Giannis Antetokounmpo extended his run of 30-point games to eight in a row but it was not enough as the Milwaukee Bucks lost 114-106 to the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday.

The reigning NBA Finals MVP piled on 21 points in the final quarter to finish with 43 for the game as the Hornets held off the Bucks' charge, with Charlotte guard LaMelo Ball scoring 19 points, with nine rebounds and eight assists.

Antetokounmpo also recorded 12 rebounds and two blocks in a final all-round game for the Bucks, who were missing Jrue Holiday and head coach Mike Budenholzer due to the league's health and safety protocols.

Khris Middleton had a near triple-double with 27 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, including shooting four triples.

The result means the reigning champions hold a 26-16 record having lost three of their past four games, while the Hornets are 21-19.

Sabonis silences Jazz, Brown triple-double

Domantas Sabonis piled on 42 points, making his first 10 shots of the game, as the Indiana Pacers won 125-113 over the Utah Jazz minus Rudy Gobert.

Jaylen Brown recorded his first career triple-double with 22 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists as the Boston Celtics defeated the New York Knicks 99-75.

Jaren Jackson Jr scored 26 points with eight rebounds and five blocks as the Memphis Grizzlies, without Ja Morant, improved to a 27-14 record with a 123-108 win over the Los Angeles Clippers.

Leaders cooled by Heat

Chris Paul was quiet with nine points, seven assists and four turnovers as the table-topping Phoenix Suns lost 123-100 to the Miami Heat. Devin Booker had 26 points but shot five of 15 from the field, while Tyler Herro scored 33 points off the bench for the Heat.

Dak Prescott threw a career-high five touchdown passes and broke a franchise-record single-season record as the Dallas Cowboys defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 51-26 on Saturday.

Prescott completed 21 of 27 passes for 295 yards, claiming the Cowboys' record for most single-season touchdown passes, going past Tony Romo's mark of 36.

The win improves means the Cowboys finish the regular season with a 12-5 record but will need to wait on Sunday's result to learn their NFC seeding which could be as high as second and as low as fourth.

Dallas head into the playoffs with a 5-1 run across their past six games after a two-game mid-season losing streak and go 6-0 in the NFC East.

Cedric Wilson (119 yards for five receptions) and Dalton Schultz both scored two TDs, while Corey Clement, Ito Smith and JaQuan Hardy also got on the scoresheet.

Upon Hardy's 22-yard rushing touchdown, the Cowboys broke the record for most players (22) to score a TD in a single season.

The Eagles, who rested numerous key players, are playoffs bound despite a 9-8 record. Eagles QB Gardner Minshew, who stepped in for Jalen Hurts due to an ankle injury, threw 19 of 33 passes for 186 yards and two TDs with one interception.

World number one Jon Rahm made his move on the third day of the Tournament of Champions with a course-record round to join Cameron Smith with a share of the lead in Hawaii.

The Spaniard carded a 12-under-round 61 to move level with Smith, who led by three shots at the halfway mark, on 26 under after three rounds at the Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort.

Rahm's round was an equal course record, with 2017 PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas also carding a 12-under-61 on Saturday to surge up the leaderboard to 17 under.

Last year's US Open champion Rahm shot 11 birdies with one eagle and one bogey in his round, drawing level with the Australian when he sunk a 29-foot putt on the 17th hole.

Smith, who also had a one-shot lead after the opening day, held firm with six birdies on his back nine.

The lead pair are five strokes clear of the next best, with American Daniel Berger slipping off the pace after a third straight round of 66 to be 21 under.

Berger finished his round with five consecutive birdies to keep his faint hopes alive.

Matt Jones, Sungjae Im and Patrick Cantlay are tied at 20 under, ahead of Marc Leishman at 18 under with Thomas and 2021 Masters winner Hideki Matsuyama at 17 under.

Top 10 duo Bryson DeChambeau and Xander Schauffele were unable to make any major inroads on the third day and are further back at 15 under.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes says his side will be ready to win during the playoffs irrespective of whether they claim the AFC's top seeding.

The Chiefs improved their record to 12-5 with Saturday's 28-24 win over the Denver Broncos, which was Kansas City's 13th straight road win against AFC West opposition.

The result means the Tennessee Titans have to beat the Houston Texans on Sunday to move above the Chiefs to claim the AFC's top seed.

"We'll watch the game and everything like that," Mahomes told ESPN after the game.

"We handled our business today. We'll see what happens tomorrow. Regardless we'll be ready to win some football games."

The Chiefs may have clinched the top seed on Saturday had they not gone down 34-31 to the Cincinnati Bengals last weekend, snapping their eight-game win streak.

Mahones, who threw two touchdowns and completed 27 of 44 passes for 270 yards, said the Chiefs needed to improve if they were going to make a long playoffs run.

"We've got to be better. We've got what it takes," Mahomes said.

"We've got everybody in the locker room to do what we want to do but we've got to be better if we want to make a run through the AFC because it's a tough division."

The Chiefs appeared in danger of a loss to the Broncos until ex-Los Angeles Chargers linebacker Melvin Ingram's tackle on Broncos running back Melvin Gordon forced a fumble which rookie Nick Bolton scooped and scored from in the fourth quarter.

"That was a heck of a play by Melvin Ingram," Mahomes said. "That's the reason why we got him here. He makes plays like that."

Patrick Mahomes threw two touchdown passes but Missouri rookie Nick Bolton came up with the key play as the Kansas City Chiefs kept their AFC top seeding hopes alive with a seesawing 28-24 win over the Denver Broncos.

Bolton delivered a 86-yard scoop and score to give the Chiefs a lead they would not relinquish in the fourth quarter after Melvin Ingram's tackle forced a fumble from Broncos running back Melvin Gordon.

The result means the Chiefs (12-5) will claim the AFC top seed if the Tennessee Titans (11-5) fail to beat the Houston Texans on Sunday.

The victory was also the Chiefs's 13th straight road win against AFC West opponents.

Mahomes completed 27 of 44 passes for 270 yards with two TD passes for Travis Kelce in the first quarter and Jerick McKinnon in the third. The Kansas City QB also rushed 54 yards from nine carries.

The Broncos, who will finish last in the AFC West with a 7-10 record, were difficult to shake all game, with QB Drew Lock rushing two touchdowns, while running back Gordon scored a 47-yard TD to put them up 20-17 in the third.

The Chiefs found the match-winning play in the fourth quarter as the Broncos closed the nine-yard line after a 10-play drive with Ingram forcing the error and Lock unable to tackle Bolton.

Klay Thompson will make his long-awaited comeback from injury when the Golden State Warriors play the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday at Chase Center.

Thompson – a key part of Golden State's championship-winning teams in 2015, 2017 and 2018 – suffered an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear during the Warriors' failed 'three-peat' attempt in 2019 and then injured his Achilles tendon during recovery.

He has been scrimmaging freely since the middle of November and was able to take part in a full-speed scrimmage with the team's starters in Denver last week when the Warriors' clash with the Nuggets was postponed.

On Saturday, the 31-year-old posted on Instagram a video from the 1996 movie Space Jam where Bill Murray's character returns to a basketball game, with Thompson writing: "How I'm pulling up to [Chase Center] tomorrow. Bill Murray is my spirit animal.

"I'm so excited to see y'all Dubnation. Let's get it!"

Thompson has not played since game six of the 2019 NBA Finals before suffering an Achilles injury in November 2020.

Since entering the league as the 11th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, Thompson boasts a career average of 19.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game, while shooting at 45.9 per cent from the field and 41.9 from three-point range.

The Warriors currently have the second-best record in the NBA (29-9), only behind the Phoenix Suns (30-8).

Rafael Nadal fended off a battling Emil Ruusuvuori to reach the Melbourne Summer Set final as the Spanish veteran bids to land the 89th singles title of his stellar career.

Nadal, who has won at least one ATP Tour tournament in every season from 2004 onwards, will look to extend that streak into a 19th year after scoring a 6-4 7-5 win on Rod Laver Arena.

He has not captured a title in Australia since 2009, when he landed his only Australian Open triumph to date by beating Roger Federer.

Nadal will be a strong favourite against American qualifier Maxime Cressy in Sunday's final, despite being made to work hard to see out victory over 22-year-old Ruusuvuori.

The 35-year-old Mallorcan looked set for a routine win but dropped serve at 5-3 in the second set, allowing world number 95 Ruusuvuori a path back into the contest.

It provided Nadal with a test of resolve that he came through, tying up victory in an hour and 56 minutes, an encouraging sign as he continues to battle for full sharpness after a near five-month absence.

Nadal acknowledges he may not have long left in tennis, and he wants to make the most of the opportunities that remain.

"I just love what I'm doing," he said in an on-court interview. "I always feel passionate about the sport in general and I feel a very lucky person that I can live from one of my hobbies, tennis.

"I know it's not forever and it's not a job I'm going to do for 50 years, but I want to enjoy it as much as I can while I still have the chance."

The foot injury that caused the 20-time grand slam winner to curtail his 2021 season in August has not prevented him finding winning form this week and now Paris-born Cressy awaits, with the 24-year-old world number 112 enjoying a remarkable week.

Cressy was a 7-5 7-6 (11-9) winner on Saturday against Bulgarian third seed Grigor Dimitrov, serving 17 aces on the way through to his first ATP Tour final.

At the Adelaide International 1 event, Gael Monfils will face Karen Khachanov for the trophy.

Top seed Monfils ended the spirited run of Australian wildcard Thanasi Kokkinakis, earning a 7-5 6-0 semi-final win, while second seed Khachanov battled past former US Open champion Marin Cilic 7-6 (7-3) 6-3.

Ash Barty moved a step closer to a second Adelaide International title in three seasons as she crushed defending champion Iga Swiatek's hopes in the semi-finals.

Competing as a stepping stone towards her principal goal of challenging for the Australian Open title later in the month, home favourite Barty sped to a 6-2 6-4 win over the 2020 French Open winner.

She served fewer aces than Swiatek – five to the seven fired down by the 20-year-old Pole – but Barty's powerful forehand proved decisive as she made snappy work of ending the contest.

Barty will face Elena Rybakina in Sunday's final, after the Kazakh beat Japan's Misaki Doi 6-4 6-3. Queenslander Barty beat Dayana Yastremska in the 2020 final.

Having won the French Open and Wimbledon already in her career, Barty will be the favourite at the Australian Open, which begins on January 17 in Melbourne.

The world number one, by seeing off ninth-ranked Swiatek, boosted her win-loss record against top-10 WTA rivals to 8-1 since the beginning of last year.

Barty said, quoted on the WTA website: "It is exciting to be able to play well here in Australia. This is where I want to play my best tennis. I want to give myself an opportunity to play for titles in Australia.

"It's something really exciting to start the year off as an Aussie player in front of our home fans."

Reflecting on a positive performance, Barty, who has also reached the doubles final with Storm Sanders, said: "I felt like on Iga's service games I was able to get into most of them, which is important when you're playing someone who can dominate with that first ball and first strike.

"I felt like I was able to build pressure over time, making her play a lot of balls on her service games, not giving her too many cheapies."

Swiatek is entered into next week's Sydney Classic and learned on Saturday that she faces a testing opener there, having been drawn to face Great Britain's US Open champion Emma Raducanu in a standout first-round match.

At the Melbourne Summer Set 2 tournament, Russian third seed Daria Kasatkina suffered a shock 6-2 6-0 semi-final defeat at the hands of American world number 78 Amanda Anisimova.

Anisimova goes on to face fellow unseeded player Aliaksandra Sasnovich for the title, after the Belarusian beat American Ann Li 7-6 (7-4) 2-6 6-3.

Kevin Durant has reiterated that he will not try and force or persuade Kyrie Irving to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Irving had been left off the Brooklyn Nets' initial roster for the 2021-22 season, as he had elected against receiving a vaccine.

New York City's vaccine mandate means the seven-time All-Star cannot play home games unless he gets vaccinated.

Irving would have been available to play most road games, though the Nets elected not to include him at all.

That changed when, due to a depleted roster caused by a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases, Irving was recalled, and the point guard returned with a 22-point display in Wednesday's win over the Indiana Pacers.

Yet Irving could not feature on Friday as the Nets went down 121-109 at home to the Milwaukee Bucks. 

Durant insisted the Nets must accept Irving's decision.

"I told him how important he is, how much I want him to play, play every game," Durant told reporters.

"But I'm not about to force somebody to get a vaccine, like that's not my thing. So he can play basketball? Nah, I'm not about to do that.

"We've had conversations about wanting him to be a part of the team and conversations about him being here full-time, but that's on his time. Whatever decision he want to make, he's going to make.

"It's on us to be professionals no matter what and do our jobs. All of us, from the owner down to the equipment manager, so whenever he ready, he'll be ready."

In Irving's absence, Durant and fellow star man James Harden delivered 29 and 16 points respectively for the Nets, but Milwaukee, inspired by Giannis Antetokounmpo's 31 points, had too much.

"I haven't even asked for an explanation," Durant continued. "It ain't my place I don't think. So I'm ready for whatever, that's been my whole mentality. 

"It's a weird situation, who knows? I don't understand most of this s***. COVID, all of this stuff has been crazy."

Harden added: "It felt good honestly to have him back [on Wednesday]. It felt good. It felt like an extra life that we had. 

"But we got to live with what we're dealt with, and that's home games we've got to figure ways and even road games.

"Just because Ky's on the road with us doesn't mean it's going to be easy for us as well. So we've got to mesh, we've got to find ways to win games."

Bucks talisman Antetokounmpo was asked whether his approach would be different.

"When it comes to basketball, I feel like I can talk to them," he replied. "I've got to let them make their decision. They're grown men and every situation is different.

"I cannot pressure somebody to do something that he doesn't feel comfortable doing. I can tell you why I did it. Why I felt comfortable doing it. To protect my family, to protect my mom and stuff, stay safe, and you just hope he understands that. But if he doesn't want to do it, I can't keep pressuring him."

Most of the games in the additional week added to the NFL season have little meaning.

However, the much-publicised 'biggest season ever' will end in dream fashion for the league, with the Las Vegas Raiders hosting what essentially amounts to a play-in game in their shiny new stadium against a Los Angeles Chargers team trying to become big business in one of the largest media markets.

It is winner-take-all, with the victor securing a place in the Wild Card round and the loser left to wonder what might have been.

And, given the teams involved, it is certain to attract monster ratings as the primetime finale to the regular season.

That begs a little-discussed question. Should the NFL, having already extended the regular season and the postseason, follow the NBA's lead and make play-in games a permanent fixture of the calendar by instituting a play-in tournament?

NBA tournament met with criticism

The NBA implemented play-in games for the 2019-20 season and expanded to a play-in tournament, contested by seeds 7-10 in each conference, for 2020-21.

It received sharp criticism from LeBron James, who said: "Whoever came up with that s*** needs to be fired."

Yet James produced the most compelling argument for the play-in tournament remaining in place as his Los Angeles Lakers met the Golden State Warriors in the 7-8 matchup and he hit the decisive three-pointer over Stephen Curry in a 103-100 thriller.

Such high-profile names delivering such high-stakes drama will have only vindicated those in the league office who backed the play-in tournament, and surely somebody among the NFL's powers that be will have paid attention.

Marquee matchups

The NFL does not need star names to be on show for people to watch. As the United States' number one sports league, primetime NFL games typically attract huge television audiences regardless of who is playing.

There is little doubt a play-in tournament would be a success in that sense, and in it would provide some hugely attractive matchups this season.

With seven teams from each conference qualifying for the playoffs, an equivalent tournament in the NFL would need to involve the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth seeds.

Were the season to end today, that would mean a bracket with the Indianapolis Colts, Chargers, Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC. In the NFC, the San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings would contest the tournament.

In other words, it would put eight franchises steeped in history into winner-take-all games in front of massive international audiences.

Additionally, it would prevent awkward tiebreaking scenarios such as the one that could come to pass in the NFC, where the Niners will miss out if they, the Eagles and Saints all finish 9-8 because of an inferior conference record, this despite them beating the Eagles in Week 2 of the regular season.

Yet a play-in tournament would likely meet stern opposition for several reasons.

Safety concerns

The decisions to expand the playoff field to 14 and then extend the regular season by an extra game were not exactly wildly popular, and it's unlikely the NFL Players Association would be thrilled about eight teams potentially having to play two more games just to get into the playoffs.

Those teams would be at a competitive disadvantage to the rest of the field that would have the benefit of a bye week, though the counter-argument would be that winning your division - and therefore avoiding the tournament - would be more meaningful.

And beyond concerns about player safety, asking teams to possibly risk losing a playoff place to a team they outperformed in the regular season is likely to be an extremely tough sell.

The NFL is not exactly struggling for eyeballs, so at this point adding a play-in tournament would be viewed by many as needless following the recent expansion of the schedule, with the negatives in terms of player safety and potential competitive disadvantages in the early rounds of the playoffs outweighing the benefits in revenue and eliminating tiebreakers.

But, with the 17th regular-season game perceived by some as a stepping stone to an 18th, there is no guarantee the NFL is done with schedule expansion. And, nothing, not even what would certainly be a controversial play-in tournament, can be ruled out.

Novak Djokovic will be "p***ed off" and more determined than ever to win the Australian Open if he is freed from detention on Monday, according to Nick Kyrgios.

The nine-time champion at Melbourne Park had his visa revoked when he arrived in Australia this week, with Border Force officials determining he had "failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements".

He secured an injunction to avoid immediate deportation on Thursday and is spending the weekend at the Park Hotel, also home to refugees and asylum seekers, before his case is heard in court on Monday.

His lawyers have filed a detailed response and called for Djokovic to be liberated, also revealing the 34-year-old Serbian tested positive for COVID-19 on December 16 and has made a full recovery.

Djokovic has a startling 82-8 win-loss career record at the Australian Open and has earned $21,775,855 (US dollars) for his endeavours at the first grand slam of the tennis season.

Should he be cleared to play this time, and successfully defend his title, it would make him the outright leader for men's grand slam titles with 21, nudging him ahead of Rafael Nadal, who is also set to compete, and Roger Federer, who is absent.

Kyrgios has been a fierce critic of Djokovic in the past, but the Australian firebrand this week said the handling of the Belgrade superstar's case had been "really bad" and those taking satisfaction from his situation should "do better".

Having aired those views on social media, Kyrgios expanded on his thoughts in a news conference on Saturday, saying: "For the sport, we need him here.

"I'm feeling for him now, it's not really humane what’s going on. If he's allowed to play the Australian Open, I don't want any bar of him. I reckon he's going to be p***ed off.

"He's going to be very determined to play well and stick it to everyone. And I don't want any bar of that Novak."

 

Kyrgios claimed media coverage of his comments about Djokovic has "divided us", stating his past remarks have been "blown out of proportion".

In January 2021, Kyrgios described Djokovic as "a tool" after reports he was seeking privileged quarantine restrictions ahead of last year's Australian Open.

Speaking to the No Challenges Remain podcast in 2019, Kyrgios said of Djokovic: "I just feel like he has a sick obsession with wanting to be liked. He just wants to be like Roger [Federer]."

There has been obvious animosity in the past, but this time around Kyrgios is siding with Djokovic. He wants there to be a greater respect shown by Australia towards the world number one.

"I feel he's helped us as well. Like during the bushfires, he was supportive, he was helping us out," Kyrgios said.

"I feel like I could use this as a publicity stunt. I could just agree with the general person and say, 'Yeah, this isn't good', and use it. But I don't think that's right."

Canada will face Spain in their first ATP Cup final after eliminating defending champions Russia in Saturday's semi-final in Sydney. 

Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime beat Russian duo Daniil Medvedev and Roman Safiullin 4-6 7-5 10-7 in the doubles to complete a tense 2-1 victory for Canada.

World number 14 Shapovalov edged Safiullin 6-4 5-7 6-4, but US Open champion Medvedev levelled up with a 6-4 6-0 win against Auger-Aliassime in the other singles match.

That set up a doubles showdown for the right to face Spain, who overcame Poland on Friday, which Canada came from behind to win.

Russia held in the opening set to take the lead, though a break of serve late in the second set for Canada ensured the contest would be decided by a tie-breaker.

Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime held their nerve at the Ken Rosewall Arena, recovering from 6-5 down to win 10-7.

It marks a remarkable comeback in more ways than one for Canada, who lost their first four matches of the competition.

"Denis helped me and the team to push myself," Auger-Aliassime said in his on-court interview. 

"We had a tough start in the doubles, so to be able to come back in this way, it's really a team effort.

"That's what the ATP Cup is about. You can still win after being one-all and losing a tough singles. It's really about the team effort and we're happy to be through."

Novak Djokovic tested positive for COVID-19 in December and was later given the go-ahead by Australia's Department of Home Affairs to travel to Melbourne, his lawyers said on Saturday.

The men's tennis world number one is being detained at the Park Hotel in Melbourne ahead of a court hearing on Monday that should determine whether he is allowed to stay in Australia.

The Australian Open begins on January 17 and Djokovic's legal team are battling for him to be freed in order to prepare for and participate in the tournament.

Australian Border Force officials cancelled his visa application on Thursday, stating Djokovic had "failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia".

Djokovic had been granted a medical exemption by organisers of the first grand slam of the year, but his fate now hangs in the balance.

His lawyers filed a detailed submission to the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia on Saturday, in which it was stated that Djokovic was granted a temporary activity visa on November 18.

 

This did not contain any conditions regarding his vaccination status, lawyers for Djokovic said, adding that the Serbian then tested positive for coronavirus, after a PCR check, on December 16. This was confirmed by the Institute of Public Health of Serbia, the 34-year-old's lawyers said.

Subsequently, having recovered from COVID-19, Djokovic was informed he was eligible to play the first grand slam of 2022 by Tennis Australia officials.

According to details filed by his lawyers, Djokovic received confirmation on December 30 from Tennis Australia's chief medical officer that he had been awarded a medical exemption to compete, on the basis he had recently recovered from the virus.

"Mr Djokovic had also received, on 01 January 2022, a document from the Department of Home Affairs in regard to his Australian Travel Declaration," his lawyers said.

This document, according to his representatives, stated that Djokovic was informed "[his] responses indicate[d] that [he met] the requirements for a quarantine-free arrival into Australia where permitted by the jurisdiction of your arrival".

If cleared to leave his hotel and compete in the Australian Open, Djokovic will be seeking a 10th title at Melbourne Park and a 21st grand slam. He currently shares the men's record of 20 major titles with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Giannis Antetokounmpo registered a seventh successive 30-point game against the Brooklyn Nets as he propelled the Milwaukee Bucks to victory.

In the first meeting between these teams at the Barclays Center since last season's overtime win for the Bucks in the playoffs, Antetokounmpo stole the show on his return from a one-game illness absence.

Milwaukee lost to the Toronto Raptors without their talisman, a second straight defeat after a shock reverse to the Detroit Pistons, but the reigning NBA champions snapped that mini losing streak in style with a 121-109 triumph on Friday.

Antetokounmpo had 31 points, seven rebounds and nine assists. He went into the game having recorded 30 or more points and at least 10 rebounds in each of his previous six appearances against Brooklyn, including postseason meetings.

The Bucks were without several key players, including Jrue Holiday, and coach Mike Budenholzer due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols, but they just had too much in the form of Antetokounmpo, who was ably supported by Bobby Portis, who had a double-double of 25 points and 12 rebounds.

The Nets has snapped a three-game losing streak on Wednesday by beating the Indiana Pacers, with Kyrie Irving returning.

However, Irving was not available for this home game, as he cannot play in New York state due to not being vaccinated against COVID-19.

Kevin Durant scored 29 points and James Harden added 16, but the Bucks had too much as they moved onto 26-15 for the season, though the Nets remain ahead of Milwaukee in second place in the Eastern Conference.

LaVine leads the way as Bulls roll on

The Chicago Bulls top the East and their winning run was extended to nine games thanks to a 130-122 defeat of the Washington Wizards.

Zach LaVine had a game-leading 27 points, as the Bulls ended a run of three games in which they had won by five points or fewer.

The Bulls have now matched their longest winning streak since 2010-11, when Chicago won nine in a row to finish the regular season.

James and Jokic rampant

LeBron James led the Los Angeles Lakers to their first four-game winning run of the season as he scored 32 points against the Atlanta Hawks, adding eight rebounds and nine assists in a convincing 132-118 victory.

The Lakers are now 21-19 and sixth in the Western Conference, a place ahead of the Denver Nuggets, who had reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic reach 20 points for a seventh straight game in a 121-111 win over the Sacramento Kings.

Naomi Osaka will be hoping to be fit for the Australian Open after the reigning champion withdrew from the Melbourne Summer Set 1.

Osaka, who won the most recent of her four grand slam titles last year at Melbourne Park, has looked in fine form this week in her first appearances since returning from the break she took from tennis last year.

The top seed beat Alize Cornet, Maryna Zanevska and Andrea Petkovic en route to the semi-finals, but could not compete against Veronika Kudermetova on Saturday, citing an abdominal injury.

Osaka explained that her body had taken a hit from playing such intense matches in consecutive days, and she instead is looking to rest and recover ahead of the first grand slam of the season, which starts on January 17.

"Sad to withdraw due to injury from my match today, my body got a shock from playing back to back intense matches after the break I took," Osaka tweeted.

"Thank you for all the love this past week [Red heart] I’ll try to rest up and I’ll see you soon!"

Osaka's injury has prevented what looked to be an enticing showdown with Simona Halep, who guaranteed a place in a WTA Tour singles final for a 13th successive season by beating Chinese teenager Zheng Qinwen 6-3 6-2.

Halep's first final came in 2010 and she has taken just a week to get back into her stride after an injury-ravaged 2021 season.

The Romanian, a two-time grand slam champion, went into the week ranked at world number 20, her lowest position at the start of a season since 2013.

However, she has now reached at least the semi-final stage in three successive tournaments, and she will fancy her chances against third seed Kudermetova, who is into her third singles final.

Cameron Smith produced another stunning round at the Tournament of Champions to claim a three-stroke lead at the halfway point in Hawaii.

The Australian had carded a pair of eagles en route to an eight-under 65 on day one and went one better at the Plantation Course at Kapalua on Friday.

Smith recovered from back-to-back bogeys to start the round to make the turn in a three-under 33 and then surged down the back nine.

He made gains at the 11th and 13th and then produced a surge starting at the 15th to finish at 17 under par with a nine-under 64.

After reeling off three successive birdies, Smith made a short putt for his fourth in a row to give himself an extra cushion moments after Daniel Berger had failed with his birdie putt.

Berger joins Jon Rahm on 14 under par, the Spaniard making birdie at the last after an outstanding second shot.

Rahm, making his debut on the PGA Tour this season, was disappointed by his performance on the greens.

"I left a lot of putts short, that's just nitpicking, can't be perfect at everything even though we try," Rahm said.

"Hopefully I can polish it a little bit, get the speed going a little bit better and give those putts a chance to go in."

Patrick Cantlay is a shot further back, with Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama also among those impressing. He is 12 under through 36 holes along with Sungjae Im.

 

 

Kyle Shanahan refused to reveal who the San Francisco 49ers will start at quarterback with Jimmy Garoppolo listed as questionable ahead of their critical Week 18 clash with the Los Angeles Rams.

The Niners visit SoFi Stadium on Sunday aiming to extend their winning streak over the Rams to six games. A victory in the regular-season finale will clinch a playoff berth for the second time in three seasons.

Should the 49ers lose, then they would need the New Orleans Saints to suffer defeat to the Atlanta Falcons to secure their spot in the Wild Card round. A San Francisco loss and a Saints win would put New Orleans in the playoffs.

They will be facing a Rams team looking to clinch the NFC West title for the first time since the 2018 season.

And it remains unclear whether the Niners will do so with Garoppolo or rookie third overall pick Trey Lance under center.

Garoppolo missed the 49ers' 23-7 win over the Houston Texans in Week 17 after suffering a torn ligament in his right thumb in San Francisco's Week 16 loss to the Tennessee Titans.

After a shaky first half, Lance impressed in his stead, throwing for 249 yards, two touchdowns and an interception while adding 31 yards on the ground.

The 21-year-old, making only his second start, averaged the most air yards per attempt (11.91) of any quarterback last week and delivered an accurate, well-thrown ball on 82.6 per cent of his attempts.

However, Garoppolo has practiced in a limited capacity for three straight days, boosting hopes of a return to the starting line-up that head coach Shanahan would not confirm.

Garoppolo was listed as questionable and Shanahan told a media conference: "He had a good week. Yeah, a good week of practice when he was in there. I feel good with where he is at right now."

He added: "I know what we're doing. I just don't feel like telling you right now.

"I'm not deciding Sunday morning. We don't have any practice left. I know where Jimmy's at today. I know where Trey's at. I know where our team is at and I feel pretty good about where we're at, so I'm excited to get to Sunday. I am really glad I don't have any press conferences after today.

"I think you guys understand why you don't announce it. But regardless, especially with Trey playing last week, we've got two guys here with some experience that our team feels good with and we'll see how it plays out."

San Francisco's Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams has not practiced all week and is listed as questionable. In the secondary, cornerback Emmanuel Moseley is expected to return from an ankle injury while rookie corner Ambry Thomas came off the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Corners K'Waun Williams, Dontae Johnson and Deommodore Lenoir and starting free safety Jimmie Ward remain on the COVID-19 list, though both Shanahan and general manager John Lynch have expressed confidence more members of their secondary will be activated off the list on Saturday.

The Green Bay Packers have activated All-Pro corner Jaire Alexander from the reserve/COVID-19 list, but he is not expected to play in their regular-season finale.

Alexander, who was named to the Pro Bowl and earned second-team All-Pro honours last season, has not played since the Packers' Week 4 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers when he suffered a shoulder injury.

He was activated from injured reserve last week but did not play as the Packers claimed the top seed in the NFC playoffs with a blowout win over the Minnesota Vikings and was on Monday placed on the COVID-19 list.

Despite coming off the list on Friday, head coach Matt LaFleur does not foresee Alexander playing in a meaningless game against the Detroit Lions.

"I would not anticipate Jaire playing. Just only having the one day [of practice] this week, I don't want to put him out there," LaFleur said.

However, quarterback and MVP favourite Aaron Rodgers will play at least some of the game at Ford Field ahead of the Packers' first-round bye.

Confirming Rodgers will start, LaFleur said: "I don't think he needs to play. I think he wants to play and keep the momentum going."

Novak Djokovic thanked the supporters campaigning for him to be allowed to play at the Australian Open as he spoke out for the first time since being detained in Melbourne.

The ATP world number one will spend the weekend in a hotel that also houses refugees and asylum seekers, some of whom have been waiting years for the chance of freedom.

A court hearing on Monday should determine Djokovic's fate after Border Force officials cancelled his visa application, stating the 34-year-old had "failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia".

Djokovic seemed all set to play after he was granted a medical exemption by organisers of the first grand slam of the year, but his fate now hangs in the balance. An injunction secured by his legal team has allowed him to remain in the country for now, albeit in detention.

The Serbian superstar wrote on Instagram: "Thank you to people around the world for your continuous support. I can feel it and it is greatly appreciated."

That came after a message from Djokovic to mark Orthodox Christmas on Friday, as he wrote: "Peace of God. Christ was born. Merry Christmas. May God's love strengthen and fulfil you."

The Australian Open begins on January 17 and this is just about the worst possible preparation for the 20-time major winner, even if he is given permission to remain in Australia at Monday's hearing.

There was an outcry from many Melburnians when Djokovic announced on Tuesday that he was on his way to the tournament with an exemption pass.

A small number have since protested that Djokovic should be liberated, while he has found some support on social media and extensive backing from his homeland, with Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic accusing Australian authorities of "harassment of the best tennis player in the world", pledging to "fight for Novak Djokovic, for justice and truth".

Djokovic is a record nine-time champion at Melbourne Park, but there is said to be a strong feeling locally that he should have to show proof of being vaccinated against COVID-19, given the efforts residents have gone to and the stringent restrictions imposed on them during the pandemic to date.

Australian Open officials have claimed "rigorous" checks were put in place to assess the veracity of any claim for an exemption.

One theory that has been widely suggested is Djokovic, who has spoken out about vaccine matters in the past, may have been awarded the exemption on the basis he had a positive test for COVID-19 in the past six months. He has not publicly confirmed he has recently had the virus.

However, reports from Australia have stated federal government officials instructed Tennis Australia in recent months that experiencing a recent case of coronavirus was not an adequate explanation for a player not being fully vaccinated.

Djokovic's wife, Jelena, issued a statement in support of her husband, posting on Instagram: "We wish we are all together today, but my consolation is that at least we are healthy. And we will grow from this experience.

"Thank you dear people, all around the world for using your voice to send love to my husband. I am taking a deep breath to calm down and find gratitude (and understanding) in this moment for all that is happening.

"The only law that we should all respect across every single border is love and respect for another human being. Love and forgiveness is never a mistake but a powerful force."

Australian authorities, all the way up to prime minister Scott Morrison, have contended their border laws are there for a good reason, with Monday promising to be a seismic day in the capital of Victoria.

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