Alun Wyn Jones will surpass Richie McCaw's record tally of 148 caps for his country when Wales face New Zealand in a mouthwatering Autumn Nations Series clash on Saturday.

Wales captain Jones matched legendary former All Blacks captain McCaw's astonishing number of Test appearances when he faced Scotland last year.

The British and Irish Lions skipper will set a new record for games played for a country at Principality Stadium this weekend.

Jones, who has played in 12 Lions Tests, will lead out a Wales side that has a blend of experience and youth.

 

Taine Basham made his first start at international level in the back row and Gareth Anscombe makes his return at fly-half against his country of birth over two years after his last Test appearance.

Anscombe has impressed after spending such a long spell on the sidelines with a knee injury.

Ken Owens was initially selected at hooker, but has since been replaced by Ryan Elias due to a back injury, with Kirby Myhill named on the bench.

Hooker Elliot Dee has been released from the Six Nations champions' squad due to a neck injury.

Wales head coach Wayne Pivac said: "To win a World Cup you have to play against teams like New Zealand at some stage in the tournament and you have to win those games.

"It’s going to be a great experience for those guys who haven't played a lot of test rugby and they'll certainly know they’ve been in a match afterwards."

Wales have won only three of 35 Tests against the All Blacks ahead of the showdown in Cardiff.

 

Wales: Johnny McNicholl, Owen Lane, Jonathan Davies, Johnny Williams, Josh Adams, Gareth Anscombe, Tomos Williams; Wyn Jones, Ryan Elias, Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones (captain), Ross Moriarty, Taine Basham, Aaron Wainwright.

Replacements: Kirby Myhill, Rhys Carre, Dillon Lewis, Will Rowlands, Seb Davies, Gareth Davies, Rhys Priestland, Ben Thomas.

Seven weeks of hard evidence suggest that the Green Bay Packers' Thursday Night Football clash with the Arizona Cardinals should be one of the games of the year.

The 6-1 Packers travel to face the 7-0 Cardinals for a meeting of two teams to have emerged as clear frontrunners for the top seed in the NFC playoffs and who boast a combined winning percentage of 92.9.

That is the best combined winning percentage for a game in Week 8 or later played on a Thursday since the 11-0 Chicago Bears played at the 10-1 Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day, 1934. 

Yet recent history and misfortune on the side of the Packers may see what many hoped would be a fascinating spectacle fail to live up to its billing.

Including the playoffs, the Cardinals have won each of their last three games against Green Bay, and the contrast in the talent the two offenses will have available means the most likely outcome is that streak continuing in the desert.

 

Packers lacking firepower

The Packers are set to be without their top offensive weapon on Thursday after Davante Adams was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Adams needed to provide two negative tests, 24 hours apart, and be asymptomatic for 48 hours to be permitted to play against Arizona. He has reportedly not travelled with Green Bay and is not expected to play, leaving the Packers minus arguably the most complete receiver in the NFL, one who is maintaining the remarkable All-Pro standard he produced last season.

Adams is third in the NFL in receiving yards with 744. He has registered a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted, on 65.8 per cent of his targets. That is not too far above the average of 60.9 per cent, however, Adams leads receivers with at least 25 targets in burn yards per route with 5.1.

In other words, when Adams does win his matchup, he makes the most of it and creates significant separation, reflecting his reputation as one of the NFL's elite route-runners.

His absence will leave a massive void, one that will be more apparent because of the loss of the lead candidate to fill it.

Allen Lazard was placed on the COVID-19 list on Wednesday as a close contact of a person to have tested positive.

Unvaccinated, Lazard is out for five days, robbing the Packers of a receiver with a 71.4 burn percentage who has produced a big play on 44.3 per cent of his targets.

Without Adams and Lazard, the Packers are light on receiving threats to legitimately scare a Cardinals defense ranked second in yards per pass play allowed.

Running back Aaron Jones is Green Bay's second most prolific pass-catcher behind Davante Adams with 26 receptions. He may need to take on more of the receiving workload this week, though the Packers are hoping Marquez Valdes-Scantling can return from a hamstring injury and provide a spark with his downfield speed.

However, Valdes-Scantling's burn percentage of 43.8 from 16 targets so far this season indicates he may find it tough to lift a depleted group. Yet, regardless of whether it comes from Valdes-Scantling, Jones or tight ends Robert Tonyan and Marcedes Lewis, Green Bay will likely require a significant contribution from an unlikely source to keep pace with a passing attack that is loaded by comparison.

Deck stacked for MVP contender Murray

Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray is firmly in the MVP race and, while that is in large part down to his own remarkable accuracy – 83.3 per cent of his attempts have been well thrown, the best ratio among quarterbacks with at least 50 attempts – and playmaking ability, a lot of credit has to be attributed to the stellar performances of several receivers.

Three-time first-team All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins has unsurprisingly hit the ground running in 2021, posting a burn percentage of 80, the highest ratio among receivers with a minimum of 25 targets, and producing a big play on 45.7 per cent of his targets.

Christian Kirk, with a burn percentage of 75 and a big play rate of 38.8 per cent, is not far behind while veteran A.J. Green (35.6 per cent big play rate) has been unexpectedly rejuvenated after trading Cincinnati for Arizona.

The X-factor, however, is rookie Rondale Moore, whose speed out of the backfield has added another dimension to Kliff Kingsbury's offense.

Moore's average depth of target is just 2.3 yards, the lowest in the NFL (min. 10 targets), yet Moore is averaging 3.3 burn yards per route, above the average of 2.5, illustrating his effectiveness in the quick game with his ability to beat defenders with both speed and elusiveness.

His presence has allowed Kingsbury to get more creative in the deployment of his offensive personnel, using the threat of Murray and Moore as runners to his significant advantage.

That particular string is not one the Packers have in their bow and, despite an impressive performance against the Washington Football Team in Week 7, their defense appears ill-equipped to deal with an offense that also saw tight end Zach Ertz score on his debut last week.

No case for Green Bay’s defense

The numbers for the Packers on the defensive side of the ball are impressive in terms of limiting the efficiency of their opponents.

Indeed, Green Bay's defense is 10th in the NFL in opponent yards per play allowed (5.38), while the Packers have given up only 19 plays of 20 yards or more, the third-fewest in the league.

But the Packers' defensive absences are such that it will be a tough ask for them to slow down a potent Cardinals attack.

Jaire Alexander remains out with a shoulder injury, leaving the Packers bereft of his versatility to play as a starting outside corner and at the 'star' position on the inside.

Rookie Eric Stokes has not been a liability in coverage, however, he is allowing 2.04 burn yards per snap (the league average for corners is 2.01) and, minus Alexander's services, the Packers do not have a cornerback capable of consistently locking down his opposing receiver.

Only six interior defensive linemen have defeated a blocker on a pressure more often than Kenny Clark (22), but the Packers' defensive tackle is lacking support off the edge, with Za'Darius Smith a long-term absentee following back surgery and Preston Smith questionable for Thursday due to an oblique issue.

Of quarterbacks with 25 attempts under pressure, Murray's well-thrown percentage in those scenarios of 81 is second only to Mac Jones (81.2).

The Packers do not have the resources up front to make his performance under duress drastically worse nor do they have the resources in the defensive backfield to keep all the Cardinals' weapons under wraps.

With their own offensive arsenal severely reduced, it may take a vintage Rodgers performance of the highest order for the Packers to avoid enduring another frightful experience in Arizona.

Russell Westbrook has vowed to make amends after accepting the blame for the Los Angeles Lakers' surprise defeat to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Lakers, without LeBron James for a second game running due to an ankle injury, failed to protect a 26-point first-half lead as they fell 123-115 against a previously winless Thunder team.

Westbrook got his first triple-double for the Lakers in Wednesday's contest, but he also had 10 turnovers and was ejected late on for a second technical foul.

Nine-time NBA All-Star Westbrook took issue with Darius Bazley for scoring on a breakaway dunk, rather than dribble out the clock, with 1.5 seconds left in a feisty conclusion.

But while standing by his actions that led to that dismissal, the 32-year-old concedes that he could have done more to prevent his side from falling to a third defeat in five games.

"How I play the game, I'm more old-school," he said when asked about his confrontation with Bazley. "When s*** like that happens, I don't let it slide. 

"In the game of basketball, there's certain things you just don't do. Like in baseball, you don't flip the bat. 

"There's certain things you don't do in sports when the game's already over. And I didn't like it. Simple as that."

Westbrook, who ended the contest with 20 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists, added: "I got to take care of the ball. There were too many mishaps allowed. 

"It's my fault. It's on me. But I'm going to take care of it. I know that. And keep the game simple. We need those possessions, especially in games like this."

Westbrook reached 7,000 career rebounds in the game, joining Oscar Robertson, Jason Kidd and James as the only players with at least 7,000 rebounds and 7,000 assists.

But it was not enough to prevent his side avoiding defeat as the Lakers allowed 115 points or more for the fifth game running this season – their longest ever such streak.

The Lakers may be going through a transitional phase with a number of new players on top of injuries to contend with, but Anthony Davis is not interested in excuses.

"This ain't no adjustment period at all," he said. "Not this game. That's just straight on us. 

"This isn't an adjustment game where I feel like it's, 'Oh, we're still learning each other'... Nah. Not this game."

The Lakers are ninth in the Western Conference ahead of their return to action on Friday against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Jose Altuve admits equalling Bernie Williams for career postseason home runs means a lot but says it only matters as long as the Houston Astros are winning.

Altuve brought up his 22nd career postseason home run in the seventh inning to cap the Astros' 7-2 win over the Atlanta Braves in Game 2 to level the World Series on Wednesday.

The 31-year-old drew level with Williams in equal second on the overall majors list for postseason homers, behind only Manny Ramirez on 29.

“To hit 22 homers in the playoffs and tie [Williams] – always every time that my name is mentioned, before it was Derek Jeter, now it's Bernie Williams – it means a lot to me," Altuve told reporters.

"It makes me keep going out there, hitting homers to help my team, to keep accomplishing things like this. As long as we win, everything's good.”

Altuve scored the opening run of Game 2, with Alex Bregman driving him home in the first inning, finishing the game with two hits, two runs and one RBI. He had gone zero-for-five in Game 1.

The second baseman is hitting at .200 with four home runs, eight RBIs and 10 hits this postseason but team success is the main objective.

"For me, stats in the playoffs don’t matter, as long as you're winning," Altuve said.

"You could be zero-for-20 but if you get the big hit, that's what playoffs are about. I went zero-for-five last night but I didn’t care, I show up, I tried to get good pitches to hit.

"I'm glad I helped my team win tonight."

Five right-handed Astros hitters had six hits, five RBIs and one home run between them on Wednesday.

Houston have scored five or more runs in 10 games this postseason, which is tied for the second most in a single postseason, trailing only the 2015 Kansas City Royals with 11.

Kevin Durant has admitted the Brooklyn Nets are missing absent star Kyrie Irving following their third defeat in the new NBA season but is bullish they can turn around their stuttering form.

The Nets were beaten 106-93 by the Miami Heat on Wednesday, their third double-digit defeat leaving them with a 2-3 record.

Durant top scored for the Nets with 25 points along with 11 rebounds, while James Harden continues to work into the season, with 14 points.

Irving's absence, due to his vaccination status, has been a major talking point for the Nets and with limited contributions from guards Joe Harris (15 points and three reounds) and Patty Mills (four points, three rebounds and five assists) on Wednesday, Durant conceded he was being missed.

"I know what you want me to say," Durant told reporters after the game. "Yeah, we do miss Kyrie. We do. He's a part of our team.

"For the most part we've been generating great shots. We've been getting into the paint. It's a matter of knocking it down. I think it'll come."

Harden's form is another concern for the Nets as he re-discovers his touch after rehabbing from a hamstring injury.

The 2018 NBA MVP, who joined the Nets from the Houston Rockets in January, is averaging 16.6 points, 7.0 rebounds and 8.0 assists per game this season.

Harden has scored 15 or fewer points for the past three games, the first time that has happened since the 2011-12 season.

"I had no opportunities to play pickup or nothing this summer," Harden told reporters. "Everything was rehab for three months, from a Grade 2 injury that happened three times in one season.

"This is my fifth game of trying to just play with competition against somebody else and as much as I want to rush the process and be back to hooping and killing, [you need to] take your time."

Harden shot four-for-12 from the field and hit three-for-eight from beyond the arc against the Heat.

"[I'm] Just getting more confident, being aggressive," Harden said. "It's getting better every single game.

"As much as I want to get back to just [scoring] 30s and 40 points, I can't do that. As much as I want to, obviously I would love to."

The Brooklyn Nets' stuttering start to the season continued with their third defeat in five games as they went down 106-93 at home to the Miami Heat.

Jimmy Butler starred for the Heat with a double-double with 17 points and 14 rebounds as well as seven assists and four steals as Miami improved their record to 3-1.

Bam Adebayo stole the show in the final quarter as the Nets threatened to overtake them, landing three big dunks to finish with 24 points and nine rebounds.

James Harden had some bright moments but only managed 14 points with seven rebounds and seven assists, while Kevin Durant had 25 points and 11 rebounds.

All three Nets defeats this season have been by double-digit margins as they continue to miss Kyrie Irving who is absent due to his vaccination status.

 

Giannis hits 40 in Bucks defeat

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 40 points but it was not enough as the Milwaukee Bucks suffered their second loss in their title defence 113-108 to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Antetokounmpo had 40 along with 16 rebounds and seven assists, while all five Timberwolves starters contributed strongly led by D'Angelo Russell (29 points, five rebounds and six assists) and Anthony Edwards (25 points, seven rebounds and three assists).

Harrison Barnes (22 points, nine rebounds and four assists) drained a turnaround triple on the buzzer to clinch the Sacramento Kings a 110-107 win over last season's the Phoenix Suns who had closed a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit late in the game, led by Devin Booker (31 points, six rebounds and eight assists).

The Cleveland Cavaliers added another impressive scalp to their list this season as they downed the Los Angeles Clippers 92-79 with Collin Sexton scoring 26 points.

 

Westbrook turnovers as Lakers lose

Russell Westbrook got his first Los Angeles Lakers triple-double but he also had 10 turnovers in their 123-115 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, with LeBron James absent due to an ankle injury.

LaMelo Ball struggled with only seven points, shooting three-from-14 from the field and only one-from-five beyond the arc as the Charlotte Hornets won 120-111 over the Orlando Magic.

Khris Middleton's three-point radar was off in the Bucks loss to the Timberwolves, shooting one-from-eight and contributing only 16 points, leaving Antetokounmpo with too much to do.

The Houston Astros have levelled the World Series after a four-run second inning and another Jose Altuve postseason home run to win 7-2 over the Atlanta Braves in Game 2 on Wednesday.

The Braves had won Game 1 at Houston's Minute Maid Park 6-2 on Tuesday, but the Astros showed intent opening up a 5-1 lead after two innings.

Altuve's seventh-inning solo blast extended the lead to 7-2, taking him to 22 postseason homers, equalling Bernie Williams for second in majors history.

The Astros second baseman, who has four home runs this postseason, trails only Manny Ramirez for postseason homers with 29.

Astros starting pitcher Jose Urquidy played a strong role with seven strikeouts with two runs across five innings, outpitching Braves starter Max Fried who allowed seven hits and five earned runs.

Urquidy becomes the fourth Astros pitcher to have seven or more strikeouts and no walks in a World Series. Eddie Rosario, who came into the game with 20 hits this postseason, had an off-night with no hits.

Altuve scored the opening run from Alex Bregman's first-inning sacrifice fly, before Travis d'Arnaud's second-inning home run tied the game up.

Houston blew the game open at the bottom of the second inning, with Jose Siri's RBI single followed by Martin Maldonado's single allowing Yuli Gurriel and Siri to get home, the latter after an Eddie Rosario fielding error. Michael Brantley's base hit drove in Maldonado too.

The Astros had five hits in the second inning, which matched their most ever in an inning in a World Series game, having had five hits in the second inning in Game 3 in 2017.

Freddie Freeman's single got d'Arnaud in for his second run in the fifth inning, before Ozzie Albies mistake on second base allowed Yordan Alvarez to score in the sixth inning, before Altuve's homered to left field in the seventh inning.

 

Astros at Braves

Both sides will travel on Thursday as the series moves to Atlanta for Game 3 on Friday.

Tua Tagovailoa says he is not worried about trade speculation linking the Miami Dolphins quarterback with a swap for Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.

The 23-year-old quarterback, who is playing in his second season, has been the subject of trade speculation but said he felt reassured after conversations with Dolphins head coach Brian Flores.

The NFL's Tuesday trade deadline is approaching, although Tagovailoa said he was not thinking about it.

"I don't not feel wanted. That's what I could say," Tagovailoa told reporters.

"I really don't think about it. The only time I'm really hearing about it, like I've said before, is if [the communications staff] is kind of telling me what's going on within the rumours or if my agent calls me.

"That's really when I hear it. Other than that, I don't really hear it."

Watson requested a trade from the Texans in January and is facing 22 civil lawsuits that remain unresolved as the NFL conducts its own investigation into sexual assault and misconduct allegations against him.

Tagovailoa, who was pick five in the 2020 NFL Draft, has enjoyed the best two-game stretch of his career to date over the past fortnight, completing 75 per cent of passes for 620 yards and six touchdowns.

The Dolphins are 1-6 this season with Tagovailoa completing 82 of 118 attempts for 835 yards, with seven touchdowns, four interceptions and five sacks across his four starts, having missed time due to a rib injury.

Tagovailoa has shown improvements this season but the Dolphins have been let down in defense, giving up 207 points for the season, the second-highest total in the NFL through Week 7.

The Hawaii-born QB would not be drawn on what was discussed in his conversations with Flores but insisted it reassured him.

"Honestly, I don't base my emotions off of who says anything about me or who is saying what," he said.

"All I can do is my job and do it to the best of my capabilities. Everything else, I mean it's out of my control. But I have the utmost confidence and trust that I am the quarterback of this team, just off of conversations that I've had with Flo and whatnot.

"That obviously stays between us. I feel very confident that I'm the person."

Tagovailoa started nine games in his rookie season, winning six of them as he threw 11 touchdowns to five picks with some steady but unspectacular performances.

Dak Prescott is "preparing to play" on Sunday despite being limited at Wednesday practice according to Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy.

Cowboys quarterback Prescott suffered a right calf strain on the winning touchdown pass for CeeDee Lamb in their 35-29 overtime win over the New England Patriots on October 17.

The Cowboys had the bye in Week 7, allowing Prescott time to recover from the injury ahead of Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings.

Prescott was listed as "limited" for practice on Wednesday where he went through extended warm-up, simulated drops and threw passes to his running backs, receivers and tight ends.

"He's going to practice and he's going to go through the individual part of it and he's in the game plans. He's preparing to play," McCarthy said before practice on Wednesday. "He's got to cross the threshold to make sure he's full-go."

McCarthy added: "He's going to do everything he can to play on Sunday. That's a given."

The Cowboys head coach said backup quarterback Cooper Rush, who has not played in an NFL game since 2019, would start if Prescott is not cleared.

"I think it's a matter of trying to make sure Cooper's ready and make sure Dak is getting what he needs," McCarthy said.

"We've got to make sure we're getting Cooper ready too."

McCarthy acknowledged Prescott could potentially play at quarterback with a calf strain, having seen Aaron Rodgers do that under his watch at the Green Bay Packers in 2014.

But he added that they would take a no-risk strategy with Prescott, given the Cowboys are 5-1 and three games clear in the NFC East early in the season.

"I think it's a clear decision, we don't want this to be a week-to-week situation, so until he clears that threshold to try to minimize the risk is really what the decision will come down to," McCarthy said.

The Atlanta Braves have replaced injured pitcher Charlie Morton with left-hander Tucker Davidson on their World Series roster.

Morton was forced out of the 6-2 win over the Houston Astros in Game 1 on Tuesday after he was struck in the lower right leg by Yuli Gurriel's comebacker in the second inning.

The 37-year-old right-hander initially stayed in the game, but was withdrawn in the third inning, with X-rays later revealing a series-ending broken right fibula.

Davidson had a 3.60 ERA with 18 strikeouts in four big league starts this season, occurring back in May and June.

The 25-year-old has not appeared in postseason games and missed much of the regular season with left forearm inflammation.

Morton had a 3.34 ERA, with 216 strikeouts with a 14-6 record across the 2021 MLB season.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance returned to practice on Wednesday, though there is no immediate sign of him taking the starting job from Jimmy Garoppolo.

Lance missed the 49ers' Week 7 defeat to the Indianapolis Colts because of a knee sprain he suffered when starting in relief of the then injured Garoppolo in Week 6 against the Arizona Cardinals.

Garoppolo was heavily criticised for his performance in the 30-18 loss to the Colts, which saw him complete 16 of 27 pass attempts for 181 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions as San Francisco lost a fourth straight game to drop to 2-4.

That has predictably led to calls for Lance, whom the 49ers selected after trading up to the third overall pick in this year's draft, to take the reins full-time.

He will not start against the Chicago Bears on Sunday, however, with head coach Kyle Shanahan waiting to see how Lance's knee reacts to practice before deciding how much he will be involved if at all.

"I don't think it's the right thing for him to start full-time right now, especially when I don't even know if he can get through practice today," Shanahan told a media conference. 

"So, I told you guys I understood why the questions are coming, but that's why I don't understand why that keeps coming, because I want to see if he's healthy today first. And then when he's healthy for at least more than one day, then we'll start to see when it's the best time for him."

However, Shanahan indicated he had been expecting an acceleration in Lance's development in the wake of his first start before injury curtailed his chance to build on that display, in which he went 15 for 29 for 192 yards and an interception while adding 89 yards on the ground.

"I think it was real unfortunate that, at the time he got to play, I thought he was ready to take off a little bit after that getting that experience," Shanahan added. 

"I thought that was going to be great for him to come back the next week, especially with Jimmy banged up a little bit, but he had an unfortunate injury, and it's lasting a little longer than expected.

"So, I'm excited to get him out there today. But he hasn't done anything in a couple of weeks, so we'll see where his progress is now."

J.J. Watt has been ruled out of the Arizona Cardinals' Thursday night game against NFC rivals the Green Bay Packers with a shoulder injury.

The 7-0 Cards face a significant test against the 6-1 Packers at State Farm Stadium and will be without their star defensive end.

Watt, who joined Arizona ahead of this season after securing his release from the Houston Texans, has started all seven games so far in 2021.

He has 10 tackles, including five for a loss, one sack and 10 quarterback hits, helping the Cardinals to tie their best start to a season.

But Watt did not participate in the team's only practice of this week before taking on Green Bay and will not be involved.

The Arizona defense is at least boosted by the return of Chandler Jones from the COVID list.

Jones ranks fifth for QB hits this year with 14; Watt is tied 14th on the same list.

In Watt's absence, Jones will aim to disrupt Aaron Rodgers, who is missing two top offensive weapons in Davante Adams (52 catches, 744 yards, three touchdowns) and Allen Lazard (15 catches, 184 yards, two TDs), both due to COVID.

Arizona do have their own issues in the receiver room, however. DeAndre Hopkins (33 catches, 420 yards, seven TDs) is listed as questionable.

LeBron James will be missing again for the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday as he nurses a sore right ankle.

Four-time NBA MVP James started the Lakers' first three games of the season, averaging 26.0 points in 38.0 minutes as his team made a rocky 1-2 start.

But the 36-year-old suffered the injury in a first win of the year against the Memphis Grizzlies and was absent for Tuesday's overtime win over the San Antonio Spurs.

Malik Monk made his first Lakers start in James' place and scored 17 points.

The former Hornets guard, who only started one game in four years in Charlotte, is now set to be included in the line-up again versus the Oklahoma City Thunder with James officially ruled out.

The Lakers could also be without Anthony Davis, listed as questionable against the Thunder after hurting his knee against the Spurs.

These early injuries will concern LA, given James and Davis played just 45 and 36 games respectively in 2020-21 as the Lakers failed to build on their 2020 Finals success.

James played just 42.9 per cent of possible minutes for the Lakers in the regular season last year, the lowest rate of his career and only the second season in which he has dipped below the halfway mark – also 48.9 per cent in 2018-19, his first season as a Laker.

It was a high ankle sprain that caused James the most trouble, but coach Frank Vogel assured reporters this latest issue is not related.

"Same ankle, different spot, different injury," he said.

The Lakers will at least hope to be able to cope without their key men against the Thunder, who are facing a third 0-5 start in franchise history (also 2007-08, 1969-70).

OKC are 2-27 in their past 29 games dating back to last season, when they were swept by the Lakers.

Jannik Sinner continued his push for an ATP Finals spot with a straight-sets defeat of Reilly Opelka in the first round of the Vienna Open, while Carlos Alcaraz exacted revenge on Andy Murray.

Sinner won his fourth title of what has been an outstanding season for the Italian in Antwerp last weekend and is only 110 points adrift of Hubert Hurkacz in the battle for the final place in the season-ending event in Turin.

Murray did the 20-year-old a favour by knocking Hurkacz out of the ATP 500 tournament in the Austrian capital on Monday and seventh seed Sinner eased to a 6-4 6-2 win over American Opelka two days later.

Sinner, who will overtake Pole Hurkacz if he reaches the semi-finals this week, won 93 per cent of points behind his first serve and did not face a break point in a resounding win and will play Dennis Novak in the second round.

Murray beat Alcaraz at Indian Wells this month, but the 18-year-old rising star from Spain turned the tables on the three-time grand slam champion with a 6-3 6-4 second-round win in Vienna.

Former world number one Murray struggled with his serve and was broken five times as he made an early exit.

Third seed Matteo Berrettini beat Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-7 (5-7) 6-2 6-3 to reach the third round, while Diego Schwartzman, Gael Monfils and Lorenzo Sonego moved into the second round.

In the St Petersburg Open, defending champion Andrey Rublev beat Ilya Ivashka 6-4 6-4 to reach the quarter-finals along with Denis Shapovalov, a 2-6 6-3 6-0 winner against Pablo Andujar.

Jan-Lennard Struff also moved into the last eight, with Karen Khachanov and Marin Cilic securing first-round wins.

Simona Halep eased to victory over compatriot Elena-Gabriela Ruse on home soil in Romania to advance through to the last 16 of the Transylvania Open.

Ruse won her first WTA title at the Hamburg European Open in July and reached the final of the Palermo Ladies Open later that month, but she was second best against Halep.

The top seed produced a commanding performance as she held serve throughout and broke her opponent twice in both sets to progress 6-1 6-2 in a time of 73 minutes.

Halep, who departed at the quarter-final stage of the Kremlin Cup last week, is on course to meet US Open winner Emma Raducanu in the semi-finals in Cluj.

Anett Kontaveit also prevailed on Wednesday with a straight-sets win of her own, the second seed seeing off Aleksandra Krunic 6-3 7-5.

The 25-year-old, seeking her third WTA 500 indoor trophy in the space of two months, made the most of some Krunic errors to set up a last-16 tie with Alison Van Uytvanck.

Anhelina Kalinina earlier beat Anna-Lena Friedsam 6-2 6-2 to become the first player to book their place in the quarter-finals.

At the Courmayeur Open in Italy, top seed Dayana Yastremska required three sets to overcome Kateryna Kozlova 6-1 3-6 7-5.

Clara Tauson and Ann Li also avoided upsets as they beat Giulia Gatto-Monticone and Kamilla Rakhimova respectively.

Alejandro Valverde has confirmed he will retire at the end of the 2022 season and hopes to contest at least one more grand tour on home soil in the Vuelta a Espana.

Next year will be the veteran rider's 21st campaign in professional cycling and he sees no need to continue further despite still feeling able to compete.

Valverde, who ruled out competing at next year's Tour de France, will remain in a coaching role with the Movistar team after his retirement, given his contract will still have two years to run.

The 41-year-old won the Vuelta in 2009 and has achieved a further six podium finishes at the prestigious event.

Valverde has also finished third in the Tour de France and come third in the Giro d'Italia in the only time he competed in the Italian stage race in 2016, as well as being crowned world road champion in 2018.

The Spaniard returned from a two-year suspension due to the Operacion Puerto investigation in 2012, having had all of his 2010 results annulled after a lengthy legal battle.

"I say with total conviction, 100 per cent, that 2022 is going to be my last year," Valverde told Sports Radiogaceta.

"Even though my level is good at 42, it makes no sense to extend longer after 21 years in the business. What more do I want? My time has come.

"I want to enjoy my last season as a pro. I don't have my season sketched out yet, but a start at the Tour de France is already excluded.

"I hope to race the Vuelta next year, and we will study the Giro route too, and then there is the Classics and all the races on the Spanish calendar.

"When I retire I have a contract for two more years in the Movistar team. I will try to help the team as much as I can, especially by coaching young riders, which is something I like a lot."

With the NFL approaching the midway point of its season, time is running out to stack fantasy wins and make a run at the postseason.

Whether you're right in the mix or on the outside looking in, now is the moment to go on a run and ensure you will be playing in the championship bracket.

The best way to do that is to identify the players with the opportunity to produce a performance that can serve as the backbone of a matchup-winning effort.

Here Stats Perform looks at four offensive players and a defense who are well-positioned to do just that in Week 8.

 

Quarterback: Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles @ Detroit Lions

Hurts is developing a reputation as the king of garbage time stats and, though fantasy owners may not have the benefit of him playing from behind in garbage time this week, he does have an extremely favorable matchup to exploit.

Through his abilities as a dual-threat quarterback, Hurts has accounted for 2,077 yards of offense and 15 touchdowns so far this season.

He is averaging 245.1 passing yards per game and 51.5 yards on the ground. Going against a Detroit defense ranked 30th in yards per play, Hurts is a strong candidate to deliver gaudy fantasy numbers.

Running Back: Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers @ Arizona Cardinals

On the surface, Jones' matchup with a Cardinals defense ranked eighth in opponent yards per play allowed is a tough one.

However, only the Los Angeles Chargers are allowing more yards per rush than the Cardinals (4.97), and Jones should see a heavy workload on the ground and through the air.

Indeed, with Davante Adams a doubt after being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list and Allen Lazard out for the same reason, Jones - who is second on the Packers behind Adams with 26 receptions - could see a bump in targets from Aaron Rodgers.

Always a must-start as Green Bay's lead back, Jones' performance on Thursday could be a decisive one for fantasy owners, especially those who play in points per reception leagues.

Wide Receiver: Mike Williams, Los Angeles Chargers vs. New England Patriots

The Chargers will be out to get back on track as they return from a bye week following their Week 6 shellacking at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens.

And they will be hopeful of hitting on several explosive plays against a Patriots defense that has given up its fair share.

The Patriots have conceded 77 passes of 10 yards or more, the seventh-most in the NFL.

That should be music to the ears of Williams, who has eight receptions of 20 yards or more, four games with at least seven receptions and a touchdown and two 100-yard performances. Expect this big-play threat to exploit a vulnerable New England secondary to a significant extent.

Tight End: Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons vs. Carolina Panthers

The Falcons are surging, and much of that is down to the play of rookie tight end Pitts, who is living up to the reputation that saw him picked fourth overall in this year's draft by Atlanta.

Pitts has at least eight targets in each of his last three games and goes into Week 8 on the back of successive 100-yard performances.

Having clearly earned the trust of quarterback Matt Ryan, Pitts is receiving the target share and delivering the production to make him a must-start regardless of a tough matchup against a Panthers defense allowing the third-fewest yards per play in the NFL.

Defense: San Francisco 49ers @ Chicago Bears

The 49ers are firmly in must-win mode having dropped to 2-4, and the foundation for a winning effort in Chicago appears more likely to be laid by the defense.

San Francisco forced a pair of turnovers in the Week 7 loss to the Colts and the Niners' chances of adding to their takeaway tally seem strong with Chicago's rookie quarterback Justin Fields having thrown at least one interception in four of his seven appearances.

Fields committed five turnovers in Chicago's blowout loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last time out and a 49ers' front led by one of the NFL's premier pass rushers in Nick Bosa should be confident of forcing him into more.

Novak Djokovic's participation at the Australian Open has been cast in doubt once again as Victorian premier Daniel Andrews indicated the state that hosts the event will not welcome those who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Australian minister for immigration Alex Hawke revealed last week Djokovic, who has won a record nine titles at Melbourne Park, could only take part in January's tournament if he has received both jabs.

But the 20-time grand slam winner, who has declined to reveal his vaccination status, was given hope of competing after prime minister Scott Morrison said there would be exemptions should the state of Victoria – which includes Melbourne – agree.

However, responding to those comments on Wednesday, Andrews made clear his government would not apply for any sort of dispensation as it would not be fair on the other players and spectators who are fully vaccinated.

"The federal government manages the border and to the extent that anything the federal government says on this is clear, because their position has gone 180 from what the immigration minister said," Andrews said.

"What I'm making equally clear on behalf of every vaccinated Victorian who is doing the right thing... the only fair thing to do is to be very clear with every Victorian, my government will not be applying for an exemption for any unvaccinated player."

Recent reports suggested that over a third of professional players on the ATP Tour remain unvaccinated ahead of the 2022 Australian Open, which runs for two weeks from January 17.

Andrews added: "I'm not going to ask and actually require people sitting in the grandstand, people working at the event, to be vaccinated while players aren't.

"So we're not going to be applying for an exemption, so the issue is basically resolved."

Andrews also stated the same approach will be taken when Formula One returns to Melbourne in April next year.

Speaking last week, world number one Djokovic – who beat Daniil Medvedev earlier this year to win his latest Australian Open crown – told Serbian newspaper Blic: "Things being as they are, I still don't know if I will go to Melbourne.

"I will not reveal my status whether I have been vaccinated or not, it is a private matter and an inappropriate inquiry.

"Of course I want to go, Australia is my most successful grand slam tournament. I want to compete, I love this sport and I am still motivated.

"I am following the situation regarding the Australian Open... I believe there will be a lot of restrictions just like this year, but I doubt there will be too many changes."

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