The Lakers, the Marlins, the Big 12 and much more in Five Things From the Week.
1. The Lakers’ role players are doing their job
When the Los Angeles Lakers started their postseason run, one of the biggest questions surrounding the team was whether they had enough outside of LeBron James and Anthony Davis to win a title. The Clippers had two starting caliber players coming off their bench. The Celtics had what is probably the NBA’s best foursome in Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Kemba Walker and Gordon Hayward. Even the Nuggets got some outstanding performances from the likes of Jerami Grant, Michael Porter Jr. and Monte Morris. Yet the Lakers were the first team to advance to the NBA Finals, and it wasn’t only because of James and Davis.
Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rajon Rondo, Danny Green, Dwight Howard, Alex Caruso and Markieff Morris are averaging a combined 56.8 points, 14.8 assists, 23.4 rebounds, 2.9 blocks and 6.0 steals per game in the playoffs. That’s before factoring in their contributions on the defensive end and the mentally imposing force Howard was against Nikola Jokić. Rondo has been one of the five best players on the floor at times. When that happens, the Lakers are nearly impossible to beat. No two players can win a championship by themselves, and James and Davis are getting the support they need and then some.
2. The Stanley Cup Finals have turned into a war of attrition
This season’s Stanley Cup Finals started off normally enough. The Dallas Stars scored three unanswered goals to take a 1-0 lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sept. 19. The Lightning responded with three first period goals in Game 2 and evened up the series. Steven Stamkos returned in Tampa Bay’s 5-2 win in Game 3, only to leave with another injury. The teams got their usual day of rest before taking the ice for Game 4 on Sept. 25.
Three periods weren’t enough to separate them as Kevin Shattenkirk gave the Lightning the victory in overtime. Tampa Bay and Dallas returned the next night for Game 5, just the second time in more than 60 years a back-to-back was scheduled in the Stanley Cup Finals. Naturally, that game went to double overtime with Corey Perry scoring the winner for Dallas. Both teams are battling injuries. The Stars have a 34-year-old goaltender and an offense being carried by 35-year-old Perry and 36-year-old Joe Pavelski. At this point, the winner is going to be determined as much by physical endurance as skill.
3. The Miami Marlins did something truly remarkable
Fangraphs gave the Miami Marlins a 9.2% chance of making the playoffs at the beginning of the season, the lowest probability of any National League team. That was before the coronavirus outbreak that wreaked havoc on their team. Miami’s front office was basically compiling a roster on the fly when the Marlins finally resumed play. The Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers also put themselves in the postseason conversation with surprisingly good starts, but it was the Marlins who continued to play well enough to clinch a playoff spot on Sept. 25.
Keep in mind the Marlins did this against four divisional opponents with legitimate playoff aspirations and the AL East, which is sending three teams to the postseason. It is not a total fluke, either. Five of the six pitchers with at least six starts for Miami have ERAs under 3.90 as of Sept. 27. Ace Pablo Hernandez has a FIP of 3.07 in 57.1 innings. Who knows if the Marlins would’ve kept this up for 162 games, but what Derek Jeter’s team has done cannot be ignored or dismissed with everything they’ve been through.
4. The Big 12 is already in big trouble
It’s one thing for Iowa State, Kansas State and Kansas to lose to Sun Belt schools in their season openers. It’s a whole other thing when Kansas State takes down Oklahoma with 24 unanswered points the next week. Had Texas not pulled off a miracle against a Texas Tech team that almost lost to Houston Baptist, Oklahoma State would’ve been the conference’s best hope of sending a team to the College Football Playoff.
Even if someone goes undefeated or Oklahoma wins out, the Big 12 is going to have a hard time explaining why they deserve to have a representative in the playoff. The problem isn’t that Oklahoma lost. The problem is that the only teams remaining on the Sooners’ (or whoever wins the conference)’s schedule have looked awful so far. There is no opportunity for a key nonconference win to make up for what appears to be an extremely weak Big 12. The Big Ten and SEC haven’t started yet and the Big 12 is already at a massive disadvantage.
5. Billy Donovan wasn’t going somewhere he didn’t think he could win
Billy Donovan agreeing to become the Chicago Bulls’ head coach after leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder because he did not want to be part of a rebuild may seem hypocritical at first. The Bulls have won 31% of their games over the past three seasons. They haven’t won a playoff series since 2014-15. Donovan is taking over a team that is not ready to compete right now, which means his new bosses must have sold him on a vision where that changes soon.
Executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas and general manager Marc Eversley have two primary things working in their favor: young assets and the appeal of a major market. It is not implausible to envision a Bulls team with multiple All-Stars in a year or two. Players like Coby White, Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen can be dealt similar to the way Donovan’s Thunder got Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the Paul George trade. By taking the job now, he can figure out which pieces he wants to keep and which ones he’s comfortable moving on from. Donovan left Oklahoma City because he wants to coach teams capable of winning a championship. He believes the Bulls will provide him that opportunity.
The International Football Association Board needs to change its handball rules again immediately. Things like proximity and intent have to matter. People don’t move with their arms at their sides all the time. There isn’t an easy solution, but there are certainly better ones than this.
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