Quickley catches fire as Knicks rout Cavaliers

New York Knicks legend Walt “Clyde” Frazier took his fabulous 1973 fur coat to The Garden with the weather outside descending to 20 that feels like seven degrees. But rookie Immanuel Quickley was quick to heat up the venue with his red-hot shooting as the Knicks overcame a slow start to pounce the Cleveland Cavaliers, 101-82, that ended their three-game slide.

Quickley fired 25 points off the bench and hit five triples, including the Knicks’ first four-point play of the season. His backcourt partner Austin Rivers added 13 as the “Quivers” duo outscored the entire Cavaliers’ bench 38-29.

Their inspired play led the Knicks’ comeback from an early 10-point deficit.

The Knicks offered a moment of silence for fan-favorite Harthorne Wingo, who died last January 20. Wingo, a Frazier teammate in the 1973 championship team, was a Rucker Park legend before joining the Knicks. Wingo won the hearts of the fans with his infectious personality. The Beastie Boys even referenced Wingo’s name in their song “Lay It On Me.”

The somber atmosphere continued in the opening minutes as the Knicks’ starters fell behind by as many as 10.

The Cavaliers still had a 13-5 lead when Quickley and Rivers provided a jolt of energy off the bench. They combined for 12 of the Knicks’ next 14 points. New York took the upper hand, 19-17, at the end of the opening quarter.

The Cavaliers retaliated with a 7-0 spurt to start the second quarter before RJ Barrett took over.

Barrett scored 11 of his 16 first-half points as the Knicks surged ahead for good.

Behind Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, the Cavaliers last threatened when they came within four, 56-52, halfway through the third quarter.

That’s when Quickley returned to the game with fire in his eyes. He scored 20 second-half points and led the breakaway.

The Knicks’ defense once again held their opponent under 85, the third time it happened this season.

The Cavaliers scored below 20 points in each of the first two quarters.

Andre Drummond, who averaged 25.5 points in the team’s first two meetings this season, typified Cleveland’s struggle against the Knicks’ air-tight defense with just four points.

The Knicks forced the Cavaliers to shoot an atrocious 34.5 percent from the field, including 8-for-26 from the three-point line.

Quickley’s 25 points came with five rebounds and three assists. Barrett finished with 24 points, four rebounds, two assists, and two steals.

Julius Randle bucked a slow start and wound up with 16 points, eight boards, and six dimes. He was silent in the opening half attempting only three shots.

But it didn’t matter as the rest of the team picked up the scoring slack.

The Knicks improved to a 9-11 record, a rapid improvement as it took them 33 games to reach nine wins last season.

Quickley and the Knicks will face another tough test on Sunday. They will host the streaking Los Angeles Clippers, winners of nine of their last 10 games, including a 116-90 rout of the Orlando Magic Friday night.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Giants: An offensive playmaker to target in a trade-down scenario

New York Giants, Rashod Bateman

The New York Giants are in need of offensive playmakers. Heading into this offseason, New York is making it a priority to add offensive weapons. Many fans and analysts predict that the Giants will spend their first-round pick on a wide receiver.

One intriguing and lesser-discussed option for the Giants is to trade down in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Currently, the Giants own the eleventh overall pick in the draft. But a trade down from eleven could yield additional mid-round picks for the Giants to spend in the draft.

There is a scenario where the Giants could trade down and still land their offensive weapon that they so desire. If Dave Gettleman does decide to do what he has never done before (trading down), Rashod Bateman is an intriguing option for him to consider in the second half of the first round.

Rashod Bateman stats and highlights

Rashod Bateman is an intriguing wide receiver prospect out of Minnesota that will likely be drafted in the second half of the first round. If the Giants decide to trade down to a spot within the twenties, they could consider drafting Rashod Bateman.

One New York Giants mock trade scenario:

  • Giants trade pick #11 to the Chicago Bears
  • Giants receive:
    • Round one, pick #20
    • Round three, pick #83
    • Round five, pick #163

In this scenario, or a scenario similar to this, the Giants could spend the twentieth overall pick on Rashod Bateman. Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman is a big-play threat that could on up the Giants’ vertical passing attack. According to Pro Football Focus, Bateman has recorded 47 receptions of 15+ yards over the last two seasons.

Rashod Bateman is a crisp route runner that has drawn comparisons to Los Angeles Chargers superstar Keenan Allen. Bateman posted 147 receptions and 2395 receiving yards with 19 touchdowns through 31 career games in college.

One knock on Rashod Bateman, though, is his inconsistent hands. Bateman has had a slight issue with drops in college, posting a 7.7% drop rate in his collegiate career. Bateman is also not a burner, lacking top-end speed in his athletic package.

Rashod Bateman would be a great target for the Giants if they were to trade down in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Bateman has the skillset to become a primary wide receiver in the NFL, something New York desperately needs. Based on history, it is unlikely that Dave Gettleman and the Giants trade down. But if they do, Bateman should be a top target.

NASCAR: Ryan Preece lacking funding, may be part-time in 2021

According to a Bob Pockrass report, Ryan Preece’s No. 37 car for JTG Daugherty Racing may race just part-time in 2021. This has to do with funding and the fact that the team lost their charter over the off-season.

Before 2018, JTG Daugherty bought a three-year charter for the No. 37, guaranteeing entry into all 36 Cup Series points-paying races and funding. However, the team didn’t renew the charter, and Spire Motorsports bought it.

So, Preece will attempt to enter races as an open car. Just eight races have qualifying in 2021, with lineups of the 28 other races being set by performance-based metrics installed in August of 2020.

Why the Daytona 500 is especially important for Preece:

The Daytona 500 could help make or break 2021 for Ryan Preece.

Right now, the team has funding for 24 races in 2021. They are still looking for funding for the final 12 races, but if they can’t get enough funds, the team will have to start skipping races.

Getting the funding needed for the entire season starts in Daytona with how large the purse is for the Daytona 500. If the team finishes well in the Daytona 500, a lot of funding could be taken care of, and he can run more races. In eight career Cup Series plate races, Preece has 3 top-10s, showing to be a strong plate racer despite mediocre equipment.

Additionally, a strong finish boosts his performance-based metrics, making him almost guaranteed to race in events without qualifying.

To have a successful and full 2021 season, Ryan Preece needs a strong finish in the Daytona 500. However, he’ll need to race his way into the field through qualifying and the duel races.

Robinson denies he’s unhappy with the Knicks: “I like my role”

knicks, mitchell robinson

Mitchell Robinson allayed fears and the rampant speculation of his unhappiness with the New York Knicks.

Talking for the first time since the controversial tweet he posted and quickly deleted the other night, Robinson denied it has nothing to do with the Knicks.

“It was like a personal thing,” Robinson told reporters after the Knicks’ morning shootaround.

“So I really don’t even want to talk about that. It’s just something that’s going on in my life. And I’ll leave that alone,” the 23-year old center added.

Robinson’s deleted tweet said, “One day, they’ll let me play.”

The controversial tweet came after their second-half meltdown in a road loss to the Utah Jazz. In that game, Robinson only scored seven points on four field-goal attempts while adding eight rebounds and two blocks in 31 minutes.

His Jazz counterpart, Rudy Gobert, recently signed to a five-year, $205-million extension, dominated with 18 points, 19 rebounds, and four shot blocks.

Robinson, a second-round pick in 2018, is only earning $1.6 million this year. The Knicks have the option to re-sign him to a new deal or pick up his team option of $1.8 million next year, but that would make him an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2021-22 season.

This season, Robinson has scored almost exclusively on dunks, lobs, and putbacks. Plays have been rarely run through him as he’s being used primarily for rim protection and anchoring the Knicks defense, which is currently the best in the league in points and field goal and three-point percentage allowed.

Robinson’s usage rate decreased from 13.3 to 11.5 this season.

But his much-improved discipline on defense — committing only an average of 2.7 fouls from 3.2 last season — has kept him longer on the floor. He has yet to foul out in 19 games this season.

The 7-foot center’s scoring and shot blocks have dipped a little bit (9.1 points on 66 percent shooting and 1.7 blocks), but he’s averaging career-highs in minutes (29.6), rebounds (8.4), and steals (1.7).

Robinson has yet to attempt a three in his career despite teasing with those shots on social media in the offseason.

He can look up to Joakim Noah’s career trajectory under Tom Thibodeau.

Noah, who has blossomed to become a defensive stalwart under Thibodeau’s watch in Chicago, has experienced a similar situation.

The former Bulls’ center who also played for the Knicks averaged 10.7 points, 11.0 rebounds, 0.5 steal, and 1.6 blocks in 30.1 minutes before Thibodeau arrived in Chicago. The following season, Noah averaged 11.7 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.0 steal, and 1.5 blocks in 32.8 minutes.

Three seasons later, Noah became the league’s Defensive Player of the Year.

After a bumpy start with Thibodeau when he said Robinson could improve in two areas—professionalism and discipline—the young center has worked his way up and earned his coach’s trust. Thibodeau has since been effusive in his praise for Robinson, who is now firmly entrenched in his starting spot despite the presence of veteran Nerlens Noel.

So the speculations of Robinson’s unhappiness with the team are somewhat surprising.

Last week, the ramblings first surfaced on a social media report immediately shut down by his camp.

“100% not true,” Robinson’s trainer Marcell Scott, Jr. told Empire Sports Media when reached for comment.

Scott Jr. added: “He (Robinson) loves the direction the Knicks are heading, plus he loves New York! His new agency and myself (his camp) have absolutely no issues!!!”

Robinson personally said he’s fine with his role with the team despite the limited touches on offense.

“I kind of like my role,” Robinson said. “We’re winning games. Why change it? Know what I mean? Anything that I could do to help win more would be great, but I just want to keep it consistent. We’re doing pretty good right now, so why change?”

Despite their current three-game losing streak, the Knicks are one of the season’s big surprises with an 8-11 start. And Robinson has been a big part of that defensively.

When asked if he thought he could expand his game similar to Andre Drummond, whom he will defend tonight for the fifth time since the preseason, Robinson answered with a focus on the Knicks.

“I know I can defend. I don’t really compare myself to other players,” he said. “I mean, I’m worried about our team. Other players, they can talk about whatever they want to talk about. I’m just talking about us as Knicks,” said Robinson, who grabbed his practice jersey to emphasize the Knicks printed on the center.

Robinson feels no insecurity with his game and role with the team. It’s the Knicks’ turn to make him feel secured with a contract extension next summer.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Yankees: Gio Urshela’ latest health update is extremely encouraging

New York Yankees, Gio Urshela

New York Yankees’ general manager Brian Cashman spoke with the media on Friday and covered several topics about the roster constructions, expectations, and how the team will enter the 2021 season.

He implied that the roster may not be finished, but if it is, then the Yankees are ready to start the season with what they currently have. They lost three starters in James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, and J.A. Happ, but basically replaced them with Jameson Taillon and Corey Kluber, plus Domingo German, who will be returning from a long suspension.

But the New York Yankees’ general manager was joined in the session by the team manager, Aaron Boone, who provided an update about a crucial piece of the lineup: Gio Urshela. The starting third baseman underwent surgery in early December to have bone chips removed from his right elbow.

At the time, team doctors estimated that the two-way star would be out for the next three months. That timeline wouldn’t affect Urshela’s availability for the regular season, but could have kept him sidelined for lots of spring training games.

The Yankees’ third baseman is already ahead of schedule

Boone explained that Urshela has been hitting off a tee, taking ground balls and throwing at the Yankees’ spring training complex. That represents tremendous progress and is an encouraging sign for the Yankees’ overall health outlook.

Actually, it appears that Urshela is progressing ahead of schedule. He should be fine for Opening Day, barring a setback, as he is, little by little, regaining his health to the delight of the team.

Urshela was one of the Yankees’ top performers in the shortened 2020 season, hitting .298/.368/.490 with six home runs, 24 runs, 30 RBI, a .365 wOBA, and a very solid 133 wRC+. When he is on the lineup, he is expected to be a steady presence in the middle of the Bombers’ lineup.

UFC 258 co-main event between Chris Weidman – Uriah Hall is off; fight pushed back

Chris Weidman

UFC 258 has lost it’s co-main event. ESPN’s Ariel Helwani was first to report that the middleweight matchup between Chris Weidman (15-5) and Uriah Hall (16-9) has been called off.

The fight is a rematch from their first matchup that took place almost 11 years ago. Weidman got the better of that fight and he was able to stop Uriah Hall. That was long before either man was in the UFC.

Per Helwani, Weidman recently tested positive for COVID-19. Because of that positive test, the fight that was originally scheduled to take place in 15 days is being pushed back. The current plan is for the fight to take place at UFC 261.

The current target date for that fight is April 24th. Given the amount of time needed in between the two dates, one can assume that Weidman was pretty sick from his COVID-19 diagnosis.

Big UFC Middleweight Matchup

Both of these men currently rank inside the UFC’s top 11 at middleweight. Chris Weidman returned to the middleweight division in 2020 after a one-fight stint at the light heavyweight division.

The former UFC middleweight champion was able to grind out a decision over Omari Akhmedov in his return to middleweight. Going back to July 2017, Weidman is 2-1 in his last three middleweight contests including a submission over Kelvin Gastelum.

However, Weidman is just 2-5 overall in his last seven fights. More concerning is the fact that the former UFC champion was knocked out in all five of those losses. Nevertheless, Weidman seems dedicated and focused on one final run at 185.

Uriah Hall is such a unique fighter. He has always had the talent, but he couldn’t quite get over the hump in the UFC. He has some solid wins over guys like Anderson Silva, Gegard Mousasi, and Thiago Santos.

However, for the majority of his UFC career, Hall has come up short in the big fights. Since 2015, he’s lost four times, but all four times he was going against the elites of the division. The losses came against Robert Whittaker, Paulo Costa, Derek Brunson, and Gegard Mousasi.

Yet, Hall believes he’s the best he’s ever been. If he’s able to defeat Weidman at UFC 261, it would be his fourth straight victory. He would once again be ready to challenge someone in the top five. Maybe this will finally be the time he breaks through.

New York Giants CB James Bradberry named… “Unsung hero”?

New York Giants, James Bradberry

James Bradberry had one of the most impactful seasons for the New York Giants. He came in at the cornerback spot and immediately revitalized it after Janoris Jenkins departed in 2019. He was also recognized as one of the best players the Giants had this season. He managed to make the Pro Bowl while others were snubbed, but according to one source, Bradberry is actually an unsung hero.

An NFL.com article listing an unsung player for every team in the NFC picked Bradberry for the Giants.

The first of two NFC East cornerbacks on this list is Bradberry, who finished as the 13th-best wide corner in targeted EPA at -6.1. Bradberry also posted a targeted completion percentage allowed below expectation of -5.1, and tied for second in the entire league in passes defensed with 18. Only stellar Dolphins corner Xavien Howard had more than Bradberry, who also added three interceptions to his ledger in 2020 and finished with a ballhawk rate north of 21 percent. That three-year, $43.5 million deal the Giants signed Bradberry to in 2020 looks like a pretty good idea right about now.

This one is a bit of a head scratcher because while Bradberry does deserve the praise, he’s been getting it from plenty of sources this season. In fact, Bradberry has been one of the main bright spots of the defense that has made a significant impact on his position group. Just about everyone would rate the Giants secondary better as a whole because of his individual presence.

For some of the actual unsung Giants, such as 2020’s Mr. Irrelevant Tae Crowder, there’s some reason to be salty at not being listed here.

But it’s not surprising Bradberry is getting the attention. He was one of the biggest impact players on defense for the Giants last year, after all.

Yankees News: Corey Kluber injury/rehab update is nothing but positive

New York Yankees, Corey Kluber

The New York Yankees have been active over the past few weeks, acquiring starting pitchers and preparing themselves for the 2021 campaign. General manager Brian Cashman waited patiently for his time to strike, and while some of the players he acquired are rehabilitating from significant injuries, it seemed as if they will all be ready for Opening Day.

One of Cashman’s acquisitions, Corey Kluber, is rehabilitating from the injury in 2020. He experienced shoulder tightness this past season and was subsequently diagnosed with a torn teres major muscle, landing him out on the injured list.

However, Kluber is feeling 100% healthy when it comes to his physical state. But his issues go beyond the physical nature of his rehabilitation, as he mentally needs to find his way back to normal.

“I consider myself to be healthy at this point,’’ Kluber said. “I’m not rehabbing anything or tending to any issues lingering with anything. I’m basically at the normal stage of my offseason right now, which is a good feeling to be at: to be out of the rehab mode and just try to get ready for the season.”

Kluber’s decision to join the Yankees was based primarily on their contending nature. He wants to make it to the World Series, playing at the highest level of baseball. The Yankees have the roster to do just that, and if their gambles on the starting pitching rotation pay off, they will be in great shape moving forward.

“I think that familiarity for me definitely was a good thing,’’ Kluber said. “Going through a couple different things the last two years, having that familiarity with both Eric and Matt is something that I considered when making this decision.’’

As long as Corey can overcome the mental issues that accompany two years of rehabilitation, he can return to his former self. In 2018, he recorded a 2.89 ERA over 215 innings, logging 20 total wins. Over the past two seasons, though, he’s only pitched 36.2 innings, limiting his sample size and production.

“It’s a matter of overcoming the mental aspect of it as opposed to the physical,’’ Kluber said. “I think what I feel I’m working on right now, as far as getting ready for the season, is kind of getting out of the rehab mindset — where you’re kind of trying to work through things or feel for things — to get to the point of trying to execute pitches. And hopefully when we get to have hitters in the box, I’m not worried about a delivery or anything like that. You’re just trying to get outs.”

New York Yankees News/Rumors: Brian Cashman may not be done, and Joc Pederson signs with the Cubs

The New York Yankee’s general manager Brian Cashman must be happy with the successes he has had in the last week or so. First, he was able to sign DJ LeMahieu to a six-year contract for far less annually than industry sources said it would take. He followed that up by signing two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber to an $11 million one year deal. A few days later, he managed to orchestrate a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates to bring starter Jameson Taillon to the Yankees for a mere four low-level prospects.

It had recently come out that Cashman, before the Kluber deal, was in talks with the Pirates to bring both Joe Musgrove and Jameson Taillon to the Bronx. For some unknown reason, that didn’t work out, and Musgrove went to the San Diego Padres for four prospects. Those players were Hudson Head, Omar Cruz, David Bednar, and Drake Fellows. It soon came out that it was a three-team trade.

While the Padres sent southpaw Joey Lucchesi to the New York Mets, the Mets would be sending catching prospect Endy Rodriguez to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Since taking over as general manager of the Pirates, Ben Cherington’s best trade is so far. When the dust settled, Cashman signed Kluber and continued to negotiate to get Taillon, which he successfully did.

If you believe that Cashman is done improving the team, you are likely wrong. According to who you want to believe the New York Yankees still have between $6.5 and $8.5 million left in the budget without going over owner Hall Steinbrenner’s mandate that Cash stays below the $210 million luxury tax threshold. Add to that, he has a bevy of high A and low A prospects that are log jamming the minor league system. Many forget that there was a re-alignment of the minor league system this offseason causing the closing down of the Staten Island Yankees and the Pulaski Yankees. The Yankees have to mesh all those players into existing minor league teams.

The Yankees have a considerable amount of shortstops and centerfielders in the system that could very well be used as trade bait to get an additional starter, bullpen help, or more outfield depth. So with prospect aplenty and money left to spend, expect more Yankee acquisitions before spring training that is just over two weeks away.

The New York Yankees still have to decide if they will bring centerfielder and fan-favorite Brett Gardner back for a twelve year with the Yankees. With the most recent addition of Darren O’Day, they could still use another arm in the bullpen. They traded Adam Ottavino in a payroll dump and let Tommy Kahnle walk to the Los Angeles Dodgers when he would accept the Scranton team assignment, making him a free agent. Presently they have a strong late-inning staff of Chad Green, Darren O’Day, Zack Britton, and Aroldis Chapman. Where they are lacking is early and long relief relievers.

If they don’t sign Brett Gardner, they have to decide with reliever Brad Hand out of the picture after signing with the Washington Nationals and Joc Pederson singing with the Chicago Cubs if they still want an outfielder. Also, the Yankees have to address a situation that has received little press. The Yankees cannot go into the regular season with only two catchers. Last year the Yankees had backup catcher Erik Kratz who has since retired. Should either Gary Sanchez or Kyler Higashioka become injured, there would be no backup catcher. Only time will tell what Cashman will do with his remaining assets, but we are likely to know sooner than later.

 

Gilbert Burns knows Kamaru Usman’s game and plans on finishing him at UFC 258

In just a couple of week at UFC 258, we are going to see a welterweight title shot that we’ve waited months for. Former teammates will battle it out as the welterweight champion, Kamaru Usman (17-1), takes on Gilbert Burns (19-3).

Both men trained under Henry Hoof at Sanford MMA in Florida before they were originally scheduled to fight each other. Since the, the UFC welterweight champion has moved his camp to Colorado to train under Trevor Wittman.

Gilbert Burns still trains down in Florida and he’s ready for the challenge of Kamaru Usman at UFC 258. Burns was originally supposed to fight Usman back in July on the UFC‘s first trip to Fight Island.

However, a week out, Burns tested positive for COVID-19 and had to be taken out of the fight. Usman would go on to defeat Jorge Masvidal (35-13) at UFC 251 to retain the welterweight title. A frustrated Burns watched from home as he recovered from COVID.

The promotion paired the two up again for a fight in December, however, the fight was scrapped after Usman needed more recovery time from injuries. Now, we are finally going to see these two lock horns in a couple of weeks.

Burns told ESPN this week that he believes he will not just win, but finish Kamaru Usman at UFC 258. “I believe I’m going to win. I’m training super hard for that and I believe that I am the guy that can finish Kamaru Usman,” Burns told ESPN.

UFC 258’s Welterweight Showdown

On paper, Gilbert Burns has the perfect style to defeat Kamaru Usman. He’s a multiple time world champion in jiu jitsu so you know he’s not going to be afraid of the grappling. He possesses incredibly fast hands with a ton of power.

In many ways, Burns has more advantages than Kamaru Usman at UFC 258 when you go skill for skill. For those reasons, I actually predicted that Burns would defeat Usman in my pre-2021 predictions.

However, Kamaru Usman’s nickname is a true depiction of what he is. He’s a nightmare for anyone in the division. Usman is incredibly frustrating and has the skills to neutralize almost any opponent he faces.

We’ve seen Burns struggle in the past with guys who can hold him against the fence. Well, there might not be anyone better at that than Kamaru Usman. Usman is going to have to employ a Randy Couture game plan to win this one and he’s fully capable of doing that at UFC 258.

There’s a lot to be excited about in this matchup. Both of these top welterweights know each other extremely well from their time training together. They also both possess skills that are issues for the other. This fight is truly a tossup and I’m so excited to see it playout in a couple of weeks.