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This is an article version of the CBS Sports HQ AM Newsletter, the ultimate guide to every day in sports. You can sign up to get it in your inbox every weekday morning here.

🏀 Good morning to everyone but especially to ...


With Giannis Antetokounmpo out with a strained calf, the buck stopped with Damian Lillard in Milwaukee as the 2024 NBA playoffs began. On Sunday, Lillard set the tone in the Bucks' 109-94 Game 1 win over the Pacers.

Upset-minded Indiana came into Fiserv Forum hoping to catch the host Bucks without their two-time MVP in the lineup. However, Lillard made sure those dreams were dashed rather quickly. Lillard exploded for 35 points in the first half and helped Milwaukee take a 17-point lead into the locker room at intermission.

After scoring 19 points in the first frame, Lillard walked off the court telling the crowd, "This is what y'all brought me here for." Indeed. Lillard would end the first half with 35 points, setting a franchise playoff record, but he went scoreless in the second half. But it didn't matter -- the Bucks nursed their 69-42 halftime lead to the easy win.

The Bucks are hopeful that Antetokounmpo can return at some point in the playoffs, but if Lillard keeps throwing up nearly three dozen points in the first half, the 2021 Finals MVP can take his time.

👍 Honorable mentions

🏀 🏒 And not such a good morning for ...

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They say home is where the heart is, and it's apparently where all the wins are too. This weekend's series openers in the NBA and NHL playoffs led to a 0-14 mark for the road teams.

In the NBA, road teams went 0-8 and suffered an average margin of defeat of 13.3 points. With a chance to take a 1-0 series lead over the Kawhi Leonard-less Clippers, the Mavericks laid an egg in a 109-97 loss. Oddly, the closest NBA game of the weekend saw the No. 8 seed Pelicans, without Zion Williamson, take the top-seeded Thunder down to the wire. CJ McCollum missed a three-pointer at the buzzer that would have given New Orleans a stunning Game 1 win.

In the NHL, the road teams were generally more competitive, but the results were the same. Visiting clubs scored a combined 13 goals on the weekend, and six of those came in a losing effort by the Avalanche. But perhaps the most discouraging performance was that of the great Alex Ovechkin, who failed to register so much as a shot on goal against the Rangers in the Captials' 4-1 loss.

All those road teams have now dug themselves an early postseason hole, and they may want to consider asking the hotel for some new sheets or softer pillows.

👎 Not so honorable mentions

🏎 Reddick wins amid chaotic finish at Talladega

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NASCAR was in Talladega for the GEICO 500 on Sunday, and the marquee race didn't disappoint. The entire race was turned on its head on the final lap, and Tyler Reddick was able to steal the sixth win of his Cup career with mayhem unfolding around him.

On the final lap, race leader Michael McDowell was facing some serious pressure from Brad Keselowski, and he was desperate to remain in front of the pack. Unfortunately, that desperation cost those two drivers and a few others who were jockeying for position down the stretch.

McDowell went from high to low as he tried to block Keselowski and keep him in his rearview mirror when Keselowski's No. 6 car clipped the back of McDowell's No. 34. McDowell went spinning out, chaos ensued and Reddick capitalized. With cars flailing all around him, Reddick's No. 45 car emerged from the pack unscatched. Reddick hit the accelerator and blew by Keselowski at the last second to pick up a big win for himself and 23XI racing.

  • Reddick was among the 23 different drivers to hold a lead at some point during the GEICO 500.
  • Reddick's late push represented the 72nd and final lead change of the day.
  • This is the second consecutive Talladega race in which there were 70 or more lead changes.

The legend himself, Michael Jordan, was in attendance for one of his team's wins for the first time.

As for McDowell, it was a frustrating finish for him after leading more laps than any other driver (36). His six points in the Cup standings are little consolation for a devastating last lap.

⚾ Ohtani passes Matsui in MLB record books

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As it turns out, Shohei Ohtani is pretty good at hitting the baseball a long way. On Sunday, Ohtani became the most prolific Japanese slugger in MLB history, passing former Yankees outfielder Hideki Matsui in the process.

In the third inning of the Dodgers' 10-0 drubbing of the Mets, Ohtani hammered his fifth home run of the season off Adrian Houser into the right field bleachers at Dodger Stadium.

That was the 176th home run of Ohtani's MLB career, and that set the record for the most homers hit by a Japanese-born player in MLB history. That pushed him past Matsui, who smacked 175 dingers in his 10-year career.

To make Ohtani's historic feat even more impressive, he needed roughly 60% of the plate appearances as Matsui to hit 176 homers. Matsui hit 175 round-trippers in 5,066 plate appearances. Ohtani needed just 2,979 plate appearances to pass him.

Oddly enough, Ohtani's five home runs this season put him second all-time among Japanese-born Dodgers. The person he's chasing down? His manager, Dave Roberts, who hit seven career home runs in 302 games with the Dodgers.

⚾ Separating contenders from pretenders in MLB

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The MLB season is still young, and everyone is still trying to separate the pretenders from the contenders. That's the case with the Guardians, a team that has some skeptics despite its 16-6 record.

In his latest CBS Sports MLB Power Rankings, Matt Snyder reluctantly placed the Guardians in the top five, despite his doubts about their personnel. Snyder explains his questions about Cleveland's resume, which doesn't exactly include many wins against murderer's row.

  • Snyder: "First off, they are 6-1 against the A's. I know the A's aren't as atrocious as last year, but they aren't a good baseball team, either. The Guardians are also 2-1 against the hapless White Sox, meaning half of their wins are against two of the worst teams in baseball."

With 140 games left this season, there is still plenty of time for the Guardians to show that they really do belong on this list. But, for now, their hot start has given them a spot in our weekly top five:

  1. Atlanta Braves (14-6)
  2. Baltimore Orioles (15-7)
  3. New York Yankees (15-7)
  4. Philadelphia Phillies (14-8)
  5. Cleveland Guardians (16-6)

📺 What we're watching Monday

🏀 Game 2: Magic at Cavaliers, 7 p.m. on NBA TV
🏒 Game 2: Maple Leafs at Bruins, 7 p.m. on ESPN
🏀 Game 2: 76ers at Knicks, 7:30 p.m. on TNT
🏒 Game 2: Islanders at Hurricanes, 7:30 p.m. on ESPN2
🏒 Game 1: Golden Knights at Stars, 9:30 p.m. on ESPN
⚾️ Mets at Giants, 9:45 p.m. on ESPN+
🏀 Game 2: Lakers at Nuggets, 10 p.m. on TNT
🏒 Game 1: Kings at Oilers, 10 p.m. on ESPN2