By: Robert Bishop
Back again, and a massive domino for the NFL off-season fell into an unexpected place over the weekend as the Arizona Cardinals emerged from the pack, having signed recently-released defensive lineman J.J. Watt. Heavily-linked to the Cleveland Browns, Green Bay Packers, and Pittsburgh Steelers—among others—Watt ended up making the surprising move to join the ascending Cardinals.
Watt joins an up-and-coming roster led by young quarterback Kyler Murray, forming a devastating 1-2 pass-rush punch alongside fellow veteran Chandler Jones. Though Watt’s MVP-level days are clearly in the past, he remains among the best defensive lineman in football, especially on the interior. Expect the Cardinals to take advantage of Watt’s strengths. Despite sharing a division with the star-studded Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers, Arizona is going for it in 2021.
In the NBA, Phoenix outlasted the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night despite losing All-Star guard Devin Booker to a laughably misguided ejection early in the second half. Without Booker, Chris Paul took over the game with his play-making, and the Suns benefitted from valuable contributions from Jae Crowder (15 points on eight shots), Mikal Bridges (19 on ten shots), and a team-high 21 points from back-up big man Dario Saric. This Suns team is a legitimate winner, sitting in second place in the West while owning the NBA’s best record since January 28th (15-3).
Ja Morant had a great night on Tuesday, scoring 35 points to lead Memphis to a win over the Washington Wizards. Morant shot 11-of-18, handed out ten dimes, and made a season-high 11 free throws in the win. Injuries early in the season put a damper on Morant’s sophomore season, but he’s been every bit as good—if a bit more inconsistent—as during his show-stopping rookie campaign. The Grizzlies have surged in the Western Conference standings, now sitting a game behind the Golden State Warriors to control the final playoff spot.
Though Bogdan Bogdanovic’s contribution on the stat sheet was minimal (2-of-5 shooting, four dimes, two boards in 16 minutes), having him on the court was a massive boost for the Atlanta Hawks in an upset win over the Miami Heat. Bogdanovic missed two months with an avulsion fracture in his knee, leaving the Hawks without a key contributor. It’ll take a few games for Bogdanovic to get his conditioning back, but he projects to be a key cog for Atlanta. Despite a disappointing 15-20 record, the Hawks remain an interesting collection of talent that could gel into something more than interesting during the second half.
Since losing embarrassingly over the weekend, with the team failing to competently execute a 4-on-1 fast break in the closing seconds of a two-point game, the Denver Nuggets have been on a mission. On Tuesday night, the Nuggets rattled off a third straight victory, demolishing the Milwaukee Bucks by 31 points. Nikola Jokic put on a show, scoring 37 with 11 dimes and 10 boards. Jamal Murray joined him in shining, scoring 24. Denver has won three straight games heading into tomorrow night’s tilt against the reeling Indiana Pacers.
James Harden made history on Monday night, becoming the first player in NBA history to score 30 points, grab 10 boards, and hand out 15 assists without committing a turnover. Harden accomplished the feat as an appetizer for tonight’s must-watch showdown against the Houston Rockets in a win over the Spurs. Though the Rockets are in a freefall in the standings, Houston will be looking for revenge against Harden as his lack of effort led to a trade demand that led to the former MVP being in Brooklyn, torpedoing the season for the Rockets. Meanwhile, Harden will look to make a statement of his own.