Hard work is undefeated: Randle drops 44 in Knicks’ 3rd straight win

New York Knicks, Julius Randle

Julius Randle hasn’t been to the NBA All-Star game, nor he’s been part of a winning team.

On the eve of the last day of the NBA All-Star voting for the fans, Randle made another strong case for his inclusion in the mid-season classic.

Randle exploded for a season-high 44 points, one-point shy of his career-high, that pushed the New York Knicks to sixth spot in the Eastern Conference after clipping the Atlanta Hawks, 123-112, Monday night at The Garden.

Randle started strong with 17 first-quarter points, then finished the game stronger.

He hit a career-high seven three-pointers, with the last one beating the shot clock with 3:18 left that gave the Knicks some breathing room, 112-107.

Then RJ Barrett put the game away with his three-pointer off a Randle assist.

Randle added nine rebounds and five assists in a spectacular performance, which Tom Thibodeau referred to as “a reflection of the work [Randle] is putting in.”

“He’s doing it all. But the most important thing is his impact on winning,” Thibodeau said. “Hopefully, it will be recognized.”

Randle has been the Knicks’ best player and leader this season, averaging 22.4 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 5.6 assists, all career-highs. Most importantly, he has led the Knicks to win 14 of their first 29 games in a season where they are expected to be one of the lottery teams.

Thibodeau said he wouldn’t call coaches around the league to lobby for Randle.

“His game speaks for itself. I know a lot of guys frown upon that,” Thibodeau said.

He explained that a lot of players are deserving for the seven spots in the All-Star reserves, but when it comes down to voting, and everything seems equal, the coaches would go to the next criteria, which he said is the impact on winning.

“I’m hopeful people will recognize what he’s doing for this team. And he will be recognized. He’s having a terrific season,” Thibodeau said.

Randle said he’s locked in, and making it to the All-Star game is one of his goals when he came to the Knicks via free agency last season.

“I just put the time in. I went home and fixed a couple of things, just repped it out the whole day. Honestly, I just put the time in. Hard work is undefeated,” Randle told Rebecca Haarlow during his postgame interview where his teammates lobbied for his All-Star inclusion.

Randle’s teammates have followed his lead.

Nerlens Noel continued to pick up the slack for the injured Mitchell Robinson. Despite nursing five fouls, Noel didn’t back down and anchored the Knicks’ defense. His back-to-back blocks in the third quarter punctuated a 7-0 Knicks run that enabled them to tie the game at 81-all.

Noel filled up the stats sheet with six points, four rebounds, two assists, two steals, and three-shot blocks. He tied Randle for the most +/- among all Knicks players with 17.

Elfrid Payton also was a catalyst in that run as he pumped in six of his 12 points while limiting Trae Young to just one field goal during that stretch.

Meanwhile, Barrett finished with 21 points on 8-for-13 shooting, including a perfect 3-for-3 from deep. It was an excellent bounce-back game for Barrett, who struggled in the Knicks’ last three games.

Rookie Immanuel Quickley contributed 16 points and five assists in 22 minutes off the bench.

Derrick Rose, who drew constant double teams in the fourth quarter, failed to score in double digits but still found ways to make an impact. He wound up with eight points, three boards, three assists, and two blocks.

The Knicks hope to make it four in a row when they visit the injury-ravaged Orlando Magic on Wednesday.

A win would pull them to .500 in their first 30 games and move Randle closer to his dreams.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Giants: NFL.com QB index gives middling grade to Daniel Jones

New York Giants, Daniel Jones

The New York Giants have far from the worst quarterback in the league with Daniel Jones, but they could use a step up in performance this season. That take is shared by both the Giants fanbase and the national media, both of whom are eagerly waiting to see if Jones will make that step soon. For now, though, Jones is firmly in the camp of the players that aren’t the worst but aren’t near the best either.

He was ranked as the 24th best QB in the league out of every quarterback to start a game last season, in the NFL.com index for the year.

One of the most infuriating players in the entire league, Daniel Jones has proven in his short career that he can make every throw and almost any run. And yet, he turns the ball over (1.4 per game) like he’s going toe to toe with Jameis Winston. Can Jones make a Baker Mayfield-like leap in Year 3?

To the credit of Jones, some of his underperformance is because of the situation around him. The Giants brought in a new offensive coordinator last season and had to change up their plans immediately as Saquon Barkley went down early. Jones also suffered from having passes dropped, including one to Evan Engram that would have given the Giants an extra win and potentially a playoff spot.

Comparisons have been made between Jones and Bills quarterback Josh Allen. Allen has gotten better every year in the league and his team appeared in the AFC Championship this year. It looks like the Giants need a similar improvement to win with Jones, but it remains to be seen if they’ll get it and whether or not the rest of the offense will pick up around Jones too this year.

NASCAR: Safety advancements may have once again saved lives in the 2021 Daytona 500

Early Monday morning, Michael McDowell shocked the sports world when he avoided a last-lap crash to win the 63rd Daytona 500, his first Cup Series win in 358 starts. He was just second to Michael Waltrip in starts before a drivers’ first win, Waltrip making 462 starts before his first NASCAR Cup Series victory.

However, one of the more underrated stories of the race was the crash on the final lap. Without the crash, McDowell’s chances of winning would’ve been a lot slimmer, but the crash could’ve been catastrophic if not for the safety advancements in the cars. This week marks 20 years since the death of Dale Earnhardt. If Earnhardt never got killed racing in 2001, some of the safety measures currently in place may never have been instituted, potentially leading to more deaths.

On the final lap of this year’s Daytona 500, Brad Keselowski had a great run down the back straightaway thanks to a push from McDowell. Going into turn three, Keselowski tried to pass his teammate Joey Logano on the bottom for the lead when the two made contact, setting off a major crash.

While Logano went spinning through the grass, Keselowski shot up the track, right in front of Kyle Busch. Busch hit Keselowski hard, sending Keselowski spinning through the air and clipping the catch fence. Other cars piled into the wreck, including Austin Cindric, who nailed Busch in the driver-side door.

Busch and others were slow to climb from their cars but were all okay after the fiery crash.

Many of the new safety advancements include more roll bars, improving the sturdiness of the car. Without some of the driver-side roll bars, Busch could’ve been crushed by Cindric’s car and seriously injured, if not killed.

Incidents like that just show how much safer this sport has gotten. 20 or 30 years ago, drivers don’t survive similar crashes, when now we see drivers escape under their own power.

Although cars are safer, we’re still reminded about the dangers of NASCAR, like with Ryan Newman’s crash at this race last season. Newman’s crash was the worst accident the sport had seen since Earnhardt’s crash, and fortunately, Newman survived and made a full recovery.

Seeing drivers survive crashes like Busch’s and Newman’s are testaments to the race shop workers and NASCAR for everything they’ve done to keep drivers safe. Next week, we’ll head back to Daytona to race the road course with everyone safe and healthy, and that’s all that matters.

After setback at UFC 258, what’s next for Ian Heinisch?

This past Saturday at UFC 258, Ian Heinisch (14-4) had arguably the biggest fight of his career against Kelvin Gastelum (16-6). Gastelum is a former title challenger and he was in the top 10 in the UFC‘s middleweight division.

A win for Ian Heinisch would have sent him into the top ten and one step closer to achieving his dream. Gastelum entered the fight on a three-fight losing streak and he felt like his job was on the line.

When the fight started, both men were fighting with urgency. Gastelum was putting pressure on Heinisch and Heinisch was looking for the finish. In the first round, Heinisch attempted multiple submissions to try and get the victory.

However, nothing locked in fully. Heinisch used a ton of energy in the first round trying to get Gastelum out of there and he couldn’t do it. As the fight went on, it appeared that Heinisch was feeling the exhaustion of the moment at UFC 258.

For the most part, Kelvin Gastelum completely controlled the fight from start to finish on Saturday night. In the end, the judges unanimously gave the fight to Gastelum which ended his losing streak. Heinisch will now have to go back to the drawing board after UFC 258.

What’s next after UFC 258?

I’m very confident in saying that Ian Heinisch deserved to be in that spot at UFC 258. Heinisch does have a lot of potential, but we’ve seen him stumble against competition that ranks inside the top fifteen.

So far, Heinisch has taken on three fighters ranked in the UFC. He’s 0-3 in those matchups. For his next fight, he needs to take on someone outside of the rankings and I think there’s an opponent that is perfect for him.

The guy that Ian Heinisch needs to fight next is Brendan Allen (15-4). First and foremost, this fight was supposed to happen multiple times and it kept falling through. These two are not fans of each other and this fight needs to happen.

Not too mention the fact that these two are fringe top fifteen middleweights in the UFC. Both are coming off of a loss and it’s the perfect time to make this fight. I know they’ve tried it a few times, but the promotion needs to put this one together again.

Yankees’ outfielder makes MLB.com’s All-Underrated team

New York Yankees, Aaron Hicks

When discussing the best outfielders in Major League Baseball, one name is notoriously omitted almost every time. The New York Yankees know what Aaron Hicks is worth every time he takes the field and impacts the game with a crucial walk, a home run, a throw, or a great catch at center field.

MLB.com published their All-Underrated team, filled with underappreciated players that get little to no recognition when their games warrant more attention. Perhaps you could include Yankees players like Luke Voit prior to his 2020 explosion, or even Gio Urshela.

However, among the Yankees’ stars that take the field day in and day out, Hicks seems like one of the most undervalued. Even a portion of the Yankees’ fanbase doesn’t think that he is a good ballplayer.

Hicks’ .225 batting average seems low, but thankfully, we have better, modern statistics to better measure offensive performance. His .379 OBP is indicative of his skills getting on base, and his .351 wOBA and 123 wRC+ suggest that he is, quite clearly, an above-average hitter.

MLB loves Hicks

Here is what MLB.com wrote about him: “Hicks was far from the flashiest addition by the Yankees in recent years, but he’s been among the best. In the past four seasons, Hicks’ .824 OPS as a center fielder is the fourth-best among those with at least 900 plate appearances at the position in that span, behind only Mike Trout (1.091), Charlie Blackmon (.931) and George Springer (.877).”

They also wrote that “Hicks missed much of 2019 because of Tommy John surgery, but he rebounded well in ’20, with a 123 wRC+ due primarily to his discerning eye (his outside-the-zone swing rate of 14.6 percent was second-best in the bigs). As he ventures into his age-31 season, it could be that Hicks’ declining defensive metrics and power numbers catch up to him. But for now, at another position short on stars, he fits the underrated bill.”

The Yankees’ center fielder is once again set to hit in an amazing lineup and contribute his elite on-base skills in 2021.

You can see the rest of the team here.

UFC Matchmaker: Li Jingliang – Belal Muhammad

This past weekend at UFC 258, Belal Muhammad (18-3) took on Dhiego Lima (15-8). Both men entered the contest on winning streaks, but Muhammad was the only fighter who made the walk with a ranking by his name.

Entering UFC 258, Muhammad was ranked 13th in the welterweight division. Going into this matchup, I figured Muhammad’s wrestling would just overwhelm Lima. However, that wasn’t the case.

Lima was incredibly impressive with his takedown defense and kept the fight standing for the majority of the fight. That said, Muhammad still completely controlled the fight on Saturday night.

Muhammad put a pace on Lima that just weathered the former Ultimate Fighter runner-up. Lima landed some good shots, but the fight was all Belal Muhammad. I came away incredibly impressed by the continued improvement of Belal Muhammad’s striking.

After the fight was over, Muhammad didn’t call out one of the elites of the division. Instead, he called out a fighter that makes perfect sense when you look at the UFC rankings. Muhammad called out The Leech, Li Jingliang (18-6).

Will the UFC make this matchup?

Last month, Jingliang took on the returning Santiago Ponzinibbio. Ponzinibbio at one point looked like he was going to be the next big threat in the UFC’s welterweight division. However, injuries and time away have slowed his progress.

While he was the big betting favorite, Ponzinibbio couldn’t deliver. Jingliang ended up knocking him out with a flush left hand and that win found Jingliang ranked 12th in the UFC’s welterweight rankings. One spot ahead of Belal Muhammad.

Muhammad made the callout on Saturday night because he said it’s the fight that makes sense. Despite the winning streak and being ranked, Muhammad hasn’t received a ranked opponent over his last few fights. That’s something that the UFC will aim to change in his next time out.

I believe that the proposed matchup between Muhammad and Jingliang makes all the sense in the world. Whoever would be victorious in that matchup would be primed for a matchup against someone in the UFC’s top ten.

New York Yankees: The Yankee bench will take on a more import role: Part 2

New York Yankees, Mike Ford

We all know that the New York Yankees have gone through a couple of years of far too many injuries affecting regular players playing time. Although the health situation going into spring training, which starts in just a few days if much rosier than last year, it is not reasonable to assume it will remain that way. The simple fact is that injuries are a permanent part of the game that can’t be avoided team-wide. These injuries lead to the use of backup pitchers and backup players that sit on the bench or have to be called up from the minor league to be used short term or even long term.

The backup players will take on an even more important role that could be the difference in success or the season’s failure. The big problem for manager Aaron Boone this season will be dealing with using players efficiently but at the same time saving them for a postseason run. That is something that is always dealt with, but this season is unique. Pitchers and the lineup will play 162 games after only playing 60 games last season. No matter how much a player works out in the offseason or pushes himself in spring training, moving to play nearly three times as many games this season will be a strain on all involved.

In part one of this article, we dealt with the pitching and the depth of both starters and the bullpen.  Now we look at the Yankee depth on the bench and how they can be used.

Mike Ford:

There are several pluses when it comes to Mike Ford. Ford is an adequate fill-in for Luke Voit at first base. He is a lefty bat when they need it and frequently hits for power. Ford, like many players, had a sub-par season last year. He hit just .135 with two homers over 74 plate appearances. But in 2019, he was an important part of the bench hitting .259 with twelve home runs. The New York Yankees need him to return to form as he will be needed off the bench.

Mike Tauchman:

Mike Tauchman is another important piece off the bench. Tauchman can replace any of the oft-injured outfielders at any position. Clint Frazier has earned the permanent place in left field and is seldom injured, so Tauchman would likely only be used to replace Hicks or Judge. Coming off the bench, he could be used as a lefty bat when needed. Tauchman, like Ford, had a poor 2020 season. But he, when on, can hit for power too.

Miguel Andujar:

Andujar spent most of his time last season on the Scranton shuttle. The New York Yankees tried to adapt him to first base and the outfield, neither turned out all that well, and he got little playing time. But Andujar could still be an important factor for the Yankees. There is no question that he can hit home runs as well as hit for contact. During 2018 before his shoulder injury, he hit .297 with 27 home runs. In the Dominican Republic, he adjusted his swing a bit over the offseason, and scouts say he looks great. The only problem for the Yankees is where he will play to get in some playing time.

Jay Bruce:

Bruce is an unknown quantity to Yankee fans. Bruce, by trade, is a right fielder. He, like many players, had a down season in 2020 with the Phillies. But he could be a help to the Yankees should Aaron Judge be injured. Bruce, although not a great hitter, he does hit for power. He has hit 30 or more home runs in four seasons. However, if Judge stays healthy, he won’t see much playing time.

Greg Allen:

Greg Allen is another option for the Yankees in the outfield. His big plus is that he can be used as a pinch hitter as he hits from both sides of the plate. However, don’t expect him to be hitting any home runs. He has only had 8 long balls in his four-year career.

Kyle Higashioka:

Kyle, will of course, be on the bench, although he will seldom be used for pinch-hitting except in the late innings. He will likely be ace Gerrit Cole’s private pitcher most of the time and fill in for Gary Sanchez should he become injured. The Yankees have still not addressed a back up for Higashioka. As it stands now, they will have to bring someone up from the minors since Erik Kratz has retired.  If Gary Sanchez does not improve from last season, look for Kyle to get more playing time again.

Tyler Wade and Thairo Estrada:

The New York Yankees have plenty of back up in the outfield to handle almost any situation; the infield is an entirely different story. Should any one of the infield regular players become injured, the picture gets pretty shaky. Last season neither Tyler Wade nor Thairo Estrada was particularly effective. There is also Estevan Florial, but he is not much of an upgrade and normally plays in centerfield. All three of these players need to prove their worth this season, or it might be bye-bye.

Brett Gardner:

Right now, the big question is will the Yankees work out a deal with Brett Gardner to keep him in pinstripes. Gardner is also a lefty and the best consistent hitter of the bunch off the bench. He can fill in more than adequately in the left or center field. Even if the Yankees take him back, he will not see as much playing time as he has in the past, with Clint Frazier basically taking his place in the lineup.

The Yankees made one big mistake when they didn’t tender Rosell Hererra during the offseason. Hererra was an amazing standout in the 2020 spring training. They didn’t use him last season and he became a free agent and is now playing in China for the Wei Chuan Dragons. Hererra could have been a big star with the Yankees.

The Yankees are in pretty good shape. According to reports, they have about $10 million left in the bank without going over the luxury tax threshold. How they will spend that, if they spend that, is anyone’s guess, but to round things out, they could bring Gardner back, pick up another arm in the bullpen and strengthen the infield with another backup player.

 

Rangers’ Panarin not skating with main group Monday, doubtful to play Tuesday

Updated 1:00 p.m.

When the New York Rangers team hit the ice for practice on Monday morning, Artemi Panarin was missing from the group.

It appears the team’s leading scorer in goals and points will miss his second consecutive game with a lower-body injury on Tuesday night when the Blueshirts host the New Jersey Devils.

The Rangers official Twitter account put a video out that had Panarin skating by himself on the ice at their training facility.  Unfortunately, that was as close as the Breadman would get to skating with his teammates on Monday.

Rangers beat writer Vince Z. Mecogliano announced the lines at practice that did not include the Breadman.

The practice lines were the same that the teams used in Saturday’s practice.

Ryan Lindgren and K’Andre Miller were both back at practice after missing Saturday’s which was announced as maintenance days.

Following practice, Mecogliano Tweeted that head coach David Quinn said the team is expecting Panarin to miss the game on Tuesday night and added defenseman K’Andre Miller has an upper-body injury and could miss tomorrow’s game as well. They will have more on that tomorrow before the game.

Igor Shestrkin will be in goal.

Follow Frank Curto on Twitter @RangerProud.

David Ortiz said he “couldn’t believe” the Yankees traded Adam Ottavino to Boston

New York Yankees, Adam Ottavino

Ever since the New York Yankees decided to trade Adam Ottavino to Boston, several “baseball” persons have praised the Red Sox’s decision to bring the talented reliever into the fold.

It’s clear that the Red Sox and the Yankees are in different stages in the competitive cycle. The Bombers are in win-now mode and needed some payroll flexibility to bring some safer pitchers, while Boston had some money to use, and not only can benefit from acquiting a talented pitcher, but also got prospect Frank German out of the deal.

Red Sox legend David Ortiz talked to the Boston Globe about Ottavino, and confessed he is very excited to see him in Boston.

“I was happy they got [Adam] Ottavino from the Yankees. I couldn’t believe the Yankees did that. He can be nasty. We’ll see how the young talent comes around. But they have more talent now.”

Ottavino’s 2020 ERA was ugly, at 5.89. However, the Yankees know that he can be, in fact, dominant. Despite the high ERA, he had a much more decent 3.52 FIP and struck out 29.4% of the batters he faced.

The Yankees have reinvested the money

In the last two postseason, control and command issues have plagued Ottavino, and the Yankees wanted to reinvest the $9 million he was owed in 2021 in safer pitchers. So far, they brought Darren O’Day and are about to close Justin Wilson’s signing.

Ottavino knows the Boston area, as he went to college at Northeastern, which is a short, 15-minute walk from Fenway Park.

“I’m very excited,” Ottavino had said about the trade, per MLB.com. “I was a little surprised when I got the news, but all things considered, Boston is always a place I wanted to play. I went to school there, feel really comfortable in Fenway and all that good stuff. I’m really excited to bring what I bring. Hopefully I can do my thing out of the bullpen and help us win some ballgames.”

Yankees News: Cashman ‘moving toward a deal’ with Justin Wilson, what to know

New York Yankees, Justin Wilson

As expected, the New York Yankees are still contemplating adding another relief pitcher to the bullpen. With the starting rotation flush with options, despite risky ones, the bullpen could use a bit more support after they traded away Adam Ottavino and Darren O’Day.

While the Yankees sent scouts to check out David Robertson during a bullpen session at the University of Alabama, it seems as if they are keen on signing former New York Met, Justin Wilson. At 33 years old, Wilson has spent the last nine years in the MLB, proving he can be an adequate option out of the bullpen. Last season with the Mets, he pitched 19.2 innings, earning a 3.66 ERA. The year prior, he recorded a 2.5 ERA with 10.15 strikeouts per nine. His 51% ground ball rate matches up well with Yankee stadium.

MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reports the “Yankees appear to be moving toward a deal with Justin Wilson. Mets were showing interest a few days ago, but it seems likely he’s heading across the Triboro Bridge, back to the Yankees.”

Wilson will likely be a cost-efficient signing, who previously played with the Yankees back in 2015. During that lone season, he featured over 61 innings and posted a 3.10 ERA. His primary pitches are a fastball, cutter, slider, and the occasional curveball. He throws his fastball an average of 95.5 mph and cutter 91.2.

His addition to the bullpen would be positive, in my opinion, as position battles ensue during spring training. With just two days until the start of spring training and player’s report, getting a deal done now would be perfect timing for the Yankees to roll in stride.

One more positive that Wilson brings to the table is that he is a left-handed reliever, offering a bit of diversity to the bullpen. Since the Yanks opened up about $8 million with the Ottavino trade, I expect them to offer about $3 million per season to Wilson on a short-term deal.