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Enjoy tomorrow’s three-game NFL slate, and have a Happy Thanksgiving! We’ll be back Monday to break down all the weekend’s action.

LA’s Underwhelming Start

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Last night, LeBron James missed a game through suspension for the first time in his 19-year career, a six-point loss to the Knicks.

Nobody’s panicking yet, but the Lakers are 4-7 in their 11 games without LeBron, and Anthony Davis is 9-14 without him.

The Lakers splurged this offseason, trading integral role players Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for Russell Westbrook, LA’s highest-paid player ($44.2M this season). 

But even without James, a team led by Westbrook and Davis shouldn’t rank in the bottom 10 in nearly every statistical category.

  • Their net rating (-3.5) is 24th in the NBA.
  • They’re 25th in offensive rating (105.1) and 20th in defensive rating (108.5).
  • They’ve allowed the 28th-most PPG (113.1) and are turning the ball over at the second-highest rate (16.3).
  • Westbrook is averaging the second-most turnovers (4.9). 

The Lakers have two further problems: a lack of identity — there are 10 new faces on a 15-man roster — and the fact that they’re one of the oldest teams in the league.

With the next four games against teams below .500 and LeBron returning tonight, there’s a good chance the Lakers find some much-needed momentum to climb out of the 9-seed.

Goalies Fueling 1st-Place Flames

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday, Calgary defeated Chicago 5-2, a fourth consecutive victory good for first place in the Pacific. 

The Flames have found themselves tied for the most points in the NHL and atop the Western Conference, thanks to some offensive firepower — and the hottest goaltending tandem in the league. 

Andrew Mangiapane’s 15 goals (T-2nd in NHL) and Johnny Gaudreau’s 23 points (T-4th) lead the way offensively, but shot-stoppers Jacob Markstrom and Dan Vladar are the difference-makers.

  • The pair have combined for seven shutouts, the most by a team through 20 games since the NHL began allowing offensive forward passes in 1929. 
  • Markstrom is 8-3-4 with a 9.40 save percentage (3rd NHL), 1.73 goals-against (4th), and five shutouts (1st). 
  • His backup, Vladar, is 5-5-4 with a .946 save percentage (2nd) and 1.57 GAA (2nd).
  • Calgary is sixth in scoring (3.40) but leads the NHL in goals allowed per game (1.90) and goal differential (+30).

The pair’s combined $6.75 million salary cap hit — $6 million of which belongs to Markstrom — ranks 16th in the NHL among goaltending duos.

It’s the fifth time in franchise history the Flames have led their conference at their 20-game mark.

But despite the scorching start, oddsmakers only have Calgary T-12th (+3,000*) to win its first Stanley Cup since 1989.

Bonds’ Last Chance at Hall

Phil Carter-USA TODAY Sports

For the 10th and final time, Barry Bonds is on a Hall of Fame ballot.

Despite holding MLB records for home runs, walks, position player WAR, and single-season homers, Bonds’ infamous alleged PED use has barred him from induction.

There’s a case to be made for Bonds getting in, however: January 1997 was supposedly the first time he experimented with PEDs, but his track record in the years prior is arguably enough.

  • Between 1990-96, Bonds won three MVPs; he has an MLB-record seven.
  • Since 1992, he posted an OPS under 1.000 just once — .999 in 2006, his second-to-last season.
  • Early-career Bonds was a prolific base stealer, reaching a career high of 52 in 1990. 
  • He is the only player in MLB history to hit at least 500 home runs and steal at least 500 bases. 
  • He is also an eight-time Gold Glove winner.

Because of exploding contracts in more recent years, Bonds’ career salary of about $188 million ranks him just 22nd all-time

However, the average annual salary of his contracts in 1992 ($7.3 million) and 1997 ($11.5 million) were records at the time.

The Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is a testament to the history of the game. It is impossible to tell the full history without Bonds, warts and all.

Making Headlines

Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

NCAAF: Cincinnati is fourth in the College Football Playoff rankings, the first time a Group of 5 team has reached the Top 4 in the eight-year history of the rankings. The 11-0 Bearcats are one of three undefeated teams in the FBS. 

NCAAM: Top-ranked Gonzaga routed No. 2 UCLA 83-63 in a rematch of their epic Final Four showdown last season. Andrew Nembhard led with 24 points and six assists for the Bulldogs (6-0).

MLB: The Cardinals signed LHP Steven Matz to a four-year, $44 million contract. This morning, Mets owner Steve Cohen tweeted how Matz’s agent, Rob Martin, handled the situation with “unprofessional behavior.”

NBA: Klay Thompson participated in his first full practice since his ACL and Achilles injuries — dating back to Game 6 of the 2019 Finals. The Athletic reported that he could be back in late December.

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