No ‘TNF’ tonight | How the rise of the Grizzlies shocked the Lakers, and an injury shocked the Cavaliers

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Good Thursday morning everyone! For many of you, this is your last day on the job of 2021, so well done. And for those of you who still have a few days to go, you have it! The college football qualifying semifinals await.

Let’s get right to the point in today’s CBS Sports HQ AM Edition newsletter (sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every morning).

Hello everyone, but especially to …

JA MORANT AND THE MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES

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the Memphis Grizzly are going from being a cute story to a very, very good team right in front of our eyes, and if you needed more proof, you’ve got it this week.

On Monday they went to Phoenix and beat the Suns – one of the best teams in the league – on a winner of Ja Morant. On Wednesday, Morant did even better: 41 points and 10 rebounds in a 104-99 comeback victory over the Lakers. Memphis is now 22-14 this season, good for fourth place in the Western Conference.

And Morant once again shows why he deserves to be mentioned as one of the league’s most exciting young talents. Although the Grizzlies went 10-2 as Morant was sidelined with a sprained knee and their defense this season has been better when off the ground, Morant takes Memphis to a whole new level.

While Monday’s performance didn’t make it clear, Wednesday’s certainly did. Morant nailed a career record six to 3 points out of seven attempts, and his Three career 40-point games are now the most important in franchise history. It’s no wonder he’s up there with the game’s biggest stars on Brad Botkin’s NBA Star Power Index.

But success isn’t just down to Morant, as that 10-2 streak without him proved:

Honorable mentions:

And not so good morning for …

RICKY RUBIO AND THE CAVALIERS OF CLEVELAND

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The last 20 seasons of Riders basketball can pretty much be summed up in the good (with LeBron James) and bad (without LeBron James).

That was, until this year. Cleveland is 20-14 – their best start to a season without LeBron since 1997-98 – and fifth in the Eastern Conference. Wednesday, however, brought some bad news: Ricky Rubio is out for the rest of the season with a ripped ACL.

Now, if you haven’t paid much attention to the Cavs, that might not seem like a big deal. You would be wrong.

When Rubio was on the field this year, Cleveland outscored opponents by 9.1 points per 100 possessions, compared to 2.4 points when off the field. The Rubio-Darius garland Tandem was among the most efficient backcourts in the NBA.

The Cavaliers will still sport a formidable defense without Rubio, and they have the easiest regular-season schedule left, but this dramatically lowers their playoff cap, writes NBA reporter Colin Ward-Henninger:

  • Ward Henninger: β€œIf we thought of this version of the Cavs as a potential first-round playoff winner, their chances have probably just taken a big hit with Rubio’s injury. His NBA playoff experience, as well as countless battles as a member of the Spanish national team, give Rubio a level of balance and poise that would have been essential for a team whose best players have never seen the playoffs. “

Not so honorable mention:

Why the four CFP teams could win 🏈

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We’re one day away from the semifinals of the college football playoffs, and I’m excited. So many scenarios. Can Alabama repeat? Can Cincinnati hang on with the Crimson Tide? Was Georgia’s resounding SEC championship loss a sign of things to come? Does Michigan have enough offense against the Bulldog’s dominant defense?

Lucky for you, we’ve covered how each of the four teams can win it all. Let’s start with n Β° 1 Alabama, and why college football journalist Chip Patterson thinks Nick Saban’s side to win another title trophy.

  • Patterson: “No player from any of the four college football playoff teams can have an individual impact on a game like the Alabama quarterback Bryce Young. The 2021 Heisman Trophy winner became the nation’s most outstanding player thanks to his production suit throughout the season and his performances when the Crimson Tide season was on the line. “

Of course, the first step for Alabama to win it all is to win their semi-final game against No.4. Cincinnati. The Undefeated Bearcats pose a unique threat in themselves, writes Shehan Jeyarajah:

  • Jeyarajah: β€œGeorgia are the known team for defense, but Cincinnati have the best overall pass defense in the playoffs.… Projected NFL first-round pick Ahmad Gardner has allowed just 17 catches all season, keeping all receivers to just 117 total yards and no touchdowns with three interceptions. His counterpart, Coby bryant, won the Thorpe Prize. “

As for the Orange Bowl, Tom Fornelli pleads for the No. 2 Michigan and his exceptional pass rush:

  • Fornelli: “The presence of [Aidan] Hutchinson and [David] Ojabo allows Michigan to put pressure on the quarterbacks without blitzing, which is a huge advantage. In turn, first-year defensive coordinator Mike MacDonald is free to mix up his blankets and disguise his blitzes. All this leads the opposing quarterbacks to have difficulty reading the defense before the snap and therefore to have even less time to diagnose things after the snap. “

But n Β° 3 Georgia defense still reigns supreme and could carry the Bulldogs to the title, explains David Cobb:

  • Cobb: “The mastodons of the interior Jordan Davis, Jalen Carter and Devonte wyatt all weigh over 300 pounds and are among the best runners in the country. .. Georgia will wreak havoc up front against a Michigan team that is not used to blocking such disruptive players. “

You can get a full dive on both semi-final matches via the Cover the super preview of Podcast 3 here.

NFL Playoff Photo + Fantasy Tips 🏈

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While there is no NFL game tonight (the first Thursday without an NFL since early September), you could spend your free time trying to figure out the NFL Playoff Photo.

Lucky for you (and me), like every week, SportsLine.com’s Stephen Oh ran the numbers to project the field for the playoffs, and NFL expert John Breech got it all, including a tight race for third place AFC Wild Card:

  • Cylinder head: AFC Wild Card 3: Chargers – If the computer malfunctions before the end of the season, it will be because it tries to determine who gets the last wild card spot in the AFC. At the moment, the race is at the Chargers, Raiders, Crows and dolphins. According to the computer, the Chargers have 31.4% of entries making them the small favorite, but the Ravens (26.6%), Raiders (24.3%) and Dolphins (19%) are all within striking distance.

Meanwhile, the penultimate week of the year probably also means your fantastic league week, and if you made it:

  • I’m jealous.
  • You need fantasy expert Jamey Eisenberg Start them up, sit down.
  • What we’re watching Thursday πŸ“Ί

    🏈 Duke’s Mayo Bowl: North Carolina (-10) vs South Carolina, 11:30 am on ESPN
    🏈 Music City Bowl: Tennessee (-6) vs Purdue, 3 p.m. on ESPN
    πŸ€ 76ers with nets (-5), 7 p.m. on NBA TV
    🏈 Peach Bowl: No.12 Pittsburgh vs. No.10 Michigan State (-2.5), 7 p.m. on ESPN
    Warriors (-5.5) at the Nuggets, 9:30 p.m. on NBA TV

    Head over to SportsLine for the latest expert picks on these games and more.

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