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Sunday, March 26, 2017

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Rockets take shot at Russell Westbrook’s MVP candidacy on Twitter

Russell Westbrook

With the NBA’s Most Valuable Player Award race looking more and more like a two-man battle between James Harden and Russell Westbrook as the season winds down, the Houston Rockets are pulling out all the stops.

After the Rockets defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder by the final of 137-125 on Sunday, their team Twitter account sent a Drake-themed graphic touting Harden’s MVP candidacy based around wins over Westbrook’s candidacy based around triple-doubles.

While Westbrook did finish with 39 points, 11 rebounds, and 13 assists for his 36th triple-double of the year (putting him now just five short of Oscar Robertson for the all-time single-season record), Harden’s 22 points, five rebounds, and 12 assists helped lead Houston to the victory, giving them a whopping 9.5 game lead over the Thunder in the standings.

Though there was some humor in the tweet, the Rockets are smart to advocate for the importance of winning basketball over averaging a triple-double for the season, which, though historically significant, is a purely statistical (and arguably arbitrary) measure of value. Their general manager has been doing the same lately (as seen here), but it may nonetheless be difficult to project a winner with Westbrook’s Thunder still sixth in the West as he also leads the entire league in scoring with 31.2 points per game.

Mark Reynolds makes Rockies, will fill in at first base

Mark Reynolds

Mark Reynolds has made the Colorado Rockies’ roster and will be seeing time at first base for the team.

Reynolds signed a minor league deal with the Rockies last month and received an invitation to spring training. At the time he signed, his ability to earn playing time seemed limited because of the team’s signing of Ian Desmond. But with Desmond out because of fractured hand, there is an opening for Reynolds at first, and he is expected to get the bulk of the action there, according to Fan Rag Sports’ Jon Heyman.

Reynolds has batted just .238 this spring, though half of his hits have been for extra bases. He batted .282 with 14 home runs and 24 doubles in 393 at-bats last season for Colorado.

Desmond could make it back by the end of April, so Reynolds may have only a short window of time to prove he deserves more consistent playing time.

Did son of Indians GM leak news of Francisco Lindor contract talks?

Note to Cleveland Indians general manager Mike Chernoff: letting your son on the radio might not have been the best idea.

6-year-old Brody Chernoff was a special guest in the radio booth in the 9th inning of the team’s Saturday spring training game against the Chicago White Sox. Tribe play-by-play man Tom Hamilton couldn’t help but ask the youngster a few questions, including one about whether he’d heard his dad trying to make any deals.

Brody’s honest response may have caught Hamilton by surprise.

“He’s trying to get, um, (Francisco) Lindor to play for seven more years,” Brody said, via ESPN.

Hamilton could only laugh, joking that “we’d better not talk anymore.”

On a serious note, it’s perfectly logical that Cleveland would be trying to lock Lindor up long-term. He’s one of baseball’s premier young stars, and keeping him on a contending Cleveland team long-term on a controlled cost by buying out his arbitration years would make a lot of sense. Plus, if Lindor can get a good deal, maybe he can use that money to impress his crush in addition to setting down in Cleveland for a few years.

Eddie Lacy expected to start over Thomas Rawls for Seahawks

The Seattle Seahawks signed Eddie Lacy to a team-friendly contract earlier this month, but that does not mean they expect him to play a minor role in 2017.

Byron Drahold of Seahawks Wire expects Lacy to be the starting running back for the Seahawks next season, with Thomas Rawls coming off the bench and C.J. Prosise retaining his duties as the team’s pass-catching back.

There was once a time when Rawls and Prosise were expected to be a two-headed monster in Seattle, which is why it was somewhat surprising that the Seahawks brought Lacy on board. Rawls was considered the heir to the Marshawn Lynch throne when he broke out down the stretch in 2015, but an injury late in the year forced him to miss some time and get off to a slow start in 2016. The 23-year-old was never really able to get things going after that.

While Lacy’s conditioning has been an issue in recent years, his ceiling is incredibly high. If he can remain in shape (and his contract structure should help with that), there’s no reason the former Alabama star won’t find success in Seattle’s run-first offense. Lacy is certainly going to get plenty of opportunities to shine if he keeps the extra pounds off.

Michael Carter-Williams not ruling out return to Bucks in free agency

The Milwaukee Bucks traded guard Michael Carter-Williams to the Chicago Bulls last October, but the two sides may not have seen the last of each other.

Before the Bucks and the Bulls played each other on Sunday, Carter-Williams, who will be a restricted free agent this summer, said that while he would like to re-sign in Chicago, he isn’t ruling out a return to Milwaukee either, per Gery Woelfel of the Racine Journal Times.

The 25-year-old Carter-Williams, who is averaging 7.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.5 assists in 20.3 minutes per game this season, never really found his way in his two partial seasons with the Bucks. He struggled to carve out a consistent role and quickly lost the faith of head coach Jason Kidd. In fact, it was until Milwaukee dealt Carter-Williams, handed the keys of their offense over to Giannis Antetokounmpo, and signed Matthew Dellavedova as additional point guard depth that they really began to develop into a playoff contender. The former Rookie of the Year hasn’t been much better as a Bull either, so it’s unlikely that the interest here will be mutual.

Darius Rucker cries as South Carolina clinches Final Four berth

Hootie South Carolina

South Carolina continued its historic run in the NCAA Tournament by reaching its first ever Final Four after defeating Florida in the regional finals on Sunday. One person who was on hand to witness the win was Darius Rucker, better known as “Hootie” from Hootie & the Blowfish.

Rucker was emotional watching the Gamecocks clinch their first ever Final Four berth. Take a look:

Rucker attended the University of South Carolina, which is where he founded his famed musical group.

The Charleston native is proud of his South Carolina upbringing and even named one of his music albums after the city and state. It’s cool to see how much this means to some of the school’s fans.

Kolten Wong has strong words over potential loss of at-bats

St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong was confronted with the possibility of losing some of his at-bats due to ongoing struggles at the plate, and he was not very receptive to the idea.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny floated the idea of a platoon at second base involving Wong and the likes of Jedd Gyorko and Greg Garcia, with Wong hitting just .182 during spring training. That poor spring comes on the heels of a weak 2016, in which he hit just .240 with no power.

Despite all this, Wong, who signed a five-year contract extension a year ago, is not happy with the prospect of playing in a platoon.

“I don’t think you give somebody a contract for no reason,” Wong said, via Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “When you are given a contract, you are expected to get a chance to work through some things and figure yourself out. Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, all these guys never figured their stuff out until later on down the road. It’s the big leagues. It’s tough, man. For me, the biggest thing is I just need people to have my back. When that comes, it will be good. But, I think right now, it’s just staying with my play, understanding I’m working toward getting myself more consistent, understanding what kind of player I can be. If that’s going to be with another team, so be it.”

Wong went as far as to say that he’d rather be traded than play as part of a platoon.

“One hundred percent,” Wong said. “One hundred percent. I don’t want to be here wasting my time. I know what kind of player I am. If I don’t have the belief here, then I’ll go somewhere else.”

Prompted by the Post-Dispatch, Wong later clarified his comments, saying the platoon comments caught him off guard and prompted a rather visceral reaction that may have come across the wrong way.

“I’m not trying to sell my self to any other team,” Wong said. “My play speaks for itself and what kind of player I can be. I want to be that player for the Cardinals. If the worst-case scenario comes down, I understand there are a lot of good guys on this team right now. If it’s my time to get moved, it’s my time to get moved. But at the end of the day, I want to be a Cardinal. And that’s the most important thing.”

Wong looked like he was on the precipice of being a breakout star back in 2014, but his career, particularly at the plate, has failed to take off. Given his numbers, it’s hard to say he deserves better — and Cardinals brass might be unimpressed with his very public reaction to the possibility of losing some plate appearances.

QB Brandon Harris will transfer from LSU to North Carolina

Brandon Harris

Brandon Harris announced on Sunday that he has decided to transfer from LSU to North Carolina.

Harris is going to graduate from LSU this summer and become a graduate transfer so he can play in the fall for the Tar Heels.

Harris was also being recruited by Texas and Arizona. He was LSU’s starting quarterback as a sophomore in 2015 but lost his job early last season to Danny Etling. Harris has thrown for 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions during his career.

One thing Harris will have to figure out quickly is how to spell Tar Heels correctly, because he messed it up in his hashtag announcement.

Mike Tomlin admits Steelers have begun preparing for Ben Roethlisberger retirement

Ben Roethlisberger

Ben Roethlisberger may not retire this offseason, but the day that the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback walks away from the NFL is coming, and the team knows it.

Coach Mike Tomlin admitted in an interview with NFL Network’s Judy Battista that the organization has devoted some thought to what will happen when Roethlisberger hangs them up.

“I think we’ve been in that mindset for the last several years, that’s what this business tells us to be in,” Tomlin said, via NFL.com’s Jeremy Bergman. “We better start sharpening our sword in terms of evaluation of quarterbacks and what’s available to us or potentially available to us, that’s just due diligence. So yes, we have.

“I think because of his durability and how he plays, I don’t know that we have that level of urgency, but we are talking ourselves mentally through the process. Not an easy one, obviously, but it is what it is. It’s an element of the business. Guys can’t play forever and he acknowledges that and we acknowledge that.”

Roethlisberger hasn’t actually committed to playing in 2017, though indications are that he will. Big Ben is basically going year-to-year at this point. The Steelers don’t have an heir apparent on the roster, either. It’s probably time to consider how they’ll cope when he’s gone.

Bills reporter: ‘Only a matter of time’ before GM Doug Whaley is fired

The Buffalo Bills decided to retain general manager Doug Whaley this offseason after they fired head coach Rex Ryan, whom the GM was responsible for hiring. However, there could still be an expiration date on Whaley’s time with the team.

Jerry Sullivan of the Buffalo News published a column on Saturday in which he said that Whaley is destined to be fired as Bills GM and might as well resign. Sullivan outlined all the ways which Whaley has lost power within the organization.

For example, the team retained quarterback Tyrod Taylor when it looked like they were going to let him go, and they got rid of many of Whaley’s favorites. They also are not really letting Whaley speak with the media or represent the club. He won’t even be speaking at a pre-draft luncheon, which used to be the GM’s turf.

Instead, much of the personnel control Whaley used to have apparently belongs to new head coach Sean McDermott, who likely accepted the job under those conditions.

Many of these issues seem to mirror what happened between Washington and Scot McCloughan before he was eventually fired. As soon as a team stops letting a GM represent the team to the media, you know they’ve lost a lot of power.

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