Sports Corner

By: Robert Bishop

Back again, and behind another MVP-level showing from Damian Lillard, the Portland Trail Blazers completed its incredible playoff push. On Thursday night, the Blazers outlasted a tenacious Caris LaVert-led Nets team to improve to 6-2 in the NBA bubble and clinch the No. 8 seed in the West. Now, the Blazers will get a day off before Saturday’s play-in game against the Memphis Grizzlies. A win on Saturday will propel Portland into a first-round match-up against the Lakers. A loss and the Blazers will need to win on Sunday. Saturday’s showdown begins at 2:30.
While Phoenix was eliminated from the playoff chase with Memphis’s win over the Bucks on Thursday afternoon, the Suns improved to 8-0 in the bubble with a hard-earned victory over the Mavericks. It was an incredible showing for the Suns in Orlando, as the team was an afterthought entering the bubble. There is a lot to like about Phoenix’s future, and the play of Devin Booker during the past few weeks highlight his immense ceiling as an offensive force. Phoenix’s stint in the bubble was an unrivaled success, and the franchise will look to build on it going forward.
In MLB, the reigning American League Rookie of the Year, Yordan Alvarez, is nearing a return to the diamond. On the injured list for over a month for undisclosed reasons, Alvarez would represent a massive boost to Houston’s struggling offense. In 2019, Alvarez exploded onto the scene with 27 home runs and a .313/.412/.655 batting line across 87 games. Carlos Correa has been great, but he is an anomaly within Houston’s star-studded lineup. Most notably, Kyle Tucker, Jose Altuve, and George Springer have all been awful across the first three weeks of action. Getting Alvarez in the lineup will be huge, but Houston also needs its veterans to figure things out.
Philadelphia has made the wise move to offer an infusion of top young talent to its roster in recent days. Right-hander Spencer Howard made his big-league debut earlier in the week, and third baseman Alec Bohm joined him in Philadelphia on Thursday. Bohm, the third overall pick in 2018, demolished minor league competition in 2019, hitting .305/.378/.518 with 21 homers. As with all prospects making the transition to the majors, Bohm will likely experience some growing pains. However, the Phillies are currently sitting in last place in the NL East, and Bohm’s arrival represents a clear-cut rallying point for the playoff hopefuls.
Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts had a monstrous showing on Thursday night, bashing three home runs, scoring four times, and driving in five to lead L.A. to a much-needed win over the Padres. The Dodgers offense has been a relative disappointment to open the season, most notably assumed MVP candidate Cody Bellinger (.165/.224/.266). L.A.’s offensive woes cannot be blamed on Betts, though. Following Thursday’s outburst, Betts is hitting .319/.380/694 with seven home runs. Despite the team’s slow start, the Dodgers enter Friday locked in a virtual tie with the upstart Colorado Rockies atop the National League West.
In the NFL, San Francisco put an exclamation point on its off-season by reaching a five-year extension with tight end George Kittle on Thursday afternoon. Kittle had cemented himself as one of the best tight ends in football entering last season, and in 2019, he broke out and proved to be among the best players across the entire NFL. Kittle’s new deal with San Francisco is worth $75 million over five years. As one of the top pass catchers and arguably the best blocking tight end in the NFL, there is an argument to be made that Kittle remains underpaid relative to his production.