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Saturday, September 21, 2019

Stories by Darryn Albert:

JaVale McGee excited for Dwight Howard pairing but still expects to start

JaVale McGee

JaVale McGee is not too worried about Dwight Howard’s arrival back in LA.

In an interview this week with Mike Bresnahan of Spectrum SportsNet, the Los Angeles Lakers center said that he was excited to be paired with the three-time Defensive Player of the Year but added that he still expects to start.

“I feel like [Dwight] is gonna fit great,” said McGee. “I feel like we have similar games, and the fact we can have a 1-2 punch right after each other, coming in after each other. I don’t think that’s gonna be real good for other teams at all … Two bigs that can defend the rim, run the floor, and dunk. So I’m excited.

“I started last year, so I mean, I wouldn’t expect anything less,” McGee added when asked about his expected role. “But it’s definitely not up to me, it’s up to the coach. But I don’t plan to show them anything other than I’m the starting center for the Lakers.”

Indeed, McGee, 31, started 62 games for the Lakers and put up averages of 12.0 points (a career-best), 7.5 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks per game. The 33-year-old Howard, meanwhile, averaged 16.6 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game in his last healthy season with Charlotte in 2017-18.

While the Lakers will be implementing a brand-new system under head coach Frank Vogel, McGee’s high-energy play seems like the better fit in the starting lineup next to LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Howard also has a much shorter leash than McGee, so the latter has even more reason to feel confident.

Ryan Fitzpatrick has admirable reaction to losing starting job to Josh Rosen

Ryan Fitzpatrick Conor McGregor

Instead of sulking about losing his job to a player nearly a decade-and-a-half his junior, Ryan Fitzpatrick is doing the exact opposite.

The Miami Dolphins quarterback, who was benched this week in favor of 22-year-old Josh Rosen, had a commendable reaction to the news, according to Joe Schad of the Palm Beach Post. The veteran signal caller reportedly reacted by getting Rosen up at a white board and starting to quiz him on protections.

The 36-year-old Fitzpatrick, who is in his 15th career season, had thrown for 274 yards with one touchdown to four interceptions in the first two games of 2019. He will now give way to the second-year Rosen, who is in his first season with the Dolphins.

Fitzpatrick has been part of QB battles for much of his career and is used to going back and forth from backup to starter, so this is nothing new to him. He also likely knew going into the season that Rosen would probably start at some point, which may have had a role in his positive reaction.

For all the memes that Fitzpatrick has inspired over the years, he definitely appears to have the character to back it up as well.

Suns open to playing Deandre Ayton at power forward

Deandre Ayton

Deandre Ayton could be returning to a role that he got acquainted with back in college.

In an interview this week with Lindsey Smith of “The Outlet,” Phoenix Suns general manager James Jones said that the team is open to playing the star big man at the power forward spot next season.

“This year we have — from Frank [Kaminsky], Dario [Saric], Cheick [Diallo] — we can play Deandre at power forward if we need to with Aron Baynes as our center,” he said. “We have a lot of depth at that position.”

Ayton, last year’s No. 1 overall pick, played exclusively at center last season and only attempted four three-pointers the entire year, missing all four. But he played power forward at the University of Arizona next to fellow seven-footer Dusan Ristic, shooting 34.3 percent from three (12-for-35) and 73.3 percent from the line during his time there.

The 21-year-old also has the length, foot speed, and instincts to hold his own at the 4 defensively, and it may help Ayton avoid some bad matchups.

Yankees had celebration prep ruined by Rays’ comeback win

New York Yankees

The New York Yankees will have to wait at least another day to celebrate their impending division title.

The AL East-best Yankees came entered play on Wednesday needing either a victory over the Los Angeles Angels or a loss by the Tampa Bay Rays to the NL-best Los Angeles Dodgers to officially clinch the division. Unfortunately, the Yankees could not take care of business and suffered a 3-2 defeat to the Angels several hours before the Rays-Dodgers game.

Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News reported that the Yankees spent three hours watching the latter game on the clubhouse television. Bryan Hoch of MLB.com even added that workers came out of the clubhouse at one point to get more plastic sheeting in anticipation of a celebration. Lo and behold though, the Rays rallied from a two-run deficit in the top of the ninth and pulled out the 8-7 win over the Dodgers in 11 innings.

The Yankees still seem likely to clinch the division crown, their first since 2012, when play resumes again on Thursday. However, between their failed celebration prep and the news that they just received, it hasn’t exactly been the best week for them.

Nick Young participating in minicamp with Rockets

Nick Young

The Houston Rockets will have a somewhat surprising name joining them for team activities this month.

Kelly Iko of The Athletic reported on Tuesday that veteran swingman Nick Young will be participating in Rockets minicamp in Las Vegas, along with former Rockets Terrence Jones and Luc Mbah a Moute.

The 34-year-old Young’s inclusion is particularly interesting, as he has not played any meaningful NBA minutes since his brief stint with the Golden State Warriors in 2017-18 netted him his first title. Young had a short cameo with the Denver Nuggets last season but was waived after just four games.

While it seems unlikely that an actual deal with the team will materialize out of Young’s attendance, maybe he can teach them a thing or two about fashion.

Alex Verdugo aiming for NLCS return

Alex Verdugo

Alex Verdugo has been out of commission for the last month-and-a-half, and he may still need another month or so to recover.

The Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder said on Tuesday that he is aiming for a return in the NLCS, per JP Hoornstra of the Southern California News Group.

Verdugo, the 23-year-old phenom, has not played since early August due to an oblique injury and subsequent back issue suffered at a recent rehab game.

The NLDS is scheduled to begin for the Dodgers in roughly two weeks on Oct. 3, but the team was not expecting Verdugo to be back by then anyway. Should the NL West winners advance beyond that, their NLCS would begin on Oct. 11, and that sounds like a more realistic timeframe for Verdugo’s return.

Mason Rudolph posts funny Rudy-themed tweet in wake of becoming Steelers starter

Mason Rudolph

Mason Rudolph is ready for his close-up.

The second-year QB had a hilarious tweet Monday comparing himself to Rudy Ruettiger in the wake of becoming the starter for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Rudolph, 24, is taking over under center now that veteran Ben Roethlisberger is out for the season with an elbow injury that could threaten his career. In his first game on Sunday, Rudolph completed 12-of-19 passes for 112 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in a narrow loss to Seattle.

Pittsburgh’s Week 3 matchup against an upstart San Francisco 49ers defense might pose a tougher test, but at least Rudolph is drawing some inspiration from a historically effective source for athletes.

Bam Adebayo to battle eating legend Takeru Kobayashi in cheeseburger contest

Miami Heat Sunset Vice jersey

Bam Adebayo is cultivating mass this summer, but not in the way that you might expect.

Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported on Monday that the Miami Heat center will compete against eating legend Takeru Kobayashi in a cheeseburger-eating contest in South Florida later this week.

The event, which is being promoted by BurgerFi and Feeding South Florida as part of Hunger Action Month, will pit Adebayo and several other celebrity eaters against Kobayashi. While all other competitors will only have to down six burgers, Kobayashi will need to put away 18 burgers in the five-minute contest. For each cheeseburger eaten, BurgerFi will donate $100 (up to $5,000) to Feeding South Florida.

The 22-year-old Adebayo, who clocks in at 6-foot-10 and 256 pounds, should be able to give the now-41-year-old Kobayashi, who measures 5-foot-8 and 128 pounds, a solid battle. A six-time Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest champion, Kobayashi has been noticeably missing from the stage for roughly the last decade, much to the chagrin of his fellow competitors. A matchup against Adebayo might be a nice consolation prize though.