Feb 10, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Happy Monday! Let's sports.

Today's word count: 1,419 words (5 minutes).

1 big thing: 🏀 Fear the Deer

Photo: Quinn Harris/Getty Images

The Milwaukee Bucks are in the midst of one of the best regular seasons in NBA history.

  • 45-7 record: Milwaukee is a league-best 45-7 and on pace to win 71 games, something only two teams have ever done: the 1995-96 Bulls (72-10) and the 2015-16 Warriors (73-9).
  • +12.4 margin: The Bucks have a per-game average point differential of +12.4, which is higher than any team's full-season rate in NBA history.
  • Efficiency: Milwaukee ranks No. 2 in the league in offensive efficiency (behind Dallas) and No. 1 in defensive efficiency (ahead of Toronto).

Giannis Antetokounmpo is averaging 30 points and 13.5 rebounds per game, "ridiculous numbers that shouldn't be humanly possible in just 30.9 minutes per game," writes NYT's Marc Stein.

  • Wild stat: Houston's James Harden is scoring a mind-boggling 35.2 points per game, but Antetokounmpo (34.9) actually ranks ahead of him (34.2) in scoring per 36 minutes — a more accurate measure of scoring volume.
  • MVP race, per NBA.com: 1. Antetokounmpo ... huge gap ... 2. LeBron James, 3. Kawhi Leonard, 4. Jimmy Butler, 5. Nikola Jokić, 6. Luka Dončić, 7. Damian Lillard, 8. Anthony Davis, 9. Jayson Tatum, 10. Russell Westbrook.

The Bucks' rotation is two-deep at every position and just got even deeper with the addition of veteran Marvin Williams, who was signed yesterday after agreeing to a buyout with the Hornets.

  • PG: Eric Bledsoe, George Hill
  • SG: Wesley Matthew, Donte DiVincenzo, Kyle Korver
  • SF: Khris Middleton, Pat Connaughton, Sterling Brown
  • PF: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ersan İlyasova, Marvin Williams
  • C: Brook Lopez, Robin Lopez

And yet ... despite chasing history, the Bucks have received relatively little national attention thanks in large part to being the fourth-smallest market in the NBA, ahead of only OKC, New Orleans and Memphis.

  • This is a reminder that, while small-market superstars like Antetokounmpo are often covered like big-market superstars if they're good enough, small-market teams are almost never covered like big-market teams — even if they're on pace to have the third-best regular season ever.

Go deeper: NBA standings

2. 🏒 Coronavirus creates hockey stick shortage

Photo: Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

The coronavirus outbreak has halted work and travel in China, and the ripple effects are now impacting the NHL.

The state of play: New Hampshire-based Bauer and Montreal-based CCM supply roughly 75% of NHL players with sticks, which are highly customizable and made in small batches in China. With the country at a standstill, the NHL has been unable to get fresh stock.

  • The only major stick-maker not affected is Warrior, which manufactures its sticks in Mexico and counts 22% of NHL players as clients.

What they're saying: "I've been looking for some [new sticks], and I think they're kinda slowed up a bit," Bruins forward Charlie Coyle told the Boston Globe. "So I am trying to make do ... trying not to break too many right now."

Map: 🏥 Coronavirus death toll tops 900
Expand chart
Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkinsthe CDC and China's NHC; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

The coronavirus has now killed at least 909 people worldwide — more than the SARS virus death toll in 2003.

By the numbers: All but two deaths from 2019-nCoV occurred in mainland China, the epicenter of the virus, where more than 40,000 people have been infected. There are 361 cases in 27 other countries and territories.

Follow the latest coronavirus news and cases here.

3. 📸 Weekend in photos
Photo: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Tre Jones (28-5-6) made the play of the year and led Duke to an improbable 98-96 OT win over North Carolina, becoming the first player with 28 points, five rebounds and five assists in the Duke-UNC rivalry since Michael Jordan in 1983.

Photo: Justin Casterline/Getty Images

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — For the first time since his firing in September 2000, Bob Knight returned to Indiana University's Assembly Hall, and the crowd went wild — chanting his name and roaring with approval.

  • What they're saying: "It was one of the greatest and most emotional things for me," said former player Randy Wittman. "I don't know if we'll see something like this again in college basketball. When he moved back here, I told him, 'You're back here because this is where you belong.'"
Photo: Douglas Stringer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald and pro golfer Kevin Streelman shot 33-under par to win the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, beating Hall of Fame QB Steve Young and Phil Mickelson by five strokes. This is Fitzgerald's second win in three years.

  • Tournament winner: 31-year-old Canadian Nick Taylor held off Mickelson to notch his first PGA Tour win in six years.
Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP via Getty Images

MILAN, Italy — Inter Milan scored four unanswered second-half goals to stun rival AC Milan, 4-2, and move into first place in Serie A, just ahead of Juventus (based in Turin) and Lazio (based in Rome).

4. ⚾️ The Astros' scandal thickens

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The latest developments in the Astros' sign-stealing scandal prove that the front office, not the coaches, laid the groundwork for the cheating scheme, and that manager A.J. Hinch knew exactly what was going on.

👀 Coming tomorrow ... A detailed look at the inner-workings of the Astros' front office.

5. 🏈 XFL Week 1 recap
Screenshot: @ChrisVannini (Twitter)

During Sunday's XFL action, former NFL head coach Jerry Glanville, now serving as the Tampa Bay Vipers' defensive coordinator, was shown wearing two headsets at once.

  • It summed up Week 1 perfectly: Hilarious, fun, football-focused, a little zany and loaded with live audio of coaches calling plays — giving you the sense that you were inside the headset with them.

Scoreboard:

📺 Ratings ... Saturday's debut game between the Defenders and Dragons drew 3.3 million viewers on ABC. By comparison, the AAF drew 2.9 million for its first game last year.

6. 📊 By the numbers
Photo: Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
  • 🥊 14 title fight wins: Jon Jones' victory over Dominick Reyes at UFC 247 further cemented his legacy: 14 title fight wins (most ever), 11 title defenses (tied for most ever), 20 victories in a single division (first to ever do it). Time to move up to heavyweight?
  • 🏀 16 teams: The NCAA tournament selection committee revealed its top 16 teams on Saturday: 1. Baylor, 2. Kansas, 3. Gonzaga, 4. San Diego State, 5. Duke, 6. Dayton, 7. Louisville, 8. West Virginia, 9. Maryland, 10. Florida State, 11. Seton Hall, 12. Villanova, 13. Auburn, 14. Oregon, 15. Butler, 16. Michigan State.
  • ⚽ 7 year wait: New York City FC's seven-year search for a home stadium appears set to end in the Bronx — right down the street from Yankee Stadium.
7. Feb. 10, 2002: 🏀 Kobe wins All-Star Game MVP
Photo: Tom Mihalek/AFP via Getty Images

18 years ago today, Kobe Bryant returned to his hometown of Philadelphia and put on a show at the 2002 All-Star Game, winning MVP and becoming the first player to score 30+ points since Michael Jordan in 1993.

What they're saying: The Ringer's Brian Phillips on Kobe's unique style of play, which will live on in highlight reels forever:

"[Kobe] was a beautiful player but not a pretty one. Steph Curry, at his best, is a pretty player; he's putting on a show for you, recruiting you into a little conspiracy of happiness. ... But Kobe is something else. He's not playing for you at all."
"His game was spectacularly inefficient by today's standards, and he notoriously loathed the statistical revolution that transformed basketball in the mid-2010s, but he still conveys the sense that he's solving the game, playing against a mathematical ideal."
"It's abstract, fiercely unsentimental. He dribbles into a crowd of defenders, and the court separates into planes and angles. He pulls up for a shot and the arc of gravity reveals itself."

The latest: A memorial service for Kobe and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna will be held at Staples Center on Feb. 24.

8. The Ocho: 🏆 "Mando" sets pole vault record

Armand "Mando" Duplantis, a 20-year-old Louisiana native who will represent his mother's home country of Sweden in Tokyo, set a new indoor pole vault world record on Saturday with a jump of 6.17 meters (20 feet, 2.75 inches).

The jump, in photos...

Photo: Rafal Oleksiewicz/PressFocus/MB Media/Getty Images
Photo: Lukasz Szelag/AFP via Getty Images
Photo: Foto Olimpik/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Photo: Rafal Oleksiewicz/PressFocus/MB Media/Getty Images

That's awesome.

9. 🎓 Ivy League trivia
Cornell alum Andy Bernard after hearing that the wrestling team lost. Giphy

Princeton beat Cornell to win the Ivy League wrestling title this weekend, ending Cornell's 17-year reign as conference champion — the longest streak of any sport in Ivy League history.

  • Question #1 (easy): Can you name all eight Ivy League schools?
  • Question #2 (hard): Can you name each school's nickname/mascot?

Answer at the bottom.

10. 🎬 Another win for sports at the Oscars

Director Carol Dysinger (left) and producer Elena Andreicheva. Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images

"Learning to Skateboard in a War Zone (If You're a Girl)," which tells the story of young Afghan girls in the war-torn city of Kabul, won Best Documentary (Short Subject) at last night's Academy Awards.

Why it matters: This continues a remarkable run for sports-centric documentaries at the Oscars, with "O.J. Made in America" winning Best Documentary in 2016, "Icarus" winning in 2017 and "Free Solo" winning last year.

  • "Good to see sports recognized, again, as realm of powerful storytelling. Was not always this way," tweeted the Aspen Institute's Tom Farrey.
  • 🎥 Watch: Trailer (YouTube)

Go deeper: Complete list of Oscar winners

Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Could watch this all day" Baker

Trivia answer: Brown Bears, Columbia Lions, Cornell Big Red, Dartmouth Big Green, Harvard Crimson, Penn Quakers, Princeton Tigers, Yale Bulldogs