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JA MORANT AND THE MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES
Ja Morant is back, and he’s reminding everyone just how great of a player he is … and how badly the Grizzlies need him. Behind its superstar point guard, Memphis overcame a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit to topple the Pelicans, 116-115, in overtime.
Memphis is scoring over 12 points per game more this season with Morant in the lineup. He supercharges the Grizzlies’ fast breaks, makes things happen in the halfcourt and … well, he’s just really good. And really good players help a lot.
😁 Honorable mentions
A bettor made nearly $500,000 off a 14-leg touchdown parlay. His reaction is awesome.The Texans signed Kareem Jackson.The Yankees traded Estevan Florial to the Guardians.The White Sox signed Martín Maldonado.Matt Snyder examined Chase Utley‘s Hall of Fame candidacy.Kevin Kiermaier will return to the Blue Jays.Purdue is No. 1 in the (Christmas-delayed) men’s Coaches Poll.
😣 And not such a good morning for …
THE DETROIT PISTONS
The Pistons have made history — and not the good kind. Detroit lost its 27th consecutive game, falling, 118-112, to the Nets. With the loss, the Pistons set the record for the longest single-season losing streak in NBA history.
The old record of 26 games was a tie between these Pistons, the 2013-14 76ers and the 2010-11 Cavaliers.The Pistons are one game away from tying the all-time losing streak of 28, “accomplished” by the 76ers across the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons.It’ll be tough to avoid that: The Pistons visit the NBA-best Celtics tomorrow. Here’s what’s to come.
It really looked like Tuesday night could have been the night. The Pistons led by as many as 14 points. They led by five with under eight minutes to go. They drew within two with under a minute left as Cade Cunningham (41 points) led a valiant effort. But Dorian Finney-Smith made a 3-pointer to push Brooklyn’s lead to five, and Detroit never got any closer.
The Rangers and Diamondbacks were in the middle of the World Series.James Harden was on the 76ers.Joshua Dobbs was about to be benched … by the Cardinals.Josh McDaniels was coaching the Raiders.College basketball hadn’t started.
😬 Not so honorable mentions
“The Simpsons” poked fun at Jim Harbaugh for the sign-stealing scandal.Florida State will be without quarterback Tate Rodemaker in the Orange Bowl after he entered the transfer portal. He’s just the latest absence.Trevor Lawrence has a sprained shoulder and is uncertain if he’ll play Sunday against the Panthers.The Vikings are considering another quarterback change, and whoever gets the nod will be without one of the team’s best players: T.J Hockenson (torn ACL, MCL) is done for the season.
🏈 NFL Power Rankings: Last two Super Bowl champs going in opposite directions
Entering this season, everyone loved Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. Mahomes had led Kansas City to yet another Super Bowl, this time without Tyreek Hill, proving a rising tide lifts all ships … and Mahomes is an ocean. With an emerging defense alongside the world’s best quarterback, Kansas City was favored to repeat.
The champs of two years ago, meanwhile, had some of the league’s lowest expectations externally. The Rams were too old at some positions, too young at others, too slow, too injured, etc. After they followed their Super Bowl season with a 5-12 campaign, things looked bleak. But now, the Rams are 8-6, the No. 6 seed in the NFC playoff picture and tied for the biggest improvement in Pete Prisco’s latest NFL Power Rankings.
Prisco: “The roster build is a real testament to general manager Les Snead. The development and record is a tribute to coach Sean McVay, who is proving once again why he’s one of the best in the NFL. … In this year’s draft, Snead added starting guard Steve Avila in the second round and defensive linemen Byron Young and Kobie Turner in the third. And the best pick of all, receiver Puka Nacua, came in fifth. … When you combine Nacua with Cooper Kupp, a running game led by emerging star Kyren Williams, a Snead fifth-round pick from 2022, it’s easy to see why Matthew Stafford is playing so well.”
The Rams (16th to 10th) tied the Buccaneers (17th to 11th) and the Steelers (21st to 15th) for the largest jump. The Chiefs (fourth to eighth), meanwhile, were one of four teams falling four spots. Here’s the top five:
Ravens (previous: 2)Dolphins (3)49ers (1)Lions (5)Eagles (6)
⚾ Who will be next Japanese baseball star to cash in with MLB?
When it comes to baseball, it’s been a huge year for Japan.
It’s not just Japan. Jung Hoo Lee, a South Korean outfielder from the Korea Baseball Organization, cashed in with the Giants. As R.J. Anderson explained last week, MLB teams are dedicating more resources scouting NPB and KBO players.
So, who could be next? R.J. answered that question, and it was an easy call atop his list.
Anderson: “1. Roki Sasaki, RHP, Chiba Lotte Marines, (22 years old) — Sasaki made global headlines in April 2022, striking out 19 batters as part of NPB’s first perfect game in 28 years. He flirted with more history in his next start by firing another eight perfect frames. … Sasaki has two massive offerings, an upper-90s rising fastball and a devastating splitter/forkball, and a shockingly good feel for throwing strikes based on his age and his stuff. He’s struck out 34% of the batters he’s faced as a professional, all the while walking just 5% of them. That 29% margin, for reference, would’ve ranked second in the majors in 2023, behind only Braves flamethrower Spencer Strider.”
🐅 What will Tiger Woods’ 2024 look like?
Tiger Woods made his return to competitive golf at the Hero World Challenge nearly a month ago, and while the score wasn’t great, it also didn’t matter. He looked healthy. That’s what mattered. He joined his son Charlie at the PNC Championship in mid-December, too.
That’s all well and good, but Woods will be the first person to say he’s looking for more in 2024. Patrick McDonald mapped out what that could look like.
Feb. 15-18: Genesis InvitationalMarch 14-17: Players ChampionshipApril 11-14: MastersMay 16-19: PGA ChampionshipJune 13-16: U.S. OpenJuly 18-21: The Open
Here’s more detail:
McDonald: “This schedule makes sense on paper, and it would have Woods playing one significant tournament per month — including all four majors — but there are still a handful of questions that need to be answered. For instance, Tiger has not yet qualified for the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2. The USGA has made exceptions in the past by handing out special invitations — the latest to Phil Mickelson in 2021 before he won the PGA Championship. Woods, a three-time champion, would surely receive one if not in the field by June. … This projected schedule may not be conducive for contending in major championships, but it may be what’s needed to ensure Woods’ health and presence at the four biggest tournaments.”
However, if his body cooperates and the game comes around — two huge, huge “if” statements — he could add more tournaments to chase his 83rd career PGA Tour win, which would break his tie with Sam Snead for most ever.
📺 What we’re watching Wednesday
🏈 Military Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. Tulane, 2 p.m. on ESPN🏈 Duke’s Mayo Bowl: North Carolina vs. West Virginia, 5:30 p.m. on ESPN🏀 Raptors at Wizards, 7 p.m. on NBA TV🏒 Bruins at Sabres, 7:30 p.m. on TNT🏈 Holiday Bowl: No. 15 Louisville vs. USC, 8 p.m. on Fox🏈 Texas Bowl: Texas A&M vs. No. 20 Oklahoma State, 9 p.m. ESPN