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    Amir Khan, Manny Pacquiao Fight Agreement Reports Are 'Bulls--t,' Says Bob Arum


    Reports that Manny Pacquiao will take on Amir Khan in a fight to be staged in the UK are "total and complete bulls--t," according to Top Rank CEO Bob Arum.  Per Edward Chaykovsky of Boxing Scene, Filipino legend Pacquiao, 38, is set to meet Australian...

    Reports that Manny Pacquiao will take on Amir Khan in a fight to be staged in the UK are "total and complete bulls--t," according to Top Rank CEO Bob Arum. 

    Per Edward Chaykovsky of Boxing Scene, Filipino legend Pacquiao, 38, is set to meet Australian Jeff Horn in his next bout, and Arum told the Courier-Mail the links to Khan were not true: "The Amir Khan story has come out of nowhere. It is total and complete bulls--t."

    The Times' Ron Lewis reported that "terms for the contest were agreed" between eight-division champion Pacquiao and 30-year-old Brit Khan.

    More to follow.

    Sutton United's Paul Doswell Slams 'Idiots' After Fans Invade Pitch vs. Arsenal

    Sutton United's Paul Doswell Slams 'Idiots' After Fans Invade Pitch vs. Arsenal


    Sutton United manager Paul Doswell condemned the fans who invaded the Gander Green Lane pitch after Arsenal's 2-0 win in the FA Cup fifth round on Monday as "absolute idiots."  Supporters went onto the pitch after the Gunners booked their place in the...

    Sutton United manager Paul Doswell condemned the fans who invaded the Gander Green Lane pitch after Arsenal's 2-0 win in the FA Cup fifth round on Monday as "absolute idiots." 

    Supporters went onto the pitch after the Gunners booked their place in the quarter-finals thanks to goals from Lucas Perez and Theo Walcott. During the melee a bottle was thrown at Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, per the Non-League Paper's Sam Elliott:

    Dowsell insisted whoever threw the bottle "would not be a Sutton fan" and slammed those involved in skirmishes as fans ran onto the pitch at the final whistle, per Jason Burt in the Telegraph: "It disappointed me at the end. They don’t support Sutton. You know that and I know that. Absolute idiots."

    Wenger confirmed that a bottle had indeed been thrown in his direction, per Burt: "I don’t know if it was at me or someone else or the referee but there was a bottle thrown, yes."

    The defeat for Sutton brought an end to a fine run in the FA Cup for a side 17th in the National League table.

    They qualified for the last 16 by beating Championship side Leeds United having also seen off AFC Wimbledon in the third round.

    The south London outfit were looking to repeat the giant-killing heroics of fellow National League side Lincoln City—who beat Burnley to reach the quarter-finals—against Arsenal but were eventually knocked out.

    Sutton put in a fine performance, though, and notwithstanding the various incidents after the final whistle, they bowed out of the competition on a high, per BBC Match of the Day:

    Arsenal now face Lincoln in the last eight at the Emirates Stadium, a fixture they will be wary of given the Imps' victory against Burnley at Turf Moor.

    However, it would be arguably the biggest FA Cup shock of all time should the Gunners not reach the semi-finals, and Wenger's side look in a good position to win the trophy again this season.

    Arsene Wenger Comments on Arsenal's FA Cup Win over 'Astonishing' Sutton United

    Arsene Wenger Comments on Arsenal's FA Cup Win over 'Astonishing' Sutton United


    Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger admitted he did not enjoy his side's 2-0 FA Cup defeat of Sutton United on Monday and revealed he would never manage in non-league "because it is too difficult."  Following a turbulent week in which Wenger came under huge...

    Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger admitted he did not enjoy his side's 2-0 FA Cup defeat of Sutton United on Monday and revealed he would never manage in non-league "because it is too difficult." 

    Following a turbulent week in which Wenger came under huge pressure following a 5-1 defeat to Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League, Lucas Perez and Theo Walcott prevented things getting any worse by netting either side of half-time to earn Arsenal a spot in the quarter-finals.

    The Gunners will now face another non-league side, Lincoln City, at the Emirates Stadium in the last eight as they look to win the FA Cup for a record-breaking 13th time.

    Wenger described Sutton's performance as "astonishing" as they were competitive at Gander Green Lane and acknowledged the challenge of the National League, per Amy Lawrence in the Guardian: "It is basically division five, and they are 17th out of 24. I will never go down there to manage because it is too difficult."

    However, he admitted that, following the chastening defeat to Bayern in Europe, he could take little enjoyment from his side's win as it was the least anybody expected, per the BBC (via ESPN FC's Mattias Karen): 

    No, I didn't enjoy it really tonight, because we had absolutely just to do the job. And it's tricky. I thought it's important for the confidence of the players as well. And let's not forget, at Bayern at half-time we were at 1-1 and in the second half it did all go wrong. So even today at half-time we were 1-0 up, it was not finished.

    Ahead of the fixture Sky Sports News HQ highlighted the stark difference in quality and prestige between the two clubs:

    While Wenger made a number of changes for the clash he still put out a strong starting XI that included Walcott, Perez, Alex Iwobi, Granit Xhaka and Nacho Monreal.

    Perez opened the scoring with a cross-cum-shot from the right edge of the box after 26 minutes to ease Wenger and Arsenal's nerves.

    Walcott then finished off a fine move to put the game to bed 10 minutes after the break.

    Sutton had their chances, most significantly when Adam May failed to take advantage of a poor David Ospina clearance late in the opening 45 minutes, but the Gunners eventually came through as expected.

    Arsenal now have almost two weeks off as they are not back in action until a Premier League clash against Liverpool at Anfield on March 4, which is potentially a must-win game for Wenger's side as they bid to remain in the top four.  

    B/R Experts: Big-Game Predictions, February 21-23


    The Champions League is back in full swing and there are tasty ties in Europe's premier club competition to whet the appetite. Our team of experts have been doing their homework in a bid to point you in the direction of the winning formula. Will...

    The Champions League is back in full swing and there are tasty ties in Europe's premier club competition to whet the appetite.

    Our team of experts have been doing their homework in a bid to point you in the direction of the winning formula.

    Will Manchester City overcome Monaco, are Leicester capable of putting their domestic woes behind them and can Bayer Leverkusen stun Atletico Madrid?

    Read on for our thoughts on these ties and some intriguing games in the Europa League.

    Begin Slideshow

    Sevilla vs. Leicester City: Team News, Preview, Live Stream, TV Info for UCL Tie

    Sevilla vs. Leicester City: Team News, Preview, Live Stream, TV Info for UCL Tie


    Leicester City will attempt to salvage their disappointing season on Wednesday, as the English champions travel to Spain to take on Sevilla in the UEFA Champions League. The Foxes have lost four of their last five matches across all competitions, while...

    Leicester City will attempt to salvage their disappointing season on Wednesday, as the English champions travel to Spain to take on Sevilla in the UEFA Champions League.

    The Foxes have lost four of their last five matches across all competitions, while Sevilla remain in the thick of the race for the top four in La Liga and a ticket to next year's Champions League.

    The hosts are the clear favourites entering the first leg of this round-of-16 tie, but Leicester have little else left to play for this season and will give it their all in Andalusia.

    Date: Wednesday, February 23

    Time: 7:45 p.m. GMT

    Venue: Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, Seville

    TV Info: BT Sport 2 (UK), Fox Sports 1 (U.S.)

    Live Stream: BT Sport app, Fox Soccer 2Go

     

    Team News

    Per Richard Forrester and Sam Green of The Sun, Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri has confirmed Islam Slimani could miss out on the fixture with a groin injury. The Algerian also didn't feature against Millwall in the FA Cup fifth round on Saturday.

    Leonardo Ulloa is also a doubt with a thigh injury, per the report.

    For Sevilla, Benoit Tremoulinas and Michael Krohn-Dehli remain long-term absentees. Per the club's official Twitter account, defender Nicolas Pareja is closing in on a return to the starting XI:

    Possible Sevilla XI: Sergio Rico, Sergio Escudero, Adil Rami, Clement Lenglet, Mariano, Steven N'Zonzi, Vicente Iborra, Vitolo, Samir Nasri, Franco Vazquez, Stevan Jovetic

    Possible Leicester XI: Kasper Schmeichel, Christian Fuchs, Robert Huth, Wes Morgan, Danny Simpson, Marc Albrighton, Danny Drinkwater, Wilfred Ndidi, Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy, Islam Slimani

     

    Preview

    To say Leicester's Premier League title defence has been underwhelming would be an understatement. The Foxes are going through a disaster of a season, and while the group stage of the Champions League went well for Ranieri and his troops, they're widely expected to crash out of the competition against Sevilla.

    Back-to-back-to-back winners of the UEFA Europa League, the Spaniards are in the middle of a fine season. Sevilla sit third in La Liga, just two points behind Barcelona and within reach of leaders Real Madrid, who have two matches in hand.

    In Europe, the Andalusians played out two close matches with Juventus in the group stage, and if not for several magical saves from Bianconeri stopper Gianluigi Buffon, they would have won their section.

    Per the Foxes' official Twitter account, Ron-Robert Zieler knows things won't be easy:

    While former Premier League star Steven N'Zonzi often takes the headlines, Sevilla's attacking form has stood out the most of late. Franco Vazquez was one of the top bargain signings during last summer's transfer window, and Stevan Jovetic has been spectacular since joining the club on loan from Inter Milan in January.

    The oft-injured Montenegrin has three goals and three assists for Sevilla already despite appearing in just seven matches―and only four of those were starts.

    Sports writer Sid Lowe is a fan:

    The Foxes have lacked the energy and explosiveness that made them such a great outfit last season, and against a Sevilla team that is tactically diverse, scores easily and has an exceptionally talented midfield, that could prove a major problem.

    Leicester fans should hope but not expect too much. This Sevilla team is among the best in Europe right now, and things could get ugly on Wednesday.

    Prediction: Sevilla 3-0 Leicester City

    Champions League 2017: Tuesday Odds, Live Stream for Round-of-16 Leg 1 Fixtures

    Champions League 2017: Tuesday Odds, Live Stream for Round-of-16 Leg 1 Fixtures


    Four teams tipped as dark horses in this year’s UEFA Champions League will do battle in two fascinating last-16 ties on Tuesday. Manchester City will want to build on their semi-final showing from last season, although they face a tough assignment...

    Four teams tipped as dark horses in this year’s UEFA Champions League will do battle in two fascinating last-16 ties on Tuesday.

    Manchester City will want to build on their semi-final showing from last season, although they face a tough assignment against a dangerous Monaco outfit at the Etihad Stadium. Meanwhile, 2015-16 runners-up Atletico Madrid travel to Bayer Leverkusen; Diego Simeone’s side have lost at the final hurdle to Real Madrid in two of the last three years.

    Another absorbing night is in store in European football’s elite competition. Here are the latest odds for each match, the live stream details and a look at how each contest will likely play out.

    Match result odds courtesy of OddsShark. First goalscorer lines via OddsChecker. Both accurate as of 4:30 p.m. (GMT) on February 20.

    Fixtures can be streamed via the BT Sport website (U.K.) and FOX Soccer 2GO (U.S.)

         

    Manchester City vs. Monaco

    Often Champions League knockout ties are cagey and defensive affairs. But for these two sides, sitting back is not in their makeup.

    City will need to make the most of having the first leg on their own patch so expect them to push forward in search of goals. Pep Guardiola’s side have so much firepower to call upon in the final third. Having rested key men against Huddersfield Town at the weekend, the team's players should be refreshed for the challenge.

    It’ll be a big night for Sergio Aguero, who will be expected to press from the front and hassle defenders as well as score goals. Per Dominic King of the Daily Mail, the hard graft is not something the forward has always enjoyed:

    Should City push on too much, they’ll leave space to be countered into and that’s exactly when Monaco can be dangerous.

    Under manager Leonardo Jardim they’ve evolved into one of the most prolific sides in European football, with the likes of Radamel Falcao, Thomas Lemar, Kylian Mbappe and Bernardo Silva all major threats in attack.

    As OptaJose noted recently, Monaco are also not afraid to go direct if they have to:

    That variety is something that’ll trouble City, as they’ve struggled to find balance in defence for much of the season. Monaco, as a result, have it in them to grab some crucial away goals at the Etihad and make the second leg at the Stade Louis II a captivating contest.

    Prediction: Manchester City 2-2 Monaco

          

    Bayer Leverkusen vs. Atletico Madrid

    In their runs to the final under Simeone previously, Atletico’s modus operandi has been keeping it tight, playing with aggression and nicking goals. But expect to see a more enterprising approach from the Madrid outfit at the BayArena.

    With goalkeeper Jan Oblak injured along with key defensive cogs Juanfran and Diego Godin, the manager has been prompted into playing a more attacking style. With the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Yannick Carrasco, Fernando Torres and Kevin Gameiro to call upon, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

    Indeed, Atletico showcased their strength in depth in the final third on Saturday in La Liga, when Gameiro came off the bench to snaffle a hat-trick against Sporting Gijon.

    In a style not too dissimilar to Atletico, Leverkusen have also been searching for a spark domestically this season, languishing down in eighth place as things stand.

    Roger Schmidt’s side have been uncharacteristically leaky in defence, and in another huge blow for them, the team’s most creative player, Hakan Calhanoglu, has been suspended for the rest of the season because of a transfer dispute.

    They have some reasons to be confident here nevertheless. Bayer have won their last two league matches, and after a testing season, Javier Hernandez has looked back to his best since the winter break:

    Atletico have been far from their best in recent La Liga matches, with moments of individual brilliance getting them out of jail against Sporting and Celta Vigo the week before. Given Leverkusen are lacking in consistency themselves, expect a similar story at the BayArena on Tuesday.

    Prediction: Bayer Leverkusen 1-2 Atletico Madrid

    Porto vs. Juventus: Team News, Preview, Live Stream, TV Info for UCL Match

    Porto vs. Juventus: Team News, Preview, Live Stream, TV Info for UCL Match


    Juventus will travel to Porto on Wednesday for the first leg of their UEFA Champions League tie, as the Serie A giants look to continue their fine run. The Italians have won seven straight matches in all competitions, while Porto have won their last six...

    Juventus will travel to Porto on Wednesday for the first leg of their UEFA Champions League tie, as the Serie A giants look to continue their fine run.

    The Italians have won seven straight matches in all competitions, while Porto have won their last six and are expected to be a real challenge to the Old Lady's European ambitions.

    Here's everything you need to know about the upcoming match.

    Date: Wednesday, February 22

    Time: 7:45 p.m. GMT

    Venue: Estadio do Dragao, Porto

    TV Info: BT Sport 3 (UK), Fox Sports 2 (U.S.)

    Live Stream: BT Sport app, Fox Soccer 2Go

     

    Team News

    Porto's upturn in form has coincided with the end of their injury wave. Entering Wednesday's clash, manager Nuno Espirito Santo has a full squad to work with.

    Juventus defenders Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini both missed the 4-1 win over Palermo and remain doubts for Wednesday, per Calciomercato.com. Miralem Pjanic should be back to full health, however.

    Possible Porto XI: Iker Casillas, Alex Telles, Marcano, Felipe, Maxi Pereira, Oliver Torres, Danilo Pereira, Hector Herrera, Jesus Corona, Andre Silva, Soares

    Possible Juventus XI: Gianluigi Buffon, Alex Sandro, Leonardo Bonucci, Medhi Benatia, Dani Alves, Sami Khedira, Miralem Pjanic, Mario Mandzukic, Paulo Dybala, Juan Cuadrado, Gonzalo Higuain

     

    Preview

    Porto and Juventus will enter Wednesday's match with the top defences in the Portuguese and Italian leagues, respectively, and given their form, the first leg should be a tight affair.

    Juventus are the favourites, but manager Massimiliano Allegri and his players have spent the week talking up their opponents. Per the Old Lady's official Twitter account, Medhi Benatia did his part:

    Juventus' defensive injuries are an issue―Benatia is likely to partner Leonardo Bonucci in the heart of the defence, although Daniele Rugani could also be an option.

    The absence of Barzagli and Chiellini all but assures Juventus come out in the 4-2-3-1 formation that has worked so well of late, with Paulo Dybala pulling the strings in midfield and Mario Mandzukic working from the wing.

    In front of them, Gonzalo Higuain is in the form of his life, scoring four goals in his last three matches. Per Bleacher Report UK, he's having quite the season:

    Things won't be easy in Portugal, however. Porto are as tactically versatile as Juventus, and it's anyone's guess which―fluid―formation they'll use on Wednesday. In Andre Silva, they have a stud striker of their own, although he has cooled off a bit after a scorching start to the season.

    Set pieces could prove the difference―the Bianconeri have struggled defending corners this season, an issue that will only be enhanced if Chiellini misses out. Likewise, Iker Casillas isn't always reliable on corner kicks, and the Bianconeri have several dead-ball specialists.

    Juventus' attack was splendid during the weekend, but expect both teams to be cautious during the first leg of this tie. With two class defences, a scoreless draw seems very likely.

    Prediction: Porto 0-0 Juventus

    Saint-Etienne vs. Manchester United: Team News, Live Stream, TV Info and More

    Saint-Etienne vs. Manchester United: Team News, Live Stream, TV Info and More


    Manchester United travel to Saint-Etienne for their Europa League last 32 second-leg match on Wednesday with a 3-0 aggregate lead. It should be a comfortable encounter for Jose Mourinho's side, who earned their advantage thanks to a hat-trick from Zlatan...

    Manchester United travel to Saint-Etienne for their Europa League last 32 second-leg match on Wednesday with a 3-0 aggregate lead.

    It should be a comfortable encounter for Jose Mourinho's side, who earned their advantage thanks to a hat-trick from Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Old Trafford on Feb. 16.

    United have a packed fixture list, and the clash at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard could see Mourinho mix up his side in a bid to keep important players fresh for the EFL Cup final against Southampton on Sunday.

    Here are details of how you can watch the match:    



    Date: Wednesday, Feb. 22

    Time: 5 p.m. (GMT)/12 p.m. (ET)

    TV: BT Sport 3 (UK only), Fox Sports 1, ESPN3 (U.S. only)

    Stream: BT Sport App, Fox Soccer 2Go, WatchESPN, fubo.tv

     

    Preview

    United have looked strong in recent weeks and must be regarded as one of the favourites to win the Europa League.

    But while their squad looks big enough to cope, there is no doubt that fixtures are piling up for United as they battle for trophies on three fronts this season.

    Per BBC Sport, Mourinho said:

    I have so many things to think about. I have to play Saint-Etienne and play the (EFL Cup) final and hopefully another opponent in the Europa League. I have to fight for the top four positions in the Premier League.

    [...] It is possible to win three, two, one or no trophies. When we are in the competitions, we are going to fight.

    With the cushion gained from the first-leg, Mourinho could opt to begin the match with 35-year-old Ibrahimovic on the bench, as he did so against Blackburn Rovers in their 2-1 FA Cup fifth-round win.

    That means there could be another chance for Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford to start up front together as the Portuguese looks to make good use of his squad depth.

    The first-leg saw some bright moments for Saint-Etienne, but United's quality in the final third ultimately proved decisive. It is unlikely the French outfit will be able to turn the match around despite home advantage.

    The Ligue 1 side will hope to improve on their finishing for the return match, noted by OptaJoe on Twitter:

    While they remain in fifth spot in their domestic league, Saint-Etienne's confidence going into the United fixture would not have been helped by a 2-1 away defeat to Montpellier on Feb. 19.

    For their part, after making hard work of their Group A qualifying group, the Red Devils have shown real signs of progression under Mourinho over the past month.

    Although they may not feature in the second-leg, the dovetailing of Ibrahimovic and record signing Paul Pogba has been the driving force behind United's impressive form. This is coupled with a solidity throughout the side that sees them with the third-best defensive record in the Premier League.

    The first-leg appeared to be a tough hurdle for Mourinho's side, but with the hard work done and a seemingly unassailable 3-0 lead, United are likely to already be looking ahead to the chance of winning the EFL Cup next weekend.

    Valencia vs. Real Madrid: Team News, Preview, Live Stream, TV Info

    Valencia vs. Real Madrid: Team News, Preview, Live Stream, TV Info


    Real Madrid head to Valencia's Mestalla Stadium on Wednesday looking to open a four-point gap at the top of La Liga. Real have two games in hand over second-placed Barcelona and will be looking to continue the impressive form that has seen them...

    Real Madrid head to Valencia's Mestalla Stadium on Wednesday looking to open a four-point gap at the top of La Liga.

    Real have two games in hand over second-placed Barcelona and will be looking to continue the impressive form that has seen them victorious in five of their last six outings.

    Valencia are battling away at the other end of the table but should go into the clash in good heart after a 2-0 victory at home to Athletic Bilbao on Feb. 19.

    Here is how you can catch the action from the match:



    Date: Wednesday, February 22

    Time: 5:45 p.m. GMT/12:45 p.m. ET

    TV: Sky Sports 1 (UK), beIN Sports USA

    Live Stream: Sky Go (UK), beIN Sports Connect USA, fubo.tv

     

    Preview

    This encounter was originally scheduled for December 2016 but was rearranged due to Real's involvement in the FIFA Club World Cup.

    Zinedine Zidane's side have at times looked imperious in La Liga this season, and Valencia face an uphill struggle, despite a recent upturn in their league performances.

    Real's confidence is likely to be boosted by the return to fitness of Wales attacker Gareth Bale, who made a triumphant goalscoring comeback after three months out with an ankle injury in the club's 2-0 win over Espanyol on Feb. 18.

    Bale began that match on the bench, and such is the strength Zidane has available to him, he may well decide to do similar and use one of his star men as an impact substitute.

    Valencia boss Salvador Gonzalez Marco will be buoyed by recent defensive displays, and four points taken from the last six has seen the club edge clearer of the relegation spots to sit 15th.

    As noted by Andrew Gaffney on Twitter, Valencia's defence has improved immeasurably:

    In an intriguing side note to the match, if Real can get on the scoresheet against Valencia, it would keep them on course to break a 63-year-old Barcelona record.

    Indeed, should they score at the Mestalla and also in their subsequent match away tie Villareal, they would equal a run of scoring in 44 matches set by the Blaugrana between 1942 and 1944, per Matt Heath-Smith of The Sun.

    For Valencia, the visit of title-chasing Real will represent a true test of their recent defensive improvements.

    But it is hard to see anything other than a comfortable away win, particularly with the added strength of Bale back in the league leaders' lineup.

    Europa League 2017: Round of 32 Leg 2 Live Stream, TV Schedule and Predictions

    Europa League 2017: Round of 32 Leg 2 Live Stream, TV Schedule and Predictions


    The Europa League fixtures come thick and fast for those 32 teams still involved in the competition, and ahead of this week's second-leg matches, a clutch of ties are still precariously balanced. Tottenham Hotspur's contest with KAA Gent is one worth...

    The Europa League fixtures come thick and fast for those 32 teams still involved in the competition, and ahead of this week's second-leg matches, a clutch of ties are still precariously balanced.

    Tottenham Hotspur's contest with KAA Gent is one worth keeping an eye on. The Belgian side sprung a surprise in the first meeting, winning 1-0 against the Premier League outfit; Mauricio Pochettino's men will be confident of turning the tie around at Wembley Stadium, though.

    Elsewhere, Celta Vigo will need to put in a tremendous performance at Shakhtar Donetsk if they're to progress, as will Borussia Monchengladbach at Fiorentina. Manchester United, meanwhile, have a comfortable 3-0 lead to take to AS Saint-Etienne.

    Here are the fixtures in full, where to catch the matches via an online stream and a closer look at a couple of ties still finely poised.

    *Matches are live on BT Sport (UK)

    Matches can be streamed via the BT Sport website (U.K.) and FOX Soccer 2GO (U.S.)

     

    Tottenham Hotspur vs. KAA Gent

    A loss in Belgium on the back of their 2-0 defeat to Liverpool in the Premier League capped off a miserable few days for Tottenham. But there were signs on Sunday in the FA Cup that they were back at their best again.

    Indeed, they played with a real swagger against Championship outfit Fulham, controlling the contest from the first minute until the last in a 3-0 win. Once again, Harry Kane was the man who did the business in front of goal for Spurs, netting a hat-trick.

    Although Pochettino would ideally prefer to rest Kane for this one given Spurs' other commitments, he has proved to be Tottenham's player for the big occasion so often, per OptaJoe:

    Kane and Spurs were blunted by Gent in the first leg of the tie. They were industrious off the ball, inventive in possession and when their big chance did arrive just before the hour mark, Jeremy Perbet put the visitors one goal ahead.

    Perhaps even more crucially, Gent were able to keep a clean sheet on the night, too. It means an away goal at Wembley would make things difficult for Spurs.

    Per Het Laatste Nieuws' Kristof Terreur, manager Hein Vanhaezebrouck is excited by the prospect of playing at the iconic stadium:

    Wembley is a ground where Spurs didn't fare too well at during the UEFA Champions League campaign and that will be something the players may be a little wary of. But provided Pochettino fields a strong side, they should have more than enough to overturn the deficit.

    Prediction: Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 KAA Gent

     

    Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Celta Vigo

    Shakhtar will be confident of securing their progress to the last 16 after a superb win at the Estadio Municipal de Balaidos, but Celta Vigo will be a dangerous proposition at the Metalist Stadium.

    In a fascinating game, Gustavo Blanco's goal for the Ukrainian giants eventually proved decisive and although the La Liga side did push for an equaliser late on, they were unable to level things up. It means they have it all to do in the second leg.

    But there's no doubt they're capable. The loss to Shakhtar was their third in a row in all competitions, although they got back to winning ways on Sunday with a confident 3-0 victory over Osasuna. 

    In Iago Aspas, the visitors have a player who has been in wonderful goalscoring form this season, per Squawka Football:

    Playing Shakhtar in Ukraine is always a big challenge. Indeed, in the Europa League as a whole they've been in exceptional form, with Paulo Fonseca's team winning all seven of the matches they've played in the competition proper.

    As a result of this excellent run, you can bet those who follow the Donetsk outfit are believing this team could repeat the success of the 2009 crop, who went all the way in this competition when it was known as the UEFA Cup.

    Celta can approach this one with nothing to lose and that's when head coach Eduardo Berizzo's side have been at their most dangerous; they beat Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu in the Copa del Rey this year. But Shakhtar have enough to see this one through.

    Prediction: Shakhtar Donetsk 1-1 Celta Vigo

    Pacers Reportedly Showing Interest in Brook Lopez Trade

    Pacers Reportedly Showing Interest in Brook Lopez Trade


    The Indiana Pacers are sitting in the No. 6 spot in the Eastern Conference and are reportedly looking to bolster their roster before the stretch run with Brook Lopez. Veteran NBA reporter Peter Vecsey reported Monday the Pacers are trying to acquire the...

    The Indiana Pacers are sitting in the No. 6 spot in the Eastern Conference and are reportedly looking to bolster their roster before the stretch run with Brook Lopez.

    Veteran NBA reporter Peter Vecsey reported Monday the Pacers are trying to acquire the Brooklyn Nets big man.

    Brooklyn is the worst team in the league this season at 9-47 and is in a position where trading Lopez would make sense. Even though he is just 28 years old, the Nets don't appear anywhere near ready to compete while he is in his prime.

    Lopez is also set to be an unrestricted free agent in 2018, per Spotrac, so Brooklyn would get something back for him before he potentially signs elsewhere. It could also use draft considerations since the Boston Celtics own a 2017 first-round pick swap with the Nets and their 2018 first-round pick.

    From Indiana's perspective, the acquisition of Lopez would give them a secondary scorer alongside Paul George.

    The 2013 All-Star averaged 13 points per game as a rookie in 2008-09 and never less than 17.2 a night the rest of his career. He is posting 20.8 points per game this season in what would be his fourth campaign surpassing the 20-point plateau.

    Lopez has also averaged 7.2 rebounds per game in his career and could bolster the frontcourt for a Pacers team that is a mere 27th in the league in rebounds a night (41.2), per NBA.com.

    While Lopez would provide depth alongside Myles Turner and Al Jefferson in the paint, Vecsey suggested the Pacers could be looking to add Lopez as a way of enticing George to stay in the future. George is set to be an unrestricted free agent in 2019, per Spotrac, but the opportunity to play with someone who could take more of the scoring load off his shoulders could be intriguing.

    Even the mere chance Lopez could help keep the 26-year-old George in Indiana longer would make the trade worthwhile on its own for the Pacers.

    10 Youngsters Who Could Use a Change of Scenery at 2016-17 NBA Trade Deadline


    DeMarcus Cousins isn't the only NBA player who needs a change of scenery. The chaotic portion of the Association's trade season officially began immediately after the All-Star Game, when the Sacramento Kings dealt their big man to the New Orleans...

    DeMarcus Cousins isn't the only NBA player who needs a change of scenery.

    The chaotic portion of the Association's trade season officially began immediately after the All-Star Game, when the Sacramento Kings dealt their big man to the New Orleans Pelicans, as first reported by The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski. Even more dominoes will fall between now and the Feb. 23 deadline.

    Veterans over the age of 25, such as Cousins, tend to dominate this portion of the year. They're the ones who, in most cases, are going to have the greatest impact on their new teams, or who've been in their current digs long enough to know it's not working.

    We're leaving these old fogies behind in favor of players aged 25 or younger who need a midseason extradition.

    Overcrowded rotations, contract status, team fit and individual performances will all be weighed when choosing relocation candidates. Supply and demand, as dictated by the rumor mill, will also factor into the selection process.

    To keep the focus on prospective suitors and trades, we'll be constructing deals for every player. Multiple names will be packed into the same space whenever they're being moved as part of the same transaction so there won't be any overlap.

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    DeMarcus Cousins Gets Emotional Saying Goodbye to Kings Fans, Sacramento

    DeMarcus Cousins Gets Emotional Saying Goodbye to Kings Fans, Sacramento


    It is sometimes easy to forget the human side of a sports trade. New Orleans Pelicans big man DeMarcus Cousins reminded fans Monday when speaking to a crowd about Sacramento, California. The Sacramento Kings announced Monday that they traded Cousins to...

    It is sometimes easy to forget the human side of a sports trade.

    New Orleans Pelicans big man DeMarcus Cousins reminded fans Monday when speaking to a crowd about Sacramento, California. The Sacramento Kings announced Monday that they traded Cousins to the Pelicans, but Cousins took the time to express his love for the city in an emotional message that Carmichael Dave of KHTK Sports 1140 shared:

    "My love for this city will never change," Cousins said. "Even though I'm gone, it will still be the same. I'm still looking out for these kids. Every family in this city matters to me."

    His comments and the emotion he expressed elicited cheers from the crowd as well as Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry on Twitter:

    Despite the positivity displayed toward the fans and city, there were some issues with Cousins and the front office and coaching staffs during his time in Sacramento. Dave Joerger was Cousins' sixth head coach in seven seasons, and Cousins was once suspended for confronting then-head coach George Karl.

    Kings general manager Vlade Divac said "winning begins with culture and character matters" in the team's release discussing the decision to trade Cousins.

    After the Kentucky product appeared on SportsCenter on Thursday, Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com wrote, "Cousins acknowledged the trust issues that have hurt his relationship with Kings management in the past but said he has found a way of dealing with it." Evidently, management wanted to go in a different direction.

    During his speech, Cousins showed a genuine love for the fans and the only NBA city he has ever played for since the Kings drafted him with the No. 5 pick in 2010.

    He will now look to foster that type of love with the supporters in New Orleans alongside fellow dominant frontcourt player Anthony Davis. Cousins will likely make fans quickly if he comes close to his season averages of 27.8 points and 10.6 rebounds per game and spearheads a postseason run.

    New Orleans is 2.5 games behind the Denver Nuggets for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference and would also have to leapfrog the Kings—who are one game ahead of the Pelicans—to get Cousins into the playoffs for the first time in his career.

    2017 NCAA Tournament Bracket: Latest Projection of the Field of 68


    With less than three weeks remaining until Selection Sunday, Villanova remains our projected No. 1 overall seed for the 2017 NCAA tournament. Close behind the Wildcats on the top line are Kansas, Gonzaga and Louisville. But one glance at the AP or...

    With less than three weeks remaining until Selection Sunday, Villanova remains our projected No. 1 overall seed for the 2017 NCAA tournament. Close behind the Wildcats on the top line are Kansas, Gonzaga and Louisville.

    But one glance at the AP or Coaches Top 25 can give you a good guess at which teams belong on the top few seed lines. It's on the bubble where things get more interesting, particularly for the ACC, which has several teams just barely on each side of the tournament cut line.

    There are only a couple of teams that have moved more than one full seed line since our last projected bracket. Iowa State, Marquette and Arkansas were the biggest climbers while Syracuse, TCU, Tennessee and Virginia moved significantly in the wrong direction. 

    Hate on RPI all you want, but it's still the primary metric the NCAA selection committee uses in picking and seeding the field. KenPom.com rankings and strength of schedule were also crucial pieces of this projection, but prepare yourself for many mentions of how teams have fared against opponents in varying ranges of the RPI.

    As always, we'll take a look at the last five teams to make the field, the first five out and a few on the horizon.

    After that, we'll present each seeded region, including the subregional locations in which each pod would be played and some commentary on which teams have moved the most in each region. Then we'll defend the rankings of the No. 1 seeds, followed by a summary of the entire field broken up by conference.

    Begin Slideshow

    Lakers Trade Rumors: Lou Williams Reportedly Drawing Interest from Jazz

    Lakers Trade Rumors: Lou Williams Reportedly Drawing Interest from Jazz


    The Utah Jazz occupy the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference and are reportedly looking to add some firepower to their backcourt for the stretch run. Ian Begley of ESPN.com reported Monday some members of Utah's front office are interested in Los...

    The Utah Jazz occupy the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference and are reportedly looking to add some firepower to their backcourt for the stretch run.

    Ian Begley of ESPN.com reported Monday some members of Utah's front office are interested in Los Angeles Lakers guard Lou Williams. Begley noted "many around the league believe Williams is likely to be dealt before Thursday's trade deadline," although some teams think the Lakers are looking for a first-round pick to move the guard.

    Acquiring a draft pick would make sense from Los Angeles' perspective because it could add another building block to its young core of D'Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson.

    While Williams gives the Lakers a veteran presence who can score in a hurry, they are not going to compete for titles during the 30-year-old's prime. He is also set to be an unrestricted free agent in 2018, per Spotrac, so Los Angeles would garner some value for him before he potentially leaves to join another team down the line.

    From Utah's perspective, it would get a high-scoring guard in the middle of a career season.

    Williams is averaging a career-best 18.6 points per game in 2016-17 behind a career-best 38.5 percent shooting from three-point range. He's also done it all while coming off the bench for a 19-39 Lakers squad, so he would likely be more than comfortable sliding into a second-unit role for the playoff-contending Jazz:

    Utah is a mere 21st in the league in bench points a night, per NBA.com, and Williams could help anchor that unit as it looks to challenge the premier teams in the Western Conference the rest of the season and in the playoffs.

    The only way the Jazz can realistically hope to compete with the likes of the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets come postseason time is improving the overall bench production, and Williams would provide an immediate solution.

    The Rock Calls CM Punk, Leaves Voicemail in Middle of the Ring After WWE Raw

    The Rock Calls CM Punk, Leaves Voicemail in Middle of the Ring After WWE Raw


    Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson wasn't featured during Monday Night Raw at Staples Center, but the Los Angeles crowd still got to see him when he called CM Punk from the ring. Brendan Morrow of Heavy.com noted Johnson came out after Raw on Monday because he...

    Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson wasn't featured during Monday Night Raw at Staples Center, but the Los Angeles crowd still got to see him when he called CM Punk from the ring.

    Brendan Morrow of Heavy.com noted Johnson came out after Raw on Monday because he was filming a scene in an upcoming movie (Fighting With My Family) he is producing about the life of wrestler Paige. The producers used the ring time to recreate a match between actors playing Paige and AJ Lee, who is married to Punk in real life.

    The crowd chanted Punk's name at the mention of Lee, which spurred Johnson to call the former WWE superstar and current MMA fighter. He left a voicemail, as Colt – WWE Coverage shared on Twitter:

    Punk later responded on his own Twitter page:

    While the return of Punk to WWE may be a long shot, fans in Staples Center at least got to show him some love Monday.

    Triple H, Samoa Joe's Best Booking Options Through WWE WrestleMania 33

    Triple H, Samoa Joe's Best Booking Options Through WWE WrestleMania 33


    On Monday’s episode of WWE Raw, Samoa Joe attacked Sami Zayn before the latter’s match with Universal champion Kevin Owens, lending more credence to the likely partnership between the two men and chief operating officer Triple H. With just over a...

    On Monday’s episode of WWE Raw, Samoa Joe attacked Sami Zayn before the latter’s match with Universal champion Kevin Owens, lending more credence to the likely partnership between the two men and chief operating officer Triple H.

    With just over a month until WrestleMania 33, the relationship between Samoa Joe, Owens and Triple H is one of the most intriguing storylines right now. How these men are booked heading into the company’s biggest pay-per-view of the year is imperative to the show’s success.

    Here are the best booking options for both Triple H and Samoa Joe heading into WrestleMania 33.

     

    Triple H’s Best Booking Options

    Without a doubt, the best booking option for Triple H would be the match against Seth Rollins, which WWE Creative has teased for months. Whether Rollins’ knee will be healthy enough for him to compete at WrestleMania is a major question mark, though.

    Rollins is scheduled to appear on next weeks’ episode of Raw, and the WWE Universe is hoping for some clarity on his medical condition. If there is any way the former world champion can be cleared for the April super show, WWE Creative should keep hope alive.

    On the other hand, if Rollins is not cleared by WrestleMania, Triple H should only be involved in a segment where he gloats about how Rollins didn’t make the show. The Architect can then make an appearance.

    While having Rollins attack him would be the best scenario if he is cleared for light contact, this would also be the perfect spot to get The Rock involved. With WrestleMania in Orlando—a place with history for Dwayne Johnson—having The Rock hit the ring and go to bat for Rollins would make for an amazing moment.

    This booking would also continue the storyline between Rollins and Triple H down the line.

     

    Samoa Joe’s Best Booking Options

    Since making his main-roster debut, Samoa Joe has been booked as one of the strongest forces in WWE, and it is important he has a WrestleMania match to reflect that.

    While a match against Triple H would be a marquee bout that could solve the problem of what to do with both men if Rollins isn’t cleared, rushing that storyline would force Samoa Joe to be a face, and he’s clearly a better heel.

    Another option would be for Samoa Joe to take on a returning Finn Balor if he is cleared by WrestleMania. While it’s hard to be confident in the health of an injured Superstar just weeks before the biggest show of the year, WWE’s options are limited.

    Add in the excitement that would surround the rehash of the Samoa Joe vs. Balor feud from NXT on the main roster, and most wrestling fans would be all in.

    If Balor isn’t cleared for WrestleMania either, then Samoa Joe should be placed into the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. While Braun Strowman and Baron Corbin are early favorites, Samoa Joe could easily run the table and walk away with the trophy.

     

    For more wrestling talk, listen to Ring Rust Radio for all of the hot topics or catch the latest episode in the player above (some language NSFW).

    WWE Raw Results: Winners, Grades, Reaction and Highlights from February 20


    The Big Show looked to end the run of dominance by Braun Strowman Monday night in the main event of an explosive February 20 episode of Raw. The show, focused on building and hyping the March 5 Fastlane pay-per-view card, highlighted some of the midcard...

    The Big Show looked to end the run of dominance by Braun Strowman Monday night in the main event of an explosive February 20 episode of Raw.

    The show, focused on building and hyping the March 5 Fastlane pay-per-view card, highlighted some of the midcard matches that will support marquee bouts such as Goldberg vs. Kevin Owens and Roman Reigns vs. Strowman.

    No. 1 contenders to the tag team titles were determined, Raw women's champion Bayley found out who her first challenger will be and a rivalry between Akira Tozawa and Brian Kendrick was touched off following a vicious assault by the enigmatic and eccentric villain.

    Who walked out of Los Angeles' Staples Center with victories to their names and momentum on their side ahead of the upcoming Raw-exclusive extravaganza?

    Take a look with this recap of the February 20 broadcast.

    Begin Slideshow

    Multiple Reasons DeMarcus Cousins Was Traded to Pelicans Reportedly Revealed

    Multiple Reasons DeMarcus Cousins Was Traded to Pelicans Reportedly Revealed


    For the Sacramento Kings, a bad attitude is apparently worth trading away one of the best players in the NBA. The team announced a deal Monday that sent three-time All-Star DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans along with Omri Casspi for Buddy...

    For the Sacramento Kings, a bad attitude is apparently worth trading away one of the best players in the NBA.

    The team announced a deal Monday that sent three-time All-Star DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans along with Omri Casspi for Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway and two draft picks.

    Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher provided some insight as to what helped cause the move:

    As general manager Vlade Divac noted in the release, "Winning begins with culture and character matters."

    Per ESPN.com, Cousins has 19 technical fouls this season, which is already a career high for a player who had at least 12 in each of his seven years in the league. He has earned four disqualifications this year and 46 over his career, plus 11 total ejections.

    Fines and suspensions have also been an issue, with the league holding him out of a game as recently as early February.

    Kings announcer Grant Napear added to the list of character concerns:

    Despite these question marks, Cousins remains an elite player on the court. He is in the midst of the best statistical season of his career, ranking fourth in the NBA with an average of 27.8 points per game. He is also averaging 10.7 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game while shooting 35.4 percent from three-point range.

    Divac admitted he had a "better deal two days ago," per ESPN.com, but ended up pulling the trigger on the trade following the All-Star Game.

    While Hield himself was ejected from a game against the Kings for a below-the-belt hit on Cousins, Sacramento seems to be hoping this culture change can lead to more success going forward.

    Scott Miller's Starting 9: Road to World Series Runs Through AL Central

    Scott Miller's Starting 9: Road to World Series Runs Through AL Central


    LAKELAND, Fla. — Central Park, Central Office, Central Champions….   1. Of Beer, Changing Stripes, Mr. I and Sunset Clauses Three consecutive American League pennant winners, and four of the past five, have come from the rugged AL Central. "We're...

    LAKELAND, Fla. — Central Park, Central Office, Central Champions….

     

    1. Of Beer, Changing Stripes, Mr. I and Sunset Clauses

    Three consecutive American League pennant winners, and four of the past five, have come from the rugged AL Central.

    "We're hoping it's five out of six this year," Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus says. "And we're hoping this year, it's somebody different."

    The Tigers started the division's sprint to October with their 2012 World Series appearance under Ausmus' predecessor, Jim Leyland. Before they get too old and gray, they're aiming to make one last bit of noise.

    Yeah, they've heard a lot over the past year about how their window is closing. Given Victor Martinez's banged-up body, Miguel Cabrera's increasing age (33), consistent bullpen crashes and Jordan Zimmermann's lingering neck injury last year, everyone wants to measure how much it's closing.

    Veteran backup catcher Alex Avila offers a flip-side argument.

    "It's still open," he says: "This team missed the playoffs by a game last year [actually, the Tigers finished 2.5 games out of an AL wild-card slot]. It battled through quite a bit of health issues. A lot of times that comes down to luck. J.D. Martinez running into a wall and breaking his elbow."

    Zimmermann, who signed a five-year, $110 million free-agent contract before the 2016 season, battled into late June before a pinched nerve and degenerative neck condition essentially cost him two-and-a-half months and wrecked his season. He made just four appearances after the All-Star break, and the Tigers lost all four. During the winter, after several examinations and tests, a doctor prescribed a nerve block that has Zimmermann feeling hopeful.

    "I feel good and strong," Zimmermann tells B/R. "Everything, throwing-wise, is as planned. I don't feel anything in the neck and shoulder."

    Through the end of last May, Zimmermann was 7-2 with a 2.52 ERA. When we talked last week in the Tigers' beautiful and spacious remodeled spring clubhouse, he called that stretch "about the best I've pitched in my career."

    Then came the neck pain and the related shoulder discomfort.

    "It was a really, really tough year, the toughest in my career," says Zimmerman, 30.

    Says Ausmus: "He started out of the gate well, but when you have an injury, you can get through it for one day, maybe two, maybe a handful of games. But eventually, it wears on you. Eventually, you dread throwing the ball because you know the pain is going to be there."

    Michael Fulmer's Rookie of the Year push became a bright spot, and Justin Verlander's comeback was so strong that he finished second in the AL Cy Young voting behind former teammate Rick Porcello.

    But early in the offseason, general manager Al Avila suggested it was perhaps time to retool, hinting he would reduce payroll and look to infuse youth into the roster. The Tigers discussed trading second baseman Ian Kinsler to the Los Angeles Dodgers, according to B/R sources, but eventually stood pat.

    While it may be a mild surprise the Tigers are starting spring training with essentially the same team they had last year (minus outfielder Cameron Maybin, whom they traded to the Los Angeles Angels), it isn't to everyone.

    "As the winter developed, I got less and less surprised," Avila tells B/R. "I never said we were going to cut payroll just to cut payroll. I said if the opportunity to make a trade for younger players who could help us now and in the future and would make our payroll leaner, then yes, I would do it. But those kinds of trades just didn't develop once the basic agreement was agreed to.

    "A lot of teams were doing what we wanted to do: get younger and keep their younger players. Guys like we have, proven major leaguers, didn't have the value we thought they would have. The players who had value were the young guys. Frankly, it wasn't a good market to play in. So we decided to stay the course.

    "Mr. I [late owner Mike Ilitch, who passed away earlier this month] could have said to dump salary and go get A-ball players. That didn't happen, and that is a positive."

    Avila stressed this Tigers team is not old, noting they have several "major league players in their prime" along with "a few older players and a few younger players."

    It is an emotional time in Detroit as well, with the death of beloved owner Ilitch still fresh. Nobody knows yet in what direction his son Chris, 51, will steer the team.

    So here Detroit goes this spring, the old band still together, hoping to add another track or two to its greatest hits. Zimmermann's health is the key, because these guys can rake and will score runs with anybody. Ausmus says he's keeping his fingers crossed. The other day, he practically sprinted over to Alex Avila to get a report after Zimmermann's bullpen session.

    "He looked great," says Avila, the son of the GM. "All of his pitches were locating, and he had really good life on his fastball. I came out of it impressed."

    So for another spring night, Ausmus could relax with a bottle of the present Zimmermann lugged all the way from his home in Wisconsin: a stash of New Glarus beer for the skipper. Ausmus' wife is from Milwaukee, and when Zimmermann signed with the Tigers, the manager mentioned to the Auburndale, Wisconsin, native how much he enjoyed New Glarus. Because the brew is not sold outside of Wisconsin, Zimmermann made a point to bring some to Ausmus last spring and again this spring.

    Given that, you'd think Ausmus would quickly move to name Zimmermann as the Opening Day starter, wouldn't you?

    "I think we've got a guy named Verlander," Zimmermann says, chuckling.

    Verlander, Zimmermann, Fulmer...that's a pretty good start to chasing a Cleveland Indians club that many consider the best in the AL. The Tigers went 4-14 against the Indians in 2016.

    "They had our number last year, period," closer says. "This is a different year. We'll see what happens this year."

     

    2. Hanley Channels the Spirit of Big Papi

    In Los Angeles, Hanley Ramirez once displayed a small sign above his Dodgers locker that read "Attitude Is a Choice, Pick a Good One."

    Not that he always followed his own instructions.

    Are things changing for the better in Boston?

    Coming off a 30-homer season during which he shocked nearly everyone with solid play at first base, Ramirez this spring, at his request, moved into the locker vacated by the retired David Ortiz.

    "I got the energy right here," Ramirez says, smiling wide, wiggling both outstretched hands in the direction of the locker.

    Upon returning to Boston in 2015, Ramirez grew to practically idolize Ortiz. Upon arriving in camp this spring, he said he wants to step into the leadership void Ortiz's retirement created. Last September, when manager John Farrell instructed players to wear their favorite jerseys from other sports on a road trip, Ramirez opted for a Red Sox jersey with "Ortiz 34" on the back.

    It's too early to tell whether Ramirez will consistently lead the Red Sox this summer, but one rival executive thinks it's a great idea for Boston to encourage him.

    "When I coached, sometimes I'd make the assh--e the leader," the executive says. "It immediately gave him responsibility and made him aware of everybody else, and a lot of times it worked."

    When Ramirez is engaged and positive, he has a magnetic personality. Add that to what he can do on the field when he's hot, and even at 33, count him as one of Boston's keys in 2017.

    Of returning to Boston in '15 and teaming with Ortiz, Ramirez tells B/R, "I think that changed my whole career around, to be able to see what he was like in the clubhouse with everybody. The communication he had with everyone, how often he was a leader. He cared about others around him, and he cared for his teammates."

     

    3. High Strikes and More Action

    Commissioner Rob Manfred has looked at the numbers, and this is what he sees: In 2016, a record 30.8 percent of at-bats ended either in a strikeout, walk or a hit batter.

    In other words: Nearly one-third of the time in today's game, the ball is not put in play.

    That's a problem no matter which angle you view it from. Forget the age-old "time of game" question; if a game is four-plus hours but is action-packed with home runs, rallies and drama, nobody will go home talking about how long it took.

    That's why Manfred is pushing to raise the strike zone from the bottom of the kneecap to just above, the "hollow" of the knee. It's only a couple of inches, but he views the move as a way to inject more action into the game.

    The players' union has hit the pause button on the idea, and it may hit the mute button. As you would guess, the proposed change is eliciting many reactions.

    "It's totally connected to their obsession with pace of game, and I get it," Twins manager Paul Molitor says. "Games started lengthening out again last year, lack of action. I don't think a lot of pitching coaches will be too excited about that prospect. It's just contrary to what pitchers have learned all their lives, to pitch down in the zone. Some of the old-school umpires might be a little slow to say that they're going to change at this point of their umpiring, too, so it could cause a lot of confusion. I can't say I'd be a big fan."

    Nationals ace Max Scherzer, winner of last year's NL Cy Young Award, isn't overjoyed, either.

    "The strike zone as a whole has been called larger based on the advanced data, and they're trying to regulate it back to where it's been in the past," he tells B/R. "Obviously they think raising the strike zone will help accomplish that goal. It's going to help and hurt pitchers. Some guys who pitch up in the zone, it helps. It punishes guys who do pitch down in the zone and try to sink the ball. Some pitchers are going to get hurt, some won't get hurt as bad.

    "It's hard to really know what the unintended consequences of that would be. We can all speculate what we think it will be, but it's really hard to know what the actual outcome will actually be. Will we start seeing pitches at the knees called balls? It's forever been pitches at the knees are called strikes. I guess we're just trying to find which part of the knee is a strike."

    To the lack of action in today's game, Scherzer fingers a variety of reasons.

    "I also feel like we've seen home runs go up, and typically the consequences of swinging for the fences are that you're going to strike out more," he says. "And we've been in the Moneyball era where, hey, drawing a walk is a great thing. Those results, I feel like, that's the results of the analytics in the game. They're trying to score the most runs, and they've realized, all right, if you swing for the fences more often, strike out a few more times and try to draw a walk, that's probably what's going to score more runs. I don't think that's necessarily truly correlated to the strike zone."

    The players' union is expected to quash the idea, at least for 2017. But stay tuned.

     

    4. Ambassadors and Sales

    It's crazy as usual around the Miami Marlins' camp, where the team is for sale amid owner Jeffrey Loria's candidacy to become the U.S. ambassador to France under President Donald Trump. Joshua Kushner, the younger brother of Jared Kushner, was leading a group that appeared on deck to purchase the team for around $1.6 billion. But Jared is Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, and the deal appeared too cozy in a quid pro quo, shady ethics kind of way. Consequently, the team's talks with the Kushner family are finished, according to Marlins president David Samson, but the club remains for sale.

    The most important element of spring training involves new players adjusting to new teams and new teams learning their new players. So it is with Boston Red Sox pitching coach Carl Willis building a relationship with new ace Chris Sale.

    "Obviously, I've seen him across the field, but I don't know him yet," Willis says. "He really brings a tremendous amount of intensity and desire to win. We had a really good conversation in December over the telephone, and I met him in person at our WinterFest. The communication to this point is pretty good."

     

    5. Modern-Day Crash Davis

    Meet Chris Gimenez, 34, who, like the character in Bull Durham, has a pretty good way with bringing along young pitchers.

    In Cleveland last year, he helped coax fifth-year hurler Trevor Bauer to his best season. It reached the point where the Indians' training staff teased Gimenez by referring to Bauer as his "son."

    Now in Minnesota, Gimenez has been working closely this spring with Jose Berrios, the Twins' prized right-handed pitching prospect who was roughed up in his first taste of the majors last year. Berrios, 22, went 3-7 with an 8.02 ERA in 14 major league starts last summer after going 46-25 with a 2.89 ERA as a minor leaguer.

    The Twins, who fell to 59-103 last year after going 83-79 in 2015, need pitching badly. The development of Berrios, one of their first-round draft picks in 2012 (32nd overall), is vital.

    "I'll tell you what, he's got an electric arm," Gimenez says. "He definitely has the stuff. Obviously, last year, that was a rough exposure to the big leagues. It can either bury you or you can use it to motivate you."

    The Twins and Berrios have worked hard to fix a mechanical flaw: He didn't disguise his hand well enough last year during his delivery, and hitters could read when the changeup was coming by viewing his fingers on the ball. Predictably, they teed off on him.

    "The quicker we can get him going in the right direction, the better it will be for the organization to get going quicker," Gimenez says.

    The Twins have several things to fix, and Berrios, who projects as a top-shelf starter one day, is toward the top of that priority list.

     

    6. Weekly Power Rankings

    1. Bryce Harper vs. Noah Syndergaard: The New York Mets ace called Harper a nasty word on Instagram on New Year's Eve. Harper addressed it upon arriving at the Washington Nationals camp over the weekend, taking the high road and essentially saying the Nationals will see the Mets on the field. Was this Syndergaard's idea of making baseball fun again? Sign us up for this soon-to-be-overheated rivalry.

    2. Dellin Betances: Loses arbitration battle to the New York Yankees after asking for a staggering $5 million, then is angered by club president Randy Levine's critical remarks and says it will be easier to leave now via free agency when he becomes eligible following the 2020 season. Hey, that's still four seasons down the road! But you can't say Betances doesn't have 20/20 vision.

    3. Grouper: One of the greatest things about Florida spring training. Heck, one of the greatest things about Florida, period.

    4. Ballpark of the Palm Beaches: New digs for the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros this spring as they share a brand-new complex that, as of today, is still under construction (just the finishing touches). Let's just say this location beats Viera (the Nats' old home) and Kissimmee (the Astros' old home) combined.

    5. Exhibition games: They start late this week, which means grab your programs so you can identify who No. 94 is.

     

    7. Dexter Fowler Aces the Trolls

    ESPN's Mark Saxon asked Dexter Fowler a question, so the new St. Louis Cardinals outfielder gave an answer.

    The question involved his Iranian wife, Darya, and whether Trump's travel ban will dissuade them from visiting Darya's relatives in Iran. Iran is one of seven Muslim-majority countries that Trump attempted to restrict travel to and from until the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals blocked his executive order.

    "It's huge," Fowler told Saxon. "Especially anytime you're unable to see family, it's unfortunate."

    Predictably, because God forbid anyone have a rational discussion about these things anymore, Fowler was flooded with all sorts of social media reaction. Some of it was supportive, but much of it was ugly and nasty.

    Talk about taking the high road. Fowler couldn't have handled it better with these three tweets:

    "The question was asked with empathy toward my family," Fowler says. "How does it affect your family? Yeah, my wife is Iranian.

    "People are going to be people. You've got to roll with it."

    Fowler thinks a lot of the nasty reaction came from people simply reading headlines on the Internet without understanding the context ("Cardinals' Dexter Fowler—whose wife is from Iran—weighs in on Trump's travel ban" read the online headline on USA Today's site, for example).

    Fowler says his sister-in-law, Sadaf, remains in Qatar after delaying her return from a business trip in order to avoid being detained. Dexter and Darya one day would like to take their young daughter to Iran so she can visit with her cousins and extended family.

    "I'm always going to care for my family," he says. "And if a question is asked out of concern, I'm going to answer that question truthfully."

     

    8. Chatter

    * No, Red Sox owner John Henry says, he does not expect a David Ortiz comeback.

    * Manfred is planning to attend World Baseball Classic games in South Korea and Japan before returning to the United States in March for the final two rounds, at Petco Park in San Diego and at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

    * Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch on where outfielder Jake Marisnick fits in after he hit .209/.257/.588 with five homers and 21 RBI in 118 games last season: "He's an elite defender and an elite baserunner. There's a place on this team for him to be really good."

    * Word from the Atlanta Braves' camp is outfielder Matt Kemp has lost nearly 30 pounds. He also moved to Texas during the winter to be near one of his mentors, retired outfielder Torii Hunter, during his offseason workouts.

    * St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina on Fowler's arrival and Matt Carpenter moving across the diamond to first base from third: "Changes are good."

    * Watching Red Sox coach Brian Butterfield run infield drills is like attending a clinic. He is one of the best.

    * Great quip from former Marlins manager Jack McKeon, in uniform at Miami's camp as a special assistant, when a fan asked if it was OK to take his picture the other day: "I thought you'd never ask."

    * The extreme makeover of the Minnesota Twins: Including players and staff, there are 34 people in camp who were not in Fort Myers last spring.

    * Bend and hang: Prayers and good thoughts to Rick Stelmaszek, the former catcher and legendary longtime Twins coach, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in December. Stelmaszek is the longest-tenured coach in Twins history, serving 32 consecutive seasons on the staff (1981-2012). Every time I watch a big league club stretch before batting practice, I can't help but recall the inimitable Stelly hollering words of encouragement to some of those old Twins teams as they stretched: "Bend and hang, boys, bend and hang!"

     

    9. We've Heard of a Barn Raising, but This Is Ridiculous

    Alas, it is true: Kansas City Royals pitcher Brian Flynn, poor guy, is out for two months.

    The reason?

    A few days before camp opened, Flynn fell through the roof of his barn in Oklahoma and suffered a broken rib and three non-displaced fractures in his vertebrae.

    "He was working on his barn and fell through the roof," Royals manager Ned Yost told reporters in Arizona, via the Kansas City Star's Rustin Dodd. "So he took a pretty good tumble, knocked himself out."

     

    9a. Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Week

    This one goes out to Flynn….

    "Well life on the farm is kind of laid back

    "Ain't much an old country boy like me can't hack

    "It's early to rise, early in the sack

    "Thank God I'm a country boy

    "Well a simple kind of life never did me no harm

    "A raisin' me a family and workin' on the farm

    "My days are all filled with an easy country charm

    "Thank God I'm a country boy

    "Well I got me a fine wife, I got me an ol' fiddle

    "When the sun's comin' up I got cakes on the griddle

    "Life ain't nothin' but a funny funny riddle

    "Thank God I'm a country boy"

    — John Denver, "Thank God I'm a Country Boy"

     

    Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.

    Andrew Bogut Reportedly Drawing Trade Interest from Celtics

    Andrew Bogut Reportedly Drawing Trade Interest from Celtics


    The Dallas Mavericks are a disappointing 22-34 heading into the season's second half and are reportedly looking to shake things up. Mike Fisher of 105.3 The Fan in Dallas reported Monday the Mavericks and Boston Celtics are expected to discuss a...

    The Dallas Mavericks are a disappointing 22-34 heading into the season's second half and are reportedly looking to shake things up.

    Mike Fisher of 105.3 The Fan in Dallas reported Monday the Mavericks and Boston Celtics are expected to discuss a potential trade involving Dallas big man Andrew Bogut "dependent on what bigger move Boston can make."

    According to Marc Stein of ESPN, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said his team "is willing to take on contracts in advance of Thursday's trade deadline if draft compensation is attached."

    Bogut has played just 26 contests this season and is averaging an unspectacular three points per game. However, he had four points and eight rebounds in a Wednesday loss to the Detroit Pistons in his first action since Jan. 29.

    Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News noted, "Getting back on the court and playing solidly during his 17-plus minutes sends the message that any team that might have interest in Bogut and the last year of his contract before the trading deadline won't necessarily be getting damaged goods."

    With the fact Bogut isn't damaged goods potentially accelerating a trade involving the Celtics, this approach makes sense on both fronts.

    Dallas could get some draft compensation that Cuban mentioned given the window to realistically compete this season appears over. It can begin a rebuilding process around draft picks and players like Harrison Barnes and even Seth Curry, especially if it can land a pick from Boston, who owns a 2017 first-round pick swap with the Brooklyn Nets, as well as their 2018 first-round pick.

    From the Celtics' perspective, Bogut would give them a much-needed physical presence in their frontcourt rotation.

    He is still averaging 8.3 rebounds in just 22.4 minutes per game this season at age 32 and has posted 8.9 rebounds a night in his entire career. Rebounding is a weak spot for the Eastern Conference's current No. 2 seed, as Boston is 27th in the league in total rebounds per game (41.2) and 26th in defensive rebounds per game (32.1).

    In addition to the help on the boards, Bogut would provide the Celtics with a playoff-tested veteran who was a member of the Golden State Warriors when they beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2015 NBA Finals.

    That was the last team to beat Cleveland in a postseason series, which is exactly what the 37-20 Celtics would likely have to do to reach the Finals this season.

    Kirk Cousins Reportedly Won't Sign New Contract Before Franchise-Tag Deadline

    Kirk Cousins Reportedly Won't Sign New Contract Before Franchise-Tag Deadline


    Quarterback Kirk Cousins won't sign a long-term deal before Washington applies the franchise tag to him, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reported Monday. Florio cited "a source with knowledge of the situation" and noted Washington has nine days to apply...

    Quarterback Kirk Cousins won't sign a long-term deal before Washington applies the franchise tag to him, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reported Monday.

    Florio cited "a source with knowledge of the situation" and noted Washington has nine days to apply the tag but could avoid doing so if it inked Cousins to a new contract. Alas, the signal-caller is reportedly more interested in drawing a second franchise tag.

    Florio explained there is little motivation for the Michigan State product to sign a long-term deal before he is tagged, noting the deadline to turn said tag into a longer contract is still July 15 even after the March 1 tag deadline passes.

    Florio provided additional details on the situation:

    And so the flow chart for Washington is simple through March 1: Tag him or don't tag him. If he's tagged, Cousins will rush to sign it, adding $23.94 million to the $19.95 million he earned last year. Then, talks on a long-term deal likely will consist of Cousins receiving $23.94 million fully guaranteed in 2017, plus a 20-percent raise (reflecting the increase arising from use of the transition tag) fully guaranteed for 2018. It's a total of $52.67 million over two years; for anything less than that, Cousins should again take it year to year.

    In essence, Washington missed an opportunity to ensure Cousins' long-term future remains with the organization at a reasonable price with a potential longer offer when he was still under his rookie contract.

    Now the quarterback has leverage, and he couldn't have picked a better time to possess it.

    Pro Football Focus lists Cousins as the top free-agent quarterback on its free-agency tracker, and the next five are Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley, Mike Glennon, Geno Smith and Shaun Hill. Those names don't exactly scream future Lombardi Trophy winners, making Cousins look all the better if he were to hit the open market.

    What's more, he is just 28 years old and proved his durability by appearing in all 16 games in each of the last two seasons.

    He threw for a career-high 4,917 yards to go along with 25 touchdowns in 2016, and the draft isn't exactly a viable fall-back option considering Chris Biderman of USA Today's Niners Wire said the quarterback class "appears pretty weak at the top."

    Cousins has the leverage in this situation, and he is apparently set on waiting for the franchise tag before considering a long-term deal with the team that drafted him in 2012.

    Brock Lesnar, Paul Heyman Talk Goldberg WrestleMania 33 Match on WWE Raw

    Brock Lesnar, Paul Heyman Talk Goldberg WrestleMania 33 Match on WWE Raw


    Brock Lesnar returned to WWE on Raw Monday night in an effort to start building up his match against Bill Goldberg at WrestleMania 33. With manager Paul Heyman doing the talking, he informed WWE announcer Michael Cole that Lesnar has one thing currently...

    Brock Lesnar returned to WWE on Raw Monday night in an effort to start building up his match against Bill Goldberg at WrestleMania 33.

    With manager Paul Heyman doing the talking, he informed WWE announcer Michael Cole that Lesnar has one thing currently on his mind, per WWE Universe: 

    When asked if Goldberg will defeat Kevin Owens and win the Universal title at the Fastlane pay-per-view, Lesnar and Heyman had different opinions, per WWE Universe: 

    It was a good setup to help rebuild the Beast Incarnate, as Scott Fishman of the Miami Herald noted: 

    Lesnar's appearance was somewhat of a surprise since he's essentially in a holding pattern until WrestleMania 33 in April. During the Jan. 30 edition of Raw, Heyman challenged Goldberg to a rematch after his quick defeat to the former WCW champion at Survivor Series.

    Goldberg showed up a week later to accept and also wound up receiving a shot against Owens for the WWE Universal Championship at Fastlane.

    Following Lesnar's return to the company in 2012, the terms of his contract have significantly limited his usage on WWE programming, which has both positives and negatives.

    On the plus side, the scarcity of his presence adds more intrigue and importance when he actually shows up on television. One of the downsides, on the other hand, is that he almost operates in his own bubble where he is constrained to talking about only a small group of fellow wrestlers.

    One of Lesnar's more underrated moments in recent years came when he wrecked Heath Slater during Raw in August 2016. It was an entertaining reminder that every WWE wrestler exists in one ecosystem—a fact that can be somewhat lost when marquee stars are almost exclusively interacting with other marquee stars.

    Considering Lesnar is only committed to a relatively low number of dates during the year, it's understandable, however, why WWE is selective with the Beast Incarnate.

    One wouldn't expect an interview to be a great use of Lesnar's time, but they've often been effective in conveying how much of a monster he is and how little regard he has for his coworkers. As an example, look no further than his pre-taped promo before Extreme Rules 2012.

    With that said, one might question the timing of Monday's interview with Cole.

    Lesnar has plenty of time to hype up his battle with Goldberg, and to a certain extent, doing the interview now takes some of the spotlight away from Owens vs. Goldberg at Fastlane. There isn't exactly a pressing need for fans to hear Lesnar's thoughts about Goldberg when he's not wrestling him for another month.

    WWE will likely keep the face-to-face confrontations between Lesnar and Goldberg to a minimum until Fastlane.

    Derrick Rose Reportedly Drawing Trade Interest from Timberwolves, Other Teams

    Derrick Rose Reportedly Drawing Trade Interest from Timberwolves, Other Teams


    Derrick Rose is in his first season with the New York Knicks, but the point guard could already be on his way out of town before Thursday's trade deadline. According to Ian Begley of ESPN.com, the Minnesota Timberwolves are one of several teams that have...

    Derrick Rose is in his first season with the New York Knicks, but the point guard could already be on his way out of town before Thursday's trade deadline.

    According to Ian Begley of ESPN.com, the Minnesota Timberwolves are one of several teams that have reached out about a potential swap for Rose.

    The 2010-11 MVP is averaging 17.7 points and 4.5 assists per game.

    Rose, who is set to be a free agent at the end of the season, was traded from the Chicago Bulls to the Knicks in June as part of a five-player deal.

    While Rose has posted similar numbers to what he produced his last couple of years in Chicago, New York has struggled as a team. The squad went into the All-Star break with a 23-34 record, good for just 12th place in the Eastern Conference.

    "I like being here, but [you] never know what could happen," Rose said Wednesday, per Begley. "My job is to come in and play as hard as I can."

    If the Timberwolves acquire the 28-year-old, Rose and coach Tom Thibodeau would be reunited. They spent five years together with the Bulls, though Rose missed the entire 2012-13 season with a torn left ACL.

    Rose could provide the Wolves with veteran leadership and a scoring upgrade at point guard over Ricky Rubio, who is averaging 8.9 points per game. That would be especially valuable since Zach LaVine, who was averaging 18.9 points per game, is out for the rest of the season with a torn left ACL.

    On the other hand, No. 5 overall pick Kris Dunn would likely see even less playing time than the 16.6 minutes per game he's averaged during his rookie year.

    Rose's scoring ability makes him an attractive option, but teams will have to avoid overbidding for what could be a short-term rental.

    Bulls Trade Rumors: Nikola Mirotic Reportedly Being Shopped by Chicago

    Bulls Trade Rumors: Nikola Mirotic Reportedly Being Shopped by Chicago


    If the Chicago Bulls are active before the Feb. 23 trade deadline, Nikola Mirotic might be the player on the move. K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune reports Jimmy Butler is likely safe from a blockbuster deal, but he notes the team has been...

    If the Chicago Bulls are active before the Feb. 23 trade deadline, Nikola Mirotic might be the player on the move.

    K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune reports Jimmy Butler is likely safe from a blockbuster deal, but he notes the team has been "aggressive" in shopping Mirotic. 

    The Los Angeles Clippers are considered a possible destination for the power forward.

    Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times reported in January the team was shopping both Mirotic and Rajon Rondo in order to improve the roster for this season. The organization has clearly ramped up its efforts on the former with just a few days left before the deadline.

    After a solid first two seasons with the Bulls, Mirotic has been a bit of a disappointment in 2016-17. The 26-year-old is averaging just 9.0 points per game while shooting 38.1 percent from the field, both of which would be his lowest of his three-year career. 

    While he made 39 percent of his looks from three-point range a year ago, that number is down to just 29.9 percent this season.

    The Bulls are hoping to gain some value for the impending free agent while remaining in contention this season. The squad entered the All-Star break with a 28-29 record, good enough for seventh place in the Eastern Conference.

    If the team fails to reach the postseason, it would be the first time missing the playoffs in back-to-back years since the six-year stretch from 1998 to 2004.

    New Day Say They'd Never Leave WWE to Fight in UFC, Comment on Conor McGregor

    New Day Say They'd Never Leave WWE to Fight in UFC, Comment on Conor McGregor


    After Brock Lesnar and CM Punk both fought in UFC within the last year, WWE at least doesn't have to worry about The New Day jumping ship. In an interview with TMZ Sports Monday, Big E, Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods said they have no desire to...

    After Brock Lesnar and CM Punk both fought in UFC within the last year, WWE at least doesn't have to worry about The New Day jumping ship.

    In an interview with TMZ Sports Monday, Big E, Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods said they have no desire to transition to mixed martial arts:

    The New Day may be the longest-reigning tag team champions in WWE history, but they'd unquestionably be out of their depth inside the Octagon.

    The discussion also focused on UFC star Conor McGregor, who has flirted with possibly showing up in WWE. The company itself acknowledged the speculation after McGregor's brief retirement last April.

    "I think the general consensus is that what we do are two very different things," Woods said of McGregor. "People say what they want to in interviews and things like that, but at the end of the day, we do what we do and he does what he does. You asking us this question verifies he's talking about it, [getting] people talking. Good for him."

    Kingston said he'd enjoy seeing McGregor compete in WWE.

    If McGregor ever does show up in WWE, then it's unlikely to happen at WrestleMania 33. The Sun's Barry Moran reported in January the UFC lightweight champion turned down the opportunity to appear at the event.

    With over a month before WrestleMania, however, there's still time for McGregor to make a U-turn and pack his bags for Orlando, Florida. The 28-year-old is basically the biggest heel in UFC, so he'd be a natural inside the squared circle should he ever want to give professional wrestling a try.

    Michael Bourn Re-Signs with Orioles: Latest Contract Details, Comments, Reaction

    Michael Bourn Re-Signs with Orioles: Latest Contract Details, Comments, Reaction


    After playing well following an August trade to the Baltimore Orioles, Michael Bourn will return to the team in 2017 after agreeing to a new deal, MASNsports.com's Roch Kubatko reported Monday. According to the Baltimore Sun's Eduardo A. Encina, Bourn...

    After playing well following an August trade to the Baltimore Orioles, Michael Bourn will return to the team in 2017 after agreeing to a new deal, MASNsports.com's Roch Kubatko reported Monday.

    According to the Baltimore Sun's Eduardo A. Encina, Bourn will receive $2 million if he makes the Orioles' Opening Day roster.

    Bourn signed a minor league deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks in May to help fill a void in their outfield. He hit .261/.307/.362 with 13 stolen bases and 21 extra-base hits in 329 at-bats. 

    A late-season trade to the Baltimore Orioles seemed to rejuvenate Bourn, albeit in the small sample size of 24 games. The two-time All-Star hit .283/.358/.435 in 46 at-bats to help the Orioles win one of the American League wild-card spots. 

    At this stage of Bourn's career, his role in the big leagues is unsettled. His offensive performance over the previous three seasons has seen a steep decline from his peak years. 

    Bourn's game was always heavily predicated on speed, stealing bases and being an elite defender in center field. 

    Heading into his age-34 season in 2017, Bourn's legs are not going to be what they were when he was one of the best center fielders in Major League Baseball. He has displayed some versatility by moving to the corner spots, but those are traditionally for players with higher offensive profiles than he has. 

    Due to the limitations in Bourn's game at this stage of his career, he's best served as a bench outfielder who can be an injury fill-in or provide defense late in games. It's not a sexy profile, though there are a lot of teams that would love to have his skill set in a pinch. 

    Baltimore is a team that boasts virtually no speed in the lineup. The Orioles were far behind the 29 other MLB teams with just 19 stolen bases last season, so even a limited version of Bourn boasts more value for them because he can run better than anyone they have. 

    Given that Bourn doesn't cost a lot of money at this stage of his career, the Orioles were wise to invest in him for another season after their marriage worked well at the end of 2016. 

    Chicago Blackhawks vs. Minnesota Wild Betting Odds, Analysis, NHL Preview


    Not much has changed since the Minnesota Wild (39-13-6) hosted the Chicago Blackhawks (36-18-5) less than two weeks ago at the Xcel Energy Center. The Wild have gone 4-1-1 in their last six games and remain seven points ahead of the Blackhawks, who edged...

    Not much has changed since the Minnesota Wild (39-13-6) hosted the Chicago Blackhawks (36-18-5) less than two weeks ago at the Xcel Energy Center.

    The Wild have gone 4-1-1 in their last six games and remain seven points ahead of the Blackhawks, who edged them 4-3 in overtime in the last meeting on Feb. 8 and who will be road underdogs again Tuesday at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.

    Chicago ended an eight-game losing streak in the regular season to Minnesota in that last matchup, getting a power-play goal from Jonathan Toews in the extra session after blowing a 3-2 lead late in regulation.

    However, the Wild started backup goaltender Darcy Kuemper over All-Star Devan Dubnyk (32-10-3, 1.97 goals-against average) because they were playing on back-to-back nights. That will not be the case here, with both teams off since the weekend and Minnesota last playing on Saturday.

    Dubnyk is coming off a 37-save performance in a 5-2 win over the Nashville Predators, as Jason Zucker scored two goals and added an assist en route to the team's second victory in a row. The Wild's last loss took place exactly one week ago, with the Anaheim Ducks blanking them 1-0 at home behind 37 saves from John Gibson.

    The Blackhawks have continued to play well since last visiting Minnesota, too, winning three of four and taking six of seven dating back to Feb. 2. They routed the Buffalo Sabres 5-1 on Sunday as solid road favorites on the NHL betting lines, with backup goalie Scott Darling stopping 25 shots and Patrick Kane totaling two points in his hometown.

    Chicago's lone setback this month took place the night before, as the team suffered a 3-1 home loss to the Edmonton Oilers one week after beating them 5-1 on the road.

    The over looks to again be a solid play in this Central Division rivalry game between the Wild and Blackhawks, with only one of the past eight meetings finishing under the total.

    The over is 4-1-3 in the last eight, according to the OddsShark NHL Database, landing on five three times. Six of those eight games were decided by one goal, something else to keep in mind for bettors, with a combined margin of eight in the other two.

    Montreal Canadiens vs. New York Rangers Betting Odds, Analysis, NHL Preview


    The Montreal Canadiens (31-20-8) will try to end their three-game losing streak and earn their first victory under new head coach Claude Julien when they visit the New York Rangers (38-19-1) on Tuesday as solid road underdogs at sportsbooks monitored by...

    The Montreal Canadiens (31-20-8) will try to end their three-game losing streak and earn their first victory under new head coach Claude Julien when they visit the New York Rangers (38-19-1) on Tuesday as solid road underdogs at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.

    Julien took over for Michel Therrien on Feb. 14 following a 2-6-1 slump, and Montreal proceeded to lose its first game with him on the bench to the Ottawa Senators 3-1 on Saturday as home favorites on the NHL betting lines.

    The Canadiens got off to a red-hot 13-1-1 start to the season, and they have been fortunate to stay on top of the Atlantic Division amidst their recent struggles.

    Ottawa sits just two points behind Montreal, and the Boston Bruins, who fired Julien on Feb. 7, are four back in a competitive divisional race, with seven of the eight teams over the .500 mark heading into Tuesday's NHL action.

    The eighth-place team is the Detroit Red Wings, who have made the playoffs in 25 straight seasons.

    The Rangers are trending in the other direction, winners of seven of eight following a 2-1 victory against the Metropolitan Division-leading Washington Capitals on Sunday.

    New York got the game-winning goal from Mats Zuccarello at the 8:37 mark of the third period, and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist made 31 saves to help his team pull within eight points of Washington for the Metropolitan lead and within three of second place.

    While the Rangers are in better form, they have struggled versus the Canadiens lately.

    Montreal won the lone meeting between the teams on Jan. 14 at home 5-4 behind a furious rally in the third period. Alexei Emelin, Max Pacioretty and Paul Byron all scored within a 62-second stretch in the third to turn a 3-2 deficit into a 5-3 lead until Derek Stepan tallied the final goal for New York at the 14:53 mark.

    The Rangers fell for the fourth time in five meetings with the Habs, according to the OddsShark NHL Database, with the total going over for the third time in a row.

    Dexter Fowler Responds to Backlash from Comments on Donald Trump's Travel Ban

    Dexter Fowler Responds to Backlash from Comments on Donald Trump's Travel Ban


    On Monday, Mark Saxon of ESPN.com reported St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler did not regret comments he previously made criticizing President Donald Trump's executive order banning travel from seven Muslim countries despite the backlash he...

    On Monday, Mark Saxon of ESPN.com reported St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler did not regret comments he previously made criticizing President Donald Trump's executive order banning travel from seven Muslim countries despite the backlash he received.

    "I'm always going to care for my family, and if a question is asked out of concern, I'm going to answer the question truthfully," Fowler said, per Saxon. "It's not to hurt anybody. It's my perspective. It's unfortunate that people think of things that way, but I believe they're sensitive. I'm not the sensitive one."

    Fowler had told ESPN (h/t USA Today): "It's huge. Especially anytime you're not able to see family, it's unfortunate."

    This is personal for Fowler because his wife was born in Iran, which is one of the seven countries named in Trump's executive order. What's more, Saxon noted Fowler's sister-in-law delayed her return from a business trip to Qatar to avoid being detained.

    Trump's executive order was blocked by a federal district court, and an appeals court then decided against reinstating it.

    The Twitter account Baseball's Best Fans—which frequently shares Cardinals fans' derogatory statements as a way of mocking the notion that St. Louis truly has the best fans in baseball—passed along some of the responses to Fowler's comments regarding the executive order (warning: NSFW language):

    Fowler expressed his thoughts on the backlash via Twitter:

    Fowler signed with the Cardinals this offseason after winning a World Series with the team's archrival, the Chicago Cubs, in 2016.