’s assume the things said weren’t about what they were going to have as sides with Thanksgiving dinner.
“I’m coming at your neck every single night,” Westbrook told ESPN’s Cassidy Hubbarth after the game, “and I’m gonna let him know that.”
The game almost seemed therapeutic for Westbrook. After seven consecutive losses to the Warriors dating to May 2016, when they came back from 3-1 down on OKC in the Western Conference finals, he wanted this. He put up an admirable fight in the four regular-season games against the Warriors last season, but the gap between the teams was clear.
But in Westbrook’s first Warriors showdown with his new teammates, a roster assembled with a pretty direct attempt to match up with the defending champs, the Thunder swarmed and suffocated Golden State’s offense. Paul George was destructive on both ends of the floor; Carmelo Anthony stretched it with a series of trailing 3s. Steven Adams controlled the paint; Jerami Grant, Patrick Patterson and Andre Roberson provided athleticism and defensive elasticity. Westbrook was the kerosene that lit it all on fire.
For a team that has sputtered to a degree nobody expected, handling the Warriors gave signs of being a galvanizing moment. Westbrook had his own score to settle, but within that, the emotional tone he set was something his teammates fed off of.
“That’s my game. That’s my gift,” Westbrook said. “To be able to come out every single night with my energy and my enthusiasm to be able to keep my team going.”
The typically reserved George let out a shimmy following a momentum 3 and a fist pump after he forced a Durant turnover. Anthony was feeling the crowd, taking his 3-point celebration up to the notch where sweat was flying off his headband. The Thunder have harped on focus and “mental stamina” a lot as part of their struggles this season, but at least on Wednesday, playing with an uptick in emotion seemed to be a remedy.
The Thunder didn’t want to go as far as saying that beating the Warriors is going to be a springboard for them. They have a difficult game Friday, as the Pistons come to town, and multiple players focused on the things they need to do better. But the Thunder showed what they are capable of and why this collection of stars can be something special.
“I think tonight shows who we can be, who we want to be and who we think we can be,” Anthony said.
The Thunder have a lot of games left this season, and one win over the Warriors in November doesn’t mean much, particularly if they turn around and lose Friday. But there was a clear attitude adjustment. Westbrook was intent on forcing it, maybe because of a personal vendetta or maybe because he sensed that his team needed it on another level. The Warriors are the team the Thunder want to measure themselves against, and if they want a standard to shoot for on a nightly basis, they set it on Wednesday.
That moment when you realize, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you completely and totally screwed up. Whether it’s starting the wrong guy, a trade gone south or, the worst as far as I’m concerned, when you’ve dropped a player who then blows up.
It’s an awful feeling as the regret and frustration sweep over you. And the trash talk from your unforgiving leaguemates doesn’t help.
Well, my friend, the internet and I are here to help.
Yes, you’ve screwed up. More than once. And you’ll screw up again. But before you beat yourself up too much, understand it could be worse. Demonstrably so.
It’s Thanksgiving week and that means turkey, so it seems appropriate to talk “fantasy turkeys.” I do a version of this column every year, and it’s always a fun one. So, without further ado and with apologies once again to the band Oasis, it’s time for the 2017 edition of “Don’t Look Back in Anger.”
This year, we had so many amazing entries I couldn’t get to them all. If you want to see even more than I list here, you should check out the thread under my @matthewberry profile on the Fantasy Life app, and this Twitter thread.
How great were this year’s entries? Among the moves that didn’t make the list; dropping Jared Goff for Mike Wallace, trading Larry Fitzgerald and Mark Ingram for Marcus Mariota and Jeremy Maclin, dropping Mark Ingram for Jamaal Williams, a guy who turned down Kareem Hunt and Alvin Kamara for Andrew Luck, trading Evan Engram for Jordan Mathews, dropping Robert Woods for Shane Vereen and someone who last week spent $70 of his $100 free-agent budget on … Nathan Peterman.
Oh yeah. Some pretty awful moves, right? Feel better? Think there’s no way there are moves worse than those? Hold my beer. Since it’s Week 12, here are the top 12 fantasy turkeys of the year so far:
Well, whoever “Divine Reasoning” is, he or she wasn’t alone in not believing in the Eagles early on. You might want to avert your eyes on this next one …
Needed a quick fill-in for Gronk. I can’t decide if this is worse or better than dropping Aaron Judge before the season started in fantasy baseball and losing in the championship game #TMRfantasymistakepic.twitter.com/1RBrz9x432
Well, Jacob, it’s nice to know you’re a multisport guy. But, if there’s a positive to find here, it’s that you can start fresh next year and forget about that move. Not so for @johnkuhn69 on the Fantasy Life app. He wrote
“I dropped Dalvin Cook cause I didn’t realize it was a keeper league.”
Yowza. Of course, although we certainly hope Cook comes back 100 percent strong, he will be coming off a major injury next year. It’s splitting hairs, but that’s why John didn’t get the top spot. That honor went to …
Drafted Evan Engram in the 17th round of a 10-17 round keeper league.. dropped him for a kicker for week 1.
I mean … rookie top-tier tight end 17th-round keeper for … a kicker. Doesn’t get worse than that.
But you know what, Jovanny? Among the many traditions of Thanksgiving week is the president “pardoning” turkeys. So, in that grand tradition, I hereby pardon all of these fantasy turkeys, including yours. And I include myself in that group. Sorry about putting Alex Smith on the “love” list last week. Yeesh. No one can predict the future. All you can do is analyze all the data, study the games, stay up on the news and make the best decision you can. And then let the chips fall where they may.
So let’s do just that and get to it. After some feedback, I’m trying a new version of the column this week, somewhere between the old format and the new format. This column is usually between 4,500 and 5,000 words every week, and, after the issues with my health, I adjusted the format to be less cumbersome in terms of writing it. I’m still messing around with the format to find the one that works best.
So we’ll try this and see what folks think. I’ll do more names as separate entries (instead of one separate player and then a bunch of others in one big paragraph) but instead of the paragraph or two I would do about each player the old way, instead I’ll just do a line or two of analysis. Trust that the research is there, but do you need to see how the meat is cooked or can you just trust it’s a tasty burger? Either way, the analysis is better than that metaphor. Thanks, as always, to Kyle Soppe and Jacob Nitzberg for their help at various points in this column. Unless otherwise noted, all stats are over the past four weeks.
Quarterbacks I love in Week 12
Kirk Cousins, Redskins: The second-best QB in fantasy since Week 3, Cousins is playing on a short week with little running back depth and a really banged-up offensive line (two starters to IR this week alone). What’s that mean? Getting in the shotgun and chucking it. A lot. Against a Giants team allowing a league-high 21.6 points per game to opposing quarterbacks since Week 4. He always plays well against the Giants (at least 287 yards in each of his past four games against them) and despite a “strong” performance from the Giants’ D last week in super-windy conditions, I am firing up Cousins confidently against a New York team that is 29th against the pass.
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers: With 310-plus passing yards OR multiple passing TDs in four straight games, #HomeBen is in effect once more against a Packers defense that is 25th against the pass and allowing the fifth-most yards after the catch (per reception) the past four weeks. The Steelers, meanwhile, are gaining the sixth-most yards after the catch (per reception) in that same time frame. Since 2014, whenever Roethlisberger has played in two or three consecutive home games, he’s rocked in the back-end games of the homestand. In fact, in those second or third games, he’s averaged 29 fantasy points per game and thrown for at least 317 yards and at least two TDs in all six such games in that span. He’s a top-five play for me.
Matt Ryan, Falcons: Congrats on the twins, Matty Ice! As a father of twins myself, let me tell you … they’re magic. It’s awesome. You know what else is awesome? Facing a Tampa Bay defense that generates pressure at the lowest rate in the NFL this season (Ryan is top five in completion percentage when not under pressure) and has a bottom-10 pass defense. The Bucs are especially bad deep (bottom four in completion percentage, touchdowns and yards allowed on deep passes). The game is at home and Ryan quietly has multiple touchdowns in four straight games.
Others receiving votes: Since Bill Lazor took over as offensive coordinator of the Bengals, Andy Dalton‘s 16 passing touchdowns rank fifth in the NFL. Four of those TDs came against Cleveland in Week 4. Against an improving but still vulnerable Browns team, Dalton is a top-15 play and a solid streaming option. … If you’re ever gonna do it, Marcus Mariota, this is the week. The Colts have allowed double-digit fantasy points to every single QB they’ve face this season, a list that includes Brian Hoyer, Blake Bortles, DeShone Kizer and Tom Savage. … The QB opposite him in that game, Jacoby Brissett is interesting as a QB2 with upside, as well. He’s scored more than 15.5 fantasy points in three straight, and this is a good matchup against a Titans squad that has allowed the third-most passing touchdowns this season.
Quarterbacks I hate in Week 12
Dak Prescott, Cowboys: His situation improves if Tyron Smith plays, but even if Smith can go, he probably won’t be 100 percent against a Chargers team that is third in the NFL in sacks. If you go with Prescott, you’re hoping for a rushing touchdown and some yardage, which is certainly possible because my expectation is Casey Hayward shuts down Dez Bryant (more on that later). Prescott has failed to throw a touchdown in three of his past four (and has less than 13.5 points in three of his past four as well). The Chargers have given up just four passing touchdowns in their past five games. And while that includes a game against Blake Bortles and a half against Nathan Peterman, it also includes games vs. Tom Brady and Derek Carr. Prescott is just outside my top 10.
Jared Goff, Rams: He’s been great against bad defenses and very pedestrian against good defenses (fewer than 10 points in recent games against Seattle, Jacksonville and Minnesota). The Saints are a good defense. Despite Kirk Cousins’ big game last week, the Saints are top five in the NFL in sacks, QB fantasy points per game, TD/INT rate, passing yards allowed and completion percentage allowed during their eight-game win streak. Goff is just outside my top 15 this week.
Derek Carr, Raiders: Carr has failed to throw multiple touchdown passes in three straight and in six of his past seven, so I’m not crazy about his chances against Denver. Yes, they are not the Broncos of old, but they are still solid, especially in pass defense, where they rank eighth the past four weeks. Carr has scored fewer than 14 points in three straight and four of his past five, and he now has fewer games with at least 14 fantasy points this season than Bortles and Kizer. He’s merely a midtier QB2 this week.
Running backs I love in Week 12
Kareem Hunt, Chiefs: I know. He’s my fantasy ride or die. You think I don’t know? I will say that he had 30 yards on two touches called back because of penalties last week against the Giants, and if those don’t get called, I think his box score looks different. Anyway, despite the lack of scoring and how bad the Chiefs’ offense has looked, I’m back in on him at home against the Bills. Since the Bills traded Marcell Dareus to Jacksonville, their rush defense has allowed 5.44 yards per carry, 10 touchdowns and 171 fantasy points (most in the NFL) to opposing running backs. With close to 20 touches guaranteed for Hunt in this one, he’s a top-10 play for me.
Alfred Morris, Cowboys: He’s averaging 5.1 yards per carry in the two games since Ezekiel Elliott got suspended. In the span, he’s got 28 carries and has touched the ball on 63.6 percent of snaps compared to just 11 carries and touches on just 22.1 percent of snaps for Rod Smith. At home against a Chargers team that is allowing a league-high 138.9 rushing yards per game this season and the second-most yards per carry this season (4.93), Morris is a legit RB2 this week.
Orleans Darkwa, Giants: In games in which Darkwa has received at least 10 carries this season, he’s averaging 4.7 yards per carry, and he has at least 70 rushing yards in three straight weeks. The only other guy who can say that? Mark Ingram. The banged-up Skins are 29th against the run and allow the eighth-most fantasy points to opposing running backs, including six rushing scores to running backs in the past six games. Darkwa is a top-20 play for me.
Others receiving votes: You’re already starting Jerick McKinnon, but I also like Latavius Murray here. With at least 15 carries in five straight, the workload is surprisingly solid, and with four scores in his past four games, he’s got a shot to get a fifth on Thanksgiving against a Lions team that has coughed up seven running back rushing scores in the past five games. … The Bears’ defense has allowed a running back to reach double-digit fantasy points in nine of 10 games this season. I say Jay Ajayi makes it 10 of 11 this week. … After out-snapping C.J. Anderson in three straight games and with Paxton Lynch expected to be under center, Devontae Booker may be featured even more against a Raiders team that has allowed the fifth-most RB rushing yards this season and the third-most fantasy points to RBs the past four weeks. Booker is on the flex radar in 12-team or deeper leagues. … It’s more faith-based than anything, but the way you move the ball against Houston is by passing, not running, which should bode well for Danny Woodhead in his second game back. Now, the Texans are good against running backs in the passing game (fourth-fewest receiving yards to opposing running backs this season), but volume should keep Woodhead afloat here, as he played only 13 snaps last week but touched the ball on six of them. I’d expect an increased workload Monday night. … Deeper-league fantasy managers can look at J.D. McKissic, who should get the majority of work, especially if Mike Davis can’t go. San Fran allows the most receiving yards and is tied for the second-most receiving touchdowns allowed to running backs this season.
Running backs I hate in Week 12
Adrian Peterson, Cardinals: Peterson is averaging 1.57 yards per rush in his past two games. That is not a misprint: 1.57 yards. On 35 carries! And he has struggled when not facing bad run defenses. This week he gets the Jags, who are, in fact, the opposite of a bad defense. They are the No. 1 rushing defense and the No. 2 scoring defense, and they’ve allowed just 55 rushing yards per game since acquiring Marcell Dareus. Peterson might be lucky to get 55 yards in this one. Your only hope here is that Peterson falls into the end zone. No thanks.
Alex Collins, Ravens: He’s averaging just 2.8 yards per carry in his past two games (on 33 carries), and now he faces the Texans, who haven’t allowed a rushing touchdown to an opposing running back since Week 1. Since their Week 7 bye, Houston is giving up just 3.01 yards per rush, sixth lowest in the league. The Ravens are a home favorite, so maybe volume works in Collins’ favor here, but my assumption is that Woodhead gets a lot more snaps after coming out of last week unscathed, while Collins is merely a touchdown-dependent flex in PPR leagues this week.
Joe Mixon, Bengals: So after Sunday’s performance, Mixon is now last among 46 qualified RBs in yards per carry (2.91) this season. His most rushing yards in a game this season is 62. In fact, he hasn’t reached 50 rushing yards in a game since Week 5. The Browns allow the second-fewest yards per rush to opposing RBs this year (3.15) and have allowed just two running back rushing scores since Week 4 (and only four total on the season). Yes, Leonard Fournette was good against them last week. Joe Mixon is not Leonard Fournette.
Wide receivers I love in Week 12
Adam Thielen, Vikings: An obvious name, but he makes the list because I have him as my No. 2 wideout this week, higher than most of the other rankers. The last time these two teams faced off, Stefon Diggs had the better game. I don’t expect that to be the case this week, as the Lions have allowed the ninth-most passing yards to the slot since Week 4, and my expectation is that Darius Slay will shadow Diggs most of the time. Expect the Vikings to take some deep shots to Thielen, as he’s tied with Brandin Cooks for the most deep (15-plus yards) receptions this season (Detroit can be beaten deep), and you know the volume will be there. The only guys with more targets than Thielen this season? DeAndre Hopkins, Antonio Brown, Jarvis Landry, Larry Fitzgerald and Dez Bryant. Nice list to be on.
T.Y. Hilton, Colts: Hilton drives me nuts. The ultimate boom-or-bust guy, this year he’s been much more bust than boom. I expect that to change on Sunday, however, against a Titans secondary that allows the fifth-most points to opposing wide receivers (and second-most points over the past four weeks). It’s definitely a risk/reward play, because when he’s bad, he’s brutal. But at home, off the bye, I like his chances of at least one big play and a top-20 finish.
Mohamed Sanu, Falcons: Sanu has scored in three of his past four games, and this is a strong matchup for him against a Tampa Bay defense that allows the second-most slot yards per game and the most slot touchdowns.
Others receiving votes: Assuming Matt Moore starts for the Dolphins, I like Kenny Stills to continue his connection with the backup quarterback in a game in which Miami will have to throw to keep up with New England. … The Packers are 25th against the pass and have allowed the fourth-most passing plays of 15-plus yards. Assuming the hammy issue clears up (I wrote this Tuesday night), JuJu Smith-Schuster is a solid flex for me this week. … In the past four weeks, the Texans have allowed 24 receptions (five more than any other team) and 396 receiving yards (77 more than any other team) to opposing WRs lined up in the slot. I see you, Jeremy Maclin. … We keep waiting for a Josh Doctson breakout game, and I think it has a good chance of happening on Thanksgiving night. The Giants allow the second-most deep passing touchdowns this season, and Doctson leads the Skins in deep targets … There’s a very good chance my tombstone reads, “Here lies Matthew Berry. He believed in Cooper Kupp.” He drives me nuts, and the fumble last week on the way to the end zone didn’t help. But here I am, back in, as he should see an increase in targets with Robert Woods on the shelf. Between Woods and Kupp, they have more than 70 percent of the Rams’ WR red zone targets. He’s on the flex radar in 12-team or deeper PPR leagues, especially if Kenny Vaccaro misses another game.
Wide receivers I hate in Week 12
Dez Bryant, Cowboys: Dez has less than 100 yards in every game this season and just one over 80 yards, and I expect him to get shadow coverage from Casey Hayward. You already know I’m a bit nervous about Dak in this game, and part of the reason is lack of expected production from Dez. The Chargers have allowed just two touchdowns to opposing wide receivers in their past five games and only four receptions on passes 15 yards or deeper in that same time frame, fewest in the league. You have to hope for a score or a bunch of dink-and-dunk stuff to Dez, which could certainly happen, it just doesn’t appear likely based on this entire season. I have him just outside my top 20.
Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals: Insert wide receiver facing the Jaguars here. The Jags have allowed the fewest receptions and receiving yards to slot receivers this year and are one of two teams yet to allow a touchdown to a WR lined up in the slot this season. In fact, in the past four games, they’ve allowed a TOTAL of nine receptions. Fitz is a Hall of Famer, but this column is about expectations, and it’s easy to see why they are much lower this week than normal.
Marvin Jones Jr., Lions: With expected shadow coverage from Xavier Rhodes, Jones should have a quieter game than usual. He had just two receptions for 42 yards in the first meeting with Minnesota back in Week 4. The Vikings have not allowed a 100-yard receiver all season long, and since coming to the Lions, Jones has just seven receptions for 101 yards total in three games against the Vikes. Despite how hot he’s been, he’s outside my top 20.
Tight ends I love in Week 12
Evan Engram, Giants: Yeah, last week was ugly. It’s about to get better. Since its Week 5 bye, Washington has allowed the most catches to opposing TEs and the second-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends. Don’t get cute. Engram’s an easy top-three play.
Vernon Davis, Redskins: Davis continues to crush it when Jordan Reed is out, and I expect Reed to miss Thursday night as well. Davis is leading all qualified tight ends in yards per reception (15.97) this season and has 30 targets over the past four weeks, third only to Travis Kelce and Jimmy Graham among TEs in that span. And as you may have heard, the Giants have given up a touchdown to a tight end in every game this season except last week, and even then, Kelce still had over 100 yards.
Others receiving votes: Death, taxes and start your tight ends against Cleveland. The Browns have given up the most receptions, second-most touchdowns and third-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends this season. Tyler Kroft, you’re up. … A sure sign of the apocalypse? I’m saying nice things about Jared Cook. Since their Week 5 bye, the Broncos are tied for the second-most catches, most receiving yards and tied for the most receiving touchdowns allowed to opposing TEs.
Tight ends I hate in Week 12
Jason Witten, Cowboys: With just two red zone targets the past four weeks, it’s no wonder Witten hasn’t scored in that time frame. In fact, he has just one touchdown in the past two months and is averaging less than 30 yards a game. With five or fewer targets in four of his past five, he is unlikely to get back on track against a Chargers team that has allowed just one tight end touchdown this entire season (Rob Gronkowski from 2 yards out). They are also top two in fewest points allowed to tight ends, top five in fewest receptions and top eight in fewest receiving yards.
Cameron Brate, Buccaneers: In each of the past three games (two with Ryan Fitzpatrick, one that was split between Jameis Winston and Fitzy), Brate has just one catch. Just a total of 10 targets, so there doesn’t seem to be a connection with Fitzy. When Jimmy Graham got into the end zone last week against the Falcons, he was just the second tight end to do so against Atlanta this season. Brate is unlikely to have a big role in this one.
Defenses to stream in Week 12
Not a great list this week, but here’s the best of the lot available in a bunch of leagues …
New England Patriots (58 percent available): Don’t look now, but the Patriots got it figured out. Averaging more than 10 points in their past three games, they are now at home against either Jay Cutler or Matt Moore.
Atlanta Falcons (81 percent available): Fitzmagic has been known to turn the ball over occasionally.
Matthew Berry, The Talented Mr. Roto, is thankful for many, many things this year, including all of his readers. Yes, even you. He is the creator of RotoPass.com, the founder of the Fantasy Life app and a paid spokesperson for DRAFT.
“Man, that’s just ball,” Durant said of the interaction. “He’s a competitor, I’m a competitor. We like to go at it, both of us, and that’s just part of the game, so I respect it. I’ve got nothing but love for it. I’m expecting it again when we play ’em again, but it’s all fun and games.”
Westbrook sparked the Thunder with his energy, and he seemed to direct a lot of it at Durant. On a number of occasions, Westbrook was very animated, while not directly talking to Durant, but yelling about plays. In the second quarter, after denying a post entry pass intended for Durant and following a slight brush up against Durant, Westbrook yelled loudly at the crowd, “No! No!” Durant chuckled and clapped his hands at Westbrook.
“I play the same way every night,” Westbrook said. “Whether it’s against Kevin, whether it’s against … who we play Friday? Detroit. Reggie Jackson. Dennis Smith on Saturday. It don’t matter who it is. On the court, I don’t got no friends. Only friend I have is the basketball, that’s it. And obviously my teammates. But I go out and compete, I go out and play at a high level. Like I’ve been saying since day one, and that’s what I do.”
Westbrook and Durant’s history has been at the center of the Thunder and Warriors’ recent matchups. Teammates for eight seasons in Oklahoma City, the two still have not spoken since Durant left for the Warriors in the summer of 2016 — outside of the basketball court, of course. Westbrook and Durant have clashed a few other times on the floor, with Westbrook yelling, “I’m coming!” at Durant during a run last season, and Durant replying, “So what?”
On Wednesday, the Thunder built a 26-point lead, as Westbrook led the way with 34 points on 13 of 27 shooting, 10 rebounds and nine assists. Durant finished with 21 points on 8 of 17 shooting and three rebounds.
The Thunder snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Warriors that dated back to the playoffs in May 2016, when Durant was still with OKC.
“The story is about the game,” Durant said of the focus on Wednesday’s scuffle with Westbrook. “We lost, they kicked our ass, they played a great game. You should give them credit for how they played, and we should be better. It’s not about who was in each other’s faces. That stuff is not real. So please don’t believe it. All the fans, they lying to y’all. It’s about basketball, and they played a great game and we didn’t.”
MIAMI — Given that the Boston Celtics had trailed in the fourth quarter in eight of their 16 straight wins, it was clear it would take an extreme effort to snap their streak.
Or maybe just a lucky bounce off the top of the backboard.
The Celtics trailed for most of Wednesday night’s game against the Miami Heat but were within a point late in the fourth quarter. That’s when Miami’s Dion Waiters took a 3-point shot that bounced off the rim, off the top of the backboard and back down through the hoop with 3:14 left.
It extended Miami’s lead to four and stalled the Celtics’ run for good, and the Heat eventually handed Boston its first loss in 35 days, 104-98.
“It’s tough, but I’m proud of this group,” Celtics forward Al Horford said. “We put ourselves in position to win a game there, and we didn’t make the plays down the stretch. We have to learn from that.
“It wasn’t like we were necessarily dominating during the streak. But the will of this team is something that needs to be accounted for.”
Perhaps it was a case of the always-powerful South Beach flu.
Or maybe Kyrie Irving was due for a rough night after a stellar 47-point performance Monday.
But the Celtics, who hadn’t lost since starting the season 0-2, struggled mightily in the first half, shooting 33.3 percent from the floor while scoring just three points off 10 Miami first-half turnovers.
Irving finished with 23 points on 11-of-22 shooting, while rookie Jayson Tatum added 18. Waiters hit a pair of 3-pointers in the final minutes to finish with 26, while Goran Dragic led Miami with 27.
The Heat led by as many as 18 points in the first half and went into halftime leading 54-41, with Dragic having scored 20.
“That’s a really well-coached team, and they played their butts off,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “They deserved to win that game.
“When we’re locked in and we’re executing, we’re pretty good. However, we go through too many lulls when we’re not.”
In the second half, the Celtics were hoping to do what they had been doing throughout the season: recover from a rough start.
Heading into Wednesday night’s game, the streaking Celtics had been making their wins fairly stressful. Against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Nov. 3, the Celtics trailed by 18 in the third quarter before Irving put on a show down the stretch for that win.
The Heat managed to maintain a double-digit cushion in Wednesday’s third as the Celtics’ offense stalled, resulting in a lot of isolation situations late in the shot clock.
Irving scored just two of his team’s 22 points in the quarter, and Boston’s win streak would require a 16-point, fourth-quarter comeback if it were to continue.
“You could tell they were locked in all night,” Irving said. “They wanted it. You gotta credit their energy.”
Boston showed much more life in the fourth quarter, starting so aggressively that the Celtics were in the bonus with nine minutes left. With three minutes remaining, behind a 13-0 run and a pair of 3s from Tatum, Boston was suddenly within a point, 91-90.
That’s when Waiters attempted to hold off Boston on his own. The Heat guard hit a critical 3-pointer — one that bounced off the top of the backboard before falling through — to put Miami back up by four. He followed that with a step-back 3 in the corner — no backboard necessary this time — to extend the lead to 97-90.
“To me, that’s not luck,” Stevens said. “They create that with their pace.”
Waiters followed with an air ball, but with the help of a Hassan Whiteside tip-in with 1:10 remaining, the Heat stopped the Celtics’ win streak and maybe gave themselves a springboard win.
The Celtics, meanwhile, were reminded what losing feels like for the first time in 35 days.
“There’s still a lot to accomplish going forward,” Irving said. “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”
CLEVELAND — After he was challenged by his coach and accidentally head-butted by an opponent, LeBron James responded with one of the most dominating fourth-quarter performances of his 15-year career in the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ 119-109 win over the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday.
James scored 23 of his 33 points in the fourth, helping the Cavs overcome a seven-point deficit in the second half and extend their winning streak to six games. James’ 23 points were one off his regular-season high for a fourth quarter (Jan. 6, 2008, against the Toronto Raptors), according to ESPN Stats & Info.
James did his most damage from 4:25 in the fourth to the 55.6-second mark, scoring 18 consecutive points, tying the most points he has ever scored in the final five minutes of a game. During the span he went 6-for-6 from the floor, including 2-for-2 from 3-point range, while the Nets went 5-for-11 (0-for-4 from 3). According to Elias, it was the most consecutive points James has scored in a fourth quarter.
But the dominant quarter was preceded by a bit of adversity. In the first quarter, James missed a wide-open dunk that could have pushed Cleveland’s lead to 10, and he then attempted an ill-advised 3-pointer that gave Brooklyn an open window to get back in the game. That sequence caused Cavs coach Tyronn Lue to get on his star at halftime.
Then, in the third quarter, James collided with Nets center Tyler Zeller and had to go back to the locker room to receive stitches to close a gash above his lip.
“Good,” Lue said when a reporter suggested that the hit from Zeller woke James up. “He was messing around. I told him at halftime, ‘You messing around.’ He got a little upset, and that’s good. Get hit again.”
Lue played it coy when asked what specifically James did in the first half to disappoint him, saying, “I forgot.”
James, for his part, downplayed his performance and accepted his coach’s criticism. After receiving enough stitches to “close the wound,” James checked back in the game and sparked the Cavs’ run by, he said, “just trying to make plays, be assertive, help my team win. … Blessed to be able to make a couple down the stretch.”
And as for Lue’s critique?
“Whatever T-Lue say goes, so, you know, he knows how to challenge me sometimes,” James said. “After the [missed] dunk, I came and pulled up for a 3 — that was a bad shot. But they felt like the other one in the corner was a bad shot, against their big, and called a timeout after that point and kind of took the life out of the team. So, I know it starts and ends with me, so I got to be better, which I was in the second half.”
James has been at his best in the fourth quarter this season, averaging 10 points in the quarter, easily the best in the NBA. New York’s Kristaps Porzingis is second at 7.7, and New Orleans’ DeMarcus Cousins is third at 7.6. Former Cavs guard Kyrie Irving is fourth.
By comparison, James averages 8.3 points in the first, 5.7 in the second and 5.5 in the third.
“My team looks at me to be that scorer now,” James said. “The last couple years, Kyrie obviously being as great as he was in the fourth quarter, we kind of picked our games. There was games half the time that he had it going and, ‘Hey, go get it.’ There was games half the time where I had it going and I’d go get it. But right now my teammates look at me and they’re like, ‘OK, like this is your quarter. You’ve done this your whole career. Let’s try to make some things happen.’ And it’s very important that I try to come through for them.”
Cavs forward Kevin Love said the team appreciated what it got out of James.
“Sometimes it’s being aggressive and picking your spots and other times it’s, ‘Get the hell out of the way,'” Love said of James’ approach. “And tonight, I don’t know how many he had straight — 18 straight — I mean that was a special fourth-quarter performance, but it seems like he’s always done that. But this year in particular, he’s done an incredible job of doing that for us.”
Dwyane Wade, who is embarking on his fifth season alongside James between Miami and Cleveland, couldn’t recall another time when an injury sparked a run like that out of him.
“I don’t,” Wade said. “Because the only thing he ever has is a sprained ankle. That’s the only thing I’ve ever seen him have. That was the first time he went to the locker room and got a stitch I think, so … welcome (to the club).”
Whether it was Zeller’s face or Lue’s words, whatever got into James clearly worked.
“Tell him and he’ll get mad (and respond) like, ‘I’m not messing,'” Lue said before revealing that he was doing some self-censorship with cameras rolling in his postgame news conference. “But I didn’t say ‘messing’ around, but yeah.”
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson unsurprisingly said James was the difference-maker.
“LeBron really took over,” Atkinson said. “There’s no other way to put it. We didn’t ever find a solution to stop him in the fourth quarter. We were trying different stuff. I guess we could have trapped him but he’s such a great passer we didn’t want to give up 3s. You’ve got to give him a lot of credit.”
And James passed on that praise to his teammates.
“You can’t force it,” James said. “You’ve got to let it come to you. It’s times when you wish you can do it and sometimes when the ball just doesn’t go in. But I put a lot of work into my craft and I believe that every shot I take is going to go in. But without my teammates setting screens and defending, getting the rebounds, cutting, and things of that nature, then none of that is even possible for me, so, they get the most credit.”
NEW ORLEANS — In a storied career spanning more than 40 years at various levels, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he has “never” encountered the quadriceps issue that has kept Kawhi Leonard out of the lineup this entire season.
“Never, never,” Popovich said when asked whether he has seen such a condition hampering one of his players. “What’s really strange is that [point guard] Tony [Parker] has the same injury, but even worse. They had to go operate on his quad tendon and put it back together or whatever they did to it. So to have two guys, that’s pretty incredible. I had never seen it before those guys.”
Parker suffered a ruptured left quadriceps tendon last season during the Western Conference semifinals against the Houston Rockets and underwent surgery. But Parker continues to inch closer toward returning, and Popovich said he thinks Parker will be back “very soon.”
“For real, sooner than later. And I’m serious. I’m being honest,” he said.
Parker, 35, spent time working on a rehabilitation assignment with the team’s G League affiliate, and mentioned early on during his recovery that he expected to return to the court in January. But when Parker returned for training camp with a clean bill of health in late September, he moved up the timeline, saying he would like to return sometime in November.
Leonard, meanwhile, hasn’t played a game for the Spurs since Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, and he missed the rest of that series because of an ankle injury. Leonard came into training camp on San Antonio’s injured list but hasn’t yet been able to practice with the team.
Leonard needs to advance through a rehabilitation process that comprises several steps, including individual work followed by 2-on-2 and 3-on-3 drills, before he can get full clearance to return to the court. According to sources, Leonard is currently engaged in on-court work but hasn’t yet advanced far enough to receive clearance to return.
The club is reluctant to offer a specific timeline for Leonard’s return because there’s a level of unpredictability involved with rehabilitation from quadriceps tendinopathy, a source said.
For the better part of the season, Popovich has replied “sooner rather than later” when questioned about Leonard’s potential return.
“I keep saying sooner rather than later,” Popovich said jokingly. “It’s kind of like being a politician. It’s all baloney, doesn’t mean anything.”
With Leonard out, fourth-year veteran Kyle Anderson has moved into the starting lineup and is taking advantage of the extra minutes, scoring in double figures on eight occasions in addition to notching three double-doubles.
“We’re not surprised at all,” Popovich said of Anderson’s performance in Leonard’s absence. “He’s just had a hard time getting minutes with Kawhi at that spot. He’s always been a good basketball player. I just haven’t given him the minutes that he’s gotten this year. When Kawhi does come back, I’ve got some figuring out to do, because he should still be on the court somehow or other. He’s really taken advantage of the time, for sure.”