Tagged in: postseason

Nets’ Andre Drummond says final two regular-season outings are ‘must-win games’ for Brooklyn

As the Brooklyn Nets prepare for their final two regular-season games of the season, they do so in control of their own playoff destiny.

If the Nets — currently seeded eighth in the Eastern Conference with a 42-38 record — win their final two matches, they will lock up the seventh seed and would host the East’s first play-in game next Tuesday night.

Veteran center Andre Drummond left no doubt where his team’s mindset is heading into Friday’s game versus the Cleveland Cavaliers — the team that sits one slot ahead of the Nets.

“I think they’re must-win games for us,” Drummond said after Friday’s shootaround. “I think we know what’s ahead of us and we know what’s going to happen if we do win these two games. I think our sense of urgency is a little bit higher than what it was before, and I think we’re prepared to take that next step.”

The Nets, who have dealt with a range of injuries, a teamwide COVID-19 outbreak in December and Kyrie Irving’s part-time status from January to March because of his decision not to get the COVID vaccine, remain confident that they can still catch the rhythm they need to make a long run in the postseason.

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“If we’re playing well heading into the play-in game, then those two games take care of itself and we should win ’em,” guard Seth Curry said. “But if we’re not playing well, then we’re probably not going to get out of the play-in game anyways.

“So it’s just a matter of [playing] our style of play, having confidence and being in a good rhythm playing our best basketball.”

Both Drummond and Curry have been solid since being dealt, along with Ben Simmons and two future first round picks, to the Nets in a trade-deadline deal that sent James Harden and Paul Millsap to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Despite the fact that Simmons still hasn’t played for the Nets because of a back injury — and a playoff return remains a very unclear possibility — Brooklyn remains steadfast in the belief that they can still win a title this year.

“I think it’s everybody’s mindset in the beginning of the year, is to try and win a championship,” Drummond said. “I think with this team we have a special group of guys here — anything is possible, it’s the NBA at the end of the day. Anything can happen.

“We just got to hang our hat, put our best foot forward … so we do have that mindset that we can win. I think everybody has that same mindset. For us, we’re just trying to stay within ourself and make things happen.”

For Curry, that means continuing to play through pain in his left ankle.

After missing the past two games, Curry scored 15 points and hit three 3-pointers in Wednesday’s 110-98 win over the New York Knicks. “It’s pretty much the same, man,” Curry said of his ankle injury.

“Just trying to manage it — and got through it and played through some pain. So it’s just an everyday managing thing, trying to get through end of the season into the playoffs, giving the team what I can. I feel like if Tiger can shoot 1 under at Augusta yesterday, I can play through a little bit of pain for the rest of the season.”

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LA Clippers’ Paul George practices with team for first time since December

Paul George participated in his first LA Clippers practice in more than three months Thursday as he tries to return prior to the start of the postseason.

The Clippers said George, who has not played since Dec. 22, is in the next phase of his rehab program as he recovers from a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. He remains out for Friday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers.

George was cleared for practice after participating in a 4-on-4 drill with minimal contact against Clippers coaches on Sunday.

“He is doing good,” Clippers coach Ty Lue said prior to Thursday’s practice. “He hasn’t felt any pain so that is a positive thing. Just working on his conditioning and just making sure he can continue to go through the minimal contact without having any issue. So as of right now, it hasn’t been a problem.”

Around the All-Star break, George was seen shooting with his left hand from short range on the team’s practice court. Earlier this month, George was seen shooting with his right hand.

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The Clippers, who are in eighth place in the Western Conference standings, could get some much-needed reinforcements for the play-in tournament.

Norman Powell, who has been limited to three games after being acquired before the trading deadline, has begun shooting on the court with the team this week. Powell, who had a fracture in a bone in his left foot, has yet to be cleared for contact practice, Lue said.

With eight games remaining in the regular season, the Clippers (36-38) hope to reduce the minutes for veterans Reggie Jackson, Marcus Morris and Nic Batum before the play-in tournament

Lue said his preference is to see any of his injured players return for at least one regular season game before the postseason begins. The coach also said Monday that if any of the injured Clippers are medically cleared to play in the postseason, they’ll play.

So while the Clippers have not provided an update on Kawhi Leonard, who continues to work his way back from a torn right ACL injury suffered last June, Lue is keeping the door open for Leonard, George and Powell even if they don’t return by the end of the regular season.

“Hell yeah, I keep it open,” Lue said Monday. “… To hit the playoffs going at 100, from zero to 100, that is pretty tough. But if the medical guys say they are cleared and they are able to do that, that is totally up to them.”

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1B Anthony Rizzo agrees to two-year, $32 million contract with New York Yankees

First baseman Anthony Rizzo, who concluded last season with the Yankees after a trade from the Chicago Cubs, agreed to a multiyear contract Tuesday night to return to New York, pending a physical, a source told ESPN’s Jesse Rogers.

The contract for is two years and $32 million with an opt-out clause after one season, a source said.

During his decade-long career with the Cubs, Rizzo was as reliable as anyone in the batter’s box and in the field. He was a consistent All-Star and Gold Glove winner and garnered MVP votes in five consecutive seasons. But his numbers dropped over the past two seasons, culminating in the trade to New York.

Rizzo got off to a hot start with his new team but a bout with COVID-19 interrupted his second half. He still managed 22 home runs split between the Cubs and Yankees but his .783 OPS was his lowest since 2013.

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Rizzo’s defense hasn’t suffered as he’s aged and a perennial back ailment hasn’t kept him out of the lineup for more than a few days at a time. He’s still a reliable left-handed bat but may never again be an MVP-caliber player.

Rizzo is just one of five left-handed hitters in the long history of the Cubs to hit 30 or more home runs in a season.

And he’s just one of two players to do it multiple times. He averaged 29 home runs over a seven-year span, helping the Cubs to the postseason from 2015 to 2018.

He was also the de facto leader of the team, signing a long-term contract with the Cubs in 2013. That ended last year after the Cubs picked up two team option years in 2020 and 2021.

The sides discussed another deal as recently as this past spring but after an agreement couldn’t be reached, Rizzo was traded to the Yankees the day before the trade deadline this past summer.

New York, after a slow start, rallied with Rizzo and Co. to make the postseason, where the Yankees were eliminated by the Boston Red Sox, another team that was mentioned prominently in trade rumors once Rizzo became available.

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Las Vegas Raiders coach Josh McDaniels says contract talks with QB Derek Carr yet to begin but could start anytime

While Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is primed to enter the final year of the then-record five-year, $125 million contract extension he signed in 2017, new head coach Josh McDaniels acknowledged Wednesday at the combine that no new extension talks have taken place.

“But that doesn’t mean that’s not going to change,” McDaniels stated. “We are aware of where we’re at on that, in that process.”

Rather, McDaniels said, he has been focusing on getting his new staff assembled since being hired by owner Mark Davis on Jan. 31. “I’ve met and spoken to Derek a number of times now,” McDaniels said.

“Just trying to begin our relationship. I think it’s really an important one — the head coach, the playcaller, the quarterback, getting to know one another as people. Kind of how we think. How we work. The football part of that will come later, which I think is also an important part of the puzzle.”

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Carr, who turns 31 on March 28, is coming off a career-high 4,804 passing yards, though his 23 touchdown passes were only nine more than his career-high 14 interceptions, and he was sacked 40 times, the second-highest total of his eight-year career.

Despite the inordinate amount of turmoil the Raiders experienced both on and off the field last season, Las Vegas went 10-7 and Carr played in the postseason for the first time in his career.

Carr, who last summer said he would “probably quit football if I had to play for somebody else” and would “rather go down with the ship,” insisted after the wild-card round loss at the eventual AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals that he was not a “face-to-face guy” when it came to negotiations and that his “message will be talked about” when it came time.

The Raiders seemingly have three options when it comes to Carr and the 2022 season: 1) Simply guarantee the $19.8-plus million remaining on his deal and see if he would honor the final year of the contract, with the potential of a bigger payday or $35 million or so franchise tag on the other end; 2) Sign him to an extension before seeing if Carr and McDaniels truly mesh, basically sight unseen; 3) Entertain trade offers and start fresh.

Backup Marcus Mariota is scheduled to be a free agent. “[I’m] really happy with the opportunity that I’ve had to get to know him,” McDaniels said of Carr.

“He’s there in Nevada. He stays there in Nevada, so we’re aware of where things are and, again, as I said when I was introduced [as coach], I’m really looking forward to working with him. He’s won a lot of games. I feel good about what we can do with Derek as our quarterback.”

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49ers hang on late for 23-17 wild-card victory over Cowboys

Deebo Samuel and the San Francisco 49ers have started another playoff run after hanging on in a frantic wild-card finish versus Dallas.

Dak Prescott and the Cowboys will have to keep waiting for that elusive deep trip in the postseason.

San Francisco’s versatile receiver ran 26 yards for a touchdown the play after an interception by Prescott, and the 49ers held on for a 23-17 triumph over the Cowboys on Sunday.

The Cowboys had a final opportunity with 32 seconds remaining and were at the San Francisco 41 with 14 seconds to go when Prescott took off up the middle intending to slide and spike the ball for a final play.

But Dallas didn’t get the snap off from the 24 until after the clock hit 0:00. After a brief delay, referee Alex Kemp announced the game was over.

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The 49ers overcame an interception by Jimmy Garoppolo when they led by 13 in the fourth quarter.

Prescott ran for a touchdown to get within a score, and had a chance to drive Dallas to a go-ahead score. But the 49ers got a stop at midfield when Prescott’s desperation fourth-down pass was just out of the receiver Cedrick Wilson’s reach.

After a 14th penalty from the NFL’s most-penalized team in the regular season that helped San Francisco run out most of the clock — and the frantic final seconds as Dallas tried for the victory — the 49ers (11-7) clinched their first playoff victory at the Cowboys in a storied postseason rivalry.

Now they head to Green Bay for a divisional game, looking for another trip to the NFC championship match.

The wait for Dallas (12-6) to get that far in the playoffs will reach at least 27 years after another first-game flameout in the postseason for Prescott, the second in three trips over six seasons for the star quarterback. It was his first playoff game since signing a $40-million-a-year contract in the offseason.

The 49ers were in control in the fourth quarter, but not leaning on the running game they figured could carry them to a win when Garoppolo threw an interception to Anthony Brown that set up Prescott’s 7-yard scoring run.

Garoppolo’s mistake wasn’t long after Prescott was picked off at the Dallas 26 by K’Waun Williams and Samuel ran untouched on a cutback up the middle to the end zone on the next play for a 23-7 lead.

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Yankees blow out Blue Jay 20-6, move into 2nd place in AL East

The Yankees have renovated back into Bronx Bombers after a three-week stretch in which they nearly bombed out of postseason contention.

DJ LeMahieu and Luke Voit and became the first players at the top of New York’s batting order to have five RBIs the same game, and New York rocketed past the Toronto Blue Jays into second place in the AL East with a 20-6 blowout Tuesday night that extended its winning streak to six.

Voit homered twice from the No. 2 slot, raising his major league-leading total to 18. Voit and Aaron Hicks went deep to key a seven-run second-inning burst made possible when right fielder Derek Fisher misplayed a pair of flyballs.

“A couple of weeks ago, I don’t think teams were scared of us. And now we’re back to being the Bronx Bombers,” Voit said. “I don’t think people want to play us in the playoffs.”

LeMahieu had four hits and five RBIs, growing his average 13 points to .363. He homered on a 48.7 mph offering from infielder Santiago Espinal leading off eighth, the slowest pitch hit for a home run since MLB began tracking velocity of pitches in 2008.

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Gary Sánchez hit a three-run homer off Anthony Kay, and Clint Frazier had a two-run shot against Ryan Borucki.

New York has rebounded following a 5-15 stretch that nearly dropped it out of the eight playoff places in the AL and has closed within two games of Minnesota (30-20) for the No. 4 seed — and a first-round series at home. The Yankees (27-21) and Blue Jays (26-21) started a stretch of seven games against each other in the final two weeks.

“Makes for some sleepless nights,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “And now as we get more and more guys back and healthy and in the mix, I know we’re capable of amazing things.”

Giancarlo Stanton and Gio Urshela came back from the injured list, and the Yankees could get Aaron Judge back Wednesday. They opened a roster spot after Tuesday’s game by optioning infielder Thairo Estrada to the alternate site.

Stanton was 0 for 4 with a walk as the designated hitter, the only Yankees starter without a hit, after missing 32 matches because of a strained left hamstring.

Urshela had three hits and made several sparking defensive plays at third after missing 11 matches with a right elbow bone spur.

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Dustin Johnson wins FedEx Cup

Dustin Johnson only looks like he plays without a pulse. Beneath his stoic stare and that swagger as he walked the fairways of East Lake on Monday were jangled nerves because it meant so much to him.

The $15 million prize for winning the FedEx Cup? That would get anyone’s attention, especially someone who thought he was rich when Johnson cashed his first tournament check for $113,571 as a PGA Tour rookie.

But there was more.

“The prestige, for sure,” Johnson said after delivering a key par putt and steady play down the stretch for a 2-under 68 and a 3-shot victory in the Tour Championship.

“Being a FedEx Cup champion is something that I really wanted to do. I wanted to hold that trophy at the end of the day. It was something that I wanted to accomplish during my career.” He did it by hitting his stride at just the correct time

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He acquired two of the three FedEx Cup postseason events and lost in a playoff by a 65-foot putt in the other.

It all came down to the final day of the final event, and even with a 5-shot lead, it was never easy.

“It’s a very tough trophy to win,” Johnson said. “I controlled my own destiny, but I still had to go out and play well. I had a lot of great players right behind me. It got close at the end. I knew it was going to come down the stretch and I’d have to hit some golf shots.”

None was bigger than the 20-foot par putt on the 13th hole to keep his lead at three shots, the 5-iron safely on the green on the toughest hole at East Lake, another 5-iron over the water on the par-3 15th — the one hole where big numbers lurk — and a wedge out of a deep bunker and onto the green at the 16th.

“This is a tough golf course. No lead is safe,” Johnson said. “The guys gave me a good fight today.” Johnson became the first No. 1 seed at the Tour Championship to collect the FedEx Cup since Tiger Woods in 2009.

Now Johnson has his name etched on the silver trophy alongside some of the best from his generation, starting with Woods and most recently Rory McIlroy, with Hall of Famers, major champions and former world No. 1 players in between.

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