Man Utd boss Solskjaer happy with victory at Newcastle: But there’s more to comeby Paul Vegas10 months agoSend to a friendShare the loveManchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was delighted with their 2-0 win at Newcastle/Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku struck for the visitorsSolskjaer said, “Finally we kept a clean sheet. A very professional performance. We didn’t hit the heights that we can do but we were in control, kept plugging away and got the goals.”A good first touch from a sub! When you see big Romelu Lukaku running towards you, as a keeper you might take your hands away! We were sluggish in the first half, it was like a testimonial, too many square passes.”We go to Dubai after the FA Cup game, you need that fitness work because we will need legs come the end of March.”He also said, “You’d be happy with four wins from four – we haven’t conceded from open play yet either.”We were slow in the first half but we controlled the game well, we concentrated and overall it was a very professional performance.”In a five-minute spell we gave them two or three chances but then we settled down again. Newcastle is a fantastic club, fantastic crowd, you expect them to attack you but Victor Lindelof and Phil Jones were fantastic.”Marcus Rashford has the Cristiano hit, it swerves everywhere, but I liked his goal today. Calmed himself down, just passed it in. Well done.”He is only 21, you have to remember that. You need to rattle Paul Pogba at times to get him going, he has been immense for us.” About the authorPaul VegasShare the loveHave your say
Today is Super Bowl Media Day in Glendale, Arizona, the site of Super Bowl XLIX. There’s a horde of journalists and other “media” assembled to speak with the players and coaches, and given the wide-ranging reporting angles taking by those asking questions, some atypical topics get covered and some funny exchanges get produced.Take New England Patriots star tight end Rob Gronkowski, back in the state where he excelled in college for the Arizona Wildcats. Gronkowski was asked to sign his alma mater’s fight song, “Bear Down Arizona,” and he granted that request with a smile.Apparently, this happened more than once:Gronk was asked twice to sing Bear Down Arizona. He obliged both times.— Daniel Berk (@DSBerk) January 27, 2015Known for his outgoing, fun-loving personality, Gronkowski hasn’t been shy at all at this his second Super Bowl Media Day. With him, no topic is off-limits, even the erotic novel a fan wrote that starred him as the love interest.I think Gronkowski just read a line from that Gronk-based erotic novel. #SBMediaDay Are you not entertained?!?!— Randy Scott (@RandyScottESPN) January 27, 2015We most certainly are.
It’s been a pretty good 24 hours for the dunk. There was, of course, Zach LaVine winning the NBA Dunk Contest in spectacular fashion on Saturday night. There was also Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein saying he’s “just going to start dunking on people” and former Michigan wide receiver Devin Funchess showing off his athleticism. There’s also this: Iowa State guard Deonte Burton throwing down an awesome windmill dunk while sporting Timberland boots. That’s just ridiculous. Iowa State (18-6, 8-4 Big 12) is set to play Oklahoma State (17-8, 7-6 Big 12) on Wednesday at 9 p.m. E.T. The game will be televised on ESPNU.
OTTAWA – Undaunted by expanding trade risks, the Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz raised the interest rate Wednesday and signalled the economy’s resilience is keeping him on a hiking trajectory.The quarter-point increase, the central bank’s first move in six months, brought the rate to 1.5 per cent. It was Poloz’s fourth hike over the last 12 months and marked the first time the rate has been this high since December 2008.The decision, a move that prompted some of the big banks to start raising their prime rates later in the day, arrived in the middle of a trade dispute between Canada and the United States that’s expected to hurt both economies.Poloz made the call even though he warned the economy should brace for larger impacts from mounting trade uncertainty. In particular, the trade impacts were caused by the Trump administration’s recent steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada and, in response, Ottawa’s retaliatory duties on U.S. imports.The tariff fight is expected to shave two-thirds of a percentage from Canada’s economic growth by the end of 2020, the bank estimated.Poloz said despite the combined effects of the metals levies, and earlier U.S. tariffs on products like softwood lumber, the bank still projects Canadian growth to average a promising level of two per cent over the next few years, just slightly above its potential and with inflation already on target.The bank expects the negative blow of the trade policies to be largely offset by higher oil prices and the stronger U.S. economy — both of which, on balance, will benefit Canada.Looking ahead, the Bank of Canada is also predicting exports and business investment, which were both stronger than expected in the first three months of the year, to churn out bigger contributions to growth. At the same time, it expects household spending to make up a smaller and smaller share of overall growth due to the dampening effects of higher interest rates and stricter mortgage rules.With the positive outlook, Poloz expects interest rates to continue along their cautious, upward path.“It’s evident to us that higher interest rates will be warranted, but of course we’re not in a position to say exactly how much higher or at what rate we might get there,” Poloz told a news conference Wednesday in Ottawa.Poloz stressed the bank will continue with its gradual, data-dependent approach as it moves towards its neutral rate, which his team has pegged between 2.5 and 3.5 per cent.Along the way, the bank will have to keep close watch on another trade-related unknown that many believe would inflict far more damage on the economy: U.S. duties on the automotive sector.U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to slap tariffs on the auto sector, which is made up of highly integrated, cross-border supply chains. The Bank of Canada warned that auto levies would have “large impacts on investment and employment.”The bank, however, didn’t quantify the possible effects of auto tariffs on Wednesday.For one, Poloz said the bank can’t make policy decisions based on “hypothetical scenarios.” He added that the unknowns around trade could also include positive developments such as the successful renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement over the coming months.“We need to base our decision on what we actually know,” he said.Poloz also argued it should be clear that interest rate adjustments are “ill-suited” to counteract all the effects of protectionist measures, given how these trade actions affect multiple areas of the economy.In addition to tariffs, Canadian businesses must also contend with the uncertainty surrounding the stalled talks on NAFTA’s renegotiation.Outside the country, the Bank of Canada has its eye on how widening global trade disputes, including an intensifying battle between the U.S. and China, will affect the world’s economy. It warns that “escalating trade tensions pose considerable risks to the outlook” at the global level.Even with the trade issues, the Bank of Canada is predicting slightly stronger growth for Canada over the next couple of years, according to updated projections released Wednesday in its quarterly monetary policy report.It expects real gross domestic product to grow 2.2 per cent in 2019, up from its April call of 2.1 per cent, and by 1.9 per cent in 2020, compared with its previous prediction of 1.8 per cent. The economy’s growth projection for this year remains at two per cent, the bank said.Many economists anticipate several more hikes this year and in 2019.TD senior economist Brian DePratto wrote in a note to clients Wednesday that the messaging is consistent with a central bank that’s “committed to a rate hike cycle, but leaves sufficient room to adjust to evolving events.”National Bank of Canada experts wrote in a note that Poloz may choose to err on the side of caution when it comes to future hikes because of threats of auto tariffs, which they warned, if applied, would have “unambiguously devastating economic impacts,” particularly in Ontario.Leading up to the announcement, Poloz was widely expected to raise the interest rate following a run of encouraging economic numbers, including the Bank of Canada’s own survey on business sentiment, still-solid job markets and growth in wages.The bank, however, noted in its report that despite “healthy” labour market conditions, employment growth and average hours worked have slowed down compared to last year’s surge. It also said underlying wage growth has been weaker than what would normally be expected in a tightened job market.The country’s inflation rate is expected to rise as high as 2.5 per cent — above the two per cent mid-point of the bank’s target range — due to temporary factors such as higher gasoline prices. It’s expected to settle back down to two per cent in the second half of 2019.Follow @AndyBlatchford on Twitter
If early reports turn out to be accurate, Markelle Fultz is headed to the Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers traded the third pick in this year’s draft and a protected first round pick in either the 2018 or 2019 draft to the Boston Celtics. It’s a mammoth deal for both teams, and it has ramifications for the long-term outlooks of both. But lost in the commotion of assets changing hands and the deal’s implications on other big-ticket trades are the particulars about the player at the heart of the deal: Fultz himself.Playing in the Pacific Northwest on a nontournament team (and missing a chunk of time because of injury) made Fultz one of the most anonymous presumptive No. 1 picks in living memory. Just about every argument about the Washington Huskies guard is phrased in the subjunctive — a theoretical commodity more than a concrete set of skills. But dig down into what actually makes his game so good and it becomes obvious in a hurry that Fultz is a monster.Fultz has been billed as a pick-and-roll playmaker, which is true but vague. He doesn’t sit up high and find long, surprising passing lanes like James Harden does, nor does he feint and jab on a defense until it cedes ground like Chris Paul does. Fultz’s game is built around his jumper and his handle. He’s a strong shooter off the dribble and a strong enough dribbler to operate in tight spaces and get to the rim, where he’s an excellent finisher. This means defenses have to crowd him wherever he is on the floor, whether it’s 25 feet from the rim or having turned the corner on a pick and roll. And if a defense sends help, he’s a willing passer to the open man, even if that means a 40-foot, cross-court pass.The Huskies scored 109 points per 100 plays1Per Synergy Sports Technology when Fultz passed out the pick-and-roll, including 115 points per 100 on passes to spot-up shooters. To get a sense of how much the team relied on Fultz, consider those numbers in their full context. On spot-up jumpers that weren’t set up by a Fultz pick-and-roll or taken by Fultz himself (101 points per 100 plays), the Huskies managed just 82 points per 100 plays. That’s dreadful. That would have ranked 333rd out of 351 D-I schools. But Fultz was able to draw so much attention and create such good shots for his teammates that they went from one of the worst-shooting teams in the country to one of the best when he set them up.Not just any player commands the sort of defensive attention Fultz saw — even when he is by far the best player on his team. And what makes Fultz special is how good he is shooting off the dribble in traffic. On all pull-up jumpers, he scored 102 points per 100 plays, which is already very good. But when he was working out of the pick and roll, that number shot up to 118 points per 100 plays, as Fultz took advantage of the little bit of daylight created by the screen to get a slightly better look or to a better spot on the floor.Having a god-tier pull-up jumper is an increasingly critical skill for NBA guards, but so is finishing at the rim. Being a genuine threat on the drive is the reason the pick-and-roll offense works — it’s what makes James Harden and Russell Westbrook nightmares for opponents and what powers the LeBron Offense in Cleveland. And Fultz scored 130 points per 100 plays when going to the rim out of pick-and-roll plays. He has a tight (though not exactly dazzling) handle — aided by a nice little hesitation/head-fake move that freezes defenders who have to respect that pullup — and he uses it to get into the lane at will.All that said, the most spectacular offense in the league can’t do much for you if you’re giving up points at the other end. The Huskies were abysmal on the defensive end — they ranked 250th of 351 D-I men’s teams in defensive SRS — and Fultz’s personal numbers aren’t much better. He ranked in the bottom third of all D-I men’s players while defending all but one shot type, according to Synergy. But the defense Fultz plays in the NBA will be much different, mainly because the Huskies spent a lot of time in zone, and that asks players to do very different things to contest shots and deny space than pro-style defenses. But defense should still be a concern. Fultz has good physical tools — he averaged 1.6 steals and 1.2 blocks per game — and he was actually quite good the few times he was isolated in man-on-man situations, but his attention away from the ball will need the same improvements as most rookies.Fultz is a top overall prospect because he’s very, very good at things that are fundamental to the pro game — pick-and-roll playmaking, pull-up shooting, finishing at the rim. He has fewer jaw-dropping highlights as fellow prospects Lonzo Ball or De’Aaron Fox do (though he does have a few); but he has fewer holes in his game, as well. If there’s one thing that could unravel his game as a pro, it would be his shot not translating. It’s not exactly the same species of skepticism as the concern trolling over Ball’s shooting form, but there’s at least some reason to wonder if Fultz will be as lights-out from deep in the NBA. His range doesn’t extend far beyond the college line, and his release is on the slow side. Just as concerning, he shot 64.9 percent on foul shots, which ESPN Insider’s Kevin Pelton pointed out is a slightly better predictor of NBA 3-point shooting ability than college 3-point percentage on its own — and Fultz wasn’t overwhelming enough from 3 (41.3 percent) to make up for the free throws.But the way Fultz had to manufacture his offense should also be taken into account: He practically never had an open shot he didn’t create himself. He scored 116 points per 100 plays coming off of screens, but that was largely because of the same things that make him good in pick and rolls, not effective screens. Fultz’s Washington teammates didn’t set great screens, but this is an area where he needs to improve as well. If Fultz is going to play off the ball in the NBA he’ll have to improve his feel for how to angle his runs to get the screener between the defender and the spot where he wants to catch the ball.This of course leads back to the question of how Fultz will fit in with the Sixers. Given that early reports suggest forward Ben Simmons, last year’s No. 1 overall pick, will play a de facto point guard role for Philadelphia, an ideal fit for Fultz might be as a sort of über-Bradley Beal. John Wall handles the majority of playmaking for Washington, and Beal runs off of flare screens and other off-ball actions to free himself up for jumpers. But when Wall doesn’t have the ball, Beal runs a fair bit of pick and roll himself (despite being a weak dribbler) and generally controls the offense. A similar division of labor between Simmons and Fultz would make a lot of sense for Philly.But that’s deeper into specifics than we need to go for now. Teams tend to find ways to make things work with players who can dribble, pass and shoot. For now, Fultz is a perfect fit for a Philly roster that needs ballhandling and shooting, and just as important, a perfect fit for the directions the NBA game is headed.
If he keeps this up, Harden would become the first qualified1Minimum 25 percent of a team’s minutes played in a season, or about 1,000 minutes over an 82-game schedule. player since at least the 1976 ABA-NBA merger to use 35 percent or more of a team’s possessions while putting up an offensive rating of 120 or more. Depending on how you look at it, he would either be the most efficient high-usage player ever or shoulder the biggest responsibility of any high-efficiency player ever. Either way, it would make Harden the most valuable offensive weapon in the game.What’s unique about Harden is how his scoring and passing play off of each other, making it virtually impossible to shut off his firehose of production. He currently leads the league in both assist rate2The percentage of teammate buckets a player assists while on the court. and usage rate,3The percentage of team shot attempts plus turnovers a player records while in the game. an accomplishment that has been pulled off only one other time — by Russell Westbrook last season. And while Westbrook ranked 126th in true shooting percentage last year, Harden ranks 25th this season thanks to an eye-popping assortment of shot-making numbers: 51 percent on 2-pointers, 41 percent on threes and 86 percent from the line (where he still finagles himself 9.3 times per game, the most in the league). Among players in the 50-40-85 club for those percentages in a season, nobody has ever come close to doing it with a usage rate like Harden’s so far this year. Whenever Harden touches the ball, almost exclusively good things happen for Houston.Thanks in large part to Harden’s complete offensive clinic, the Rockets currently rank second only to the Golden State Warriors in points per 100 possessions. They’re shattering their own benchmark for the most made threes per game in NBA history (knocking down a stunning 16.1 a night while taking 53 percent of their field goal attempts from deep), and they also rank third in pick-and-roll efficiency,4Including both when the ball handler and the roll man finish the play. averaging 0.98 points per possession on the play, according to NBA.com.All the while, Houston is providing an interesting counterpoint to the Warriors in terms of offensive basketball philosophy. Golden State is a joy to watch because of its pure shooting talent, frequently knocking down looks that mortal players have no business making: The Warriors rank only ninth in Second Spectrum’s Quantified Shot Quality metric, which measures the expected value of a team’s shot selection based on league averages, but they lead the NBA in shooting efficiency anyway because nobody outperforms the expected value of their shots by more. The Rockets are the opposite. They make their shots at a slightly higher clip than average, but it’s nothing special; instead, they thrive on relentlessly creating prime scoring chances, leading the league in shot quality with the highest expected value (a 54.1 effective field goal percentage) of any season in Second Spectrum’s database.5Which goes back to the 2014 season. You can argue with the aesthetics of Harden and the Rockets’ methodical exploitation of basketball’s percentages, but it’s never worked to greater effect than in the early stages of this season.The only unresolved question about Harden and his hardware is whether Paul’s return will disrupt Harden’s early-season flow. Before the season, we noted that the NBA had never seen a pairing of two ball-dominant guards quite like Harden and Paul before, and that Houston’s success would largely hinge on how the two could co-exist and alter their games to complement each other. But with Paul missing 14 of Houston’s first 15 contests, the pairing hasn’t received a great deal of stress-testing yet — Harden has largely been able to play in the manner he’s been accustomed to over the past few years, when he seldom had to share playmaking responsibilities with anybody.The good news is that in the few games since Paul’s return, Harden has been as outstanding as ever. He’s averaging 34.4 points and 8.2 assists per game with a 68.7 true shooting percentage and an average Game Score of 28.6 — a better number than he was putting up while Paul was out of the lineup. The bad news is that the Rockets have barely scraped past the opposition (+2.4 points per 100 possessions) with their two stars on the court when compared with the +16.3 margin they have with one but not the other. And most concerning (but not surprising) for Harden’s MVP campaign, his stat-stuffing ways are indeed getting curtailed when he shares the court with Paul. According to NBA.com, Harden’s rates of assists, usage and even rebounds all take a hit with Paul in the game. Granted, his shooting efficiency is up with Paul, one of the great passers of his generation, but Harden’s overall production — as measured by the percentage of total “good things” (for both teams) he’s responsible for while in the game6NBA.com calls this statistic the Player Impact Estimate. — is down from 20.1 percent without Paul to 15.7 percent with him.7For context, the current league leader is Hassan Whiteside at 20.9 percent.To help avoid the redundancy in their stars’ skill sets, the Rockets are staggering Harden and CP3’s minutes some. (And Paul has been on a program of reduced minutes anyway, while working his way back into form.) The Rockets have most of the season ahead of them to figure out how the two players fit together, with the primary goal of finally getting over the hump in the Western Conference playoffs, not to maximize Harden’s stat lines. But as well as Harden has played early this season, this looks like his best shot yet at ending his string of MVP near-misses. He just needs to figure out how to play his hyper-efficient, do-everything game while simultaneously sharing the ball with another superstar — a task easier said than done.Check out our latest NBA predictions. Thanks to a combination of novelty and voter fatigue, it’s rare for an NBA player to remain MVP bridesmaid for too long. For every block of seasons where a Michael Jordan or LeBron James dominates the consensus at No. 1, a Charles Barkley or Derrick Rose will still manage to slip in and break up the monotony. That’s a big reason why, in all of NBA history, only three players have finished as MVP runners-up multiple times without ever actually taking home the award themselves.Two of those are retired Hall of Famers: Jerry West (who came in second an astonishing four times without winning) and George Gervin. The third, James Harden of the Houston Rockets, is still very much active. But the way he’s playing this season, he might not be MVP-less much longer. After finishing second in two of the previous three seasons, Harden has established himself as the early award favorite while leading the Rockets to the best record in the West and the league’s top per-possession point differential. At long last, it might be time for the greatest bearded MVP since Bill Walton — just so long as the recent return of domineering fellow guard Chris Paul doesn’t get in Harden’s way.By the numbers, Harden has never been better. He’s currently either first or second (behind LeBron James) in virtually every advanced value metric, including Value Over Replacement Player, Win Shares, Estimated Wins Added and ESPN’s Real Plus/Minus (RPM) wins above replacement. Harden has long been known for his ridiculous efficiency — he generates more points per possession than any other big-time scorer in the game today (including Steph Curry) — but he’s taken that approach to an entirely new level so far this year. He’s producing about 122 points for every 100 possessions he’s personally responsible for, a number usually reserved for three-point specialists, low-scoring big men and LeBron, but with the usage rate of a player who controls his team’s every offensive move. Once again, Harden is pushing the boundaries of just how many points one player can create for his team:
Ohio State senior forward NickSchilkey has his shot blocked aside by Michigan goalie Zach Nagelvort (35) during the Buckeyes’ 1-0 loss on Feb. 25. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo EditorOne final series at the Schottenstein Center remains on the 2016-17 schedule for the No. 13 Ohio State men’s hockey team (17-9-6, 8-7-1-1), as the Scarlet and Gray welcome the Michigan State Spartans (6-21-3, 2-12-2-0) to Columbus for two crucial conference clashes.This weekend will mark the second series of the season between the Buckeyes and Spartans. The first series on Feb. 17 and 18 featured two one-goal wins for OSU at Munn Ice Arena in East Lansing, Michigan — 3-2 Friday and 4-3 Saturday — to seal the sweep.Despite those vital victories, Buckeyes coach Steve Rohlik said his team must continue to respect a visiting Michigan State squad — and at this point in the season, this weekend represents two must-win games for his team.“We were fortunate to get out of (East) Lansing there with two wins, and we’ve got to be better this weekend,” Rohlik said. “We want to come out and get a quick start, and hopefully put together a 60-minute game.”Although the Buckeyes left the state of Michigan with six Big Ten points earlier this month, senior forward and captain Nick Schilkey said OSU looked at its previous meetings with the Spartans in order to make adjustments, and will enter the series with a “do or die” mentality.However, Schilkey said the result of this weekend will depend ultimately on the Buckeyes’ effort on the ice.“We watched video this week, and learned what worked well for us, areas they exposed us,” Schilkey said. “We play each team twice, and it’s just like any other second weekend of playing a team in this conference. We watched tape, learn from some things, but at the end of the day, it comes down to us and our work ethic.”Currently, OSU sits in the 15th spot of the PairWise rankings for a possible at-large bid to the NCAA tournament — and have rested on the bubble down the stretch of the season. In light of this, Rohlik said his team is aware of its present situation regarding postseason play, and that the NCAA tournament truly begins for his unit with the first faceoff Friday night.“I think everybody in (the locker room) knows exactly where we’re at, and I think that just jumpstarts our playoffs,” Rohlik said. “We’ve got to start our playoffs earlier than most teams right now, and Friday to me is a playoff hockey game.”Puck drop for the final home series of the season is set for 7 p.m. Friday night, while Saturday’s clash is slated to begin at 8 p.m.