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1969 Redux – Are the Mets Poised For an Amazin Year?

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By Lenn Robbins

We’re still smack in the dead of another bizarrely warm winter and with the way things are going we certainly could see snow on March 26, when the Mets host the defending World Series champion Washington Nationals.

File Photo Neil Miller/The New York Extra

It’s at this time of the year that the Gregorian calendar goes out the winter. The Mets held first full team workout today. Spring feels a little closer.

If you’re a Mets fan, you can’t help yourself. It’s in your DNA.

File photo Neil Miller /The New York Extra

Despite all the ridiculous chapters in Mets history, even recently: Yoenis Cepesdes breaks his ankle in a tangle with a wild boar; the sale of the team is deep-sixed at almost the 11th hour – again; Carlos Beltran doesn’t get to manage even one spring training game – Mets fans believe that this will be the year.

The feeling here is that this emotional state of being, call it the Miracle Syndrome, began in 1969, the greatest year in Mets history and one of the most amazin runs in sports history.

You know the story. You witnessed it yourself or heard it from your father or grandfather or uncle.

The Mets, who began their residence in Queens by losing 120 games, were nine and one-half games behind the Cubs in mid-August.

The rest is mystery.

Behind one of the great pitching staffs in baseball history the Mets overtook the Cubs and upset the mighty Orioles in the World Series.

There was no time to prepare for such exuberance. Teachers stopped classes and put radios on their desks for all to listen to playoff games. A city riddled with crime and graffiti needed a salve if not a savior, the Amazin Mets came through.

No wonder that no matter the number of broken dreams and tear-stained jerseys, Mets fans remain more exuberant than a rooster in a henhouse.

Which brings us to 2020, 51 years after the Miracle Mets. As was the case in 1969, when the Mets actually finished the previous season with some success, the 2020 Mets were in the 2019 playoff hunt until the final weeks.

As was the case in 1969, the Mets have one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndegaard, Marcus Stroman, Steven Matz, Rick Porcello, and Michael Wacha offer dominance and depth.

File photo Neil Miller/The New York Extra New York Mets starting pitcher Steven Matz #32

The bullpen hopefully has been bolstered. Seth Lugo is proven. Robert Gsellman can swing from starter to pen. The acquisition of Dellin Betances could help. Edwin Diaz can’t be any worse.

File Photo Neil Miller The New York Extra

There are questions, of course, as is the case with most teams at this time of the season:

Luis Rojas seems universally liked in the organization and there’s no doubt he knows the game, but he’s never managed before and he never played in the Majors.

File Photo Neil Miller The New York Extra

Pete Alonso can own this town by notching another 40-plus home run season but opposing pitchers have had an entire winter to study him.

Were the Mets the team we saw in the first half of the season or the second?

08/24/19 atlanta braves vs ny mets at citi field queens ny #20 Pete Alonso hits a 3 run homer in the 5th inning Neil Miller/The New York Extra

 “We agreed on the things we need to do in order to get the edge that we need, as far as being successful this year and to achieve our goal — which is winning,” Rojas told reporters about his message to the team. “We have a lot of competition out there and this is where it starts.”

Yes, this is where it starts every spring for the Mets and their fans. They need the slightest of reasons to believe. This team provides many. Which means it also provides the perfect setup for more broken dreams and tear-stained jerseys.

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Respect the Game: Hofstra’s Mihalich’s Path to 400 Wins

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By Lenn Robbins

  HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. – There were about three and one-half minutes left in Hofstra’s game against North Carolina-Wilmington Saturday night and Pride coach Joe Mihalich was bellowing at the officials.

Hofstra Head Coach Joe Mihalich/Neil Miller/The New York Extra 02/15/2020

They had blown a seemingly meaningless call in a game Hofstra was leading by 15. After a solid 30 seconds of getting tongue lashed, the lead official, both arms extended and palms down, implored Mihalich to settle down.

If you wonder how a coach can win 400 games when none of his 21-plus years is in the first chair has been at ‘power school,’ here’s the answer:

There are no meaningless calls. There no meaningless practices. No meaningless games. Most of all, there no meaningless players. Because that would mean disrespecting the game. As long as a Mihalich is coaching, the game will never be disrespected.

“It’s a team game, right,’’ said Mihalich, after win No. 400. “Things like this happen. More importantly, way more importantly, [guard] Elijah [Pemberton] became the ninth all-time leading scorer in Hofstra basketball. It’s an incredible thing.

“He had exactly eighteen hundred coming in. Eighteen hundred and 23 now, right behind the guy, I forget his name, Speedy Claxton? I had explicit orders from Speedy, ‘When he gets close, take him out.’’’

Claxton is an assistant coach at his alma mater and a link to Hofstra’s glory years during the Jay Wright/Tom Pecora eras. Claxton donated money to the construction of the 5,203-seat David S. Mack Sports and Entertainment Complex, which is a terrific homecourt and begs the question why an announced crowd of only 2,506 attended The Pride’s sixth straight win, a 78-64 win.

Hofstra is the metropolitan area’s best kept basketball secret and Mahalich one of the college game’s best guardians of the game.

The Pride (20-7 overall, 11-3 and 1st in the Colonial Athletic Conference) took control early behind center Isaac Kante’s career-high 23 points and 13 rebounds. In the Pride’s last game, Pemberton matched his career-high with 28.

“The culture we built here over the past few years, guys just buy in,’’ said Pemberton, who had 23. “It’s a brotherhood from the last player on the bench to the coaching staff. I think we’re all comfortable with each other.

“It’s fun to win for a coach like this. And it’s fun to play for him when he lets you play your game.”

This has been the story of Mihalich’s career. He took Niagara to two NCAA tournaments and two NITs by pushing the ball and pushing guys with tough love. He won the Skip Prosser Man of the Year Award in 2013, given to the coach who exhibits strong moral character.

Consider this: Mihalich, 63, spent 17 years as an assistant at his alma mater, LaSalle – 17 years as an assistant! He stayed at Niagara for 15 seasons.

You know those coaches that always have one eye on the next job? Mihalich vests his one soul in working with the players he has.

“It’s from the heart,” said Mihalich. “We just got some T-shirts that say, ‘More Than a Team.’ It’s more than a team. As corny as that might seem, it’s a brotherhood in there. There’s a great brotherhood in there. There’s a love for each other.

“We have our tough times. I mean, I’ve gotten on this guy [Kante] and I’ve questioned his manhood, insulted him, but it’s because – it goes back to guys like [former Temple coach] John Chaney, who talked about tough love. It’s because I love you guys so much.”

Mihalich looks for six attributes in a player:

  1. Is he a good person?
  2. Is he a good player?
  3. Is he a good student?
  4. Does he love the game?
  5. Does he hate to lose?
  6. Does he work hard?

Call it what you will – corny, old school, cliché’ – the results speak for themselves. This is Mihalich’s eighth, 20-win season. His overall record is 381-287 (.570) in 21-plus season, the last six-plus at Hofstra, where he’s 116-84 (.580).

But really, he’s from the school of tough love. Mihalich was a walk-on guard who played for coach Paul Westhead at LaSalle. Joe Bryant, father of the late Kobe Bryant, was the star of that team which, which ran an up-tempo offense, a style Mihalich embraced.

Mihalich’s father, Joe, was a pitcher in the Yankees system, rooming with Whitey Ford. When arm trouble ended his baseball career, he became a professor of sports philosophy at LaSalle, which became the family’s second home. Mihalich’s son, Joe, is the coach at Penn.

They should have a box truck that reads – Mihalich and Sons, Respect the Game.

“He believes in you, he tells you he believes in you, it’s fun,” Kante said. “We love you too coach.”

Hofstra led by as much as 28 before Mihalich started running clock. The Seahawks (8-20, 3-12) are reeling, having fired their head coach last month. This was a bit of a trap game for The Pride. They were coming off a 76-63 win over a gritty College of Charlestown team and about to begin their last road trip of the regular season.

Mihalich hopes to take Hofstra to its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2001 and the second of his career.

“Climbing up that ladder, cutting those nets down, there’s nothing like it,” said Mihalich.

The Pride doesn’t know that feeling. They lost in the conference finals last season. Getting the No.1 seed in this year’s tourney means a first-round bye. Then every game becomes a trap game meaning Saturday’s win was worth remembering.

“I’m, just really proud of the guys for how they handled the day,’’ said Mihalich.

“They treated the game the right way. That’s been a battle cry of ours. ‘Respect the game. Respect yourself. Respect the opponent.’ Our guys did that.”

That’s how you win 400 games.

Who Will Host MLB’s 2022 Postseason Show? Don’t Ask

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By Lenn Robbins

Ever hear something so preposterous your first reaction was to chuckle? You know, that, ‘Don’t Give Me That BS’ guffaw that conveys the message, ‘Pull the other leg it plays jingle bells.’

Credit Twitter

Like the time the guy at the corner deli who makes your bacon, egg and cheese said that Buster Douglas had knocked out Mike Tyson. Yeah, right.  

Or the time you flipped on SportsCenter and the score read Appalachian State 34, Michigan 32. Must be a misprint.

Or when New York Magazine reported that Angelina Jolie had married Billy Bob Thornton. What?!

Even after there was confirmation that all were true (they were), it still took a day for the news to sink in. That’s how the last 48 hours have been after hearing that Major League Baseball is planning on expanding its playoff format including a national televised show during which the top seed in each league would pick its opponent.

If you think you’ve heard the “No Respect,” card played before, just wait.

Why would a sport so steeped in tradition and history make such a move? Attendance has continued to drop and MLB has decided that the best way to reverse this trend is to go professional wrestling on us.

Commissioner Rob Manfred Mann has been blinded by his own marketing light. He’s decided that the best way to bring more fans to baseball is to turn to reality TV.

As reported by The Post’s Joel Sherman, under the new format, which would go into effect in 2022, the field will balloon from 10 to 14 teams. The team with the best record in each league would get a first round bye.

Those two teams would then pick its opponent – on national TV.  I’m not going to suggest that the sign-stealing league would attempt any trickery but didn’t the Knicks get to pick Patrick Ewing in the NBA’s first draft lottery?

Does the team picking give the team it picks a rose?

This is supposed to attract fans –  The Bachelor, MLB version?

And this doesn’t even address the issue of sub-.500 teams making postseason. Instead of 10 teams making the playoffs, 14 will.

If this format had been in effect last season, the Indians (93-69), Red Sox (84-78), Rangers (78-84) and either the White Sox (72-89) or Angels (72-90) would have been in.

Finishing 18 games below .500 is a lofty goal but somebody’s got to do it.

The NFL hasn’t had a sub-.500 playoff team since 2014, when the 7-8-1 Panthers snuck in. They won their wildcard playoff game, by the way, which should strike fear into any MLB No.1 seed.

There’s nothing better than postseason baseball. The teams that have made it have proven themselves over the course of a 162-game season, ensuring the best get in and usually yielding the best matchups.

Now Manfred wants to add the MLB’s Postseason Selection Show. What’s next, stadium-only betting on each pitch, hosted by Alex Cora, Carlos Beltran and A.J. Hinch?

Don’t give Manfred Mann any more ideas.

NCAA Tournament Prep Sheet: Volume I

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By Lenn Robbins

Sooner rather than later, you’re going to fill out your NCAA Tournament brackets. So listen up: If ever there was a season to be a contrarian, this is it. Consider the weekend that was and the season that is.

file photo Neil Miller/The New York extra

San Diego State remains the only undefeated team in the nation. Michigan State, the preseason No.1, dropped out of the Top 25.

Penn State is tied with Illinois for second in the Big Ten (18-5 overall, 8-4 in the league). The Nittany Lions have qualified for the NCAA Tournament twice this century. North Carolina (10-13, 3-9), assuming it doesn’t win the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, will miss the NCAA Tournament for the second time in 17 years.

No.1 Baylor is historically a bad NCAA Tournament bet. But the Bears won their 20th straight, a 78-70 win over Oklahoma State, so what’s to worry?

Baylor was a dismal 20-of-33 (60.6 percent) from the foul line. They are 206th in the nation with a 69.7-percentage in free throw shooting. Do you want them in a close first-round game that gets decided at the line?

Remember John Calipari’s 2007-08 team? Terrible all year from the line. Derrick Rose missed 1-of-2 free throws with 10 seconds left in regulation of the NCAA  title game. Mario Chalmers hit a 3 to force OT. Kansas won, 75-68. The Tigers were 12-of-19 (63.2 percent) from the game from the line. The Jayhawks were 14-of-15 (93.3).

MARCH WITH POINT GUARDS: Yes, I’m a firm believer of point guard play translating into tournament success. Dayton has a legit player of the year candidate in PF Obi Toppin. But in a 71-65 win over St. Louis, Toppin wasn’t his usual dominant self. Point guard Jalen Crutcher came to the rescue by making 8-of-8 free throws. He’s an 84.7-percent shooter from the line.

Which brings us to Duke, fresh off its stunning 98-96 OT win at North Carolina. The Blue Devils erased a 13-point deficit in the final four and one-half minutes and a five-point deficit in OT. Guard Tre Jones had 28 points, six assists and five rebounds, which is about as good as it gets, but not as good as LSU’s…

Skylar Mays, who had 30 points (10-for-10 from the line), eight assists, seven rebounds and just one turnover in 42 minutes of a 91-90 loss at Auburn. Auburn (21-2, 802) leads the SEC largely because the Tigers have the green light to shoot 3’s from anywhere on The Plains.

 Before you but Auburn consider its 31.6-percent shooting on 3’s, tied for 275th in the nation. If Auburn is hot in the tourney, War Eagle! But one off game and it’s time for spring football. Just ask Iowa, which….

Got dusted 104-66 at Purdue. The Hawkeyes have the nation’s most consistent inside player in center Luke Garza, who is one-tenth of a point away from averaging a points-rebounds double-double. Whoever faces Iowa in the tourney will have to drop down try to keep the ball out of Garza’s hands, which means open 3’s should be there.

 HOLD IT LIKE AN EGG: San Diego State is the nation’s last unbeaten team (24-0). The Aztecs are 13-0 in the Mountain West, the best start in conference history. In the Aztecs 89-74 win over Air Force, they committed a season-low six turnovers, one in the final 31 minutes and none in the final 21. The Aztecs are 8th in assist/turnover.  

STREAKS, OVER: Seton Hall has a northeast guard in Myles Powell who can flat out take over a game. But the best thing about these Pirates is the way they play. They are a throwback Big East team in terms of mental and physical toughness. Their 70-64 win at Villanova snapped a 17-game road losing streak to the Wildcats. Elite Eight, not so sleeper.

Kentucky has won 9-of-11 since losing two straight including W’s against Texas Tech and Louisville. The Wildcats won at Tennessee for the first time since Rick Barnes took over as head coach. Kentucky is tied for 6th in the nation in free throw shooting at 78.7-percent.

WELL DONE: The following coaches have done a great job.

Mick Cronin, UCLA – the Bruins will never dominate college hoops as they once did but Cronin, who re-established Cincinnati as a national power, is off to a 12-10 start (5-4 in the Pac 12) in his first season. With Arizona shaken by scandal, look for the Bruins to quickly return to the top of the league.

Joe Mihalich, Hofstra – Basketball fans in the Northeast know Mihalich’s Niagara teams were a bitch to play against. So are his Hofstra teams. The Pride (18-7) is in first place in the Colonial Athletic Association, playing the same fundamentally sound ball the Purple Eagles played. Mihalich is 133-91 in his seventh season on Long Island, 45-15 over the last two seasons.

Chris Mack, Louisville – It shouldn’t be hard to win at Louisville but if you don’t succeed there is a one-way ticket to a mid-major program and a lot less money. Big East fans know what a solid person, father, coach Mack is. He took over Louisville which was a mess and won 20 games last season. Mack has the Cardinals atop the ACC with a 12-1 record (21-3 overall)

Steve Pikiell, Rutgers – It’s been impossible to win at Rutgers. Pikiell and the Scarlet Knights found themselves in an unfamiliar position Sunday night in the RAC. They trailed Northwestern by 18. It was arguably one of the first time Rutgers, as a heavy favorite, didn’t take an opponent seriously.

The Scarlet Knights rallied in the second half to eke out a 77-74 OT win and remain undefeated at home and just 1.5 games back for the Big Ten lead. Pikiell has instilled a true team culture. One of his first big recruits, Gio Baker, now comes off the bench. He scored 23 of his 25 in the second half to lead the comeback.

SHADES PLEASE: Which was harder to look at? Oregon State’s upset of No.14 Oregon was secured by holding the Ducks without a field goal for nearly nine minutes in the second half. Oregon shot 22-of-55 from the field (40 percent) which isn’t horrendous. Going to the line just four times (and only making two) is. Or…

UCLA held No.23 Arizona to its worst shooting game in the McKale Center’s 47-year history. The Wildcats shot 15-of-59 from the floor (25.4-percent). They missed all 12 of the second half 3’s. Or…

West Virginia missed 20-of-31 layups in a 69-59 loss at Oklahoma. The Mountaineers were 24-of-76 from the field (31.6-percent).

“Seems impossible, but we missed 22 shots within two feet of the basket,” said WVA coach Bob Huggins.

A Good Day For the Knicks? Yes!

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By Lenn Robbins

It comes with an understandably fair bit of trepidation for any Knicks fan embrace what just occurred on February 6, 2020. There have been so many horrific trades and free agents busts that just the thought of the Knicks making a deal is enough to trigger deep breathing exercises.

But this time the president-less Knicks made what seems to be a slam dunk transaction, sending veteran forward Marcus Morris to the Clippers in exchange for former St. John’s star and Queens native Moe Harkless, a 2020 first round pick and a 2nd-round pick.

The happiest man might be Leon Rose who reportedly will be hired as franchise’s next prez. He gets another first-round and second-round pick and a talented 26-year-old forward with upside.

The Knicks traded away a very solid player and person in Morris, who is 30 and a free agent after the season. But a first round pick and a younger forward that could start immediately at the 3 is a win-win. Morris goes to a playoff-bound team.

Good for him. Good for New York.

The Knicks now have two 1st-round picks in 2020 and two second-round picks, courtesy of the Willie Hernangomez trade. The Knicks have two first round picks in 2021, courtesy of the Kristaps Porzingis trade.

After his rookie season, we railed that The Unicorn was not a foundation player to build a champion around. Every month that belief gets reinforced. He continues to be physically fragile, not necessarily his fault, and is one of the most narcissistic players to come out of Europe, which is his fault.

The Knicks also have another 2nd-round pick in 2021 as part of Hernangomez deal. They’ll have two first-rounds picks in 2023, when the second pick from Dallas for KP arrives.

One of the only smart, no less sane thoughts to come out of The Garden of late regarding the Knicks is a commitment to hoard No.1 picks. This becomes even more prescient with the expected decreases in the salary cap and luxury-tax threshold.

Add in these assets with Rose and here’s where it gets a little scary: A hoard of draft picks combined with an elite agent. Do we dare get excited? Yes!

Look at what former agents turned executives Bob Myers did in Golden State and Rob Pelinka has done with the Lakers. This doesn’t mean Rose is a slam dunk. Myers learned the ropes from Larry Riley and Pelinka sat at the knee of Magic Johnson. That’s like getting tutored by Newton in physics.

Rose, however, will have GM Steve Perry to bounce ideas. Since Rose has yet to be officially hired and Steve Mills thankfully is no longer at the controls, we can credit today’s trade to Perry.

There’s another reason to feel good about this day and that is Rose. He might be able to get a table at Rao’s these days but not because his father handed him a fortune and said, ‘Go Forth and Double the Family Fortune.’

He’s a South Jersey guy who got degrees at Dickinson College, a cool liberal arts school, and at Temple law, in the heart of blue collar Philly. His first job was as an assistant prosecutor in Camden County, which has never been dubbed the vacation capital of the New Jersey. His first clients were Philly guys such as Lionel Simmons and Rick Brunson.

The only damper on the day was owner James Dolan’s decision to issue the following statement:

“We are actively looking for a new President of the New York Knicks and hope to conclude the search as quickly as possible,” he said. “I am not selling, but I am determined to find the right leader for the Knicks who will ensure the long-term success of the team, just as we did with the hiring of Rangers President John Davidson.”

If Dolan won’t sell, maybe he won’t meddle. In that case, maybe the record will show that February 6, 2020 was the best day Knicks fans had in a long time.

With the Trade Deadline Approaching, Dolan Strikes Again.

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By Lenn Robbins

“We hear from people all the time. From players, from representatives, it’s about who wants to come. We can’t respond because of the NBA rules, etc., but that doesn’t stop them from telling us, and they do. I can tell you from what we’ve heard, I think we’re going to have a very successful offseason when it comes to free agents.” – Knicks owner James Dolan, March 12, 2019, ESPN radio

Before Knicks fans replace “Sell The Team,” with “Hire Masai Ujiri,” they should remember the words spoken by their out-of-touch owner less than a year ago. The Knicks didn’t sign any of their elite free agent targets. They didn’t even get visits from some.

Credit Twitter

The fall guy for that, the Knicks 15-36 record, and most of all, those “Sell The Team” chants that reverberated around The Garden and into Dolan’s ears last Wednesday, was president Steve Mills. When “In Denial Dolan” feels he’s been wronged, a head has to roll.

“Steve and I have come to the decision that it would be best for him to leave his role as president of the New York Knicks,” Dolan said in a prepared statement. “We thank Steve for his many years of service to our organization and look forward to continuing our relationship with him as part of our board.”

Mills joins the legions of Knicks fans that have orange and blue pumping in our veins until they bleed out courtesy of all the cuts and slashes that Dolan inflicts season after season.

Consider the timing of this latest move: The NBA trade deadline is Thursday. Thursday! Dolan could not have picked a more tumultuous time to fire the team president, unless, of course, he did this tomorrow.

Dolan reportedly has had his eye on Ujiri for a while now. There’s a lot to like about Toronto’s president. Ujiri put together an NBA championship team in the toughest of places by making the most precarious of trades – rolling the dice on Kawhi Leonard.

Because of Canada’s high taxes, NBA players have been reluctant to go North. Raptors fans have long believed they are a victim of NBA conspiracy – they get the worst schedule and refs. They’re seldom on national TV.

But the fan base is flat out bonkers for their Oh Canada team. Ujiri embraced that, attending rallies before playoff games. He was fined prior to the 2015 playoff series against the Nets for telling the crowd to, “F$%k Brooklyn!”

Leonard did his championship one and done but the Raptors have kept winning, proof Ujiri built a franchise. He’s smart, knows talent, has a passion that would play here.

But does Dolan think Ujiri, and the rest of the NBA – players and executives, trainers and coaches – aren’t taking note of the toxic environment that hangs over the Knicks? Does Dolan think Ujiri doesn’t see the petty owner point out the teenager chanting, “Sell The Team,’ to security personnel.

Does Dolan think the revolving door of coaches and presidents, the ludicrous contracts given to disinterested employees (see Phil Jackson), the snubs by NBA free agents falls on deaf ears and blind eyes?

Does he think the bizarro timing of his latest head-scratching move goes unnoticed?

Yet Dolan has three things going for him, known them named James Dolan:

The Knicks again have nowhere to go but up. The Garden remains the most magical of basketball arenas. And Dolan is willing to offer life-changing contracts. It’s a hard combination to walk away from.

Getting Ujiri, who is under contract with the Raptors until the end of the 2021 season, would likely require a stiff price. It would be so typical of the Knicks, who have wisely held onto their first-round draft picks, to unload at least one of those No.1s on a president, not a superstar.

Regardless of what Dolan offers, it still might not convince Ujiri to leave Toronto. Because what Dolan sees and hears is not what the rest of the NBA does.

Super Bowl LIV Marks a Changing of the QB Guard

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Credit Twitter

By Lenn Robbins.

Any 49ers fan who thought the Vince Lombardi Trophy was headed back to San Francisco with eight minutes and 33 seconds left in Super Bowl LIV and their team leading by 10 should have heeded the words of Eric Bieniemy.

The Chiefs offensive coordinator was recently asked why Patrick Mahomes is a better quarterback this year than last, when he won the league’s Most Valuable Player award.

“He’s learning how to win when things aren’t perfect,” Bieniemy said.

Mahomes was uncharacteristically imperfect or the first 51 minutes and 27 seconds Sunday night. He had thrown more interceptions (two) than touchdowns (one). He had fumbled twice.

Credit Twitter

 It looked as if a great defense was going to get the better of a great quarterback.

And then Mahomes did what the greatest do. He led the Chiefs to 21 straight points and a 31-20 victory. Mahomes was named the game’s MVP, joining Kurt Warner as the only quarterbacks to win league and Super Bowl MVP honors in their first three seasons.

“I don’t know what it is,’’ Chiefs defensive end Terrell Suggs told ESPN, “but he has it.

Yes, he does. Three playoff games. Three come-from-behind victories.

Mark these words: On Sunday, February 2, 2020 in Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, we saw a changing of the guard. Mahomes has surpassed Tom Brady, Drew Brees, et al as the best quarterback in the game, even when he doesn’t play his best.

Mahomes was 26-of-42 for 286 yards with two touchdowns and the two picks for a RQG of 78.1, his second worst rating of the season. Only a quarterback with the confidence of a Marino, Montana, Elway, Favre and Brady finds a way to win.

“I trust in these guys and they trust in me,’’ Mahomes told reporters.

Trust this: Mahomes, 24, isn’t close to reaching the pinnacle of his craft. Heck, he still can’t rent a car without paying a surcharge for being under 25. But by the time he retires, he’ll own every QB record there is, including most Super Bowl titles and Super Bowl MVPs.

Greg Lewis, the Chiefs receiver’s coach, played with Brady and Favre. As an assistant with the Saints, he worked with Brees. There might not be a better evaluator of Mahomes and his place in the game.

“Brady is a guy that’s a study-a-holic, as detailed as I’ve ever seen,’’ Lewis told Sports Illustrated. “Brees is like a gym rat. Favre is that wild-card type of dude. Pat is all of that in one.”

All that in one?

He has none of that for three-plus quarters. With 7:13 left from the Chiefs 35 and the 49ers having taking control of the line of scrimmage, Mahomes faced a third and 15.

“We were in a bad situation,’’ said Mahomes.

Working out of the hurry up and under heavy pressure, Mahomes found Tyreek Hill for 44 yards. That was the moment when everyone in scarlet red and metallic gold felt the fear that Mahomes instills in a defenses, franchises, fan bases.

Brady and Brees used to do it all the time.

Now? Russell Wilson did it for the first half of the season. Lamar Jackson was the regular season MVP. Deshaun Watson does it on occasion.

And Patrick Lavon Mahomes II has it done it with the AFC Championship and Super Bowl on the line. He was 10-of-13 for 136 yards and two touchdowns in that final 8:33.

This is the changing of the guard at the most important position in football.

‘Everything was about, keep firing, keep firing,’’ said Kansas City coach Andy Reid.

And why not? When you have a once-in-a-generation talent like Mahomes, you hand him the keys to the Chiefs Kingdom and let him fire away – for as long as he wishes.

“It’s incredible what (Brady) puts in to get ready for each game every week, mentally and physically, and I think Pat Mahomes is the same way,” former Patriots linebacker and NFL Network analyst Willie McGinest told the Boston Herald.

 “He wants to be perfect. I think he has that ‘it’ about him, that fire, that competitive juice where he gets super intense about the game. And when you have guys like that, it makes everyone around you better. And Pat has that.”

Just ask the 49ers.

How Knicks Fans Can Get Dolan to Sell: Volume II

Welcome to The World’s Most Infamous Arena.

A perfect storm hit Madison Square Garden Wednesday night.

The Knicks got decked 127-106 by a mediocre Memphis Grizzlies team. The Knicks showed their only fight of the night with 47 seconds left when Elfrid Payton took exception to a Jae Crowder punk 3-point attempt and shoved the Memphis forward out of bounds. What followed wasn’t Malice in the Palace as much as Misery in Madison.

Crowder, Payton, Julius Randle, Marcus Morris and Damyean Dotson showed more hostility than Cowboy Cerrone. Payton, Morris and Randle were tossed. Payton likely will be suspended.

Knicks fans, who seem to be numb to dysfunction, crossed over to simmering outrage. Maybe Crowder’s utter disrespect for the Knicks was the tipping point. Would he have done this against the Lakers in Staples Center or the Celtics in TD Garden or the Sixers, Bucks, Nuggets, Rockets, etc.? No.

The fans began chanting, ‘Sell the Team.’ Since James Dolan was the only Knicks owner at the game, we’ll assume it was directed at him.

After 20 seconds of being serenaded, Dolan left his seat, but not before screaming at security personnel, who do a great job night in and night out, but can’t secure their boss from the anguish of 18,000 long-suffering fans.

After the on-the-court nonsense came the postgame show, kind of like fireworks after a Mets game. Morris, a veteran who would be a welcome addition in any NBA lock room, something the Knicks should consider as the trade deadline approach, went Neanderthal on Crowder.

“He’s got a lot of female tendencies on the court, flopping and throwing his head back,’’ Morris said of the player he’s had a history of disdain for. “He’s soft, very woman-like.”

Morris later apologized on Twitter, hopefully before Rhonda Rousey boarded a flight to New York.

Then came Ja Morant’s claim that The Garden is in a need of a plumber.

“This is beyond me,” Morant told reporters after the game. “I’ve taken cold showers before, but at least I had water pressure.”

Who knows how many Knicks fans return home from The Garden needing a cold shower. Dolan should have one in his office, one with a noise cancelling feature so he can tune out the ‘Sell the Team’ jeers.

Yes, it would be great if Dolan sold. But with the Knicks valued as the 5th most valuable franchise in the world and the most valuable in the NBA at $4 billion, per Forbes, what would motivate him to sell?

After all, he’s a filthy rich egomaniac. Every time he hears those jeers, he digs in. Every time he gets spurned in free agency, he digs in.

How do we get such a man to do what we want? Here’s a plan:

Many who know Dolan say he’s truly a Knicks fan. He desperately wants them to succeed.

That’s where Knicks fans need to focus their strategy. They need to appeal to Dolan’s love of the Knicks and the shared misery between the fans and the owner.

The fans should take out an ad in The New York Times and TheNYExtra.com. Buy an ad on MSG Networks (O.K., not likely) – and ESPN.

Dear Mr. Dolan, we the fans thank you for years of doing your best to restore this franchise to greatness. We know this because you gave Jackson $50 million. It’s not your fault Jackson thought this was for meditation classes. We know you are as disheartened as we are by the team’s struggles. (O.K. that’s a hard line to swallow, but we have an ulterior motive). For the sake of the franchise we love, we ask that you sell the team and let another owner try his luck. Of course, you can keep your courtside seat (we’ll have a word with security) and we will hold a parade in your honor in the Canyon of Heroes. From one disheartened Knicks fan to another, thank you for being big enough to do what’s in everyone’s best interest. Sincerely, Suffering Season Ticket Holder Since 1973.

Until then, remember, the 10 worst seconds are the first ones upon stepping into that icy, cold shower.

Kobe Just Might Have Made His Most Important Play

ROBBINS NEST

file photo /Neil Miller /The New York Extra

By Lenn Robbins

It’s taken two days to see.

Since the first alert on my phone Sunday morning stating the unfathomable had happened – Kobe Bryant, 41, his daughter Gianna, 13, and seven other human beings – taken from us in the blink of a text, we’ve been blinded by grief and uncertainty.

The Lakers-Clippers game was canceled last night, as it should have been. But when do the Lakers return to the court in spirit as well as body? A week? A month? A season?

Prior to the tipoff of Monday night’s prep game between Friends Seminary and Packer Collegiate Institute, the rivals huddled at midcourt, arms around each other’s shoulders, as a 24-second shot clock ‘violation’ counted down.

Generations of Americans are hurting.

There are memorials at Staples Center and the House of Kobe Gym in the Philippines and Lower Merion High School outside of Philadelphia and Mamba Sports Academy, and Reggio Emilia in Italy and the Bryant Park subway stationed unofficially renamed Kobe Bryant Park.

(Memo to City: Don’t change that).

Should everything go back to the way it was before Kobe died or should it never be the same?

Does a reporter continue to write about Kobe or the suddenly surprising Knicks or disappointing Nets?

How do we evaluate any NBA team going forward when so many players lost a friend, idol, mentor, role model, former teammate or opponent?

How can we attend a Super Bowl party on Sunday, cheer and laugh, when four families are in the soul-numbing process of planning a funeral they never expected to plan so soon?

How do we go to church or temple this weekend knowing that Bryant and his daughter reportedly attended Mass Sunday morning at Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church in Newport Beach, just hours before they died?

A parishioner there, Julie Hermes, told NBC-LA that she recalled watching Kobe with his four daughters after Mass one day.

“He was showering them with cupcakes, and he put them in car seats and buckled them in so carefully,” Hermes said.

That’s what love looks like. And this is Kobe’s last and possibly greatest legacy.

We’ve see men, seemingly the most manly among us, publicly showing their emotions in tears and tributes. LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Spencer Dinwiddie crying. Barack Obama, also a father of daughters, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar, expressing their sadness.

“[He was] and a leader in a lot of ways,” Abdul-Jabbar said on social media. “He inspired a whole generation of young athletes.”

Imagine that. A whole generation of young athletes seeing Kobe memorialized as a father and husband more than a player. A whole generation of young athletes overtly and covertly getting the message that there is more to life than a ball or a puck. A whole generation of young athletes seeing men that express their emotions as strong and sensitive.

Imagine this: In death, Kobe has made his most important play.

A Father, a Daughter, And a Love of Basketball.

ROBBINS NEST

File photo/Neil Miller /The New York Extra

By Lenn Robbins

It was early January of 2013 when I bumped into World Metta Peace in the bowels of Madison Square Garden. He broke into a huge smile, gave me a neck-cracking hug and we settled into a couple of chairs courtside to do some catching up.

I had forged a bond with the young man then known as Ron “Ron-Ron” Artest Jr. years earlier when he played at St.  John’s. Anyone in the metropolitan area basketball world knew of Ron-Ron, his acts of generosity and volatile personality. He was ‘real,’ as they say, a kid out of Queensbridge who marched to his own thumping, erratic drummer to the NBA.

File Photo/Neil Miller/The New York Extra

There were the really good years in Indianapolis, ended by the notorious Malice in the Palace brawl; the solid years in Sacramento and Houston, followed by the magical season when Artest and Kobe Bryant won the 2010 title together with the Lakers.

“Man, Kobe and I went at it before the Lakers,’’ Metta Peace told me. “I was worried we weren’t going to get along when I signed with them. It wasn’t that we didn’t like each other. We wore different jerseys, came from different places.

File photo/Neil Miller/The New York Extra

Bryant had lived in Europe as a child, where his father, Joe ‘Jellybean’ Bryant played professionally. Kobe was fluent in Italian and Spanish and later educated at Lower Merion High School on Philadelphia’s exclusive Main Line.

Artest’s world was a housing project in Queens and a struggling Catholic school on Manhattan’s Lower Eastside – LaSalle Academy.

‘Kobe, people would see his smile, right,’’ said World Peace. “And he can speak, like five languages or something. Nice suits. I’m all ghetto. But we would kill you to win a game. Kill you. That’s what we had.”

We will never see Kobe Bean Bryant’s luminescent smile again, which is almost as tragic as the fact that we will never see the smile of his daughter – Gianna Maria Bryant. Kobe, 41, and Gianna, 13, were both killed in a helicopter crash outside of Los Angeles on Sunday.

The Black Mamba, a nickname Kobe gave himself, is dead. Unfathomable.

Kobe still had so much of life to live but he had accomplished so much in such a short time. It was 14 years ago this week that he scored 81 points in an NBA   game. It was just Saturday that LeBron James passed Kobe for third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

 James wrote “Mamba 4 Life” on his sneakers in Sunday’s game against the 76ers.

Bryant is a member of the most exclusive sports club – Pele, Serena, LeBron, Kobe.

And he was on the cusp of business and creative greatness. He won the 2018 Oscar for Best Animated Short Film for “Dear Basketball,” a six-minute film based on a poem Kobe wrote. He parlayed a $6 million investment in sports drink BodyArmor into a $200 million payday when Coca-Cola bought the company.

Most of all, he was scratching the surface of being a father. Bryant was taking Gianna to one of her travel basketball games. Gianna had dreams of playing at Connecticut, the Lakers and Celtics of women’s college basketball rolled into one.

Gianna had her entire life ahead of her. There will be no WNBA title, no opportunity to write a poem or become a businesswoman. Unfathomable.

One of the few truths we know is that no parent should have to bury a child. Now Vanessa Bryant, Kobe’s high school sweetheart, will have to bury a husband and child, and find a way to raise daughters Natalia, Bianka and Capri.

In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Kobe was asked if he had any regrets.

“Probably the amount of time spent on my craft and spent away from my family,” he said.

Unfathomable.

So what do we now, how do we process this tragedy?

Here’s the only consolation I can find. In their final seconds, Kobe and Gianna had each other. A father and a daughter together because of their love of the city game.

“He loves the game so much,’’ Artest said of Kobe. “You have to take his life to take that game from him.”