What NBA scouts will be watching in each Thursday tourney game


What are the best NBA draft matchups of the day in the NCAA tournament, what’s at stake, and what will scouts be watching for? We’re breaking down the field game by game.

Up first: a Thursday slate featuring nine prospects in the lottery in our latest mock draft.

While trying to develop neophyte point guard Dejounte Murray, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich is trying to keep a 20-year postseason streak alive. Troy Taormina/USA TODAY
The loss to the Rockets left San Antonio sitting at 10th in the West behind the LA Clippers, Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets, teams that occupy the Nos. 7, 8 and 9 spots. The Jazz own the tiebreaker with the Spurs, while a tiebreaker with Denver will come down to both teams’ final conference records.

The Spurs are on pace to win just 45 games.

We’re in a position now where we’ve dropped, veteran center Pau Gasol said. We’ve lost a few in a row, and now, there’s no margin for error anymore. Before, it was slim. Now, there is none. So now we’ve just got to go out there, and compete and win.

The current playoff format really hampers the Jets in that they’d have to face the titan of their own division in the second round. I just think Nashville is a deeper team overall — even though I don’t think the gap is as significant as you might think — and after getting so close last year, the Predators are even better now. On the other side, the Caps are used to the playoff format putting them in a tough spot, but you have to find a way, right? They might have just enough to get past the Penguins this time, but I’m going to need to see it to believe it.

Regardless of which team goes further, I think this is going to be an important building-block season for Winnipeg. The Jets are right on the cusp of taking their place among the league’s heavyweights. They have a few key contracts to resolve this summer, namely Hellebuyck’s and Jacob Trouba’s new deals as restricted free agents, but the Jets’ core has a chance to be special over the next few seasons. That Stanley Cup window seems like it’s peeking open. It will be interesting to see what Winnipeg can do during this postseason, where it should be viewed at least as a legitimate threat.

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With 15 games remaining, the Houston Rockets’ primary goal for the regular season is well within reach.


The Western Conference’s top seed is Houston’s to lose at this point. The Rockets (53-14) bumped its lead over the Golden State Warriors to two games by cruising to a 109-93 win Monday night over the struggling, undermanned San Antonio Spurs. The Rockets also own the tiebreaker over the Warriors, so Houston essentially has a three-game cushion in the fight to secure home-court advantage for the West finals.

The best record in the NBA might earn the Rockets a first-round date with a significantly upgraded version of the Spurs, whose struggles without their superstar small forward Kawhi Leonard have put their playoff hopes in serious jeopardy.

The Canadiens return home for a brief two-game homestand. After hosting the Stars, they play the Pittsburgh Penguins at Bell Centre on Thursday. The Canadiens were 1-4-1 on their road trip and are coming off a 5-2 loss to the Blue Jackets in Columbus on Monday.

It’s just another high-end piece for us, Molitor said. As a manager, when you have these types of moves, it is really exciting.

There was an unexpected reunion in the Kansas City Royals’ camp Saturday: Welcome back, sort of, Mike Moustakas.

After setting the Royals’ single-season home run record with 38 last season, Moustakas filed for free agency. He rejected a $17.4 million qualifying offer in November.

The Royals had been grooming Cheslor Cuthbert as a replacement at third. Manager Ned Yost said he needed to find ways to get Cuthbert at least 500 plate appearances.

Moustakas, however, never received the multiyear, mega-million dollar contract he and his agent Scott Boras anticipated. The Royals signed Moustakas to a one-year, $6.5 million contract this week with a mutual option for 2019. Moustakas can make another $2.2 million in incentives this year based on plate appearances, beginning at 225.

It’s fortunate the way it happened for us the way it did, Royals general manager Dayton Moore said Saturday. That’s as simply as I can say it at this time.

Moustakas passed his physical and was in a Royals uniform again.

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The Ottawa Senators had a fast start and a strong finish, and they needed both against one of the hottest teams in the NHL.


Matt Duchene scored twice, including the go-ahead goal with three minutes left, to lift the Senators over the Florida Panthers 5-3 on Monday night.

Magnus Paajarvi also had two goals for Ottawa, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau added one late. Craig Anderson made 35 saves, and Erik Karlsson and Mike Hoffman each added two assists.

Trying to figure out what’s going on, Moustakas said.

Moustakas said the regular season approaching, spring training winding down and the urge to play this season had a lot to do with his signing.

I’ve [sat] for quite some time this spring training, he said.

Moore was happy to close the deal.

He retired the final seven batters he faced, including striking out Justin Upton to end the third and Albert Pujols to lead off the fourth. He threw only 19 of his 53 pitches in the final two innings.

I was throwing a changeup, so I got them out of rhythm, Colon said. That’s why I got the outs quick.

In three appearances, Colon has a 1.04 ERA, giving up one earned run in 8? innings. He has struck out six, walked one and allowed nine hits.

Colon has a base salary of $1.75 million if he makes the team.

Meanwhile, the younger Rangers pitchers are paying close attention to Colon fooling hitters with less than overwhelming stuff.

They can learn a lot, Colon said. There is a reason why I have pitched so long in the major leagues.

And he is hopeful the Rangers want him to pitch even longer.

Arrieta has a relatively low 1,161 major-league innings on his arm at age 32, but a drop-off in performance and a decline in velocity last season generated some concerns about his staying power. In 2015, Arrieta posted a 22-6 record with a 1.77 ERA and won the NL Cy Young Award while averaging 94.6 mph on the radar gun. Last year, Arrieta’s velocity dipped to 92.1 mph and he went 14-10 with a 3.53 ERA. Opponents logged a .283/.364/.528 slash line vs. his cutter, compared to .186/.239/.271 in 2015.

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Ivan Nova will start Opening Day, might not finish season with Pirates


Ivan Nova will be the Pirates’ Opening Day starting pitcher at Detroit on March 29. It is unclear whether he will remain with Pittsburgh through the entire season.

Following the offseason trades of 2013 NL MVP Andrew McCutchen and former 19-game winner Gerrit Cole, Nova is a veteran on a team that has turned toward youth. Nova is owed $8.5 million in each of the next two seasons as part of a $26 million, three-year contract.

I said it when I signed here, and I still feel this way: This is [the] place I want to be, Nova said. I love playing for the Pirates.

There is an intersection here between Antetokounmpo, arguably the most productive fantasy player in the NBA when everything clicks, his Bucks team that has fallen to eighth place in the Eastern Conference, but that is still only three games out of the four seed (and potential home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs), and the Grizzlies, an opponent that has been wracked with injury and has nothing left to play for this year.

At 6’9, Anderson gets a nice bump from non-traditional point guard stats (10.2 rebounds and 6.4 steals-plus-blocks per 48 minutes over his past six games), and if we are looking at a spike in shot attempts, there is the possibility he smashes value with a well-rounded offensive night in addition to his ability on the defensive end.

Although not a middle reliever, the present landscape is more open to using a third closer in shallower mixed leagues. In previous seasons, the wins and punch outs from the seventh starter outweighed the hurt his efforts put on ratios. Now, the added saves often swing the pendulum towards the closer, since their strikeouts are closer in number to what your SP7 can offer — with no significant difference in the affect on ratios. This is yet another reason for investing in an upper-tier anchor, as their innings and superb ratios helps absorb the impact of poor reliever ratios.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a one size fits all approach to dealing with the pitching trends, especially give the plethora of formats and league sizes. However, as so much has changed in the pitching landscape over just the last three seasons, the prudent fantasy manager should recognize the trends and enjoy the edge over those languishing behind the curve.

The insurance for Ovechkin on breaking Gretzky’s record is that if he is short of the 894 mark after the next eight full seasons, he has time in his 40s to break the record if he is close — and has the appetite and health to eclipse it.

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Cavs suspend JR Smith for game versus 76ers


The Cleveland Cavaliers suspended guard JR Smith for Thursday night’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers for detrimental conduct, the team announced.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said “something happened after shootaround” Thursday that led to Smith’s one-game suspension.

A team source told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin the suspension was from a team-related issue, and not for anything off the court. Smith was at shootaround Thursday.

Rodney Hood started in place of Smith on Thursday night, scoring 11 points in 39 minutes in the Cavs’ 108-97 loss to the 76ers at Quicken Loans Arena.

After riding a three-game skid into the All-Star break, the Celtics surged through the end of February and averaged 119 points while winning four straight.

“I think that for the first few games we’ve done a great job of responding,” Irving said. “And we just want to keep it up because the season definitely doesn’t end tomorrow.”

Aron Baynes had 12 points and 10 rebounds and Jaylen Brown scored 15, including nine in the third quarter as the Celtics turned the game into a blowout. Terry Rozier and Greg Monroe scored 14 points apiece for the Celtics, who had seven players score in double figures.

“That’s what we want to see. Offensively we want to continue making the right play,” Brown said. “That’s one of the things Brad preaches about — make the right play — regardless of the score. Seven guys in double figures is a testament to that.”

The Minnesota Timberwolves waived Muhammad after the two sides agreed to a contract buyout Thursday night, clearing the way for Muhammad to sign with another playoff contender, sources told ESPN.

Muhammad re-signed with the Timberwolves last offseason with hopes of a Cheap Jerseys With Numbers substantial bench role, only to find coach Tom Thibodeau reverting to the long-standing practices of shorter bench rotations and heavy starter minutes that became a staple of his Cheap Kids NFL Jerseys five years as Chicago Bulls coach.

Warriors’ Steph Curry practices swing in hotel, leaves room in shambles


Stephen Curry has never been shy about professing his love for golf.

On Thursday, the Warriors All-Star posted visual evidence of that love — and the remnants of how it destroyed his hotel room with Golden State in the midst of a three-game road Basketball Jerseys Cheap
trip.

Last year, Curry played the Web.com Tour’s Ellie Mae Classic on a sponsor’s invite and posted respectable back-to-back rounds of 4-over 74. He finished ahead of four players in the 156-man field.

“Our effort from the beginning wasn’t where we needed it to be,” Howard said. “They came out and hit some big shots and they led the whole game.”

Hornets: Entered the game on their longest winning streak since winning seven straight in March of 2016. … Charlotte’s last four wins have all been by 15 points or more, including Tuesday night’s 118-103 home victory over Chicago. … Walker scored 11 of Charlotte’s first 13 points. … Frank Kaminsky scored 16 points, Michael Carter-Williams scored 14 and Jeremy Lamb added 10 points for the Hornets.

Celtics: Improved to 32-8 when scoring 100 points or more this season. … Boston led 37-31 after the first quarter and out-rebounded the Hornets 14-7 in the opening period. … F Daniel Theis was out with a sore right hamstring. … Marcus Morris scored 15 and Marcus Smart had 10 points.

Gallinari, in his first season with the Clippers after spending his previous nine NBA seasons in New York and Denver, has had an injury-plagued season. He has played in only 19 games, missing chunks of time earlier in the season due to two separate glute injuries.

The Clippers were 32-28 and just outside of the top eight in the Western Conference entering Friday’s game against the New York Knicks. Injuries to Gallinari and trade acquisition Avery Bradley (week-to-week with a groin/hernia injury) have just been the latest complication for Rivers, who has had to start an NBA-high 29 unique lineups.

“The problem is right now, how many games do we have left? With 22 games Cheap Authentic Hockey Jerseys left, and we’re trying to get into the playoffs, not having [Gallinari] and Avery, it’s tough,” Rivers said. “But no one is going to feel sorry for us. I tell our guys that every single day. In public, I’ve said that every single game. And you just have to find a way.”

Complicating matters further is the fact that the Clippers’ two-way contract players have been starting. C.J. Williams started in place of Gallinari on Friday, while Tyrone Wallace has served as a starter since the All-Star break ended. But Wallace’s 45 days are up, and Williams’ will be up after the Knicks game.