Hangin’ with Havel!

Chris Havel’s sports columns will appear throughout the week on The FAN’s website. The columns are brought to you by these fine advertisers (click to go to their website/Facebook):

 

Hangin’ with Havel

For
Monday, May 16th 

Chris Havel’s sports columns appear during the week on The FAN’s website. The columns are brought to you by these fine advertisers (click on hyperlink to go to their website/Facebook)

** Chrysler World

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** Packer City Antiques

Twenty-eight years in business, owner Mike Worachek features rare Packers and sports memorabilia at 2208 S. Ridge Rd., Green Bay. Card and Coin also buys gold and silver at www.titletownnostalgia.com.

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Bucks’ title defense falls short in Boston

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The odds against the Bucks winning Sunday’s Game 7 at Boston were much greater than the five points they were getting from Las Vegas.

They needed that and another 24 points from Khris Middleton to advance, but with the Bucks’ All-Star guard still sidelined with a sprained MCL there was nobody coming to bail them out.

The Celtics’ 109-81 blowout of the Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals’ decisive game illustrated the toll an extremely physical best-of-seven series took on a shorthanded Milwaukee team.

Not that anyone feels sorry for the NBA’s defending champions. The Mavericks took it a step further in the Western Conference semifinals later Sunday by blowing out the Suns in Phoenix.

It will be an all-new NBA Finals matchup featuring the Celtics and Warriors after they dispatch the Heat and Mavs, respectively.

For the Bucks trying to win a third game at Boston was too much to ask.

Grant Williams poured in a career-high 27 points and keyed a Celtics’ defense that literally wore out Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo. Jayson Tatum added 23 points and Jaylen Brown tossed in 19 as the second-seeded Celtics advanced.

Tatum made five 3-pointers and Payton Pritchard added four as the Celtics shot an amazing 22-for-55 from beyond the arc. They outscored the Bucks 66-12 (Milwaukee was just 4-for-33) on 3-point shots. Jrue Holiday and Pat Connaughton got plenty of good looks but combined to shoot 0-for-11 on 3s.

The Celtics were the better team throughout the series. They now advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the fourth time in six seasons. They haven’t reached the NBA Finals since 2010 but are looking to change that against the Heat.

Right now Boston appears to be the best team still standing in the playoffs.

The Bucks opened an early 10-3 lead but the Celtics dominated the rest of the way in Sunday’s decisive game.

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer made no excuses.

“They were the better team in a seven-game series,” he said of Boston.

Clearly, Middleton’s absence was a factor in the series’ outcome, but the Celtics also had injury issues to deal with.

“Every team goes through something,” Budenholzer said. “Nobody feels sorry for us. It’s the age-old equation: You’ve got to have good players; you’ve got to be a little lucky; and you’ve got to be healthy. You need all of these things to be successful in the playoffs. I’ve heard it a million times. We weren’t as healthy as we could have been, but nobody cares.”

The Celtics’ focus was taking and making 3-point shots by the barrel full and using every opportunity to push, shove and lean on Giannis throughout.

A weary Antetokounmpo scored a team-high 25 points, but he shot just 10 of 26 from the floor, including misses on six of seven attempts in the fourth quarter.  He finished with 20 rebounds and nine assists, but couldn’t do it alone.

“I felt like we started grinding him down,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said after the game. “He missed some of the easier shots around the basket. That’s what we talked about. It’s not just one guy (guarding him). We stuck with that.”

Holiday finished with 21 points and Bobby Portis came off the bench to score 10 points, while Brook Lopez had 15 points and 10 rebounds.

A disappointed Antetokounmpo said he wouldn’t have changed anything about his approach. He just kept playing as hard as possible to final buzzer.

“I’d rather miss a bunch of shots and keep playing, keep coming and keep being aggressive … than to go into passive mode,” he said. “I can live with that. I can live with giving everything for a game. Shots that I usually make weren’t going in. But that’s basketball. That’s sports. … You’ve just got to live with it.”

Last season, Giannis led the Bucks to their first NBA title in 50 years while being voted Finals MVP.

This postseason the Bucks tried to survive without Middleton, but ultimately his absence severely limited Milwaukee’s 3-point shooting and depth. Giannis and Holiday gamely tried to overcome his absence, but it was all in vain.

Giannis played 43 minutes Sunday, including the entire second half until the game was out of reach. Afterward, he was asked if his legs felt heavy down the stretch.

“Legs heavy, body heavy, mind heavy,” he replied. “Everything was heavy.”

Giannis averaged 29.6 points, 14.7 rebounds and 7.1 assists in the seven-game series. He scored 40 or more points three times and had 20 rebounds twice.

He is the first player in NBA history to record 200 points, 100 rebounds and 50 assists in a playoff series.

Budenholzer had nothing but love for his MVP.

“The way Giannis evolved throughout this series, the way Giannis played against a very good defensive team, against a lot of good individual defenders, was like another one of those growth moments, growth opportunities,” Budenholzer said. “I thought he was phenomenal. His scoring, his attacking, his playmaking, his unselfishness … I was beyond impressed.”

Now, the Bucks must watch while another team hoists the Larry O’Brien Trophy, and they prepare to get back to the NBA Finals next season.

Bucks’ epic rally puts

Celtics in a 3-to-2 hole

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – It was as improbable as it was enjoyable.

The Milwaukee Bucks rallied from a 14-point fourth quarter deficit to defeat Boston 110-107 on Wednesday night at TD Garden. The Bucks are nine wins away from a successful title defense while grabbing a 3-2 lead in their best-of-7 Eastern Conference playoff semifinal.

Jrue Holiday’s defense, Bobby Portis’ rebounding and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s over-arching dominance were enough to silence the Celtics’ premature celebration.

To those boisterous, boohooing Boston fans I say: Jrue you!

On a day when the Bucks mourned the passing of Hall of Fame great Bob Lanier at age 73, they turned in a performance worthy of The Dobber’s greatness.

Trailing 105-99 with 42.4 seconds to play the Bucks got back-to-back 3-point shots from Giannis and Holiday to tie it at 105. Boston’s Jayson Tatum, who scored a team-high 34 points, hit two free throws with 31.1 seconds to make it 107-105 and set up a wild finish.

Antetokounmpo drew a foul with 14.2 seconds and converted the first of two free throws to make it 107-106. He missed the second but Portis got the offensive rebound and scored to make it 108-107.

That’s when Holiday’s defense took control.

The Celtics’ Marcus Smart tried to retake the lead but Holiday blocked his driving shot and threw the ball off Smart and out-of-bounds to give the Bucks the ball. The Celtics fouled Pat Connaughton with 6.6 seconds to play.

After Connaughton made both free throws to make it 110-107 Smart pushed the ball up the court, but Holiday stripped him at midcourt and it was game over.

Holiday’s back-to-back defense stops preserved a most unlikely victory.

Now, the NBA’s defending champions can eliminate Boston in Friday night’s Game 6 at Fiserv Forum.

“Obviously, in Boston you’re down 14 in the fourth quarter, people would say everything’s against us. But we come together,” Holiday said. “We live and die like that.”

Antetokounmpo was outstanding … again.

He finished with a game-high 40 points, including the key 3-point shot late, to get the Bucks one win away from their third trip to the Eastern Conference finals in the past four seasons.

Portis was clutch, too.

He came off the bench to score 14 points and grab a game-high 15 rebounds, including the most important one off Antetokounmpo’s missed free throw.

Holiday had 24 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.

He also was the defensive catalyst as the Bucks outscored the Celtics 33-21 in the fourth quarter. It was a total reversal of the Bucks’ Game 4 loss in which Boston routed the Bucks 43-28 in the final quarter to get the win.

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer sang Holiday’s praises afterward. He singled out the play in which Holiday stripped Smart, grabbed the ball and threw it off the Celtics’ player and out-of-bounds to retain possession.

“Just a great instinctive play by Jrue,” Budenholzer said. “He’s a winner. Jrue Holiday’s a winner. You ask any player in this league or any coach in this league. He’s a winner.”

Milwaukee finally found its 3-point shooting eye after struggling in the series. The Bucks drilled 13 of 29 (44.8 percent) from beyond the arc, compared to 10-of-31 (32.3 percent) for the Celtics.

That the Bucks came all the way back to win is fairly amazing.

The Celtics had more assists (25-22), steals (6-5), blocks (7-5), points in the paint (50-44) and fast-break points (19-14). They also committed three fewer turnovers.

And the Bucks still won.

Afterward, the TNT analysts finally acknowledged Giannis’ greatness, Holiday’s defense and the Bucks’ heart of a champion.

The Bucks had 17 offensive rebounds to Boston’s five and scored nine of their 20 second-chance points in the fourth quarter. The most critical of the second-chance points came when Portis gathered Antetokounmpo’s missed free throw and scored to give Milwaukee a 108-107 lead.

“Growing up as a kid, I really wasn’t very skilled or really had one thing I really did well,” Portis said. “I was always like a jack of all trades, did everything good but nothing great. My mom always told me as a kid just to be a garbage man. Being a garbage man is if you want scoring opportunities and you’re not getting the ball passed to you, you go get the ball on the offensive glass. That’s one thing my mom always taught me. Shout-out to my mom on that.”

For that great advice, and the gift of Bobby Portis, Bucks fans everywhere are forever grateful to Tina Edwards.

Bucks eyeing 3-1 lead;

Brewers visiting Reds

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Milwaukee Bucks are 10 wins away from successfully defending their NBA championship. The roadblock known as the Boston Celtics have other ideas, beginning with tonight’s pivotal Game 4 at Fiserv Forum.

A Bucks’ victory would give them a daunting 3-1 edge going back to Boston. A Celtics’ win would restore their home-court advantage and essentially reduce what’s been a bruising best-of-7 series to a best-of-3.

Two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 42 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and dished out eight assists in Milwaukee’s narrow 103-101 victory in Saturday afternoon’s Game 3 at Fiserv Forum.

The Game 3 winner has gone on to capture the series 77 percent of the time.

For his part, Giannis does what he does, which is dominate. His 42-point effort was the sixth time he has scored at least 40 points in a playoff game.

“I just try to do whatever is in front of me,” he told reporters. “Play to my strengths as much as possible, and I know what my strengths are. As long as I play within my strengths, I’m going to be in a good place and I just try to take it a possession at a time.”

Jrue Holiday backed Giannis’ play with 25 points and seven rebounds, and Brook Lopez had 13 points and 10 rebound in his best game of the series.

The Bucks trailed by four points at halftime, but came out blazing after intermission to outscore the Celtics 34-17 in the third quarter.

Boston still trailed by 13 points with less than 10 minutes to play but managed to fight back and grab a 100-99 lead in the final minutes. After Antetokounmpo and Holiday each scored to make it 103-100, Marcus Smart drew a foul and sank the first of two free throws. He intentionally clanked the second free throw, but Robert Williams and Al Horford each missed follow-up shots.

The Bucks saw the return of guard George Hill, who has been out with an abdominal strain, and expect him to contribute the remainder of the playoffs.

Jaylen Brown led the Celtics with 27 points and 12 rebounds, while Horford added 22 points and 16 rebounds and Derrick White chipped in with 14 off the bench.

The Bucks’ Wes Matthews was the primary defender on Jayson Tatum, who struggled mightily Saturday afternoon and finished with 10 points on 4-of-19 shooting, including 0-for-6 from beyond the arc.

Game 5 is set for Wednesday night at Boston’s TD Garden.

** BREWERS LOSE 2 OF 3 AT ATLANTA OVER THE WEEKEND

Milwaukee and Atlanta wore pink to celebrate Mother’s Day, but early on Brewers fans probably felt like reaching for a bottle – a pink Pepto-Bismol bottle.

The Brewers seemed to explore every conceivable way to commit errors, both throwing and fielding, and to hit into rally-killing double plays.

As a result, the Brewers dropped two of three at Atlanta over the weekend, including a 9-2 blowout loss to the Braves Sunday at Truist Park. The Brewers won Friday night’s series opener 6-3 despite committing three errors but lost Saturday 3-2 as Atlanta’s Max Fried out-dueled the Brewers’ Corbin Burnes.

Mama said there would be days like these.

The Brewers (19-10) loaded the bases in the second before Braves starter Charlie Morton (2-3) struck out Lorenzo Cain and induced Jace Peterson to ground out.

“We hit some near-misses with men on base,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said.

The Braves (14-16) had more traffic on the bases than Chicago’s Eisenhower Expressway has vehicles at rush hour. They stole five bases and scored nine runs despite leaving 14 baserunners stranded.

The Braves opened a 6-0 lead in the fourth inning when Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson scored on a wild pitch by Brewers starter Aaron Ashby. The left-hander allowed six hits, six runs and four walks in four innings.

“I just didn’t think he threw enough strikes today,” Counsell said of Ashby’s worst outing of the season. “There were just too many easy pitches for the other team.”

Morton, 38, turned back the clock by allowing only two hits while walking three and striking out five. It was his first win over Milwaukee since Sept. 11, 2015, when he was pitching for the Pirates.

William Contreras, the brother of another big-league catcher, Willson, drew a bases-loaded walk to drive in one run and belted a three-run homer in the fifth inning off reliever Jandel Gustave to blow the game open.

Ashby saw his earned-run average leap from 2.33 to 4.24 in four innings.

The Brewers’ Willy Adames and Ashby committed errors Sunday to give Milwaukee an uncharacteristic six errors in the three-game series.

The good news is the Brewers open a three-game series today at Cincinnati. The Reds (5-23) were rained out Friday night, split a double-header with the Pirates Saturday and won 7-3 on Sunday. It was the Reds’ first series win in nine tries. They also snapped a nine-game losing streak.

The Brewers will start right-hander Brandon Woodruff (3-1) against the Reds’ right-hander Luis Castillo tonight at Cincinnati’s Great America Ballpark.

Celtics handle Bucks,

Adames leads Brewers

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – After their road romp in Game 1 at TD Garden, the Milwaukee Bucks were braced for Boston’s best Tuesday night.

The Celtics didn’t disappoint.

Jaylen Brown scored 30 points and Jayson Tatum added 29 to carry Boston to a 109-86 victory over the defending NBA champions at TD Garden. The Celtics’ win makes it 1-1 in this best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series.

Brown and Tatum shot a combined 10-for-31 from the floor in the Bucks’ 101-89 win in Game 1. They came back with a vengeance on both sides of the court to temporarily regain control – if not home-court advantage – in this series.

“How you respond is everything in this league,” Brown said. “We knew we had to come out and play like our season was on the line.”

The hot-shooting Celtics opened an 18-3 lead midway through the first quarter. It mushroomed to 65-40 by halftime.

The Bucks tried to mount a second-half rally but it wasn’t happening. After a horrendous 2-of-12 shooting performance in the first half, Giannis Antetokounmpo began asserting himself after intermission.

But nothing came easy for Antetokounmpo, who posted a triple-double in Game 1 but needed 27 shots to score his team-high 28 points on Tuesday night. No other Milwaukee player reached the 20-point plateau.

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer credited the Celtics’ smothering defense.

“The guys on (Giannis), they’re solid, good, good defenders and then quite a bit of help,” Budenholzer said. “That’s where he’s just got to see and feel it – do we kick it and get more 3s or he’s got to finish against one-on-one defense. So, I think it’s a little bit of both. But Giannis, he always figures things out.”

Antetokounmpo agreed with his coach’s assessment.

“I try. I try to figure it out,” he said. “It’s the playoffs. Obviously they’re going to be physical. They’re going to be more physical. It’s not going to be a lot of fouls called, they’re going to be more active, more disciplined, but at the end of the day, it’s the same mentality, the mindset doesn’t change, you’ve got to keep chipping away, keep finding solutions to make the game yours. Make good plays. Find your teammates, get in the paint. No matter what they do, my mindset and the team’s mindset cannot change.”

The Celtics’ Grant Williams and especially Al Horford hounded Giannis all night. Horford has a history of success defending Giannis, but much of that reputation was earned when Horford was a hardened veteran and The Greek Freak was a kid.

On Tuesday night, Horford turned back Father Time and rebuffed Antetokounmpo’s repeated attempts to finish around the basket.

Boston coach Ime Udoka was impressed with his team’s response to Game 1.

“We have been a bigger, more physical team all year,” Udoka said. “I didn’t love how we didn’t react to them being physical (in Game 1). We adjusted well, we learned some things from Game 1 … we haven’t been outmuscled like that all year. I think our guys took that to heart. I knew we would come out with the right effort tonight.”

The series continues at Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum with Game 3 on Saturday afternoon with tip-off set for 2:30 p.m. Game 4 will be played Monday night.

** BREWERS BEAT UP ON HISTORICALLY AWFUL REDS

The Brewers’ bats didn’t make life easy for their terrific starting pitchers last season, and that was especially true when Brandon Woodruff pitched.

The big right-hander and Cy Young Award vote-getter could’ve sued the Brewers’ hitters for non-support last season. That would’ve been an easier ‘W’ than tossing three- and four-hitters and praying for enough runs.

On Tuesday night, Willy Adames provided the punch with a three-run home run in the Brewers’ 6-3 victory over the epically awful Reds at American Family Field.

Cincinnati (3-20) has lost 18 of its last 19 games, including seven straight. They opened the season by splitting a four-game series against the defending NL champion Atlanta Braves. Since then they have been hideous.

Meantime, the NL Central-leading Brewers have been playing well.

Milwaukee (16-8) holds a 2 ½ game lead over St. Louis (13-10) while Pittsburgh (9-13) and Chicago (9-14) trail the Brewers by 6 and 6 ½ games, respectively.

Woodruff (3-1) struck out 12 hitters while allowing three runs and no walks in his 5 2/3 innings.

“I’ve been working extremely hard on getting back to just kind of myself and making some tweaks and I think tonight it showed up,” Woodruff said. “I know there were strikeouts but, in terms of the way I felt moving down the mound, it felt a lot better tonight.”

For the first time in franchise history the Brewers have had three straight starters record 10 or more strikeouts. Woodruff’s 12-strikeout smoke show came on the heels of Corbin Burnes’ 10 strikeout Sunday and Eric Lauer’s 11 K Saturday,

“It’s boring, they strike out everybody,” Adames told reporters. “I only had one groundball today and it was the last out. It’s always good to see the show that they always put on. It’s amazing to see how they execute everything.”

Woodruff got tagged for back-to-back home runs by Tommy Pham and Mike Moustakas in the fourth inning. Aaron Ashby yielded a run-scoring double to Moustakas in relief of Woodruff, but then settled down to pitch 2 1/3 scoreless innings before Devin Williams came on to earn his second save.

Reds manager David Bell couldn’t help but be impressed by Brewers pitchers.

“The Brewers, they threw some really good stuff at us, really from the first inning through the ninth inning,” Bell said.

Rowdy Tellez belted his fifth home run and Milwaukee’s “Toy Cannon” – diminutive slugger Luis Urias – made his season debut at third base. Urias, who was recovering from a quadriceps injury, reached base all three times.

Urias, who is 5-9, 186, hit .249 for the Brewers last season while slugging 23 home runs and driving in 75 runs. The return of Urias’ bat in the lineup will help. Urias reached on an error and scored ahead of Adames’ home run. He also smacked a run-scoring single in his return.

The Reds will start right-hander Vladimir Gutierrez (0-4, 7.41 ERA) versus the Brewers’ Freddy Peralta (0-1, 5.00) in tonight’s 6:40 game at Am-Fam Field.

Bucks smother Celtics,

Brewers take 2 of 3

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The defending NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks don’t want to hear about being undermanned.

That’s because they have The Man.

Giannis Antetokounmpo stuffed the stat line like it was an open-court slam dunk. He finished with 24 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists to record a triple-double and lead the Bucks to a 101-89 victory over the Celtics Sunday in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series at TD Garden.

The Bucks are without All-Star Khris Middleton, who is sidelined with a left MCL sprain and will miss the best-of-seven series against Boston.

No matter. Giannis and friends are doing their part to ensure the Bucks will be alive in the postseason when Middleton returns.

It starts with Milwaukee’s suffocating defense.

The Bucks have held their playoff opponents to less than 100 points in four of six postseason games. Boston had its worst offensive showing of the playoffs Sunday, shooting a playoff-low 33% (28 of 84) with just 21 assists and 18 turnovers.

The Celtics’ Jayson Tatum scored 21 points and Jaylen Brown 12 on a combined 10-of-31 shooting. The Bucks forced the Celtics to settle for jump shots with Brook Lopez, Bobby Portis and Giannis protecting the rim.

“That’s what they try to do, deterring you from driving to the basket,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. “And for the most part our decision-making wasn’t great.”

Jrue Holiday led the Bucks with 25 points and added nine rebounds and five assists. Grayson Allen scored 11 points off the bench, hitting three of six 3-point attempts. Portis posted a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds.

Antetokounmpo said he tries not to overthink things during the game, especially when he’s being mobbed and his teammates are open.

“I try to be as simple as possible,” the NBA’s two-time MVP said. “My teammates were there, they were open and they were knocking down shots.”

The Bucks, up 1-0, have successfully flipped home-court advantage. Game 2 is set for Tuesday night at Boston.

Antetokounmpo played 38 minutes in a very physical Game 1.

“Maybe I’m weird,” he said. “I thrive through physicality. I love feeling beat up after games. I don’t know why. My family thinks I’m a weirdo.”

That’s OK because the rest of the NBA thinks he’s a marvel.

** BREWERS TAKE 2 OF 3 FROM CUBS DURING WEEKEND

The Brewers’ bats came alive to belt out 25 hits on Friday and Saturday.

Cubs’ pitcher Marcus Stroman decided to celebrate his 31st birthday by blowing out the candles on Milwaukee’s red-hot bats. Stroman’s two-hit, seven-inning gem helped the free-agent pitcher earn his first win with the Cubs on Sunday, a 2-0 shutout over the Brewers at American Family Field.

Stroman (1-3) retired the final 14 batters he faced to post the third shutout against Milwaukee this season. The Brewers put up a total of 20 runs two win the first two games of the series, but Stroman was able to cool them off.

Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes retired the first 13 hitters he faced, including seven via the strikeout. Burnes allowed four hits over seven innings while walking one and striking out 11. He joins Yovani Gallardo as the only other Brewers pitcher to post three straight double-digit strikeout games. Eric Lauer, who has double-digit strikeouts in his last two starts, will look to join the exclusive club the next time he takes the mound.

The Cubs’ Patrick Wisdom broke the scoreless tie with a fifth-inning home run off Burnes. Seiya Suzuki added an RBI double for the Cubs, who broke a three-game skid while stopping the Brewers’ five-game winning streak.

The Brewers (15-8) hold a two-game lead over St. Louis (12-9) in the NL Central. The Pirates (9-13) and Cubs (9-13) are 5 ½ games back, while struggling Cincinnati (3-19) is 11 ½ games out of first place.

The Brewers are off Monday before opening a three-game series at Cincinnati on Tuesday. Right-handers Freddy Peralta and Adrian Houser are scheduled to start the first two games, set to begin at 5:40 p.m., with Lauer throwing Wednesday’s “getaway game” set for 11:35 a.m.

Milwaukee follows that up with a three-game weekend series at Miami.

Packers pounce early to secure WR Watson

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Brian Gutekunst must have had an itchy trigger finger.

The Packers’ GM spent the first round of the NFL draft patiently sitting and picking to select Georgia Bulldogs Quay Walker and Devonte Wyatt at 22 and 28. Walker, the first “off ball” linebacker drafted, and Wyatt, arguably the draft’s top interior defensive lineman, should help cement an ascending Green Bay defense.

But the question remained going into Friday’s Rounds 2 and 3 of the draft: What are the Packers going to do to replenish the receiver room after trading Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders?

Nobody had to wait long for Gutekunst’s retort.

The Packers’ GM traded the Packers’ 53rd and 59th picks in the second round to NFC North rival Minnesota in return for the 34th overall pick, which Gutekunst immediately used to select North Dakota State receiver Christian Watson.

Green Bay’s 19-spot leap was aided and abetted by the Vikings’ first-year GM, Kwesi Odofo-Mensah, an analytics expert, who may come to regret this decision.

Watson (6-4, 208) is an exceptional athlete whose NFL bloodlines were forged by his father, Tim Watson, a 1993 draft pick of the Green Bay Packers. Watson never played in Green Bay, but he did have a five-year NFL career as a safety.

Watson was asked if he’d spoken with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers as of Friday evening. He said he hadn’t, but that he looked forward to it. He was fairly gushing, if not borderline breathless, when discussing No. 12.

“Obviously being able to catch passes from one of the best to ever do it is something I’m definitely excited about,” Watson told reporters. “I feel like I’m going to be able to learn and grow a lot through not just him but all the other receivers and everyone else in the organization as well. I definitely couldn’t be more excited to go at it with Aaron Rodgers.”

Watson played in a championship program at North Dakota State where running the football and asking receivers to block downfield was part of the deal. He learned to be a good teammate there and said it prepared him for the NFL.

He also was excited about playing for the Packers – the team that drafted his father – and carrying on the family tradition.

“Being able to follow in his footsteps and be drafted by the same club is extra-special to me for sure,” Watson said. “It’s definitely a surreal experience. Just getting the phone call itself brought tears in my eyes, I was so excited.”

Gutekunst said he traded up to the 34th pick because he felt Watson would be gone otherwise.

“We did feel we had to go there to get him,” Gutekunst said.

The Packers’ GM showed no sign of second-guessing or flinching after the decision to move up 19 spots in the second round. He seemed pleased to get the talented receiver to work into the attack.

“He’s a big, fast, physical receiver,” Gutekunst said of Watson. “We think his best football is ahead of him. We got a chance to spend a lot of time with him and felt he was a really smart kid that we feel could fit our culture.”

Watson hit Twitter early Saturday morning to express his feelings regarding being selected by the Green Bay Packers. Watson tweeted, “First morning as a Green Bay Packer and I’ve gotta say, it feels pretty damn good!”

The Packers traded Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders for the 22nd and 53rd overall picks in the draft. They signed veteran free agent Sammy Watkins to join holdovers Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, Amari Rodgers and Juwann Winfrey, among others, in the receiving corps.

Watson was clocked at 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash and should provide an immediate deep threat for Rodgers. In addition, Watson is an accomplished kick and punt return specialist, should special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia elect to use him in that role.

Rodgers didn’t sound concerned when the Packers didn’t take a receiver in the first round, based on his comments on the Pat McAfee Show.

Rodgers said, “We’ve had a lot of success with second- and third-round receivers. You look at Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, James Jones in the third round (in 2007), obviously Davante Adams in the second round. Those guys turned out pretty good.”

Watson didn’t put up great numbers at NDSU but that was more due to the system and the circumstances than any commentary on his ability. He caught 43 passes for 801 yards and seven touchdowns last season, career-highs in all three categories.

“I don’t think it was for a lack of anything that Christian did or didn’t do,” Packers director of football operations Milt Hendrickson said. “If you’re familiar with NDSU, they love to run the football. His opportunities will come and go sometimes.”

The Packers selected UCLA offensive lineman Sean Rhyan with the 92nd overall pick in the third round. Rhyan was a three-year starter at left tackle during his college career, but he’s also been talked about as an NFL guard.

“I’m extremely versatile as well as available,” Rhyan said. “I never missed a snap in college due to an injury. I was only pulled from a game if we were stomping the other team and we wanted to get some of the other guys some playing time.”

The Packers entered Saturday’s draft with two picks in the fourth round, one in the fifth and three in the seventh.

 

Packers’ pivotal draft

brings Walker, Wyatt

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers stood pat with the 22nd and 28th picks Thursday night in the first round of the 2022 NFL draft.

Then they promptly surprised more than a few fans by passing on a receiver and doubling down on defense – Georgia Bulldogs style – by selecting “off ball” linebacker Quay Walker at 22 and “three technique” Devonte Wyatt at 28.

It was the first time in the common draft era that a team selected two players in the first round from the same team, let alone the same unit.

The Packers’ ninth-ranked defense got a major boost because of it.

Walker will line up inside next to All-Pro De’Vondre Campbell to form a dynamic duo of 6-foot-4, 240-pound rangy, active linebackers who love to impose their will.

Wyatt, at 6-4, 304, is a “three technique” defensive lineman who will line up next to All-Pro Kenny Clark, and work in a rotation with veteran Jarran Reed, to give the Packers’ defensive line some juice.

CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco said Wyatt has a chance to be a special player.

“He had some character concerns, but he was productive on a good defense,” Prisco said. “I know Packers fans wanted a receiver here, but this is a player who can really help a defense inside. I like it.”

I second that notion, having predicted the Packers would select Wyatt at 22 (they took him at 28) and Arkansas receiver Treylon Burks at 22 (Burks was selected by the Titans at 18, who traded up with the Eagles to select him. The deal sent receiver A.J. Brown to Philadelphia).

For now, the $1 billion question remains: What about the Packers’ receiving corps? When will it get its booster shot?

Packers GM Brian Gutekunst admitted that he entertained conversations with teams about the possibility of trading up to select a receiver in the first round.

“There was a couple, there was a few,” he said. “That (WR) run happened early. They’re really good players. At the same time I think you’ve got to look at the asking price and does that make sense?”

A record six receivers were selected in the first 18 picks.

Drake London, Garrett Wilson, Jameson Williams, Chris Olave, Jahan Dotson and Treylon Burks were off the board before the 19th pick came up. Green Bay simply wasn’t in a good position to land one of its favored receivers.

Now, it has a chance to trade up in Round 2 and acquire another Georgia peach – Bulldogs receiver George Pickens – in the early 30s.

Ok, it’s difficult to imagine the Packers NOT selecting a receiver in Round 2, but Gutekunst said he didn’t feel like he had to trade up to take a receiver.

“I don’t think we have to,” he said Thursday night. “I think there’s some really good receivers left in this draft and we’ll kind of see how it plays out. We have nine picks left, so we’ve got a lot of ammunition. Whether we stick and pick or move around, we’ll kind of see how that goes.”

Georgia’s Pickens would be a gift from the football gods. That still leaves North Dakota State’s Christian Watson, Cincinnati’s Alec Pierce and Baylor’s Tyquan Thornton as other possibilities.

Watson (6-4, 208) is an explosive, gifted athlete coming from a Division II program. He may take time to develop, but he is an accomplished return specialist and his 4.3 speed in the 40-yard dash will make him an immediate deep threat.

Pierce (6-3,211) was a deep threat at Cincinnati with his 4.41 speed in the 40 and an incredibly explosive 40 ½ inch vertical leap.

Thornton (6-1, 181) is a fluid route-runner with blazing speed (4.28 in the 40) and good hands. He also is a return specialist who has been compared to the Ravens’ Devin Duvernay, one of the NFL’s top kick and punt returners.

In addition, look for the Packers to consider Colorado State tight end Trey McBride in the middle half of Round 2, or Iowa State’s Charlie Kolar or Virginia’s Jelani Woods as a mid-round alternative at tight end.

Meantime, Walker and Wyatt will trade their Georgia “G’s” for Packers “G’s” as Green Bay’s “D” just became more daunting.

The Packers added scheme-specific defenders in Walker and Wyatt, who starred on Georgia’s national championship defense in 2021.

In fact, they joined a trio of ex-Bulldogs selected in the first round of Thursday night’s 2022 NFL draft. The list includes: No. 1, Travon Walker, DE, Jaguars; No. 13, Jordan Davis, DT, Eagles; and No. 32, Lewis Cine, S, Vikings.

The Packers selected Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes with the 29th pick in the 2021 draft. Packers’ coordinator Joe Barry now has an ex-Bulldogs defender at every level of his defense.

“Oh man, that’s crazy,” Walker said of joining Wyatt and Stokes in Green Bay. “It’s a reunion, man. I can’t even really say nothin’ – I’m gonna start crying all over again.”

Jaquavian Jy’Quese (Quay) Walker started 15 games for Georgia’s national championship team in 2021. He registered 67 tackles, 5 ½ tackles for loss and 1 ½ sacks in addition to three pass breakups.

Some scouts had another Georgia player – inside linebacker Nakobe Dean – rated as a better pro prospect than his teammate, Walker. However, Dean (5-11, 229) is a fast but extremely undersized inside linebacker. Utah’s Devin Lloyd, the other top inside linebacker prospect, was selected by Jacksonville with the 27th pick.

Walker, at 22, makes sense in hindsight.

Think of Walker as a rookie version of Packers All-Pro inside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, who was instrumental in elevating the defense’s play. Campbell led the team with 146 tackles (102 solo), five passes defended, two sacks, two interceptions and six tackles for loss.

Campbell (6-4, 232) and Walker (6-4, 241) are clones.

Campbell ran a 4.58 40-yard dash with a 34-inch vertical jump at the NFL combine. Walker ran a 4.52 with a 32-inch vertical leap. Their ability to read and react against the run, coupled with their skill in pass coverage, makes them a potentially formidable interior duo.

Gutekunst said he didn’t think Walker would be on the board if they waited to draft him at No. 28. He said Walker’s tackling ability, impact in the passing game and exceptional skill when blitzing made him too good to pass up.

The Packers raised their talent level at inside linebacker considerably.

Krys Barnes, an undrafted linebacker from UCLA, started next to Campbell and played well last season. Barnes was third on the team with 81 tackles (58 solo), four tackles for loss, four passes defended, two fumble recoveries and a sack.

Imagine putting Walker – a Top 22 talent – next to Campbell.

“It’s been a while since we’ve been able to stay in certain packages with two inside ‘backers and handle everything in run defense and the passing game,” Gutekunst said. “This really gives our defense a ton of flexibility.”

Gutekunst sounded as if Walker will play right away.

“That makes it really tough on an offense,” he said of the dynamic duo inside. “(Walker’s) range and speed and explosiveness as a tackler were something that we couldn’t pass up.”

Walker played in 52 games during four seasons at Georgia, but he didn’t start full-time until 2021. He said he reshaped his body and rededicated his mind. The result is starring on a national championship team and being the 22nd player drafted.

“I became smarter,” Walker said. “I learned what everybody does around me. Way more smarts on the mental side. There’s a whole lot I need to get better at, but nothing I can’t get better at.”

Then there is Wyatt, the 28th overall pick, to consider.

Wyatt, 24, is older than most of the Packers’ preferred draft picks. However, this isn’t a typical draft (COVID-19 led to more experienced players being available in this draft) and the Packers need immediate help in their Super Bowl quest.

Some NFL scouts believe Wyatt is the best player at his position in the entire draft.

Wyatt (6-3, 304) was the most disruptive force on the Georgia Bulldogs’ dominant defense. He carried that through at the Senior Bowl, where he led everyone at the position in “win rate” during the one-on-one pass rush drills.

The better the competition, the taller Wyatt stood.

Wyatt’s proponents are enamored of his interior pass rush ability.

The Packers could line up Wyatt next to Kenny Clark on Day One and be better.

So what about safety?

The Packers’ defense deployed a third safety on 40 percent of its snaps last season. It is possible Green Bay will draft a safety on Day Two to replace the departed Henry Black, especially with Darnell Savage and Adrian Amos in contract years.

Green Bay had Penn State safety Jaquan Brisker in for a pre-draft visit.

Brisker (6-1, 199) was a second-team Associated Press All-American and first-team all-Big Ten Conference in 2021. He started 12 games and registered 64 tackles, a career-high six for loss, with two interceptions and five breakups.

NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlien wrote: “(Brisker) has the versatility to become a moving chess piece in a variety of coverages and has the size and talent to match up with both “Y” and “F” tight ends. … Brisker is an ascending talent with the NFL traits to become a long-time starter as a Day Two draft pick.”

The Packers hold the 53rd and 59th picks in the second round and the 92nd pick in the third round entering Friday night’s Day Two, which begins at 6 p.m.

Packers’ pivotal draft

brings Wyatt, Burks

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers’ needs are apparent and their ammo is abundant entering the 2022 NFL Draft which kicks off tonight at 7 p.m. from Las Vegas.

Green Bay currently holds the 22nd and 28th picks, in addition to the 53rd and 59th picks in the second round, which begins at 6 p.m. on Friday night.

Armed with all of that draft capital, Packers GM Brian Gutekunst will be looking to find a receiver or two, a “three technique” defensive lineman, an offensive tackle, a safety and an “off ball” linebacker.

The Packers are set to contend for the NFC Championship and beyond … again.

Green Bay is 39-10 in head coach Matt LaFleur’s three seasons. They have made three straight playoff appearances before falling short of the goal. This offseason they retained All-Pro inside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell and cornerback Rasul Douglas and signed free-agent receiver Sammy Watkins.

The trade that sent Davante Adams to the Raiders for the 22nd and 53rd picks accounts for all of the ammunition. It also is the reason the Packers signed Watkins and continue the search for a receiver or two in this draft.

The Packers are only a few pieces away from completing the Super Bowl puzzle. For that reason this draft should be regarded among the most pivotal in franchise history. If Gutekunst and Co. nails it the Packers will be set up for the foreseeable.

The mocks entering this draft are all over the place.

Ex-Packers cornerback and current NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks has five receivers being drafted before the 20th pick. Brooks has Ohio State’s Garrett Wilson to Atlanta at No. 8, USC’s Drake London to the Jets at No. 10, Alabama’s Jameson Williams to Minnesota at No. 12, Ohio State’s Chris Olave at No. 15 to Philadelphia and Arkansas’ Treylon Burks to New Orleans at No. 19.

Brooks also has Georgia defensive lineman Devonte Wyatt and Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd off the board by the 22nd pick.

The old saying goes, “They can’t ALL be gone.” In this case, Brooks’ mock draft comes about as close to that as it gets for Green Bay.

Meantime, CBS football analyst Will Brinson doesn’t have Wyatt OR Lloyd being selected in the first round.

It’s like playing darts blindfolded, or so it seems, and yet there is an art to the draft.

Gutekunst has shown the courage to trade up or down, and the patience to stay put.

The trick is to know when to do what to end up selecting the right players.

In my wildest dreams, the Packers trade a first and a second to land one of two veteran receivers: the Titans’ A.J. Brown or the Commanders’ Terry McLaurin.

The next-best scenario is sending a second and a fourth to the Raiders for tight end Darren Waller.

As terrific as it would be, I don’t see any of these scenarios playing out.

Longtime NFL sage Peter King has the Packers selecting Penn State receiver Jahan Dotson, who is a bit undersized (5-11, 178) but can run like the wind (4.43 40-yard dash) and catches everything (178 catches on 180 targets).

In fact, he was my early draft crush (Dotson, not King).

I’d still be fine with the Packers selecting Dotson, but I’ve since decided Gutekunst is likely to look elsewhere.

So without further ado here are my Packers’ predictions for the first round of the draft, based on what I see them doing if they stay put and pick at 22 and 28:

** No. 22 – The Packers may be tempted to trade up for a receiver, but they won’t.

It’s not their style. They have been making hay at the position with second- and third-round receivers even before they selected the Kansas farm boy, Jordy Nelson, in the second round of the 2008 draft.

Greg Jennings was the 52nd pick in 2006. James Jones was the 78th pick in 2007. Nelson was the 36th pick in 2008. The Packers also drafted Texas tight end Jermichael Finley with the 91st pick in 2008. That pass-catching quartet became even more lethal with the selection of Randall Cobb at No. 64 in the 2011 draft.

History is destined to repeat itself.

While Ohio State’s Olave and Wilson, USC’s London and Alabama’s Williams are terrific receivers, they won’t be Packers. The price is too steep to move up.

If replacing Adams were as simple as trading up and selecting Olave with a top 15 pick the Packers might pull the trigger. But they won’t.

They will bide their time and wait to land receivers.

Meantime, they will be thrilled to select Georgia defensive lineman Devonte Wyatt with the 22nd pick. Some NFL scouts believe Wyatt is the best player at his position in the entire draft.

Wyatt (6-3, 304) was the most disruptive force on the Georgia Bulldogs’ dominant defense. He carried that through at the Senior Bowl, where he led everyone at the position in “win rate” during the one-on-one pass rush drills.

The better the competition, the taller Wyatt stood.

He became a full-time starter at Georgia in 2020 (25 tackles, 2 TFLs) and developed into a dominant player in 2021 (39 tackles, 7 TFLs, 2 FF, 2 ½ sacks).

Wyatt’s proponents are enamored of his interior pass rush ability.

The Packers could line up Wyatt next to Kenny Clark on Day One and be better.

As a “three technique” Wyatt would line up in the “B gap” – the gap between the guard and tackle – to create one-on-one mismatches. The center is too far away to help, and the tackle is busy with Rashan Gary or Preston Smith off the edge. That leaves Wyatt single-blocked and highly dangerous.

Even a less-talented player such as Kingsley Keke managed to flash next to Clark. Imagine the possibilities of putting a disruptive weapon like Wyatt next to him? It’s a sure bet the Packers’ brain trust has done so.

Even Wyatt’s detractors have little of substance to offer.

They say his strength is “adequate” and he “struggles to withstand a second blocker.” For comparison’s sake, Clark’s strength is off the charts, but even HE struggles to withstand a second blocker. It’s a red herring, but it makes the point.

Lining up Wyatt and Clark together means an offense can’t double-team both. Something’s got to give – namely the pass pocket – and that means trouble for opposing offenses and quarterbacks.

Wyatt would be an excellent choice at 22.

With the 28th pick, the Packers will be faced with several options.

They could trade down and add a pick, believing they can still get their preferred receiver, safety or offensive tackle. They could stay put and select a receiver. Or they could stay put and select an offensive tackle.

The offensive line prospects at 28 come down to Mississippi State’s Charles Cross, Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning or Central Michigan’s Bernhard Raimann.

Another possibility in the early second round is Tulsa’s Tyler Smith.

This is where it gets tricky.

The Packers’ quest for starting-caliber offensive tackles – like every other NFL team – is a never-ending search. That’s why a tackle has to be in play.

One factor will be the number of receivers already off the board. Some mock drafts have as many as six receivers being selected in the first round. If that’s true it’s likely that Wilson, Olave, London and Williams will be gone by 28. It’s also possible that Dotson also will be gone, too.

That leaves Arkansas’ Burks or Georgia’s George Pickens at 28. In order to select either beyond 28, they would have to trade up from 53 or 59 into the second round.

That’s why I see the Packers drafting Burks at 28.

Burks (6-2, 225) has been compared to the Titans’ Brown, who has become one of the NFL’s top receivers entering his fourth season.

Burks, like Brown, shredded SEC defenses.

He had 66 catches for 1,104 yards (16.7 average) and 11 touchdowns in 12 starts last season. He also set the school record with six 100-yard receiving games.

Burks was clocked at 4.55 in the 40-yard dash and had a 33-inch vertical leap. For comparison, Nelson (6-2 ½, 217) ran a 4.54 40-yard dash with a 31-inch vertical.

NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlien wrote of Burks, “Big, smooth and natural … He’s a mismatch receiver combining size, strength and competitiveness similar to the Titans’ A.J. Brown … The tape is extremely exciting with real NFL skills jumping off the screen.”

Burks had eight catches for 179 yards and two touchdowns against Alabama. He is similar to Wyatt, the Georgia defensive lineman, in that the better the competition, the better he plays.

Fans should be thrilled if the Packers manage to land Wyatt and Burks in Round 1.

The first-round “By George, I think they’ve got it” plan is for the Packers to select Purdue edge rusher George Karlaftis at 22 and Georgia’s George Pickens at 28. But that’s only if Wyatt and Burks are gone.

In the second round, the Packers are apt to select an offensive tackle or defensive lineman (whichever they didn’t get in Round 1). Ole Miss’s Sam Williams or Minnesota’s Boye Mafe would fit the bill as a second-round edge rusher, while Tulsa’s Smith still would be in play at offensive tackle.

Also, look for the Packers to consider Colorado State tight end Trey McBride in the middle half of Round 2, or Iowa State’s Charlie Kolar or Virginia’s Jelani Woods as a third-round alternative at tight end.

The Packers undoubtedly will select a second receiver to go with Burks.

Georgia’s Pickens or Penn State’s Dotson would be a gift from the football gods, but they’ll be gone no later than early second round. That still leaves North Dakota State’s Christian Watson, Cincinnati’s Alec Pierce and Baylor’s Tyquan Thornton as possible Packers.

Watson (6-4, 208) is an explosive, gifted athlete coming from a Division II program. He may take time to develop, but he is an accomplished return specialist and his 4.3 speed in the 40-yard dash will make him an immediate deep threat.

Pierce (6-3,211) was a deep threat at Cincinnati with his 4.41 speed in the 40 and an incredibly explosive 40 ½ inch vertical leap.

Thornton (6-1, 181) is a fluid route-runner with blazing speed (4.28 in the 40) and good hands. He also is a return specialist who has been compared to the Ravens’ Devin Duvernay, one of the NFL’s top kick and punt returners.

The best news for Packers fans is this: No matter which players Gutekunst selects, his draft history suggests Green Bay will be significantly better by Saturday night.

Bucks rout Chicago;

Brewers win 2 of 3

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Bucks did more than survive without Khris Middleton.

They thrived.

Milwaukee’s weekend getaway to Chicago was a smashing success despite the absence of Middleton, their all-star guard, who is sidelined with a sprained MCL. While Middleton watched, the Bucks went to work.

Milwaukee routed Chicago 111-81 on Friday night and backed it up with a 119-95 romp on Sunday afternoon in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference playoff series.

The Bucks, up 3-1 in the Round 1series, host the Bulls on Wednesday night.

Milwaukee’s resurgence has been fueled by an unlikely source.

Grayson Allen scored 22 points in Friday night’s blowout win.

On Sunday, he eclipsed that career postseason high with 27 points on 10 of 12 shooting, including 6 of 7 from beyond the arc.

In a single weekend, Allen has shot his way into the hearts of Bucks fans. He went from being the most-disliked Duke Blue Devil since Christian Laettner to one of the Bucks’ fan favorites. His dynamic back-to-back games appear to have broken the Bulls’ backs.

Milwaukee outscored the Bulls by a total of 54 points in the two games. The Bucks’ 30-point win Friday night was Chicago’s most lopsided home loss in franchise history.

Allen, in his first season with the Bucks, already is paying dividends. His 3-point shooting, high energy and defensive grit are all positive, especially while “Cash Money” Middleton recovers from his knee injury.

Bulls’ fans have lustily booed Allen ever since he committed a hard foul that resulted in a broken wrist for Bulls guard Alex Caruso in a game in January.

His teammates have started having fun with the booing, too. They’ve booed him at practice, during film sessions, on the bus and at the team hotel, according to reports. Now, his teammates are even booing him during games.

“They have so much fun with it,” said Allen, aka Public Enemy Number Seven. “I think it’s funny. I think it’s honestly hilarious. They’ve kind of turned it into a fun thing. It makes hearing it out there during the game a lot easier, too. That’s because (my teammates) think it’s so funny.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 32 points to lead the Bucks and complete the two-game road sweep on Sunday afternoon.

The Bucks, who have won 15 of their last 17 first-round playoff games, have a chance to clinch the series Wednesday night. If so they will await the Brooklyn-Boston winner. The Celtics are up 3-0.

** BREWERS TAKE TWO OF THREE AT PHILADELPHIA

The Brewers came into the season expecting big things from starting pitchers Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta and Adrian Houser. They’re beginning to include left-hander Eric Lauer in that conversation.

Lauer struck out a career-high 13 hitters over six innings Sunday night to lead the Brewers to a 1-0 victory over the flailing Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. Christian Yelich provided all the offense necessary with a sacrifice fly in the ninth inning.

“I think it was as good as stuff has ever been working for me,” Lauer said.

Lauer and Philadelphia’s Aaron Nola combined for 22 strikeouts in game that neither received a decision. Nola allowed one hit and struck out nine in seven innings. The Brewers managed to win with a total of just three hits.

In the ninth, Jace Peterson singled and went to third on Andrew McCutchen’s one-out single. Corey Knebel, the ex-Brewers pitcher, then yielded Yelich’s sac-fly.

Home plate umpire Angel Hernandez was getting grief from both dugouts for much of the game. The catalyst was an inconsistently large strike zone. The Phillies’ Kyle Schwarber was ejected in the ninth for slamming his bat and helmet to the ground after taking a called third strike.

Lauer is 22-24 over his career, but he went 4-1 down the stretch last season. He altered his delivery and it has increased his velocity and location.

Brewers’ manager Craig Counsell was impressed.

“This is the show that he can put on,” Counsell said. “Against a good-hitting team, I think he showed everybody how he’s been pitching, really, the last four months of baseball.”

Bucks rolled by Bulls,

Middleton is injured

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Losing the game was bad enough. The specter of losing Khris Middleton for an extended time to a knee injury made it worse.

The upstart Chicago Bulls started fast and never looked back in a 114-110 win over the Bucks on Wednesday night in Game 2 of their first-round Eastern Conference playoff series. The defending NBA champion Bucks trailed 9-0 at the start and never really found their footing at Fiserv Forum.

DeMar DeRozan rode roughshod over the Bucks by pouring in a postseason career-high 41 points on 16 of 31 shooting from the floor and 9-for-9 at the line.

Middleton, who finished with 18 points, was injured midway through the fourth quarter when he slipped while driving into the lane. He completed a pass to Brook Lopez, but went down and appeared to be in significant discomfort. He exited to the locker room and didn’t return with what’s believed to be a sprained MCL.

Middleton is scheduled to have an MRI today to determine the extent of the injury.

Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with 33 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists. He passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as Milwaukee’s all-time playoff scoring leader, but was more concerned with Middleton’s welfare.

“You expect (Middleton) to get up and walk it off and get back to the game, but you see that he was limping and limping and limping and you’re thinking like, ‘Oh, I hope  it’s not bad, I hope it’s not bad,” Antetokounmpo said. “We need this guy. When he asks for a sub, you know that it’s bothering him because he doesn’t leave the game.”

Lopez scored 25 points while Jrue Holiday added 15 and Wesley Matthews finished with 11.

The loss of Middleton compounded the Bucks’ problems because Bobby Portis had already exited with a right eye abrasion. The Bulls’ Tristan Thompson nailed Portis with an elbow to the face while they were battling for a rebound. According to the post-game pool report the officials said they didn’t see the elbow to the head.

How they missed the blood streaming down Portis’ cheek is difficult to imagine.

Portis had two points and two rebounds in six minutes. He is expected to be OK for Game 3, according to Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer. The news wasn’t as encouraging for guard George Hill, who will remain out with an abdominal sprain.

The problem of defending DeRozan is complicated with the injuries to Middleton and Hill, leaving Matthews, Jevon Carter or Grayson Allen to try and defend him.

The best-of-seven series is tied 1-1 going into Game 3 at Chicago Friday night.

Nikola Vucevic scored 24 points and pulled down 13 rebounds for the Bulls, while Zach Lavine also backed DeRozan’s superb night by scoring 20 for Chicago.

The Bucks looked sluggish at the outset and committed 10 first-half turnovers that led to 13 Bulls points.

Antetokounmpo stressed that the Bucks need to retain their focus despite the possibility of going forward without Middleton for the remainder of the series.

“We have a job to do here,” he said. “Obviously Khris is one of the best players on the team. If he’s not able to be with us, it’s going to be a tremendous loss for us.”

** BREWERS COMPLETE THREE-GAME SWEEP OF PIRATES

A glance at the Brewers’ lineup would suggest the team is struggling mightily.

Kolten Wong, the leadoff hitter, is batting .191. Willy Adames, who resides in the No. 2 hole, is scuffling at .167. Christian Yelich has had some big at-bats, including a grand slam, but he’s only batting .195.

Nevertheless, the Brewers have won seven of 10 games – including a 4-2 win over Pittsburgh on Wednesday to complete a three-game series sweep of the Pirates.

Brandon Woodruff started and took a no-hitter into the sixth inning before former Brewers slugger Daniel Vogelbach singled to center with one out.

Woodruff (2-1) allowed just the one hit while walking two and striking out nine to notch the win. Josh Hader pitched the ninth to record his sixth save.

Milwaukee (8-5) trails N.L. Central-leading St. Louis (7-3) by one-half game with the Chicago Cubs (6-6) by two games.

The Brewers haven’t been hitting for average, but they have been drawing walks and belting timely home runs. Rowdy Tellez’s solo shot gave Milwaukee a 1-0 lead, and Keston Hiura’s three-run shot in the seventh sealed the deal.

The Brewers travel to Philadelphia for a three-game weekend series against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.

Freddy Peralta (0-1) starts the opener against left-hander Ranger Suarez (1-0) on Friday night at 6:05 p.m. In Game 2 it’s Adrian Houser (0-2) versus righty Zack Wheeler (0-2) at 3:05 p.m. Saturday.

Game 3 is ESPN’s featured telecast Sunday night. First pitch is 6:08 p.m. with left-hander Eric Lauer (1-0) pitching for the Brewers against hard-throwing righty Aaron Nola (1-2).

Bucks suffocate Bulls;

Brewers back to .500

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – It seems fitting that the Milwaukee Bucks’ first step toward their NBA title defense was spurred by – you guessed it – their defense.

The NBA’s reigning champions edged the feisty Chicago Bulls, 93-86, at Fiserv Forum Sunday in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round matchup. On a night when the Bucks’ offense wasn’t clicking they rode their defense to victory.

The Bucks built an early 36-18 lead but the Bulls clawed their way back to take a 78-77 lead with 5:56 to play. That’s when the Bucks put the clamps on and scored eight straight points to pull away for the win.

The Bulls shot just 6 of 28 from the field, including 1 of 12 from 3-point range, in an ugly fourth quarter.

“We’ve got to win the ugly games,” Bucks guard Jrue Holiday said afterward. “I feel like today was ugly. It was a battle and it was tough, but it was an ugly one.”

So it’s one down and 15 to go for Milwaukee.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 27 points and pulled down 16 rebounds for the third-seeded Bucks. Center Brook Lopez, who missed most of the regular season with back problems, looked good while scoring 18 points. Holiday added 15 points, Khris Middleton 11 and Bobby Portis 10. Portis also had 12 rebounds.

The Bulls’ 86 points was the fewest scored by a Bucks’ opponent all season. Chicago shot just 32 percent from the floor and was only 7 of 37 on 3-point shots.

The Bucks had their own offensive woes. After shooting 53.8 percent (14 of 26) in the first quarter, they converted just 34.5 percent of their shots (20 of 58) the rest of the way. The Bucks also finished with an unacceptable 21 turnovers.

“The whole team was kind of out of rhythm,” said Antetokounmpo. “We weren’t able to find one another as easy as we usually find one another and make shots. We missed a bunch of open shots today. Usually we make those and we get energy.”

The Bucks held a slight edge on the boards, 58-53, but outscored the Bulls 42-32 in the paint. That and the Bucks’ defense proved to be the difference.

“We showed resiliency tonight,” Lopez said. “Things didn’t go our way offensively for a lot of the game, and we fought through it and did a good job defensively.”

The Bulls returned to Chicago after the game because Game 2 isn’t set to tip off until Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. at Fiserv Forum. Games 3 and 4 are set for Friday, 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, noon, at Chicago.

** Brewers edge Cardinals 6-5 to earn split

The Brewers have an eighth inning problem.

Whether it’s Devin Williams or Jake Cousins doesn’t seem to matter. The Brewers have yielded eighth-inning runs four times in 10 games. They’ve given up solo runs twice, and they’ve surrendered two runs in two other games, the most recent occurring in the Brewers’ 6-5 win over St. Louis on Sunday.

The Brewers (5-5) managed to earn a four-game split against the Cardinals (5-3) with the win at American Family Field.

Tyrone Taylor’s two-run double in the seventh inning gave the Brewers a 6-3 lead, but St. Louis rallied for two runs in the top of the eighth to make it tense.

No worries.

Josh Hader came on in the ninth to collect his fourth save and 100th of his career. Hader is only the third pitcher in Brewers history with at least 100 saves. He joins Dan Plesac (133) and John Axford (106).

“It was a fun journey just to make it here and to get 100 (saves), it’s pretty special,” Hader told reporters after the game. He needed just 286 1/3 innings and 236 appearances to reach the century mark.

“He’s four-and-a-half full seasons (into his career),” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said of Hader. “No reliever has had a better start to his career than Josh Hader in the history of the game. I’m not exaggerating. That’s a fact. I don’t think it’s really disputable.”

The Brewers’ biggest problem has been surviving the eighth to get to Hader.

Cousins (1-0) pitched a scoreless fifth to get the win. Williams, Cousins and others have seen action, and failed to deliver, in eighth-inning situations. Counsell has said he trusts Williams and expects him to work through his most recent hiccups.

Meantime, the Brewers have struggled to plate runs. Through 10 games they’ve been blanked twice and managed just one run in two other games.

The Brewers believe they have added enough punch to be productive. They acquired Andrew McCutchen in the offseason, and he has been a blessing. They also will benefit from having Willy Adames and Rowdy Tellez the entire season, while a revitalized Christian Yelich and Keston Hiura would go a long way.

Taylor, who was red-hot in the abbreviated spring training, also appears to have worked his way out of an early season slump.

The Brewers open a three-game series against Pittsburgh tonight at 6:40 p.m. at American Family Field. Right-hander Zach Thompson will start for the Pirates versus Brewers’ left-hander Eric Lauer.

On Tuesday night, it will be the Pirates’ righty J.T. Brubaker versus the Brewers’ Corbin Burnes. In Wednesday afternoon’s “getaway game” set for 12:40 p.m., Pittsburgh will start righty Mitch Keller versus Brandon Woodruff.

Brewers back to .500;

NFL draft 2 weeks out

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Milwaukee Brewers’ pitchers and hitters struggled to find home plate during their week-long road trip to open the season. There were too many walks issued and too few runs delivered.

The Brewers are counting on that to change at American Family Field.

On Wednesday night the Brewers (3-3) fought back to .500 with a clutch 4-2 victory against the Orioles (1-5) in their three-game series finale at Baltimore.

Corbin Burnes started and scattered three hits over seven shutout innings. He walked one and struck out eight on 97 pitches before exiting with a 2-0 lead. The Orioles rallied for two runs in the eighth off Devin Williams to tie it at 2-2.

In the Brewers’ ninth, Hunter Renfroe singled and scored on Kolten Wong’s line-drive triple to the right-field corner to make it 3-2 Brewers. Rowdy Tellez followed by doubling to deep right-field to deliver Wong and make it 4-2.

Josh Hader pitched the bottom of the ninth to record his third save. Brad Boxberger (1-0) recorded the final two outs of the eighth to swoop in for the win.

Burnes, who got a no-decision in his first start, focused on his own performance.

“Wins are one of those things that are out of my control,” said Burnes, the National League’s reigning Cy Young Award winner. “I was better tonight. I definitely have things to work on, but definitely a step in the right direction.”

The Orioles’ lone extra-base hit off Burnes was Rougned Odor’s double to lead off the fifth. Burnes buckled down and followed up by striking out the side.

“He pitched beautifully,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “He looked really comfortable, kind of got everything going. So it was fun to see and fun to watch him pitch tonight.”

Counsell was second-guessed by some because he could’ve saved Burnes for Thursday’s home opener against St. Louis. Instead, he kept his rotation in order and will start Brandon Woodruff today versus the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright.

The Cardinals’ game scheduled for Wednesday afternoon at Kansas City was postponed due to inclement weather, allowing Wainwright to pitch the opener of the four-game series between the NL Central rivals. Miles Mikolas was pushed back a day and will start for St. Louis on Friday night.

Wainwright (1-0) allowed five hits and struck out six over six scoreless innings in a 9-0 victory over Pittsburgh on Opening Day at Busch Stadium.

Wainwright, 40, is 20-12 with a 2.60 ERA in 49 games against Milwaukee. He was 2-1 with a 3.62 ERA in five starts vs. the Brewers last season.

Woodruff (0-1) got lit up by the Chicago Cubs in a 9-0 loss in his first start. The two-time All-Star yielded seven runs on six hits in 3 2/3 forgettable innings. He walked three, hit two others and struck out two.

“We need to score a couple more runs,” Counsell said. “We’re making it pretty challenging on our pitching staff a little bit right now, so to get those runs in the ninth (at Baltimore on Wednesday night) was needed for sure.”

The Cardinals (3-1) have scored in the first inning of each game thus far.

Meantime, the Brewers have just three home runs, tied for last in the big leagues.

Tellez, who is hitting .313, has been red-hot lately. Andrew McCutchen, Christian Yelich and Willy Adames have had their moments, too.

Now the Brewers need to start putting up crooked numbers.

In an interesting oddity, the Brewers were 45-36 at home last season, while the Cardinals were 45-36 on the road.

** PACKERS ROLLING THROUGH DRAFT PREPARATION

Two weeks from today the Packers will be contemplating all that draft capital and putting together the final touches on their draft preparation.

The Packers’ 22nd, 28th, 53rd and 59th picks give them great flexibility.

In fact, they could find a way to select the top two receivers, the top tight end and an unparalleled hybrid safety in this draft.

It could happen. It’s not even farfetched.

The Packers could send their 22nd pick and two fourth-round picks to the L.A. Chargers in return for the 17th pick, which they use to land Alabama wide receiver Jameson Williams. Before Williams tore his ACL in the national championship game, he was generally regarded as the best at his position.

The injury didn’t change his potential. It merely means he’ll be ready nine months later than the ideal scenario.

Without question the Packers would have their future WR1 in the fold.

Clearly, some Packers’ fans would be miffed because Williams doesn’t equate to immediate help. That’s understandable, but to them I would say, “Be patient.”

At 28, the Packers double down at receiver and select Arkansas’ Treylon Burks.

The 6-2, 225-pound receiver is one of the most sure-handed targets in the draft. He also is a menace after the catch and reminds NFL scouts of another former SEC receiver: Ole Miss’s A.J. Brown.

Burks was a first-team All-SEC pick in 2021when he caught 66 passes for 1,104 yards, a 16.7 average and 11 touchdowns in 12 starts.

Scouts and fans alike want to see how players perform against the best. In that regard, Burks passed with flying colors. He caught eight passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns against Alabama last season.

At 53, the Packers use their third-round pick (the 92nd overall) and the 53rd to trade up and select Michigan safety Dax Hill at 39.

Hill (6-0, 191) was clocked at a blistering 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash to go with his elite 33 ½ -inch vertical leap.

Hill was described by scouts as “rangy playing over the top, the eyes and burst to play in zone coverage, and the loose hips and length to shade big slot receivers in man-to-man coverage.”

Mel Kiper, Jr., rated Hill as the 13th best player in the entire draft.

At 59, the Packers add another weapon in the passing game: Colorado State tight end Trey McBride.

McBride (6-4, 246) was an AP All-American after ranking ninth in the nation with 90 catches for 1,121 yards (both school records). His only touchdown of the season came on a 69-yard fake punt in which he outran the Nevada defenders.

McBride’s ability and willingness as a blocker would appeal to Packers head coach Matt LaFleur. McBride’s precise route-running and sure hands – which remind some NFL scouts of the Ravens’ Mark Andrews – would appeal to Aaron Rodgers.

The consensus among scouts is that McBride is the best, most complete tight end in this draft.

If the Packers went this route in the draft they would have:

** No. 17 – James Williams, who is the best receiver in this draft and undoubtedly would have been unattainable for the Packers if healthy.

** No. 28 – Treylon Burks, who is a dynamic receiver with crazy after-the-catch skills, could step in and contribute immediately at a position of great need.

** No. 39 – Dax Hill, a versatile hybrid safety, is the chess piece defensive coordinator Joe Barry currently doesn’t have on the roster. Darnell Savage, Jr., is similar to Hill and could be his future replacement. Both Savage and Adrian Amos are working on one-year contracts.

Furthermore, the Packers didn’t tender a contract offer to safety Henry Black, who played on nearly 40-percent of the defensive snaps last season. Hill would represent a major upgrade over Black on Day One.

** No. 59 – Trey McBride, who is considered the best tight end in this draft, has to be a strong consideration for Packers GM Brian Gutekunst.

Some fans would gripe about the Packers not selecting an offensive lineman in the first four rounds. They also would be less-than-thrilled with the team using seven picks to net four players.

On the other hand, the Packers would be set at receiver and tight end for the foreseeable future. They also would add a Top 15 talent on defense with Hill.

That’s four first-rate, upper-tier players in as many rounds.

If that happens, the question should be, “What if?”

It should be, “What’s not to like?”

Brewers’ bats get a lift on Brosseau’s HR shot

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Chicks aren’t the only ones that dig the long ball.

The Brewers maximized their five hits Sunday by blasting three out of Wrigley Field in a 5-4 comeback win over the Cubs in their weekend series finale. The home run trifecta triggered smiles and sighs of relief for Milwaukee fans.

The Brewers opened the season with back-to-back losses scoring just four runs during the first 20 innings. It didn’t quell concerns seeing Christian Yelich’s ongoing struggle at the plate. Then Yelich managed an infield single in the first, and followed it with a resounding double in the sixth, and the Brewers rallied.

Willy Adames hit the Brewers’ first home run of the season to close Chicago’s early 3-0 lead. The shortstop hit 25 home runs last season, including 20 with the Brewers after being acquired in May. It’s good to hear the thunder in Adames’ bat.

Rowdy Tellez’s two-run blast with Yelich aboard gave Milwaukee a 4-3 lead, its first lead of the season, in the top of the sixth. Yelich drove in Adames with an opposite-field double to deep left earlier in the three-run uprising.

The Cubs rallied in the bottom of the sixth when Clint Frazier scored on Jake Cousins’ wild pitch. That set the stage for one of the newest Brewers – utility man Mike Brosseau – to have his “get to know me” moment.

Brosseau smashed a 400-foot drive over the centerfield fence. It enabled Milwaukee (1-2) to ride its bullish bullpen through the finish line.

Brad Boxberger (1-0) pitched a scoreless bottom of the seventh to get the win. Devin Williams notched a hold with a clean eighth, and Josh Hader rolled through the ninth to record his first save.

The trio combined to allow just one hit while walking none and striking out five. Brewers’ pitchers were bedeviled by walks in their first two losses. Freddy Peralta started and allowed three runs and four walks over four innings. He struck out six and settled down after a shaky three-run first inning.

Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Peralta all struggled at Wrigley Field. Baseball’s top “starting three” allowed 13 earned runs and 10 walks in 12 2/3 innings pitched. The good news is that all three threw free and easy, and while their control wasn’t pinpoint, the velocity and movement were first rate.

Meantime, Brosseau watched and waited his turn.

It came when he pinch-hit for Jace Peterson with one out in the seventh. Brosseau stepped in against ex-Brewers left Daniel Norris and delivered the big blow.

Brosseau, a northern Indiana native, grew up watching the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

“I came here a lot,” he said. “It’s full circle now playing here.”

Brosseau, 28, had family and friends in attendance when he nailed the first pinch-hit home run of his career.

“It’s really cool, yeah, definitely,” he told reporters after the game. “Kind of looking back on it now after it set a little bit, you can kind of see how cool of a story (it is.”

It was also cool for Brewers’ fans to see their team win.

It’s not surprising that a trio of home runs and a trio of closers did the job.

“It’s one of our strengths, to try to shorten games and then have those guys (Boxberger, Williams and Hader) being really solid at the end of games,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said.

Brosseau is on the Brewers’ roster while third baseman Luis Urias remains on the injury list with a strained calf muscle.

The Brewers take on winless Baltimore in the Orioles’ home-opener today at 2:05 p.m. at Camden Yards. The Orioles were outscored 15-4 while losing three games during the weekend at Tampa Bay.

Milwaukee will start right-hander Adrian Houser, who was 10-6 with a 3.22 ERA in 28 appearances last season. Houser aims to build on his strong finish last year, when we went 7-1 with a 2.65 ERA over his final 17 starts.

The Orioles will counter with left-hander Bruce Zimmerman, who struggled mightily in spring training, allowing eight earned runs in seven innings. The Brewers will look to extend his struggles through Baltimore’s home opener.

McCutchen highlights

Brewers’ drab opener

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – In baseball it isn’t where you start. It’s where you finish.

The Brewers are the favorites to finish first in the National League Central and their 5-4 loss to the Cubs at Wrigley Field Thursday didn’t dampen their hopes.

Mother Nature handled that by forcing the Brewers and Cubs to postpone Friday’s afternoon game, which was rescheduled for May 30.

So after an unscheduled day off, the Brewers and Cubs will get back after it today with the first pitch set for 1:20 p.m. It will be right-hander Brandon Woodruff on the mound for Milwaukee versus Chicago left-hander Justin Steele.

Woodruff went 9-10 with a career-best 2.56 ERA in 30 starts last season. Steele made his big league debut in 2021, going 4-4 with a 4.26 ERA in 20 appearances, including nine starts.

The Brewers’ season-opener didn’t go as planned, but there were several things to get excited about, beginning with Andrew McCutchen. The long-time Pirates star was signed by the Brewers to be their DH and hit left-handed pitching.

McCutchen went 2-for-5 in his Brewers’ debut against right-handed pitchers, including a laser to center field that might’ve found Waveland Avenue if it had been elevated. It ended up being a long, loud fly out.

The Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks was especially sharp in the opener. The soft-throwing veteran right-hander spotted his 87 mph fastball to set up his 80 mph changeup. Hendricks’ off-speed pitches kept the Brewers’ hitters off-balance most of the day.

Hendricks scattered five hits over 5.1 innings while allowing just one run on three walks and a surprisingly high seven strikeouts. Reliever Mychal Givens, the fifth of six Cubs pitchers used, recorded just one out in the eighth to get the win.

The Brewers’ top five hitters combined for seven hits. Willie Adames, Rowdy Tellez and McCutchen had two hits each. Leadoff hitter Kolten Wong also singled.

So what’s the concern? Christian Yelich, the No. 3 hitter, went hitless and didn’t look good doing it. While the Brewers and their fans hope Yelich can recapture at least some of his MVP magic at the plate, the fact is the clock’s ticking.

Brewers’ manager Craig Counsell, the National League’s longest-tenured manager, might’ve been wise to pencil in Yelich further down the lineup. It’s difficult to second-guess Counsell, so he may be right to hit Yelich third. But if the left-fielder continues his two-year struggle Counsell will have to make some tough decisions.

The Brewers’ lack of production at the plate was a season-long storyline last year. They had trouble getting runners aboard, and they lacked clutch hitting all season.

The Brewers were just 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position Thursday. Lorenzo Cain knows all about the concern, but he isn’t fretting just yet.

“We kind of dealt with that last year,” said Cain, who went 1-for-3 with a run scored and two RBIs. “I don’t see that as something we’re dealing with all year long. It’s the first game of the season. Everybody is excited and amped up.”

McCutchen believes the Brewers’ lineup is going to be just fine.

“With the amount of talent we have up and down the order,” McCutchen said, “if guys go out and they can be themselves, I think the sky’s the limit for our team.”

Cubs’ left-fielder Ian Happ had three hits and drove in two runs, including a tiebreaking two-run double in the eighth. It came off the usually reliable Jake Cousins.

“I just need to make a better pitch to Happ there,” Cousins said. “I had Frank (Schwindel) on deck, too, and I need to realize that. It was just a bad decision, and I’ve just got to live with it.”

Corbin Burnes started for the Brewers and struggled with command throughout.

Burnes allowed four hits over five innings with an uncharacteristic three walks. The Cy Young Award winner threw just 48 strikes on 83 pitches. The Cubs’ Nico Hoerner touched him up for a two-run home run.

“Obviously, throwing from behind all game is tough and three walks is something I’m trying to avoid, but they didn’t hurt me,” he said. “They strung a couple of hits together and really, we were one pitch away from (limiting it to) one run in that inning. Obviously, it was unfortunate that I had that one pitch, the backup slider (to Hoerner), and it made things look worse than they were.

“Command-wise, I have to be better.”

The Brewers’ backup catcher, Pedro Severino, was suspended 80 games for testing positive for an illegal substance. Severino said it was an unapproved fertility drug. He won’t be able to play in the postseason because of the suspension, so the Brewers acquired ex-Cubs catcher Vic Caratini from San Diego. Caratini will back up All-Star catcher Omar Narvaez.

Kansas rallies by UNC

to capture NCAA title

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – At halftime even Kansas’ most faithful basketball fans might’ve had a difficult time believing they’d swinging and swaying to the words, “Rock Chalk … Jay-Hawk … KU!” by game’s end.

Then again, they know all about their Jayhawks’ reputation as a second-half team.

Kansas rallied from a 16-point halftime deficit to edge North Carolina, 72-69, to win the NCAA Tournament championship Monday night in New Orleans. The epic comeback erased the previous record set by Loyola Chicago in 1963, when the Ramblers rallied from a 15-point deficit to defeat Cincinnati 60-58 in OT.

The Jayhawks trailed the red-hot Tar Heels 40-25 at halftime.

Ex-NBA star and TNT basketball analyst Charles Barkley nailed it at halftime. Barkley said the Kansas guards needed to be more involved on offense and they needed to pick up the pace. The Jayhawks did indeed play with tempo after an ugly first half and they ultimately took control of the game.

“I didn’t say much at halftime,” said Kansas coach Bill Self, who became the first Kansas coach to win two national titles. His first title came in 2008. “We were disappointed in how we played in the first half. North Carolina obviously was the better team in the first half, but that was about as good defensively as a team can play in the second half.”

Indeed, the Jayhawks outscored the Tar Heels 47-29 in the second half. Kansas trailed Miami by six at half in the Elite Eight before outscoring the Hurricanes by 32 in the second half of a 76-50 blowout win.

North Carolina hammered Kansas on the boards and out-rebounded the Jayhawks 55-35, but the Tar Heels converted just 11 of 40 second-half shots in the loss.

Hubert Davis, the Tar Heels’ first-year coach, had nothing but love for his team.

“I should be disappointed,” Davis said, “but I feel so much pride for what these guys have done for themselves, this team, our university and our community. You can’t ask for them to do any more. I’m extremely proud of each one of them.”

Kansas got big nights from center David McCormack and forward Jalen Wilson, who scored 15 points each. Ochai Ogbaji scored 12 points and added three rebounds to be named the Final Four’s “Most Outstanding Player.”

Kansas guard Christian Braun scored 10 of his 12 points in the second half and transfer Remy Martin had 11 of his 14 in the final 20 minutes.

Clearly, Kansas’ improved guard play keyed the second-half turnaround.

North Carolina’s cause took a blow when an already gimpy Armando Bacot reinjured his sprained right ankle late in the second half.

The Jayhawks went at Bacot and it paid off.

“When we had to have a basket, we went to Big Dave (McCormack), and he delivered,” Self said.

McCormack scored the final four points of the game to close it out.

Bacot, despite being limited, had 15 points and 15 rebounds to become the first player to record a double-double in all six tournament games. R.J. Davis had 15 points and 12 rebounds, Brady Manek had 13 points and 13 rebounds, and Caleb Love finished with 13 points.

Love’s potential game-tying 3-point shot fell short at the buzzer.

“They were penetrating and doing whatever they wanted,” Love said.

The game was dead even at 65-65 when Martin nailed a 3-pointer from the corner, but back-to-back baskets by Love and Manek gave UNC a 69-68 lead with 1:41 to play. The Tar Heels (29-10) went scoreless after that.

“This is a special group of guys,” Agbaji said. “We overcome the odds and adversity as a family.”

McCormack seconded that notion.

“We just locked in as a family, as a team, and that’s what we do,” he said. “We’re just built for this.”

Kansas has no intention of resting on its laurels, at least according to the Las Vegas odds-makers, who installed the Jayhawks as 10-1 favorites to repeat next spring. Gonzaga was at 12-1. The usual suspects – Arizona, Kentucky and Duke – each came in at 15-1.

The pre-tournament betting favorite has won seven of the past 17 tournaments.

Kansas to edge ‘Nova,

top UNC-Duke winner

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Final Four’s marquee matchup in the semifinals is upstart North Carolina and first-year head coach Hubert Davis taking on Duke and the NCAA’s all-time winningest coach, Mike Krzyzewski, in Saturday’s nightcap.

Amazingly it is the first time the Tar Heels and Blue Devils have met in the NCAA Tournament, and it comes in coach Krzyzewski’s record 13th Final Four appearance and his final season.

In the other half of the bracket, Villanova head coach Jay Wright leads his Wildcats into their third Final Four appearance in the past six seasons. Villanova won the title in 2016 and 2018, but faces a mammoth challenge against Kansas.

The Wildcats (30-7) will be without Justin Moore, who tore his right Achilles tendon in the final minute of Villanova’s 50-44 victory over Houston in the Elite Eight. Wright has called Moore “the team’s MVP” and will be missed.

Kansas (32-6) comes in on a nine-game winning streak while easily playing its best basketball of the season.

Here’s a closer look at the matchups with predictions:

Kansas vs. Villanova, tip at 5:09 p.m., Saturday, coverage on The FAN

One of Kansas coach Bill Self’s greatest challenges will be convincing his Jayhawks that Moore’s absence doesn’t make the Wildcats a pushover. On the contrary, it’s a good bet Villanova’s Collin Gillespie, the Big East “Player of the Year,” will elevate his game. Jermaine Samuels, the “Most Outstanding Player” in the South Region, averages 11.1 points and will be counted on heavily.

“That’s certainly a blow to him and to the program and so sad for him, but they’ve got capable guys,” Self said. “They’ll bring (Caleb) Daniels in, or whoever, and they’re usually going to have five guards that we’re going to defend all the time on the perimeter.”

Sixth man Caleb Daniels will join the starting lineup and others will see expanded roles off the bench. None other than CBS college basketball analyst Clark Kellogg believes Villanova will push Kansas to the limit.

“It’s human nature to take a breath and relax just a little bit knowing that Moore is out,” Kellogg said in a Final Four radio row interview Thursday. “But Villanova is exceptionally well-coached and they’ll make you beat them. They don’t take bad shots or commit unforced turnovers. They play a deliberate style. They’ll pass and pass and work the ball until they get a good luck. I think this game is going to be closer than maybe some people think.”

I agree with Kellogg’s assessment.

Villanova is capable of knocking off Kansas without Moore, but they’re going to have to play heady basketball and hit a lot of 3-point shots. In fact, the Wildcats have taken 957 3-point shots as a team, with Gillespie the top trigger man.

Kansas lost to Villanova 95-79 in the Final Four’s semifinals in 2018. The Wildcats went on to rout Michigan to win the title.

Mitch Lightfoot, a sixth-year center, was on that Jayhawks’ team in 2018.

“It’s like it’s written,” Lightfoot said.  “We played them in the Final Four and lost in 2018, and it’s only fair to go out there and play again and give them our best shot. I know they will give us their best shot. It will be a great game.”

Ochai Agbaji, who averages 18.9 points, is the Jayhawks’ top star. He was the Big 12 “Player of the Year” and has drilled 96 3-pointers this season.

Guard Remy Martin also has played well, twice eclipsing the 20-point mark in the tournament. Martin didn’t exceed 20 points once in the regular season.

Kansas center David McCormack (10.1 points, 6.8 rebounds) is a key to the game. McCormack has been dealing with a sore foot most of the season. So long as it doesn’t flare up at the worst possible time, McCormack should be Ok.

Prediction: Kansas 71, Villanova 64

North Carolina vs. Duke, tip at 7:49 p.m., Saturday, coverage on The FAN

It is incredible that North Carolina and Duke have never squared off in the NCAA Tournament. They’ll get that chance on Saturday with the Blue Devils coming into the game as 4-point favorites.

Duke (32-6) and coach K are trying to write a storybook finish to this team’s season and the legendary coach’s career.

North Carolina (28-9) hasn’t backed down from any challenge since upsetting Duke in coach K’s final home game at Cameron Indoor Stadium. That victory has propelled a previously inconsistent Tar Heels team to the Final Four.

“I don’t think anything can be as crazy as the game leading up to the game over in Cameron,” UNC coach Hubert Davis said. “As I said before, we keep our eyes straight ahead and we ignore all the noise. And I consistently tell them to turn down or turn off the noise of the phone, family and friends. If you do that – just focus on our preparation and our practice and if you do that, then our play will be good. And that’s what we’re going to do this upcoming week.”

This is Davis’ first season as UNC’s coach. Coach K has won five national titles.

If Krzyzewski is going to get his sixth championship his Blue Devils are going to have to continue to play outstanding defense. North Carolina’s Armando Bacot is a beast down low, but he’ll have to contend with Duke’s best player, Paolo Banchero, who needed 26 shots to score 23 points in their last meeting.

Prediction: Duke 79, North Carolina 75

In Monday’s Final Four championship game I see Kansas edging Duke, 69-67, to capture the national title.

Packers’ GM, coach

work puzzle together

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – It has been 10 weeks since the Packers’ disheartening loss to San Francisco in the NFC divisional playoff round.

Green Bay’s offense and special teams were exposed in the 13-10 stunner.

The special teams’ units were a ticking bomb that exploded in the postseason.

The offense was incapable of sustaining drives, putting up points and taking control of a game Green Bay should’ve won.

Only the defense rose to the challenge.

Green Bay’s response has been direct, decisive and on-point.

Packers’ GM Brian Gutekunst and coach Matt LaFleur addressed their offseason moves with the media Monday at the NFL’s owners meetings in Palm Beach, Fla.

“It’s like putting a puzzle together; you’ve got to find those pieces that you’re missing and put it all together,” LaFleur said. “How’s that going to look in the end? I have no idea right now.”

While it’s true LaFleur doesn’t know what the team’s final version will look like, it’s also fair to say the Packers are headed in the right direction.

They succeeded in retaining the defense’s key components.

They cleaned house on special teams by hiring a new coordinator and declining to resign the three players who had the most snaps on special teams in 2021.

They also convinced their trigger man, All-Pro quarterback Aaron Rodgers, to sign a massive contract that all but guarantees he will retire in a Packers’ uniform.

“I think he’ll go as long as he wants to go,” LaFleur said of Rodgers’ career. “Those aren’t conversations that we have regularly. So we’re just going to take advantage of the time that he is with us and continue to try to work and grind to hopefully someday be able to get a Super Bowl.”

Rodgers is going to have to make a Super Bowl run without Davante Adams. The Packers traded the All-Pro receiver to the Las Vegas Raiders in return for the 28th and 53rd picks in the NFL draft, set for April 28-30.

Gutekunst realizes replacing Adams isn’t going to be easy.

“You never really replace a guy like Davante Adams,” Gutekunst said. “It’s gonna be more cumulative and how the whole team steps up and plays and what we can add to that. So getting the two picks and having four picks in the top 59 I think gives us a little bit of ammunition to try to make a difference there a little bit.”

Gutekunst said it’s still possible the Packers could sign a veteran free-agent receiver. They also might trade for one, but that seems problematic at best. The Packers are about $15 million beneath the salary cap with approximately half of that needed to sign their draft picks.

Miami’s DeVante Parker may be available following the Dolphins’ blockbuster trade for wide-out Tyreek Hill. Parker (6-3, 219) possesses enough breakaway speed to be a replacement for the departed Marquez Valdes-Scantling.

Parker, 29, had 72 catches for 1,202 yards, nine touchdowns and 58 first downs with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback in 2019. He isn’t that far removed from those numbers. Imagine what he might do with Rodgers throwing to him?

The Jaguars’ Laviska Shenault (6-1, 227) is another trade possibility.

Shenault has 121 catches for 1,219 yards and five touchdowns through two seasons. He is a versatile weapon that can line up wide, in the slot or out of the backfield ala the 49ers’ Deebo Samuel.

In terms of available free agents, Jarvis Landry and Will Fuller are two reasonably priced options.

The Packers tried to acquire Fuller two years ago, so it’s reasonable to think Gutekunst and LaFleur still believe he could help them.

Landry, 29, wants to be paid like the perennial Pro Bowl receiver who led the NFL with 112 catches in 2017 and had a career-best 1,174 yards receiving in 2019. The problem is Landry isn’t THAT GUY anymore.

Then again he never was a speedster. He ran 4.61 out of college. He is known for making difficult catches in traffic, and possessing a knack for getting open.

Fuller or Landry plus a receiver or two in the draft makes sense.

The question is which receiver(s) do they draft and when?

“Certainly, if you look at our roster right now, we definitely need to get some speed in that room,” LaFleur said. “We need a legit guy that can take off the top of the coverage. We lost a guy (MVS) that was pretty good at doing that.”

Marquez Valdes-Scantling signed with Kansas City, and Equanimeous St. Brown did likewise with Chicago. The Packers’ receiving corps currently consists of Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, Amari Rodgers, Juwann Winfrey and whichever receiver(s) the Packers select in the draft.

So what should the Packers do in the draft?

Here’s the answer and it rhymes: They should draft Dotson and Watson. That’s Penn State’s Jahan Dotson and North Dakota State’s Christian Watson.

Dotson (5-11, 185) is a 4.3 speedster with arguably the best hands in the draft. Dotson doesn’t drop passes while finding ways to magically appear behind the entire defensive secondary. He would be as explosive a weapon as the Packers have had in years.

Watson (6-4, 208) has exceptional body control and the explosiveness to high-point passes. He is similar to MVS except he’s bigger, just as fast (he runs 4.3 in the 40-yard dash) and a more polished route-runner out of college.

Watson also has more reliable hands.

Of course, Gutekunst could pair the 22nd and 28th picks, move up to the eighth overall pick, and select Ohio State’s Chris Olave or Garrett Wilson. Both are speedsters in the 4.3-second range with exceptional hands and instincts. Olave is the smaller, more polished of the two, while some project a higher upside for Wilson.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper has the Packers selecting Texas A&M guard Kenyon Green with the 22nd pick and Arkansas’ receiver Treylon Burks with the 28th pick.

I suspect fans would initially scoff at using the 22nd pick on an O-linemen. While I see it as unlikely, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised, either. The Packers lost Billy Turner and Lucas Patrick in free agency. They also are awaiting the healthy return of David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins.

“If we didn’t add anybody to our offensive line, I feel really good about the guys coming back,” Gutekunst said earlier this month. “Obviously, Elgton’s coming off a big injury, but if you’re saying, ‘Hey, he’s healthy, ready to go,’ I’d feel really good about our group coming back.”

Once the Packers add what’s likely to be two rookie receivers the challenge will be getting them up to speed as quickly as possible. It helps that LaFleur and Rodgers have been together for three seasons. The fact that they’re on the same page should accelerate the receivers’ growth.

LaFleur sounded like he’d prefer to have his receivers in-house yesterday.

He knows it’s going to take time.

“I’ve witnessed it,” he said. “It’s a process, like everything is. And the more time that we can get those guys out on the field and put ‘em in certain situations to allow them to kind of learn and grow, hopefully we can be creative in ways we can expedite that process. So, I don’t know. It’s going to be interesting.”

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