Nikola Jokić one-ups SGA, plus Caitlin Clark’s debut

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Good morning! Don’t root against yourself today.

While You Were Sleeping: Ahem, maybe Shaq was wrong

I regret pulling a fully innocent Shai Gilgeous-Alexander into yesterday’s Shaq vs. Shannon Sharpe beef discussion, which centered around Shaq believing the Thunder star deserved the NBA MVP over Nikola Jokić. 

Sure, SGA was fantastic in Oklahoma City’s 100-96 win Monday. But Jokić was even better in Denver’s 112-97 win against Minnesota last night, giving Denver a 3-2 series edge: 

  • Jokić scored 40 points and dished 13 assists, all while effortlessly working past Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. The three-time MVP plays an effortless brand of elite basketball we should not take for granted. We are watching an all-time great.
  • With the win, the Nuggets have won three straight against the Timberwolves, and don’t be surprised if the defending champs wrap up this series tomorrow in Minnesota. That’s how good they’ve looked these last three contests. 

Other playoff action last night: 

  • The Knicks earned a blowout win of their own over the Pacers in Madison Square Garden. Jalen Brunson scored 44 and was unguardable. New York is one win away from its first Eastern Conference Finals since 2000.
  • In the NHL, the Bruins staved off elimination with a heady 2-1 road win against the Panthers. Jeremy Swayman continues to impress in net. The 3-2 series returns to Boston tomorrow.
  • The Oilers evened their series with the Canucks in a thrilling 3-2 win that saw two goals in the final two minutes, including Evan Bouchard’s game-winner with less than a minute left in regulation.

I love the playoffs.

Debuts: Caitlin Clark’s new reality

The WNBA tipped off last night, and all eyes were of course on Caitlin Clark’s debut with the Indiana Fever against the Connecticut Sun. We learned two things: 

  • Clark clearly belongs. She scored 20 points in her first regular season game. If this is the floor for her, watch out.
  • WNBA defenders are much, much better than what Clark is used to. The rookie turned the ball over 10 times and consistently ran into traffic (see above clip). She was doubled plenty in college, but this is just a different class of athlete. 

Along the way, the Sun blew out the Fever, 92-71. Elsewhere in the W: A’ja Wilson went for 30 points and 13 rebounds in Las Vegas’ season-opening win against Diana Taurasi and the Phoenix Mercury.

News to Know

Redick among Lakers candidates
The Lakers have identified three early head coaching candidates for interviews, per The Athletic sources: LeBron James podcast co-host JJ Redick, Pelicans assistant James Borrego and Celtics assistant Sam Cassell. To me, the key in this report is that James is expected to play “up to” two more years, so this coach won’t exactly be a LeBron hire per se, but more of an Anthony Davis-focused selection.

Bronny downplays LeBron narrative
Despite Bronny James’ famous name, he has rarely talked to the media. That changed yesterday in Chicago, where the son of LeBron is participating in the NBA Draft Combine. The younger James was clear in comments to reporters that he does not expect to play with his father — something many have assumed will happen — if he’s selected next month. I honestly thought Bronny said all the right things. Mike Vorkunov has a full report from Chicago, where both Bronny’s skills and flaws were on full display.

Chiefs kicker slams Pride
In a commencement speech at a Catholic college, Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker decried the entire concept of Pride Month, saying the LGBTQ+ celebration promotes “deadly sins.” He also said women have been told “diabolical lies” and that a woman’s most important title is “homemaker.” Our report on his comments is here.

More news

Dichotomies: Spurs lose. Spurs fans rejoice.

Tottenham Hotspur hosted Manchester City yesterday in one of the Premier League season’s most consequential matches, and maybe not for the obvious reasons you’d expect. Two layers here: 

  • In the EPL table, City arrived one point behind Spurs’ archrival, Arsenal. A win over Spurs would almost assuredly hand City a fourth straight EPL title. A loss would put Arsenal in a great spot, while a draw would also favor Arsenal, who hold the goal differential lead on City.
  • Tottenham started yesterday fifth in the table, with a slim chance of catching Aston Villa for fourth place and the final Champions League slot. So they should try to win, right? 

The fans voted no, as Phil Hay brilliantly laid out in yesterday’s The Athletic FC newsletter. Faced with the choice of handing hated Arsenal a title or holding onto slight hope for a Champions League berth, most fans opted for awe-inspiring pettiness, even if Spurs manager Ange Postecoglou himself disagreed

Spurs fans got their wish: Man City 2, Tottenham 0 in a match that even featured Spurs forward Son Heung-min botching a golden one-on-one goal chance. It turned into the defining moment of City’s season

So we enter the final weekend of EPL play with City up two points in the standings. A win over West Ham wins them a title. Arsenal can only hope for a win against Everton and a City loss or draw. See the full outlook here.

Watch This Game

NHL: Avalanche at Stars
8 p.m. ET on ESPN
Potential close-out game for Dallas (up 3-1), which has looked worlds better in the second round than the first. Colorado, meanwhile, has to reground itself after the shocking suspension of Valeri Nichuskin

NBA: Mavericks at Thunder
9:30 p.m. ET on TNT
I’m acting as if Boston closes out Cleveland tonight, especially with Donovan Mitchell likely out again. Game 5 of Dallas-Oklahoma City, oppositely, is one of the most anticipated game of these playoffs. Can Luka Dončić & Co. come back in this series again?

Get tickets to games like these here.

Pulse Picks

Most people think Scottie Scheffler is a laid-back guy. Boring, even. But, as Brody Miller writes today on the eve of the PGA Championship, the people who know Scheffler best scoff at the idea. In reality, Scheffler is a “venomous” trash talker obsessed with winning — and is the favorite to win the second leg of a possible grand slam this weekend. 

Oppositely, Brooks Koepka — the reigning PGA champion — enters this week humbled after a tough majors stretch this year. That might be bad news for everyone else

There are still valuable NFL free agents on the market. Randy Mueller took a look at where guys like Justin Simmons and Hunter Renfrow could end up

Matthew Futterman has an incisive look at how two sexual assault cases have exposed the way the USTA has treated its players.

I thought this was fun from yesterday’s Until Saturday podcast: Who’s on the Mount Rushmore of college football villains? Not enough love for Johnny Football, in my opinion. 

Most-clicked in the newsletter yesterday: The story on Dan Quinn’s unsanctioned Commanders t-shirt. He said yesterday he regrets wearing it

Most-read on the website yesterday: Yes, hot dogs with parachutes. Tess DeMeyer wrote about how the flying frankfurter promotion came to life at Mariners games.

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(Photo: Matthew Stockman / Getty Images)

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