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Lonzo Ball Finds His Shot, and a Fresh Start, in New Orleans – The New York Times

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Lonzo Ball Finds His Shot, and a Fresh Start, in New Orleans – The New York Times_5e111558b6428.jpeg

LOS ANGELES — Zion Williamson was working up a sweat. Wearing a sleeveless hoodie and a padded brace, on his surgically repaired right knee, Williamson took dribble handoffs, pulled up for midrange jumpers and drove for dunks.

As a small army of assistant coaches monitored Williamson’s pregame workout at Staples Center on Friday, Lonzo Ball, one of his teammates on the New Orleans Pelicans, emerged from a courtside tunnel and sat on the visiting bench. Dozens of early-arriving fans remained fixated on Williamson, capturing every dribble, every shot, every breath on their phones. Ball laced up his sneakers in relative obscurity, then joined Williamson on the court for some work of his own.

Not long ago, Ball was the future star, a gifted guard out of U.C.L.A. with vision and length, a fresh face for the N.B.A. — and for the Lakers, who selected him with the No. 2 pick in the 2017 draft. Three years later, at the crusty age of 22, far from the glare of Los Angeles, Ball is trying to assemble his game in a new city, with a new team.

“My body feels good, and my confidence is where it’s supposed to be,” said Ball, who scored a team-high 23 points on 10 of 16 shooting in the Pelicans’ 123-113 loss to the Lakers, his first game against his former team. He was out sick when the Lakers played in New Orleans earlier this season.

With the Pelicans, the spotlight on Ball is more of a mellow glow. He is playing big minutes in one of the league’s smallest markets, and most of the public attention has been on Williamson, the top overall pick in last year’s draft, even as Williamson continues to rehabilitate from the knee injury he sustained in the preseason.

Ball is one of few people who can probably relate to the various pressures on Williamson, especially now that Williamson is facing some adversity of his own. Ball knows about adversity, about expectations and injuries, about critics and cynics. He has learned to cope.

“I’m getting paid to play a game,” he said.

Ball could not stay healthy in his two seasons with the Lakers. He injured his knee as a rookie, then missed the second half of last season with a sprained ankle. “Terrible for me — and I know for the fans,” he said.

When Ball was healthy, he labored with his jump shot and his consistency. And in Los Angeles, not far from where he grew up, the pressure only mounted — in part because he was teammates with LeBron James, who was supportive of Ball’s development but wanted to win right away.

At the same time, Ball dealt with off-court issues. A loudmouth father. A business that went awry. He wound up suing Alan Foster, a family friend, for more than $2 million in damages, accusing Foster of embezzling money from Ball and Big Baller Brand, the sneaker company that Ball co-founded with his father, LaVar.

Ball’s tenure with the Lakers came to an end in June when they agreed to ship him to the Pelicans as a part of their blockbuster trade for Anthony Davis. Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart were also sent to New Orleans in the deal, and it signified a fresh start for all three players. But Ball needed it most.

“I think he did as well as anyone could,” Hart said of Ball’s time with the Lakers. “He didn’t let the outside noise affect his decision making or his play.”

The Pelicans did not get off to a dream start this season, which should not have been a huge surprise considering the loss of Williamson and an overhauled roster. It takes time for young players to form chemistry, and the players who came over from the Lakers are still young. Ingram and Ball are 22, and Hart is 24.

But before their game against the Lakers, the Pelicans had won five of their last six — and Ball was coming off his best game of the season. In a 15-point win over the Houston Rockets last weekend, he finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists while shooting 7 of 12 from 3-point range.

“I always felt like when I took the job that he would be a good 3-point shooter for us,” said Lakers Coach Frank Vogel, who was hired about a month before the team agreed to trade Ball. “He’s just a terrific all-around player. His playmaking, his extra pass mind-set, the defense and steals and blocks — I’m not surprised that he’s having success.”

Pelicans Coach Alvin Gentry likes that Ball plays with pace, that he finds open teammates, that he has refined his shooting technique. Ball, who shot 31.5 percent from 3-point range with the Lakers, was making 35.8 percent of his 3-pointers for the Pelicans ahead of their game against the Sacramento Kings on Saturday. His mechanics remain a work in progress — no one is mistaking him for Ray Allen — but he has improved, and he praised the assistant coach Fred Vinson for helping him along.

“My jump shot wouldn’t be where it is today without him,” Ball said.

As for Williamson, he was dominant in four preseason games for the Pelicans, averaging 23.2 points while shooting 71.4 from the field. He recently practiced with the team for the first time since undergoing surgery on Oct. 21 to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee.

“When the right time comes,” Gentry said, “we’ll put him out there to play.”

After the Pelicans’ loss to the Lakers on Friday, Ball was fielding questions from reporters in his usual soft-spoken way when Williamson poked his head over the scrum.

“Hey, Lonzo,” Williamson said, “I have a request.”

“What you got, bro?” Ball asked.

“Can you please speak up?” Williamson asked.

It was a playful back-and-forth between teammates who will likely share the court soon. Maybe then, the future can finally begin.

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Kamaru Usman issues warning to McGregor ahead of UFC 246: ‘Don’t even dream of this welterweight strap’ – MMA Mania

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Reigning UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman is not in the business of getting called out, which may be a bad thing for Irish superstar Conor McGregor.

McGregor, who makes his awaited return to action later this month at UFC 246 when he squares off with Donald Cerrone in a 170-pound main event, is already setting his goals high for 2020. The Irishman’s lofty expectations not only have him defeating Cerrone and landing a rematch with rival and UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmgomedov, but also testing his luck against the welterweight best.

That just so happens to include Usman, who is coming off a blistering TKO win over surging contender Colby Covington back at UFC 245. That victory was Usman’s first official UFC title defense after winning the 170-pound belt from Tyron Woodley back in March.

Usman, who never seems to shy away from conflict, issued the following warning to McGregor after learning about his potential plans for the UFC’s welterweight division:

“My man Conor McGregor please just go in there and take your L from Cowboy. Don’t even dream of this WW strap because that dream can turn into an Nightmare fast,” wrote Usman via Twitter.

Usman, who is one of the most physically imposing fighters on the UFC roster, has already issued a warning to McGregor to keep his distance from the welterweight division if he values his life. After all, Usman’s game revolves around power wrestling and top control, two things that would put McGregor in serious danger if the two ever met inside of the cage.

Still, McGregor is going to chirp and continue to position himself in as many potential super fights as possible. At this time, Usman is one of them, and he should consider himself lucky considering everyone and anyone is trying to score a money fight with “Notorious.”

We don’t know for sure how serious McGregor is about potentially fighting Usman down the line, but if he struggled against Khabib his last time around he may have a really hard time with “Nigerian Nightmare.”

For complete UFC 246 fight card new click HERE.

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Will the Bills unleash Josh Allen as a runner? – NBCSports.com

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As a rookie, Bills quarterback Josh Allen ran the ball very effectively. This year, his per-game attempts are down slightly, and his per-attempt gain has dropped significantly.

He clearly has the skills. In a three-game stretch after returning from injury, Allen gained 335 yards on the ground, with back-to-back games in excess of 100 yards.

This year, he doesn’t have more than 56 rushing yards in any one game. On average, he runs the ball 7.26 times per game, down from 7.41 in 2018. But his average gain has dropped from 7.1 to 4.7 yards.

Without studying each and every one of his 109 rushing attempts in 2019, it’s probably safe to assume that Allen has gotten more careful this year with his body, possibly influenced by the wicked Week Four hit that he took against the Patriots, when he forfeited all quarterback protections and took off with the ball in his hands.

If Allen has been more cautious this year, today is the day to throw caution to the wind and gain as many yards as he can. Those extra yards in the running game could get the defense on its heels in the passing game, and it could help Allen, who has no playoff experience, get a little more comfortable if he can rip off a few decent gains early in the game.

Ultimately, it may take an approach like this to help the Bills advance past the Texans, in what would be Buffalo’s first playoff win since December 30, 1995 — seven years before the Texans even entered the league.

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Patriots vs. Titans odds, line: NFL picks, Wild Card Round predictions from advanced simulation on 96-65 run – CBS Sports

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Patriots vs. Titans odds, line: NFL picks, Wild Card Round predictions from advanced simulation on 96-65 run – CBS Sports_5e11155271585.jpeg

The New England Patriots take aim at their fifth Super Bowl appearance over the past six seasons and fourth straight when they battle the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Wild-Card round on Saturday. The Patriots (12-4) are six-time Super Bowl champions, winning two of the last three, including a 13-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams last year. On the other sideline, the Titans (9-7) are making their 23rd playoff appearance in franchise history.

Tennessee defeated the Patriots in their last meeting, a 34-10 win in Nashville on Nov. 11, 2018. Still, New England is a 4.5-point favorite in the latest Patriots vs. Titans odds, down one after the spread opened at 5.5, while the over-under is 45. Before making any Titans vs. Patriots picks, check out the NFL predictions from the SportsLine Projection Model.

The model, which simulates every NFL game 10,000 times, is up over $7,000 for $100 players on its top-rated NFL picks since its inception four-plus years ago. It has nailed its recent top-rated NFL picks, entering Wild Card Weekend of the 2019-20 NFL playoffs on a strong 34-22 run that dates back to last season. It’s also on an incredible 96-65 roll on top-rated NFL picks that dates back to the 2017 season.

The model ranked in the Top 10 on NFLPickWatch the past three years on straight-up NFL picks and beat more than 96 percent of CBS Sports office pool players last season. Anyone who has followed it is way up. 

Now, the model has set its sights on Patriots vs. Titans. We can tell you that the model is leaning under, and it also says one side of the spread hits in well over 50 percent of simulations. Visit SportsLine to see the pick. Now, here are the NFL betting lines and trends for Titans vs. Patriots:

  • Patriots vs. Titans spread: Patriots -4.5
  • Patriots vs. Titans over-under: 45 points
  • Patriots vs. Titans money line: Titans +183, Patriots -226
  • TEN: Titans are 5-3 on the road
  • NE: Patriots have a plus-195 point differential

The model knows the Patriots are gunning for their fourth straight Super Bowl appearance, last accomplished by the Buffalo Bills from 1990 to 1993. New England has been the NFL’s best over the past 20 years under coach Bill Belichick, who has compiled a 267-93 (.742) record, including 30-10 in the postseason.

Offensively, the Patriots’ top target is wide receiver Julian Edelman, who has 100 receptions for 1,117 yards (11.2 average) and six touchdowns. He has 13 plays of 20 yards or more, and in three career games against the Titans, Edelman has 16 receptions for 154 yards, a 9.6 average. New England is also 6-2 against the spread in its last eight playoff home games.

But just because New England has experienced plenty of success the past two decades does not guarantee it will cover the Patriots vs. Titans spread on Saturday.

That’s because the Titans earned their second playoff berth under fourth-year general manager Jon Robinson and first under Vrabel. Tennessee scored 35 points against Houston last week, the fifth time the Titans scored at least 35 points this season. The only other time the Titans’ franchise achieved that feat was as the Houston Oilers in 1960 (five games) and in 1961 (seven games). 

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been strong this season and, in 12 games, completed 201-of-286 passes for 2,742 yards and 22 touchdowns. Tannehill has thrown 12 touchdowns over the past five games alone, including three against the Saints and Raiders. Running back Derrick Henry claimed the league rushing title with 1,540 yards. 

So who wins Titans vs. Patriots in the 2020 NFL Playoffs? And which side of the spread can you bank on in well over 50 percent of simulations? Visit SportsLine now to see which side of the Patriots vs. Titans spread to jump on Saturday, all from the advanced model that is up more than $7,000 on its top-rated NFL picks, and find out.

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