1) It is TUESDAY, MARCH 4. In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Tiger vs. Jack poll, Kim Novak's face, Riley speaks, Marino vs. LeBron result, Brent Grimes & more. 2) Follow us on Twitter @gregcote and also on Instagram, Vine and Facebook.
Tiger first-round pairing announced: Tiger Woods is to tee-off Thursday at Doral on hole No. 1 at 12:39 in a group with Adam Scott and Henrik Stenson. The very fact he was listed on the pairings announced Tuesday is good news as he rehabbs his back spasms. It means he has not given the tournament an indication he won't play.
Gators fave for national title: Newest men's NCAA Tournament odds for title via Bovada: Florida 5-1, Arizona/Kansas both 8-1, Wichita State 9-1 and Duke/Syracuse both 10-1.
LEBRON HITS THE GREATEST 61 SINCE ROGER MARIS, TAKES LEAD IN MVP RACE: LeBron James' personal-best scoring high, 56 points, had stood almost 10 years (2005). The Heat's single-game mark, also 56, had stood almost 20 (Glen Rice, 1995). Both fell hard last night with LeBron's fabulous 61 on 22- for-33 shooting including 8-for-10 on 3's. "The man above gave me unbelievable abilities playing this game of basketball," James said with accurate immodesty. Players in a groove say the basket looks bigger to them. LeBron described last night as shooting "a golf ball into the ocean." James has scored 122 points in three games wearing a mask. Who knew a broken nose might be a lucky break for Miami? LeBron also in my view has overtaken Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant in the MVP race. Breaking it down:
People/perception: Granted, timing is everything in polls, and ESPN is asking in the wake of LeBron's 61. Still, on "who gets your MVP vote" is now LeBron by 57-40% (3% someone else), and on "who will win" it's now LeBron by 57-43%. Durant led in the 70s in both categroies just a few weeks ago. On "who is best player in NBA" it's LeBron by 84-14% (2% someone else). Heat also is huge pick over Thunder to go further in playoffs, by 82-18%. These numbers are significant because people are people, and a swing to LeBron in public/fan perception is a reasonable barometer of a likely similar swing by MVP voters.
Quantifiables/statistics: Player efficiency rating (PER) is now a dead-heat, with Durant's lead of 30.44 to 30.37 microscopically negligible. A comparison in traditional statistical categories: Scoring--Durant 31.6-27.5. FG%--LeBron 58.3-50.7. 3-point%--Durant 39.6-38.4. FT%--Durant 88.0-74.6. Rebounds--Durant 7.7-7.0. Assists--LeBron 6.4-5.6. Blocks--Durant 0.8-0.3. Steals--Even at 1.5. Several subcategories of analytics lean to LeBron, such as true shooting percentage (66.2-63.6), assist ratio (21.0-16.4) and rebounding rate (11.8-11.3).
Bottom line: The MVP award is something LeBron dearly covets and it is now his to lose. As the reigning MVP James will get benefit of doubt in a close race, and the fact Miami is a better bet than OKC to win it all or go deeper in the playoffs enhances James' bid. Durant went on his offensive blitzkrieg and became the perceived MVP leader in the weeks after Russell Westbrook was out injured, but that has ceased being his situational advantage. Entering the last quarter of the season, it's LeBron out front.
DANCING WITH THE STARS YOU DON'T CARE ABOUT: TV's Dancing With the Stars has a rich history of trotting out has-beens, B-listers and peripheral sports figures you care little about, and the new season is no exception. This year the four (of 12) dancers from the sports world are Olympic skaters Meryl Davis and Charlie White, South Florida distance swimmer Diana Nyad, and former NHL player Sean Avery. Oh, and Erin Andrews is the new co-host, or, as John Travolta calls her, "Andy Erinew." The good news: No Kim Novak.
Poll result: Tiger won't catch Jack: We asked in last blogpost if you thought Tiger Woods (with 14) would surpass Jack Nicklaus' career mark of 18 major golf wins, and it was 70.1 percent no, 29.9% yes. By the way, Woods has canceled his scheduled 1 p.m. press conference at Doral today as he continues rehabbing his back spasms.
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