The Panthers in Week 16 clinched a playoff berth as a wild card at worst.

In Week 17, Carolina will find out its seed and matchup for the wild-card round of the NFC playoffs … that is, if the Panthers don’t move all the way up to the No. 2 seed and clinch a first-round bye.

There are two seeds we know Carolina will not get: No. 1, which belongs to Philadelphia, and No. 6, which will belong to either Atlanta or Seattle. The Panthers are the only team that has a chance to steal the No. 2 seed away from the Vikings. The No. 3 seed will belong to the Rams, Saints, Panthers or Vikings. The No. 4 seed will be the Rams, Saints or Panthers. The No. 5 seed will be either the Saints or the Panthers.

Here’s the problem for the Panthers in this scenario even if they take care of their own business against the Falcons: Of the other three results they need, the odds say only the Rams will oblige.

As of Thursday, the Saints, who will not rest starters in Week 17 since they have not clinched the NFC South, were seven-point road favorites over the Buccaneers. The Vikings, who are not expected to rest their starters since they have not clinched a first-round bye, were 11-point favorites over the Bears. The Rams’ decision to rest some of their key starters in Week 17 despite not being locked into a seed is the only reason they are three-point home underdogs against the 49ers.

Isaiah Thomas on checking in to a loud ovation as the Cleveland crowd cheered his long-awaited debut for the Cavaliers: It was a special moment. Jason Miller/Getty Images
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said he was hoping Thomas would experience a hard fall like that.

Once he hits the floor, gets banged and sees he has no damage or he’s not hurting, I think that will help him get past the mental block of coming back, being out for seven months, Lue said before the game

Thomas missed his next shot, a corner 3, but got his third shot to go — a pull-up 14-foot jumper with 1:11 left in the first quarter.

He didn’t stop there, scoring an and-1 layup on the next possession as he exploded past Portland guard Shabazz Napier. Thomas closed the first quarter by air-balling a 3; however, he made his first shot of the second quarter on a pull-up 3.

When Thomas checked back in later in the second quarter, he immediately found LeBron James, who was posting up, for a feed down low, resulting in a bucket and showing a glimpse of what James could accomplish working more off the ball because of Thomas.

James offered a glowing report about his new teammate.

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Such was Bergevin’s choice, though there was no debate in the GM’s mind which path he would choose.

Nobody has a goaltender like Carey Price in the league, Bergevin told reporters on Sunday. Goalies are not important until you don’t have one. … It’s a position that’s really hard to find, and we have in my opinion, our opinion, one of the best in the business, so I’m going to keep him and make sure he’s here for the rest of his career.

Price has a lifetime 2.40 goals-against average in 509 regular season appearances, though he’s been below that number each of the last four seasons as he entered his prime. Just three seasons ago he ran the table by winning the Vezina Trophy, Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award, leading the league with 44 wins while posting a 1.96 GAA and .933 save percentage. He was again a Vezina finalist this year, ranking fifth with 37 victories, sixth with a 2.23 GAA and tied for seventh with a .923 save percentage.

I love that about the guy. Yeah, he’s always like that. I think our players get a kick out of him, quite honestly, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said about Kessel channeling his emotions into the game-winner. He’s a guy that, he’s a vocal guy. He’s an emotional guy, and he’s all in. He wants to win. So when he comes back to the bench, if he thinks he wanted a puck or he was open, he lets a player know. Hey, give it to him. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

Ultimately, Ottawa was done in by one bad third period after putting on a masterclass on how to beat the Penguins in their five previous. The Sens failed to produce a shot on goal until 4:54 remaining in the final frame ‘ a span of 18:53 that extended to before the second intermission.

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