Ohio State in Big Ten’s CFP Driver Seat after Penn State Win

ohio-state-over-penn-stateOhio State football is now in command of the Big Ten East following a 39-38 comeback victory over the No. 7 Penn State Nittany Lions. This is revenge for the No. 3 Buckeyes after their 24-21 upset loss in Happy Valley last season.

The visitors jumped out to a quick lead after Penn State’s star running back Saquon Barkley returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. The Nittany Lions added another first-quarter TD to take a 14-0 lead.

Ohio State battled back, but found themselves down by at least 10 points at three different junctures of the game. Penn State still led with over 2 minutes left in the fourth quarter. But Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett gave Ohio State the lead for good with a 16-yard TD pass to Marcus Baugh. This helped the Buckeyes outscore the Nittany Lions 19-3 in the last stanza.

“You got to give Ohio State, the crowd, the environment, the stadium, Coach (Urban) Meyer, his team credit,” said Penn State coach James Franklin. “They’re obviously a very, very good football team, (and) it’s a tough place to come and get a win.”

“In no way shape or form should anyone have their head down,” tight end Mike Gesicki said following the game. “Obviously, we didn’t have the outcome we wanted, but playing on the road in this kind of atmosphere, to come up that short, we can fix the mistakes, we’ll bounce back.”

Biggest Comeback by an Urban Meyer Team

ohio-state-saquon-barkleyOhio State faced an 18-point deficit at two different points in this game. Their victory over Penn state marks the biggest-ever comeback by an Urban Meyer-coached team.

Barrett is one of the biggest reasons why the Buckeyes never gave up in this game. He was 33-for-39 passing with 328 yards and four touchdowns. Ohio State’s defense also did an excellent job of containing Barkley’s rushing prowess.

One more key factor in their victory included a blocked punt with 11:39 left in the fourth. This is fitting because it was a blocked punt that turned the tide of last year’s contest between these two teams.

“The margin of error is very small when you play these types of games,” said Franklin. “I thought the blocked punt was a huge play in the game.”

The Buckeye’s improving secondary locked down Nittany Lions receivers and helped the team be more aggressive against Penn State QB Trent McSorley. They sacked McSorely twice and stuffed the team’s read-option on the edges.

“They did a good job,” said McSorley. “Especially with that opportunity we had to ice it. They made the plays and we didn’t.”

mcsorley-penn-stateMcSorely was referring to a 10-play, 64-yard drive that resulted in a field goal with 5:42 left. Penn State was driving with momentum and seemed like they’d get into the end zone.

“They did some different stuff,” said Barkley after scoring two touchdowns on 172 all-purpose yards. “They blitzed us a lot more than they usually did, they stopped the run – we just gotta find a way to run the ball.”

Barkley, one of the leading Heisman candidates, tallied 80 yards from scrimmage. But 36 of these yards came on his lone rushing touchdown.

Ohio State Controls Destiny in CFP Race

Things looked gloomy for Ohio State following the early season lost to Oklahoma. However, they’ve put themselves back in control of their College Football Playoff destiny by winning this big showdown.

The Nittany Lions essentially dominated this game for the first three quarters. But this is when Barrett came to life, going 13-for-13 and delivering two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

Perhaps this game wouldn’t have come down to the wire if not for a controversial third-quarter call. McSorley threw a pass into the end zone, where Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward and Penn State receiver DeAndre Thompkins battled for the ball.

penn-state-ohio-state-passOfficials reviewed the play for 5 minutes before determining that the players had joint possession, resulting in a Penn State touchdown. The call gave the Nittany Lions a 15-point lead and seemingly deflated the Buckeyes’ chances.

“What happened, the offensive receiver had full possession of the ball, brought the ball down and completed the process of a catch,” said referee John O’Neill. “He then rolled over and at that point, the Ohio State defender came on him. By rule, joint possession belongs to the offense.”

O’Neill added, “The Penn State receiver had the ball first. He brought the ball down, completed the process of a catch, rolled over at which point the Ohio State defender came down on him.”

Facing even longer odds with 22 minutes left, Ohio State was still able to come back and win the game.

This victory by no means puts Ohio State in the CFP. They still play some good teams down the stretch, including Michigan State (6-2), Iowa (5-3), and Michigan (6-2).

Ohio State will also have to play undefeated Wisconsin (8-0) if the latter wins the Big Ten West. But on paper, No. 2 Penn State is the toughest test that the Buckeyes will face in their conference.

Provided they win out, Ohio State will face the Big Ten West winner in the conference championship with a CFP spot on the line.

Barrett Vaults into Heisman Contention

jt-barrett-heismanBarkley was leading the Heisman race up until this point. But as mentioned before, he struggled most of this game, finishing with 44 rushing yards on 21 carries. Outside of 36-yard touchdown run, he had 8 rushing yards on 20 carries.

Barkley’s struggles were especially noticeable in the fourth quarter, when he couldn’t pick up yardage to run out the clock.

Meanwhile, Barrett shined where Barkley faltered by passing for four touchdowns. This gives Barrett 24 touchdown passes against just one interception on the season. And it makes the Oklahoma game where he struggled so badly seem like a distant memory.

As for Barkley, he’s not totally out of the Heisman race. After all, he did turn in 172 all-purpose yards, and the opening kickoff touchdown. But Ohio State held him well under his average of 211 yards per game.

In the end, Barkley only had to shining moments, including the 97-yard kickoff return and the 36-yard rushing touchdown, where he shed a tackle from lineman Tyquan Lewis.

There’s still a lot of football left to be played, and there are other legitimate Heisman candidates. But right now, it seems like Barrett has a slight lead in the race.

7 Reasons Why Colts’ Andrew Luck Won’t Play Until 2018

andrew-luck-wont-play-2018-1Back in September, we discussed how Andrew Luck might miss a few games this season. Fast-forward to now and it’s questionable if the Indianapolis Colts starting quarterback will even play a game in 2017.

He practiced a couple weeks ago, when shoulder soreness caused a setback. Now, Indianapolis is waiting to see if he can throw with no pain before taking the field again.

But all signs point to Luck sitting out the entire season and waiting until 2018 to play again. Let’s discuss 7 reasons why he won’t be playing until next season.

1. Luck Isn’t 100% and Won’t Be Any Time Soon

andrew-luck-coltsThe main reason why we won’t see Luck on the field this year is because he’s not 100% yet from off-season shoulder surgery.

As mentioned above, he tried practicing and developed soreness in his shoulder. The team has since sidelined him while waiting for the pain to subside.

It was believed that we might see him play at some point in 2017. He was left off the PUP list to begin the season, indicating that Indianapolis thought he had a shot to play before Week 7.

But questions began to swirl when he didn’t actually practice until Week 5. He was quickly shut down after experiencing the aforementioned soreness.

2. The Colts Aren’t Going Anywhere in 2017

andrew-luck-wont-play-2018The truth is that there’s really no timetable on when he’ll be back at this point. Going further, it doesn’t make sense for the 2-5 Colts to rush the quarterback onto the field anyways. The team has very little shot at making the playoffs, and they’re likely to finish last in the AFC South.

Indianapolis has stayed relevant in the playoff landscape largely in part to Andrew Luck’s play. The quarterback has consistently managed to move the offense despite playing with a mediocre offensive line and supporting cast.

This year is no different with the Colts now three games under .500. Their only victories are a pair of 3-point wins over the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers.

The five losses have been by a combined 109 points. Given this fact, it’s no wonder why Football Outsiders considers the Colts to be the worst NFL team this year from a play-by-play perspective.

Compounding matters for Indianapolis is that their schedule only gets tougher from here. It’s fair to assume that the Colts will be underdogs on every point spread most of the season. I expect them to finish 3-13 and land a top-5 pick.

3. The Roster is Too Injured to be Good

chris-ballard-coltsNew GM Chris Ballard made his first order of business to clean house with the roster. This means that 26 players on the active 53-man roster are new from last season.

Ballard was dealt a bad hand, and it’s little surprise that his roster overhaul hasn’t produced any results thus far. What’s worse is that the roster has only gotten thinner due to prominent injuries.

Starting center Ryan Kelly, the team’s first-round pick last year, was out the first four games of the season with a foot problem. Just as soon as Kelly returned, backup center Deyshawn Bond and starting guard Jack Mewhort went on injured reserve. This has left players like undrafted free agent Jeremy Vujnovich starting games and protecting the quarterback.

The defense was dealt a blow when first-round pick Malik Hooker went down with a torn ACL and MCL. The safety has serious potential and game-changing athleticism, but is now on the shelf until 2018. Defensive end John Simon has also been put on injured reserve after tallying 12 quarterback knockdowns – good for eighth in the league.

4. Jacoby Brisset Has Been Decent

jacoby-brissett-coltsIndianapolis tried going with Scott Tolzien to start the season. But his terrible play in the beginning convinced the team to trade for former New England Patriots backup Jacoby Brisset.

The second-year player has been surprisingly effective in his first seven games. Brissett has 1,409 passing yards, 6 combined touchdowns, 3 interceptions, and a 59.7% completion rate.

Brissett certainly isn’t Andrew Luck right now. But he’s been a good enough stop-gap to prevent Indianapolis from getting embarrassed.

Another thing worth mentioning here is that Brissett has been taking a lot of sacks. He’s been sacked 10 times and knocked down 20 times thus far. It’s highly unlikely that the Colts want to rush their franchise star out to take this kind of abuse.

5. Luck isn’t in Game Shape

andrew-luck-playoffsIt’s possible that if Luck were able to return right now, he could help the Colts make a playoff push. But this isn’t the case because he hasn’t practiced in two weeks. Even then, he only practiced for one week before being shut down due to the shoulder soreness.

Lucky simply isn’t in game shape right now. It would probably take at least five weeks before Indianapolis even considers putting him on the field.

That’s three weeks for throwing and getting his shoulder back into shape, followed by another two weeks of serious practices. And this is only in the best case scenario if head coach Chuck Pagano feels that Luck is ready after this limited practice time.

It’s also worth wondering if the quarterback could suffer a setback by playing in 2017. As mentioned above, Brissett is already taking a lot of sacks. This would unlikely change with Luck under center.

6. The Tanking Option is Tempting

andrew-luck-ramsThe big conspiracy theory among sports analysts right now is that the Colts organization is leaning more towards tanking than rushing Luck back to win a few games.

They have little to gain right now from pursing a near-hopeless playoff push with an injury riddled roster. And as discussed before, they have a legitimate shot at a top-5 pick.

Of course, most teams tank because they want to try and grab a franchise quarterback. The way that Carson Wentz and Jared Goff have played this season certainly won’t dissuade teams from doing so in the future.

In the Colts case, they’ve already had their franchise quarterback for a while in Luck. But with little to gain in 2017, it still makes sense to take for a high pick that they can use on another valuable piece. Penn State’s Saquon Barkley or a top defensive player would be interesting options.

The other option is that they can trade this selection for several draft picks. UCLA’s Josh Rosen and USC’s Sam Darnold are highly coveted quarterback prospects. Teams without a good quarterback would be interested in trading up to the draft them. This could buy the Colts enough picks to fill out their roster in Ballard’s vision and give this team a realistic shot at winning again.

Whatever the case may be, Indianapolis is looking at plenty of losses this season. And this ultimately means that they’ll be landing a top-tier talent, or at least a number of draft picks that will be useful.

7. The Organization Needs Change

Odds are that the Colts finish with one of the worst records in football. And they’ll probably fire Pagano after this season and Ballard will look for a new coach. This means that Luck can come back to a fresh start with better players if he waits until next season.

Beyond giving Luck a better supporting cast, this team simply needs talent anyways. Former GM Ryan Grigson didn’t make the best picks during his tenure from 2012-2016. Grigson started well by taking Luck and T.Y. Hilton in the 2012 Draft. He also swung a second-round pick for safety Vontae Davis.

But after that, Grigson’s draft picks failed to pan out and/or play a role in any big trades. No pick from 2013 is still on the roster. And the team used their first round selection from 2014 to trade for Trent Richardson. Phillip Dorsett, the Colts’ 2015 first round pick, was traded to New England for Brissett after two unsuccessful seasons with the team.

That said, Luck’s injury could be a blessing in disguise if it gets the team a high draft pick. This can either become a game-changing player or be used to strengthen the roster in several other areas. Firing Pagano and signing a new coach for 2018 could also help this face-lift and bring in a new culture.

Suns Betting: Phoenix Asking Too Much for Eric Bledsoe

eric-bledsoe-suns-tradeThe trade market has opened up for Phoenix Suns point guard Eric Bledsoe after he tweeted a telling message. Bledsoe claims that he was at a salon when tweeting “I don’t want to be here.”

However, Suns GM Ryan McDonough doesn’t buy it and has since been shopping the disgruntled point guard. Plenty of teams are interested in the 6’1″ guard because he’s a good scorer who’s averaged over 20 PPG the past two seasons.

But the problem is that the Suns may be asking for too much. Let’s discuss this matter further along with why McDonough is so quick to get rid of Bledsoe.

eric-bledsoe-tweet

Bucks, Knicks, Nuggets Report High Asking Price

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst recently reported that the New York Knicks, Milwaukee Bucks, and Denver Nuggets have expressed interest in Bledsoe. However, each of these teams have been “taken aback” by how much Phoenix wants for their starting point guard.

eric-bledsoe-phoenix-trade“In the initial conversations that the Suns had with teams yesterday – teams like the Bucks and the Nuggets and the Knicks and the Clippers are some of the teams that they’ve talked to – their asking price was very high. Some of the team that I’ve talked to were taken aback by what the Suns asked for,” said Windhorst.

“If they’re going to keep their asking price very high, which is usually, in some of these talks, a young player and a draft pick or a young player and an established player – they may have to wait a while for the market to play out.”

Bledsoe Is no doubt a talented player who can help a team at point guard. However, he also has a history of injuries which is cause for concern.

That said, the Suns may not get the young player/draft pick combination, or an established player/young player combo. Furthermore, McDonough doesn’t have much leverage when considering the recent turn of events.

McDonough Claims Teams are “Pretty Aggressive” in Bledsoe Trade Hunt

McDonough spoke with Arizona Sports 98.7 FM and said that teams are extremely interested in acquiring his team’s point guard.

ryan-mcdonough-suns-gm“We’ve gotten some pretty good offers, especially in the last 24 hours or so,” he said. “We’re comfortable with the offers we’re getting. There are a few teams in particular that are being pretty aggressive.

“Contrary to what you might have heard or read, there is a strong market for Eric Bledsoe. I think we heard from all 29 teams at this point.”

It’s difficult to know whether the interested teams or the Suns GM are telling the truth. After all, both sides want to get the best deal possible.

Phoenix wants to make it look like multiple teams are competing for Bledsoe to drive up his trade value. The interested teams are making it seem that the Suns are being unreasonable so they drive down the asking price.

Odds are good that Phoenix gets a decent package in a potential trade. But it’s doubtful that they land anything like the Knicks giving them both Willy Hernangomez and Frank Ntilikina. However, it’s not hard to understand why they’d start with a high asking price.

McDonough Criticized Bledsoe’s Leadership

One mistake that McDonough has made during this trade process includes criticizing Bledsoe after his initial tweet. Here’s what the GM told Arizona Sports radio:

“It works both ways, and for a guy with years on his contract to say or intimate he didn’t want to be here anymore, I didn’t find that to be appropriate, and I think if he says he wants to be a leader, that’s the opposite of what a leader does and the opposite of what leadership is. So I think that’s all I’m going to say about that.”

This may be exactly what’s on McDonough’s mind right now. However, it’s not good to bash your point guard days before trying to get high trade value for him.

Why Does Bledsoe Want Out so Badly?

eric-bledsoeSpeculation is that Bledsoe’s agent Rich Paul is behind Bledsoe’s trade request. And McDonough believes that Bledsoe is getting some bad advice. Here’s what he told ESPN’s Chris Haynes about the matter:

“I was certainly surprised by it and disappointed by it,” McDonough said. “I think Eric’s a good person. I think he’s unfortunately gotten some bad advice and is listening to the wrong people. I think generally, any time you sign a contract, it doesn’t only work one way.”

McDonough also said that he believes Bledsoe is unhappy about being shut down towards the end of last season due to injury.

“He was certainly hurt by getting shut down last year, and we understand that and respect that,” McDonough explained.

“At the same time, it’s a new year. He has multiple years left on his contract. I talked to Eric, met with him a couple times before the season started and he said he was excited about our group, excited to play with the young guys and thought we had a good thing going here.”

Suns Betting

Phoenix hasn’t played too well over the past few seasons. And they’re not off to a great start this year either, sitting at 2-3.

This is a rebuilding team that needs leadership. And the organization apparently feels that Bledsoe isn’t providing this leadership with his attitude right now.

Long story short, the Phoenix Suns look like a risky bet right now until they settle the Bledsoe situation. They’re probably going to be overvalued on the betting for a while with their unhappy point guard. I suggest waiting until Bledsoe is traded before putting any serious money on the Suns.

Broncos Betting: Denver Offense Looking Historically Bad

The Denver Broncos started the season 3-1 and were looking like Super Bowl contenders for the first four games. However, they’ve lost their last two contests, and the offense has looked terrible during these losses.

The Broncos dropped the last game 21-0 to the Los Angeles Chargers. The offense was so bad that they didn’t even reach midfield for the first half.

This is Denver’s first shutout loss since 1992. And the team gained just 252 yards of offense while committing three turnovers – all courtesy of quarterback Trevor Siemian.

The good news for the Broncos is that we’re only six games into the season. And their 3-3 record still puts them within striking distance of the AFC West title and a playoff spot.

But a lot has to change before this happens. And we’re going to discuss this matter further below.

Is Siemian the Answer?

Trevor Siemian looked good the first few games of the season. However, he’s been really bad over the last couple games. This has many questioning if the 25-year-old is truly the answer under center.

Siemian Is only in his second year and has time to improve. But the problem is that he’s making the same mistakes he made last year as a rookie.

The former seventh-round draft pick has a terrible 43.8 quarterback rating along with six interceptions in six games.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t get much better beyond Siemian. Brock Osweiler is the backup. Since leaving the Broncos through free agency in the 2016 off-season, Osweiler has bounced between the Houston Texans and Cleveland Browns. It’s really sad that he’s a castoff of the Browns because they haven’t had a decent quarterback in years.

The other option is 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch. The second-year player has been hurt all year, and he couldn’t even win the job from Siemian last season.

That said, Denver is in a bind as far as the quarterbacks go this year. And they may have to consider using their first pick in the 2018 draft on a signal caller.

Looking Ahead

Another problem facing the Broncos is that their schedule only gets tougher. They play the 5-2 Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football in Week 8.

Then they go on the road the following week to play the 5-1 Philadelphia Eagles. They wrap up this brutal stretch with a home game against the New England Patriots.

It’s possible that the team could be 3-6 when they’re finished playing all three opponents. And if Denver thinks it’s bad now, things will only spiral out of control further if they can’t pick up a win or two during their toughest stretch.

The Broncos Haven’t been Great on Any Side of the Ball

Again, Denver’s offense has been really bad during their two-game losing streak. But it’s not like the team as a whole is playing great either.

broncos-offenseThe defense felt bad about not creating any turnovers against the Chargers. The special teams unit took blame for allowing a punt return touchdown.

”Everybody had faults this game,” said linebacker Shaquil Barrett.

As for the offense, they only tallied 69 rushing yards and allowed five sacks. Siemian couldn’t get the ball downfield. When he finally did, tight end A.J. Derby gave up a costly fumble. It didn’t help matters that star receiver Demaryius Thomas had an 81-yard catch called off due to pass interference.

”The past two weeks is not us,” said Thomas.

Nobody should be surprised that the offense was so bad because this is something that’s been going on for weeks. The team has only scored one offensive touchdown in the past three games. The shutout loss to L.A.. tops everything off because the team couldn’t even get a field goal.

Denver Must Get Over Injuries

One thing that can help improve the offense is for the team to get healthy. Wide receiver Emannuel Sanders is hurt and will miss his second straight game. The team was also forced to start rookie left tackle Garrett Bolles and guard Andrew Barbe at right tackle. The fill-ins had a difficult struggle with Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa.

”We’re not blocking well,” said Broncos head coach Vance Joseph. “We’re not protecting well. We had some good plays called again today, we had some guys wide open. We’re just not hitting the passes.”

Joseph added that he never thought about benching Siemian, who threw for just 207 yards and had three interceptions.

”He’s our quarterback,” Joseph explained. ”It’s a two-score game for most of the game, so why make a change when we’re still in the game? It wasn’t simply on Trevor. I felt up until five minutes to go it was a game we could have won.”

Thomas also came to his quarterback’s defense, saying that it’s a team effort.

”I got Trevor’s back, I don’t care what nobody say,” he said. ”It’s about what we got to do as a group, as an offense to make us better. Once we do that, then you’ll see people start pointing fingers at something else.”

What Must Denver Do to Win?

First off, the Broncos need to convert on third down, especially when they’re within close range of the first-down marker.

They were just 3-for-14 on third-down conversions, including 1-for-7 from within seven yards or less.

The defense could also help out a little more. This elite defensive unit didn’t give the offense very good field position because four drives started inside their own 10-yard line. The team also has just one interception and no fumble recoveries in the past four games.

”There are so many different ways to get turnovers, and we’re not getting any of them. We got to create a short field for our offense,” said linebacker Von Miller.

The good news is that Miller still believes in the team’s ability to improve and win.

”You can’t lose two games straight and not have any issues, so we obviously got issues that we need to address from the top down,” said Miller. ”I strongly feel we’ll get this corrected.”

Bulls Odds: Portis’ Punch Leaves Chicago Thinner than Ever

bobby-portis-nikola-miroticThe Chicago Bulls were never going to be very good this season. After all, they traded away team star Jimmy Butler for draft picks and young players. But now the bulls are looking at an even more-dismal start after the altercation between Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic.

Portis Punched Mirotic in the face during a Chicago practice. Mirotic will miss the next 4-6 weeks with a facial fracture, while Portis has been suspended for eight games.

Let’s discuss more on what caused this incident and also cover what the Bulls are facing without these two power forwards.

Mirotic-Portis Feud has been “Going on for a Couple of Years”

Vincent Goodwill, Chicago Bulls insider and NBC Sports Chicago reporter, said that the fight between Portis and Mirotic is something that’s been brewing for while.

“Basically, he and Bobby Portis have had something going on for a couple of years,” said Goodwill. “In practice, you know how things go. Sometimes teammates don’t always necessarily like each other. But basically they said that Bobby Portis lost it and punched Niko in the face when they were in a scuffle.”

bobby-portisJohn Paxson, Bulls’ vice president of basketball operations, admitted to the media that both players got into a heated confrontation during practice. He said that he’s most disappointed in Portis for taking the conflict too far.

“Both players owned responsibility in the incident itself,” said Paxson. “But only one player threw a punch. And that punch connected and for us that is inexcusable. It’s not who we are. It disappoints us in terms of what happened, and because of that we’ve determined that we’re going to suspend Bobby for eight games.”

Paxson added, “This is a team suspension. We did get counsel and advice from the league because this is really unprecedented in a practice situation. There’s altercations a lot of times, but the result of Niko’s injuries are why we’ve taken the position that we have.”

The former Bulls shooting guard and current team VP also stood up for Portis’ overall character outside of this incident.

“Bobby Portis is not a bad person. He’s a good kid. He’s a competitive kid, but in this instance he made a mistake. And as we all know when you make mistakes you got to suffer the consequences.”

Paxson said that this isn’t the first time he’s seen something like this happen in practice, especially when it comes to players at the same position.

nikola-mirotic“These type of things do happen,” he explained. “I’ve been a part of them. I’ve seen them. Positionally, it can happen. I used to get into these little scuffles with BJ [Armstrong] when we played, but you can’t cross the line. And Bobby crossed the line. And again, the result of the contact and what it’s done to Niko is really the thing that has a lot of us sitting here feeling really disappointed in this today.”

Head coach Fred Hoiberg was “very disappointed” at what took place. And he visited Mirotic in the hospital.

“My job is to not let this moment derail us,” said Hoiberg. “My job is to get these guys prepared to go out and fight and play as a group. And I’m confident that our guys will do that.”

Center Robin Lopez, who’s relied on for his veteran leadership, said that both sides played a role in what culminated in the punch.

“We talked with Bobby,” Lopez said. “Obviously he’s regretful about what he did. We talked about it as a team afterwards. Everything was still so fresh. We as a team feel there’s blame on both sides. When it comes down to it the punch was inexcusable.”

Where do the Bulls Go from Here?

The Chicago Bulls finally decided to enter a full-on rebuild this year. And Hoiberg is supposed to develop this young core into an eventual winner.

Mirotic is an important part of the rebuild, especially after beating Portis out for the starting power forward spot. However, things will definitely hit a snag following the fight between Mirotic and Portis.

markkanen-bullsThe fact that Mirotic will miss up to 6 weeks is a huge blow. It’s only worse that backup Bobby Portis is slated to miss the first eight contests with a suspension. This means that rookie Lauri Markkanen will be thrust into action quicker than expected.

Markkanen, the seventh-overall pick of the NBA Draft, was expected to start this season slowly while learning from Mirotic and Portis. However, he’s going to be learning on the fly because he’s the only power forward on the team besides third-year man Cristiano Felicio.

I’m frankly surprised that Felicio isn’t getting a crack at the starting role. However, Markkanen comes with a high pedigree and has more overall upside.

Plus, it’s not exactly like this Bulls team is set to win many games. Outside of Lopez, who’s leading the team with 17.0 PPG, and shooting guard Justin Holiday, this squad is extremely young.

Third-year player Jerian Grant, second-year man Paul Zipser, and Markkanen join Lopez and Holiday in the starting lineup. Second-year players Denzel Valentine, Kay Felder, and David Nwaba are also logging significant minutes in the early going.

This is why Chicago could use Mirotic and Portis in the lineup. But the problem is that they won’t have these two for the early going.

Chicago Bulls Betting

The Bulls are going to be big underdogs on most lines this season. But they may be offering even less value than what’s projected when considering that they don’t have their top two power forwards right now.

This being said, Chicago won’t be a good bet for a while. Throw in the fact that they’re rebuilding with a lot of young players, and it’s even harder to gauge what you can expect from this team. Temper your expectations for the Bulls in the early portion of the season and wait to see how their young players gel before placing any significant bets.

How Good are Celtics without Gordon Hayward?

gordon-hayward-injuryOne of the biggest moves that the Boston Celtics made this off-season included signing Gordon Hayward to a four-year, $128 million contract. Along with Kyrie Irving, Hayward was supposed to help usher in a new era for the Celtics.

Unfortunately, this will have to wait because he suffered a gruesome broken ankle just 5 minutes into the first game with his new team.

Hayward went up for an alley-oop, but collided with LeBron James in midair. His legs twisted behind him when he fell, which is when the broken ankle occurred. He was later taken off the court on a stretcher.

“My thoughts and prayers go out to Gordon’s family. Hope for a speedy recovery, a healthy recovery,” James said. “Those are the injuries that you never see coming, you never want to happen, no matter who it is, no matter what the stature, no matter how much competitive nature that you have. It’s just very unfortunate.”

The question now is if Hayward will be able to provide any help to Boston this season. Moreover, how will the Celtics play without their star small forward since he’ll miss the majority of the season – if not all of it?

Let’s answer these questions below by discussing more on Hayward’s injury along with what a respected athletic trainer has to say about his return.

Hayward could Miss the Rest of the 2017-18 Season

gordon-hayward-celticsAccording to OrthoInfo, a broken ankle requires an average recovery time of 12 weeks. Of course, professional basketball players are built differently than the rest of this and can heal quicker. But they’re not immortal and still need to rebuild the muscle around the ankle before playing at full speed again.

James said that the injury reminded him of how Paul George broke his leg during a Team USA basketball game in August 2014. George suffered a compound fracture, where the bone went through his skin, and he missed eight months of basketball action.

Even after returning, it took George some time before he reached the same level he was at prior to the injury. Approximately two years later, he was averaging a career high in points at 23.3 per game.

“I felt I was immortal,” George said after the injury. “I was invincible. I’ve made so many plays where guys go down, and I walked up clean from it. I did feel that nothing bad could ever happen to me on the court.

“The pain was tough. As soon as the air hit my bone, where the open wound was, it just shot through my whole body. Everything just slowed down. Like, I could hear every individual in the arena talking.”

CBS Sports spoke with certified athletic trainer Jeff Stotts on the severity of Hayward’s injury. Stotts said that it’s hard to give an exact timeline on when the Celtics star can play again. However, he did offer some thoughts on the matter.

gordon-hayward-injury-celtics“It’s difficult to speculate given there’s still so many unknowns. But I think it’s likely gonna be 12 weeks at least based on what we have right now. He’ll probably be evaluated at that mark. There’s an outside chance he’s able to play again this season, but again the only other example I have in my database, the injury occurred in November and the player missed the final 68 games recovering.”

The trainer added, “He’s going to be up against it. Is it a career-ending injury? By no means, from what we can tell. But he’s gonna be hard-pressed to get back this season. And just because, again, it’s an injury of high magnitude, you want to make sure he’s returning at 100 percent and not running the risk of some secondary injury or some other setback.”

Stotts went on to describe the healing process from a broken ankle. If there’s also ligament damage, this injury can take even longer than a torn ACL to recover from.

“Connective tissue can take a long time to heal, especially if it’s repaired. It’s one reason why a broken bone sounds worse than a torn ACL, but you have to go in and repair that ligament. Connective tissue, once it’s past a certain point, it’s hard to get it back to its original strength, it takes time, and often requires surgical intervention.

“If he did avoid ligament damage, the potential for there not being an ankle reconstruction on the lateral aspect or medial aspect as well is good. They don’t have to worry about reconstructing those ligaments. They can just worry about aligning the pieces of bone and making sure they’re stable to allow for a proper union of the bone fragments.”

Celtics Odds without Hayward

We previously had the Celtics at +220 odds of winning the Eastern Conference. This trailed only the Cleveland Cavaliers, who were at -140 in our NBA futures.

I feel sorry if you bet on the Celtics to win the East prior to the season. After all, it didn’t take long for these hopes to be derailed when Hayward went down with what could potentially be a season-ending injury.

Even if he comes back, Stotts described how long it can be before someone is able to move at full speed. And we only have to look at Paul George as an example of how players aren’t themselves for a while up when they step back on the court.

kyrie-irving-celticsThe good news for Boston, though, is that the cupboard isn’t bare. They still have a number of players who can contribute and help them have a successful season.

Irving leads the team at point guard. He’s coming off a season in Cleveland where he made a third-straight trip to the NBA Finals and averaged 25.2 PPG.

Al Horford and Marcus Smart will bring important veteran contributions too. The center Horford averaged 14.0 PPG and 1.3 blocks last season, while Smart averaged 10.6 PPG and provided gritty defense.

Second-year man Jaylen Brown, rookie Jayson Tatum, free agent signing Aaron Baynes, and point guard Terry Rozier are also set for big roles this season.

But without Hayward, we don’t look for Boston to challenge Cleveland for the East crown. Instead, the Washington Wizards, Toronto Raptors, and Milwaukee Bucks will likely be the biggest threats to Cleveland.

Boston should still make the playoffs. But they’ll need a healthy Hayward before going to the Finals.