Kevin Durant will be absent for the first time this season when the Brooklyn Nets welcome the Orlando Magic on Friday.

The superstar forward leads the NBA with 457 points this year, albeit now just behind Stephen Curry (29.5 points per game) in the early stages of the race for the scoring title (28.6 points per game).

Durant's MVP-calibre form has helped the Nets make an 11-5 start. Only in 2020-21 has the two-time champion previously scored more points through his first 16 games of a season (495).

But Durant will be out of the lineup for Brooklyn's next game after appearing on Friday's injury report due to a shoulder sprain.

The Magic game will bring to an end a run of 36 consecutive starts for Durant across the regular season and playoffs, having put behind him the Achilles injury he had upon arriving as a free agent in 2019.

Since his signing, the Nets are 41-22 with Durant playing some part and 60-53 when he is absent.

Rory McIlroy surrendered a two-shot lead at the DP World Tour Championship, with Shane Lowry one of those to rein him in as Collin Morikawa kept himself at the top of the Race to Dubai standings.

Three-time Race to Dubai winner McIlroy carded a brilliant 65 on Thursday, but he found the water on the last and his double bogey meant he recorded a two-under par 70, giving up the lead heading into the weekend at Jumeirah Golf Estates in the process.

Lowry, the 2019 Open champion, overtook McIlroy at the top of the leaderboard with a bogey-free 65, with American John Catlin left to lament a bogey on the third that ultimately cost him the lead. The duo are joined on 10 under by Sam Horsfield, who followed up Thursday's 68 by going around in 66.

Horsfield had to recover from dropping shots on the 16th and 17th, with a thumping, 369-yard drive setting him up nicely to birdie on the last and take a share of the lead.

"It's two more days left and then the end of a long year-and-a-half, I suppose, long couple of years," said Lowry. 

"I'm looking forward to giving everything and leaving it on the course this weekend and hopefully I'm there near the top of the leaderboard come Sunday afternoon."

Meanwhile, history hunting Morikawa kept himself in contention with a second straight score of 68 and sits level on eight-under with Martin Kaymer, one shot adrift of McIlroy and Alexander Bjork, whose sole victory on the European Tour came at the 2018 China Open.

The American currently holds the lead in the Race to Dubai by three shots. If he can hold onto his advantage, he will be the first American to be crowned European Tour champion.

In Morikawa's opinion, however, the best form of defence is attack, as he looks to seal his place in the record books by clinching victory in the United Arab Emirates.

"I'm aware but I've got to focus on the weekend," The Open winner said. "I want to win this tournament. That's all I care about, winning this tournament and everything else will kind of settle itself. 

"That's my focus. We've played a decent two days and we've got two more rounds to go."

Tommy Fleetwood, who won the Tour in 2017, endured a frustrating day as he went round level par, leaving him tied with six others, including Ian Poulter, on two under.

Casper Ruud revealed his approach was to "fight fire with fire" in his huge win over Andrey Rublev at the ATP Finals and is already relishing getting a shot at Daniil Medvedev.

The Norwegian has enjoyed a fine 2021, winning five ATP Tour titles, and has now moved into the semi-finals in Turin on his debut appearance at the prestigious year-ending event.

Ruud appeared to be on the way out when he was trailing by a set and a break against Rublev, having lost all four of the previous meetings between the pair.

But he fought back to win 2-6 7-5 7-6 (7-5) on Friday and extend his impressive season by at least one more match.

"The court is playing very fast and Andrey plays very fast," said Ruud, who triumphed despite only winning 98 of the 208 points played in an intense battle where his Russian opponent also impressed.

"He rips the ball harder than anyone on the tour and serves very well on his first serve. 

"We all want to play under control and with initiative, but it is not easy against Rublev because he makes you run and play defensively all the time. 

"I knew I had to fight fire with fire. 

"On the big points, I think I played quite smartly."

Aside from Ruud, the other three semi-finalists (Medvedev, Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev) are all former ATP Finals winners, making this event the first since 1994 where that has happened.

US Open champion Medvedev represents a daunting challenge in the last four for Ruud, who bounced back from an opening Green Group loss to Djokovic by beating alternate Cameron Norrie before his high-quality winner-takes-all clash with Rublev.

"I am looking forward to Saturday already – it is going to be another tough battle," said the 22-year-old after firing down 14 aces in his victory.

"Medvedev is a different kind of player to Rublev. He is one of the best in the world, and he has proven himself as one of the best over the past two or three years. 

"I have played against him a couple of times and lost both, but I know a little bit about what I am going to face, and it is going to be a fun challenge.

"I am just enjoying the moment."

Two of the last three players to reach the last four on debut at the ATP Finals have gone on to win the tournament, Grigor Dimitrov (2017) and Stefanos Tsitsipas (2019).

Ruud will dream of replicating that duo, but Rublev must come to terms with a second consecutive group-stage exit in the ATP Finals.

"It is tough," Rublev said. "Hopefully I can get through it to get a good lesson, which will give me a huge improvement.

"In the moment, I got tight, which is normal. Casper played well. He has a great forehand – one of the best on tour."

Nick Chubb has been activated off the COVID-19/reserve list ahead of the Cleveland Browns' Week 11 game at home to the winless Detroit Lions.

Chubb missed the Browns' defeat to the New England Patriots last week after testing positive for coronavirus.

The two-time Pro Bowler has played just seven games this year, having also missed two weeks with a calf injury. Cleveland are 4-3 with their star running back and 1-2 without him.

Indeed, the Browns' numbers across the board without Chubb are a concern, making his a timely return.

Their points per game have fallen from 27.6 to 12.7 in his absence, while both their rushing yards per game (169.6 to 118.0) and yards per carry (5.37 to 4.92) also unsurprisingly drop.

Cleveland's 217 net yards against the Patriots were their fewest in any game since Kevin Stefanski became head coach prior to last season. 

Fellow backs Demetric Felton and John Kelly were likewise placed on the COVID list before that loss, while Kareem Hunt remains injured, going some way to explaining why the Browns have rushed on 50.6 per cent of plays with Chubb in the team but just 40.0 per cent without.

Rookie backup Felton was also activated ahead of taking on the Lions.

Chubb leads NFL RBs this year for yards per carry (6.01), trailing only Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (6.03) among all players.

Despite his various absences, Chubb is third for rushing yards in 2021 (721), behind Derrick Henry and Jonathan Taylor (both 937).

Chubb's six rushing touchdowns are tied for his most through seven games, while only in his career year in 2019 did he have marginally more rushing yards at this stage (738).

However, the Lions are 16-4 all-time against the Browns, and their rush defense (4.36 yards per play, ranked 18th) has been far more effective than their miserable pass defense (7.68 yards per play, ranked 32nd).

Casper Ruud came from behind to defeat Andrey Rublev and reach the last four of the ATP Finals on his debut appearance at the event.

The Norwegian will play defending champion Daniil Medvedev in the semi-finals after a gruelling 2-6 7-5 7-6 (7-5) victory over Rublev in Turin on Friday that lasted two hours and 26 minutes.

Ruud had lost all four of his previous meetings with Rublev, who promptly moved ahead by comfortably winning his ninth straight set in this head-to-head.

Rublev then looked poised for victory when he struck first in the second set but Ruud, who hit 39 winners, fought back with two breaks of his own to force the decider in a high-quality contest.

The 22-year-old again bounced back from being broken in the third set and ultimately prevailed in a tense tie-break, producing a big serve when it mattered most with his second match point.

Ruud therefore finishes second to Novak Djokovic in the Green Group, with Rublev exiting at the round-robin stage for a second straight year after narrowly losing the winner-takes-all clash.

With Alexander Zverev also through, this is the first time since 1994 that three of the four semi-finalists are former champions – with Ruud the exception.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS 

Rublev - 33/22
Ruud - 39/31

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS 

Rublev - 14/3
​Ruud - 14/3

BREAK POINTS WON 

Rublev - 4/11
​Ruud - 3/5

Mercedes have failed with an appeal over an incident involving Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton during the Sao Paulo Grand Prix last weekend.

Verstappen forced Formula One title rival Hamilton off the track in Brazil last week in defending his position at the front of the race.

The race stewards "noted" the incident while the race was ongoing, but did not see any reason to penalise Red Bull's championship leader.

Hamilton went on to win the race, reducing the Dutchman's lead to 14 points with three races to go.

The Silver Arrows on Tuesday revealed they had asked for the stewards to take another look at the incident on the basis of "new evidence" from onboard camera footage.

It was confirmed on Friday Verstappen will not face any punishment after the stewards rejected the appeal.

The stewards explained: "There will always be some angles of video footage, because of limits in both technology and bandwidth, that are unavailable at the time.

"Whether or not stewards' decisions are considered to be right or wrong, and just as with referees' decisions in soccer, it does not seem desirable to be able to review any or all such in‐race discretionary decisions up to two weeks after the fact and the stewards therefore seriously doubt that the intent of the Right of Review in the ISC [International Sporting Code] is to enable competitors to seek a review of such discretionary decisions that do not follow on from a formal inquiry by the stewards and do not result in a published document."

Although the stewards agreed Mercedes had provided new and relevant evidence, they disagreed that it was "significant" in this case.

Their statement said: "The stewards often must make a decision quickly and on a limited set of information. At the time of the decision, the stewards felt they had sufficient information to make a decision, which subsequently broadly aligned with the immediate post‐race comments of both drivers involved.

"Had they felt that the forward‐facing camera video from Car 33 [Verstappen] was crucial in order to take a decision, they would simply have placed the incident under investigation – to be investigated after the race – and rendered a decision after this video was available. They saw no need to do so."

Both Verstappen and Hamilton were the subject of stewards' enquiries in Brazil, the latter handed his second penalty of the week due to a DRS issue.

The verdict was announced after Verstappen was fastest in the first practice session at the Qatar Grand Prix.

Will the NFL return to some form of normality this week? Maybe... or maybe not.

Even in this season of shock results without any clear Super Bowl favourite, Week 10 stood out for its sheer number of upsets.

The defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers were stunned by the Washington Football Team, the Miami Dolphins overturned the Baltimore Ravens and the short-handed league-leading Arizona Cardinals lost to the Carolina Panthers.

When the San Francisco 49ers then beat NFC West rivals the Los Angeles Rams in Monday Night Football, it became the first week in NFL history in which four teams had won by double-digits having entered the week at least four wins behind their opponents.

Week 11 looks no easier to call, and there are plenty of intriguing matchups before even considering the potential for further setbacks for some favourites.

Dallas Cowboys (7-2) @ Kansas City Chiefs (6-4)

With Patrick Mahomes back on form, two of the best teams in the NFL should be set for a titanic tussle at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday.

Mahomes, setting aside his shaky displays to that point, threw for 406 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions against the Las Vegas Raiders last week, becoming the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to have two games of 400-plus passing yards, five-plus TD passes and no picks in his career.

The 41-14 win represented the league-leading 10th time the Chiefs have scored 40 points in a game since the start of the 2018 season, yet they were topped by the Cowboys, whose 43-3 defeat of the Atlanta Falcons was their biggest since a 48-7 victory over Arizona in 2000.

The Cowboys have gone 5-2-1 all-time previously in games following a win of at least 40 points (including playoffs), but this was an unprecedented success. The team's 29 points in the second quarter in Week 10 were their most in a single quarter of any game in their history.

Indianapolis Colts (5-5) @ Buffalo Bills (6-3)

Neither the Chiefs nor the Cowboys can match the Bills' average winning margin of 26.3 points this year. That is the highest mark in the NFL, having been boosted by last week's 45-17 victory over the New York Jets, their NFL-leading sixth win by 15 or more points.

The Cowboys are ahead of the Bills in points per game, but Buffalo have given up the fewest points per game. The last team to lead on both offense and defense in this regard were the 2005 Colts.

The achievements of this year's Colts team have been rather more modest. Their five wins have come against teams with a combined record of 13-34 (.261).

Still, Jonathan Taylor has excelled, scoring a rushing touchdown in seven straight games – the last NFL player to reach eight was DeAngelo Williams in 2008. In fact, there is rushing talent on both sides of the ball, with the Bills last week having four different players score rushing TDs for the first time in team history.

Arizona Cardinals (8-2) @ Seattle Seahawks (3-6)

Another week, another big NFC West game. The Cardinals' form has tailed away a little since Kyler Murray's injury, but they are still unbeaten on the road and looking to start 6-0 away from home for only the second time in franchise history.

Meanwhile, the Seahawks have their starting QB back, but Russell Wilson did little to help their offense against the Green Bay Packers. He was shut out for the first time in his NFL career in his 166th start (including playoffs).

Seattle's problems on that side of the ball did not end there, though. They were held to under 100 rushing yards for a third consecutive game for the first time since the end of the 2016 season, while only twice in the 21st century have they seen such a streak extended to four games.

Whether or not the Seahawks recover this week, history suggests they are likely to be able to stick with the Cardinals. Six of the past 10 meetings between the teams have been decided by three points or fewer.

Elsewhere...

Cam Newton's Panthers face Ron Rivera's Washington, their first meeting since both left Carolina (Newton returned last week). This is the third time since 2010 a former MVP QB has faced the coach he won his award with, following Peyton Manning versus Jim Caldwell in 2015 and Tom Brady against Bill Belichick earlier this season.

The 49ers are now 4-1 when Jimmy Garoppolo's passer rating is above 100.0 this year (141.7 vs. the Rams) and 0-3 when it is not. He was helped last week by a season-high 156 rushing yards, keeping San Francisco's offense on the ball for just over 39 minutes. They should expect more of the same against the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have failed to force a turnover in six games this season.

The Cincinnati Bengals need both of their former LSU stars to rediscover some form at the Raiders. Joe Burrow has thrown an interception in five straight games, the longest active streak in the NFL, while Ja'Marr Chase – surely not helped by his QB's struggles – has fallen short of 50 receiving yards in consecutive games after making that mark in his first seven appearances.

The Detroit Lions will hope to learn from next opponents the Cleveland Browns, who have returned to contention since in 2018 becoming the first team in the Super Bowl era to end a losing streak of 10-plus games with a tie. Last week, against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Lions became the second.

Two weeks after scoring what may have been the NHL's goal of the season, Connor McDavid turned in a near replica on Thursday. 

Just 28 seconds after the Winnipeg Jets had taken the lead with the first goal of the game, the Edmonton Oilers' captain weaved through the Jets defence before flicking a shot past goaltender Connor Hellebuyck for the game-tying goal with 5:35 to play in the third period. 

That tally was enough to send the game to overtime at 1-1, and Edmonton eventually prevailed in the shoot-out as McDavid put another shot past the man who won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top net-minder two seasons ago. 

Afterward, the Oilers were left to try and describe something that even players at the highest level of the sport could not quite wrap their minds around. 

"It's surreal, right?" said centre Kyle Turris, who put home the clinching shot in the shoot-out. "It's the NHL -- everybody's a good player. I mean, you don't see that happen.

"He's just so fast and so quick in his movements and for him to pull things off like that in key, clutch times, that's what makes him the best in the world.

"It's a lot of fun to watch and you know it's always a possibility. So you're surprised but you're also not surprised because we see it everyday practice, too."

The rest of the world also saw it November 5 against the New York Rangers in an eerily similar situation, McDavid darting through the defence like a ghost to score the game-tying goal before Edmonton prevailed in overtime. 

"He scores big goals in big times in the game and takes the game into his own hands. Not many people can do that," said Oilers winger Zach Hyman. "And it's great to score crazy goals like that, but I think it's more impressive to score them in the timely manner that he's been doing it to give our team a chance to win. Special player, obviously."

Special is one word. Team-mate Cody Ceci went with "phenomenal", while Turris called it "magic".

McDavid's 11th goal this season gave him a point in all 16 games as the Oilers sit atop the Western Conference with a 12-4-0 record. 

"He can make something out of nothing," said Edmonton head coach Dave Tippett. "He's going through there and he's coming with such speed, and his agility is unbelievable. He's just hard to defend and if he can get a step on a guy he can get himself free and that's what he did today."

Stephen Curry is the "greatest three-point shooter of all time" according to his Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr following his latest domination in a 104-89 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Curry scored 40 points, including 20 in the fourth quarter, as the Warriors went on a 17-0 run to reverse a 13-point deficit and claim the road win on Thursday. 

The point guard made four three-pointers in the final quarter to finish the game with nine triples, which is the 10th time he has netted nine or more from the beyond the arc since April.

Curry has achieved that feat in a bit over six months, while James Harden is next best in the history of the league, with nine games with nine or more three-pointers across his career.

The two-time NBA MVP also brought up his 53rd career game where he has dropped 40 points or more, which he has done 15 times since turning 32 years old. Only Kobe Bryant (18) and Michael Jordan (38) have had more 40-point games at age 32 or older than Curry, who went past Alex English (14).

"He's one of the greatest players in the history of the game," Kerr said at the post-game news conference. "He's the greatest three-point shooter of all time.

"The way he moves off the ball, he's so strong and fluid. He understands the game on and off the ball. He's fearless.

"You throw all of that together, he's always capable of catching fire like that. As amazing as it was, it didn’t shock me because this is what he does."

Curry had gone into the game under an injury cloud with a left hip contusion but overcame that to play 35 minutes.

The 33-year-old admitted he was not sure if he would be able to play in Friday's game against the Detroit Pistons who are 4-10.

"I'll get an assessment," Curry said at the post-game news conference. "That [fourth quarter] charge really messed with me a little bit.

"I'm just trying to deal with that. We'll see how that feels when I wake up."

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick hailed his side's defense after their shutout 25-0 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday.

The Patriots improved to 7-4 across the season, extending their undefeated away run to five games, being one of two teams who remain unbeaten on the road.

New England also maintained their excellent defensive form, having allowed only 13 points in their past three games.

"I'm proud of the way our guys played on defense," Belichick said at the post-game news conference. "The coaching staff did a good job.

"I thought our defensive coaches really worked hard this week. It was a short week of preparation.

"[Falcons head coach] Arthur [Smith] is always giving us trouble, we had a lot of trouble with him at Tennessee. He gave us some problems tonight but fortunately we were able to get out of some of them one way or another.

"You've got to give the coaches and players a lot of credit. They did a good job."

The Patriots are second in the AFC East after winning their past five consecutive games, and defensive back Devin McCourty said they had discovered their "blueprint" but had to keep it up.

"We found our blueprint," McCourty told reporters. "It's hard work. It's putting in the hours practising hard. We can't let that slip up. End of November-December we have to stick to that.

"I think that's shown so far, when we stick that we have a chance to win a lot of games."

Stephen Curry led the Golden State Warriors' fourth-quarter charge and registered his fourth 40-point game of the season in a 104-89 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday.

Curry had been listed as "questionable" for the game due to a hip complaint but overcame that to post 40 points including nine three-pointers for the Warriors who improve to 13-2.

Golden State had trailed by 13 points early in the final quarter, before going on a 17-0 initiated by three consecutive Curry triples.

Curry had 13 points during the 17-0 run and 20 for the final quarter, as the Warriors flicked the switch with a 36-8 last period.

Draymond Green played a strong deputy hand with 14 assists for the Warriors, while Darius Garland had 25 points for the Cavs.

Curry also broke his own record for the most triples made by a player in the first 15 games of season, overtaking his 2018-19 haul of 80 and moving his 2021-22 tally to 85.

 

Sixers snap five-game skid

Guards Seth Curry (20 points, six rebounds and five assists) and Tyrese Maxey (22 points, five rebounds and four assists) helped the Philadelphia 76ers end their five-game skid with a 103-89 win over the Denver Nuggets. Nikola Jokic had 22 points in the first half but finished with 30 for the game, along with 10 rebounds and seven assists.

Jimmy Butler had 32 points, five assists and four steals while Kyle Lowry dished off 12 assists as the Miami Heat downed the Washington Wizards 112-97, despite Bradley Beal's 30 points.

Ja Morant starred with 28 points, five rebounds and five assists for the Memphis Grizzlies in a 120-108 win over the Los Angeles Clippers, with Paul George managing 23 points, including five from beyond the arc.

 

Murray loses his radar

Dejounte Murray only managed seven points, shooting at 17 percent from the field, missing all four three-point attempts in the San Antonio Spurs' 115-90 defeat to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The New England Patriots continued their mastery of the Atlanta Falcons, riding a suffocating defensive performance to a 25-0 road win Thursday. 

It was the Patriots' fifth win in a row overall and seventh consecutive victory against the Falcons as New England (7-4) dominated the game despite scoring only one offensive touchdown. 

Mac Jones hit Nelson Agholor on a crossing route for a 19-yard TD early in the second quarter that gave New England a 10-0 lead, as the rookie quarterback again showed impressive efficiency in completing 22 of 26 passes for 207 yards. 

It was a different story for Atlanta's veteran quarterback Matt Ryan, who completed 19 of 28 passes for 153 yards and saw his team rush for just 40 more in another disastrous performance.

The Falcons' last four drives of the game ended interceptions, including Kyle Van Noy picking off backup QB Josh Rosen and returning it 35 yards for a touchdown with 1:23 remaining. 

Kicker Nick Folk accounted for the rest of New England's scoring with four field goals from as many attempts, while Younghoe Koo missed his only try for Atlanta. 

The Falcons (4-6) were shut out for the first time since a 38-0 loss at the Carolina Panthers in December 2015, and on the heels of their 43-3 defeat to the Dallas Cowboys in the previous game, they have been out-scored 89-6 since their most recent touchdown early in the fourth quarter of a 27-25 victory over the New Orleans Saints on November 7. 

 

After a pair of frustrating seasons with the Los Angeles Angels, Shohei Ohtani was finally healthy in 2021, and he answered every challenge put before him on the way to an MVP season. 

The two-way sensation was a unanimous choice as the American League's Most Valuable Player on Thursday – early Friday in Japan – on the heels of a season that saw him perform feats that left fans and peers alike in awe. 

Ohtani easily led MLB players in WAR (wins above replacement) at 9.1 as he finished third in the majors with 46 home runs while also striking out 156 batters in 130.1 innings in 23 starts as a pitcher. 

The latter was especially impressive considering Ohtani pitched only 1.2 innings the previous two seasons combined as he recovered from elbow surgery, but the 27-year-old handled the workload with relative ease this season. 

"It was definitely challenging, but at the same time I had a lot of fun with it,” Ohtani told reporters through an interpreter on a conference call.

"I felt like the expectations from the team were very high and I wanted to do my best to try to answer those expectations."

He added: "I’ve always dealt with a lot of doubters, especially from my days in Japan. I tried to not let that pressure get to me. I just wanted to have fun and see what kind of numbers I could put up, and what kind of performance I could put up." 

After the voting results were announced Thursday, with Ohtani easily outdistancing Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Marcus Semien to win, former MLB pitcher CC Sabathia tweeted that the two-way star is the "BEST PLAYER I'VE EVER SEEN". 

Ohtani's Angels team-mate Mike Trout, the last unanimous AL MVP in 2014, also lauded his friend's performance. 

"Shohei’s season was nothing short of electric," Trout said in a statement released by the team. "At times, I felt like I was back in Little League. To watch a player throw eight innings, hit a home run, steal a base and then go play right field was incredible.

"What impresses me the most about him though, is the way he carries himself both on and off the field. With so much on his plate daily, he still manages to do it with a smile. Congratulations Shohei!"

Angels manager Joe Maddon added in a statement: "Shohei came to the States to play among the best on both sides of the ball and he accomplished that mission on the highest level

"Knowing him, this award is going to serve as motivation to exceed his previous accomplishments. I cannot wait to watch how his game helps push us to our goal of playing in the last game of the season and winning it. Congratulations to Shohei and his entire family on this special honour."

The best news for Maddon and the Angels is that Ohtani is under team control for the next two seasons, and is set to play 2022 on a team-friendly salary of $5.5million. 

Ohtani brushed off a question from reporters about a possible contract extension Thursday but made it clear how he feels about his team. 

"This is not the time to talk about contract stuff, but I want to make it clear that I love the Angels organisation and am looking forward to being a big part of the team for a long time," he said. "Right now I want to focus on winning next season with the Angels."

The Baltimore Ravens are bullish that quarterback Lamar Jackson missing practice due to a non-COVID-related illness this week is not a "big deal" ahead of Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears.

Jackson was not part of Thursday practice due to illness, having been sent home from the team facility on Wednesday morning.

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh clarified the illness was not COVID-related, easing doubts about Jackson's availability for Sunday's game, but Thursday's practice was the fourth time he has missed a session this season.

"I don't really think it's that big of a deal," Ravens center Bradley Bozeman said on Jackson's absences. "I know Lamar is doing his things at home that he needs to do. He's watching plays. He's getting everything right at home.

"When he comes back in, he's not going to miss a step. Week in and week out, he's continued to build on that and step up to the plate when he needs to. I don't see that being an issue."

The Ravens quarterback is enjoyed an MVP-like season, ranking eighth in the NFL in passing (2,447 yards) with 14 touchdowns and seventh in rushing (639 yards) with two touchdowns.

Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman added: "I think he's feeling better."

NFL officials' emphasis on calling taunting penalties this season has generated complaints from players, coaches and fans, but the league is not backing down from its stance. 

Multiple outlets reported the NFL sent a memo and video to its teams this week reiterating the new officiating philosophy. 

NFL officials have assessed 35 taunting penalties this season, ESPN reported, with 16 of them coming in the last three weeks. 

Perhaps the most controversial of those calls came in the November 8 game between the Chicago Bears and Pittsburgh Steelers. 

Referee Tony Corrente flagged Bears linebacker Cassius Marsh for taunting following a third-down sack of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the fourth quarter, extending a Pittsburgh drive that ended in a field goal for a 26-20 lead in a game they won 29-27.

Though Marsh insisted he had simply performed the same sack celebration he has used for years, Corrente said he threw the flag because he saw Marsh turn toward the Steelers bench "and posture in such a way that I felt he was taunting them." 

Directing any sort of reaction at an opponent is a key trigger to the new points of emphasis, as NFL senior vice president of officiating training and development Walt Anderson reiterated in the video distributed this week. 

"Avoid any actions where you approach an opponent or his bench and gesture, posture or otherwise demonstrate any verbal or physical form of disrespect," Anderson said.

"Turn away. Take the opportunity to celebrate with your teammates and don't put officials in the position of having to make a judgment about whether or not your actions rise to the level of a foul. Remove all doubt and don't put yourself or your team at risk of a penalty."

The video included examples of what the league considers acceptable celebrations by players in addition to those that cross the newly established line. The ultimate point, according to the NFL, is to encourage sportsmanship not only among its players but among those watching them play. 

"It's an exciting game. It's a game that's very emotional, but there are times that some people are egregious with celebrating and it can be over the top," Bears head coach Matt Nagy told reporters recently. "I think probably the biggest message is 'let's calm this down a little bit' because people watch, and people want to see a little bit of respect and a little bit of doing things the right way.

"It doesn't mean you can't have fun, right? But there's young kids out there right now that are watching games and what happens is you go to some of these sporting events and you might see some imitation going on that's taking it over the top.

"I'm a firm believer in respect and just kids growing and watching, and we have a huge platform as leaders. I'm talking players and coaches.

"So let's understand what the rules are, let's do it the right way, let's still have fun - these guys are still having fun and not taunting, you can still have a great time - but let's stay within the rules when we do it. So that's probably why."

While Nagy and some other coaches have said they support the point of emphasis, New Orleans Saints head coach and NFL competition committee member Sean Payton expressed concern Thursday about the way it is being applied. 

"I think it's being over-officiated," he said on the Dan Patrick Show. "I don't think any of us who discussed it [on the competition committee] saw it going where it is now."

Colombian Sebastian Munoz leads the way after the opening day at the RSM Classic in Georgia after carding a career round of 10-under 60 on Thursday.

Munoz landed eight birdies along with an eagle on the 15th hole on a day of low scoring at the event, which is played over both the Seaside and Plantation courses at Sea Island.

Zach Johnson, who like Munoz played his opening round on the par-70 Seaside course, is one stroke behind, while Mackenzie Hughes, Scott Stallings and Chez Reavie are also nine under after starting on the par-72 Plantation.

Munoz's round equalled Tommy Gainey's 2012 round record at Seaside, while Hughes, Stallings and Reavie also matched the Plantation course record with their 63s.

Johnson, who hit all 18 greens, said: "When you’ve got just absolute pure conditions weather-wise and pure conditions on the golf course — the best I’ve ever seen these two golf courses, period — you know you’ve got to get after it."

A further four players are tied at eight under in Russell Henley, Jhonattan Vegas, Talor Gooch and Corey Conners, with only the latter starting on Seaside.

Scottie Scheffler carded seven-under 63 at Seaside, working with Bubba Watson's long-time caddie Ted Scott for the first time.

Australian Cameron Smith, among the pre-event favourites, started with a six-under round at Seaside, while defending champion Robert Streb opened with a four-under day at Plantation. 

A double bogey at the Plantation seventh hole meant Webb Simpson slipped off the pace after shooting a three-under-69, while Louis Oosthuizen had an unspectacular one-under opening round at Seaside.

Music echoes through State Farm Arena and the crowd cheers as Trae Young dribbles the ball up the court for the Atlanta Hawks.

Like so many possessions in the NBA, the action begins with a team-mate – in this case, John Collins or Clint Capela – screening the on-ball defender, the man guarding Young.

Young is a good three-point shooter, so his defender must go over the screen. Young has seen this kind of defence countless times before and immediately dashes towards the hoop on the opposite side of the screener of his defender.

This leaves Young’s man mostly behind him, sprinting to get back into a better guarding position. Feeling his advantage, Young stops suddenly – or even pounces backward a bit – creating contact with his defender and launching a shot while flailing his limbs to exaggerate the contact.

Only, this season, NBA officials aren’t blowing the whistle.

The league placed an emphasis this offseason on reducing “overt, abrupt or abnormal non-basketball moves” that are employed specifically used to draw fouls, commonly known as foul-baiting.

While drawing fouls has always been a skill in basketball, the NBA felt that certain players were warping their movements in unnatural ways to get to the free-throw line and making the game less enjoyable to watch for most fans.

The changes have been dramatic league-wide, with teams averaging 19.6 free throw attempts per game, on pace to be the lowest in league history. Each team is committing just 18.8 fouls per game, on pace to be an all-time low.

And while free throw attempts have been down in the last decade due to the three-point shooting boom, an NBA game this season averages 4.4 fewer free throw attempts than one last season.

Young, fairly or not, has become the poster child for foul-baiting and has struggled to adjust early in the 2021-22 season. In an October 30 press conference, Young said he thinks the rule changes have gone too far.

“I don’t want to get fined too much, but this is frustrating,” Young said after a loss.

“When guys are driving straight and getting knocked off balance, it’s still a foul. There are a lot of things that they took out that were necessary – veering back and jumping into guys – that’s different. There’s certain things I agree with in the rule changes and there are things that are still fouls.

“Guys are going to get hurt, especially a little guy like me who is going up against bigger and stronger defenders.”

This season, Young is getting to the line 3.1 fewer times per game, on average, compared to last season. The fourth-year guard has kept his scoring average steady, though, by shooting career highs from the field and from three-point range.

Other stars have fared not quite as well.

Among qualified players, Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazer has seen his opportunities at the line drop the most in the NBA, a reduction of 3.8 attempts per game. Lillard has struggled in general this season, with his scoring average down more than eight points and with career-low shooting efficiency.

The Washington Wizards’ Bradley Beal has lost 3.7 free throw attempts from last season, the second most in the league, and has also seen his scoring drop eight points per game.

Only five of the league’s 30 teams have increased the number of free throw attempts per game over last season, led by the Chicago Bulls, who appear to be thriving under current rules with a new roster.

The Bulls are shooting an average of 2.5 more free throws per game than last season, thanks largely to the red-hot start of DeMar DeRozan, whose 7.9 free throw attempts per game are his highest since 2016-17 (8.7).

The Bulls as a whole rank eighth in the league in scoring defence this season, allowing 103.3 points per game after giving up 111.6 per game last season.

Largest improvement in points per game allowed Rank Team 2020-21 2021-22 Diff 1 Washington Wizards 118.5 103.0 -15.5 2 Denver Nuggets 110.1 98.9 -11.2 3 Golden State Warriors 112.7 101.6 -11.1 4 Cleveland Cavaliers 112.3 101.6 -10.7 5 Minnesota Timberwolves 117.7 107.4 -10.3 6 Brooklyn Nets 114.1 104.1 -10.0 7 Oklahoma City Thunder 115.6 105.9 -9.7 8 Indiana Pacers 115.3 106.8 -8.5 9 Chicago Bulls 111.6 103.3 -8.3 10 Sacramento Kings 117.4 110.5 -6.9

Teams are scoring 5.3 fewer points per game compared to 2020-21, and some of the league’s more defensive-minded players are finally feeling like they have a fair chance.

When asked about the officiating changes, Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green couldn’t help but express his elation.

"Can I say how satisfying it is to watch the game without all those terrible calls? Guys cheating the game and grabbing guys and getting the foul," said the six-time All-Defensive Team honoree and 2016-17 Defensive Player of the Year.

"I've been really enjoying watching basketball this year. I kind of had stopped watching the NBA a bit because it was just too flailing and flopping and guys cheating the game and getting free throws. So I think that's been great."

Former center and current ESPN analyst Kendrick Perkins, who built a 14-season NBA career as a defensive enforcer, has been among the media personalities who are most supportive of a more physical league.

“I love the rule change. I think it’s great for basketball. Now the older generation doesn’t have a reason to call us soft – the league is getting back to that point,” Perkins said on ESPN’s NBA Today.

“I’m a huge fan of Trae Young, but some of the calls are just not fouls, and he’s just going to have to fight through.”

Some players may already be adjusting to a different style of basketball, including infamous flailer James Harden of the Brooklyn Nets. Through his first 12 games of the season, Harden was averaging just 18.2 points and attempting 4.7 free throws per game.

Over his last four games, however, Harden is scoring a more typical 26.5 points per game and getting to the line an average of 10.8 times.

As the league starts to adjust, some in NBA circles are sceptical that scoring numbers will remain suppressed.

Memphis Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins has commented that the league’s dip in scoring could be attributed to players “trying to find rhythm and chemistry” and added that over the course of 82 games, the scoring totals “will definitely change league-wide.”

While players may adjust, the NBA appears adamant about keeping the emphasis in place as-is. In fact, teams are averaging even fewer free throw attempts in November than they did in October.

One unintended consequence of the change could be less willingness to drive into traffic, leading to more three-point attempts. While teams are launching an all-time high 35.7 attempts from deep per game, that trend has long been established, with the league breaking the record for three-point attempts per game in 10 straight seasons.

Whether it’s with deep shooting or another tactic, offences are sure to counter with new ways to find good shots.

"The league is an efficient market and is going to make adjustments," said Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault. "As offences boom, you figure out new ways to defend. It's a constant ping-pong game between both ends of the floor."

Daniil Medvedev withstood a superb fightback from home favourite Jannik Sinner to win a third straight match at the ATP Finals in Turin.

The world number two, who had already booked his semi-final slot with victory over Alexander Zverev on Tuesday, saved two match points on his way to a 6-0 6-7 (5-7) 7-6 (10-8) win in two hours and 32 minutes.

Medvedev committed just three unforced errors in a sublime opening set, wrapping it up with the minimum of fuss in 26 minutes.

A shell-shocked Sinner soon found his composure, though, and after a bruising hour and five minutes took the second set in the tie-break.

The Italian powered into a 4-2 lead in the decider, yet Medvedev fought back and sealed victory in the tie-break with a backhand winner on his second match point.

Reigning champion Medvedev will face either Casper Ruud or Andrey Rublev in the last four, with the pair facing off on Friday in the Green Group.

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS   

Medvedev  – 18/5
Sinner – 5/2

BREAK POINTS WON 

Medvedev – 5/11
Sinner – 2/5

Los Angeles Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani was a unanimous choice as the American League's Most Valuable Player for 2021, while Bryce Harper of the Philadelphia Phillies took home the National League award. 

It was the first time since 1987 neither league's MVP appeared in the postseason, but Ohtani and Harper were rewarded for their overall dominance. 

The 27-year-old Ohtani electrified baseball with an all-round game not seen in the 100 years since Babe Ruth gave up pitching to focus on hitting full-time and was the runaway winner in voting by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. 

Ohtani received all 30 first-place votes for a total of 420 points. Toronto Blue Jays star Vladimir Guerrero Jr. received all but one second-place vote as he compiled 269 points, and Marcus Semien of the Toronto Blue Jays was third with 232 points. Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees (171 points) and Carlos Correa of the Houston Astros (163) were next in the voting. 

Ohtani hit .257 with 46 home runs and an MLB-leading eight triples and also stole 26 bases while posting a .865 on base plus slugging percentage (OPS).

He was also dominant at times as a pitcher, going 9-2 with a 3.18 ERA in 23 starts while striking out 156 in 130.1 innings. 

Harper received 348 points, taking 17 of the 30 first-place votes. Juan Soto of the Washington Nationals was second with 274 points and six first-place votes, while Fernando Tatis Jr. of the San Diego Padres was third with 244 points and two first-place votes.

Brandon Crawford of the San Francisco Giants (213, four) and Trea Turner of the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers (185, one) rounded out the top five. 

Harper, 29, led the majors with a 1.044 OPS as he hit .309 with 35 home runs and an MLB-best 42 doubles.

He also won the NL MVP award in 2015 while playing for the Washington Nationals. 

 

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