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."

Atlanta Braves star Jorge Soler conceded Charlie Morton's injury had taken the shine off his team's 6-2 triumph over the Houston Astros in Game 1 of the World Series.

Morton took a hard grounder off the leg in the second inning but remained in the game to finish out the frame, then struck out the first batter of the third before leaving when the pain became too intense.

X-rays revealed the 37-year-old had suffered a broken right fibula, ruling him out of the remainder of the series.

Soler, who hit the third pitch of the game for a home run, said of Morton's setback: "It was extremely challenging for us.

"We saw him getting treatment and getting worked on. He went back out there to pitch on that broken leg.

"It was really challenging and emotional for us to have to see him in the game being hurt, our World Series opener, starter."

In the 117th edition of the World Series, Soler became the first player to lead off the top of the first inning of Game 1 with a homer – a welcome development for Atlanta as teams that score first in the 2021 postseason are now 25-7. 

"The energy was amazing and electric, especially after we took a 1-0 lead after that home run," said Soler.

"I feel extremely grateful to be here and be a member of this organisation. I feel like Atlanta opened its arms for me. They traded for me, and they gave me opportunity to play every day.

"So as far as I'm concerned, I'm extremely grateful to the organisation, to the fans who have definitely supported us, and like I said, I'm very happy to be here."

Astros starter Framber Valdez had been dominant early in games, allowing only one run in the first two innings over his previous six games combined, but he would retire only six of the 15 men he faced Tuesday before departing down 5-0 with no outs in the third inning. 

Beyond Soler's leadoff blast, the other big offensive blow for the Braves was a two-run laser over the left-field fence by Adam Duvall in the third that drove Valdez from the game.  

Game 2 is on Wednesday in Houston with Max Fried taking the mound for the Braves against the Astros' Jose Urquidy. 

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic missed the second half of the Denver Nuggets' 122-110 loss to the Utah Jazz on Tuesday with a knee injury but the team does not believe it will be a serious problem. 

Jokic was off to a torrid start when he banged knees with Jazz big man Rudy Gobert with about two minutes to play in the first half and left the game. 

Denver head coach Michael Malone said he decided to keep Jokic on the bench after a brief half-time discussion with the 26-year-old. 

The official diagnosis was a knee contusion and Malone said he was not sure if Jokic would need further testing. 

"I don't think it's anything too serious," Malone told reporters. "I went up to Nikola as he was warming up at half-time and said how do you feel and he said 'It feels a little weak' and I just shut him down.

"Nikola's a tough kid, we've seen him time and time again play through injuries, never sit out. Second night of a back-to-back, he's far too important for this team for us to risk him being out there if he's not feeling confident about it."

Though he played only 15 minutes Tuesday, Jokic ended up leading the Nuggets with 24 points and six assists, and he also added six rebounds before departing. 

Jokic made eight of nine shots from the field including all three of his three-point tries. 

After suffering 12-point losses to the Jazz and Cleveland Cavaliers on successive nights, the Nuggets (2-2) are off until hosting the Dallas Mavericks on Friday. 

Playing without the injured LeBron James, the Los Angeles Lakers saw their other two superstars step up in a 125-121 overtime defeat of the San Antonio Spurs. 

Anthony Davis had 35 points and 17 rebounds and Russell Westbrook contributed 33 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists to carry the Lakers on the road. 

James injured his right ankle Sunday against the Memphis Grizzlies but remained in the game. Though he entered the day listed as "probable" against the Spurs, coach Frank Vogel ruled him out before the game. 

Malik Monk got the start in James' place and finished with 17 points but the Lakers needed their big names to pull this one out. 

Los Angeles trailed by 12 in the fourth quarter before rallying to take the lead, but that momentum was halted when Davis went down late in the period with an apparent leg injury. 

Westbrook took control in overtime, though, and the Lakers will have to hope for good news on the injury front. 

Vogel said after the game that Davis banged knees with another player and his status for Wednesday's game at the Oklahoma City Thunder is unclear. 

 

Curry, Warriors rally to stay perfect 

The Golden State Warriors staged a second-half comeback to defeat Oklahoma City 106-98 and remain unbeaten while their opponents continue to search for their first victory of the season. The Thunder (0-4) led 74-64 with 4:15 remaining in the third quarter before Golden State (4-0) went on a 21-2 run to take control. Stephen Curry scored 23 points to lead the Warriors, while Andrew Wiggins had 21 and Damion Lee chipped in 20 off the bench. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 30 for Oklahoma City, who shot just 41.9 per cent from the field (36 of 86).

The Utah Jazz improved to 3-0 with a 122-110 home win over the Denver Nuggets, who lost reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic to a knee contusion late in the first half. Jokic led the Nuggets with 24 points despite playing only 15 minutes, while Rudy Gobert had 23 points and 16 rebounds for Utah. 

Luka Doncic had 26 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists to lead the Dallas Mavericks past the Houston Rockets 116-106. 

 

Curry disappears as Sixers fall to Knicks

Two days after scoring 28 points in a Philadelphia victory, Seth Curry was held to just four as the 76ers fell 112-99 to the New York Knicks. Curry missed all four of his three-point attempts and attempted only six shots overall in 30 minutes. Joel Embiid also struggled, making only two of seven shots from the field on a 14-point night. 

The Atlanta Braves had the best possible start and held on from there to take Game 1 of the World Series from the Houston Astros 6-2 on Tuesday. 

Jorge Soler hit the third pitch of the game for a home run and the Braves scored in each of the first three innings to build what proved to be an insurmountable lead out of the gate at Minute Maid Park. 

In the 117th edition of the World Series, Soler became the first player to lead off the top of the first inning of Game 1 with a homer – a welcome development for Atlanta as teams that score first in the 2021 postseason are now 25-7. 

Astros starter Framber Valdez had been dominant early in games, allowing only one run in the first two innings over his previous six games combined, but he would retire only six of the 15 men he faced Tuesday before departing down 5-0 with no outs in the third inning. 

Beyond Soler's leadoff blast, the other big offensive blow for the Braves was a two-run laser over the left-field fence by Adam Duvall in the third that drove Valdez from the game. 

His opposite number, Charlie Morton, also failed to make it out of the third, but his departure came through injury rather than ineffectiveness. 

Morton took a hard grounder off the leg in the second inning but remained in the game to finish out the frame, then struck out the first batter of the third before leaving when the pain became too intense. X-rays would reveal the 37-year-old had suffered a broken right fibula. 

Losing Morton for the remainder of the series will be a blow to Atlanta, but they cannot complain about the all-around effort that allowed them to break a string of eight consecutive World Series game losses dating to their last Fall Classic appearances in 1999 and 1996. 

Every batter in the Braves' starting lineup had at least one hit by the sixth inning and four relievers managed to keep Houston under control after Morton's injury. 

Atlanta also scratched out a late run thanks to some aggressive baserunning by Dansby Swanson in the eighth and got out of the bottom of that inning when NLCS MVP Eddie Rosario threw out Yuli Gurriel at second base as he tried to stretch a drive off the outfield wall into a double. 

Game 2 is Wednesday in Houston with Max Fried taking the mound for the Braves against the Astros' Jose Urquidy. 

Atlanta Braves pitcher Charlie Morton suffered a broken leg in the second inning of Game 1 of the World Series against the Houston Astros – but did not leave the game until the following inning. 

The Braves said X-rays showed Morton fractured his right fibula and he will miss the rest of the World Series. 

Yuli Gurriel led off the bottom of the second inning for the Astros with a hard one-hopper up the middle that deflected off Morton's lower right leg to Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman for an out. 

Morton struck out the next batter, Chas McCormick, then got Martin Maldonado to line out to end the inning. 

Morton came back out for the third inning, but grimaced as he struck out Houston leadoff man Jose Altuve and bent over to rub his lower right leg before leaving the game. 

The 37-year-old right-hander threw 16 pitches after breaking his push leg, two of them 96 mph fastballs. 

Morton, who helped lead the Astros to a World Series title in 2017, was the Braves' most reliable starter this season, going 14-6 with a 3.34 ERA as he led MLB with 33 regular-season starts. 

Entering the World Series, Morton had allowed six earned runs across three postseason starts this year. 

 

Anthony Joshua says he would welcome Tyson Fury's offer to help him train for his rematch with Oleksandr Usyk next spring.

Fury recently told Fox Sports Australia that Joshua would "definitely" beat Usyk with his assistance, going so far as to guarantee a win. 

Speaking with IFL TV, Joshua invited his longtime rival to come to his camp and even get in the ring with him, as long as he was willing to work for free. 

"He's more than welcome to come through the door," Joshua said. "He can even spar with me as well. I need a coach that's lived it, breathed it, so it would be perfect. That'd be the easiest way to get him in the ring."

The two British heavyweights have yet to square off after their agreement on a two-fight deal last summer fell by the wayside after both were obligated to fight different opponents first. 

While Fury completed his trilogy against Deontay Wilder with a win earlier this month, Joshua was upset by Usyk in September, prompting a rematch against the Ukrainian in 2022. 

Joshua's banter around Fury's offer had a tongue-in-cheek quality to it, but he did strike a nostalgic note in looking back on the sport's glory days. 

"I see pictures with Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Archie Moore, Muhammad Ali all sitting together," Joshua said. "They'll be in each other's training camps. ... Mate, come into my training camp. Come and see what the heavyweight champion gets up to. It's great. 

"Heavyweight boxing is thriving. So for me, Tyson can come and watch me train, 100 per cent. Sparring ain't fighting, is it? Do you know what I mean?

"So he can definitely come in, he's more than welcome to step into the gym and give me some tips. I ain't fighting him next anyway, so he ain't got nothing to worry about."

Every few years, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin's name surfaces in media reports as a potential candidate for a high-profile college football vacancy. 

It has happened again in recent weeks with traditional powerhouses the University of Southern California and Louisiana State University making mid-season coaching moves. 

Asked at a Tuesday news conference about speculation that he might end up in one of those jobs, Tomlin scoffed at the notion he would leave one of the NFL's most storied franchises to coach in the collegiate ranks. 

"I mean, that's a joke to me," Tomlin said. "I got one of the best jobs in all of professional sport. Why would I have any interest in coaching college football?

"That will be the last time I address it. Not only today but moving forward. Never say never, but never. OK? Anybody else got any questions about any college jobs? There's not a booster with a big enough blank check."

Tomlin, 49, spent a few years as a college assistant before being hired as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defensive backs coach in 2001.

He has been in the NFL ever since and has led the Steelers since 2007, winning the Super Bowl the following year. 

Tomlin has never had a losing season in Pittsburgh and led the team to the playoffs nine times in 14 seasons entering 2021. 

The Steelers are 3-3 this season, giving Tomlin a 148-81-1 regular-season record. He is 8-8 in playoff games. 

Tomlin is under contract with Pittsburgh through 2024. 

The Green Bay Packers have placed another wide receiver, Allen Lazard, on the reserve/COVID-19 list, meaning he will miss their primetime clash with the Arizona Cardinals.

Lazard follows star wideout Davante Adams in being placed on the list for the 6-1 Packers ahead of their meeting with the 7-0 Cardinals on Thursday.

Adams, who is vaccinated, would be able to play if he shows no symptoms of the virus and returns two negative results, with a spacing of at least 24 hours between each test.

However, Lazard is reportedly unvaccinated and is a close contact of a person who tested positive. As a result, he is out for five days.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has connected with Lazard for 15 completions this season for 184 yards and two touchdowns.

Green Bay could already be without defensive coordinator Joe Barry, who has tested positive for coronavirus, for the Week 8 contest.

Barry is vaccinated, meaning he will be able to resume contact with the team once he has recorded successive negative tests. However, that is not expected to happen before Thursday and Adams faces a similarly tight timeline.

While they will be without Lazard, the Packers are hopeful Marquez Valdes-Scantling could boost their receiving corps by returning from a hamstring injury that has kept him sidelined since the Week 3 win over the San Francisco 49ers.

However, it appears likely Rodgers will be playing with a depleted group of pass-catchers as he looks to guide the Packers to a potentially crucial win in the battle for NFC playoff positioning.

Stefanos Tsitsipas survived a minor scare in the first round of the Vienna Open before ultimately going on to beat Grigor Dimitrov in straight sets.

It was neck-and-neck for much of the first set, with neither player losing serve, but Dimitrov appeared to have the upper hand when he got to 6-3 in the tiebreak.

Tsitsipas recovered emphatically, however, the top seed reeling off five successive points to win the set and he went on to book his spot in the second round thanks to a 7-6 (8-6) 6-4 victory. He will face Frances Tiafoe next.

"Grigor is a tough competitor and the level of tennis was really high today. We both competed at our highest [level]," Tsitsipas said afterwards.

"That was great tennis that was being played during the entire match and I got really close to my [best] offence and showed incredible attitude [in] the last game, which was the one that was the most crucial of the match."

Alexander Zverev, seeded second, was also made to work in his first-round clash with Filip Krajinovic.

While he blew the Serbian away in the first set, he found himself 5-2 down in the second as Krajinovic looked set to level the match, but Zverev scrapped his way back and then served to love to win 6-2 7-5. Alex de Minaur awaits the German.

Casper Ruud and Felix Auger-Aliassime, seeded fourth and sixth respectively, were two other high-ranking players who also secured progression, boosting their ATP Finals qualification hopes.

Ruud was pushed hard by Lloyd Harris but eventually outfought the South African in his 7-5 7-6 (7-2) win, while Auger-Alisassime made fairly light work of Ricardas Berankis 6-3 6-2.

Indian Wells champion Cameron Norrie, who is also in with a shot of reaching the ATP Finals, beat Marton Fucsovics 7-6 (7-4) 6-1 to set up a meeting with Auger-Aliassime – the British number one is 11th in the FedEx ATP Race to Turin rankings, one above his next opponent.

At the St Petersburg Open, fifth-seed Taylor Fritz was the highest-ranked player in action and he needed a little over an hour to beat Emil Ruusuvuori 6-1 6-4.

Pablo Andujar defeated Federico Delbonis to set up a meeting with second seed Denis Shapovalov, while Ilya Ivashka beat Laslo Djere for the right to tussle with tournament favourite Andrey Rublev next.

Emma Raducanu collected her first WTA Tour victory as she defeated Polona Hercog at the Transylvania Open in Romania.

Raducanu, who was the surprise US Open champion in September after not dropping a set throughout the tournament, appeared at just her fourth tour-level tournament and came to Cluj as third favourite.

The 18-year-old had lost opening-round matches at previous events in Nottingham, San Diego and Indian Wells.

However, world number 23 Raducanu finally recorded her first victory as she overcame a first-set scare to triumph over Hercog 4-6 7-5 6-1.

In the opening match of Tuesday's fixtures, sixth seed Marta Kostyuk cruised past Bernard Pera 6-3 6-4 to secure her last-16 berth.

Irina-Camelia Begu, ranked one behind Kostyuk for the tournament, did not enjoy similar fortunes as Romanian compatriot Irina Bara triumphed 7-6 (7-2) 0-6 6-4.

Jaqueline Cristian survived a marathon slog against Kaja Juvan as she came from a set down to win 3-6 7-6 (10-8) 7-6 (7-3) and book a second-round meeting with Ajla Tomljanovic.

Number one seed Simona Halep – who departed at the quarter-final stage of the Kremlin Cup last week – plays her first game on home turf on Wednesday against Elena-Gabriele Rusa and could meet Raducanu in the semi-final stages.

Meanwhile, Liudmila Samsonova, the third favourite at the Courmayeur Open, cruised past Stephanie Wagner 6-3 6-0 while seventh seed Jasmine Paolini comfortably dispatched Martina Di Giuseppe 6-4 6-1.

Shuai Zhang, who is the third seed in Italy, also enjoyed a routine victory as she eased past Jessica Pieri 6-1 6-3 after fourth favourite Petra Martic crashed out 3-6 4-6 to Saisai Zheng.

DeMario Davis delivered a supreme defensive effort and earned plaudits from coach Sean Payton after the New Orleans Saints rallied for a 13-10 win over the Seattle Seahawks.

The Saints linebacker impressed for the visitors with 10 tackles in all as he and his team-mates had five sacks in the hard-earned victory at Lumen Field.

"We take a lot of pride in our defense," Davis said. "We've got to be able to play complementary football. We have a very high standard for our group and there's no other way that we would take it. Defense on the field with the game on the line. We get excited, and we play with a lot of energy in those situations."

Speaking about the string of sacks, which went 5-2 in New Orleans' favour, Davis said: "That's a credit to the cover guys. We can take away the first read, and he has to hold the ball. Credit to the D coordinator and the D line having a good rush plan for us. And then guys just executing their job.

"It's fun to play on defense when you know that all you have to do is do your job and it's going to work. Guys did their job. I think we were getting pressures early on, but we weren't getting them to the ground, we've got to find a way to get him on the ground."

Payton was full of appreciation as he watched on, with the Saints recovering from allowing a stunning 84-yard pass from Geno Smith (12 for 22 passes, 167 yards and one touchdown) to star team-mate DK Metcalf.

With Davis on his game, Payton savoured watching his team improve to 4-2 for the season, dealing the Seahawks (2-5) a fourth straight loss.

The Saints coach said of Davis: "Man, I just love the way he leads and plays with enthusiasm. He's really developed into not just run but pass as well. He's someone who has good instincts, can close the cushion on a run or a play in space. He tackles well. He's playing well, and I'm sure when we look at the tape, we'll see a lot of good efforts. That was a good hard-fought win."

There had been pre-game talk of a bomb cyclone hitting the Seattle area, but the worst-case weather threat failed to materialise.

Payton said such a forecast "kind of gets your attention", but in the end the storm was relatively tame, and the same could be said for the sniping among the sides.

Davis said of the at-times tetchy atmosphere: "Sometimes guys want to be tough on the field and talk after the play, and this is the most physical sport there is. You've got seven seconds to be as physical as you want to be, you got to prove it between the whistles.

"I'm never going to be the guy to talk after the whistles and doing extra because at that point you're just trying to bully someone. I've always been the guy that's going to bully the bully. And team-mates appreciate it when you have their back like that.

"I try to stay pretty level-headed between the whistles and while I'm on the field, but I'm always going to have my team-mates' back, and I think they appreciate it, and it gives them motivation."

Alvin Kamara's 13-yard touchdown reception gave New Orleans their lone TD of the night. Kamara caught 10 passes for 128 yards, becoming the first running back with eight-plus receptions and 100-plus receiving yards in the first half of a game since 2004.

Kamara said of his own effort: "I didn't know what to expect. Every game has a life in of its own self and the flavour of this week ended up getting a lot of touches."

Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer says Giannis Antetokounmpo had the "extra gear" required to get the reigning champions over the line in Monday's 119-109 win over the Indiana Pacers.

Antetokounmpo came close to his first triple-double of the new season, finishing with 30 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.

Budenholzer said the two-time NBA MVP was in "attack mode" as the Bucks improved to a 3-1 record.

"I think it was a really aggressive Giannis tonight but at the same time he's still making great passes, great reads, great decisions," Budenholzer told reporters after the game.

"When he's attacking and scoring and finding three-point shooters, that's when we're at our best. He had that extra gear tonight and we needed it."

He added: "Tonight he was special getting into the paint and creating some foul situations for them."

The Bucks were without guard Jrue Holiday (ankle) and center Brook Lopez (back) along with Bobby Portis, employing a shorter starting line-up.

Antetokounmpo admitted he was still getting used to handling Lopez's absence on court.

"At the end of the day, sometimes I feel like not having Brook out there is hard for me," he told reporters. "Should I go screen, should I get out of the way, should I go for the dunk? It makes me second guess sometimes."

Antetokounmpo was also full of praise for 23-year-old Bucks forward Jordan Nwora (nine points, four rebounds and three assists) who he said was "playing great" this season.

DeMar DeRozan insisted the Chicago Bulls "want to win now" after opening the season 4-0 for the first time since 1996-97.

The red-hot Bulls preserved their perfect record with a 111-108 victory against the Toronto Raptors in the NBA on Monday.

Chicago – the last remaining unbeaten team in the Eastern Conference – were busy in the offseason, having recruited four-time All-Star DeRozan, former second pick Lonzo Ball and 2020 NBA champion Alex Caruso.

It came after the Bulls traded for two-time All-Star Nikola Vucevic last season.

The last time the Bulls opened with a 4-0 record, Hall of Famer and six-time champion Michael Jordan was on the team in Chicago.

"Part of the reason why I even chose to come to Chicago was everyone was eager to be successful, to want to win," DeRozan said after scoring 26 points against his former team.

"Everybody had that chip on their shoulder, from the city to the organisation to the players that I spoke to.

"That was everybody's mindset, it's all about winning now. We're not in a development stage, we want to win now."

DeRozan added: "We've got a long way to go. We've got a lot more to clean up, to learn. It's a long season, man. [The 4-0 start] is great, but we've got a lot more basketball to go.

"We can't carry this record like it's some kind of badge of honour; we've got to understand that the next game is going to be even harder."

The previous two times the Bulls started 4-0 (1995-96 and 1996-97), they went on to win the NBA championship.

"I think we have a lot of high-character guys, we all want to win and we want to win together," Ball added. "I think when you have a bunch of guys on the same team with the same common goal and the same mindset it makes it easier for the chemistry to click. That's what's going on."

Manchester City had a relatively quiet off-season in the transfer market.

City landed Jack Grealish from Aston Villa in a big-money move but failed in their efforts to sign Tottenham star Harry Kane following Sergio Aguero's exit.

But the Premier League champions could be more active in the January transfer window.

 

TOP STORY – CITY PLAN FOR DE JONG SWOOP

Manchester City are plotting a move for Barcelona star midfielder Frenkie de Jong, according to Calciomercato.

De Jong, who also has interest from Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich, signed a five-year deal with Barcelona effective from July 2019, tying him down to 2024.

The 24-year-old Netherlands international has made 11 appearances in all competitions this season and is yet to score.

 

ROUND-UP

- Fabrizio Romano claims Manchester United have made no official proposal for former Chelsea and Inter boss Antonio Conte yet amid doubts over the future of Red Devils manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer following Sunday's 5-0 rout at the hands of Liverpool. Zinedine Zidane and Ajax's Erik ten Hag are also possible options.

- Manchester United's wantaway Dutch midfielder Donny van de Beek is preparing to make a January move with Voetbal International claiming he has swapped agents. EvertonNewcastle United and Juventus are all interested in Van de Beek, per Metro.

Paris Saint-Germain will switch their attention to Bayern midfielder Corentin Tolisso if they cannot secure a move for Manchester United's Paul Pogba, reports Calciomercato. Pogba has also been linked with Juve and Real Madrid.

Newcastle and Juve are contending to sign Barca forward Ousmane Dembele, according to Sport. Dembele is set to exit Barca at the end of this season and his agent has reportedly been in touch with both clubs about a move, while Liverpool and United are also possible destinations.

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo came close to a triple-double as reigning NBA champions the Milwaukee Bucks took down the Indiana Pacers 119-109 on Monday.

Antetokounmpo finished the game with 30 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, as well as two blocks and a steal to fuel the Bucks.

Bucks team-mate Khris Middleton provided good scoring support with 27 points, five rebounds and seven assists, including a remarkable three-pointer on the first-quarter buzzer.

Milwaukee pulled away throughout the game, leading by 15 points at the final change, having no issues in Jrue Holiday (ankle) and Brook Lopez's (back) absence.

While the Bucks improved to 3-1, the Pacers slipped to a 1-3 record despite Domantas Sabonis' 21 points, 13 rebounds and five assists.

 

 

Bulls maintain perfect start

The Chicago Bulls improved to 4-0 for the first time since 1996-97 thanks to a 111-108 victory against the Toronto Raptors. The Bulls led by 10 points with less than three minutes remaining before Fred VanVleet (15 points and a career-high 17 assists) missed a three-point attempt on the buzzer to send it to overtime.

Jayson Tatum posted 41 points, including six three-pointers, with seven rebounds and eight assists as the Boston Celtics outlasted the Charlotte Hornets 140-129 after overtime. The Celtics closed the extra period with a 14-0 run to storm to victory.

Paul George had a career-high eight steals along with 16 points as the Los Angeles Clippers won 116-86 against the Portland Trail Blazers. Luke Kennard added 23 points.

Jonas Valanciunas put up 22 points and a career-high 23 points as the New Orleans Pelicans snapped a season-opening three-game skid by topping the Minnesota Timberwolves 107-98.

 

Harden's radar still off

The Brooklyn Nets improved their record to 2-2 with a 104-90 win over the Washington Wizards although James Harden's shooting radar was off. The former MVP finished five of 17 from the field, including going at 12.5 per cent from beyond the arc for his 14 points.

Damian Lillard continues to struggle for the Blazers this season. The All-Star finished four-of-15 shooting against the Clippers, while he missed all eight of his three-point attempts. Lillard has made two of 24 three-pointers this season (8.3 per cent). He is shooting 34 per cent overall.

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