NBA

LeBron James retains 'burning desire' to win NBA trophies

By Sports Desk September 28, 2021

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James said he retains a "burning desire to win trophies" in an ominous sign ahead of the upcoming 2021-22 NBA season.

James is entering his 19th season aged 36 and following an underwhelming 2020-21 campaign, which saw the Lakers dethroned after bowing out of the playoffs in the opening round.

The four-time NBA champion and MVP missed 27 games last season due to injury and averaged the fewest minutes per game (33.4) of his illustrious career.

James averaged 25.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game last term, while his field-goal (51.3) and three-point (36.5) percentages were his best since 2017-18.

Gearing up for another run, James insisted he is feeling great, having overcome injuries in his quest for a fifth championship ring.

"I still have a burning desire inside of me to want to continue win, hopefully I can bring some trophies at the end of the season," James told ESPN, with the season due to get underway next month.

"That's always been my goal. I love the process more than anything. Hopefully I can put myself in a position where I can do that at the end of the season.

He added: "I'm just a guy who is very determined, who is willing to do whatever it takes for his body to be in the best shape possible to dominate at a high level.

"I'm not afraid to get uncomfortable with anything to get in the best possible shape I can be in."

The Lakers' roster has vastly changed since last season, with Alex Caruso, Dennis Schroder, Andre Drummond, Markieff Morris, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma among those to exit.

Los Angeles have added NBA veterans Carmelo Anthony, Trevor Ariza, Dwight Howard and Rajon Rondo along with former MVP Russell Westbrook.

Nine-time All Star Westbrook, who turns 33 in November, led the NBA in assists last season and broke Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson's all-time triple-double record in May.

"Right away he ups our pace," James said. "He's always in the top five as far as pace, being able to get out on the break, able to get some early buckets before the defense is set.

"He's also a flat-out playmaker. A lot of people don’t talk about how unbelievable a passer he is. Everyone sees the rebounds and the scoring but how his passing makes other guys run and better doesn't get talked about a lot. We all look forward dot that as team-mates."

James (35,367) sits third on the NBA's all-time scoring charts, behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387) and Karl Malone (36,928) ahead of the new season.

The 17-time All-Star refused to get drawn into the current NBA debate around COVID-19 vaccinations, which has sparked with the likes of Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving and Golden State Warriors small forward Andrew Wiggins set to miss home matches due to their refusal to get the vaccine under local state rules.

"I can only speak about myself, everyone has their own choice… I was very sceptical, but after doing my research I felt like it was best suited for myself, my family and my friends," he told reporters on Tuesday. "That's why I decided to do it."

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  • Klopp compares Phillips improvement to Lewandowski Klopp compares Phillips improvement to Lewandowski

    Jurgen Klopp has claimed the improvement he has seen in Nat Phillips reminds him of Bayern Munich star Robert Lewandowski.

    The Liverpool boss managed Lewandowski at Borussia Dortmund between 2010-2014, where the Poland striker scored 103 goals in 187 games before moving to Bayern.

    Klopp was forced to rely on Phillips for much of last season after injuries decimated his defensive options.

    The Bolton-born centre back - who also has some German football experience from a loan period at Stuttgart two seasons ago - became a regular part of Liverpool's backline after Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip had all been sidelined with long-term injuries.

    While the Reds fell away from the title race in the second half of the campaign, with the help of Phillips, they were able to secure third place and Champions League football thanks to a late-season resurgence.

    Phillips particularly showed his aerial prowess, winning 96 aerial duels in his 17 Premier League games. Only nine defenders won more, all of whom played at least 13 more games than the 24-year-old.

    Klopp sees a lot of similarities in the improvements shown under him by Lewandowski and Phillips.

    "People often ask me which player made the biggest improvements under my leadership, and I say Robert Lewandowski," he said.

    "That's probably right, but not far off that is Nat Phillips, just in a completely different department.

    "I remember when I saw Nat Phillips first. I spoke to him after the game and he's one of the smartest players I ever worked with. I told him, 'You know you are not the easiest on the eye, eh?'

    "He improved in pretty much everything since, and he's not playing. Life is sometimes not fair and I can't blame him."

    Phillips has been linked with a move away from Anfield in the January transfer window after making just three appearances this season, with Van Dijk, Gomez and Matip all back from injury and Ibrahima Konate signed from RB Leipzig at the end of last season.

    "We cannot keep him forever, that's clear," Klopp added. "We needed him, just to be safe, for that half-year. We will see what happens in the window. He was fine doing it because he's a great guy.

    "His development is absolutely insane. You saw it last year, you would have said 'Nat Phillips, oh my god, he plays in the last line?'

    "People love him because of his heading but with his feet he is unbelievable. He's a late starter, but his development is unbelievable. I would sign him for any club except Liverpool, because we have him."

  • India dominate New Zealand after Ajaz Patel's sensational 10-wicket haul India dominate New Zealand after Ajaz Patel's sensational 10-wicket haul

    Ajaz Patel sensationally became only the third man to take all 10 wickets in a Test innings before India dominated New Zealand on an astonishing day two of the second Test.

    Spinner Patel claimed stunning figures of 10-119 as India were bowled out for 325, but the tourists were skittled out for only 62 in reply as the India attack ripped through their batting line-up.

    The hosts ended the day 69-0 in their second innings in Mumbai, with a commanding lead of 332 heading into day three.

    Patel started where he left off on day one, taking the wickets of Wriddhiman Saha (27) and Ravichandran Ashwin (0) in consecutive balls during the first over, before eventually removing Mayank Agarwal for a brilliant 150.

    Axar Patel (52) and Jayant Yadav (12) were the next victims, before Mohammed Siraj (4) edged an attempted sweep to Rachin Ravindra to make it a perfect 10 for Patel.

    That was very much where the day peaked for New Zealand as India set about ripping through the Black Caps.

    Siraj removed Tom Latham (10) before getting rid of Will Young (4) and Ross Taylor (1) in consecutive balls. The seamer nearly had a hat-trick, but a review show his delivery to Henry Nicholls pitched just outside leg stump.

    Ashwin (4-8) then came to the fore, with Kyle Jamieson (17) and Latham the only New Zealand batsmen to make double figures.

    Agarwal (38 not out) and Pujara (29no) calmly eased India through to stumps in a dominant position.


    Shine slightly taken off historic day for Patel

    It is an incredible story. A man born in Mumbai returns as a New Zealand player to take all 10 wickets in an innings. The only thing more surprising involving Patel on day two was that the New Zealand number 11 was out in the middle holding a bat just a couple of hours later.

    It was just the third time in the history of men's Test cricket that a bowler has taken every wicket in a single innings, following in the footsteps of Jim Laker in 1956 and Anil Kumble in 1999.

    The 33-year-old, who was New Zealand's not-out batsman, would probably appreciate a bit more help from his team-mates on day three.

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    New Zealand were already reeling after Siraj (3-19) reduced them to 17-3, but having seen what the spin of Patel had achieved, they must have been fretting about what Ashwin would do when he came on, and with good cause.

    The 35-year-old bamboozled the tourists - missing injured captain Kane Williamson - and Axar Patel took 2-14 as the winners of the inaugural World Test Championship were humiliated.  

  • Is Kirk Cousins holding the Vikings back? Is Kirk Cousins holding the Vikings back?

    When the Minnesota Vikings signed Kirk Cousins to a fully guaranteed contract back in 2018, they believed they were landing a quarterback who put them over the top and could help them deliver a first Super Bowl title.

    What they actually acquired, however, was perhaps the league's ultimate enigma at quarterback.

    Nobody could look at Cousins' raw numbers and deem him a bad quarterback. Yet throughout his career both with the Vikings and beforehand in Washington, he is a player who has continued to confound, most notably with an apparent inability to deliver in 'clutch' situations with the game on the line.

    Cousins' time as a pro was arguably encapsulated by his showing in Week 12. In the most important game of a season in which he has the best touchdown to interception ratio in the NFL, Cousins came up dismally small, a series of poor throws and a turnover dooming the Vikings to defeat against the San Francisco 49ers.

    The Vikings are not without their problems in other areas. However, with the weapons around Cousins, theirs is an infrastructure seemingly conducive to quarterback success.

    In terms of his statistics, Cousins has largely succeeded in 2021. Yet baffling performances like the one that dropped the Vikings to 5-6 last week only serve to give rise to the debate around Cousins and whether he is holding his team back.

    Cousins' San Francisco slump

    Already over 3,000 yards passing with six games still to play, with 23 touchdowns and a career-low three interceptions to his name, statistically the 2021 campaign ranks among Cousins' finest seasons.

    Delivering an accurate, well-thrown ball on 80.8 per cent of his pass attempts, above the league average of 78.4, and throwing a pickable pass on 10 out of his 385 attempts, Stats Perform's advanced metrics also reflect well on Cousins.

    But it is that apparent season-long consistency that makes displays like his showing against San Francisco all the more bemusing.

    Cousins has done an excellent job of taking care of the football this season, yet his third interception of the year came in the third quarter against the Niners as he somehow failed to spot linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair crowding his throwing lane on an attempted pass to Adam Thielen. As far as failures to correctly read the field go, that was as bad as it gets.

    That interception set the Niners up to take a 28-14 lead, a gap the Vikings were unable to bridge in large part because of inaccurate throws by Cousins.

    He led the Vikings on a touchdown drive on the next series only to then miss a wide-open Justin Jefferson on a two-point conversion try with a low throw.

    Jefferson was the target on a fourth-down throw in the fourth quarter that sailed well over his head, that play coming after Minnesota burned a timeout due to Cousins lining up behind the right guard instead of the center.

    Cousins is not the first quarterback to accidentally line up in the wrong spot in the heat of the moment, but such a gaffe gives the impression of a signal-caller ill-equipped to deliver when the pressure is at its highest.

    And, given the performance of the surrounding weapons, it is no wonder Jefferson was left throwing his arms up in disbelief at some of Cousins' misses.

    Stacked supporting cast

    Any thought of Jefferson taking a step back after a historic 2020 season that saw him break the rookie record for receiving yards has been put to bed.

    Jefferson is on pace to surpass his tally of 1,400 yards from last year and, among wide receivers with at least 25 targets, he ranks seventh in burn percentage, which measures the rate at which a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted, while he is 11th with a big play rate of 39 per cent.

    Thielen, who had a pair of touchdowns against San Francisco, has also excelled at creating big plays, doing so on 34.6 per cent of his targets.

    With K.J. Osborn emerging as a legitimate third receiving option and Tyler Conklin enjoying a career year at tight end, Cousins possesses one of the best groups of pass-catchers in the NFL and is supported by a run game that has produced 37 runs of 10 yards or more, the 12th-most in the league.

    The potential absence of Dalvin Cook with a shoulder injury may reduce the assistance Cousins gets from the ground attack, but he is certainly in no position to complain about a stacked supporting cast, though he may be frustrated by a lack of help from other areas.

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    Cousins' sack numbers have drastically improved this season. After taking 39 sacks last year, he has suffered only 15 across 11 games in 2021, pointing to an improvement on the offensive line.

    Yet a deeper assessment at the O-Line's performance suggests there may be a hint of fortune about the Vikings' success in preventing sacks.

    Indeed, Cousins has attempted 136 passes under pressure, second only to Matt Ryan (145), while the Vikings rank a lowly 28th in pass protection win rate.

    More often than not, the Vikings are losing the battle in the trenches, and that is the case on the defensive side of the ball, too.

    Continually bullied off the ball by the 49ers' superb rushing attack, the Vikings gave up 208 yards on the ground at an average of 5.3 yards per attempt.

    Though San Francisco's run game has dominated several teams this season, the Vikings' inability to stop them was in keeping with a theme of their season.

    They rank 26th in opponent yards per play allowed with 5.87 and are giving up 4.83 yards per rush, the most in the NFL. In Stats Perform's rush yards under expected allowed, the Vikings are also 26th.

    Minnesota's severe underperformance in containing opposing run games has a two-pronged effect. It has contributed to a defensive effort that has the Vikings giving up 25.1 points per game - with only eight teams conceding more - and allowed opponents to control the clock as the 49ers did last Sunday.

    Cousins' inability to make the key throws and that dismal interception undoubtedly played a critical role in Minnesota coming up short in Week 12, but the massive disadvantage in time of possession that resulted from San Francisco's run game dominance, along with a fumble from Cook as he suffered his injury, limited opportunities for the passing game to turn things around.

    That a quarterback of Cousins' experience and undoubted talents continues to throw in these sporadic head-scratching showings is a legitimate problem for the Vikings. However, they are too infrequent for him to be considered as holding Minnesota back.

    The reality is that, between the amount of points they are giving up and Minnesota's ineffectiveness against the run, the Vikings - for all their strengths on offense - aren't in a position to survive Cousins' off days.

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