The Nets already look pretty damn good

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Wednesday, December 23, 2020
Merry Christmas Eve eve, friend! As an early gift ... I bring takeaways from opening night of a new NBA season!
We kicked off the professional shootyhoops season with a marquee doubleheader last night and, boy, did it ever feel good to have the NBA back in our lives. We were also blessed with a few notable college football bowl games, so it was a pretty eventful night in the sports world. Lucky for us, that also translates to a pretty eventful morning correspondence! 
If you don't mind, I'm going to ask that we jump right into things this morning because I've got some presents to wrap and, considering I'm a  dumb uncoordinated doofus, wrapping presents is something of an all-day affair. Wish me luck!

📰 What you need to know
1. Nets live up to all the hype in season opener 🏀
It's been over a year since the Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving decided to join forces in Brooklyn but we've been waiting for KD to return from injury for about 18 months and there's been plenty of hype building in the meantime. On Tuesday night, the KD-Kyrie duo and the new-look Nets somehow lived up to that hype ... and possibly then some.
Brooklyn crushed the Warriors, 125-99, in the first official game of the 2020-21 NBA season and both Kyrie (26 points) and KD (22 points) had impressive showings to kick off the campaign. The Nets' offense looked incredible and the rest of the league has officially been put on notice. It's only one game in what is sure to be a long (yet simultaneously abbreviated) season, but the Nets' championship hopes now seem more justifiable than they were a day ago.
That being said, our Colin Ward-Henninger has offered a piece of advice for the Nets: Beware of buying into your own hype.
  • CWH: "The Nets are a title contender. Anyone who watched that game knows this. But the problem is, the Nets know it too. The challenge moving forward will be to remain focused on the present, getting better each day and not taking a peek in the oven too early... The Los Angeles Clippers were pegged as NBA title favorites all the way up until their inauspicious exit from the bubble after watching a 3-1 lead evaporate against the Denver Nuggets in brutal fashion. Judging by the reports that have come out since, the Clippers clearly never got on the same page in terms of chemistry or game plan, and they suffered in the end because of it."
That seems like a wise warning from Colin, especially considering the pieces in Brooklyn. We know the Nets are a super talented team that has as high of a ceiling as any team in the league. But we also know that Durant and Irving are two of the most ... uh, let's call it "sensitive" ... players in the league and they carry some volatility with them. In a season that is surely going to be bizarre and unpredictable, the Nets seem like they could be the most bizarre and unpredictable team in the league. 
Still, it's going to be one hell of a show whether they're thriving or falling apart, so we'll be keeping a close watch on Brooklyn all season.
Of course, the Nets and Warriors weren't the only teams kicking off the season last night. We got the Battle of Los Angeles as a night cap, and the Clippers bested the reigning champion Lakers in that showdown. You can find takeaways from that game right here.
2. Auburn hires Bryan Harsin in much-needed change for program 🏈
The Auburn Tigers have found their next head football coach. After a brief search, the Tigers have chosen to hire Bryan Harsin away from Boise State to replace Gus Malzahn, who was fired earlier this month. Harsin spent the last seven seasons coaching the Broncos, compiling a 69-19 record with three Mountain West titles (2014, 2017 and 2019).
  • Harsin, via statement: "I'm incredibly excited and humbled for the opportunity to be at a place like Auburn University. I knew it would take a special opportunity to get me out of Boise and Auburn is exactly that, the chance to compete at the highest level for one of the greatest programs in college football. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the coaches and players in the Southeastern Conference, but am ready to help build a foundation at Auburn where we can consistently compete for championships."
Liberty coach Hugh Freeze was initially considered to be the favorite to take over at Auburn but a number of other big names were attached to the vacancy -- including Louisiana's Billy Napier, UAB's Bill ClarkClemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables and current defensive coordinator/interim head coach Kevin Steele.
But now the job belongs to Harsin and, according to our Barrett Sallee, it's a welcome and much-needed change for the program.
  • Sallee: "The long and winding road to land on Harsin was the exact opposite of "JABA" [Just Auburn Being Auburn]. It was the anti-Auburn. The program stepped out of its comfort zone because it knows that in order to become a championship-level program, it has to. What it was doing wasn't working (unless, of course, Cam Newton has a clone roaming around). Instead of banging its head into the wall in attempt to break through that glass ceiling, it hired a west coast coach with a southeastern mindset."
It's a pick that lands on the bolder side, especially considering Harsin doesn't have experience in the SEC recruiting scene, but a bold change might be just what the doctor ordered for Auburn at this point. Falling in line with the expected is what has gotten them to this juncture, so maybe Harsin is the guy to provide the fresh jumpstart that the Tigers desperately need.
3. Pete Prisco's Week 16 power rankings 🏈
You know how some people say "you're never too old to learn new things?" That's sort of how I feel about the NFL season at this point. Even as we near the end of the regular season, we continue to discover new things about teams across the league.
For example: This week we learned that the post-Quinn era Falcons still LOVE blowing big leads, especially when Tom Brady is on the other side. We learned that the Jets aren't quite as good at tanking as initially thought. In turn, we learned that Trevor Lawrence might end up a Jaguar. We learned that the Pittsburgh Steelers might be big frauds.. 
So while the playoff picture is in our sights, it's important to continue evaluating the league's landscape. That's why we should check in with Pete Prisco and his weekly Power Rankings. Here's who he's got for the top 10 teams heading into the penultimate weekend of the 2020 regular season:
  1. Chiefs
  2. Packers
  3. Bills
  4. Seahawks (Last week: 6)
  5. Saints
  6. Steelers (LW: 4)
  7. Colts
  8. Buccaneers (LW: 9)
  9. Ravens (LW: 10)
  10. Browns (LW: 11)
As we head into the final few weeks of the season, there's still plenty of parity in the standings, so that should make for a fun finish and -- more importantly -- a very fun playoff run. I'm curious: Outside of your favorite team, which team is the easiest to root for this year? I've said this a few times, but I'm going with the Bills. They're reaching new heights after being buried by the Patriots in the AFC East for so many years, Josh Allen is a ton of fun and that city is HUNGRY for success.
You can find Prisco's full Power Rankings right here.
4. Which pitchers deserve to get into the Hall of Fame? ⚾
There's only so much we can talk about how MLB owners are inevitably going to hold up the start of another MLB season, so what do you say we find something a bit less depressing to talk about this morning? Luckily, our Matt Snyder has provided us with some material that won't make us want to rip our hair out. 
In a column this week, Snyder wondered why an entire generation of starting pitchers remains underrepresented in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Here's a pretty stunning statistic: Of all the starting pitchers that have entered MLB since 1986, only seven of them have been inducted into the HOF. That seems ... impossible. Snyder also took the time to look into which hurlers should get consideration and, ultimately, which ones should get into Cooperstown. Here's his take on a few names that came up:
  • Roger Clemens: There are the PED ties, but Snyder says since he wasn't suspended under MLB's Joint Drug Agreement, he should get a pass. Anyone who wasn't suspended under that agreement should be judged solely on how they played the game, and Rocket's stats make the case that he's one of the greatest pitchers of all time
  • Curt Schilling: Schilling reached 70 percent of the vote last season and he's inching closer to the 75 percent threshold, but his induction is overdue at this point. His stats, resume and postseason success make a clear case for him getting in, but his controversial personality has likely hurt him in the voting process over the years
  • Andy Pettitte: He's close as a compiler, but no. Pettitte makes an old-school case for getting in based on the numbers alone -- he played a long time and has racked up some impressive stats. But he was never really all that dominant so his case isn't quite strong enough
You can find Snyder's take on a handful of other guys right here.
📝 Odds & Ends
  • Tom Brady fired a ruthless Twitter comeback at Tony Dungy following the former coach's disrespectful snub
  • The NFL has made some scheduling changes to this weekend's slate
  • Infamous NFL bust Ryan Leaf says watching Dwyane Haskins' mistakes in Washington has been like "looking in a mirror"

📺 What to watch today
🏀 Bucks vs. Celtics, 7:30 p.m. | BOS +3.5 | TV: TNT
🏀 Mavericks vs. Suns, 10:30 p.m | PHX -1 | TV: ESPN
📝 Top scores from last night
🏈 Boca Raton Bowl: (16) BYU 49, UCF 23
BYU quarterback Zach Wilson threw for 425 yards with three touchdown passes and two rushing scores.
💵 Winning wagers: BYU -6, Under (80)
🏀 Nets 125, Warriors 99
The Nets led by as many as 38 in their rout of Golden State. Steve Nash got his first win as a NBA head coach.
💵 Winning wagers: BKN -7.5, Under (235)
🏀 Clippers 116, Lakers 109
Paul George scored 33 points (26 in the second half) and Kawhi Leonard added 26 points in the win.
💵 Winning wagers: LAC +111, Over (219.5)
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