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Jets pass rusher Carl Lawson itching to put lost 2021 behind him

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The days were long for Carl Lawson last season. Especially Sundays. Those were the longest days. They hurt the most.

The Jets’ 27-year-old pass rusher, whose 2021 season was sabotaged by an Achilles injury he suffered in training camp, is hellbent on making up for lost time in 2022.

A year removed from his horrible injury, Lawson recalled what drove him through the endless hours of rehab and the depression of watching his teammates play the games without him.

“I wanted it as bad as you want to breathe,’’ Lawson said Wednesday after practice. “It’s ‘What are you willing to do to sacrifice to get to a certain point?’ ”

The first “certain point’’ for Lawson will be Friday night in the preseason opener against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field, where he’ll be in a uniform and helmet in a game against another team for the first time since Jan. 3, 2021, when he was closing out the 2020 season with the Bengals.

“I’m excited about that, to go out there and get that feeling,’’ Lawson said.

Not as excited as Jets fans are to see him chase an opposing quarterback for the first time. Because, to date, Lawson has been a myth as a Jet, having never played a game in a green-and-white uniform.

Carl Lawson
Carl Lawson
Bill Kostroun

Fresh off the three-year, $45 million free-agent contract he signed with $30 million guaranteed in the 2021 offseason, Lawson was tearing up his first Jets training camp last summer … until he tore his left Achilles tendon in a joint practice with the Packers in Green Bay and never played a game in the 2021 season.

A year later, the 6-foot-2, 265-pound Lawson, who produced 20 sacks, 19 tackles for losses and 83 quarterback hits in his 51 games (14 starts) with the Bengals, has plans. Lofty plans.

“You never want to have a ceiling,’’ Lawson said. “You want to set expectations that can’t humanly be reached. I have the most ridiculous expectations for myself. Like, I want 100 sacks this season. I want to do something that’s not supposed to be possible.

“As far as I’m able to take it, that’s how good I want to be. I don’t see myself ever not trying to get bigger, faster, stronger, become a better player. I’m going to work and try to find any avenue I can to get to that point.’’

Lawson’s mantra is simple: He wants to be “better than what I was.’’

The Jets will take what he was. Anything more will be a bonus.

Head coach Robert Saleh said the plan is for Lawson to play Friday night in Philadelphia. He’ll likely get a series or two with the starters before the coaches begin to look at the backups.

“We’re getting him ready to go,’’ Saleh said Wednesday. “He’s been ready since OTAs and you don’t want to treat him like he’s in bubble wrap, but at the same time you’ve got to be smart.

Carl Lawson playfully tugs on offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur's shirt during a recent Jets practice.
Carl Lawson playfully tugs on offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur’s shirt during a recent Jets practice.
Bill Kostroun

“I’m excited for Carl — especially that first snap, just to get it out of the way for him, because there’s still ease of mind that you have to go thorough going out there and playing,’’ Saleh went on. “I know he’s practicing and feeling comfortable, but it’s still going out there and playing and getting your pads loose.’’

Lawson said he felt as if he “got that feeling’’ last week during the Jets’ Green and White scrimmage at MetLife Stadium in front of fans, even though it wasn’t a game.

“I was a little antsy, being in the stadium and having all the people around again,’’ he said. “It was totally different than at practice. I was a little too amped, and I think that was the first game feeling I had. I think I got that part out of the way. Maybe when I go out there [Friday] and have an actual jersey on and pads being under the lights, that’ll be different.’’

It’s something a lot of people — beginning with the coaching staff and the fans — are looking forward to seeing.

Asked how close he feels to being himself again, Lawson began to answer before the question was completed, saying: “Really far off. I’m getting more and more comfortable, but nowhere near where I want to be.’’

Asked what kept him going through all the hours and days of rehab, he said: “The fact that I have an opportunity. If you want something, you go get it. You sacrifice to go get your dreams.’’

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Knicks vs. Bulls prediction: NBA picks, odds

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The NBA’s longest win streak is finally over after the Knicks suffered their first loss in nine games on Wednesday. Expect New York to start a new streak Friday against a team it dominated the last time they faced off.

The Knicks were playing like the best team in basketball during their lengthy win streak, posting the league’s best net rating (+17.3) with six double-digit victories in that eight-game run. That included a 23-point beat-down of the Bulls exactly a week ago, when New York drained 17 3s and saw three players score at least 22 points in an easy win.

Knicks vs. Bulls (7:30 p.m. Eastern) prediction: Knicks -5.5 (Caesars Sportsbook)

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That game marked the worst offensive showing of the season for Chicago (91 points), which has struggled with chemistry and spacing issues all year long. The Bulls rank dead last in 3-point attempts per game (28.8) and third-worst in offensive rebounding rate (23.6%), which leaves very few easy scoring chances for one of the NBA’s worst offenses.

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It’s the opposite story for the Knicks, who boast three legitimate shot-creators and also rank among the league leaders in points in the paint. Julius Randle (31 points) relentlessly attacked this Chicago defense in their first meeting before allowing RJ Barrett (27 points) to lead the way in the second affair — his fourth of five straight games with at least 22 points. 

I don’t see this Knicks attack slowing down against one of the league’s most inconsistent defenses. And until Zach LaVine returns to his All-Star form, I’m skeptical of the Bulls’ offense showing up on Friday, too.

Knicks vs. Bulls pick: Knicks -5.5 (Caesars Sportsbook)

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Devils vs. Bruins prediction: Bet on New Jersey to end slide on NHL Friday

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After starting the season 21-4-1, it looked like the New Jersey Devils were going to run away with the Metropolitan Division as one of the very best teams in the NHL.

Not only were the Devils cruising, but their underlying metrics were elite. New Jersey was the best 5-on-5 team through the first quarter of the season.

Three weeks and one six-game losing streak later, and the Devils have fallen back to earth and are now two points behind the Carolina Hurricanes in the Metropolitan Division. 

The Devils were able to get off the schneid with a win over Florida on Wednesday, but the task doesn’t get any easier with the league-leading Boston Bruins in town.

New Jersey is a slight +102 home underdog against Boston starting at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN+ and the NHL Network.  

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Tomas Tatar #90 of the New Jersey Devils
Tomas Tatar #90 of the New Jersey Devils
NHLI via Getty Images

Bruins vs. Devils prediction

Even though the Devils have struggled to get results over their last 10 contests, their underlying numbers don’t suggest there’s all that much wrong with how they’re playing. New Jersey isn’t posting the pace-setting numbers it did through Thanksgiving, but it’s still skating to the fifth-best expected goals rate and high-danger scoring chance rate in the league over its last 10 contests.  

Those numbers should help ease any sense of panic that New Jersey could continue to fall back further into the pack as we head toward the New Year. 

So if New Jersey is still tilting the ice in the right direction, what is the issue for the Devils? 

For one thing, the Devs are struggling to find the back of the net like they did when they were rolling. New Jersey has scored just nine goals in its last five games, and four of those tallies came in a 4-2 victory over Florida on Wednesday. Over their last 10 games, the Devils rank 25th in the NHL with a 6.56% shooting percentage. 

Additionally, the Devils are not getting the goaltending needed to stabilize them. New Jersey’s netminders were always thought to be the team’s biggest weakness, and that has started to show lately as the Devils rank 23rd in the NHL in 5-on-5 save percentage over the last 10 games.

Hampus Lindholm #27 of the Boston Bruins
Hampus Lindholm #27 of the Boston Bruins
NHLI via Getty Images

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The Bruins, meanwhile, continue to roll. Boston is 7-1-2 over its last 10 contests and ranks third in the league over that span in expected goals rate and fourth in high-danger chance percentage. The Bruins pace the NHL with a +54 goal differential, which is 25 goals better than the team in second (Toronto). 

But as impressive as Boston has been over its first 31 games of the season, the Bruins are playing on a back-to-back on Friday, while the Devils were off on Thursday night. 

The Bruins are the better team in a vacuum, but this is a good buy-low spot on the Devils, who are still playing solid hockey but are just not getting the results.

Devils vs. Bruins pick

New Jersey Devils +102 (FanDuel)

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At the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, a Female Crew of Two

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Kathy Veel has come a long way since 1989, when she first sailed in the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race with an all-female crew on the Belles Long Ranger.

“It started off with four of us women — we figured, let’s give it a shot,” said Veel, 70, a retired teacher who lives in Bullaburra, about 60 miles west of Sydney, Australia. “We didn’t have a boat. We didn’t have any money. It was a real start from scratch. No one took us seriously.”

Not anymore. Veel is now back for her third Sydney Hobart, which starts on Monday, this time also breaking ground. She will be part of the only all-female crew competing in the race’s two-handed division on the Currawong, at 30 feet long the second smallest boat in the fleet. She will be sailing with Bridget Canham, 62, of Sydney, a veteran of several Sydney Hobart races.

Veel said that in 1989, there were doubts the crew of women could handle the grueling conditions of the race.

“We were kind of a token gesture,” she said. “There were a lot of people who didn’t think we were up to it. They would ask, what we were going to do when it’s blowing 30 knots and the boat is swamped? We’ll be doing pretty much what they’ll be doing — putting up sails and racing the boat.”

Their goal was to simply finish the race, which they did. “It opened the door for us,” Veel said.

“Women in sailing have come so far,” she said. “Most boats these days have got women on them. And that’s great.”

Canham, a retired nurse who volunteers as an emergency boat pilot, said sailing had indeed changed.

“Sailing is more of an integrated sport now,” she said. “Now, it’s just by coincidence that we are just two women on a boat. We’re just sailors. We don’t think of ourselves as anything different.”

The two-handed division, where a boat is raced by two sailors — as opposed to a large crew ranging from 6 to 25 — is now in its second year at the Sydney Hobart. For Veel and Canham, the draw of two-handed racing is access.

“Having a fully crewed racing yacht was way outside of my resources,” Veel said. “I’m retired. But now that they have the two-handed, we can do the race. It gives people the opportunity to sail in the race who aren’t on a fully crewed yacht.” Yearly maintenance on two-handed boats might be $10,000, while much larger yachts require millions of dollars to maintain.

Canham also said the sailors in the two-handed division were a tightknit group. “The two-handed community is just so supportive; it’s like we are all on the same team,” she said.

Veel and Canham generally split duties on the boat, taking turns on the sails and at the wheel, with Canham focusing on sails and Veel on navigation and race tactics.

“Bridget knows the wind and is good at getting the best out of the boat,” Veel said. “She’ll have every sail tweaked and tuned. She never takes her eye off the ball. She’s also extremely gutsy and strong-minded and determined.”

Veel and Canham have prepared for the event by sailing in four other races this year. Over that time, they realized the boat, a Currawong 30, built in 1974 with beaten 20-year-old sails, needed upgrades, but they’ve accepted its limits.

“We’ve been able to test out our boat in these previous races, but it really has felt that 90 percent of this race has been just getting to the start line,” Veel said. “We’ve just been focused on getting the boat ready. Now that we are there, and there are no more obstacles between us and the race, that’s when I’m starting to wonder what have I got myself into. Now it’s real.”

Canham heads into the race committed, but knows their limitations.

“No one is expecting us to do anything,” she said. “But I don’t think they realize just how determined we are.”

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