Good morning to everyone but especially to...
Real Madrid couldn't have asked for a worse start. They also couldn't have produced a better -- or more stunning -- finish.
After going down 2-0 less than 15 minutes into the game, Real Madrid ripped off five straight goals in a 5-2 away thrashing of Liverpool in the first leg of their Round of 16 Champions League tie.
- Darwin Núñez's stunning flick found the back of the net in the fourth minute, and Madrid goalkeeper Thibault Cortois' awful error resulted in an easy tap-in from Mohamed Salah in the 14th minute.
- Real Madrid came back with a vengeance, with the in-form Vinícius Jr. rifling one into the bottom corner in the 21st minute. Then it was Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson's turn to make a mistake, firing a clearance directly into Vinícius Jr. and the deflection going into the goal in the 36th minute.
- The floodgates opened in the second half. Éder Militão put Los Blancos ahead with a header in the 47th minute, and Karim Benzema added 55th- and 67th-minute goals, the French star's first tallies of this Champions League campaign.
It's the first time Liverpool's ever conceded five goals in a European Cup game at Anfield. Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher did not hold back in his assessment, and our James Benge believes major questions need to be asked.
- Benge: "This is a Liverpool of astounding brittleness. Fabinho used to be a step ahead of every counter, now he crashes to the deck in forlorn pursuit of the ball. Jordan Henderson and Trent Alexander-Arnold are not on the same wavelength anymore. Virgil van Dijk's imperious phase might just be over. ... A season that encompassed every game imaginable from August 2021 to May 2022 has been followed by one that is surely over before the first buds of spring. That isn't even where the trouble ends. This side has fallen from the summit so vertiginously no one could believe that it is the work of a single summer to get them back on track."
Elsewhere Tuesday, Napoli cruised past Eintracht Frankfurt 2-0 behind goals from Victor Osimhen and Giovanni Di Lorenzo. The final two first legs of the Round of 16 are today, both streaming on Paramount+.
- RB Leipzig vs. Manchester City (preview) (Oh, also, Kevin de Bruyne is out.)
- Inter vs. Porto (preview)
You can see our experts' picks here, James' bold predictions here and Tom Fornelli's Corner Picks here. If you listened to him Tuesday, you put some money in your pocket.
- A.J. Brown wants Jalen Hurts to get an extension.
- Brittney Griner is officially returning to the Sun.
- Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn got an extension through 2026-27.
- Peyton Hillis is expected to make a full recovery.
And not such a good morning for...
NATE McMILLAN AND THE ATLANTA HAWKS
The All-Star break gave the Hawks time to assess things. That turned out to be bad news for Nate McMillan, who Atlanta fired amid season-long underachievement. The Hawks are just 29-30 this season, eighth in the Eastern Conference.
That's despite the offseason acquisition of Dejounte Murray, who was expected to pair with Trae Young to form one of the league's best backcourts.
- This ends a disappointing tenure for McMillan, who took over for Lloyd Pierce midway through the 2020-21 season and led the Hawks to the Eastern Conference Finals. However, they lost in the first round last season. The struggles have continued.
- In 19 seasons as a head coach, McMillan has nine first-round playoff exits. No. 10 seemed like the best scenario this season.
- Assistant coach Joe Prunty will take over in the interim. Quin Snyder reportedly could be a candidate for the full-time gig.
McMillan's old-school style clashed with Young's flashy, offense-centric approach, and it led to drama between the two earlier this season. With McMillan out of the picture, Young must alter his game -- or he could be next on his way out of Atlanta, writes our Brad Botkin.
- Botkin: "This isn't about Young's shooting, which is appreciably down this season and has never been as good as his reputation would suggest. This is about his continued disinterest in being an active off-ball participant. ... Young is the sun. Everything revolves around him. If he doesn't buy in, nobody will. At this point, Atlanta will have to start imagining a new life without the guy they long ago planned on leading them into what was supposed to be a bright future."
Not so honorable mentions
- The Bulls shut down Lonzo Ball (knee) for the season. He has not played since January 2022.
- LSU wide receiver Malik Nabers was arrested and booked on a weapons charge.
Alabama star Brandon Miller brought gun used in fatal shooting to Darius Miles 🏀
Star Alabama freshman forward Brandon Miller brought the handgun used in a fatal shooting to Darius Miles, according to police testimony that was given at the preliminary hearing Tuesday. Miles, a former Alabama basketball player, and Michael Davis were charged with capital murder after an early-morning Jan. 15 shooting in Tuscaloosa that killed Jamea Jonae Harris.
Davis ultimately fired the shots that killed Harris after Miles gave him the gun. Per Tuscaloosa Violent Crimes Unit officer Branden Culpepper, Miller had provided the weapon -- which belonged to Miles -- upon Miles' request, relayed via text message.
- Though Miller's connection to the case became publicly known Tuesday, the basketball program knew of it previously. It has not resulted in charges or punishment from the team.
- Paula Whitley, Tuscaloosa chief deputy district attorney, said "there's nothing we could charge [Miller] with."
- Alabama head coach Nate Oats chalked up Miller's involvement to "Wrong spot at the wrong time." He later clarified he did not mean to downplay the situation.
Miller leads all freshmen in points per game (18.7) and is the No. 3 overall prospect in our NBA Draft Prospect Rankings. Alabama is projected to be a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Top 50 NBA players of 2022-23: Giannis or Jokic at the top? 🏀
Everyone loves a good "who's the best?" debate, and the All-Star break has provided us with a perfect time to assess who's been the best NBA player this season.
After ranking their top 100 players before the season, our NBA experts have ranked the top 50 players so far this season. The two-time reigning MVP sits atop the sport, writes our James Herbert.
- Herbert: "Once again, Nikola Jokic has been the best offensive player in basketball. With a more complete team around him, the back-to-back MVP is taking fewer shots, scoring fewer points and, somehow, outdoing himself. That he's averaging about 25 points is mind-boggling, since he's doing it on 70-plus percent true shooting and damn near leading the league in assists. ... The art of his game, however, is just as impressive as the science. He is simultaneously the poster boy for efficiency and one of the most creative players who has ever lived."
These rankings strongly reflect the league's international flair: Four of the top five are from outside the U.S., and it's hard to argue with any of them.
You can see the entire 1-50 here.
Ranking the 10 best MLB offenses ⚾
Spring Training is underway. The pop of gloves and crack of bats is filling the air at long last. But whose bats will crack loudest this season?
Our Matt Snyder ranked his top 10 offenses, and the Braves and Astros came in No. 1 and No. 2 respectively. But I might be most excited about No. 3.
- Snyder: "3. Padres -- The Padres got MVP-caliber work from Manny Machado last season, but otherwise they weren't nearly as good as they can be in 2023. I don't see any reason Machado has a huge backslide coming. Juan Soto in several ways had the worst offensive season of his career... and he only played in 52 games for the Padres anyway. Fernando Tatis Jr. played in zero and he's capable of an MVP season, especially now that his shoulder and wrist are fixed. He'll miss time finishing up his PED suspension, but he'll be back before May. Xander Bogaerts would be the best hitter on at least a handful of teams, probably more. He's the fourth-best hitter here."
What we're watching Wednesday 📺
⚽ RB Leipzig vs. Manchester City, 3 p.m. on CBS and Paramount+
⚽ Inter vs. Porto, 3 p.m. on Paramount+
🏀 No. 20 Providence at No. 18 Connecticut, 6:30 p.m. on FS1
🏒 Blackhawks at Stars, 9 p.m. on TNT