Damian Lillard leads the charge for Bucks; road playoff teams reeling; Reddick takes wild finish at Talladega

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🏀 Good morning to everyone but especially to …

With Giannis Antetokounmpo out with a strained calf, the buck stopped with Damian Lillard in Milwaukee as the 2024 NBA playoffs began. On Sunday, Lillard set the tone in the Bucks’ 109-94 Game 1 win over the Pacers.

Upset-minded Indiana came into Fiserv Forum hoping to catch the host Bucks without their two-time MVP in the lineup. However, Lillard made sure those dreams were dashed rather quickly. Lillard exploded for 35 points in the first half and helped Milwaukee take a 17-point lead into the locker room at intermission.

After scoring 19 points in the first frame, Lillard walked off the court telling the crowd, “This is what y’all brought me here for.” Indeed. Lillard would end the first half with 35 points, setting a franchise playoff record, but he went scoreless in the second half. But it didn’t matter — the Bucks nursed their 69-42 halftime lead to the easy win.

The Bucks are hopeful that Antetokounmpo can return at some point in the playoffs, but if Lillard keeps throwing up nearly three dozen points in the first half, the 2021 Finals MVP can take his time.

👍 Honorable mentions
Nelly Korda, the No. 1 women’s golfer in the world, tied an LPGA record with five straight wins.
Scottie Scheffler is poised to make it four victories in his last five tournaments with a five-stroke lead at the RBC Heritage.
Deion Sanders and Colorado landed former Pittsburgh DE Dayon Hayes out of the NCAA Transfer Portal.
🏀 🏒 And not such a good morning for …
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They say home is where the heart is, and it’s apparently where all the wins are too. This weekend’s series openers in the NBA and NHL playoffs led to a 0-14 mark for the road teams.

In the NBA, road teams went 0-8 and suffered an average margin of defeat of 13.3 points. With a chance to take a 1-0 series lead over the Kawhi Leonard-less Clippers, the Mavericks laid an egg in a 109-97 loss. Oddly, the closest NBA game of the weekend saw the No. 8 seed Pelicans, without Zion Williamson, take the top-seeded Thunder down to the wire. CJ McCollum missed a three-pointer at the buzzer that would have given New Orleans a stunning Game 1 win.

In the NHL, the road teams were generally more competitive, but the results were the same. Visiting clubs scored a combined 13 goals on the weekend, and six of those came in a losing effort by the Avalanche. But perhaps the most discouraging performance was that of the great Alex Ovechkin, who failed to register so much as a shot on goal against the Rangers in the Captials’ 4-1 loss.

All those road teams have now dug themselves an early postseason hole, and they may want to consider asking the hotel for some new sheets or softer pillows.

👎 Not so honorable mentions
Injuries keep mounting for the Red Sox with slugger Tristan Cases now landing on the 10-day IL.
Aaron Judge went 1 for 4 with two strikeouts against the Rays, continuing his awful start to the season.
A possible Rockies walk-off home run was called back due to fan interference (but they would go on to win the game anyway).
🏎 Reddick wins amid chaotic finish at Talladega
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NASCAR was in Talladega for the GEICO 500 on Sunday, and the marquee race didn’t disappoint. The entire race was turned on its head on the final lap, and Tyler Reddick was able to steal the sixth win of his Cup career with mayhem unfolding around him.

On the final lap, race leader Michael McDowell was facing some serious pressure from Brad Keselowski, and he was desperate to remain in front of the pack. Unfortunately, that desperation cost those two drivers and a few others who were jockeying for position down the stretch.

McDowell went from high to low as he tried to block Keselowski and keep him in his rearview mirror when Keselowski’s No. 6 car clipped the back of McDowell’s No. 34. McDowell went spinning out, chaos ensued and Reddick capitalized. With cars flailing all around him, Reddick’s No. 45 car emerged from the pack unscatched. Reddick hit the accelerator and blew by Keselowski at the last second to pick up a big win for himself and 23XI racing.

Reddick was among the 23 different drivers to hold a lead at some point during the GEICO 500.
Reddick’s late push represented the 72nd and final lead change of the day.
This is the second consecutive Talladega race in which there were 70 or more lead changes.
The legend himself, Michael Jordan, was in attendance for one of his team’s wins for the first time.

As for McDowell, it was a frustrating finish for him after leading more laps than any other driver (36). His six points in the Cup standings are little consolation for a devastating last lap.

⚾ Ohtani passes Matsui in MLB record books
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As it turns out, Shohei Ohtani is pretty good at hitting the baseball a long way. On Sunday, Ohtani became the most prolific Japanese slugger in MLB history, passing former Yankees outfielder Hideki Matsui in the process.

In the third inning of the Dodgers’ 10-0 drubbing of the Mets, Ohtani hammered his fifth home run of the season off Adrian Houser into the right field bleachers at Dodger Stadium.

That was the 176th home run of Ohtani’s MLB career, and that set the record for the most homers hit by a Japanese-born player in MLB history. That pushed him past Matsui, who smacked 175 dingers in his 10-year career.

To make Ohtani’s historic feat even more impressive, he needed roughly 60% of the plate appearances as Matsui to hit 176 homers. Matsui hit 175 round-trippers in 5,066 plate appearances. Ohtani needed just 2,979 plate appearances to pass him.

Oddly enough, Ohtani’s five home runs this season put him second all-time among Japanese-born Dodgers. The person he’s chasing down? His manager, Dave Roberts, who hit seven career home runs in 302 games with the Dodgers.

⚾ Separating contenders from pretenders in MLB
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The MLB season is still young, and everyone is still trying to separate the pretenders from the contenders. That’s the case with the Guardians, a team that has some skeptics despite its 16-6 record.

In his latest CBS Sports MLB Power Rankings, Matt Snyder reluctantly placed the Guardians in the top five, despite his doubts about their personnel. Snyder explains his questions about Cleveland’s resume, which doesn’t exactly include many wins against murderer’s row.

Snyder: “First off, they are 6-1 against the A’s. I know the A’s aren’t as atrocious as last year, but they aren’t a good baseball team, either. The Guardians are also 2-1 against the hapless White Sox, meaning half of their wins are against two of the worst teams in baseball.”
With 140 games left this season, there is still plenty of time for the Guardians to show that they really do belong on this list. But, for now, their hot start has given them a spot in our weekly top five:

Atlanta Braves (14-6)
Baltimore Orioles (15-7)
New York Yankees (15-7)
Philadelphia Phillies (14-8)
Cleveland Guardians (16-6)
📺 What we’re watching Monday
🏀 Game 2: Magic at Cavaliers, 7 p.m. on NBA TV
🏒 Game 2: Maple Leafs at Bruins, 7 p.m. on ESPN
🏀 Game 2: 76ers at Knicks, 7:30 p.m. on TNT
🏒 Game 2: Islanders at Hurricanes, 7:30 p.m. on ESPN2
🏒 Game 1: Golden Knights at Stars, 9:30 p.m. on ESPN
⚾️ Mets at Giants, 9:45 p.m. on ESPN+
🏀 Game 2: Lakers at Nuggets, 10 p.m. on TNT
🏒 Game 1: Kings at Oilers, 10 p.m. on ESPN2

Can Knicks go up 2-0 vs. 76ers? Will Lakers guard struggle again?

Now that the 2024 NBA postseason has begun, the basketball betting market is hotter than ever. CBS Sports will be providing daily picks for the duration of the postseason. Sam Quinn will make at least one pick for every game between now and the NBA Finals.

Orlando Magic at Cleveland Cavaliers
I was excited to hammer the under again in this series, and truthfully, you could probably justify under bets in every game these two teams play. But aside from the fact that doing so would be boring, the line dropped five points between Games 1 and 2. I’d still advocate the play, and would do so at any total until it drops down into the 195-point range, but for now, let’s turn our attention to an individual player. Georges Niang shot 1-of-7 from the floor and 0-of-4 from deep. He’s in the game to make 3s. The Cavaliers have a better version of that player in Sam Merrill. He’s smaller, but Orlando’s offense is so inept that the Cavs can stomach his defense. Niang played 24 minutes and 42 seconds in Game 1, the highest total of his playoff career. His minutes tend to go down as series progress because his weaknesses are relatively simple to game-plan against. I’m expecting more Merrill minutes and fewer Niang minutes. The Pick: Niang Under 1.5 3’s

Philadelphia 76ers at New York Knicks
The 76ers were +14 with Joel Embiid in the game on Saturday and -21 when he sat. That’s basically the story of every playoff series he plays in (go back to the 2019 Toronto series if you want to see the most horrifying plus-minus splits you can possibly imagine). Embiid is currently listed as questionable. He’ll probably play just given the moment. But if you watched him play in the second half on Saturday at all, you know he’s physically compromised. Until I have reason to believe he’s healthy, I’m picking the Knicks in every game of this series. He is simply too important to every facet of 76ers basketball to bet on in his current state, and it does not help matters that Tyrese Maxey is listed as questionable with an illness. The Pick: Knicks -5.5

Looking for more NBA insight? Alex Selesnick is SportsLine’s No. 1 NBA expert, and he’ll be choosing his favorite picks all postseason long. Check them out here.

Los Angeles Lakers at Denver Nuggets
I picked D’Angelo Russell to go under 15.5 points in Game 1. He attempted 20 shots… and still went under. Russell has played seven games against the Nuggets as a Laker and has reached 16 points only once, in a regular-season game in which he scored 17. He is averaging 7.6 points on 31/13/75 shooting in five playoff games against the Nuggets. This isn’t his matchup. It’s obvious to everyone who watches the games. Lakers coach Darvin Ham vowed not to turn away from a key player after one bad shooting game, but remember, he benched Russell in last year’s Denver series. I’m going to keep taking this under until it either drops or Russell hits an over. There’s just too much evidence suggesting he can’t score on the Nuggets in the playoffs. The Pick: Russell under 15.5 Points

French star Zaccharie Risacher, the potential No. 1 pick, officially enters

French prospect Zaccharie Risacher, a 19-year-old forward prospect who is a viable candidate to be drafted No. 1 overall in this summer’s NBA Draft, filed paperwork on Monday to formally make himself available for selection later this summer, he told ESPN. Risacher is enjoying a breakout season playing for JL Bourg in the Pro A after leaving ASVEL on loan last year.

Risacher left ASVEL and a smaller role to play for a smaller team in the Pro A in a bigger role and has as a result flourished in JL Bourg’s system. He has Bourg sitting at third in the Pro A standings and the team has done well in EuroCup play, too, reaching the EuroCup finals while averaging 13.1 points and 3.6 rebounds per game while shooting 56.1% from 3-point range on 57 attempts.

The trajectory of Risacher is similar to that of fellow Frenchman, Victor Wembanyama, who left ASVEL in 2022 to join Mets 92 in the Pro A. Wembanyama thrived in a system custom-fitted around him with Mets 92 and enjoyed a gigantic role, where he went on to win league MVP before becoming the No. 1 pick to the San Antonio Spurs last summer.

Risacher prjects to go high
In a 2024 NBA Draft class that is wide-open at the top with no clear No. 1, Risacher has floated at or near the top of projections for the better part of the last year. At 6-foot-10 with a long frame, smooth athleticism and an improved outside shot, he profiles as a jumbo wing at the NBA level who can defend multiple positions and be a reliable shooter with room to grow into a bigger role as he develops.

in the 2024 NBA Draft Prospect Rankings from CBS Sports, Risacher currently sits at No. 2. That’s the sweet spot in the middle where Gary Parrish, who has him at No. 3, and myself, who has him at No. 1, put him in our latest mock drafts. Here’s what Parrish said about the French star in his latest mock:

Risacher could be the first or second player from France selected in this draft depending on how franchises at the top ultimately settle on their evaluations of him and Sarr. Either way, Risacher shouldn’t last long given that he’s a good-enough athlete to play either forward spot. Also worth noting: he’s shooting nearly 50% from 3-point range this season.

Risacher has struggled the last few weeks shooting the ball from distance, which this season has developed into one of his biggest selling points, but his production profile for a pro in France and his youth have thrust him in the mix as a likely top-five pick in June with a draft range starting at the very top of the board.