SI.com‚Äôs Ian Thomsen is convinced that only five teams can realistically win the NBA title including the Cleveland Cavaliers. ‚ÄúTheir critics used to dismiss the Cavs as a team of hype, but now they are substantially the favorites to beat in just about every area worth perusing,‚ÄĚ says Thomsen. ‚ÄúThey have earned the best record at home and on the road, and they have the best player in the world, who at 25 is approaching his peak.
They can draw from the unassailable experience of seven postseason series victories over the last four years, including the humbling losses (a 2008 Finals sweep by San Antonio, a conference finals loss last year to the lesser-seeded Magic) that define most champions.‚ÄĚ The Cavaliers-Bulls game highlights (all times Eastern) a busy sports schedule that includes a tripleheader of NHL playoff games:
-Bulls at Cavaliers (8 p.m., TNT)
LeBron James said the Cavaliers ‚Äúhave the look of a champion‚ÄĚ after its 96-83 victory in Game One of the Eastern Conference series. We'll see how they look tonight.
"Over the years we've seen many qualities in Kobe Bryant - immaturity, greatness, hubris, intelligence and killer instinct, to name but a few," writes SI.com‚Äôs Chris Ballard. "But not until recently have we seen vulnerability. Not mentally, mind you, but physically. And to be clear, we're talking about relative vulnerability, for Bryant remains one of the best athletes in the league. Still, it is there."
Which makes the Lakers first-round matchup against the upstart Thunder even more compelling because the series already includes Oklahoma star Kevin Durant, who this week became the youngest player in NBA history to win a scoring title. The NBA playoffs start Saturday (the Lakers-Thunder play Sunday) and with the NHL playoffs and baseball in full gear, it‚Äôs promises to be a busy weekend in sports. Here‚Äôs some highlights for Friday (All times Eastern):
-Inter Milan at Juventus (2:45 PM)
The Derby d'Italia offers plenty of drama: Inter (67) is one point behind Serie A leaders Roma with five games remaining while Juventus sits in sixth place with 51 points, three points behind fourth-place Palermo. Juventus defeated Inter 2-1 in a home game in December.
SI.com‚Äôs Michael Farber handed out his NHL awards this week and his pick for the league‚Äôs MVP was far from easy. ‚ÄúThere were three candidates I really couldn't separate - and even now I'm not sure that I nailed this,‚ÄĚ says Farber. ‚ÄúHenrik Sedin was exceptional, especially in his brother Daniel's early-season absence.
"And Sidney Crosby, who scored 51 goals, continues to amaze and delight. I never thought I'd see him have more goals but fewer assists than Alex Ovechkin, but there you go. The strict constructionists have a strong case that Crosby and both goalies were more valuable to their team than Ovechkin - this is the definition of the award - but then a goaltender might win every year. Although Ovechkin had a stronger supporting cast than Crosby, his role as the fulcrum on the NHL's best team and his superior play against teams outside the Little Sisters of the Poor - a.k.a. the Southeast Division - swung me to the left winger.‚ÄĚ The NHL playoffs begin Wednesday so today‚Äôs highlights (all times Eastern) feature some important regular-season games in basketball and soccer.
-Angels at Yankees (YES Network, 1PM)
If you hate the Yankees, turn away. The defending champions hand out World Series rings (white gold rings, with the interlocking ‚ÄúNY‚ÄĚ ) today as they make their home debut against Anaheim. Andy Pettitte (0-0) starts for New York while Ervin Santana pitches for Anaheim (0-1).
It has been an agonizing recent stretch for Phil Mickelson. His wife, Amy, and his mother, Mary, are battling breast cancer, and as Golf.com's Cameron Morfit reports, Mickelson has flown to Houston for treatments, even enlisting one of Amy‚Äôs doctors to caddie for him. Yesterday, with his family by his side at Augusta National, Mickelson won his third Masters title, defeating Lee Westwood by three strokes.
And what of Tiger Woods, who finished tied for fourth with K.J. Choi. "Woods wouldn't say where he'll play next ‚ÄĒ options include the Quail Hollow Championship in Charlotte, the flagship Players Championship at Sawgrass (where he last visited to perform his televised mea culpa), or the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio, in early June," says SI.com's Gary Van Sickle. "He would say only that he's taking some time off to re-evaluate things. What things? He didn't say." The sports world takes a breather after a busy weekend. Some highlights on what to check out today (all times Eastern).
Red Sox at Twins (ESPN, 4:00 PM)
Say hello to Target Field (and adios to the Metrodome) as outdoor baseball comes to Minneapolis today. The Twins' new outdoor ballpark, the 39,500-seat capacity Target Field, debuts today with Minnesota's Carl Pavano (1-0) facing Boston's Jon Lester (0-0).
To get you in the mood for Saturday‚Äôs Final Four games, SI.com tracked down assistant coaches from former opponents of each Final Four team, and asked them to share intel from their scouting reports. The NCAA Tournament semifinals highlight a busy weekend in sports. The highlights (all times Eastern):
-Chelsea at Manchester United (Saturday, 7:30 am, ESPN2)
The Premier League heavyweights meet Saturday at Old Trafford without a familiar face: Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney is out up to four weeks out after suffering minor ligament damage to his ankle. The news is much better at Chelsea, who have scored 12 goals in its last two games and now sit a point behind United at the top of the table. Chelsea star Dider Drogba, who sat out last weekend's 7-1 win over Aston Villa with a knee problem, has been declared fit for the game. Bad news for United.
-Butler vs. Michigan State (Saturday, 6:07 p.m, CBS)
With its campus just six miles from Lucas Oil Stadium and its underdog status amid the traditional basketball powers, Butler will be the choice of those without a rooting interest. ‚ÄúI really like the Bulldogs' poise and their belief in themselves,‚ÄĚ says SI.com‚Äôs Seth Davis. ‚ÄúSyracuse and Kansas State took the lead against Butler late in the game, but the Bulldogs never panicked. They never get away from what they do well. No matter who they play, they always seem to control the pace. Butler is a very tough-minded team. Gordon Hayward is a dynamic player and a very difficult matchup. Defensively, they force a bunch of turnovers without really pressing, which is difficult to do.‚ÄĚ Plenty of people have declared Michigan State‚Äôs Tom Izzo as the best coach in college basketball, including SI.com‚Äôs Andy Glockner. It should be a terrific game.
We've rarely seen a more brutal week in soccer, with Arsenal captain (and Spain star) Cesc Fabregas fearing a broken leg following a 2-2 Champions League quarterfinal draw against Barcelona and England star Wayne Rooney expected to be out for two to four weeks after spraining his ankle in the final moments of Bayern Munich 2-1 win over Manchester United's in the Champions League quarterfinal first leg. With most of European soccer resting today, soccer fans can get a fix tonight with a pair of MLS games, and sports fan also have plenty of other fare to choose from including the NIT Finals. Some highlights: (All times Eastern):
-NIT Finals: North Carolina vs. Dayton (ESPN, 7:00 p.m.)
No college basketball team has followed up an NCAA national championship with an NIT crown the next year but North Carolina is on the verge of creating some interesting history. "Let's be honest, this was not where we wanted to be," North Carolina coach Roy Williams told reporters Wednesday. "Everybody wanted to be in the NCAA tournament." Dayton has defeated Illinois State, Cincinnati, Illinois and Mississippi to earn its trip to the finals. The Flyers last won an NIT title in 1968; North Carolina won this title three years later.
Is Tom Izzo the best coach in college basketball? That‚Äôs the supposition of SI.com‚Äôs Andy Glockner, who makes the case for the Michigan State coach after Izzo led his sixth team to the Final Four. The Spartans are scheduled to leave Lansing about 3 p.m. today for Indianapolis for this weekend‚Äôs Final Four. But there‚Äôs plenty of sports to watch prior to this weekend, including a terrific soccer match in London today. Some highlights (all times Eastern):
–Champions League: Arsenal vs. Barcelona (Fox Soccer Channel, 2:45 p.m.)
The health of Arsenal star Cesc Fabregas is the biggest pregame story as defending champion Barcelona travel to London for the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals. Fabregas, a splendid midfielder for the Gunners, has 18 goals in 35 matches this season but might not play because of a knee injury. Barcelona is led by Argentine striker Lionel Messi, the European player of the year and the top scorer in the Spanish League
For those who can‚Äôt wait until Saturday for the Final Four, we give you tonight‚Äôs NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden. Remarkably, one of the games includes last year‚Äôs NCAA champion North Carolina who will face Rhode Island in the late game. Tonight‚Äôs basketballpalooza (all times Eastern) also include a pair of women‚Äôs Elite Eight games.
-NIT semifinals: Dayton vs. Mississippi (7:00 pm, ESPN)
The Flyers have turned around a disappointing season (they were preseason favorites to win the Atlantic 10) with a nice run in the NIT, which they last won in 1968. Ole Miss squeaked by Texas Tech in two overtimes and are led by junior guard Chris Warren.
With a determined effort over a gritty Baylor team yesterday, the Duke men‚Äôs basketball team advanced to the Final Four for the first time since 2004. As SI.com‚Äôs Andy Staples points out, the oldest of the Blue Devils were sophomores in high school the last time Duke cut down nets after a region final.‚ÄĚ The Duke women have enjoyed more recent success ‚Äď they lost in the national championship game in 2006 ‚Äď and can earn another berth in the Final Four with a win over (yes, you guessed it) Baylor. A pair of women‚Äôs Elite Eight games highlight a full day in sports (all times Eastern):
-No. 4 Baylor vs. No. 2 Duke (ESPN, 7:00 p.m.)
The next great star in the women‚Äôs game is Baylor freshman center Brittney Griner, who scored 27 points and blocked 10 shots in leading the fourth-seeded Bears to a 77-62 win over top-seeded Tennessee.¬† Duke is led by junior guard Jasmine Thomas who matched her career-high with 29 points and finished with five rebounds, six assists and five steals in a win over San Diego State. The winner has a date with Connecticut (barring a stunning loss to Florida State on Tuesday).
Four more teams will advance to the Elite Eight tonight, and SI.com's Seth Davis weighs in below with what to expect. The highlights (all times Eastern):
-No. 6 Tennessee vs. No. 2 Ohio State (7:07 PM, CBS) Says Davis: "There was a very unusual stat in the first half of the Buckeyes' second-round game against Georgia Tech: Evan Turner took 15 shots in the first 20 minutes. That is very unlike him, and unlike Ohio State. This team has excellent offensive balance, and when Jon Diebler and William Buford get open looks they're almost impossible to defend. Turner took just four shots in the second half and Ohio State pulled away. Unlike Ohio U, the Buckeyes have a big man inside (Dallas Lauderdale) who can bang with Wayne Chism. I also don't think Tennessee will fare well against Ohio State's funky 1-3-1 zone."
SI.com's Seth Davis predicts a return to form for the higher seeds as the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament begins tonight. It promises to be an epic night of sports, including the 2010 debut of Major League Soccer. The highlights (all times Eastern):
(7:07 PM, CBS) Says Davis: "If you like smart, fundamental, efficient, team-oriented offensive basketball, this game is for you. Still, I think Butler is going to be a little overwhelmed. The Bulldogs have done well to win 21 straight games, but they didn't do much outside the Horizon League."
-No. 5 Butler vs. No. 5 Syracuse
You‚Äôll have to wait one more day before your NCAA tournament jones is sated ‚Äď Sweet 16 play begins Thursday - but here‚Äôs something to tide you over in the interim: SI.com photo editors culled 50 years of NCAA tournament photos, featuring some of the most iconic images from the sport. Of course, there‚Äôs still plenty of basketball on Wednesday. The highlights (all times Eastern)
-Chelsea at Portsmouth (3:45 PM, Fox Soccer Channel) Chelsea's form has been brutal of late, including a loss to Manchester City, and draws at Portsmouth and Blackburn. Worst of all, they were knocked out by former coach Jose Mourinho and Inter Milan in the last 16 of the Champions League. It seems inconceivable that bottom-feeder Portsmouth could defeat the Blues but Chelsea has now slipped to third in the English standings after taking just four points from three games.
The second and third round of the NFL Draft is scheduled one month from today and SI‚Äôs Peter King says Florida quarterback Tim Tebow is going to find his next home on that fateful day. Says King: ‚ÄúI now think Tebow's going in the 28 to 45 range, to a team willing to be patient with him at quarterback and maybe to allow him to help the team in other ways immediately.‚ÄĚ You‚Äôll be inundated with mock football drafts soon enough but today‚Äôs sports highlights are strictly of the indoor variety as the NCAA women‚Äôs basketball tournament offers a big day of action. Some highlights (All times Eastern)
-Women‚Äôs Basketball: No. 8 Temple vs. No. 1 Connecticut (7:00 PM. ESPN/ESPN2/ESPN 360.com)
Here‚Äôs a chance to watch the most dominant team in sports: The University of Connecticut women‚Äôs basketball team has won 73 straight games, all by double figures, including its opening-round rout of Southern on Sunday. The most interesting subplot tonight involves Temple coach Tonya Cardoza, who led the Owls to a 25-8 record after spending the past decade as UConn coach Geno Auriemma‚Äôs assistant. The other games set to tip-off at this time include No. 6 Vanderbilt vs. No. 3 Xavier, No. 10 Vermont vs. No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 7 Mississippi State vs. No. 2 Ohio State.
You had a little bit of everything: dramatic finishes, Cinderella‚Äôs, terrific storylines and a lot of marquee teams still playing.¬† That‚Äôs how SI.com‚Äôs Seth Davis saw the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament and it‚Äôs hard to argue with him. ‚ÄúThere are some great upcoming games in the Sweet 16, and a number of brand-name teams: Syracuse, Michigan State, Ohio State, Tennessee, Kentucky and Duke,‚ÄĚ says Davis. ‚ÄúIt's close to an ideal mix for the Sweet 16.‚ÄĚ That mix includes 11 different conferences represented in the Sweet 16, as well as three double-digit seeds (Cornell, St. Mary‚Äôs, Washington) and a No.9 (Northern Iowa). The NCAA Tournament continues on Thursday but there‚Äôs plenty of sports to enjoy on a busy Monday. The highlights (all times Eastern):
-Yankees vs. Phillies (1:00 PM, ESPN)¬† Last year‚Äôs World Series representatives seemed poised for another big year. A.J. Burnett will start today for the Yankees but look for Phil Hughes to get work as well. Hughes is competing for the final rotation spot for the depending champs. Cole Hamels, Danys Baez, Ryan Madson and David Herndon are scheduled to pitch against the Yankees.
Cinderella arrived early at the NCAA Tournament, with No. 14 Ohio knocking off No. 3 Georgetown and No. 13 Murray State shocking No. 4 Vanderbilt. Lower seeds won an incredible 7 of the 16 games and five double-digit seeds pulled off upsets. There‚Äôs another 16 games scheduled for Friday including the debuts of Duke and Kansas. The highlights (all times Eastern). See SI.com's full coverage of the tournament.
Cornell at Temple (12:30 pm, CBS) It‚Äôs one of the more delicious opening-round matchups because plenty of people ‚Äď including the President of the United States - have picked the lower-seeded Ivy League champs to advance. The interesting subplot involves the coaches: Cornell coach Steve Donahue spent 10 years under Temple coach Fran Dunphy when both were coaching at Penn. The Big Red is the deadliest three-point shooting team (.434 percent) and senior Ryan Wittman has made an Ivy League-record 368 of them during his career. Temple is third in the nation in 3-point defense (.28.1 percent) and scoring defense at 56.1 per game.
It‚Äôs never overhyped. It never disappoints. It is, from start to finish, the best sporting event in America. So says SI.com‚Äôs Michael Rosenberg of the NCAA Tournament, and it‚Äôs a feeling shared by millions in America. The basketball holiday officially begins today at 12:15 p.m., with 16 opening-round games scheduled on Thursday. If your office is a little less productive today, this is likely the reason why. This presumes, of course, that they even made it into work. The highlights (All times Eastern):
St. Mary‚Äôs vs. Richmond (2:50 p.m., CBS) SI.com‚Äôs Andy Staples offers a scouting report: ‚ÄúRichmond doesn't look or play like a mid-major, and the Spiders could do some damage - if they can get past the Gaels. Richmond will force turnovers; the Spiders average 8.4 steals a game, and guard Kevin Anderson and forward Ryan Butler each racked up more than 50 steals this season. But if the Gaels can get the ball across midcourt, they can shoot their way to a win thanks to a 41.4 three-point percentage that ranks fourth in the nation. Guard Matthew Dellavedova leads the Gaels with 70 three-pointers made, but backcourt mate Mickey McConnell has made an astounding 67 of his 130 three-point attempts.‚ÄĚ
Relax. Rest up, people. Might as well enjoy your last 24 hours before the start of the NCAA Tournament. Plenty of sports to choose from today, including a Champions League match at Barcelona‚Äôs legendary Camp Nou. The highlights (all times Eastern):
- John Isner vs. Rafael Nadal, Round of 16, BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells (3 p.m.-7 p.m., FSN): Gorgeous contrast of styles here with the 6-foot-9, hard-serving American (he‚Äôs ranked No. 20 in the world) against the counter-punching legend-in-the-making lefty (Nadal is 6-foot-1, in case you were wondering.)¬† Isner has quietly become the second-highest ranked American behind Andy Roddick.
It lacks the mega-fanfare of Selection Sunday but tonight (7 p.m.) invitations get handed out for the NCAA women‚Äôs basketball tournament, the signature event on a light day in sports. Some other highlights: (all times Eastern).
Mario Ancic vs. Rafael Nadal, third round, BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells (3 p.m.-7 p.m., FSN): World No. 2 Nadal says he always feels at home at Indian Wells and faces the talented but struggling Croat with an interesting backstory: The 25-yar-old Ancic missed much of 2007 and 2008 being diagnosed with mononucleosis and used his time away to finish law school at the University of Split in Croatia. One thing to keep in mind: Nadal is just¬† 3-2 lifetime against Ancic.
NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Selection Show (7 p.m., ESPN): Might as well rename this The UConn Invitational. The Huskies have won 72 games in a row and it‚Äôs going to take a monumental effort to prevent then from cutting down the nets in San Antonio on April 6. The top four seeds will be UConn, Stanford, Tennessee and Nebraska.