Good morning, I’m Dan Gartland. Before we get started, just take a moment to appreciate how unfathomable Wisconsin’s collapse in the men’s NIT semifinals last night was.
In today’s SI:AM:
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It all comes down to this
If the Lakers are going to reach the postseason, they’re going to have to keep their heads above water during a long road trip here in the final weeks of the season.
The Lakers are 11–6 since Feb. 15 and during that time have risen from 13th in the Western Conference standings to ninth. If the regular season ended today, Los Angeles would have a spot in the play-in tournament and have to win two games to earn the No. 8 seed.
The Lakers are really walking a tightrope, though. At 37–38, they’re just a half game behind the Pelicans for eighth place (which would give them a better chance of reaching the first-round via the play-in), but they’re also just a half game ahead of the 11th-place Mavericks and therefore at risk of missing the postseason entirely. It’s a delicate situation and one that will likely be decided during a road trip that begins tonight in Chicago.
Tonight’s game against the Bulls marks the start of a five-game road trip, followed by games against the Timberwolves, Rockets and Jazz. The fifth game is only nominally a road game, since it’s against the Clippers in Los Angeles. The Lakers have seven games left this season, five of them on the road and four of them against teams currently in playoff position. Continuing their winning ways won’t be easy, but their playoff hopes depend on it.
The remarkable thing about the Lakers’ recent hot streak is that they’ve been winning without LeBron James. Until he returned for Sunday’s game against the Bulls, James had been sidelined due to a foot injury since Feb. 26. But while he was out, the Lakers went 8–5, mostly thanks to the excellent play of Anthony Davis, who averaged 27.3 points and 12.8 rebounds per game during that stretch. While James was able to be on the floor for the Lakers on Sunday, it isn’t full steam ahead for the 38-year-old. He’s still listed as questionable for tonight’s game.
This season (and really the past three seasons) has been a major disappointment for the Lakers. A team led by LeBron and AD should be contending for a championship, not fighting to get into the play-in tournament. But these last seven games will be fun to watch. LeBron is at his best when the stakes are highest, and now he has a chance to put the team on his back in meaningful games.
The Lakers have been the biggest beneficiaries of the Mavericks’ recent slide. Dallas has lost 12 of its last 18 and has fallen from fourth in the West all the way to 11th. After reaching the Western Conference finals last season, the Mavs are in serious danger of missing the postseason entirely this year. That’s thanks to some really questionable roster-building decisions, Chris Herring explains. During the offseason, the Mavs made the decision to let Jalen Brunson leave in free agency. While Brunson has flourished with the Knicks, Dallas then decided to trade two key players—Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith—in exchange for Kyrie Irving. The experiment of pairing Irving with Luka Dončić “simply hasn’t worked,” Herring writes. The Mavs are 8–13 since the trade and 4–8 in games where Dončić and Irving have shared the floor. It’s been a disaster.
It’s not over for the Mavericks, who are in the middle of their own tough road swing right now that continues with a game against the Sixers tonight in Philadelphia. They could still work their way back into the play-in tournament over what promises to be a wild finish to the season in the West. The 11th-place Mavs and fourth-place Suns are separated by only 3.5 games in the standings. Between now and the final day of the season on April 9, the playoff picture is going to change dramatically. No one is safe.
The best of Sports Illustrated
- In today’s Daily Cover, Jon Wertheim examines the difficult choice facing the WTA as the status of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai remains unclear.
- Now that NFL players are allowed to wear No. 0, Gilberto Manzano has a list of one player from each team that should switch to the newly legal jersey number.
- Ross Dellenger spoke with Hugh Freeze about the high (self-imposed) expectations the new Auburn football coach has in his return to the SEC.
- Jimmy Traina answered some sports media questions from readers, including the future of Bill Raftery and Grant Hill on CBS’s March Madness broadcasts.
- Kevin Durant is expected to return for the Suns tonight.
- Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade are reportedly among those who will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame this summer.
- Patrick Mahomes isn’t happy with the changes the NFL made to Thursday Night Football.
- Giants owner John Mara also spoke out against another proposed TNF policy.
- Two prospective owners have reportedly submitted bids to buy the Commanders.
- With MLB Opening Day tomorrow, these are the hottest tickets around the league.
The top five...
… things I saw last night:
5. P.J. Washington’s career-high 43 points for the Hornets.
4. Sharks goalie James Reimer’s impressive stick save.
3. Yankees rookie Anthony Volpe’s diving stop at shortstop.
2. This diving catch by Clemson softball shortstop Alia Logoleo.
1. Predators winger Luke Evangelista’s frantic goal line save.
On this day in 1996, the newly relocated Baltimore NFL franchise team announced it would be known as the Ravens. Which two of the following names were also finalists?
Yesterday’s SIQ: Before the NCAA began sponsoring a women’s basketball championship, the national champion was decided through a tournament administered by the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women. Which two schools won the most AIAW championships?
- Delta State and Immaculata
- Queens College and Old Dominion
- Cal State Fullerton and UCLA
- Southern Connecticut and Utah State
Answer: Delta State and Immaculata. Both schools won three titles in a row. Immaculata, a small Catholic school outside Philadelphia that at the time enrolled only women, won the first three AIAW tournaments, from 1972 to ’74. The Mighty Macs now compete in Division III. Delta State, located in Cleveland, Miss., won three straight from ’75 to ’77 and then won three NCAA D-II championships in four years, from ’89 to ’92.
Delta State was led by Lusia Harris, the women’s basketball pioneer who was the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary. During their first two championship seasons, the Lady Statesmen went 61–1, with the lone loss coming against Immaculata. The 6'3" Harris was the star, but Delta State also had a 4'11" point guard named Debbie Brock who “saved four games with her razzle-dazzle ball handling,” Nancy Williamson wrote in Sports Illustrated’s 1976 women’s basketball preview.
Only after AIAW schools proved that women’s basketball could attract big audiences did the NCAA become interested in sponsoring women’s championships. Immaculata played a big role in showing just how popular women’s sports could be. On Feb. 22, 1975, the Mighty Macs faced Queens College in the first women’s basketball game to be played at Madison Square Garden. The game attracted 11,969 fans.
(For more on the tug-of-war between the AIAW and NCAA, check out Mark Bechtel’s Daily Cover story from last year.)