James Harden isn’t the superstar he used to be, plus it’s never too early for a 2023 mock draft


Happy Tuesday, all.

Let’s get right to it.

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Good morning to everyone but especially to…
USATSI

THE MIAMI HEAT…

Nothing comes easy against the Heat, and last night, the 76ers — playing without Joel Embiid — found that out the hard way. Miami put together just enough offense and more than enough defense to take a 1-0 series lead with a 106-92 victory.

Embiid’s absence was especially felt on the boards (Miami grabbed 15 offensive rebounds and outrebounded Philadelphia, 47-37), and his replacement in the starting lineup, DeAndre Jordan, posted a -22 plus/minus in just 17 minutes. Unfortunately for Philadelphia, it doesn’t look like Doc Rivers will remove Jordan from the rotation, notes our NBA expert Sam Quinn.

Quinn: “‘We like DJ,’ Rivers said after Monday’s loss. ‘We’re gonna keep starting him whether you like it or not.’ So, in essence, Rivers not only blew Game 1 by starting Jordan, but he’s actively laying the groundwork to blow Game 2 as well. … This. Is. Not. Rocket. Science. Every time Jordan enters the game, bad things happen for his team.

As if no Embiid isn’t already a recipe for disaster, Harden scoring on 16 points on 13 shots is also not how you win. He is simply not what he used to be, writes our NBA scribe Brad Botkin.

 Game 2 is Wednesday; Embiid isn’t expected to be back until Game 3 at the earliest.

… AND ALSO A GOOD MORNING TO THE PHOENIX SUNS

Last night, the Suns showed why they have been the league’s best team all season. Showing off balance, star power and depth, Phoenix topped Dallas 121-114 in Game 1.

While the final score was close, Phoenix led wire-to-wire and by as much as 21.The Suns had six players score double-digit points, including all five starters. Deandre Ayton had 25 points, and Devin Booker had 23.The Suns outrebounded the Mavericks, 51-36.Luka Doncic had 45 points. It’s his sixth career 40-point playoff game, the most in NBA history before turning 24.

The Suns simply present so many problems — and the Mavericks might not have all the answers. Dallas plays a relatively small lineup, which worked against the Jazz because Rudy Gobert couldn’t make Dallas pay. That’s not the case with Ayton, who can score in a variety of ways down low. Combine that with the offensive genius of Booker, Chris Paul and a multitude of versatile wings, and the Suns are hard to stop.

Honorable mentions And not such a good morning for…
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DeANDRE HOPKINS AND THE ARIZONA CARDINALS

The roller-coaster ride that has been the Arizona Cardinals the last few seasons took another major dip yesterday: Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins has been suspended six games for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy.

This is obviously a huge blow for Arizona, even after acquiring Marquise Brown during the first round of the NFL Draft. Last year, the Cardinals went 8-2 in the games Hopkins played and 3-4 in the seven games he missed. Unsurprisingly, as Hopkins goes, Kyler Murray goes, too:

Murray with Hopkins on field last season: 8.8 yards per attempt | 108.1 passer rating | 0.19 expected points added per dropback Murray with Hopkins off field last season: 6.6 yards per attempt | 89.7 passer rating | -0.08 expected points added per dropback

That last stat — expected points added per dropback — sums it up nicely. With Hopkins on the field, Murray had the same EPA per dropback as Aaron Rodgers, who led the entire league. With Hopkins off the field, Murray’s EPA per dropback was the same as Washington’s Taylor Heinicke.

Murray, of course, is eligible for a contract extension (GM Steve Keim provided a potential timetable for the deal), and that’s been its own saga this offseason. If that extension doesn’t come through before the season starts, Murray may have to prove his worth — at least for six games — without his favorite target.

Not so honorable mentionsChampions League: Liverpool visits Villarreal with 2-0 advantage ⚽
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Liverpool has one foot in the UEFA Champions League Final after last week’s 2-0 win over Villarreal in the first leg of the semis. They look to wrap things up in Spain today (3 p.m. on CBS and Paramount+).

Our soccer experts have made their picks, and all eight have the Reds advancing on aggregate, but not all have them winning today’s match.

Soccer reporter James Benge thinks Jurgen Klopp‘s squad will have no trouble, though, as part of his bold predictions.

Benge: “Villarreal are not a team that deals well with the pressure of being behind, indeed in the 20 La Liga and Champions League matches in which they have been losing this season their record reads one win, six draws and 13 defeats. In those games their expected goal (xG) difference is scarcely over one after going behind. In the smaller sample size of European matches it is 0.02 and they had not come up against a team like Liverpool before last week. Tuesday’s game may ultimately prove that all they could have realistically hoped for in the first leg was to keep the score down.” 2023 NFL mock draft: Quarterbacks return in a big way 🏈
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The 2022 NFL Draft had a lot of surprises, trades and memorable moments. One thing it didn’t have a lot of? Highly draft quarterbacks. There was one — Kenny Pickett to the Steelers — in the first round, and the next — Desmond Ridder to the Falcons — didn’t come until pick 74 (Round 3). It was the fewest quarterbacks taken in the first two rounds since 2000.

Don’t expect that to repeat next year. NFL Draft expert Ryan Wilson released his first 2023 mock draft (hey, it’s never too early, right?) and it includes six quarterbacks in the first round alone.

3. Lions: C.J. Stroud, Ohio State5. Giants: Will Levis, Kentucky7. Panthers: Bryce Young, Alabama9. Seahawks: Tyler Van Dyke, Miami27. Dolphins: Spencer Rattler, South Carolina31. Buccaneers: Phil Jurkovec, Boston College

Of course, that list begs the question: Who are the first two projected picks a year out? Like this year, it starts on the defensive side of the ball: Alabama EDGE Will Anderson first overall to the Texans and Georgia defensive lineman Jalen Carter second overall to the Jets.

Wilson: “If Will Anderson was in the 2022 NFL Draft, he would’ve been the first player taken. Of course, a year ago, Kayvon Thibodeaux was the slam-dunk, write-it-in-Sharpie No. 1 overall player and then Travon Walker came on the scene late. … Our colleague Pete Prisco said it all weekend during the ’22 NFL Draft: Jalen Carter might end up being the best player from that Georgia national championship squad.”What we’re watching Tuesday 📺

And also…

UEFA Champions League: Villarreal vs Liverpool, 3 p.m. on CBS and Paramount+⚾ Braves at Mets, 3:10 p.m. on FS1⚾ Giants at Dodgers, 10:10 p.m. on TBS



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