Mile HIgh Sports



Broncos playoff hopes all but over with loss to 49ers

Vance Joseph. Credit: Kyle Terada, USA TODAY Sports.

The Denver Broncos basically needed to win-out, and yet, they laid an egg against the San Francisco 49ers and lost 20-14.

Denver’s defense was absolutely incinerated by tight end George Kittle from San Francisco, for 210 yards, the third-best game in NFL history for a tight end. So, at 6-7 overall, the Broncos are now almost completely out of the playoffs, not just because they lost, but because so many other teams won on Sunday.

The “Miracle in Miami” took place, in which the Dolphins threw up a desperation play and lateraled it to have Kenyan Drake take the ball to the house. Miami improved to 7-6 with that win. Besides that incredible win, the Tennessee Titans beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 30-9 and the Indianapolis Colts broke the Houston Texans’ 9-game winning streak, defeating them 24-21.

That means, the Titans, Dolphins and Colts all improved to 7-6, keeping all those teams in the mix while Denver fell to 6-7.

The Broncos loss is even more unfortunate because they got two games to go their way, if they would’ve won. Pittsburgh lost to the Oakland Raiders 24-21. And, the Ravens lost to the Kansas City Chiefs 27-24, too.

Before Sunday’s games kicked off, Denver ended to win-out and have either the Steelers or Ravens lose two games, too. They’ll need at least that much to happen now, and will also need help from the aforementioned Colts, Titans and Dolphins as well.

Without going into the math side of things, the odds are long on Denver making the playoffs. That means they’ll almost certainly miss the postseason for a third straight season.



Kyle Shanahan, 49ers end Denver’s three-game winning streak

In order to keep pace in the AFC Wild Card race, the Denver Broncos (6-7) desperately needed to beat the San Francisco 49ers (3-10) on Sunday.

Unfortunately for the visiting Broncos, the game plan to slow down 49ers tight end George Kittle was apparently left back in the Mile High City. Kittle torched the Broncos for seven catches, 210 receiving yards and an 85-yard touchdown as the 49ers defeated the Broncos, 20-14.

Kittle, 25, is San Francisco’s leading receiver this season and the second-year pro proved why on Sunday. Kittle’s 210 receiving yards put him in the same conversation as players like Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens, and while the 6’4″, 250-pound tight end may not be as fast as those Hall of Fame wide receivers, Denver made him look like an All-Pro.

Time and time again quarterback Nick Mullens was able find his tight end in the open field. And by the end of the fourth quarter, Mullens only had 122 passing yards to players not named Kittle. The rookie quarterback finished 20-33 for 332 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception.

While Mullens did not do anything special for San Francisco, the young QB put his team in a position to win and allowed his defense to do the rest.

With the game on the line, Denver’s offense had multiple opportunities to drive down the field and chip away at the 49ers’ lead, but on two different occasions, the Broncos turned the football over on downs.

Down two scores with 3:53 remaining, Case Keenum was able to connect with rookie wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton in the end zone to cut the deficit to six points (20-14). The veteran quarterback would not get another chance to lead his team down the field though.

In a losing effort, Keenum completed 23-41 pass attempts for 165 yards and one touchdown. Keenum will look to get his team back in the winning column when the Cleveland Browns come to town on Saturday, Dec. 15.



Yet another tight end, this time George Kittle, kills Denver’s defense

George Kittle on his 85-yard touchdown. Credit: Stan Szeto, USA TODAY Sports.

Hey diddle diddle, there goes George Kittle.

Rookie tight end Kittle went wild on the Denver defense Sunday afternoon, enjoying the greatest game in the history of the San Francisco 49ers tight ends, with 210 yards and a touchdown. It was also the third-most all-time by a tight end in NFL history. And the 49ers beat the Broncos — basically ending Denver’s season — 20-14.

And Kittle killed the Broncos – who haven’t been able to cover tight ends all season long – early and often.

His first huge play came in the first quarter, with Darian Stewart “covering” him but trailing the tight end by a few yards. Backup quarterback Nick Mullens found Kittle open and Stewart could never catch up. Kittle kept rumbling and Bradley Roby bounced off him like a football off an upright before Justin Simmons finally took him down at the 12 yard line.

That 45-yard play was only the beginning, though.

Once the 49ers saw they could go to Kittle, they did it on the very next drive; which only took one play. There was the tight end again, this time dragging across the entire field and finding himself completely, utterly wide open.

After catching the ball, Kittle turned it upfield and turned on the jets, running 85 yards to the end zone untouched. No. 85 went 85 yards to pay dirt.

With that massive play, the tight end ran his total up to 179 yards, Denver had a mere 39 yards, with nine minutes to go in the second half.

That touchdown wasn’t just an explosive play, it pushed the 49ers ahead 13-0.

And when San Francisco needed to move the ball the most – getting possession with less than a minute before halftime – Kittle had a 13-yard and an 18-yard reception to help push his team down the field where they’d end with another touchdown.

Thanks to Kittle, who had 210 yards in the first half alone, the Niners led 20-0 at the break and held onto all the momentum with the Broncos playoff lives on the line.

What made it even more atrocious was that San Francisco had very few playmakers outside of Kittle, and yet, Denver couldn’t even find him on the field.

But, again, the Broncos have been burned by tight ends all year long. So, it certainly wasn’t a surprise. Just more damning evidence that the team is in desperate need of leadership, both from the head coaching standpoint and specifically on the defensive end.

When it was all said and done, somehow, the 49ers didn’t go to Kittle again after his sensational first half. Still, his 210 total yards were the third-most ever in a single game, with Shannon Sharpe’s 214 yards ironically being No. 1 all-time in NFL history.

The Broncos tried to come back, bringing the game to 20-14, but fell short and their playoff hopes died with the loss, too. If they could have found a way to cover Kittle, they may have won the game and saved the season.

Instead, Denver’s now 6-7 and out of the playoffs for the third straight season.



Bradley Chubb sets franchise record for sacks by a rookie

Bradley Chubb has been everything that the Denver Broncos hoped he would be when the franchise selected him with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.

In the second half of Sunday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers, the rookie linebacker recorded his 12th sack of the season, which broke Von Miller’s record from 2011 (11.5). With two sacks on 49ers quarterback Nick Mullen, the dynamic pass rusher now has three multi-sack games in 2018 and 10.5 sacks since Oct. 14.

Between the the duo of Von Miller (13.5) and Chubb (12), the Broncos have 25.5 sacks this season. The Kansas City Chiefs are the only other team in the NFL to have multiple players with double-digit sacks. Chris Jones (DE) and Dee Ford (LB) each have 10.5 sacks apiece.



A look at how Broncos make playoffs for first time in three years

Case Keenum. Credit: Aaron Doster, USA TODAY Sports.

The Denver Broncos don’t miss the playoffs often under the ownership of Pat Bowlen.

In fact, the five-year stretch of no postseason from 2006-2010 was such an anomaly, both Mike Shanahan and Josh McDaniels were fired. Denver’s missed the playoffs the last two years, but even now in early December, they still have a chance to make it into the postseason.

And once you’re in, it’s a whole new ballgame.

When the Broncos lost six of seven games in the heart of their schedule this year, many believed it was all over. But, the team has rallied as of late, winning three straight and setting themselves up with their playoff destiny in their own control.

Well, mostly.

What does Denver have to do? First, win-out. That shouldn’t be too difficult, considering their upcoming competition. First, it’s the 2-10 49ers today. Then, they host the Cleveland Browns 4-7-1 next Saturday (6:20 p.m. MT kickoff). In three weeks, on Christmas Eve, Denver heads to Oakland (2-10) before the season-finale against the only competitive team left on their slate, the Los Angeles Chargers (9-3).

On top of winning-out, the Broncos must have either the Pittsburgh Steelers lose two games, the Baltimore Ravens need to lose two or the Chargers have to lose three.

Like with Denver’s upcoming opponents, those teams’ upcoming schedules are favorable for the orange and blue. The Ravens face the Chiefs and Chargers, two of the best teams in the AFC, with a combined record of 28-19-1 (.596 winning percentage). The Chargers have the second-toughest slate, with their opponents possessing a combined record of 28-20 (.583).  And finally, it’s the Steelers, with New England and the 10-2 New Orleans Saints still upcoming (26-22, .542 percentage).

While the Broncos got “murderer’s row” out of the way earlier in the year, these playoff contending teams face their toughest opponents in December.

But, none of it can happen if the Broncos don’t first win today against the 49ers in San Francisco at 2 p.m. MT.

How does Denver beat the San Francisco?

Run the ball with Phillip Lindsay, arguably the NFL’s best running back. Shelby Harris — an elite interior defender — Von Miller and Co. need to pressure backup quarterback Nick Mullens relentlessly. And, Case Keenum should look to exploit the 49ers’ lack of depth in the secondary.



Avalanche shocked by the Lightning in Tampa Bay

The Colorado Avalanche concluded its road trip against the first-place Tampa Bay Lighting. The Avalanche came into the game, hoping to leave the trip with only one loss, but the Lightning had something to say about that, handily handily defeating the Avalanche, 7-1.

Tampa Bay controlled the game from the very first puck drop as Steven Stamkos scored on the power play just under three minutes into the game, and would score again later in the first to make the score 2-0.

With 6:00 remaining in the first period, Nathan MacKinnon notched the only tally of the game for the Avalanche, his 20th of the season. Tyler Johnson would add one more in the first making it 3-1.

Alex Killorn, Andre Palat, and Anthony Cirelli would each add another goal apiece in the second, and Semyon Varlamov was pulled in the period as well.

Tampa Bay would add one more goal from Andre Palat in the third period, making it 7-1.

Vladislav Kamenev left the game with an apparent wrist injury and did not return to the game.

Colorado returns home Tuesday, December 11 to face off against Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers. Puck drop is set for 7:00 PM MST from Pepsi Center.



Shorthanded Nuggets fall to Hawks in Atlanta

Denver Nuggets forward Trey Lyles (7) drives to the basket as he is defended by Atlanta Hawks guard Tyler Dorsey (2) during the first half at State Farm Arena.

With injuries starting to stack up, the shorthanded Denver Nuggets suffered a tough 106-98 road loss to the Atlanta Hawks .

Coming into the game with the odds stacked against them, the Nuggets were without three key starters in Will Barton (right hip/core muscle), Gary Harris (right hip), and Paul Miillsap (right big toe fracture). That, coupled with it being their second game in two nights really made it tough for Denver as their record fell to 17-9 with the loss. The Nuggets record is still good for second place in the Western Conference and the good news is that Denver is still just a half game out of first place.

Seeing as it was the second night of a back-to-back, not only did the Nuggets have injury issues, but they were playing their third game in four nights. After the Charlotte Hornets snapped Denver’s seven-game win streak the night before, the Nuggets were looking to get back into the win column and close out their current road trip on a good note in Atlanta.

Denver rolled out a starting lineup that featured Jamal Murray, Torrey Craig, Juancho Hernangomez, Trey Lyles, and big man Nikola Jokic. The Nuggets new starting five was clicking early on after Jokic started the game with a nice floater and followed it up with a slick behind the back pass to Lyles for an easy jumper.

The Nuggets began the game on a 15-7 run to stretch their lead to eight with 7:06 remaining in the first quarter. Jokic was firing on all cylinders early as he scored 15 of the Nuggets first 27 points as Denver jumped out to a 27-16 lead with 3:30 remaining in the period. From the opening tip, Jokic was looking for his shot as he attempted nine shots in the first quarter. Jokic made six of those jump shots, while also chipping in two rebounds, two assists, and two steals.

It was not just Jokic who had a big first quarter though as Lyles also chipped in seven points of his own while filling in for Millsap. With the big quarters from Jokic and Lyles, the Nuggets were able to grab a 35-25 lead after the games first 12 minutes. The Nuggets 35 first quarter points came courtesy of some solid shooting numbers as Denver shot 13-of-23 from the field and 3-of-6 from behind the three-point line.

Atlanta would show some fight to start the second quarter as they began the period on a 11-7 run to cut the Nuggets lead to 42-36 with 8:08 left before half. Led by the play of John Collins, the Hawks second year forward had 11 early points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field. Collins’ hot shooting was key in Atlanta staying in the game, but Denver still controlled the pace-of-play to hold a 50-44 lead with just over three minutes left before halftime.

The Hawks continued to keep pace though as the Nuggets once 15-point lead whittled all the way down to five at the half. After 24 minutes, the Nuggets held a 56-51 lead going into the second half. Denver was outscored 26-21 in the second, while shooting just 8-of-23 from the field in period number two.

Even with the Nuggets struggles to score the ball in the second, they still held a five point lead in large part to the 17 first half points from Jokic. The Nuggets big man also chipped in seven rebounds, four assists, and two steals in his 18 first half minutes. Other stat leaders for the Nuggets at the break were Lyles and Craig, who each had nine points on a combined 6-of-13 shooting from the field.

Denver’s injury woes continued to begin the third quarter as Murray had to be subbed out just two minutes into the period. After getting kicked in the shin during the closing minutes of the first half, Murray had to be subbed out for Monte Morris in the early stages of the second half. Murray’s absence was a huge loss for Denver as the Hawks began the quarter on a 10-4 run to give them a 61-60 lead with 8:02 left in the third.

At one point the Nuggets had missed seven straight shots in the third quarter before a Jokic lay up tied the game back up at 62. Denver would finally regain the lead at the 5:01 mark of the third after a Morris three gave the Nuggets a 69-68 lead. Atlanta would answer with an 8-3 run of their own to stretch their lead back to 76-72 with just over two minutes remaining in the quarter.

The good news for Denver is that Murray was able to return to the game, but it was evident his right shin was still bothering him. Murray returning to play was the only good news Denver received in the third quarter as their cold shooting allowed Atlanta to take a nine-point lead into the fourth. The Hawks would outscore the Nuggets 35-21 in the third to give them a 86-77 lead going into the final quarter.

Atlanta’s phenomenal third quarter gave them all the momentum going into the fourth, which they used to their advantage to begin the period. The Hawks began the fourth on a 6-0 run to stretch their lead to 15 points with just under 10 minutes left in the game. The play of Collins mixed with some hot shooting from DeAndre’ Bembry and Vince Carter allowed Atlanta to grow their lead throughout the second half. Those three combined to score 53 points at the midway point of the fourth with Collins leading the way with 27 points.

The Hawks momentum continued as the fourth quarter wore on as the Nuggets seemed to just be out of gas. Atlanta would stretch their lead to 17 with 5:35 left in the game as the Nuggets scored just 10 points in the first seven minutes of the fourth quarter. Denver was not done battling though as they went on a quick 7-0 run to cut the Hawks lead to 101-91 with 3:34 left in the game. The comeback would be all for not though as the Hawks controlled the rest of the game in route to a 106-98 victory over the Nuggets.

Stat leaders for the Nuggets were Jokic, who finished with yet another double-double finishing with 24 points, 11 rebounds, and seven assists. Jokic shot an efficient 9-of-17 from the field, while also chipping in two steals on the defensive end of the floor. Juancho Hernangomez also had a big night for Denver finishing with 17 points on 5-12 shooting from the field, while also hauling in 10 rebounds to give him his third double-double of the season.

The Nuggets now have a day off tomorrow before they are back in action Monday night at the Pepsi Center to face the Memphis Grizzlies.



Rams rally, beat Sam Houston to end four-game losing streak

Nico Carvacho drives. Credit: CSU Athletics Communications.

The Rams have finally rebounded.

After losing four straight games — during the toughest part of their schedule — Colorado State rallied and beat Sam Houston State 71-65 on Saturday at Moby Arena.

Nico Carvacho was as dominant as maybe he’s ever been for the Rams, scoring at will down in the low block by using sweet spin moves and soft hands. He was an absolute beast on the boards, as per usual, and played physically on defense, too. Carvacho led the Rams in both scoring and rebounding with 12 points and seven rebounds in the first half alone. He finished with 20 and 19.

However, the Rams trailed 36-33 at halftime to a feisty Sam Houston State team as Bubba Furlong led with 10 points and four rebounds of his own. The Rams, playing extremely sloppy basketball, turned the ball over 11 times in the first half alone.

The Bearkats, who enjoyed multiple big runs in the game, started the 2nd half out on a 12-6 run and extended their lead to nine points. But, just like they did in the first half, the Rams rallied in the second half, being led by Carvacho. He was unstoppable all day long, getting to the rack, putting in tip-backs as he dominated down low.

Down the stretch, the Rams started playing like they have to in order to win with consistency; Paige’s key rebound turned into a fast-break score to take back the lead with 6 minutes to go. Adam Thistlewood’s rebounding was helpful, and the freshman even had a block that led to a break. And after too many turnovers in the first half, CSU cleaned it up, turning it over only four times in the second half.

Colorado State was led by J.D. Paige with a 23-point game, while Carvacho was an absolute beast. The Rams, who had been bullied on the bards many times as of late, out-rebounded the Bearkats 42-34 while also limiting Sam Houston State to 38 percent shooting.

Now, the Rams (5-5) have a full week off for the first time all season long before playing South Dakota on Sunday, Dec. 16 at 2 p.m. MT.

(Quotes from Niko Medved and players as soon as we get them.)



Denver Nuggets Daily: With six players out, where does Denver go from here?

Denver Nuggets guard Gary Harris (14) reacts with forward Paul Millsap (4) after a play in the third quarter against the New Orleans Pelicans at the Pepsi Center.

For the newest Denver Nuggets Daily Podcast, T.J. McBride and special guest Brenden Vogt of Denver Stiffs dive into the Denver Nuggets brutal injury issues. The Nuggets have now have six players out for the foreseeable future including Isaiah Thomas, Paul Millsap, Gary Harris, and Will Barton.

The topics of the new Denver Nuggets Daily Podcast include Paul Millsap’s fractured big toe on his right foot, Harris’ 3-to-4 week diagnosis, who could fill into the starting lineup, what players will need to step up with so many players down, and a look ahead to Denver’s December schedule.

Click here — or listen below — and be sure to rate the podcast, use the comment feature to leave any feedback, and subscribe through iTunes.



With Paul Millsap out with a fractured toe, what comes next for Denver?

Denver Nuggets forward Paul Millsap (4) gets looked at by a trainer on the bench after being stepped on during the game against the Charlotte Hornets at Spectrum Center.

On Saturday morning, the Denver Nuggets announced that Paul Millsap fractured his big toe on his right foot in Denver’s road loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night.

There has not been a specific timetable for when Millsap could return. All that the organization offered in terms of recovery time is that Millsap, “will undergo continued evaluations and updates will be provided when necessary”.

Here is the play in which Millsap fractured his big toe on his right foot. Look at how the front of Millsap’s right foot slams into the hardwood.

 

Most of the time when an NBA player breaks a big toe, it usually takes anywhere from 2-to-8 weeks for a full recovery. Being that the Nuggets have not released any sort of timetable on when Millsap could return to the court, that is really all that anyone has to work with in terms of how long it could take for Millsap to return to the court.

The best news is that Millsap fractured his big toe and not his pinky toe. If he would have injured the latter, he could have had a jones fracture, which took Ben Simmons’ rookie season from him and could require surgery.

Now, the question becomes more about what the Nuggets will do without Millsap for the foreseeable future; especially with Gary Harris sidelined for the next 3-to-4 weeks with a hip issue. Before we jump into possible starting lineups, let’s just assume that the Nuggets will continue starting Torrey Craig in Gary Harris’ spot and Juancho Hernangomez in Will Barton’s spot. So who will Nuggets insert into the starting lineup with Millsap sidelined?

Trey Lyles

Starting Trey Lyles for the injured Paul Millsap is likely going to be the decision that Nuggets’ head coach Michael Malone makes. That would make the Nuggets starting-five comprised of Jamal Murray, Torrey Craig, Juancho Hernangomez, Trey Lyles, and Nikola Jokic.

Lyles is a multifaceted power forward who can handle the ball, hit jump shots, and also punish mismatches in the post. Lyles is very similar to Millsap in terms of what he brings on the offensive end of the floor. In addition to his offensive repertoire, Lyles has the length and mobility to give the Nuggets some switchability on defense, but Lyles has not exactly been a defensive stalwart throughout his career. Still, regardless of which player fills in for Millsap, there will be a steep drop off defensively.

From that perspective, it makes a lot of sense to start Lyles, but it would likely hurt the bench unit’s ability to score quite a bit. Lyles has not shot the ball particularly well this season, but he is still averaging 10.1 points and 4.4 rebounds in 19.8 minutes off of the bench for the Nuggets. Lyles has also been quietly a strong playmaker for the Nuggets. Without Lyles on the bench, the Nuggets reserves would suffer on offense.

In addition to a fall in production, moving Lyles into the starting lineup would also lead to more depth issues as well. Denver would only have a mixture of Monte Morris, Malik Beasley, and Mason Plumlee to fill out the bench mob and, if Lyles ends up moving into the starting unit, the Nuggets would likely have to rely on Tyler Lydon to give them some strong minutes off the bench as power forward.

Overall, starting Lyles may make sense on paper, but it may not make as much sense on the court.

Malik Beasley

This is my favorite choice for who replaces Millsap in the starting unit. Malik Beasley has played very well as of late and has earned not only a boost in minutes, but also the opportunity to start as well.

If Beasley did end up joining the starters, the Nuggets starting five would be Jamal Murray, Malik Beasley, Torrey Craig, Juancho Hernangomez, and Nikola Jokic. That group would give the Nuggets multiple versatile defenders in Beasley, Craig, and Hernangomez; plenty of 3-point shooting from the likes of Murray, Hernangomez, and Beasley; and all of those players know how to play alongside Jokic at a high level on the offensive end of the floor.

Defensively, they have enough size, length, and athletic ability to at least make a run at staying elite on that end of the floor. All three of Beasley, Craig, and Hernangomez have played extremely hard on defense all year and all three of them are between six-foot-five and six-foot-eight. That is a recipe that could allow the Nuggets aggressive pick and roll scheme to continue to be effective so long as that trio gives great defensive effort off of the ball.

If Beasley slides into the starting lineup, that would leave Monte Morris, Trey Lyles, and Mason Plumlee on the bench for the Nuggets. So long as one of Beasley, Hernangomez, or Craig is on the floor at all times, the Nuggets bench unit could also continue operating and producing at an elite level among other bench units in the NBA.

Mason Plumlee

The idea of starting Mason Plumlee in place of Paul Millsap has been floated around a bit. It does make some sense in a couple ways, but also could hurt the Nuggets in multiple ways as well.

Plumlee is without a doubt the most similar defender on the Nuggets roster to Millsap. He can protect the paint, switch onto the perimeter, hedge pick and rolls, and does a great job of helping down as a weak-side defender. Outside of being able to stretch the floor, Plumlee is also vaguely similar to Millsap on offense too. He can handle the ball, act as a secondary or tertiary playmaker, and can attack mismatches in the post. In addition to all of those offensive skills, Plumlee is even more of an above-the-rim threat than Millsap and is better rolling to the rim.

Inversely, starting Plumlee could have drastic effects on the Nuggets bench unit. The only other center on the Nuggets roster is Thomas Welsh — who was called up to the Nuggets on Saturday morning and will be with the team in Atlanta — which means Welsh would have to most likely log somewhere between 10-15 minutes of playing time for the first time in his career. The Nuggets could also play Lyles at center for a few minutes here or there, but Denver taking their only true backup center and inserting him into the starting lineup could really hurt the bench unit’s production.

Still, even with all of that being said, one thing that has to be taken into account is Malone’s affinity for Plumlee. Malone has said that he wants to get Plumlee more minutes on numerous occasions and this may be his opportunity to do so.

“I want to try to get him more minutes, but it is so hard because we have Paul (Millsap) and Nikola (Jokic) who are also playing well, but Mason has been terrific,” Malone explained at practice prior to the Nuggets five-game road trip and prior to Millsap’s injury. “He is selfless and he is all about team which i really respect.”

This does seem like the least-likely decision by Malone, but it is not off of the table.


Simply stated, Millsap breaking his big toe after missing 44 games last year with a torn ligament in his wrist is just cruel. Millsap has never dealt with injuries this consistently in his career and he absolutely battled all offseason in order to come back fully healthy for the 2018-19 season.

Now, the Nuggets will have to whether the storm without their best defender and, in recent memory, their most consistent player, with Millsap sidelined for an undetermined about of time.

Millsap, who has played in all 25 games this year, is averaging 13.6 points, seven rebounds, two assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.1 blocks in 26.8 minutes per game while shooting a career-high 40 percent from 3-point distance.



Kyle Shanahan lists favorite Broncos players of all-time

When the Denver Broncos (6-6) and San Francisco 49ers (2-10) face each other on Sunday it will be matchup between the head coach that the fans actually wanted and the head coach that ended up in the Mile High City.

Sunday’s showdown with Kyle Shanahan will be the first since the 38-year old head coach left Atlanta for the west coast in 2017, and with it comes the memories of his father’s success in Denver. Unsurprisingly, many reporters had a variety of questions for Shanahan regarding his memories of the Broncos, including his favorite players of all-time.

According to Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle, Shanahan told local media that his favorite three Broncos players ever are Ed McCaffrey (WR), Terrell Davis (RB) and Rod Smith (WR).

Somewhat surprisingly, Shanahan did not include John Elway in his list of all-time Broncos greats. Although it would be tough to blame the guy, considering it was Elway that elected not to hire Shanahan in the first place.

Earlier this week, the second-year 49ers head coach said that he hoped that he made the decision to hire Joseph over him difficult for the Broncos’ brass.  



Gary Harris is set to miss 3-to-4 weeks with a right hip injury

Denver Nuggets guard Gary Harris (14) reacts to consecutive fouls called on him during the second half against the Brooklyn Nets at the Pepsi Center.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, Denver Nuggets starting shooting guard Gary Harris will be out for 3-to-4 weeks to rehabilitate his right hip injury.

Harris originally hurt his hip when he landed after attempting a layup against the Toronto Raptors. Here is the video of Harris injuring his hip:

 

Nuggets’ head coach Michael Malone — before the Nuggets victory in Orlando against the Magic — said that Harris was day-to-day after his hip injury, but it appears that after further evaluation, Harris’ injury will sideline him longer than originally thought. In a pass release sent out on Saturday morning, the Nuggets announced that Harris will be evaluated on a week to week basis.

If Harris ends up being out for the full 3-to-4 weeks, that places his return to the court as early as December 29th when the Nuggets take on the Phoenix Suns in Phoenix or as late as the Nuggets home matchup with the Charlotte Hornets on January 5th, 2019.

Now, the question becomes about who Denver replaces Harris in the starting lineup with.

Torrey Craig is the easiest and most likely answer here because Malone trust Craig in big spots and highly values his defensive impact. Also, now that Nuggets will be without starting power forward Paul Millsap for an undetermined amount of time with a broken big toe in his right foot, the Nuggets are going to need more versatile defenders on the floor if they want to keep up their defense dominance.

The other option that the Nuggets have is to start Malik Beasley in place of Harris. Beasley has been playing his best basketball of his NBA career as of late, is hitting 41.2 percent of his 3-point shots so far this season, and has played inspired defense. Regardless of if Beasley starts or not, he will likely be in line for 30-or-more minutes a night with the likes of Harris, Millsap, Will Barton, and Isaiah Thomas all out.

The last option would be to slide Monte Morris into the starting lineup and have Jamal Murray slide over to the shooting guard role. This seems like the least likely option for the Nuggets being that they are already very low on guard depth and they do not have another backup point guard to rely on if Morris is in the starting lineup.

Regardless of what decision Malone makes for the next game or two, that decision may change depending on the Nuggets matchup as Malone outlined before taking on the Orlando Magic.

“On that given night, which player we feel is going to be a better matchup for us in terms of who they’re guarding, who the other team offers in their starting lineup and also, it’s not just about how it affects the starting unit — how does it affect the bench unit?” Malone told the Denver Post. “Whether it’s Torrey (Craig), whether it’s Malik (Beasley), whether it’s somebody else, we have options and I think we can look at it game-by-game while Gary is out.”

To finish out the month of December, the Nuggets have just eight games remaining, and inversely, they have 15 days without a game. At least the Nuggets schedule allows them to get some much-needed rest, but until then, as Malone said a few days ago, it is, “all hands on deck,” for the Nuggets right now.

Harris is averaging 16.6 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.2 steals in 32.3 minutes per game for the Nuggets so far. He is shooting 43.9 percent from the field, 32.4 percent from 3-point distance, and 79.1 percent from the free throw line as well.



Denver’s playoff push will depend on rookies

The Denver Broncos (6-6) have a legitimate shot at the playoffs, but if the team wants to secure a wild card berth, the 2018 draft class is going to have to step up in a big way.

In the last month, the Broncos have lost Chris Harris Jr. with a broken fibula, Emmanuel Sanders with a torn achilles and a variety of other key contributors have been banged up as well. After also moving on from Demaryius Thomas and Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones, the Broncos will now be relying on an extremely young core to lead Denver to the postseason.

As Mike Klis noted, the Broncos will be starting six rookies in Sunday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers, three on each side of the football.

Running back Phillip Lindsay will be starting in the backfield and both rookie wide receivers, Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton will be on the outside. On defense, Bradley Chubb and Josey Jewell will be starting as linebackers and Isaac Yiadom will be in the secondary.

The Broncos have already relied on its first-year players for most of the season so it is not as if the young guys will be asked to do something they are not prepared to handle, especially considering Denver’s favorable schedule in the final month. But inexperience can certainly be a factor in high-pressure scenarios, and with the Broncos looking to make a push for the playoffs, Denver is likely going to have a few of those in December.

We know that guys like Chubb, Lindsay and even Sutton are ready for this moment. If the Broncos want to be able to play football into January though, the other young players are going to need to keep pace.

After being limited by injuries for most of his rookie campaign, Hamilton is going to need to earn his keep and prove why the Broncos used a fourth round pick on the former Penn St. starter.

Obviously it would be crazy to hold Hamilton to the same standard as Sanders as No. 10 has been one of the most consistent wide receivers in the NFL since signing with Denver in 2014. Hamilton definitely needs to step up his production and help fill the void that Sanders’ injury leaves in the passing game though.

Defensively, Yiadom does not even belong in the same sentence as ‘Strap Harris’. That said, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound cornerback has shown promise this year and should not be written off prematurely.

Sunday’s contest against the 49ers will be the first of four tests for this inexperienced Broncos unit. Broncos Country will find out whether the rookies can step up and guide Denver to the playoffs for the first time since winning Super Bowl 50 or whether the injuries will be too much for the team to overcome.



After Arizona dealt Paul Goldschmidt for peanuts, the Rockies would be ludicrous to trade Nolan Arenado

The baseball hot stove is off to an exhilarating start with many big deals having already come together.

The winter meetings have not even started yet, and Patrick Corbin has already landed a massive deal from the Washington Nationals. Nathan Evoldi re-signed with the Red Sox for over $60 million. And most recently the Arizona Diamondbacks traded All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for three players and a 2019 Competitive Balance Round B draft pick.

Heading into the offseason, there was speculation that Arizona would ponder moving on from its franchise cornerstone and begin what would likely be a lengthy rebuild. The Diamondbacks wasted no time and dealt Goldschmidt quickly, signifying that Arizona feels its title window has closed.

The deal opens up the National League West a little bit more, but the Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Dodgers remain the favorites to capture the division crown in 2019. More important than division implications, the situation in Phoenix, AZ., shows that Colorado would be wise to lock down Nolan Arenado.

Just like Goldschmidt, Arenado is set to become a free agent after the 2019 season. So the Rockies find themselves in an uncomfortable situation entering the year without a long-term commitment from the 27-year-old. There has been no indication that Arenado and the Rockies have made any traction on an extension, which casts a sense of doubt over the future outlook of the franchise as everyone ponders his potential exit.

While Colorado’s situation with Arenado is similar Arizona’s with Goldschmidt, the Rockies would be wise to do the opposite of its division rival and hang onto Arenado. If the Rockies were seriously considering moving him, the time to do so would have been last season.

Arizona received Carson Kelly, Andrew Young, and Luke Weaver in addition to the draft pick in the deal for Goldschmidt. The Diamondbacks went for volume in the deal and the overall return was a bit lackluster, considering Goldschmidt’s impact.

While Goldy has just one season left on his current contract, it is safe to assume St. Louis will look to re-sign the all-star first baseman to a lucrative deal. If the Cardinals are able to do so, then the red birds will definitely be viewed as the winners in this trade.

Trading Goldschmidt was justifiable, but Arizona did not necessarily receive a premium return for a premium player. Kelly is projected to be a solid player and Weaver should slide into the rotation nicely; however, the lack of top-tier talent is a bit underwhelming.

As one person put it, “Cardinals won (the trade), Diamondbacks got a meh return.” Another said, “More would have been nice, of course, but this seemed fair.”

Applying the same set of principals to a deal involving Arenado just does not make much sense for the Rockies, unless Colorado would be receiving a massive overhaul of talent. Arenado is on par with Goldschmidt at the plate and is a better defender. He is also younger and plays a more vital position. Any deal for Arenado would need to be outstanding for Colorado.

So where does this leave the Rockies?

Well, Colorado is pinned between a rock and a hard place, but will likely have to ride this season out and roll the dice on Arenado choosing to stay. Trading Arenado now would only disgruntle a fanbase that has grown significantly over the past two seasons. With the potential of a third straight run at the playoffs, moving Arenado would undo much of that growth and get the Rockies killed in the court of public opinion.

The Rockies have been working progressively to improve every year and contend for a World Series title. 2019 will be a critical season for Colorado as the Rockies look to take the next step as a franchise though.

Trying to compete for a title with the cloud of Arenado’s potential exit hanging over the club certainly adds some pressure. That said, Arenado has not been afraid to say that winning is his highest priority. If the Rockies continue to trend in the right direction and improve on last season’s success, Colorado just might be able to convince No. 28 to stay for the long haul and potentially bring the first championship home to 20th and Blake.



Junior guard Kris Martin can be the fuel to defensive fire CSU is lacking

Kris Martin. Credit: CSU Athletics Communications.

The Rams are reeling, looking to snap out of a four-game losing kid.

As redshirt junior guard Anthony Masinton-Bonner put it, the Colorado State Rams are lacking “effort” defensively more than anything at this stage of the season.

CSU head coach Niko Medved pointed elsewhere, and tagged insufficient communication as the culprit for poor defensive play.

Both explanations suffice, as a combination of the two have been exemplified during the Rams’ current skid.

The green and gold most recently dropped their fourth consecutive game overall to Arkansas on Wednesday night. In the defeat, CSU allowed 98 points on 52 percent shooting from its opposition.

Beforehand, the Rams surrendered 86 points in a loss to CU. The game prior, Southern Illinois amassed 82 points at Moby Arena to defeat the Rams. Simply, they’re getting killed inside the paint, both in terms of scoring and rebounds.

Bonner went on to explain how, “In basketball, it can’t just be one person, it has to be everybody” in terms of achieving substantial improvement.

Though the guard is absolutely correct with that statement, the Rams do possess a player capable of providing a spark that could rub off on his teammates.

Even though he only converted 2-10 shots from the floor against the Razorbacks, Medved was quick to applaud junior transfer guard Kris Martin’s effort on Wednesday night.

“I thought his attitude was really good,” Medved said. “He kept competing. I love the way he played.”

Frankly, Martin brings a lot to the table for CSU. The guard is averaging 13.5 points per game since being lifted from suspension four games ago. Martin’s potential to make a difference scoring wise was on display most against the Buffaloes last weekend. The guard put 21 points on the board, on 8-14 shooting.

Lights-out shooting from Martin shouldn’t come as any surprise. After all, in two seasons with Oral Roberts, the guard was an extremely efficient shooter, especially from outside.

As a sophomore two seasons ago, Martin converted 41 percent of his 3-point attempts. Additionally, the guard’s 73 converted 3s ranked No. 39 in the nation.

While Martin will most certainly continue to make an impact offensively, the fact of the matter is the Rams need defensive help. Lack of defense, specifically rebounding, accounts for CSU’s losing streak more than anything.

Martin can be the focal point of a defensive turnaround for the Rams. Although it hasn’t fully come into fruition, the guard’s highly-energized level of play can be translated to the defensive end.

Medved is aware of this, and has even mentioned the impact Martin is capable of making defensively.

“He is strong, quick, and competes his tail off on that end,” Medved said. “He looks to me like a kid who could really develop into an elite defender at this level.”

Martin’s 6’6″ stature is above average for his position. On a guard-heavy roster, Martin is one of the tallest players. Guard wise, if anyone is going to start helping redshirt junior forward Nico Carvacho out in the paint, it has to be Martin.

The statistics are encouraging as well, and indicate that Martin’s rebounding has improved over time. As a freshman, he averaged 2.6 rebounds per game. Then, during the 2016-17 season, Martin grabbed 3.6 boards each contest.

So far for the Rams, Martin is averaging 3.8 rebounds per game. That includes a seven-rebound outing in his CSU debut against South Dakota State.

“He is going to have to be a dynamic defender and rebounder for us,” Medved said. “I know he can score, but we really need him to have an impact in the game both ways if we are going to be the team we want to be. He has a willingness to do that, which is what I love.”

Martin’s persona has been contagious in the locker room. Ideally for the Rams, the next step would be for the guard’s presence to impact CSU positively on defense.

Martin has only played four games for the Rams. So, it would not be surprising if it simply took a few more games for the “Kris Martin effect” to settle in. Medved would be pleased if that were the case. Only time will tell.

“It’s fun playing with a guy like that,” Bonner said. “He is really confident. He has never met a match he doesn’t like. So, just bringing that mentality really helps our team, and bleeds through all of us.”



Paul Millsap suffers broken toe in right foot

Denver Nuggets forward Paul Millsap (4) in the third quarter against the New Orleans Pelicans at the Pepsi Center.

The Denver Nuggets cannot escape the injury bug and the hits just keep on coming.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Nuggets’ starting power forward Paul Millsap has suffered a broken toe in his right foot.

Millsap suffered the injury in the second half in Friday’s loss to the Charlotte Hornets and walked gingerly to the sideline to be looked at by trainers before eventually heading back to the locker room for further evaluation

The loss of Millsap will shake things up in the Western Conference. The first-seeded Denver Nuggets were already without two starters in Gary Harris and Will Barton prior to Millsap’s injury. Now, with Millsap out for the forceable future, Denver has more questions to answer than there are solutions. Millsap averages 13.5 points, seven rebounds, two assists, 1.4 steals and 1.1 blocks in 26.8 minutes per game for Denver this season.

Last year, Millsap missed 44 straight games last season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left wrist. The team felt his absence in a multitude of ways and they missed the playoffs by a single game partly because of their time without their four-time All-Star player in Millsap.

Denver has been using the next man up mantra, but losing their defensive anchor to a broken toe while already dealing with injuries to the starting lineup is a devastating blow.



Nuggets win streak comes to an end in Charlotte

Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) shoots the ball over Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker (15) in the first half at Spectrum Center.

The Denver Nuggets seven-game win streak came to a close Friday night as they fell 113-107 on the road to the Charlotte Hornets.

With the loss, Denver’s record moves to 17-8, which is tied for first place in the Western Conference with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Denver moves to 3-1 on their current five-game road trip as they still post one of the best road records in the NBA at 8-5.

After walking away with a overtime victory against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night, the Nuggets went into Charlotte looking for another win over an Eastern Conference opponent. The game did not start great for Denver though as the shots were not falling early and the complete opposite was going on for the Hornets. At the 5:08 mark of the first quarter, Denver trailed 14-8 as they started the game just 3-of-10 shooting from the field. Paul Millsap began the game with six early points for the Nuggets, but everyone else’s shots were just not falling early.

Millsap’s solid first quarter continued as the Nuggets were able to cut their deficit to 18-16 with 2:17 remaining in the first quarter. Headband Paul was at it again as he finished the first quarter with 12 points on an efficient 3-5 shooting from the field to go along with an almost perfect 6-of-7 from the free-throw line. The spark Millsap provided was key in the Nuggets taking a 25-24 lead into the second quarter as they finished the period 9-of-19 shooting from the field, while Charlotte shot just 8-of-20 from the field.

Denver’s struggles returned to start the second quarter though as the Nuggets normally reliable bench unit allowed the Hornets to begin the period on an 8-2 run. That run gave Charlotte a five-point lead with 10:33 remaining in the half as the bench unit struggled to find a rhythm on both ends of the floor. Charlotte’s run would reach 13-2 in the quarter before a couple three-pointers by Trey Lyles and Malik Beasley cut the Nuggets deficit back down to five with 7:10 left in the period.

That deficit would not last long for Denver though as the Hornets continued to score the ball at an extreme pace to stretch their lead to 55-41 with 4:01 left in the half. Charlotte’s bench play from Tony Parker and Malik Monk was key in the Hornets lead as the two combined for 23 points on 7-of-9 shooting off the bench in the first half. The play of Parker and Monk contributed to 38 first half bench points for the Hornets, which was a 14-point difference from what the Nuggets second unit had in half number one.

After some back and fourth minutes to close the second quarter, Denver would take a 64-53 deficit into half number two in large part to being outscored 40-28 before halftime. The Nuggets deficit was in large part to the play of Monk and Parker, but Marvin Williams also had a big first half for Charlotte with 12 points on 3-of-7 shooting from three-point range. The Hornets as a team shot 8-of-17 from distance in the first half, which was a much higher mark than the Nuggets 5-of-17 number at the break.

Millsap still led the Nuggets in scoring at the half with 14 points, while Beasley was not far behind with 10 points of his own. Another notable stat line from the Nuggets first half came from Juancho Hernangomeaz, who had nine points on an efficient 4-of-5 shooting from the field. With Gary Harris out with a right hip injury, the Nuggets certainly missed his scoring presence in the first half as the rest of the Nuggets starters (Jamal Murray, Torrey Craig, Nikola Jokic) combined to score just six points after the games first 24 minutes.

It looked as if Denver was going to get back into the game after starting the half on a 4-0 run, but the Hornets quickly responded to keep their lead in double-figures. The Nuggets comeback ability was on full display though as they would go on yet another 4-0 run to cut the Hornets lead to 72-66 with 6:56 left in the third quarter. Denver’s play to start the half was sparked by Beasley, who subbed in just minutes into the quarter and provided the Nuggets with immediate energy off the bench.

The Nuggets began the third on a 15-8 run and displayed a sense of urgency and energy that was lacking most of the first half. That aggressive mindset was big in the Nuggets eventually cutting the deficit all the way down to one with just two minutes left in the third quarter.

Charlotte would quickly answer though as their second unit mounted a 7-0 run to close the quarter to give the Hornets a 87-79 lead through three periods. The Nuggets would end out up scoring the Hornets 26-23 in the third quarter, but Denver still trailed by eight headed into the final frame.

In search of their eighth-straight win, the Nuggets had to put together a big fourth quarter if they were going to keep their winning streak alive. The Nuggets did just that to start the period as they began the quarter on a 5-2 run to cut the Hornets lead to 89-84 with 9:03 left in the game. Charlotte would not go away though as they were able to stretch their lead back up to 13 points with 5:45 left in the game as the Hornets continued to answer every single one of Denver’s runs.

A couple Jokic baskets allowed the Nuggets to cut the lead back down to eight, but the Hornets still had firm control on the game with 3:04 remaining. The Nuggets kept battling though as they gave themselves a chance and only trailed 106-100 with 1:30 left in the game. A Monte Morris three-pointer with 1:13 left made it a one possession game as the Nuggets looked to complete an improbable fourth quarter comeback.

The Nuggets fight to even have a chance in the closing minutes was exceptional, but Parker was not having it as he hit a tough basket with just under a minute left to stretch Charlotte’s lead back up to five. Charlotte would execute a tremendous block on the Nuggets next possession to put the proverbial nail in the coffin for Denver’s chances. A couple free-throws later and the Hornets would capture a 113-107 lead over the Nuggets.

Stat leaders for the Nuggets were Millsap, who finished the night with 16 points on 4-of-8 shooting from the field before having to exit the game with a right foot injury. Other big stat lines came from Hernangomez, who had a career game finishing with 15 points and 10 rebounds to record his second double-double of the season. Hernangomez shot an almost perfect 6-of-9 from the field, while also chipping in two assists, two blocks, and one steal. Beasley (16), Murray (20), and Jokic (15) all finished with double-figure point totals as well, while Jokic also had a double-double finishing with 10 rebounds and six assists.

The Nuggets have a quick turn around as they are back in action tomorrow night in Atlanta to face the Hawks. This will be the second time the Nuggets have faced Atlanta this season, after they won 138-93 in the two teams first matchup just a couple of weeks ago.



Looking ahead at how Broncos stack up against 49ers

Tight end George Kittle. Credit: James Snook, USA TODAY Sports.

The 2018 season has been a rollercoaster of emotions for Broncos Country.

The Broncos jumped out to a quick 2-0 start before dropping six of their next seven. With a 3-6 record, the season seemed over for the mile high bunch, until back-to-back-to-back wins over three playoff contenders re-instilled hope in the season. Serious injuries to two of the most valuable Broncos, Chris Harris Jr. and Emmanuel Sanders, have sent the rollercoaster on another drop.

The Broncos now have one of the most depleted secondaries and receiving corps in the league. Now, the hope is rookies Isaac Yiadom, Courtland Sutton, and DaeSean Hamilton will continue to step up like the rest of Denver’s rookie class. Fortunately, an upcoming game against the tanking 49ers should give Denver a chance to right the ship.

Strengths

The San Francisco 49ers are a team that find themselves in the earliest stages of a rebuild. They have the coach, maybe the quarterback, and a whole lot of nothing else. When quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo tore his ACL early in the year the 49ers lost half of that equation, which ended up showing just how good their offensive coaching is.

The 49ers are gaining only two yards fewer per game than the Broncos, despite playing backup C.J. Beatherd and feel-good story Nick Mullens at quarterback, with a surrounding cast of also-rans.

Their quarterbacks rank No. 29 and 30 respectively in Pro Football Focus’ passing metric, their top two receivers, Dante Pettis and Marquise Goodwin rank No. 75 and 89 among the league’s wide receivers, and they’re down to their third running back for this week’s game.

Yet, Kyle Shannahan‘s offense continues to produce, not among the leagues elite but far above their level of talent.

The defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, with Carson Wentz, Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz, Lane Johnson and Jason Peters have only outscored Mullens and Pettis by a field goal over the course of the season.

The 49ers do appear to have one stud on offense, though. Tight end George Kittle. Kittle was a steal in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. With all the tumult on offense, especially surrounding the quarterback position, Kittle has continued to produce and now finds himself within 73 yards of the 49ers’ record for most receiving yards by a tight end in a season. A record Vernon Davis set back in 2009.

Look for Shannahan and Kittle to take advantage of the Broncos’ injury-riddled secondary this week, a group who was already terrible at covering tight ends at full strength.

Weaknesses

There’s a reason the 49ers are currently pegged to be picking No. 1 overall come April’s draft; their roster has more holes than Swiss cheese.

There is the aforementioned hole at receiver, but even worse is the 49ers hole at running back. San Francisco’s splash signing in free agency happened when they brought in former Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon to be Shanahan’s version of Tevin Coleman.

Before the 49ers season could start though, McKinnon’s was over as he tore his ACL, forcing the team to turn to undrafted free agent Matt Breida. Breida has been a solid back for the 49ers this season. Racking up over 950 yards in total offense so far to go along with five scores. Then last week the injury bug bit San Francisco again as Breida was forced to leave the game with an ankle injury that will keep him sidelined for this weekend’s matchup with the Broncos. That means it is time for Jeff Wilson to tote the ball for the 49ers.

Even with Matt Breida carrying the ball for the 49ers this season, their rushing attack ranks among the league’s worst in the eyes of ProFootballFocus’s analytics. PFF grades the Niners’ run game as the No. 30 unit in the league. That unit will now go from a top ten back in terms of yards per carry, to an undrafted rookie from North Texas.

Outside of Richard Sherman, the 49ers also have one of the shallowest secondaries in the NFL. The unit, including Sherman, holds a grade of 39.0 which ranks last in PFF’s coverage grades by a mile and a half. To put it in perspective, only two other teams have a grade below a 62 and not a single team outside San Francisco has a grade below 50. In fact, out of all of the 13 different categories which PFF grades all teams on, across all 32 teams for a total of 416 data points, San Francisco’s coverage is the only unit graded below a 40. They’re one of three units, Cleveland’s tackling and their own coverage being the other two, to be graded under a 45.

Even with the injury to Emmanuel Sanders, Case Keenum and this Broncos offense should be able to shred San Francisco’s flimsy defense.



Colorado’s Pugh, U.S. Women’s team to play World Cup tune-up in Commerce City next April

Team USA is coming – and this one can win the World Cup.

The Colorado Rapids announced today that DICK’S Sporting Goods Park will host an international friendly between the United States Women’s National Team and the Australian Women’s National Team on Thursday, April 4 at 7:00 p.m. MT.

The match will be one of 10 matches to be played as part of the team’s “Countdown to the Cup” tour, in preparation for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France this coming summer. The game will mark the second time the sides will have met at DICK’S Sporting Goods Park.

This will be the USA’s sixth visit to DICK’S Sporting Goods Park and seventh to Colorado. The USWNT is undefeated when playing in Commerce City, having won 1-0 vs. Brazil in 2008, 6-2 vs. Australia in 2012, 2-0 vs. China in 2014, drawn 3-3 vs. Japan in 2016, and most recently won 3-1 vs. New Zealand in 2017. The USA defeated Brazil 6-0 at Mile High Stadium back in 1999 following the Women’s World Cup triumph on home soil.

DICK’S Sporting Goods Park has also hosted several prominent club and international games, including the 2015 CONCACAF Olympic qualifiers, the 2007 and 2015 MLS All-Star games, as well as a number of USMNT and USWNT World Cup qualifiers and friendlies.

Tickets go on sale to the general public Thursday, December 13, at 10 a.m. MT through altitudetickets.com, by phone at 1-866-461-6556 or at the DICK’S Sporting Goods Park and Pepsi Center box offices during event days. Colorado Rapids Season Ticket Members will receive information on the exclusive December 12 ticket presale in the coming days.



Shelby Harris has been an elite interior defender this year

Shelby Harris. Credit: Isaiah J. Downing, USA TODAY Sports.

Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Shaquil Barret; it’s easy to see Denver’s defensive front is absolutely loaded with top-tier talent.

But, the forgotten man up front is Shelby Harris, and he deserves a great deal of recognition for his superb season so far.

Harris, who plays defensive end on the interior of the Broncos D-line, has 26 total tackles, 1.5 sacks — which came during the win over the Bengals last week — and one interception. That clutch pick, off Ben Roethlisberger in the end zone, saved Denver’s much-needed win over Pittsburgh.

And, according to Pro Football Focus, Harris is one of the best interior defenders in the NFL this season:

Harris’ 90.7 overall grade puts him in a tie for sixth-best interior defender in the league, and his individual games have been tremendous, too.

In Week 1, Harris earned a 91.7 grade by totaling four pressures, hitting the quarterback twice and hurrying him twice, as well. Week 7 brought a 90.1 grade, highlighted by his run defense, which included four run-stops and two pressures. And, finally, that Steelers game was his best of the year, earning a 95.3 grade (of 100). Along with his 1.5 sacks, he hit Roethlisberger twice and hurried him once as well, and came up with that game-sealing pick, of course.

Along with celebrating the recent three-game win streak, Harris celebrated the birth of his baby girl the day of the Steelers win.

Harris and the Broncos (6-6) now face the 49ers (2-10) in San Francisco, with kickoff scheduled for 2:05 p.m. MT. While Von Miller is fun to watch, keep an eye on the consistent and disruptive Harris, No. 96.



Three jaw-dropping stats from Phillip Lindsay’s historic rookie season

Phillip Lindsay runs against the Steelers. Credit: Isaiah J. Downing, USA TODAY Sports.

Phillip Lindsay is a generational talent.

Yes, Broncos fans have been “oohed” and “awed” by him all year long. His incredible speed, his lightning-fast quickness, his superb vision. But, he’s not just great, he’s all-time great.

“The guy is the guy,” teammate, linebacker Brandon Marshall said of Lindsay on The Afternoon Drive this week. “His vision is amazing. His speed through the hole, his cuts, his confidence. He’s everything you want in a running back.”

“His vision and his patience is amazing. Once he sees it, he hits it. It’s over,” Marshall explained.

Conventional stats show he’s been undoubtedly one of the best running backs in the NFL this year; Lindsay’s 937 yards is fourth, his 8 touchdowns are tied for sixth and his 6.1 yards per carry are No. 1 the NFL. But, thanks to advanced stats, we can see just how dominant Lindsay has been for the Denver Broncos as only a rookie.

1. Yards gained before contact At 3.68 yards before contact, Lindsay isn’t just the best in the NFL in that statistic this year, he’s the best since they’ve been tracking it, going back to 2006.

Part of the reason he’s able to run so far before being hit is his undeniably brave running style. Lindsay accelerates and hits the hole with a reckless abandon, gaining speed in the backfield and running through the line before defenders even have a chance to react. Of course, his vision also leads to this; Lindsay can dissect where to run in a split-second, finding the path of least resistance and taking off for a big play.

Like, for instance, the 65-yard run to the house against Cincinnati. Or, the 32-yard scamper in the win over Pittsburgh, in which he hit 21.91 miles per hour.

2. EPA/play and success rate – This is advanced as statistics get. Basically, EPA stands for “Expected Points Added” and Lindsay, as you can see, is on the top of the list (top right corner).

EPA factors in not just how the play finished, but takes into account where the play occurred on the field, the down and distance and more. For instance: A 3rd and 5 from midfield has an EPA of 2.1, while a 3rd and 5 from a team’s own 5 yard line has an EPA of -2.1. The plus/negative tells you how expected a play is to score.

What does it mean in regarding Lindsay? Well, take his 65-yard touchdown run outside against the Bengals last week for an example. Because it came on the Broncos’ 35 yard line, the EPA is just below 1.0; not that likely he’ll score. But, because he was able take the ball all the way down the field and across the goal line, that really boosted his personal EPA.

3. Speed – As mentioned earlier, Lindsay is one of the fastest players in the NFL. In fact, his 32-yard run against the Steelers was, for a few days, the fastest play in the league this year, but the NFL’s “next gen stats” changed it.

Still, 21.91 miles per hour is the same speed as a brown bear, and faster than a roadrunner (19.9 MPH). Usain Bolt’s 29.55 MPH is the fastest a human’s ever been recorded running, so that also puts this into perspective. Lindsay’s only 5’8″ tall — Bolt’s legs are much longer — and Lindsay’s wearing full pads and a helmet while making that run, which is even more incredible.

As an undrafted free agent coming out of the University of Colorado, Lindsay’s been the feel-good story of the year in the NFL. Not only is he an underdog, but his humble attitude makes him easy to root for, whether you’re a Broncos fan or not.

Lindsay and the Broncos (6-6) face the San Francisco 49ers (2-10) this Sunday in California with Denver’s playoff lives on the line. The game kicks off at 2:05 p.m. MT.



2018 Sportsperson of the Year: Kyle Freeland

Rockies ace Kyle Freeland was the best there was in 2018

The following article is from the December issue of Mile High Sports Magazine. Subscribe here!

Editor’s Note: In 2018, there was no shortage of gaudy statistics, facts and figures. There were postseason runs galore, and even a title or two. But our annual selection of the Sportsperson of the Year runs deeper than that. The criteria? Who impacted the local sports landscape the most, or the most significantly?

So, rather than write stories and dissect the numbers, I asked those who followed Rockies baseball the closest this past summer to pen their own version of “why.” Why was Kyle Freeland our choice? The answers follow.

The Clutch Gene by Doug Ottewill

I have been covering sports for the better part of 20 years now. Once a slave to the numbers, statistics don’t wow me like they used to. Of course there are exceptions, but by and large, records are made to be broken. I find the longer I do this, the intangibles, the stories and the winning and losing hold my interest more than anything else.

Ask most anyone who actively follows baseball, and they easily tell you that Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs, and that Hank Aaron walloped 755. Ask them where Barry Bonds finished and they don’t always know. It’s 762, to be exact, but the thing they’ll know most is that there’s some kind of “asterisk” that follows whatever number Bonds posted.

The point is that the numbers alone don’t tell the whole story. There’s more to them. Ask those same folks who the greatest home run hitter of all time is and most would say either Ruth or Aaron – despite knowing that Bonds finished with superior marks. There’s going to be a “Well…but…” before anyone answers the question.

Rockies lefty hurler Kyle Freeland had numbers that wowed in 2018. A baseball pitcher’s statistics are what they are – comparable, both against opponents and history. And the numbers tied to Freeland – the ultimate local boy done good – are impressive. They’re not numbers for the ages, certainly not unprecedented in the sport of baseball. But they are respectable across baseball. To point, Freeland finished the season in the NL’s top-10 in all of the following categories: Wins Above Replacement-All (4th, 8.2); WAR-Pitchers (4th, 8.4); ERA (5th, 2.85); Wins (4th, 17); Winning Percentage (6th, .708) and Innings Pitched (5th, 202.1).

Not bad for a Rockies pitcher. So “not bad” in fact, that Freeland finished fourth in the Cy Young Award voting.

His numbers, when compared to those historically produced at Coors Field (generally thought of as a bad word amongst MLB pitchers), indicate he was arguably the best Rockies pitcher for a season, ever. His ERA of 2.85 is the best of all time. His 17 wins are second only to Ubaldo Jimenez’s 19 in 2010.

But again, numbers bore me.

What was exciting was that Freeland captured the imagination of Rockies fans in ways that have never been done before. Freeland’s start-to-finish season, where he truly got stronger as the season trudged on, was really unprecedented. The debate of which Rockies pitcher has had the greatest single season in team history is between Freeland’s 2018 and Jimenez’s 2010; they’re the only two that really stake claim to “best ever.”

Freeland was a bulldog down the stretch, though. From August, he only pitched less than six innings once. In his starts – all 12 of them – he never gave up more than three earned runs. During that same stretch, when he started, the Rockies were 10-2; his record was 8-1 with three no-decisions. By comparison, Jimenez got off to a hot start in 2010, but fizzled down the stretch. His August looked more like a slide. The team went 5-7 in his starts, and his personal record was worse, as he went 3-6 including losses in his final three starts. In 2018, the Rockies surged to an unlikely a Wild Card berth because of Freeland’s intestinal fortitude. In 2010, the Rockies slid from contention largely because by season’s end, Jimenez was not the same pitcher he was in April and May.

Freeland was gutty. And that’s not a word used too often when referring to Rockies pitchers.

And then there’s the one thing in sports I love above all else – clutch. It’s what Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant had. It’s what Reggie Jackson and Mariano Rivera had. It’s what Joe Montana and John Elway had.

They all had the clutch gene.

There is no stat or skill that can match clutch. If an athlete’s competence is at or above his level of competition, the only thing that truly separates the good and the great is the clutch gene. It’s that inexplicable quality that allows those athletes to excel on the biggest stage, in the biggest moments, when the game is in the balance. No matter the performance they’ve had leading up to that moment, clutch takes over when things matter most.

Kyle Freeland has the clutch gene.

His start against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field in the NL Wild Card game was one for the ages. In reality, the deck was stacked against him. The Rockies had a brutal travel schedule to end the season; by the time they’d reached Chicago, they’d flown from Colorado to L.A. to Chicago in three consecutive days. The Cubs trotted out playoff-tested lefty Jon Lester. The “national” broadcast team had penciled in the Cubs to advance from their pregame notes.

Yet, Freeland stood tallest.

The Thomas Jefferson High School product delivered a gut-wrenching performance, allowing only four hits while surrendering no earned runs. And he had to be that good, as Lester seemingly matched him inning for inning, pitch for pitch. More than once Freeland was asked to get out a jam, and never did he fail. It was as clutch of a performance as has ever been seen by a Colorado Rockies pitcher. With the stakes the highest, Freeland was flawless.

But that’s who he is. Whether he’s starting his first game as a rookie at Coors Field and beating the Dodgers 2-1 in front of a sellout crowd, or nearly delivering the first no-hitter by a Rockies pitcher at Coors Field, he’s clutch when it counts.

His numbers dazzled. But Freeland’s ability to be his best when it counted, in a town starved for postseason baseball, dazzled me.

That’s why he’s my Colorado Sportsperson of the Year.

****

One of Us by Aniello Piro

Kyle Freeland was not supposed to be a pitcher.

Growing up, Freeland’s father Don wanted to develop him into a middle infielder, like he was back in his days at Denver’s John F. Kennedy High School. Kyle was the second brother of the family; the first, Colin, was already groomed to play up the middle. The pieces were in place for Don Freeland’s dream of having a set of brothers play the middle infield positions to come true – except a very young Kyle had plans of his own.

Every time Don would attempt to place a ball in Kyle’s right hand, he would switch it to his left. Being left-handed causes problems when playing the middle infield positions, so Kyle and his father had to adjust the plan. And the adjustment – nothing more than becoming a southpaw – ended up taking Kyle from being a Thomas Jefferson Spartan to the ace of the Colorado Rockies’ starting rotation.

Are you a Kyle Freeland guy?

Just about all of Colorado baseball fans are, and I am, too. Freeland has emerged as the leader of the Rockies’ rotation after only two seasons in the big leagues and serves a much larger purpose than baseball in the state of Colorado. He’s one of us. Cheering on the hometown team is fun, but when the best player on that team is a homegrown product, it’s something special.

Freeland was once just like you and me – a fan. A fan of the game. A fan of the Rockies. He recalls entering the confines of Coors Field at a young age to watch his favorite players, Larry Walker and Todd Helton. I’m sure he dreamed, as we all did as kids, about playing in the big leagues. I’m not so sure he thought that one day he would solidify the best season from a pitcher in Rockies history and pave a more precise way for the franchise to potentially capture its first championship.

Sitting back after what was a roller coaster of a season for the Colorado Rockies in 2018, one thing is for sure: The Rockies have their ace.

Other pitchers within the organization have flirted with the term in the past, but after a miraculous season in which Freeland received votes for the Cy Young award and set a single-season franchise record for ERA (2.85), it’s fair to put him in the conversation with the best arms in the National League. Moreover, what makes him the de facto No. 1 arm in the Rockies’ rotation is the confidence he instills within the club. Every fifth day, when Freeland takes the bump, the Rockies and their fans have the utmost confidence they can emerge victorious. Colorado lost only two games in Freeland’s last 16 starts this season. Additionally, Freeland led the team in WAR with a mark of 8.2 and pitched to a 2.40 ERA at home, the lowest in franchise history.

Numbers never lie, but even some of the best pitchers statistically in the history of the game have faltered in prime-time. You either have what it takes, or you don’t perform on the biggest stage. That said, the one postseason start of Freeland’s career happened to be one that solidified him as the ace the Rockies have been looking for in their 25-year history.

After losing out on the division title, the Rockies squared off against the Chicago Cubs in the National League Wild Card game, their second consecutive appearance in the one-game playoff. After a disappointing performance the year before, Freeland was given the nod, and thus control, of the Rockies’ destiny. Going up against a superior team, on the road, in your third city in as many days is by no means a walk in the park. However, Freeland made it appear to be just that.

Freeland outdueled three-time World Series champion Jon Lester and made the potent Cubs offense look silly by posting a line of 6 2/3 innings pitched, allowing four hits and one walk while striking out six batters en route to Colorado’s thrilling, 13-inning victory. It was the first of hopefully many marquee outings for Freeland in his career, as he is hungry to keep his team in the title conversation.

“Having those mentalities and that drive to win, that drive to compete… You are extremely hungry for it.” Freeland said.

For the first time in franchise history, the Rockies have a legitimate No.1 starter, a guy that can go out and get a win any day of the week, regardless of the weather, altitude, pressure or opponent. Being a Cy Young candidate and getting to the postseason for the second consecutive season for the first time in franchise history are excellent accomplishments, but Freeland plans to take his game, and the franchise, to the next level.

“It’s a nice stepping stone for me, hopefully in the right direction, that I can continue to have the success that I had last year and keep my name in that mix of guys,” Freeland said of his season. “Being in this mix of Cy Young, playoffs, World Series, all that.”

Nationally, Freeland has helped change the view of the Rockies’ organization. For the first time, Colorado has demonstrated an ability to not just hit at altitude, but pitch. Freeland has become the front man in changing the narrative that has been attached to the Colorado Rockies since their inception.

“We are going to start highlighting our pitchers and prove that we can win at Coors Field,” said Freeland. “We can pitch at Coors Field, and we can have consistent success with it.”

Colorado is dangerous entering 2019 and beyond. The Rockies are gearing up to put forth the greatest era of baseball the franchise has ever seen, led by the hometown kid and potential hometown hero. The future is a very bright one at 20th and Blake.

As Freeland puts it, “We are looking to go out there and hit somebody in the mouth; shock the world.”

With Kyle Freeland, a local product who was supposed to be a middle infielder, the Rockies’ future is on pace to be the brightest it’s ever been.

I’m a Kyle Freeland guy.

****

Attitude over Altitude by Shawn Drotar

On May 14, 1993, the Colorado Rockies played only the 35th game in team history; Major League Baseball’s newest team in baseball was bludgeoned on the road by its oldest in a 13-5 loss to Cincinnati. Starting pitcher Andy Ashby took the loss that night to fall to 0-3; the eight runs he allowed in only 2-2/3 innings doomed the purple-clad newcomers in a game that was over early.

Little did anyone know that the Rockies’ evolution from a bumbling, expansion curiosity to a full-fledged, Major League contender began that day.

Back in Denver, little Kyle Richard Freeland came into the world; eventually growing up in a Colorado that had always had a Major League baseball team. For Freeland, unlike every other native older than 25, the Rockies have always been part of the Colorado sports landscape. For Freeland, they’re no different than the Nuggets or Broncos; teams founded in the 1960’s and so completely integrated into the state’s tapestry that it’s impossible to unwind them.

Consider: in 1993, John Elway was entering his 11th season as the Broncos’ quarterback. Wade Phillips was the head coach of a team still trying to repair their national reputation after being embarrassed in an ever-worsening trio of Super Bowl losses over the seven previous seasons. The Nuggets had just finished another moribund season of their own; sitting out the NBA playoffs that May for the third straight year. Their famous rainbow uniforms weren’t retro-cool yet… because they were still wearing them.

That was the Colorado sports world that Freeland was born into; one where the newborn Rockies had as many world championships as the Broncos or the Avalanche — who were still years away from even existing; they were too busy thriving as the Quebec Nordiques in the old Adams Division. A world in which the Rockies’ possibilities were as promising as any others in the Centennial State.

That’s the way Freeland pitches, by the way — like the Rockies were any other Major League club, rather than an anomalous group of beer-league softball mashers playing in a ridiculous place. Around the slow-to-change baseball world, that’s still how the Rockies are perceived; as a fluke, a one-off in a place where baseball shouldn’t ever be played, anyway. Rockies fans share a righteous indignation for the treatment of Larry Walker, Todd Helton and Nolan Arenado; all Hall-of-Fame-caliber players whose careers are too often derided as a creation of Denver’s thin air; their bona fides discounted, dissected and spread to the warm summer winds.

It’s easier to hit in Denver. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. That’s why it’s much harder for the baseball cognoscenti to ignore the man who’s never seen the Rockies that way; they’re not just another team – since he was born, they’ve always been Kyle Freeland’s team.

When you’re just a kid, tossing baseballs with a grade-school chum at recess, you’re not thinking about how the altitude affects spin rate – you’re imagining yourself waving to Mom and Dad as you finish off Game 7 of the World Series. Those dreams drive young players; they’re not yet thinking about how to win – they’re just thinking about winning.

Freeland’s numbers as a member of the Rockies leap off the page, of course, but his success isn’t about statistics; it’s a mindset that makes the second-year hurler into one of the franchise’s best-ever pitchers. No, it’s not too soon to say that, because what Freeland has brought to the Rockies will outlast his entire career, no matter how long it turns out to be.
Freeland isn’t the best player on the team – that lofty title still belongs to the sterling Arenado. The lanky lefty doesn’t have the best fastball in the Rockies’ young rotation – that belongs to wayward, erstwhile “ace” Jon Gray. His breaking stuff isn’t, either – ask anyone who’s looked foolish striking out against teammate German Márquez; there are plenty to choose from. What Freeland brings is attitude; a never-back-down mentality that forces teammates to keep up… to believe.

His gritty, gutty performance in October’s wild-card defeat of the mighty, big-budget Cubs was due more to willpower than firepower; the Rockies’ bats went silent in a 13-inning affair, but that didn’t deter Freeland. In his first postseason appearance, and on short rest, Freeland outlasted and outdueled the Cubs’ Jon Lester (who was making his 26th, mind you) and shut down the Cubs for 6-2/3 thrilling, high-wire innings.

Freeland didn’t get to pitch in the National League Division Series loss to the Brewers – the offense that seamheads habitually take for granted went AWOL – but the ripples from his phenomenal 2018 season will be felt for years to come. The Thomas Jefferson High School product has smashed all the preconceptions about pitching in Denver, and will enter 2019 as not only the Rockies’ ace, but as a Cy Young contender on a team with postseason expectations.

Just like he always imagined as a boy growing up in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. Kyle Freeland, Colorado’s native son, is Mile High Sports’ Sportsperson of the Year. Purple majesty, indeed.

***

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Soderberg notches two goals in 5-2 victory over the Florida Panthers

Who says that all wins have to be pretty?

Following a couple of ugly back-and-forth periods, where it looked like neither team was able to gain an edge, the Colorado Avalanche erupted in the third period with two quick goals and an empty net goal to come away with the 5-2 victory over the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center.

For a team that seems to constantly be examined for its offensive depth, the Avalanche were able to come away with the victory in part to a large two-goal performance from veteran forward Carl Soderberg.

With time winding down in the first period, The Avs were able to record the first goal of the game as forward Mikko Rantanen found the back of the net to extend his point streak to ten straight games. The Florida Panthers came up with a late period goal of their own as forward Colton Sceviour tallied a goal of his own.

The second period was all about special teams, as the Avalanche regained the lead with Soderberg recording his second goal of the game by storming down the ice to notch the shorthanded go-ahead goal at the 5:44 mark of the second period. However, the Panthers quickly came up with the equalizing tally as veteran defenseman Keith Yandle tallied a power-play marker. With no other goals happening in the second period, the two teams headed into the final frame with two goals per-piece.

“The first two periods we didn’t feel like we played at the level that we know we can” Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said.

“In the third [period] we just decided to put pucks in deep and that is what we know is the recipe for success and let our speed and forecheck do the work. We were able to come up with some secondary pucks and come up with a really nice tip there [Compher’s goal]”.

The Avalanche continued to prove that they are a third period team this season, notching three answered goals from forwards J.T. Compher, Soderberg, and Gabriel Landeskog tallying the empty net goal to come away with the 5-2 victory over the Panthers to help the Avs get back into the winning column, and ensure at least a .500 record on this four-game road swing.

“I think what it comes down to is just good teams knowing how to respond, good teams know how to bounce back, and good teams know how to not lose consecutive games,” defenseman Ian Cole said.

“It was a close game after two periods and we were able to step up in the third and get some huge goals and continue to push the pace.”

With the victory, Avs goaltender Philipp Grubauer holds a record of 7-0-2 in his last nine games played. Grubauer made 25 saves against the Panthers to ensure the 5-2 victory for the Avalanche tonight.

“Gru [Grubauer] was fantastic. Some of the saves that he made were unreal and it takes a really special goalie and athletic goalie to make those saves. He has been fantastic, and so has Varly, and we are very lucky to have two great goaltenders. We are certainly going to rely and lean on them as the season goes” Cole said.

Now tied with the Nashville Predators for first place in the Western Conference and the Central Division, the Avalanche will be in for a big test as they take on the Eastern Conference-leading Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, December 8 with puck drop scheduled for 5 p.m. MT.



Five Takeaways from Colorado’s 5-2 win over Florida

The Colorado Avalanche bounced back from its first regulation loss in 11 games with a 5-2 victory over the Florida Panthers. Colorado received goals from important secondary scorers on their way to the win.

What did we learn from this game?

  1. Remember two years ago when Carl Soderberg finished the abysmal 2016-17 season with only 14 points? That seems like a lifetime ago. He’s been a crucial part of this team since the start of last year, taking on very heavy minutes defensively while still providing offense. His two goals tonight give him 11 on the season, and he’s well on his way to a career-high season in terms of goal scoring.
  2. Jared Bednar was not happy with what he was seeing from his top line tonight, and changed things up in the third period with some great results. J.T. Compher was moved onto a line with Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon, while Tyson Jost and Alexander Kerfoot got Mikko Rantanen on their line. Compher ended up scoring the game winning goal with some great effort in the offensive zone. It’s becoming a bit of a trend that Compher scores some very important goals for this team, and he’s giving Avs fans a lot of flashbacks to Chris Drury with the way he plays.
  3. Philipp Grubauer had a great performance, stopping 33-of-35 shots on his way to yet another victory. I’m not sure there was much he could do on either of the goals by Florida, although he probably could have tracked the power play goal much better. His save on Dadonov’s breakaway at the end of the second period was massive, as the Avs took over the game from there.
  4. The Avs had a massive scare at the end of the second period, when Erik Johnson left the game for several minutes with what looked like a hand injury. He would return in the third period to play his usual heavy minutes, and looked to be just fine.
  5. The Avs spread the wealth pretty evenly among the defense. Zadorov played the least on the defense, but still played over 16 minutes, and no one even cracked 21 minutes. When the defense is healthy and playing well, the coaching staff can spread the minutes around so that they aren’t playing some guys too much. It’s a weapon they can use throughout the year.

The Avs finish off their road trip on Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The game starts at 5 PM MST.



Mel Tucker believes the Colorado Buffaloes can return to greatness

by Justin Michael (@JustinTMichael)

In front of a sea of local media, Colorado Buffaloes head coach Mel Tucker was introduced by Athletic Director Rick George on Thursday morning.

“It is a great day for Colorado and our history,” George told reporters “I said to you all two and a half weeks ago that I thought this was the best job in America. I still believe that today. What’s important is I believe we hired the best coach in America.”

Later Thursday afternoon, Tucker joined Eric Goodman and Les Shapiro of Mile High Sports AM 1340 | FM 104.7 to discuss his vision for the program and why he decided to leave Athens, GA., for Boulder. According to Tucker, the process was complicated, but his faith in George played a large role.

“These things can be somewhat complicated but the major factors were 1. Rick George. I believe in him and his vision–his vision for what Colorado football should be was in line with what my vision of what this program should be. So it just felt right.”

Tucker praised the facilities and campus community as a whole, stating that there is no reason Colorado cannot return to its dominant form.

“I do remember when Colorado was dominant in college football and was a team that nobody wanted to play,” Tucker said. “I don’t see any reason why we can’t get back to that with the resources we have and the leadership is in place.”

According to Tucker, the vision that he and George have is simple: win championships and compete with the nation’s best programs.

“Compete and be relevant in the championship conversation year in and year out,” Tucker explained.

“Build a winning program that graduates players. Where players reach their full potential on and off the field. That you’re in the national championship conversation all the time on a consistent basis. In order to do that you have to build a strong foundation. You have to build it the right way so you can sustain it. That’s what Rick (George) talked about and that’s what I believe in.”

Catch Afternoon Drive with Goodman and Shapiro every weekday from 4p-6p on Mile High Sports AM 1340 | FM 104.7 or stream live any time for the best local coverage of Colorado sports from Denver’s biggest sports talk lineup. Download the all-new free Mile High Sports Radio mobile app for Apple or Android.



Previewing the road trip to San Francisco and the keys to a Broncos win

The Denver Broncos will look to extend their winning streak Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers coached by a familiar face in Kyle Shanahan.

Denver can finally climb over the .500 mark with a win and establish themselves as a serious player for the sixth and final spot in the AFC Wild Card chase with a win. A loss would be devastating to their hopes as the playoffs.

Broncos Blitz podcast host Ronnie Kohrt dives into the game and breaks down the keys to the game and previews the 49ers vs Broncos on Sunday.

Click here to listen to the full Broncos Blitz podcast with Ronnie Kohrt.

You can follow Ronnie Kohrt on Twitter for more news regarding the Broncos by clicking here and catch up on latest conversations about the Broncos, or listen to the podcast below.

Click here to listen to past episodes of the Broncos Blitz podcast and access the Broncos Blitz archived vault.



Wild-Card Race Update: With a win over Niners Sunday (and a little help), Broncos’ playoff chances could nearly double

Ever since the Broncos’ miraculous 24-17 defeat of the Steelers, the state has been abuzz with talk of the playoffs.

Regular-season-ending injuries to both Chris Harris Jr. and Emmanuel Sanders – each one of the most valuable Broncos on their side of the ball – have quieted some of that talk, but the Broncos’ hopes remain very much alive.

For the Broncos to make the playoffs, they’ll need a few things to happen. Assuming they win out – which almost certainly has to happen – the Broncos need either the current six-seeded Ravens or the AFC North-leading Steelers to lose two of their next four games. Then they’ll need both the Colts and Dolphins to drop at least one more game.

This is an attainable scenario, as the Ravens and rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson have road games against the Chiefs and Chargers left on their docket, as well as home matchups with the rival Browns and sneaky Bucs – who have already upset the Saints, Eagles and Panthers this season. FiveThirtyEight’s playoff predictor gives the Ravens just a 10% chance to beat both the Chiefs and Chargers.

It seems unlikely that Jackson can win at least three of those games. The rookie out of Louisville currently ranks as the 37th highest-graded quarterback out of the 50 that have taken at least 10 percent of their team’s dropbacks – that trails players like Chase DanielNick Mullens, Nick Foles and Matt Barkley. It gets even worse when his passing grade ends up under the microscope. His poor grade of 52.7 is 39th, behind the same guys, and with the additions of Brock Osweiler and Cody Kessler.

In truth, it’s highly likely that rookie drops his first game this weekend against the juggernaut Chiefs.

Next up, are the Steelers, who also have a strong likelihood of dropping at least two of their next four games. Down the stretch, the Steelers have two relative cake-walks against the Raiders and Bengals, but also have incredibly tough matchups against the Patriots and Saints.

It’s certainly possible that either the Ravens or Steelers goes 3-1 down the stretch, but it’s incredibly unlikely that both will.

As for the Colts and Dolphins, those situations could be resolved in the Broncos’ favor this weekend. The Dolphins, who are 2-4 over their last six games, with wins over the Bills and Jets, will play host to the Patriots this Sunday and FiveThirtyEight gives them a mere 28% chance at winning. Even if they do win, their odds of winning out are just 1.6%.

The Colts are certainly a much better team than Miami, but their home stretch isn’t much easier. The Andrew-Luck-led unit will have to travel to Houston this week to play the red-hot Texans before hosting the (currently) playoff-bound Cowboys the week after. FiveThirtyEight gives them a 32% chance to win this week, but just a 3.9% chance of winning out.

If the Broncos beat the 49ers this week, the Colts lose to Houston, Miami loses to New England, and the Ravens lose at Kansas City, the Broncos with move to within a single game of the sixth and final playoff seed, and their playoff odds will nearly double; leaping from 21% to 36%.

For the Broncos themselves, scoreboard-watching isn’t an option; they need to win each and every game that’s left on their schedule, starting with the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. Kickoff is set for Sunday at 2:05 MST.



Tim Connelly has built the Nuggets with a smile on his face

Prior to the start of the season, T.J. McBride sat down with Nuggets President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly

The following article is from the November issue of Mile High Sports Magazine. Subscribe here!

Preparing for the 2018-19 season, here’s Tim Connelly in his own words.

We had a really good year last year. We’re still on the outside looking in, but the continuity that our roster, our coaching staff allows, I think we get off to a hot start and hopefully ride and be consistent throughout the year — and hopefully not be one game out again.

I’m always hesitant to say “or bust,” because if we have a rash of injuries and we compete and we kind of fight and scrap and we’re on the outside looking in, then I can live with that. Or if we win 50 games this year and it’s the best the Western Conference has ever seen, we’re still on the outside, it’d be a severe disappointment, certainly. But I think as long as we continue to improve, I think we’ll end up in the playoffs.

I think in the last couple weeks of the season, our guys got a taste of playoff intensity. They weren’t playoff games, but our backs were against the wall after some really tough losses on the road.

Nikola Jokic’s game is a bit atypical for our level, and certainly when you make that transition from Europe to the NBA, you don’t know how your game is going to look. You don’t know how teams are going to look. You see the game has — with his confidence — has slowed down. You’re starting to see he’s got a better feel for the teammates and how to make them the best player possible. I think his selfless brand of basketball has started to define our system and our style of play.

Off the court, Nikola is the same humble, great guy – two great brothers, fantastic girlfriend, doesn’t take himself too seriously, doesn’t really like the attention that comes with being a guy that a lot of people expect to be a superstar.

When you look at the success, you can’t look past his family and certainly [girlfriend] Natalija [Macesic]. When you have a firm base, you’re able to get through tough times; when you have a firm base, you tend not to have a self-inflated ego. Collectively, he’s got such a great crew of people around him, and they’ve ensured that his head stays on straight. He doesn’t take all the accolades too seriously.

Jamal Murray and Gary Harris really like each other off the court, which helps. Gary has been through his struggles as a rookie, and with Jamal ,it wasn’t a rapid ascent to the starting point guard position; it wasn’t an easy transition from Kentucky to the NBA… it’s not just unique to Jamal and Gary, it’s a close-knit group of guys [in the backcourt], and they’ve all had different experiences — and they share those experiences to help each other.

Paul Millsap was never hurt before, so last year was such a fluke injury — even the injury itself is an injury you generally don’t see in basketball players. He’s going to help us immeasurably — on the defensive end, in particular. Not just the instincts or the toughness or the know-how, but there’s a certain respect that you have with a guy like Paul that the league and referees give you.

We say all the time it’s not front office, not coaches – we’re all basketball operations. You look around this league currently; there’s so many examples of environments that might not be the most functional. Infighting can eventually turn a culture toxic. We want to be the antithesis of that. We want to argue loudly. We want to scream and shout. When the door opens, we want to have each other’s backs. Having Michael Malone and Josh Kroenke as partners, we’re al-lowed to do that, and it’s really fun — and I think it’s the only way you can build a sustainable culture.

We disagree constantly, but what’s neat is there’s no infighting, there’s no jockeying for posi-tion. We’re very straightforward. I don’t want to be the loudest and most impactful voice all the time; we have so many smart minds in the front office and the coaching staff. We want to en-sure that all of those guys have their say on topics of importance. I don’t think you can ever un-derestimate the value of people’s passion, and that passion also times is muted if you don’t al-low those voices to be heard loudly.

We’re very, very much focused on growth, both internal and external. If someone did a great job elsewhere, then we’re very supportive. If you have the same role, same job after a couple years, then we’re doing something wrong. All those things kind of in unison help create a func-tional and fun environment.

Thankfully, I have a great wife, she keeps me, she keeps me grounded, gives me a very good perspective. This is not life, you know. This is not the be-all and end-all, winning or losing bas-ketball games, making or not making the right selection.

I’m very thankful that the ownership group has shown us patience. When I took the job, talking to Josh, we shared a similar, almost identical, vision: This should be fun. It was talked about our first night we met, that Saturday night in June, now what is it — five years ago, I guess? I think we’ve never strayed from that. Let’s make sure we check all the boxes we can control — func-tionality, fun, happiness, an environment that demands, not just promotes, growth — an organ-ization that you can be proud of when you leave the building. You can be proud how you inter-act with all facets of KSE. I think we’ve checked all those boxes. That’s only because we have a patient, open-minded and willing ownership group.

The fluidity of the NBA disallows plans to always [work], to always stick to it. I mean, look at our draft: we didn’t expect Michael Porter Jr. to be there at 14, but you have to be willing and able to adjust if you think it’s the right move. When you continue to get good guys who certainly have a degree of talent, who are hard-working enough, then eventually you’ll find some fairly solid ground to build on.

Will Barton is a great example, I think, of the importance of relationships. I’ve been lucky enough to know Will for a long time; I’ve had brothers who’ve known him even longer. When we got Will — the minute we traded for him, he came right over to the house, then we had piz-za and talked about this new beginning. Will was very fortunate coach Shaw allowed him to play that first year, and then that turned into a bridge contract. Coach Malone lived through the ups and downs of “we’re going to make mistakes.” If you’re a young player, you’re only as good as your coach believes in you. The mistakes are inevitable. Will a coach allow you to play through those mistakes? ‘Mo’ has done a great job.

Will wanted to be here, so when you both want the same thing, it tends to create a more hon-est dialogue back and forth.

I think pressure is self-created. You get in professional sports, you’re hired to be fired. Often-times, I think we have to hold ourselves to the same standards we hold players to.

I have the greatest coaches in the league. I’ve got the best ownership group in the world. We’ve got to win. It’s plain and simple — there’s no pressure. We were brought here to win and build culture and build a team that can win for a long time. If we don’t do that, then I don’t deserve to be here. But I think pressure is all self-created, and it’s too much fun to feel pressure.

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Former Buffs head coach Gary Barnett on new coach Mel Tucker: “Everybody should be encouraged”

by Alex Becker (@a_beck9)

The Colorado Buffaloes have found their next head football coach in Mel Tucker, as the former Georgia defensive coordinator was officially hired on Wednesday. Tucker is set to become the 26thcoach in Colorado football history.

Tucker, 46, signed a 5-year deal worth $14.75 million and is set to make $2.4 million in his first year and then his salary will increase by $275,000 annually, not including any incentives. The Buffaloes’ signing of Tucker makes him the seventh head coach hired in the Pac-12 in just the last two years.

Gary Barnett, former Colorado head coach from 1999-2005 and current radio color commentator for CU football games, joined Eric Goodman and Les Shapiro of Mile High Sports AM 1340 | FM 104.7 to discuss the hiring of Tucker.

“It’s a great resume and absolutely fits the situation,” Barnett said of Tucker and his past coaching jobs under Nick Saban and Kirby Smart. However, Barnett added, “There is a steeper learning curve for a guy that hasn’t been a head coach.” Tucker was an interim head coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars for six games in 2011, but Barnett said being an interim coach and being a college head coach are vastly different.

“Everybody should be encouraged, or at least excited, that someone whose credentials are as good as his is going to be in that position,” Barnett said. Tucker’s ability to connect with and motivate players has been a common theme since rumors started to circulate about Tucker taking over as CU’s head coach.

As for the recruiting challenges Tucker might face, Barnett explained that “he is going to have to learn how to recruit in the areas that Colorado has a presence, and that’s been California, Texas, and Colorado.” Tucker has many ties to the southeastern part of the country, but Barnett noted it is difficult for Colorado to recruit from that area because of the abundance of great football schools already in that region.

Click here to listen to the full interview with Gary Barnett, including what he had to say about where Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer – who announced that he will retire following the College Football Playoff – ranks on his list of great college football coaches, or listen to the podcast below.

Catch Afternoon Drive with Goodman and Shapiro every weekday from 4p-6p on Mile High Sports AM 1340 | FM 104.7 or stream live any time for the best local coverage of Colorado sports from Denver’s biggest sports talk lineup. Download the all-new free Mile High Sports Radio mobile app for Apple or Android.



Good, bad and ugly: Nuggets escape with seventh win in a row

Dec 5, 2018; Orlando, FL, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) shoots over Orlando Magic guard Evan Fournier (10) as Magic forward Jonathan Isaac (1) and Nuggets forward Paul Millsap (4) look on during the second half at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Nuggets remain in first place in the Western Conference standings as they went on to beat the Orlando Magic 124-118 on Wednesday evening. Their win in Orlando was Denver’s seventh victory in a row.

Of those seven wins, five of them came on the road and Denver now not only has the best record out West, but the best record on the road as well. It seems that Denver is finding new ways to win.

There were moments in the game that things became dicey, but the Nuggets persevered as they have been doing all season long. The win was not pretty it pushed the Nuggets to a 17-7 overall record. With that I give you the good, bad and ugly.

The Good – Overall effort translates to a win

The Altitude Sports broadcast said that Jamal Murray has been dealing with injuries of his own and that has possibly had an impact in his play as of late but Murray, who never uses excuses to explain his play, blocked out any idea of an injury with a gutsy performance.

Murray finished with a game high 31 points on 10-of-25 shooting and also had recorded eight assists as well. He hit timely shots, applied pressure on the defense all night and was Denver’s hot hand for the entirety of the game, but Denver would not have came away with a win without some help.

Nikola Jokic continued to stuff the stat sheet. He finished with a near triple-double as he had 12 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds. Millsap had 18 points and Hernangomez also had 14 points on an ultra-efficient 6-of-8 from the field.

The bench play was the difference. Denver’s reserves continued to impress and they have remained consistent to start out the season. They did not have the type of game that they typically have, but they showed up most when it mattered. Denver’s bench finished with 44 points and set the tone for the second half. They knocked down shots, rebounded well and swarmed the Magic defensively. Three of the four players on the Nuggets bench finished with double digit point totals with Monte Morris leading the way with 13 points.

It was a solid overall game for Denver as everybody chipped in.

The Bad — 3-point shooting

The story of the Nuggets season so far has been the changes, effort and success that Denver has gone through on the defensive end of the floor. After finishing the past few seasons with one of the worst defenses in the entire league, it has been remarkable to see that through the first 25 games that the Nuggets have seriously become a top-five defense.

Players have made it a point to improve individually, the team is playing for each other, and the team has seemed to have bought in on that side of the ball. An area in particular that has stood out is the way that the Nuggets have defended the opposing team’s 3-point shooting. Denver went from a bottom-four 3-point defense for three years in a row to the top spot with hard work and a focus to change in that area. Unfortunately, against the Magic, that was not the case.

“The 3-point defense we have to be better at,” Malone said before taking a pause and going back on that topic. “We came in ranked as the number one 3-point defense and we gave up 20 (3-pointers).”

Malone said he felt as if this was one of the worst performances of the year and that he felt that the Nuggets were lucky to win the game because of how they defended from beyond the arc.

The Magic finished the game with 20 made 3-pointers and the worst part is there were plenty that just did not fall.  Six of those 20 made shots from beyond the arc were made by former Nuggets player Evan Fournier, Mo Bamba went a perfect 3-3 from beyond the arc, and Terrance Ross also knocked down three shots from beyond the arc including a huge 3-pointer with six seconds left in regulation to send the game to overtime.

Luckily for Denver, the Magic were on the second night of a back-to-back and it showed in the overtime period as Orlando missed crucial shots late. But that cannot be how the Nuggets want to win games. For Denver to continue winning, they have to go back and look at the tape and get back to defending from beyond the arc how they have been. Denver barely escaped with this win.

The Ugly – Injury bug 

The Nuggets went into their game on Wednesday without their starting shooting guard Gary Harris for a third time in the last four games. He is now sidelined yet again, but this time it is a hip injury giving him fits.

Harris has already been ruled out of the Nuggets contest against the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night, but he is still being listed as day-to-day as the Nuggets continue to go through the evaluation process to determine how serious the injury is.

Harris will remain out, but he is not the only player dealing with ailments.

Murray appears to be dealing with a calf issue in addition to his early season ankle soreness. Denver is already without two of their three draft picks in Michael Porter Jr. and Jared Vanderbilt. Denver’s free agent acquisition Isaiah Thomas is also out without a definite return date and the team has been without their starting small forward Will Barton since the second game of the season.

Still, with all of the injuries piling up, Denver has played well and are riding their best winning streak since the 2013 season when the team won 57 games.

The absence of both Harris and Barton are a big void to fill, but with how the bench has played and with the Nuggets adopting the next man up approach, it has become a full team effort where every single player is contributing.