Lowe: Nikola Jokic and the most terrifying sight in the NBA

This week, we highlight Nikola Jokic and the running Nuggets, a screening Tyrese Haliburton, a nifty Bam Adebayo development, a theory about the demise of Jordan Poole and two delightful rituals you need to see.

NBA betting: Which teams should you bet on to make - or miss - the playoffs?

LeBron James is nine points away from another historic landmark. Already the NBA's all-time leading scorer, if James has even a well-below average scoring game he will become the first player to ever notch 40,000 points. That is just a staggering figure.

But did you know LeBron also holds the record for the most playoffs points scored in NBA history? With 8,023 playoffs points scored, LeBron is more than 2,000 points ahead of Michael Jordan's 5,987. The next two active players with the most playoffs points are Kevin Durant with 4,878 and Stephen Curry with 3,966.

The question on the table, is, will LeBron -- or Durant or Curry, for that matter -- get the chance to score more playoffs points this season?

The race for the final two playoffs spots, via the Play-in tournament, will be tight in both conferences.

In the West, only 3.0 games separate the fifth-seeded Suns from the Lakers and Warriors, who are tied for the final Play-in spots. Similarly, in the East, only 1.5 games separate the fourth-seeded Knicks, who would have homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs if the season ended today, and the eighth-seeded Pacers, who would have a road-game in the first round of the Play-in.

Let's take a look at a few of the teams vying for a spot that could have value in the futures betting market for making -- or missing -- the playoffs.

49ers still processing Super Bowl loss, falling short again

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- As various San Francisco 49ers filed through the locker room at their facility, less than 48 hours removed from losing Super Bowl LVIII to the Kansas City Chiefs in overtime, the enormity of that devastating defeat had already sunk in. They just didn't want to believe it.

At one end of the locker room, defensive end Nick Bosa told reporters he needed time to digest the loss before looking to next season. At the other, left tackle Trent Williams, usually one of the team's most thoughtful and expansive interviews, had little to say. Others -- such as running back Christian McCaffrey, tight end George Kittle, receiver Deebo Samuel, fullback Kyle Juszczyk and quarterback Brock Purdy -- described their upcoming grieving process.

All of them -- including coach Kyle Shanahan -- had declined to rewatch what took place at Allegiant Stadium. None were sure they'd be able to stomach it anytime soon. But they made it clear that what happened in Vegas certainly won't stay there.

"It really hit me, and then it would go away then it hit me again and it's just like it don't even feel real," Samuel said. "It's a different type of feeling. Like I don't even have the answer. ... It's like one of the biggest heartbreaks you can deal with."

Dealing with heartbreak has become an unwanted offseason tradition for the 49ers. It started with their loss to the Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV to conclude the 2019 season. In 2021, they fell short in the NFC Championship Game against the Los Angeles Rams. In 2022, they played most of another NFC Championship Game without a healthy quarterback in what became a blowout loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

In each season, the Niners had taken a different, occasionally circuitous path to get back on Lombardi's doorstep. The final defeat was always difficult to swallow but was often buoyed by an internal belief they could return.

To their credit, the Niners have put action behind those beliefs. But Super Bowl LVIII seemed to hit the hardest. Not just because they lost a game that was there for the taking, but also because of the cumulative effect of the previous near misses. And they might be running out of chances to rectify them, at least in their current iteration.

"It's gut-wrenching," general manager John Lynch said. "And ultimately, we're going to have to live with for a lifetime the reality that we didn't get it done this time. But I say this time because that's this time. It hurts. And right now, everyone's grieving.

"It's not just going to be OK right away, but you understand that the only thing you can do is use this fuel to propel us forward. And that's where our mindsets are at, or at least where they will arrive at some point."

Getting to that point might take a little longer this time given just how close the Niners came to winning the franchise's long-coveted but elusive sixth Lombardi Trophy. The memories of a third-quarter punt bouncing off cornerback Darrell Luter Jr.'s foot, the missed protection by guard Spencer Burford against Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones on a key third down in overtime, the Chiefs blocking Jake Moody's fourth-quarter extra point and countless other plays that could have swung the game in San Francisco's favor will linger.

Can 49ers, Chiefs keep their stars? Free agents, extensions

The challenge for the great teams in a salary cap league is staying great.

In the NFL, as players start to play better and help teams compete for and win Super Bowls, they obviously start to deserve more money. The trick is to re-sign stars or replenish with draft picks, and deciding when to take each path is what makes cap management a jigsaw puzzle. The best teams often seem to be the ones with the toughest decisions.

That brings us to the 2023 season's Super Bowl teams. The Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers gave us an all-time classic matchup that we'd love to see again. But while it's possible these two teams could meet in the Super Bowl again next season in New Orleans, it's not going to be easy. And even if they can get there, the odds are they'll both look different.

The Chiefs and 49ers each have key free agents they need to decide whether to re-sign or let walk. They both have stars who are due for contract extensions, either this offseason or very soon. And neither has a ton of cap space.

But yes, it can be done. Both the Chiefs and 49ers have the ability, with some salary cap maneuvering, to pay everybody and bring back their Super Bowl rosters. It won't be easy, and I'm not sitting here saying that's what will happen. But we wanted to map out a couple of blueprints for how the Super Bowl LVIII participants can keep their rosters together. Let's start with the champs.

Buy the Baltimore Orioles? There couldn't be a better time

It's hard to imagine a time to buy the Baltimore Orioles that would offer new owners more growth potential in their pending purchase -- or a more willing fan base to woo. Assuming the sale by the Angelos family is approved by other owners, the hero potential is enormous for David Rubenstein and his group of minority owners.

The team is already loaded with some of the best stars of baseball's youngest generation, from Adley Rutschman to Jackson Holliday. Following years of tanking, the Orioles still have no long-term financial commitments. And Rubenstein & Co. will ride into Camden Yards wholly welcomed by a passionate fan base that has endured despite years of angry frustration with the ownership of Peter Angelos, who bought the franchise for $173 million in 1993, and in more recent years, with Angelos' son John.

The bar of leadership has been so low that all the new owners have to do to distinguish themselves is to sign just one of the organization's core youngsters to a long-term deal. If they manage to lock up Rutschman, Holliday and Gunnar Henderson into the future, the good folks of Charm City might rename roads for the new owners, with Calvert Street giving way to Rubenstein Way.

Latest updates on Oakland A's stadium plans, Las Vegas move

With Major League Baseball typically sharing a tentative schedule for the next season with teams early every year, the Oakland A's were supposed to have figured out by the end of December where they'll play in 2025 and beyond before moving to Las Vegas in 2028. That didn't happen. A mid-January deadline passed. Soon enough an end-of-January target will, too.

Even after the A's secured the deal to leave Oakland permanently, the franchise's near-term future remains in limbo. It's not just the MLB-low payroll or the lack of significant improvement of a roster from a team that went 50-112 last year. It's something as fundamental as not having a home following the expiration of their lease with the Oakland Coliseum after this season.

Here is what you need to know about where the A's stadium plans currently stand, according to multiple people involved with the process to find the team a home.

What is holding up the decision?

It's pretty simple: local TV money. The A's contract with Comcast to broadcast their games on NBC Sports Bay Area calls for the team to receive about $70 million next year, sources said. But if the A's aren't in Oakland, the regional sports network is no longer bound to pay the rights fee. The delicate balance between maximizing TV money and securing a temporary home is complicated by the strict nature of the Comcast deal. Even a move to play in a Triple-A park in Sacramento, about 85 miles northeast of Oakland, would not be covered under the A's current contract.

Already the move to Las Vegas will take the A's from the 10th-largest TV market to one ranked 40th. Clearly TV money was a secondary consideration for the permanent move. But a temporary one, even if the A's negotiate a new deal with Comcast or another regional sports network, could be for a fraction of what they're set to receive now. That very conundrum -- and the leverage Comcast holds -- is gumming up a resolution.

What are the likeliest options?

The two cities at the top of the list, according to sources: Sacramento, the home of the San Francisco Giants' Triple-A affiliate, and Salt Lake City, which would love to use the A's as proof of concept that it warrants an expansion franchise in the future.

Both cities have NBA franchises that regularly sell out all of their home games. Sacramento is the 20th-ranked TV market, while Salt Lake City is 27th. Sacramento offers an easier short-term solution -- mayor Darrell Steinberg told the San Francisco Chronicle he is "over the moon about the possibility" -- while Salt Lake City is, for MLB, the longer-term play.

Sacramento's Sutter Health Park seats more than 10,000 -- and, with standing-room-only tickets and lawn seats, can go up to 14,000. The ownership group in Salt Lake, which previously controlled the Utah Jazz, is building a new Triple-A stadium for 2025 in South Jordan, Utah, that could seat up to 11,000.

While Sacramento previously had shown no aspirations to bring MLB to town, Salt Lake City has been effusive in its desire. After A's officials recently toured the city to assess its viability, Big League Utah, the group at the heart of Salt Lake City's efforts, erected seven billboards around the city that said: "UTAH WANTS THE A'S."

Were the A's to land in Sacramento, they could renegotiate their deal with NBC Sports Bay Area, which broadcasts Kings games. Should they move to Salt Lake City, sources said, the team could land a new deal, though because that television territory currently belongs to the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies, it would add an extra layer of negotiation.

NFL playoff game picks, guide: Chiefs-Ravens, Lions-49ers.

NFL playoff game picks, guide: Chiefs-Ravens, Lions-49ers

The NFL playoffs' conference championship round schedule for the 2024 season has two great matchups, and we've got you covered with what you need to know heading into the weekend. Our NFL Nation reporters bring us the biggest keys and a bold prediction for each matchup.

Additionally, ESPN Stats & Information provides a big stat to know and a betting nugget for each contest, and our Football Power Index (FPI) goes inside the numbers with a game projection. Analytics writer Seth Walder picks out each matchup's biggest X factor, Matt Bowen identifies a key game-planning matchup to watch in both games, and Kevin Seifert tells us what to know about the officiating. Finally, Walder and Eric Moody give us final score picks for both games. Everything you want to know is here in one spot to help you get ready for an exciting weekend of NFL playoff football.

Let's get into the full conference championship slate, including Patrick Mahomes vs. Lamar Jackson and Brock Purdy vs. Jared Goff.

AFC title game is validation for Ravens' Jadeveon Clowney

THE TALK AROUND Rock Hill, South Carolina, was that when Jadeveon Clowney started Pee Wee football, he looked like a man among boys. The locals would cast sidelong glances his mother's way, and when Josenna would insist he wasn't full-grown, that he was just the right age for Pee Wee and she had the birth certificate to prove it, they'd concede, but not without indignation. "Fine," they'd say. "But don't let him hit my kid."

And there he was, some 15 years later in the summer of 2014, once again making everyone else look out of their league. The ink was barely dry on Clowney's rookie contract with Houston, and he was already doing unspeakable things to Denver's offensive line all week long in preseason scrimmage.

"Most guys, they'd take about three or four steps to get to you, to that point of contact," says Duane Brown, the Texans' Pro Bowl left tackle at the time. "And he was leaping off the ball and getting there in two." Brown had lined up against Clowney enough that preseason to relish the break these joint practices in Colorado afforded him. So he watched with commiseration when the Broncos' own Pro Bowl left tackle, Ryan Clady, flailed and whiffed and let Clowney make Peyton Manning's life downright miserable for the run of intersquad practices that week in August.

How do NHL teams pick their captains? Process, criteria, more

Fixing whatever was wrong with the Vancouver Canucksbecame Rick Tocchet's priority when he was hired by the team last January. And fix them he did, as they won 20 of the final 36 games of the 2022-23 season.

Tocchet was also charged with another task by the Canucks' front office: finding the next captain. Going through the search prompted him to step back. He wanted to see how players reacted after the Canucks won or lost. If Tocchet voiced his displeasure with the team's performance, he wanted to see how particular players approached practice the next day.

"I saw a lot of players grow over those three months," Tocchet said. "Then came the hard decision: Do you wait a year? Is the guy we're going to pick, is he ready? Are there a bunch of guys that are ready? Or do we wait? That was the big decision. Do we wait or do we pull the trigger because we have a guy who's emerging."

Ultimately, the Canucks chose Quinn Hughes as their next captain. But what was the process they used to get there? Who were the stakeholders involved in the decision? How long did it take? And how much did it help to meet Hughes' parents before giving him one of the most important roles in the NHL?

These are just a few examples of the types of questions NHL franchises must answer when selecting a captain.

A deep dive into this process is even more relevant this season. The Canucks were one of six teams to choose a new captain, while five teams have yet to name one. That means 11 teams -- or more than one-third of the NHL -- faced some sort of captaincy decision within the past six months.

What one team might seek in a captain could be different from another; the selection process can vary too. Some franchises seek input from numerous voices. Others prefer a smaller circle. There have been times when either the front office or ownership makes the final decision. Others leave it up to the coach.

Even that part of the process raises questions about whether players should have a more active role in determining who becomes captain, now that player empowerment has taken on greater importance in professional sports leagues.

"A lot of people take pride in it," New Jersey Devils captain Nico Hischier said. "It's a huge honor if a team has the faith and the confidence in you to lead the team. In the hockey world, it's an honorable thing to get that because it comes with such a high standard."

Who are the current NHL team captains? 2023-24 season list

Prior to the start of the 2023-24 NHL season, five teams named players to take over as captain.The process to pick a captain can vary by team, and there are currently five clubs that do not have a captain.

The shortest tenured captain is Calgary Flames forward Mikael Backlund (Sept. 27, 2023), while the longest tenured is Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby (May 31, 2007).

Here is the list of each team's current captain:

Anaheim Ducks: no captain
Arizona Coyotes: no captain
Boston Bruins: Brad Marchand
Buffalo Sabres: Kyle Okposo
Calgary Flames: Mikael Backlund
Carolina Hurricanes: Jordan Staal
Chicago Blackhawks: no captain
Colorado Avalanche: Gabriel Landeskog
Columbus Blue Jackets: Boone Jenner
Dallas Stars: Jamie Benn
Detroit Red Wings: Dylan Larkin
Edmonton Oilers: Connor McDavid
Florida Panthers: Aleksander Barkov
Los Angeles Kings: Anze Kopitar
Minnesota Wild: Jared Spurgeon
Montreal Canadiens: Nick Suzuki
Nashville Predators: Roman Josi
New Jersey Devils: Nico Hischier
New York Islanders: Anders Lee
New York Rangers: Jacob Trouba
Ottawa Senators: Brady Tkachuk
Philadelphia Flyers: no captain
Pittsburgh Penguins: Sidney Crosby
San Jose Sharks: Logan Couture
Seattle Kraken: no captain
St. Louis Blues: Brayden Schenn
Tampa Bay Lightning: Steven Stamkos
Toronto Maple Leafs: John Tavares
Vancouver Canucks: Quinn Hughes
Vegas Golden Knights: Mark Stone
Washington Capitals: Alex Ovechkin
Winnipeg Jets: Adam Lowry

Sources: Rangers' Filip Chytil returns from training in Czechia

Rangers center Filip Chytil is traveling back to New York on Monday after making progress training at home in Czechia while recovering from a head injury, sources told ESPN.

Chytil, 24, returned to his offseason home in late December as a mental reset in his rehab. He has not played since Nov. 2, appearing in just 10 games this season.

Chytil trained with his brother Libor, a strength and conditioning coach who posted on Instagram that Filip "made good progress" over the last three weeks.

"I believe that Fil will be back soon and stronger than before," Libor Chytil posted, while thanking the Rangers for "their trust in the process."

There is no timetable for Filip Chytil's return to the lineup, sources told ESPN. The team is on a road trip, and he could resume training sessions when they return to New York.

This month, Chytil posted a photo on Instagram of him skating with countryman and NHL legend Jaromir Jagr.

NBA trade deadline 2024: What every contender needs for a deep playoff run

As NBA teams prepare for the Feb. 8 trade deadline, let's consider what the league's best teams should be seeking in deals.

Determining which teams are contenders is tricky in a season where nine teams are on track to win at least 48 games. It would be the most teams in that category since 2019-20, and that group doesn't include three of the preseason favorites in the West -- the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns, all languishing in play-in tournament range or worse.

For now, we'll use the current title odds at ESPN BET, which have nine teams at +2000 (20-to-1) or better to win the title. That group includes the surprise teams atop the Western Conference ahead of the defending champion Denver Nuggets, the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Oklahoma City Thunder, but also the Lakers and the Suns by virtue of the likelihood they'll act like contenders in pursuit of a deep playoff run with veteran rosters.

Let's go team by team through this group to see what weaknesses have been apparent from the first half of the regular season and how that could influence their approach to the deadline.

NBA trade grades: Breaking down the Pacers three-team trade for Pascal Siakam

The NBA trade deadline is on the horizon, the market is starting to heat up and a popular name in trade talks has been dealt.

After a weekend trade between Washington and Detroit, the Toronto Raptors made their second deal of the season, sending two-time All-Star Pascal Siakam to the Indiana Pacers in a three-team trade also involving the New Orleans Pelicans. The Raptors receive forward Bruce Brown, guard Kira Lewis Jr., Jordan Nwora, two 2024 first-round picks and a 2026 first-round pick, while New Orleans gets cash considerations from the Pacers. Indiana will also receive a future second-round pick in the deal.

After relative quiet following the blockbuster trade of James Harden from the Philadelphia 76ers to the LA Clippers in late October, there has been another shake-up in the association after the New York Knicks acquired forward OG Anunoby, center Precious Achiuwa and guard Malachi Flynn from the Toronto Raptors in exchange for guard Immanuel Quickley, forward RJ Barrett and a 2024 second-round pick (via Detroit).

College football transfer portal: Recent winners, top players available, big questions

The transfer portal window closed at midnight on Jan. 2, which marked the final date that undergrads could enter their name in the database. Since then, more and more top transfers have made their commitment to new schools.

Ole Miss, Louisville and Colorado sit atop ESPN's best portal classes, but there has been more movement since those rankings came out. There have been important quarterback commitments, one of the nation's top running backs found a new home and an SEC team restocked its roster over the last week.

Not everyone has filled their needs, though, and some schools still have questions going forward. Here are some recent winners and what questions still remain from the transfer portal cycle.

Ranking quarterbacks in 2023 NCAA football transfer portal

College football's transfer portal window officially opened Dec. 4, but graduate players looking for new schools and players from teams whose coaches were fired are starting to stream into the database.

Quarterbacks have become the stars of the transfer portal, since teams are always looking for instant-impact players at the position. The portal has become the quickest way to fix holes, and that will be the case heading into the 2024 season, as well. Among the transfer quarterbacks who turned in outstanding performances this season? Bo Nix (Oregon), Michael Penix Jr. (Washington), Sam Hartman (Notre Dame), Caleb Williams (USC) and Jayden Daniels (LSU).

So far, double-digit quarterbacks with starting experience have entered the portal, and they could find their new schools soon. To make it easier to follow who's available, let's rank the best available signal-callers, starting at the top. We'll continue to adjust these rankings as new quarterbacks enter the portal.

Passan: Where MLB free agency, trades stand entering 2024

Every MLB offseason evolves at its own pace, and this winter, that tempo is slow. It's not just slow for a specific subset of free agents. It's slow for the nine-figure guys, slow for outfield bats, slow for relief pitchers. It's slow enough that spring training starts in less than six weeks, and well over 100 players remain jobless.

While it's easy to blame the free agencies of Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto for gumming up the proceedings, only a handful of teams were ever realistically in the bidding for either. So while the pair's measured approaches did the market no favors, there's a far simpler explanation: Teams and players are digging in, both sides waiting to see which blinks first.

The truth is, this is normal-ish. Not every winter is like 2022-23, when 36 of the 37 players who received guarantees of $20 million or more were signed before New Year's Day -- the lone exception, Carlos Correa, who'd agreed to two deals before Jan. 1 that were nullified during the medical review. In 2021, J.T. Realmuto and DJ LeMahieu signed in late January and Trevor Bauer in February. Josh Donaldson was a mid-January deal in 2020, a year after the two best players in the class, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, stretched into February.

But executives, agents and others watching free agency unfold agree: It's rare that this many productive players are available after the calendar turns. We're into January and the reigning National League Cy Young winner, a World Series star and a 28-year-old former MVP center fielder are all unsigned. This offseason's biggest free agent splurges have also been dominated by a single team while many others have sat back. To wit:

The Los Angeles Dodgers' free agent outlay this winter: $1.043 billion.

The free agent outlay of the next 19 highest-spending teams this winter: $1.040 billion.

Then there are the four teams that haven't spent a dollar in free agency this offseason, and it's quite the mixture: the New York Yankees (who have been quite active on the trade front), Chicago Cubs, Miami Marlins and Colorado Rockies.

Excuses abound for the slow pace of free agency -- the instability of local television contracts is teams' pretext du jour -- but everyone recognizes that almost every team ultimately wants to improve, and the simplest way to do so is by signing players better than the ones currently on rosters.

So the market will move, though perhaps not with the urgency this time of year would typically suggest. Over the next 10 days, teams and agents will spend a significant amount of their bandwidth posturing in advance of the Jan. 12 arbitration-exchange date. There will be signings between now and then, yes, but the free agent deluge should arrive between Jan. 12 and the first arbitration hearing Jan. 29.

MLB free agency reset: Moves we liked, ones we didn't, what's next

We're into 2024, and the new MLB season is just a few months away. In the first half of free agency, we had some splashy moves -- you might have heard that Shohei Ohtani signed a $700 million deal? -- and plenty of smaller pickups. But plenty of MLB stars are still on the market, and lots of teams still have holes to fill. Which moves did we like? Which left us with more questions than answers? We asked ESPN MLB insiders to weigh in -- and make one prediction for the deals still to come.

The Pistons have larger issues than their record-tying 28-game skid

BOSTON -- TD Garden's visiting locker room was silent.

It was about a half-hour after the Detroit Pistons lost their 28th consecutive game -- a 128-122 overtime defeat to the league-leading Boston Celtics. For much of the contest, it seemed like this might -- finally -- be the moment Detroit would snap its losing streak of two months.

Instead, it became the latest painful outcome in a season full of them.

The weight of the streak, and how close Detroit came to escaping it, hung heavily in the air.

"I think it shows like we're on the same level as all these teams we're playing against," Pistons star Cade Cunningham said. "There's no team that I've ever come across in the NBA where I felt like I was going into a slaughterhouse."

Moral victories, though, don't end losing streaks. And, with Thursday's loss, Detroit tied the Philadelphia 76ers -- who dropped the final 10 games of the 2014-15 season and the first 18 of the 2015-16 campaign -- for the most consecutive losses by an NBA franchise.

But while those "Trust The Process" 76ers were designed to lose games while rebuilding through the NBA draft lottery, these Pistons were not.

"We wanted to be competing every day, [to have] a chance for the play-in, playoffs," Pistons owner Tom Gores told reporters last week. "We wanted our players to grow. That would have been a success for us. ... Those were the expectations: to compete, grow and be near the playoffs. That's how you grow the most.

"Make no mistake about it, that was the expectation."

A team doesn't expect to be sitting at the bottom of the standings when it drops $78.5 million to hire a new coach, landing Monty Williams in May after he'd been fired by the Phoenix Suns two years removed from coaching them to the NBA Finals.

But here is where the Pistons sit: with a 2-29 record, no clear vision for the franchise's future and no guarantee its run of futility will end anytime soon.

"At this point, this is all we have right now," Pistons forward Bojan Bogdanovic told ESPN before Thursday's game. "So you gotta get one W and keep growing, even if it's hard right now to find anything positive."


Lowe: Morant's instant impact, the sad-trombone Pistons and the rookie who would like your attention

"In the last nine things I liked and disliked of 2023, we look at why the Memphis Grizzlies are back on track with Ja Morant, how the Detroit Pistons are on the verge of becoming basketball's Zippy Chippy and why the Charlotte Hornets should be happy with Brandon Miller's play so far.

Ja Morant is back

Morant will not give his harshest critics what they want -- submissive humility and cosmetic change they can point to and say, "The young man gets it now." He is going to talk trash and dance after game-clinching shots, and it is not for me to litigate whether Morant's brief dance after his game-icing dunk against the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday -- the team's third stirring comeback since Morant's return, and second in New Orleans -- featured a (very) brief gun gesture or was merely Morant taunting the crowd with a popular local dance.

(Would it be better for Morant to not allow for any confusion? Of course. The league appears indifferent, having issued no statement.)

Morant's father, Tee, is still courtside, standing and cheering. Tee Morant told SiriusXM NBA Radio last week that the family has made no changes to Morant's "inner circle."

Morant won't cut off childhood friends or boot his father from courtside seats. Could you? Does it matter? The only thing that matters is whether Morant and that inner circle stop doing the things that forced the NBA's hand in suspending Morant 25 games.

That is an enormous cost, to Morant and the franchise he is supposed to steward. In four games with Morant, the Grizzlies reminded everyone what they were on track to be. (Morant missed Memphis' blowout loss to the Denver Nuggets on Thursday with an illness.) As is, they are 10-20. They need to go to 31-21 to reach .500 -- where the No. 10 Phoenix Suns are now. It's possible. The margin for error and injury is zero. No team is so young and so good that it can punt an entire season. If this ends up a wasted year, it will be Morant's fault. That is a permanent stain.

NFL Week 17 picks, schedule, odds, injuries, fantasy tips

The Week 17 NFL schedule for the 2023 season is stacked with great matchups, and we got you covered with what you need to know heading into the weekend. Our NFL Nation reporters bring us the biggest keys to every game and a bold prediction for each matchup.

Additionally, ESPN Stats & Information provides a big stat to know and a betting nugget for each contest, and our Football Power Index (FPI) goes inside the numbers with a game projection and a look at the playoff picture. Analytics writer Seth Walder picks out each matchup's biggest X factor, and fantasy analyst Eric Moody hands out helpful fantasy football intel. Finally, Walder and Moody give us final score picks for every game. Everything you want to know is here in one spot to help you get ready for a loaded weekend of NFL football.

Let's get into the full Week 17 slate, which starts with a Saturday showdown between the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys on ABC, ESPN and ESPN+. On Sunday, there is a Tua Tagovailoa-Lamar Jackson showdown in Baltimore, another Bengals-Chiefs matchup and a battle for the NFC South. (Game times are Sunday unless otherwise noted -- there is no NFL game on Monday this week -- and all playoff chance percentages are via FPI and independent of other results.)

Dolphins-Ravens preview: Match-ups, X factors, stats to know

BALTIMORE -- When the Miami Dolphins returned to their team facility this week, they asked each other about what they did for Christmas and headed to their meeting rooms.

There was no talk about playoff scenarios heading into a showdown between the AFC's top teams on Sunday, when the Ravens (12-3) host the Dolphins (11-4) at M&T Bank Stadium (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

"We understand what's at stake," Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa said Wednesday. "I think if you overdo it, it could get to a point where you start chasing ghosts in a way.

"Whereas if you study the way you study, and you do things the way you've done things, and then if you add just a little one each time on top of that, we could possibly be the team that we've always wanted to be since training camp."

This marks the fourth time in the last 30 seasons that the top two teams from a single conference will meet in the final two weeks of the regular season, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Baltimore, which has won five in a row and is a 3.5-point favorite, can clinch the AFC's No. 1 seed, gain a first-round bye and secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs by beating the Dolphins. The Ravens have earned the AFC's top spot once in their 27 years of existence.

Miami can overtake the Ravens for the No. 1 seed by winning its final two games. The Dolphins play host to the Buffalo Bills in the regular-season finale.

"It's an exciting situation to be in," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "You get into this time of the year, [and] you play yourself into these types of a game where you have an opportunity where the game means so much, where winning one game brings such a big reward because of what you've done up until this point.

"That's an earned thing, and the Dolphins have earned the same thing. So, it's that kind of a game."

ESPN Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley and Dolphins reporter Marcel Louis-Jacques break down why each team is a strong bet to win Sunday, and give a vulnerability and X factor.