Elfrid Payton sparks Knicks’ shock upset of Bucks

New York Knicks, Elfrid Payton

A late Christmas present from Santa Claus to New York Knicks fans came with a big help from The Elf.

Elfrid Payton silenced his critics on Sunday night as he wrapped the Knicks’ first win of the season — a 130-110 demolition of the Eastern Conference favorite Milwaukee Bucks — with a strong bounce-back performance.

Point taken

After the Knicks’ fans clamored for his benching following a scoreless outing against the Philadelphia 76ers, Payton responded with his best game as a Knick. The much-maligned point guard scored a season-high 27 points on 12-of-16 shooting, including a perfect 3-for-3 trip from downtown. He laced it up with three rebounds and seven assists.

The Knicks have missed out or deliberately shunned the Chris Pauls, Fred Van Vleets, and Russell Westbrooks, depending on which version of reports you would like to believe. But on Sunday night, the Knicks collectively showed their immense potential under new head coach Tom Thibodeau if they have a lead guard producing All-Star numbers.

With Payton directing the offense like an All-Star, the Knicks were sharp Sunday night, hitting 46 out of 85 field goals (54.1%) on 27 assists.

“We shared the ball. The ball was moving. The guys were getting rhythm shots, and I think that’s why we made a good bit of them tonight,” Payton said postgame.

Extra shooting

Several Knicks players were on rhythm in this game.

Julius Randle tied Payton’s output with his own 29-point effort that came with 14 rebounds and seven assists. Alec Burks continued his solid play off the bench with 18 points, including four triples and five assists.

RJ Barrett also bounced back from a sub-par game against Philadelphia with 17 points, eight boards, and four assists. Even Frank Ntilikina came out smoking in the garbage time, hitting all four three-point attempts and finished with 12 points.

The Knicks connected on 16-of-27 from downtown for a whopping 59.3 percent.

The extra shooting session led by Payton following their blowout loss to the Sixers last night definitely helped.

Knicks’ defensive wall

The Knicks’ defense was as sharp as their offense. Despite Giannis Antetokoumpo getting away with 27 points, 13 rebounds, and five assists, the Knicks closed out on their shooters. They limited the usually sharp Bucks to a measly 7-for-38 (18.4%) three-point shooting.

Only Antetokounmpo and ex-Knick Bobby Portis shot over 50 percent from the field for the Bucks.

Portis came off the bench to score 17 points, while Khris Middleton added 22 points on 8-of-18 shooting performance. The Bucks’ new addition Jrue Holiday was a disappointment with just eight points on 4-of-10 field goals.

What’s next?

The Knicks will embark on a four-game road trip beginning at Cleveland on Tuesday.

Dennis Smith Jr. joined the injury list with a quad injury. Rookies Immanuel Quickley (hip pointer) and Obi Toppin (calf strain) missed their second consecutive game. Meanwhile, Austin Rivers (pulled groin), who has yet to see action this season, has been cleared to take contact in practice, Thibodeau revealed in his postgame interview.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Giants defense had no answers for Baltimore Ravens rushing attack in Week 16

The New York Giants suffered a brutal loss to the Baltimore Ravens today. This was largely considered to be a must-win game as the Giants are pushing to narrowly win their division and make the playoffs.

Unfortunately, the Giants were not able to pull out this win and lost to the Ravens by a score of 27-13. The Giants were playing from behind for the entirety of this game as Baltimore cruised ahead to their tenth win of the season.

The Ravens have the best rushing attack in the NFL. Heading into this game, Baltimore had run for 100 yards in every single game this season. They had totaled 200 or more rushing yards in four games this season. With a dominant performance on the ground on Sunday, the Ravens pushed the total to five 200 yard rushing games in 2020.

The Ravens ran all over the Giants

The New York Giants could not stop the Baltimore Ravens’ rushing attack on Sunday. Granted, every team has failed to shut down the Ravens’ run game. But New York’s defense was dominated by the Ravens’ offense on the ground.

The Ravens had numerous runners thrash the Giants in Week 16. The Baltimore Ravens averaged 6.2 yards per rushing attempt. Their leading rusher, Gus Edwards, had 15 carries for a total of 85 yards. Edwards was not the only rusher to reach 80 yards on the ground, though. Quarterback Lamar Jackson totaled 80 rushing yards on 13 carries. On top of that, the Ravens had a third rusher near in on 80 yards. Rookie running back J.K. Dobbins ran the ball 11 times for 77 yards.

The Baltimore Ravens’ offense racked up 249 rushing yards against the Giants. This is Baltimore’s third-highest rushing total in a single game this season.

The Giants’ defense had no answers for the Ravens’ rushing attack. Baltimore was able to score two touchdowns through the air today, but they were set up by the running game. The Ravens totaled only 183 passing yards against the Giants. Lamar Jackson took what the defense gave him in the passing game, but Baltimore did nearly all of their damage in the running game.

Despite this disappointing loss, the Giants are still alive in the playoff hunt. But in order for them to secure the NFC East, New York needs to be better on both sides of the ball. The Giants will play the Dallas Cowboys next week in another must-win matchup. Dallas ran the ball for 151 yards today and has eclipsed 100 rushing yards in nine of their fifteen games this season. If the Giants want to go to the playoffs, they need to improve their run defense immediately.

NASCAR: John Klausmeier to Crew Chief No. 14 car for Chase Briscoe in 2021

According to an earlier report, Johnny Klausmeier will serve as Crew Chief for Chase Briscoe and the No. 14 team in 2021. Klausmeier was the Crew Chief for the No. 14 team under Clint Bowyer in 2020 in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Just 39-years-old, Klausmeier made his Crew Chief debut in 2016, serving as an interim for Kurt Busch while the No. 41 car’s normal Crew Chief Tony Gibson served a suspension. Klausmeier made the most of the opportunity, picking up a win with a gutsy fuel call. He’d return as Crew Chief for one more race in 2017 before becoming a full-time Crew Chief in 2018.

Klausmeier was paired with new Stewart-Haas driver Aric Almirola and the No. 10 machine, and together they won at Talladega in the fall of 2018. The duo would go winless in 2019 before Klausmeier was sent to lead the Clint Bowyer machine. Under Almirola, Klausmeier and the No. 10 team picked up 29 top-10 finishes.

Bowyer and Klausmeier picked up a pair of top-5s and 11 top-10s in 2020 before Bowyer’s retirement. Now, Klausmeier is paired with a young rookie who has intentions to win right away.

Driving three seasons in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, Briscoe won 11 times and placed in the top-ten 53 times. He finished in the top-10 all but seven times and 10 times in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

Briscoe’s success in the XFINITY Series was obvious, but how will it translate to the Cup Series? He’s beat some of the best in the sport at NASCAR’s second-highest level, but it’s an entirely different ballgame once you reach the big leagues.

For Klausmeier, he’s looking to finally breakout as a Crew Chief. Winning just once in three full-time seasons, Klausmeier is looking to put together a multi-win season and make a run at a championship.

With a young driver at the wheel and a young Crew Chief calling the shots, will it be a recipe for success at Stewart-Haas Racing?

New York Giants stumble into NFC East deciding final week of the season

New York Giants, Daniel Jones

The New York Giants managed to lose another game and remain in the playoff race. Once again, they need luck. But luck has been going their way this season when it comes to other teams losing to keep them in the race. Just like the bad start from other NFC East teams kept the Giants from getting eliminated early on, losses from Washington and Philadelphia this week have set up a final weekend where the Giants can potentially come away with the division.

How the Giants can pull it off

If Washington loses their season finale, against Philadelphia, the winner of the Giants versus Cowboys game will represent the NFC East in the playoffs. Of course, it’s possible to argue that this Giants team would be one of the worst to make it into the playoffs in history. The Giants are going to finish the season with a losing record regardless of the result in the last game. Even if they win, they would still just be a six win team.

However, no Giants fan would complain about getting a trip to the playoffs again just because this isn’t the best team to make it in. Especially when the Giants have a history of stepping their game up when it’s playoff time.

But both a Philadelphia win and a Giants win are required to get in, so it’s not guaranteed even if the Giants can defeat Dallas. And just beating Dallas is a tall task when the Giants offense has been out of sorts for a while now, with Daniel Jones still taking a number of sacks against the Ravens and only throwing for one touchdown.

Big changes may be coming in the offseason including at the GM spot and the offensive coordinator spot, but for now, the Giants are still in the running. Even if it’s only by the narrowest of margins.

Buffalo Bills RB T.J. Yeldon tests positive for COVID-19

The Buffalo Bills reserve rusher has not played since October. They are still scheduled to battle New England on Monday.

The Buffalo Bills announced on Sunday that running back T.J. Yeldon has tested positive for COVID-19. The veteran will not travel or partake in the Bills’ Monday night showdown in New England (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC).

Yeldon, 27, is in the midst of his second season with the Bills and has played sparingly behind Devin Singletary and rookie Zack Moss. His last regular season action came on October 13 during Week 5 action in Tennessee. The Alabama alum earned 52 yards on seven carries and a 22-yard touchdown reception in Buffalo’s 42-16 loss. It was Yeldon’s first score of any kind since October 2018, when he was a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars. He has also dealt with a back injury this season.

Over two seasons in Orchard Park, Yeldon has earned 133 yards on the ground, his best output being the aforementioned get-together with the Titans.

Further Buffalo concerns could lie with who had close contact with Yeldon, namely his fellow rushers Singletary, Moss, and Taiwan Jones. No announcements or reports of contact tracing have emerged as of press time. It’s unlikely that the Monday night game would be rescheduled, especially with both Week 17 and the playoffs swiftly approaching.

As they prepare for their final road game of the regular season, Buffalo (11-3) has seen their scheduled affected by the ongoing health crisis on several occasions. The aforementioned visit to Nashville was staged on a Tuesday night (the NFL’s first such game since 2010), forcing their regularly schedule Thursday night contest against Kansas City to be moved to a Monday.

Though the Bills no longer have a chance at the top seed in the AFC (that opportunity erased by Kansas City’s Sunday win over Atlanta), they’re engaged in a battle with Pittsbrugh, Tennessee, and Indianapolis for the second seed. Such a seeding would allow them to potentially host a divisional playoff game and avoid the defending champion Chiefs until the AFC title game.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Jets win again, officially lose first pick

The New York Jets, after starting the season 0-13, have now logged surprising back-to-back wins. While every team wants to win and fans (usually) want to see their favorite team win, the latter is certainly not the case recently. Trevor Lawrence, the quarterback for Clemson and the stand-alone number one pick in the upcoming draft, was the reason for that. Now, that’s over.

While winless, the Jets were in line to have that coveted number one pick and the rights to draft Lawrence. Head coach Adam Gase was taking a lot of heat for “ruining” the team but was also being somewhat applauded by fans for the chance at Lawrence. However, a surprising 23-20 win last week against the Los Angeles Rams and a 23-16 win today against the Cleveland Browns have locked the Jets in at pick two and lost out on the QB.

Now that the Jacksonville Jaguars will likely have Trevor Lawrence next season, the question looms: What are the New York Jets going to do at quarterback?

What’s next?

After what has occurred on the field the past two weeks, the Jets have a number of options for how to proceed at the quarterback position next season. There seems to be a consensus, however, that the team will do one of the following three things:

 

Justin Fields has been the only other quarterback that has been mentioned in the same breath as Trevor Lawrence all season. Through two seasons with Ohio State, he has totaled 4,794 passing yards, 56 touchdowns and 8 interceptions, all with a completion percentage of 69.9%. Being a true dual-threat quarterback, he has also accumulated 758 rushing yards with 15 more touchdowns.

Although Fields has been very good at the collegiate level, it doesn’t appear to be enough for the Jets to take him at two, at least at the moment. Instead, as of recently, they have been spoken about with BYU quarterback Zach Wilson.

Wilson has jumped onto the scene this season, ranking in the top-three in college in both passing yards and touchdowns. Overall, he has totaled 3,692 passing yards, 33 touchdowns and just 3 interceptions, along with a completion percentage of 73.5%. Also, while he may not be as dynamic on the ground as Justin Fields, he can still make things happen. On the ground, he has 254 yards and 10 touchdowns this season.

If Wilson or Fields is the choice and starts for Gang Green next season, it’ll be interesting to see what happens with Sam Darnold. He would probably be dealt somewhere else if that’s the case. If not, he will be the starting quarterback for a fourth season.

Based on the last two games, how the season appears to be ending and the fact that they will not have Trevor Lawrence, I believe the Jets will stick with Darnold. He is still very young at 23 and still has tremendous potential. The Jets could potentially package the number two pick for more, as well. With more picks and some young players on offense, the team could continue to build around Darnold.

Whatever happens in the near future, the New York Jets will not be welcoming Trevor Lawrence to the team. While some fans are angry at that fact, they should remember that all hope is not lost…yet.

New York Jets: 3 stars from Sunday’s win vs Cleveland

The New York Jets took advantage of a depleted Cleveland Browns squad to earn their second consecutive victory in their home finale.

For their role as spoilers, the New York Jets might be gaining some extra Christmas presents across the NFL. 

Jamison Crowder earned touchdowns through both passing and receiving, while the defense sacked a beleaguered Baker Mayfield four times as the Jets (2-13) earned their second straight victory, topping the Cleveland Browns 23-16 in their 2020 home finale. Sam Darnold also threw two touchdown passes (the other going to Chris Herndon) while Frank Gore (48) became the third rusher in NFL history to surpass 16,000 rushing yards. The ensuing loss of the Browns (10-5) was welcome news for their fellow wild-card combatants in Miami and Baltimore, as well as the Pittsburgh Steelers, who clinched the AFC North title with the Cleveland defeat.

ESM has a trio of game balls to hand out in the wake of another big victory.

3rd Star: DL Nathan Shepherd

3 tackles, 1 sack

Shepherd, a Canadian import out of both Fort Hays State and Simon Fraser, is one of several Jets establishing himself as essential personnel as the Jets go through the macabre process of free research and development. He was a constant prescience in the Cleveland backfield on Sunday, earning three tackles, a sack, and two other pressured hits on Mayfield, making sure the polarizing thrower was even more uncomfortable without his top receivers in tow.

2nd Star: LB Tarell Basham  

5 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 1 sack

There no greater defense than Basham’s antics as Cleveland’s comeback fell just short. The Ohio alum ended each of the Browns’ final two drives, forcing a pair of Mayfield fumbles that secured the final score. His first, recovered by John Franklin-Myers, allowed the Jets to add Sam Ficken-induced insurance, while the other was recovered by the Browns, but unable to be advanced due to rules enacted inside the final two minutes of the second half.

1st Star: WR Jamison Crowder

7 receptions, 92 yards, 1 TD
1 carry, 14 yards
1-for-1, 43 yards, 1 TD

Could it be that the Jets’ new franchise quarterback has been on their roster the whole time?

Obviously, Crowder isn’t that man, but the Jets were happy to provide Duke fans with a blast from the past during Sunday’s festivities. New York trickery was likely the first sign to the Browns faithful that Sunday was not going to be their day, as his 43-yard strike to Braxton Berrios put the Jets ahead for good. It was Crowder’s first touchdown pass since the 2014 Sun Bowl, when he gave the Blue Devils a late lead over Arizona State with a 12-yard scoring toss.

Crowder, who has turned into one of the NFL’s most dependable slot receivers, also got his name in the scorebook through his traditional aerial ways, nabbing a 30-yard scoring grab from Sam Darnold to conclude the Jets’ first drive of the second half.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Yankees: Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro passes away, pitched for the Yankees

The New York Yankees were lucky enough to have Phil Niekro pitch for them during two years of his 24-year baseball career. Yankee fans were saddened to find out that he passed away in his sleep last night. He was 81 years old.

The Hall of Fame knuckleballer pitched until he was 48 years old, a feat not seldom seen in baseball. He spent the majority of his career pitching for the Atlanta Braves. But for two years he pitched for the Yankees between 1984 and 1985, going 32-20 with an ERA of 3.59. Much of his success as a pitcher came from him developing his famous knuckleball pitch. Fellow Yankee Bobby Mercer once said of his pitching style; “trying to hit his knuckleball was like trying to eat Jell-O with chopsticks.”

It’s a very uncommon feat for a pitcher to remain at the top of his game for his entire career, especially for a career that lasted 24 years. In his 24 years, he only had four losing seasons, and they were not near the end of his career. As stated earlier, he spent most of his career with the Braves. The Atlanta Braves signed him in 1966, after two years with the Milwaukee Braves, and he finished his career at the end of the 1987 season for those same  Atlanta Braves after a short stint with the Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays.

He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame not as a New York Yankees but more fittingly an Atlanta Brave in 1997.

“Phil Niekro’s record on the field ranks him as one of the game’s finest pitchers,” National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum Chairman Jane Forbes Clark said in a news release.

“As a mentor, leader and friend, Phil brought out the best in all of us in Cooperstown. Over more than a decade of serving as a Member of the Board of Directors of the Hall of Fame, his wisdom, his compassion, and his love for the game proved to be invaluable in helping us shape our decisions. On behalf of the Board of Directors and the staff of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, I would like to send our heartfelt condolences to Nancy Niekro and the Niekro family.”

 

Bellator wants to do something special for Fedor’s final fight

Fedor Emelianenko

The career of one of the greatest mixed martial artists of all-time is winding down and Bellator wants to do something special for him. Fedor Emelianenko (39-6, 1 NC) is getting ready to call it a career after fighting for over 20 years.

The Russian heavyweight superstar has been in discussions with Bellator about what they could do to close out his career. By all accounts, Fedor wanted to fight in 2020, however, the promotion wanted to wait.

Scott Coker recently talked with MMA Junkie about Fedor’s final fight with Bellator. They don’t want him to just fight in front of the production staff in the bubble type environment that was created due to the pandemic.

Bellator is wanting to do something truly special for Fedor for his final fight. According to Coker, the promotion is envisioning a monumental sendoff in front of his home country with fans in the stands.

“I really want Fedor to finish his career in front of 30,000 people in Moscow, to be honest, Bellator MMA’s first fight in Russia. Do a fight in Moscow. Fedor is the greatest fighter of all-time. He’s now coming home to retire and put his gloves up and hang it up to retire,” Coker told MMA Junkie.

Who could Bellator pair him with?

If the COVID vaccine makes its way through Russia, there is a chance that Bellator could pull an event off with fans in 2021. However, I think having 30,000 fans might be a little bit of a stretch.

If Bellator is able to pull off a Russian event with fans, they have a couple of options for Fedor’s last fight. One option would be Josh Barnett (35-8). Barnett and Fedor were supposed to fight a number of times in their careers.

However, the fight never came together. At this stage in their careers, they aren’t going to be challenging for world titles. Barnett is a bigger name that Bellator could throw at Fedor for his final fight.

Another option would be top heavyweight contender, Cheick Kongo (30-11-2, 1 NC). Kongo is coming off of his first loss since 2015. He’s 45 years old and appears to be nearing the end of his career as well.

That could be another matchup that Bellator puts together. There is also the possibility that the promotion signs a one-off fighter to fight Fedor in his final fight in Russia. They have a few options to play with.

Either way, you can bet that Bellator is going to work on putting this together in 2021. Fedor has had an incredible career and it would be fitting to give him a proper sendoff in front of fans in Russia.

The New York Knicks’ point guard plan is falling apart at the seams

New York Knicks, Alec Burks

The New York Knicks are just two games into the regular season, but one thing is becoming increasingly clear, the point guard position remains a major weakness in the starting five. Heading into the season, the Knicks had Elfrid Payton, Dennis Smith Jr., Frank Ntilikina, and Immanuel Quickley as potential point guards. Quickley already has a hip pointer injury and will be out for the next few days, but he has been the brightest spot at the position since the pre-season began.

Ultimately, this issue persists after years of inadequacy at point guard. The Knicks re-signed Payton to a one-year, $5 million deal this offseason, and he had arguably his worst game in quite some time against the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday evening. Over 18 minutes, Payton was 0-for-6 and 0-for-3 from beyond the arc, scoring zero points and had one assist. In fact, his embarrassing play didn’t even lead to more minutes for Ntilikina, but rather Smith, who is a disaster as well.

At some point, head coach Tom Thibodeau must play Frank, considering he’s barely reached the floor the past two games. He played in just two minutes against the 76ers, missing just one shot before being taken off. Thibodeau is still feverishly trying to work his way through the players on the roster and evaluate what he has, which isn’t much, obviously. Once Quickley returns, I expect him to be the immediate starter over Payton, who simply looks lost out there in Thibodeau’s scheme.

“In term of the point guards, the main responsibility is to keep us organized, run the team, play great defense, share the ball,’’ Thibodeau said. “As a team, we struggled. We got to do better.’’

The New York Knicks aren’t playing their own well adequately:

Playing great defense is something the Knicks haven’t done either, allowing over 120 points against the Indiana Pacers in the opener and 109 points in the home opener against Philadelphia. Thibodeau harped on being an aggressive team and overwhelming players with their defense, and that simply hasn’t been a reality.

“It shows we have a lot of work to do,’’ Thibodeau said. “We’re still evaluating what fits best and gives us our best chance. The shooting piece is important. We have to continue to work on it. The 3 is a big part of our league. It’s an area we’ll work on.’’

One of the primary issues is that the Knicks don’t have any pure shooters. Quickley might actually be their best shooter, and he was drafted just a few weeks ago. Most of their talent relies on getting into the paint and driving to the basket, which is an essential part of the game, but one that doesn’t match up well with the modern style of the NBA. Nonetheless, it is a long season, and the Knicks have ways to go, but the early signs of return do not seem promising.