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sUNDAY fOOTBALL and NbA bASKETBALL
Minnesota (-5.5) at Detroit
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET (Fox)
The Vikings beat the Dolphins last week to maintain their razor-thin hold on the NFC's sixth seed. They definitely need to win in Detroit and will probably have to beat the Bears in Week 17 to remain a playoff team. The Lions' season is effectively over; in Matt Patrica's first year the team is 5-9 after Jim Caldwell went 9-7 in back-to-back campaigns. If Minnesota can't find a way to beat Detroit it doesn't deserve to go to the playoffs, especially given its newfound interest in running the ball coupled with the Lions' 31st-ranked defense.
Pick: Vikings 30, Lions 21
Indiana Pacers: Tyreke Evans
The Pacers are in the upper echelon of Eastern Conference teams, so not much has gone poorly so far. Victor Oladipo is playing at the All-Star level we got used to seeing last season, Myles Turner has improved on both ends of the floor and Domantas Sabonis has emerged as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate. The biggest disappointment, however, has been Tyreke Evans, whom the Pacers signed to a one-year, $12.4 million contract this offseason to bolster their bench. Evans averaged 19.4 points last season with the Grizzlies, the most since his rookie year, and shot a career-high 40 percent on 3-pointers. This season he's been borderline bad, averaging 10.4 points on 36 percent field goals, including 34 percent 3s. His playmaking has also suffered, as he's nearly averaging as many turnovers (2.0) as assists (2.4). The Pacers can get by during the regular season because of their depth, but they signed Evans to be a guy who could go get them baskets, and so far he hasn't been able to do that efficiently.
Toronto's glaring flaw
Shoutout to Nick Nurse for defending his star player after the Toronto Raptors' 95-86 loss in Denver on Sunday, but my main takeaway from that game was not about officiating. It was that the Raptors looked a lot like the Thunder.
Undermanned in that game, Toronto's defense was excellent. On the other end, though, it continually created wide-open shots and bricked them. The Raptors went 7-for-35 from deep and, per NBA.com, missed 37 of their 56 uncontested shots. Just like with OKC, it is frustrating to see a team play so well and shoot so poorly.
If this was only an issue in one game in which Toronto was without Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and Jonas Valanciunas, I wouldn't be writing about it. The Raptors went 11-for-41 from 3-point range in a loss to the same team 13 days before that, and five rotation players -- Lowry, VanVleet, C.J. Miles, O.G. Anunoby and Serge Ibaka -- are all shooting the 3 significantly worse than they did last season.
Toronto, back in action Saturday against the 76ers (7:30 p.m. ET -- watch on fuboTV with the NBA League Pass extension), spaces the floor well and runs a pretty offense, but it has been a below-average 3-point shooting team. This is not necessarily a fatal flaw, but it is a glaring one. In the playoffs, opponents will likely be willing to live with Anunoby, Ibaka, Siakam and Delon Wright shooting from the perimeter until they prove it is a bad strategy. All of this will be particularly relevant if the Raptors wind up facing the Milwaukee Bucks, who surrender the most 3s of any team in the league because they are obsessed with protecting the paint.
Lamar turning into a star
The one big question about Lamar Jackson heading into this week was whether or not he could beat a team by throwing the ball, and he answered that on Saturday with a resounding yes. Although the Chargers were able to keep Jackson in check on the ground -- the Ravens quarterback rushed for just 39 yards on 13 carries -- they seemed completely caught off guard by his ability to throw the ball. Jackson's biggest throw of the night was a 68-yard touchdown pass to Mark Andrews, and it came when the Ravens needed it most. After the Chargers scored a touchdown in the third quarter to take their only lead of the game at 10-6, Jackson responded with a two-play, 85-yard drive where he did nearly all the work.
First, Jackson hit John Brown for a 17-yard gain on first down. On the Ravens' next play from scrimmage, Jackson threw the 68-yard score to Andrews.