Knicks 96, Timberwolves 88: Stellar defense leads the way as Knicks pick up 2nd straight win

immanuel quickley, knicks

The New York Knicks picked up their second consecutive win against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night. After demolishing the Atlanta Hawks on Christmas Day, the Knicks embarked on a 13 game stretch against teams that currently have a record worse than .500, aside from the Charlotte Hornets.

The Timberwolves were without several star players, including Anthony Edwards, D’Angelo Russell, and Karl-Anthony Towns. Their leading scorer against New York was power forward Jaden McDaniels, who posted 18 points, and Malik Beasley, who recorded 20 points.

While the Knicks only dispatched 96 points on the evening, it was their defense that showed up big against Minnesota. They held the Timberwolves to just 18.4%, shooting from three-point range and 40% from the field. The Knicks hit 40% from three-point range and 41.1% from the field, hitting just 37.5% from the free-throw line.

Tom Thibodeau’s team has been quite poor at the line, but their three-point percentage has increased recently. Nearly all five of the starters recorded double-digit points, with RJ Barrett just missing the mark with eight. Kemba Walker strung together his fifth consecutive performance with double digits, recording 10 points, two assists, and four rebounds.

However, Mitchell Robinson made a tremendous impact on the game with his 14 points and 18 total rebounds, six of which were offensive. Robinson has been great inside lately, posting five blocks against Atlanta this past Saturday.

Rookie guard Quentin Grimes also had an efficient performance, playing 31 minutes, more than both Evan Fournier and Barrett, who is still working his way back from Covid. Grimes posted 11 points, two assists, and two rebounds, shooting 33% from deep — Grimes’s defensive qualities have seen his stock skyrocket, helping him finish with a +6 +/-.

Grimes is quietly stealing minutes from Evan Fournier, who recorded 13 points over 25 minutes. The Houston product’s defense is simply superior compared to Fournier, leaving Thibodeau with no choice but to utilize the aggressive guard.

It was also nice to see Immanuel Quickley back in the lineup, playing 15 minutes, scoring six points, and logging four assists. He hit 2 of 4 shots from range after missing 12 days due to Covid.

The Knicks will now look ahead to the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday night, a team who have only won five games this season and most recently lost to New York only a week ago by 14 points.

New York Yankees: If the lockout prevails, will free agents flock to Asia?

chris gitten, yankees

The New York Yankees had sat back and let 26 of the top 50 free agents sign with other teams before the MLB imposed lockout was implemented on December 1st. Now they have to continue to sit out replacing players they dearly need until a new Collective Bargaining Agreement can be reached if, in fact, such an agreement can come to fruition before the start of the 2022 season.

Some players have chosen the east route to play baseball as a more sure thing, while others hope to revive their careers. With the lack of CBA, several players chose the path to Asia, either Japan or South Korea. For example, the New York Yankees let Chris Gittens, who appeared in 16 games last season, go overseas.

Also, this past weekend, third baseman Rio Ruiz, a veteran of parts of six big-league seasons, went to Asia. Those two will join Yasiel Puig, Freddie Galvis, Gregory Polanco, and ex-Yankee Ivan Nova to go to Asian teams. Japan’s NPB, or the Korean Baseball Organization, are the world’s No. 2 and 3 leagues.

If the CBA impasse lasts into spring training or even postpones or cancels the season, will some of the big names exit to Asia and out of MLB?

“I’m actually not sure that is the case,” an Asian league scout told CBS Sports when asked if players seemed more willing to move to Japan or South Korea. “I’d like it to be, I thought it might be, but it looks a little ‘business as usual’ to me.”

Most Asian teams have money to spend, although some rules restrict how many foreign players they can have on their teams or how many can play in a given game.

Many of the players who have already exited for Asia carry baggage with them. Not quite making it in the majors or have some type of scandal attached to their name. But for some, it is the answer to possibly not playing at all. Galvis, for instance, signed a contract that could pay him up to $6 million over two seasons, which is far more than he could have earned back here on American soil.

After a new CBA is reached, if it can be reached, the Yankees have to act quick to fill the void. If more players elect to play in Korea or Japan, that will further reduce the Yankees’ pool.

New York Yankees: Could these top prospects make the bigs in 2022?

It’s no secret that the New York Yankees have a relatively deep farm system with some of the best prospects in baseball, but could those guys elevate to the majors during the 2022 season?

Five Yankees prospects could make an impact this upcoming season:

1.) Anthony Volpe: Volpe took over the number one prospect spot last season from outfielder Jasson Dominguez. Volpe has developed quickly, and many believe that he might be able to be elevated to the shortstop position sometime in the coming season. Others believe he needs more time to develop. Nevertheless, he is making the Yankees’ decision in obtaining a new shortstop more complicated. Volpe has demonstrated the tools to make him a star Yankee. With the Renegades, he had a .294 batting average with 27 home runs and excellent defense. However, many see him spending at least another year at the AAA level.

 

2.) Oswald Peraza: Even with Volpe on the horizon, Peraza could very well be the Yankees’ shortstop of the future. The 21-year-old stands At 5-foot-11 and 186 pounds. Last season he was an excellent defender, he is a contact hitter that has learned to elevate the ball. With Tyler Wade gone, he could be a super-utility player for the Yankees, but more likely, he will be a stand-in for whoever the Yankees pick to be their 2022 shortstop.

 

3.) Luis Gil: Gil made his major league debut last season, starting six games for the Yankees with a respectable 3.07 ERA. Gil, 23, has a blazing fastball that led him to 18 2/3 scoreless innings, the longest streak in MLB history to begin a career. Gil has an effective slider and is still developing a change-up. Should the Yankee falter, don’t be surprised to see Gil as the back of the rotation starter this season?

 

4.) Oswaldo Cabrera: Baseball America rates the 22-year-old Cabrera as the New York Yankees number eight prospect. Cabrera will start the 2022 season at Triple-A Scranton. Cabrera’s big upside is that he can play all infield positions except for first base, which he could probably handle if he had to. Cabrera is a power hitter, hitting 29 homers last season in only 118 games, hitting .272 on the season. He will surely be a call-up in 2022 should there be infield injuries.

 

5.) Clarke Schmidt: Schmidt was on his way to the starting rotation when he was injured. After suffering a strained elbow during spring training, the 25-year-old Schmidt missed much of the season. His curveball can be devastating and his fastball, which touched 96 last year, gets a ton of grounders. Last year he pitched in only two games with no record, but he did close a game for the Yankees. Schmidt can start for the Yankees but also can be a valuable arm out of the bullpen in the 2022 season.

 

Four UFC champions who will lose their title in 2022

2021 proved to be a wild year in the UFC. There was a ton of turnover in terms of champions. During this calendar year, we have seen a total of seven new champions. Only five champions retained their titles in their respective weight classes. One of those champions, Amanda Nunes (21-5), did lose one of her titles this year.

I was a bit surprised by the massive championship turnover in 2021. That said, there were a couple that I did see coming. To me, the most obvious one was Francis Ngannou (16-3) winning the heavyweight title by defeating Stipe Miocic (20-4). Yes, Stipe is an all time great, but I just figured it was Francis’ time.

However, there were also some massive surprises this year. A couple that immediately stand out is Brandon Moreno (19-5-2) defeating Deiveson Figueiredo (20-2-1). The biggest shock of the year came back at UFC 269 when Julianna Pena (11-4) shocked the world by submitting Amanda Nunes.

Now, it’s time to look forward to next year. There are 12 total divisions in the promotion and there are no two-division champions. With that in mind, which champions are most likely going to lose their status this upcoming year.

UFC champions who will lose in 2022

Aljamain Sterling

The first and most obvious choice for a UFC champion to lose is Aljamain Sterling (20-3). I mean that in no disrespect, but he’s the lone champion on the roster who really didn’t earn his championship. Sterling won the title at UFC 259 by disqualification after Petr Yan (16-2) hit him with an illegal knee.

It’s important to remember that Sterling was getting smashed by Yan when the foul took place. Not even Aljamain Sterling believes he was on his way to winning that fight. Sterling and Yan will run it back in the first part of 2022 and Sterling is a big underdog.

I don’t see any scenario where Sterling beats Petr Yan. If he somehow does, I think TJ Dillashaw (17-4) is also likely to defeat Sterling if they were to fight for the title in 2022.

Julianna Pena

The next UFC champion to lose will be Julianna Pena. I give Pena all the credit in the world for what she did at UFC 269. She shocked the world and proved everyone wrong. What’s remarkable is she won in the exact fashion in which she said she would. She defeated the GOAT and broke her during the fight.

It’s already been acknowledged that the UFC will run things back immediately. Nunes is already a massive betting favorite despite losing to Pena in the first fight. I think we are going to see the Amanda Nunes that we all thought we were going to see in the first fight when these two run it back.

It’s a great story and nobody can take that win away from Pena, but I can’t pick her to defeat Nunes in the rematch.

Glover Teixeira

Another incredible story in the UFC during 2021 was Glover Teixeira (33-7). Glover became the oldest man to ever win a UFC title for the first time when he defeated Jan Blachowicz at UFC 267. If you would’ve told me that Glover Teixeira would be a UFC champion in 2022, I would have said you were crazy.

However, I think his Cinderella run is coming to an end early in 2022. I firmly believe that the best light heavyweight in the world at the moment in Jiri Prochazka (28-3-1). Prochazka will get the first crack at Glover next year and I think he’s going to take away the title by finishing him.

Francis Ngannou

One of my favorite fighters to watch in the UFC is Francis Ngannou. He has this Mike Tyson-like vibe to him that we’ve really never seen before. He keeps you on the edge of your seat and when he puts people away, it’s usually a very scary scene.

Ngannou finally climbed to the top of the mountain in 2021 and became UFC heavyweight champion. However, he’s going to have a massive mountain to climb to keep his title in 2022. Ngannou will have to beat the two toughest matchups for him in the heavyweight division.

Next month at UFC 270, Ngannou will be taking on Ciryl Gane (10-0). Gane is unlike any heavyweight we’ve ever seen in the UFC. He’s a massive man who moves with the fluidity of a middleweight. His technique and precision will be very difficult for Ngannou to deal with.

However, Ngannou has the power to put anyone away and if he connects on Gane, he can put him out. Let’s say that Ngannou makes it past Gane. Well, then he’s going to have to face the greatest to ever do it in Jon Jones (26-1, 1 NC). Like Gane, Jones will pose a big stylistic problem for Ngannou given his skillset.

In a technical battle, Ngannou doesn’t beat Gane or Jones. That said, he can put both men out if he connects. While no one should count him out, it’s hard to imagine him beating both of them next year.

New York Rangers recall players for Taxi Squad

The New York Rangers have recalled six players to be used on their Taxi Squad in accordance with the new agreement between the NHL and NHLPA.

The New York Rangers have recalled six players to be on the Taxi Squad as the team resumes their NHL schedule with a contest in Florida on Wednesday night.

Morgan Barron,  Jonny Brodzinski, Tim Gettinger,  Zac Jones, Matthew Robertson, and  Adam Huska will join the team for practices but will have to be officially recalled if and when the club decides to put them in the lineup.

The NHL and NHLPA agreed to have Taxi Squads during the league’s recent pause. The NHL returns to play following a week off to help combat the COVID situation.

Taxi squads will be used through the team’s last game before the 2022 NHL All-Star break. Maximum of 6six players per taxi squad, all subject to waiver requirements where applicable. Nobody can spend more than 20 days on the taxi squad during this temporary period.

The Rangers had recalled goaltender Keith Kinkaid on Monday to back up Igor Shesterkin with Alexandar Georgiev in Covid Protocol.  It’s expected that Huska will be sent back down and replaced by Kinkaid on the Taxi Squad once Georgiev retunes from COVID Protocol.

The Giants have one major silver lining on offense heading into the future

new york giants, daniel jones, andrew thomas

If you’ve had the unfortunate opportunity to watch the New York Giants’ offense this season, you’ve likely experienced resentment, depression, and even pure hatred.

The Giants currently host the league’s 30th ranked offense, averaging 16.5 points per game, even worse than the 2020 average of 17.5 points. We once hoped Big Blue would turn things around on offense with Daniel Jones going into his third season and the acquisition of big free-agent wide receiver Kenny Golladay. However, general manager Dave Dave Gettleman promised he would solve the offensive line. He even went as far as to say management had more confidence in the OL than the media and fans — turns out we were right.

“It’s really apparent that we have more confidence in our offensive line than you guys do,” Gettleman said before the seasons started. “We’re happy with the group we have.”

However, the decision to release Kevin Zeitler and promote Shane Lemieux to a starting role backfired incredibly. The two free agents the Giants signed during the off-season to provide depth on the OL retired prematurely (Zack Fulton and Joe Looney). Lemieux suffered a partially torn patellar tendon during the off-season, which ruled him out for the rest of the year.

The Giants’ OL now ranks 27th in pass blocking after landing at 32nd in 2020. Considering the talent they have available, OL coach Rob Sale has done a great job trying to find the right combinations and extract any potential from the players available. However, left tackle Andrew Thomas has witnessed an incredible acceleration of progress after ranking as the 55th pass-blocking tackle in football during his rookie season.

This year, Thomas has been the lone bright spot in the trenches for the Giants, ranking 8th among tackles with at least 450 pass-blocking snaps, per PFF. He has allowed just one sack, three quarterback hits, and 12 hurries, going five consecutive games without giving up a sack. Compared to last season, when he gave up 10 sacks and 39 hurries, the Giants have experienced massive development with their now bookend left tackle.

You can cross that position off as one the Giants don’t need to replace this upcoming off-season, despite the fact they desperately need an upgrade at right tackle with Nate Solder becoming a free agent. The Giants restructured Solder’s contract after he opted out of the 2020 season due to Covid building in a void year for the 2022 campaign that will pay him $4 million just to depart.

If the Giants can find an offensive tackle in the draft like Ikem Ekwonu or Evan Neal out of Alabama, the team will be looking at two stud tackles for the foreseeable future, especially if they are intrigued by the quarterback class in 2023.

Nonetheless, there haven’t been many silver linings on the offensive side this season. The shiftiness and agility of Kadarius Toney stand out, but his injuries have dampened his rookie campaign. Thomas remains the lone bright spot, given he’s battling through injury and dominating almost every game this season.

The Giants have several big decisions to make in the coming months, specifically regarding the general manager position and if they desire to continue rolling with Daniel Jones at quarterback. However, building the foundation of the offense would be advisable before spending another top pick on a QB.

Knicks have fantastic schedule turn to help them back into playoff race

obi toppin, knicks

On Tuesday night, the New York Knicks are gearing up to face off against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Minnesota took down the Boston Celtics on Monday evening by a score of 108–103, despite playing without several of their stars.

Reserve guard Jaylen Nowell featured 29 points off the bench, while Nathan Knight contributed 20. Altogether, the Timberwolves took down a thin Boston team with their own depleted roster, but the Knicks bring a different element with several players returning from the NBA’s health and safety protocols list.

Tom Thibodeau’s squad desperately needs to string together a few wins after building a bit of momentum against the Atlanta Hawks on Christmas Day. The Knicks currently sit with a 15–18 record, good for 5th in the Atlantic Division and 11th in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks are just one game out of a play-in spot for the postseason, and with plenty of time left to resurrect their hopes, the upcoming schedule offers them a fantastic opportunity to do just that.

The Knicks have 13 consecutive games against teams with a sub .500 record. They already beat Atlanta, and considering they play better away rather than at home, their upcoming four-game road trip should present an opportunity to get back in the mix.

After facing off against the Timberwolves, the Knicks will travel to Detroit, Oklahoma City, and then Toronto before returning home against Indiana. Detroit is the worst team in basketball, losing the majority of their games this season. The Knicks recently overcame them 105–91 on December 21, with Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier combining for 43 points.

However, with some of these teams battling Covid issues and the Knicks returning several players, they may be hitting their stride at just the right time to make a push. In addition, the chemistry between Kemba Walker and Julius Randle has continuously improved since his return from exile.

Randle has played far more efficient ball as of late, working off Walker’s aggressive style instead of posting up in isolation and trying to make things happen on his own. Randle has scored no less than 20 points since Walker’s return from the bench. The veteran point guard has offered a spark of energy and scoring production the team desperately needed with some of their young sharpshooters out.

Nonetheless, here’s a look at the next 13 games and the opposing team’s record:

  1. Minnesota Timberwolves (16-17)
  2. Detroit Pistons (5-27)
  3. Oklahoma City Thunder (12-20)
  4. Toronto Raptors (14-16)
  5. Indiana Pacers (14-20)
  6. Boston Celtics (16-18)
  7. Boston Celtics (16-18)
  8. San Antonio Spurs (14-19)
  9. Dallas Mavericks (16-17)
  10. Atlanta Hawks (15-18)
  11. Charlotte Hornets (18-17 outlier)
  12. Minnesota Timberwolves (16-17)
  13. New Orleans Pelicans (12-22)

Yankees face serious pitching challenges that must be addressed

carlos rodon, yankees

Before the MLB lockout, the New York Yankees took a wait-and-see approach to obtain any needed players to fill the holes in the 2022 staff. We all know the Yankees need a shortstop, a number two starting pitcher, a first baseman, and help in center field. But, general manager Brian Cashman sat on his hands while many of the best options were acquired by other teams.

All but one of the biggest shortstop names are no longer in free agency. Marcus Semien and Corey Seager went to the Texas Rangers, and Javier Baez went to the Detroit Tigers. So that leaves just Carlos Correa and Trevor Story, both of which will demand at least $30 million contracts per annum based on what the other big names have gotten.

The Yankees saw the top 20 free-agent pitchers on the pitching front already scooped up. Max Scherzer went to the cross-town Mets. Robbie Ray went to the Seattle Mariners, Kevin Gausman to the Toronto Blue Jays, Eduardo Rodriguez to the Detroit Tigers, and Marcus Stroman was scooped up by the Chicago Cubs. The Yankees did make a play for Houston’s Justin Verlander, but he ended up signing back with the Astros.

There aren’t many premium-type starters left for the Yankees to choose from with all of those big signings. When the Yankees failed to resign 2 time Cy Young award winner Corey Kluber, it left a big hole in the Yankee starting rotation. Right now, Jameson Taillon seems to be the only Yankee starter to move up to the number two spot, but he is still rehabbing and likely won’t give the Yankees that one-two punch they will need to get to the postseason.

There are some options out there for the Yankees, but they are not significant upgrades from Taillon. So the Yankees may have to go the trade route. There are a couple of big names still in free agency. Clayton Kershaw is out there, but for an aging pitcher that isn’t as good as he once was, the Yankees won’t want to spend $30+ million for him. There also is the less expensive Zack Grienke of the Astros, but with his history of anxiety, the bright lights of New York are not the best fit for him.

Jameson Taillon came to the Yankees via trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates and may again look to them to solve their pitching problems. Pittsburgh does deal, so could a trade be made for their ace Mitch Keller?

Even though the Pirates ace, Keller is not a great pitcher, he could eat up a lot of innings for the Yankees. He had a good season in the short 2020 season, but not so much in 2019 and 2021. Last season he became the first NL pitcher since 1938 to have back-to-back 5+ no-hit innings. But his 2021 record of 5-11, 6.17 ERA, 1.788 WHIP certainly isn’t something the Yankees will want. Keller has been on the verge of greatness. Could Matt Blake take him over that plateau?

The Yankees could also consider Carlos Rodon. Rodon had a 2.37 ERA last season with the Chicago White Sox, but that was his only good season. Last season his pitching velocity increased by about three miles per hour. That will be something the Yankees will be looking at.

Rodon posted a 2.37 ERA this past year, representing his lone successful season. The Yankees might be able to get away with offering Rodon a three-year deal with an out after the second season by increasing his pay per season to sweeten the offer. Of the pitchers out there, he might provide the only one-two punch the Yankees will be looking for going into the 2022 season.

Beyond that, Cashman will have to work his magic with under-performing pitchers with an upside that he feels will fit in New York and could benefit from working with pitching coach Matt Blake, much like he did with James Paxton and J.A. Happ.

How the Knicks overcome middle of the road Timberwolves team

julius randle, knicks, evan fournier

The New York Knicks are preparing to take on the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night, coming off a stellar victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Christmas day.

The Knicks feel rejuvenated after gaining several players back from the NBA’s health and safety protocols list. A myriad of players contracted the COVID-19 virus, but the Knicks are nearly at full strength while the Timberwolves are struggling to keep players healthy.

Just one day ago, the Wolves were down Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards, Jarred Vanderbilt, Taurean Prince, and McKinley Wright due to Covid protocols. Both Patrick Beverley and Josh Okogie are expected to make a return barring any lasting symptoms.

Without KAT, Minnesota is down significantly in the frontcourt, providing the Knicks with a significant advantage. In his place, the Timberwolves started Naz Reid, who has posted double-digit points in consecutive games, recording a combined 13 rebounds and three blocks. He has been decent, but the Knicks have a strong interior presence.

Minnesota has one player who’s been lights out recently, Malik Beasley. The 25-year-old shooting guard has posted four consecutive games of double-digit scoring, including 33 in the team’s most recent loss to the Utah Jazz.

Normally, the Timberwolves would be a deep team with solid starters, but the Knicks are catching them at the right time with so many players out and gaining some of their own. RJ Barrett has been working his way back into the starting five after losing some of his stamina due to Covid. Quentin Grimes has helped him ease back into form, enjoying 25 minutes against Atlanta Hawks on Saturday. Grimes finished with 15 points and Barrett nine points, also contributing four assists and three rebounds. He connected on just 1 of 8 shots from three-point range, while Grimes hit 5 of 12.

However, the team has been relying on veteran point guard Kemba Walker to produce offensively after his resurgence from exile. His chemistry with Julius Randle has blossomed nicely over the past few games, as the star power forward posted 25 points and 12 rebounds in the win over Atlanta.

Expect a healthy dose of Walker and further development of the chemistry between the two leaders. While their defense may struggle at times, Randle has committed to playing off Walker’s strengths instead of forcing isolation shots, which will be a benefit for the team.

Beating Minnesota is no easy feat despite being down a number of players. The Timberwolves are the 19th ranked three-point shooting team at 34.2%, and 27th ranked with a 43% field goal success rate.

Overall, Minnesota ranks average to below in those categories, and without their star players, the Knicks should have a solid advantage.

Yankees could pursue perfect utility man for the outfield in free agency

kris bryant, yankees

The New York Yankees desperately need a new utility man after letting Tyler Wade and Rougned Odor walk this offseason without much resistance.

General manager Brian Cashman must have a plan in mind to replace both players, who valiantly stepped in and supplemented injuries this past season in both the outfield and infield. Wade featured in 103 games, earning a .268 average with five RBIs and 17 stolen bases, a career-high.

Odor, on the other hand, played in 102 games, posting a .202 average with 15 homers and 39 RBIs. The Yankees actually received decent slugging production out of Odor, but his lack of contact-hitting and near 30% strikeout rate is simply unsustainable in a lineup that features too many big bats.

However, if the Yankees are looking for a player who can contribute at multiple positions defensively and offers stellar offensive play, Kris Bryant of the San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs could fit the bill.

What would Bryant offer the Yankees?

Bryant played for both Chicago and San Francisco this past season at 29-years-old, earning an All-Star appearance, his fourth in seven years. He posted a combined .265 average with 25 homers, 73 RBIs, and 10 stolen bases over 144 games.

The veteran utility man has a reliable health history, making him an even more attractive prospect for Cashman. He signed a one-year, $19.5 million deal this past off-season, and after posting another productive campaign, he could be in line for a similar contract, if not a multi-year deal.

Bryant has experience playing nearly every position in the infield and outfield. This past year, he spent 10 or more games in center field, right field, left field, third base, and first base. With that type of utility, the Yankees would be ecstatic about his services. He could fill in for most injured players, and God knows the Yankees will be dealing with it next season as they do every year.

At third base, Kris experienced his most struggles, posting a. 946 fielding percentage with six errors and a -2 defensive runs saved above average. He had more success in the outfield, but he’s capable of moving around the infield at both corners.

Depending on how much Cashman is willing to spend on a utility man, Bryant would be a fantastic solution who can play on an everyday basis if need be. Given Brett Gardner was forced into a starting role last year, having a high-end backup is always a necessity.