Good morning, I’m Dan Gartland. I’m still salty that the one time I went to a Mavericks game, Luka Dončić was injured.
In today’s SI:AM:
🏈 What NFL retirees are scared of
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Luka is on fire
It’s only a matter of time before Luka Dončić, the Mavericks’ 23-year-old do-it-all superstar, wins an MVP award. And after another stellar game last night, that time may come sooner rather than later.
Dončić has finished in the top six in MVP voting in each of the past three seasons, including fifth last season. In each of those years, he was younger than every player who received more votes than him, which suggests that his time is coming. And this season, Dončić has taken his game to another level.
After averaging 28.4 points per game last season (just shy of his full-season career high of 28.8 in 2019–20), he’s averaging 33.4 points per game so far this season. And that includes some incredible scoring outbursts, like his 60-point triple double Dec. 27 and a game four days later in which he scored 51 points on 29 shots. He did it again last night, scoring 53 on 17-of-24 shooting—and he did it with some attitude. Dončić said after the game that a Pistons assistant coach had been talking trash during the game, so in the closing seconds, he fired back.
“It was their assistant coach. He started chirping in the first quarter,” Doncic said afterward. “They didn’t like when I chirped back. They said, ‘Play basketball.’ If they’re going to chirp at me, I’m going to chirp back. I ain’t scared.”
Dončić currently has the third shortest odds at SI Sportsbook to win the MVP at +400, behind Joel Embiid (+188) and Nikola Jokić (+120). Jokić is having a great season, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him win the award for the third straight year. But voter fatigue is a real thing, and some of Jokić’s numbers have declined a bit this year with the return of Jamal Murray.
The best player on the league’s best team is usually a safe bet to win the MVP, so it’s tough to discount Jokić as he leads the Nuggets atop the Western Conference. Jokić’s value is undeniable, but one of the reasons Denver is in first place is that it has complementary players around him like Murray and Aaron Gordon. Where would the Mavs be without Dončić? He is their entire offense. Dončić ranks second in the NBA in usage percentage at 38.4, just behind Giannis Antetokounmpo (38.8) and is third in assist percentage (45.6) behind Jokić (47.2) and Tyrese Haliburton (48.1). Basically, Dončić is either scoring or assisting on the vast majority of Dallas’s baskets. That’s the definition of being valuable to your team.
The Mavs are currently in sixth place in the West at 27–25, but the middle of the conference is so crowded that they’re only 3.5 games ahead of the 13th-place Lakers and 2.5 games behind the third-place Kings. If they’re going to hang on to that playoff position, it’ll be up to Dončić to lead the way—and if he does, he’ll have a great case for the MVP.
The best of Sports Illustrated
- In today’s Daily Cover, Brian Burnsed spoke with former NFL players who are frightened by the recent deaths of a large number of former players:
In all, 44 current or former NFL players aged 50 or younger have died since the start of 2021, according to Pro Football Reference. While pro footballers tend to have longer lifespans than the general population (thanks, in part, to their fitness levels, wealth and access to first-rate healthcare), they are more vulnerable than their counterparts in other sports to suffering neurodegenerative or cardiovascular disease. And more likely to die of suicide.
- It’s been a chaotic men’s college basketball season, leading Pat Forde to reason that we could see a first-time national champion.
- Bryan Alvarez breaks down the difficult decision facing WWE with WrestleMania fast approaching.
- Albert Breer has a list of NFL draft prospects to watch at the Senior Bowl this week.
- Jimmy Traina isn’t a fan of how NFL broadcasters are using rules experts in the booth.
- Michael Rosenberg argues that penalties like Joseph Ossai’s show why NFL penalties are becoming too costly.
- A Bengals linebacker said he was a “bad teammate” after video cameras captured him questioning Ossai’s late hit.
- Nick Saban is reportedly meeting with a potential new offensive coordinator.
- Brock Purdy is reportedly expected to be out for about six months after tearing his UCL.
- The Canucks traded their captain, Bo Horvat, to the Islanders.
The top five...
… things I saw last night:
5. Stephen Curry’s layup to pass Wilt Chamberlain on the Warriors’ all-time made field goals list.
4. Brent Davis’s game-winner for Chicago State against The Citadel.
3. The Jets’ two goals in a 21-second span to take the lead against the Blues in the third period.
2. Deon Perry’s half-court heave at the end of the first half for Loyola (Md.).
1. The Texas Tech men’s basketball team’s comeback win over Iowa State. The Red Raiders trailed by 23 before winning in overtime.
At 5'9", Isaiah Thomas is the shortest player in NBA history to record a triple double. Who held the record before him? (Today is the anniversary of this player’s triple double game.)
- Muggsy Bogues
- Nate Robinson
- Damon Stoudamire
- Michael Adams
Yesterday’s SIQ: The Rams beat the Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV when Tennessee’s Kevin Dyson was famously tackled just shy of the goal line as time expired. Which St. Louis defender made the game-winning stop?
- Mike Jones
- London Fletcher
- Keith Lyle
- Grant Wistrom
Answer: Mike Jones. The play is one of the most iconic in Super Bowl history. After Kurt Warner’s 73-yard touchdown to Isaac Bruce broke a tie at 16 just before the two-minute warning, Steve McNair led the Titans down the field to give them one last shot to tie the game. Tennessee had the ball at the St. Louis 10-yard line with five seconds on the clock. The Titans had just burned their last timeout. The stakes were clear: Get in the end zone and kick an extra point to tie the game, or come up short and lose.
McNair found Kevin Dyson on a quick slant, and Dyson had an open path to the end zone ahead of him. But Jones dragged him down from behind, one yard short of the goal line.
“It seemed like slow motion,” Jones said afterward. “I couldn’t see McNair throw the ball, but I could feel it.”
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