All-Star starter Kemba Walker at home in Charlotte, hopes to stay

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Long after his playing days ended, his presence still seems everlasting and omnipresent, rising above the state that raised him and especially here in the city that worships him.

Michael Jordan remains the dominant basketball symbol in Charlotte, the jump man with legs that still soar and straddle, and that’s precisely the problem for the team he owns. Because the Hornets, mostly uninspiring on his watch, have long searched for a player compelling enough to put a different face on the franchise.

Well, for one day at least, someone else will rep the Hornets and hear the applause and win the crowd and in some ways become bigger than the boss. And when this happens, during the introductions of the starting lineup Sunday at the 68th NBA All-Star Game, right in the arena that Jordan Built, Kemba Walker will execute an expression that Jordan made famous and

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Anthony Davis plans to play in All-Star Game, finish season with New Orleans Pelicans

CHARLOTTE — The biggest surprise of the All-Star Game happened 24 hours before tipoff: Anthony Davis not only showed up prepared to play, he came prepared to answer questions.

No other play in Charlotte is more under siege than Davis, whose career remains in limbo following a messy attempt to force his way out of New Orleans, only to have the Pelicans reject all proposed deals at the trade deadline.

And then last Thursday, Davis injured his shoulder, which left his status for the All-Star Game in question. But he said Saturday “it’s my intent to play” through any lingering shoulder issues and also said the same about playing the rest of the season for the Pelicans.

At least that’s his intent. The Pelicans, after a management shakeup Friday caused by the Davis situation, might have a different stance when the season resumes Thursday.

Media Day availability: Anthony Davis

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Jaylen Samuels set to slim down before Year 2, following the Steelers’ plan

Jaylen Samuels is about to enter his second year in the NFL, and the team is going through the usual motions with their newest running back.

There is a good chance many fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers would vote for Jaylen Samuels as the biggest offensive surprise of the 2018 season. It isn’t as if he wasn’t hyped up enough after being drafted as the team’s Swiss Army knife coming out of N.C. State, but not one saw him getting a starting opportunity as a rookie.

However, when James Conner went down with a high ankle sprain vs. the Los Angeles Chargers, it was Samuels who stood out. No performance was bigger than his 142 yard outing against the New England Patriots in Week 15, and he finished the season with 56 attempts, and 256 yards for a 4.6 yards per carry.

Not shabby for a running back who didn’t have a role entering the season, other than being the backup to both Conner and Stevan Ridley. By the season’s end, Samuels had proven he isn’t just going to be a quality backup in the future, but a reliable commodity if he is forced into action. Throw in the fact he is a tremendous receiving threat, collecting 26 receptions on 29 targets for 199 yards and 3 touchdowns, and he is going to be a great one-two punch with Conner for the foreseeable future.

When sitting down with Missi Matthews of Steelers.com, Samuels talked a lot about his rookie season. How he didn’t know what to expect, how Ben Roethlisberger and Conner really helped him get acclimated, but what stood out the most to me was something he subtly said midway through the interview — how he is going to slim down this offseason.

NFL players have a tendency to believe they need to get bigger before entering the NFL. After all, with going against players who are already older, bigger and stronger, they feel the extra muscle/size will benefit them. What they don’t realize is speed, agility and endurance are equally important.

Look at the past three starting Steelers running backs, and you will see the same trend. Le’Veon Bell was told to drop weight after his rookie season, and had a huge sophomore season when he focused on conditioning over anything else. James Conner too was heavy coming out of Pitt, but a slimmer version dominated in 2018 before his injury in the last quarter of the season.

It now seems as if Samuels will be on the same path as his predecessors, and you have to wonder if Year 2 will be significantly different for Samuels, as it was for Conner and Bell.

You can check out the full interview with Matthews in the player below:

Jerald Hawkins hopes injury issues are behind him heading into final year under contract

With just five regular season appearances in three years with the Steelers, the young tackle will need to avoid ending another season on injured reserve if he hopes to remain with Pittsburgh in 2020.

Heading into 2019, there is perhaps no other position on the Pittsburgh Steelers roster with more depth and experience than offensive tackle. With both starters due to return and a number of promising young prospects with experience in reserve, the Steelers might well be set at tackle for some years to come.

However, if that future is to include 2016 fourth-round draft pick Jerald Hawkins, the upcoming season will need to end rather differently from him in 2019 than it did in two of his first three years in the NFL. Having missed both his rookie season and all of 2018 to injuries that saw him added to injured reserve each time, Hawkins faces something of a make or break year in his final season under contract.

Thankfully, the young tackle already appears to be fully healed from the torn quadriceps injury that ended his last season early, confirming with Chris Adamski of TribLive that he was completely recovered back in January.

“Oh yeah, most definitely, I was ready now, man. I would go out there right now, and I could. I am definitely, 100 percent, going to be going all over it (at OTAs).”

And while Hawkins has appeared in just five regular season games in three years in the NFL, he remains cautiously optimistic his injury issues are behind him.

“Honestly, man, this probably had to be my third injury I have had to actually sit out from playing football, so I believe it’s probably done with. It’s all out of the way. Three times and you’re done now, man. Had a little bad injury in college, and I had my two in the league so I pray I am done with that and I can just finally get on the field and honestly show them what I am all about.”

With names like Matt Feiler, Chukwuma Okorafor and Zach Banner competing for a place on the game day roster behind starters Alejandro Villanueva and Marcus Gilbert, the quality of depth the Steelers have at the tackle position is not lost on Hawkins either.

“You want to see that competition, and you want to see that depth on your team. If you’re here, there’s a reason for it.”

By all accounts, Hawkins stayed as involved with the team as much as could throughout this injury, with Adamski reporting he was a regular fixture at every practice earlier in the season. But, if Hawkins hopes to still be with Pittsburgh in 2020, he will need to be able to do more than just watch practice this season.

Pelicans fire general manager Dell Demps, name Danny Ferry interim GM as 'overhaul' of front office begins

The New Orleans Pelicans have finally made a splash, but not in the way that many expected.

After not moving superstar center Anthony Davis at the trade deadline, the organization has decided to make a change. According to a press release from the franchise, the Pelicans have “parted ways” with general manager Dell Demps.

“We will immediately begin the process of restructuring our basketball operations department,” stated Pelicans owner Gayle Benson. “This will include a comprehensive, but confidential, search aided by outside consultants to identify a new leader of our basketball operations, directly reporting to me.”

It did not take the franchise long to find a replacement for Demps, at least on an interim basis, as the Pelicans have named Danny Ferry as their interim GM for the remainder of the 2018-19 campaign. Ferry has been a Special Advisor

Michigan vs. Maryland odds, line: College basketball picks, predictions from proven model on 99-67 roll

Sixth-ranked Michigan looks to get back on track after falling to Big Ten cellar-dweller Penn State on Tuesday. The Wolverines (22-3, 11-3), who are unbeaten in 15 games at home, entertain No. 24 Maryland (19-6, 10-4). Saturday’s tipoff at Crisler Center is scheduled for noon ET. Michigan has had the upper hand in the series since 2015-16, winning three of five. The Wolverines are 7.5-point favorites in the latest Michigan vs. Maryland odds, while the over-under for total points scored is 128. You’ll want to see the college basketball predictions from the SportsLine Projection Model before laying any Michigan vs. Maryland picks down of your own.

This model, which simulates every game 10,000 times, has raked in the winnings for those following its picks. Over the past two years, the SportsLine Projection Model has returned over $5,200 to $100

Mason Rudolph “chomping at the bit” to get his chance, but knows patience is key

The Pittsburgh Steelers backup quarterback is itching to get a shot, but knows he is going to have to wait his turn.

During the 2018 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers were wheeling and dealing. The team sent troubled wide receiver Martavis Bryant to the Oakland Raiders for a third round draft pick. What happened with that pick? The Steelers swapped it with the Seattle Seahawks to move up in the third round to take Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph.

Many Steelers fans were extremely happy, and excited, with the pick. For once, it seemed as if the organization was planning for life without Ben Roethlisberger, who had flirted with retirement before Todd Haley was told he no longer was employed by the organization.

Rudolph’s road to the NFL wasn’t a breeze considering Roethlisberger’s comments on the selection, and how he won’t be worried about helping a young quarterback get acclimated to life in the NFL.

Nonetheless, Rudolph found himself in a very unusual position.

Watching.

Since his sophomore year in High School, Rudolph has been a starting quarterback, not someone holding a clipboard and having to watch someone else in practice. Yet, there he was, running the scout team offense and getting minimal reps on the Wednesdays Ben Roethlisberger was given the day off.

Otherwise, the offensive reps were few and far between. Could a year like this be viewed as a wash? Not according to Rudolph.

“I was telling my college coach that I talk to a lot, beginning of the season I was like, ‘Wow, NFL football, it’s crazy,’ ” Rudolph told Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “And then the middle of the season, I was like, ‘I’m really starting to understand this, just the way the week flows, to game day.’

“And then the last couple weeks (of the season), it was, ‘I can play now if I had to.’ ”

While Rudolph clearly admits him not being thrust into a starting role could be viewed as beneficial, it doesn’t make sitting the bench any easier.

Of not playing (outside of the preseason), Rudolph said, “ No doubt, it’s tough .”

“It’s weird. It’s different,” he said. “But I’m making the best of it. I’ve tried to get that competitive adrenaline rush in practice as much as I can.”

How in the world can a quarterback do that? Rudolph has developed not just a clear understanding of the offense, but a more specific knowledge base about situational football, and what the team wants to do in almost every situation.

“Just a general understanding of the offense has improved so much,” Rudolph said, “Learning (for example) what we call or run in OTAs and what we actually run when it gets nut-cutting time. What are Ben’s favorite calls? What are our base concepts that we’re going to use every week? What’s most efficient for us? So that’s cool to see how the gameplan gets cut down through the week as it gets later in the week.

“Obviously, physically I have been staying in shape, doing whatever I can do to maximize my reps. But mentally there’s a lot to allow for to stay sharp.”

As stated earlier, Rudolph is just patiently waiting for his shot. As the 2019 season approaches, the next step in him seeing the field in a regular season game will come by beating out Joshua Dobbs for the backup quarterback spot in training camp. This will be one of the many training camp battles to watch, and Rudolph is ready.

“I am definitely chomping at the bit, but you’ve just got to stay patient. And I know that God has got a plan.”

Kentucky vs. Tennessee odds, line: College basketball picks, predictions from advanced model on 99-67 roll

It doesn’t get any bigger this weekend in college basketball than a showdown of top-five teams at Rupp Arena, as No. 5 Kentucky hosts No. 1 Tennessee at 8 p.m. ET Saturday. The Vols (23-1) are unbeaten in road games, while the lone home loss for the Wildcats (20-4) came Tuesday against LSU in a controversial finish. Tennessee holds a one-game lead over LSU and is two games in front of Kentucky in the SEC standings with seven to go. The Vols swept the regular-season series against the Wildcats last year, but Kentucky got revenge by beating Tennessee in the SEC Tournament Championship Game.

The Wildcats are 2.5-point sportsbook favorites while the over-under for total points scored is 145 in the latest Kentucky vs. Tennessee odds. Before you make any Kentucky vs. Tennessee picks of your own, check out

2019 Genesis Open tee times, pairings: When Tiger Woods and the field start on Saturday

It was more of the same on Day 2 of the Genesis Open that we saw on Day 1. Cold, rainy weather sullied one of the most fun, coolest (and toughest!) courses on the PGA Tour rota, and a place known for its high degree of difficulty turned into a track meet.

After the Thursday morning wave finished up its first round on Friday morning, the next wave played a full first round and most of the second. However, they will have to come back and finish up on Saturday morning at 10 a.m. ET before the Thursday morning wave comes back for their second round.

Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas are all still out on the course for Round 2, and they’ll be part of that 10 a.m. Saturday start. Following the conclusion of their play,

2019 NBA All-Star Game odds, picks, best bets for Team LeBron vs. Team Giannis

The 2019 NBA All-Star Weekend sees its closing act hit the stage Sunday night at 8 p.m. ET when the world’s best players square off in the 68th NBA All-Star Game at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, N.C. The NBA is again using what proved to be a popular drafting format, with the team captains from the Western and Eastern Conference squads selecting their teammates. LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers and Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks were named team captains as they were the All-Stars who led their respective conferences in fan voting. They drafted the All-Star Game rosters from the pool of players voted as starters and reserves in each conference.

Team LeBron is a 6-point sportsbook favorite against Team Giannis with the over-under for total points scored set at 310.5 in the latest 2019