Jorge Soler's availability for the National League Championship Series (NLCS) remains unclear but the Atlanta Braves are preparing to be without him.

Soler, who won the 2016 World Series with the Chicago Cubs, was pulled from the Braves' line-up for Game 4 of the National League Division Series (NLDS) against the Milwaukee Brewers following a positive COVID-19 test.

The 29-year-old will miss at least five days before the joint COVID-19 committee can clear him.

Atlanta are due to open their NLCS matchup against either the Los Angeles Dodgers or San Francisco Giants on Saturday.

Soler moved to the Braves from the Kansas City Royals in July and has hit a combined .223 with 27 homers and 70 RBIs during the regular season.

The Braves are awaiting Soler's clearance having been removed from their 26-man roster, however, manager Brian Snitker is preparing to be without him for the whole best-of-seven NLCS.

"We've got to approach it like I don't know if he'll be here for the NLCS," Snitker told reporters on Thursday.

"That's how we have to approach it. Until he shows up and is cleared and does everything that MLB needs him to do, we're going to look like it's like he's not going to be here."

Soler was the 2019 American League (AL) home run leader with the Royals and delivered 14 home runs and 33 RBIs in 55 games following his move to the Braves.

"I don't know that this team has been dependent, as we've shown, on one guy all year, quite honestly," Snitker added. "The guys keep playing the game.

"Would you like to have him? Yeah. If we don't, so be it. Just go out and win however else we can."

Robert Streb leads The CJ Cup by one stroke following the opening round as American star Dustin Johnson struggled.

Streb carded a career-low 11-under-par 61 to set the early pace at The Summit Club in Nevada on Thursday.

The two-time PGA Tour champion joined Brandt Snedeker (2007 Farmers Insurance Open) as the only players to start a tournament at seven under in their first six holes (in the ShotLink era).

Streb made a red-hot start, having gone birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie-birdie in his opening six holes and while he bogeyed the 11th following the turn, the American reeled off another five birdies to close out the day.

"I've never had a start like that, so it was kind of fun," Streb said. "I was trying to stay in the moment as best I can and, I don't know, you just feel like you can start aiming at stuff. Things seemed to be going my way.

"Slowed down a little I guess in the middle, but it was a really, really good round. Even that bogey, I almost made the putt, so it just went really well."

Countryman Keith Mitchell is Streb's nearest rival, while Harry Higgs is three strokes off the pace at eight under heading into the second round.

Sergio Garcia, Viktor Hovland and Hudson Swafford are a shot further back, one stroke better off than Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, former world number one Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler.

Four-time major winner and 2018 champion Brooks Koepka shot a first-round 67 to be within six strokes of Streb, while Rory McIlroy – featuring for the first time since his dismal Ryder Cup campaign for Europe – posted a four-under-par 68.

Justin Thomas, a two-time winner of the event, had to settle for an opening-round 69 as former world number one Johnson endured a forgettable two-over-par 74.

After a flawless front nine, which featured two birdies, Johnson capitulated with a double-bogey and three bogeys on the back nine.

New Orleans Pelicans star Zion Williamson will miss the start of the NBA regular season due to a right foot injury.

Pelicans vice-president of basketball operations David Griffin confirmed Williamson's absence after the former number one draft pick underwent scans earlier this week following offseason foot surgery.

Griffin was unable to provide a "fixed timeline" on Williamson's return to play, although he said the 2021 All-Star would undergo further scans in roughly a fortnight's time.

"It's everyone's goal that Zion return to play as soon as safely possible," Griffin said on Thursday.

"Obviously, two to two-and-a-half weeks from now means he will not be on the floor for the first week of games. When he is able to return safely, we will do that."

The Pelicans are due to start their NBA season against championship-hopefuls the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday.

Williamson, who had said last month he hoped to play in the Pelicans' opening game, has been cleared to start running and do individual on-court work.

Griffin clarified Williamson had not suffered a setback and no timeline had been set on the 21-year-old joining in more training activities.

"It just takes a certain amount of time for guys to lay the bone that the doctors want to see," Griffin said. "This is where our timeline is.

"Throughout the process, we'll be heading toward that [joining team training]. It may be well before the two-and-a-half weeks that he does that. It's really just a function of how things progress."

Williamson averaged 27.0 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game across 61 appearances in the 2020-21 NBA season for the Pelicans.

The top pick in the 2019 draft, Williamson had only managed 24 games in his debut season, averaging 22.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 2019-20.

Grigor Dimitrov continued his red-hot form with a hard-fought victory over Hubert Hurkacz at the Indian Wells Masters, where Cameron Norrie awaits in the semi-finals.

After conquering top seed Daniil Medvedev, former world number three Dimitrov recovered from a set down to upstage eighth seed Hurkacz on Thursday.

Norrie shocked 11th seed Diego Schwartzman in straight sets at the ATP 1000 tournament.

 

DIMITROV CELEBRATES MILESTONE

Bulgarian star and 23rd seed Dimitrov reached his first ATP Masters 1000 semi-final of the season with a 3-6 6-4 7-6 (7-2).

Dimitrov showed he is the comeback king once again, having also saved two break points at 3-3 in the second set.

A semi-finalist at the US Open (2019), Australian Open (2017) and Wimbledon (2014), Dimitrov then squandered a 5-2 lead in the deciding set before eventually prevailing in a tie-break for his 100th Masters 1000 victory.

 

NORRIE BOOSTS TURIN BID

Norrie's hopes of qualifying for the ATP Finals in Turin received a boost after breezing past Schwartzman 6-0 6-2.

Amid a career-best season, Norrie advanced to his maiden ATP Masters 1000 semi-final, with the 26-year-old to replace Daniel Evans as the new British men's number one.

Seeded 21st, Norrie – who has 45 Tour-level wins in 2021 – now has next month's Finals firmly in sight, having started the day 945 points behind ninth-placed Hurkacz in the race to Turin.

"I have been pretty consistent this year," Norrie said after 74 minutes on court. "I think I am really doing the fundamentals well on serve and return and playing the big points better.

"I have been a little more aggressive and feel I am learning more as I go along and becoming more experienced. We are really happy."

US Open champion Emma Raducanu has withdrawn from next week's Kremlin Cup.

Raducanu made history last month by becoming the first qualifier to win a major title with her triumph at Flushing Meadows, where she did not drop a single set all tournament.

However, the 18-year-old was beaten in her first match since that breakthrough success with a straight-sets loss to world number 100 Aliaksandra Sasnovich at the Indian Wells Open last week.

And Raducanu has now taken the decision to pull out of the Kremlin Cup in Moscow, which takes place next week.

In a statement released on Thursday, the Briton did not give a reason for her withdrawal but suggested she could return for the Transylvania Open later this month.

"Unfortunately I've had to make a tournament schedule change and won't be able to play Moscow this year, but I hope to compete there and in front of the Russian fans next year," said Raducanu, who is also due to compete at the Linz Open before the season is out.

"I look forward to returning to the tour in the next couple of weeks."

Speaking after her defeat to Sasnovich, Raducanu said she will need time to come to terms with her maiden grand slam triumph.

"I'm kind of glad that what happened today happened so I can learn and take it as a lesson. So going forward, I'll just have more experienced banked," she said.

"I think it’s going to take me time to adjust really to what's going on. I mean, I'm still so new to everything. I'm 18 years old. I need to cut myself some slack."

Tadej Pogacar has described the Tour de France 2022 route as "a complete course" as the two-time champion looks to claim a third title in a row.

The new route for the 109th edition of the Tour was revealed in Paris on Thursday and totals 53 kilometres, including two individual time trials and five mountain-top finishes.

Pogacar, speaking at the route's unveiling in the French capital, said he was "excited" at the prospect of the course. 

"It's pretty great. It's a complete course," the 23-year-old Slovenian said. "From the first stage to the last stage, we have everything: sprints, echelons, cobbles, big climbs, small climbs, time trials. 

"I'm really looking forward to it. I'll do some recons because it will be necessary after we saw what's on the plan. I'm pretty excited."

Pogacar joined an exclusive club of cyclists last week by claiming victory at the Giro di Lombardia, having retained his Tour de France title in July, to become the first rider in 42 years to win both competitions in the same season.

Fausto Coppi, Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault are among the illustrious names to have previously achieved the feat.

St. Louis Cardinals have parted company with manager Mike Shildt owing to "philosophical differences", president of baseball operations John Mozeliak has announced.

Shildt guided the Cardinals to three straight playoff appearances in his four seasons in charge and was named National League (NL) Manager of the Year in 2019.

The Cardinals earned the second NL Wild Card spot this season after an impressive run of form, though they lost 3-1 to the Los Angeles Dodgers last week on a walk-off home run.

Shildt still had another year to run on his contract, but Mozeliak revealed on Thursday that the 53-year-old has been relieved of his duties.

"We decided internally it would be best to separate now," Mozeliak said at a news conference. 

"We have determined that we have a philosophical difference in the direction of our Major League club. 

"Where we felt the team was going, we were struggling to get on the same page."

Shildt, who replaced Mike Matheny in July 2018 after 14 years working in other positions, departs the Cardinals with a record of 252-199.

Deontay Wilder has congratulated Tyson Fury for winning their trilogy fight, having declined to do so in the immediate aftermath of the bout in Las Vegas.

The WBC champion defended his belt and maintained his unbeaten record (31-0-1) with a devastating 11th-round knockout of Wilder (42-2-1) in a classic slugfest.

The American left the ring soon after the fight was over and, according to Fury, refused to show any respect before departing.

"I'm a sportsman; I went over to show some love and respect and he didn't want to show it back," Fury said. "I'll pray for him so God will soften his heart."

"I said, 'Well done'. And he said, 'I don't wanna show any sportsmanship or respect.' I said, 'No problem'."

"Very surprised [by] that," Fury added. "Sore loser, an idiot. Do you know what? To be a top fighting man, you've got to show guts and respect and he couldn't do it tonight. And that's it."

However, Wilder appears to have had a change of heart, using a post on his official Instagram account to congratulate his opponent after an epic trilogy came to an end.

"Wow, what a hell of a night! I would like to first and foremost thank God for allowing me to give the world another part of me that's driven with passion and determination," Wilder wrote.

"I would like to thank my team and my fans for sticking by my side through this long process. I would be lying if I said that I wasn't disappointed in the outcome but after reflecting on my journey, I now see that what God wanted me to experience is far greater than what I expected to happen.

"We didn't get the win but a wise man once said the victories are within the lessons. I've learned that sometimes you have to lose to win. Although, I wanted the win I enjoyed seeing the fans win even more.

"Hopefully, I proved that I am a true Warrior and a true King in this sport. Hopefully, WE proved that no matter how hard you get hit with trials and tribulations you can always pick yourself up to live and fight again for what you believe in.

"Last but not least I would like to congratulate [Tyson Fury] for his victory and thank you for the great historical memories that will last forever."

World number one Jon Rahm endured a dreadful opening day at the Andalucia Masters he carded a seven-over-par 78, but Rafa Cabrera Bello looked sharp again after winning the Open de Espana.

Rahm failed to get a single birdie during what was his worst ever round on the European Tour, and his worst in any competition since the 2018 Open Championship.

But the home crowd's mood was at least soothed by the form of Cabrera Bello, who was fresh from success in Madrid last weekend, coming through a play-off with Adri Arnaus to seal a first European Tour title since 2017.

While Arnaus had something of a nightmare on Thursday as he carded a six-over 77, Cabrera Bello more or less picked up where he left off as he went around in 68, leaving him one behind leader Julien Guerrier.

The Frenchman – who started on the 10th – will be frustrated not to have taken a healthier lead into Friday, however, with two bogeys on his front nine meaning he had to work doubly hard for his one-shot advantage.

Guerrier's countryman Romain Langasque was the only other individual to do better than one-under for the round, highlighting the brutality of the Real Club Valderrama when conditions are windy.

The 26-year-old was helped by an eagle on the par-five fourth hole, though he followed that with successive bogeys.

Six others find themselves tied for fourth on one under par, but much of the attention will be on Rahm's response.

After starting on the 10th, he reached the turn at six-over. While he only dropped one more shot on his back nine, the U.S. Open champion will need to produce something special if he is to avoid the cut.

Twenty-time grand slam winner Rafael Nadal has refused to put a timeline on his comeback to competitive tennis and will only return when he is in "good condition".

Nadal has not played since early August when he lost to Lloyd Harris in the third round at the Citi Open, before withdrawing from the US Open due to a recurring foot injury.

The 35-year-old Spaniard had in June pulled out of Wimbledon and the Tokyo Olympics shortly after losing to Novak Djokovic in the French Open semi-finals, saying he was "listening to my body".

Nadal, who will not return this season, has been seen training in Mallorca after last month receiving treatment in Barcelona, offering hope of a return.

"I want to recover from this injury in good condition," Nadal told a news conference.

"I don't know when I will play again, I work a lot every day, I follow a specific plan with a marked roadmap and with very clear objectives."

The next major on the calendar is the 2022 Australian Open to be played in Melbourne in January although Nadal would not commit to participating.

"I will not say what those objectives are, because there are always things that I can't control 100 per cent, but inside my head I'm clear on what my objectives are and I trust that things will follow a positive course," he said.

"Not everything depends on me, but I am confident that my daily efforts will pay off and allow me to return soon."

Daniil Medvedev was ousted from the Indian Wells Masters, the US Open champion and top seed stunned by former world number three Grigor Dimitrov in a thrilling comeback.

Dimitrov had been a set and a double break down against the Russian star on Wednesday, before launching a remarkable rally for his first win over a top-two opponent since 2016.

Meanwhile, second seed Stefanos Tsitsipas and third seed Alexander Zverev both won to secure their spots in the last eight.

 

MEDVEDEV SHOCKED IN THE DESERT

Dimitrov roared back to triumph 4-6 6-4 6-3 over Medvedev, who had won 18 of his past 19 matches on North American soil.

Bulgarian star Dimitrov trailed 4-1 in the second set after dropping the opener before stunning the first-time grand slam champion midweek.

"I just felt something at 1-4 and I calmed myself down and started to take better decisions and started to control the pace of the game, which I really believed helped me," Dimitrov – the 23rd seed – said. "In the end it was just very solid and smart play."

Dimitrov finished the match with 25 winners, while he was also excellent at the net, helping him claim his first quarter-final appearance at an ATP Masters 1000 event this season.

Medvedev sent down 5-1 aces but only managed a 54 per cent first-serve percentage, while he also faced 10 break points across the match. Dimitrov won five games in a row to claim the second set.

"I don't remember myself losing three service games, even four service games ever, I guess, on hard courts," Medvedev said.

"That shows how slow this court is and the conditions, more like clay, I would say, which I don't like, because to lose serve four times is just unacceptable."

Dimitrov will face eighth seed Hubert Hurkacz in the quarter-finals after he got past Australian Open semi-finalist Aslan Karatsev 6-1 6-3.

Medvedev added: "Grigor played [the] second part of the match better than anybody did against me [at the] US Open that I won. Playing this level, I don't see him losing to anybody, but let's see the result."

 

ZVEREV MAKES STATEMENT WITH MONFILS WIN

Olympic Games gold medallist Zverev bulldozed his way past 14th seed Gael Monfils 6-1-6-3 en route to the last eight.

German star Zverev claimed his 20th win from his last 21 matches, needing just over an hour to dispatch Monfils.

Zverev claimed 19 of 25 points at the net, hitting 19 winners including 11 with his forehand, while converting four of eight break points.

"I felt well on the court today. Gael is someone I haven't beaten before, so I knew had to play my best tennis and I definitely was not far away," Zverev said during his on-court interview.

Zverev will take on American 31st seed Taylor Fritz, who defeated 10th seed Jannik Sinner 6-4 6-3.

 

TSITSIPAS OUTLASTS DE MINAUR

French Open runner-up Tsitsipas saw off a tough challenge from Australian Alex de Minaur to secure his spot in the quarter-finals 6-7 (3-7) 7-6 (7-3) 6-2.

Tsitsipas fought back from a set down to win against the 22nd seed, triumphing in two hours, 43 minutes.

Greek star Tsitsipas showed grit to outlast the tiring De Minaur and will face 29th seed Nikoloz Basilashvili after he knocked off fellow seed Karen Khachanov 6-4 7-6 (8-6).

"That was incredible the way I just stayed in the match," Tsitsipas said. "I had to go through so many difficulties in order to find a solution and I executed towards the end of the match."

There were further top-10 casualties, with sixth seed Casper Ruud also bowing out 6-3 6-3 to 11th seed Diego Schwartzman, who will meet Cameron Norrie in the quarters.

Kyrie Irving reiterated he will stand by his decision to remain unvaccinated after the Brooklyn Nets confirmed the NBA All-Star will not play until he receives the COVID-19 vaccine.

Irving has not been vaccinated and is therefore ineligible to play in home games with the championship-chasing Nets due to New York City mandates.

Nets general manager Sean Marks confirmed on Tuesday that the franchise will not accept Irving playing on a part-time basis and thus overlook him for selection until he is vaccinated.

Irving, who is part of the Nets 'big three' alongside Kevin Durant and James Harden, broke his silence via social media on Wednesday, stating he will not change his stance leaving him in limbo.

"I'm standing with all those that believe in what is right and are doing what is right for themselves," Irving said in an Instagram Live. "Everybody has a personal choice with their lives. Everybody is entitled to do what they feel is what's best for themselves.

"Seeing the way this is dividing our world up, being vaccinated or unvaccinated. It's sad to see. It's creating a lot of division.

"Don't believe that I'm retiring or I'm going to give up this game for a vaccine mandate, don't believe any of that."

Irving stressed that he had no ill feeling towards the Nets nor his team-mates, explaining that his decision was in the interests of him and his family.

"I'm not going to sit here to give you information or wisdom beyond my years, I'm here just to stay real and true to me," he said. "It's my life, I get to do whatever I want with this, I get one body.

"You're telling me what to do with my body. It has nothing to do with the organisation. I'm going to put that out there, it has nothing to do with the Nets or my team-mates. This has everything to do with what's going in our world, I'm being grouped in with something's that's bigger than a game of basketball."

He added: "It's not being anti-vax. It's not about being one side or the other. It's about what feels good to me. I'm feeling uncertain about a lot of things and that's OK. If I'm going to be demonised for having more questions and taking my time to make a decision with my life, that's just what it is.

"I know the consequences of the decision I make with my life. I'm not here to sugarcoat any of that. It's crazy times that we're in… I haven't hurt anybody. I haven't committed a crime. I'm not out here acting dumb or stupid. I'm out here looking after my family and kids.

"If you choose to get the vaccine, I support you. Do what's best for you. I continue to pray for all those out there who have lost people to the pandemic to COVID."

Irving said he had not anticipated that he would be mandated to be vaccinated ahead of the new NBA season which starts for the Nets against defending champions the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday.

"What would you do, if you felt uncomfortable going into the season when you were promised that you'd have exemptions or you wouldn't be forced to have to get the vaccine," he said.

"This wasn't an issue before the season started. This wasn't something that I foresaw coming and I could prepare for it and I could strategise on what would be best for me and my family. I came into this season thinking I was going to be able to play ball."

In 2020-21, Irving averaged 26.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game as the Nets lost in the Eastern Conference semi-finals to the Bucks. 

Irving enjoyed a career-high 50.6 field-goal percentage and joint-career best 92.2 free-throw percentage last season.

It has been reported Irving, who will not be paid for missed home games, will not be offered a contract extension by the Nets.

Irving added: "You think I really want to give up on my dream to go after a championship? You think I really just want to just give up my job? You think I want to sit at home and not go after the things with my team-mates that I've been able to grow with and learn with?"

Victoria Azarenka booked her spot in the Indian Wells Open semi-finals after a straight-sets victory over Jessica Pegula.

Azarenka – a two-time Indian Wells champion in 2012 and 2016 – accounted for Pegula at the WTA Premier 1000 event in the desert on Wednesday.

The former world number one will play 2017 French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko in the semi-finals after she got past American Shelby Rogers.

 

AZARENKA FLEXES TO BOOK SEMI-FINAL SPOT

Two-time Australian Open champion Azarenka won 6-4 6-2 over Pegula, who had beaten fourth seed Elina Svitolina in the fourth round.

Pegula hit 27 winners compared to Azarenka's 21 but the American had 30 unforced errors, with her 27th-seeded opponent also winning 81 per cent of first-service points to claim the edge.

"I started going for my shots from the beginning. I knew I have to apply pressure on her," Azarenka told her post-match news conference.

"I will have the moment where I will have opportunity. I think in the beginning of the match we had a lot of great rallies, a lot of points where I was like, 'Oh, maybe I got this one,' and she got me. I felt that I really just stuck to being aggressive and being consistent. I got my opportunities."

She added: "I felt that I really played well in the crucial moments. I felt like I stepped up a lot to the occasion. That's what I'm really happy with today."

 

OSTAPENKO FINISHES STRONG OVER ROGERS

Ostapenko earned her final-four spot with a see-sawing 6-4 4-6 6-3 win in two hours, 15 minutes over Rogers.

In a match that included 15 breaks of serve, Ostapenko won the final five games as she rallied to secure victory and her third semi-final of the year.

"I'm really happy to be in the semi-final. It's been a tough year for me, I've been up and down," Ostapenko – the 24th seed – said during her on-court interview. "I feel like my tennis is getting better and more consistent. Today I was trailing 3-1 in the third set and I was fighting to the last point."

Former world number five Ostapenko trailed 3-1 in the final set before finishing strong to set up a showdown with Azarenka. 

"She's a great player, great champion, such a fighter," Ostapenko said about Azarenka. "Hopefully I can just enjoy it."

Las Vegas Raiders general manager Mike Mayock insisted the franchise stand for diversity in the wake of Jon Gruden's controversial resignation.

Mayock became the first Raiders member to address the media on Wednesday after Gruden stood down following the release of offensive emails via The Wall Street Journal and New York Times, which exposed his use of racist, homophobic and misogynistic terms in messages that reportedly date back to 2010.

Raiders owner Mark Davis had provided a brief statement following Gruden's resignation, stating he accepted his decision amid the NFL's investigation was prompted by media reports that brought to light the alleged emails.

"The way I grew up, the Raiders always stood for diversity," Mayock told the news conference. "They had the first Latino quarterback, Tom Flores, he's also became the second Latino head coach, the first African-American head coach was Art Shell. The first female CEO was Amy Trask.

"Obviously, all of that was under [former owner] Al Davis' watch. Now this week, his son Mark Davis had a tough time. He had a tough week. He'd gather facts here to do is due diligence.

"Since the day I took this job almost three years ago, what Mr. Davis has preached has been three things. It's been diversity, social justice and domestic violence."

Mayock also defended the timing of Gruden's departure, after he led the side in their Week 5 loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday.

"I think the reality of that is that Mark Davis really is the one that was dealing with that," Mayock said. "I don't want to speak for Mark, but there was an awful lot of due diligence that had to go on. 

"All I knew was that a bombshell had dropped. The players talked about it. We talked about it with the players. Jon dealt with it. Mark was dealing with all the email stuff. 

"We were trying to prepare for a football game. And then when it came out of the game and the rest of it came out, I think Mark was already in the middle of the due diligence.

"I think he was trying to figure it all out. I know what the guy stands for, and I think he was trying to do the right thing."

Mayock said the Raiders were offering support to the African-American players within their ranks, along with defensive end Carl Nassib, who became the first active NFL player to publicly come out as gay in June. Nassib took a personal day on Wednesday in the aftermath of Gruden's resignation.

"I've talked to several of the black players. We've reached out to a bunch of players, black and white," Mayock said. "Everybody's got emotions and feelings. I've talked to some of the people in my department that are black.

"My director of pro scouting [Dwayne Joseph], and I just said, 'DJ, I can't put myself in your shoes. Help me.' So we've spent a pretty good amount of time trying to help these guys and talk with these guys and not talk at them, but with them.

"The other thing I would say is for Carl, let's be honest, he's a community of one that's openly gay. We do have a large community of African-American players and I'm trying to, we're trying to do everything we can for that community as well obviously. It started there. Nobody's forgetting that. I'm trying to work with everyone, and we're going to continue to do that."

The Raiders GM offered a strong backing to interim head coach Rich Bisaccia, who will step up from the special teams coordinator with the side 3-2 for the season.

"The irony is, I've endorsed him for a lot of head coaching jobs over the years, both in college and the NFL," Mayock said. "What I've always told people when I endorse them is that he's the most natural leader of men that I've ever been around."

Kansas City Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes is not pointing the finger at the team's defence for their turnover troubles in the NFL.

The turnover-prone Chiefs were beaten 38-20 by the Buffalo Bills last week after a series of self-inflicted mistakes on Sunday.

Mahomes and the Chiefs turned the ball over four times in the AFC title game rematch, with the quarterback intercepted on back-to-back possessions in the third quarter.

Micah Hyde took the first of those 26 yards for a touchdown after plucking a tipped ball out of the air – it was just the second pick-six of Mahomes' career after Week 11 of the 2018 season.

As the Chiefs (2-3) gear up for Sunday's clash with the Washington Football Team (2-3), Mahomes discussed Kansas City's struggles.

"Not at all," Super Bowl champion Mahomes – the NFL MVP in 2018 – told reporters on Wednesday when asked if the team's turnovers were due to their defensive problems.

"We try to score every single time we touch the football. That's how it's been my entire career here, and that was the precedent that was set before I even started here.

"That's kind of how I have my mindset going into every single game is that, when we get an opportunity to go out there and have success and be successful, we have to capitalise on that.

"It has nothing to do with whatever is happening on the other side of the ball. It's just our job as an offense on this team."

Kansas City's defeat to Buffalo was just the second time the Chiefs have lost by double digits with Mahomes at quarterback, per Stats Perform. The other was Super Bowl LV against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers earlier this year.

The Chiefs have allowed the most points per game in the NFL (32.6), while Washington have allowed the second most (31.0). The most points allowed in the Super Bowl era is 33.3 per game by the 1981 Baltimore Colts.

Kansas City own a seven-game winning streak against Washington dating back to the 1992 season. Only two active winning streaks in the NFL started at an earlier date – the Green Bay Packers over the Las Vegas Raiders back to 1990 and the Philadelphia Eagles over the New York Jets back to 1973.

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers is not sure if wantaway All-Star Ben Simmons will play for the NBA franchise after his surprise return.

Simmons has sought a trade from the 76ers and had been willing to sit out the entire 2021-22 season before showing up at Wells Fargo Center shortly before tip-off ahead of Monday's preseason game against rivals the Brooklyn Nets.

Reports claim Simmons had not spoken directly to team officials since late August, having missed all of training camp and preseason following a disappointing Eastern Conference semi-final loss to the Atlanta Hawks last season.

Doubts remain over the disgruntled Australian and Rivers was ambiguous regarding Simmons' playing status for the championship hopefuls.

"I don't know. He's voiced that, but we'll see how that works out," Rivers told reporters when asked about Simmons' trade status on Wednesday.

Simmons has reportedly generated interest from the likes of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Indiana Pacers, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers and Cleveland Cavaliers but the 76ers are believed to have set a high price.

It comes after Simmons was heavily scrutinised following Philadelphia's shock playoff elimination at the hands of the Hawks in 2020-21.

 

A three-time All-Star and elite defender, Simmons and his shooting problems were laid bare during the 2021 postseason with the top-seeded 76ers.

Former number one draft pick Simmons had no fourth-quarter field-goal attempts in his last four games of the playoffs last season. He is the only NBA player in the last 20 seasons to have four consecutive postseason games with no field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter during a season in which he was an All-Star, according to Stats Perform.

"I'm assuming he's going to play, but who knows? I can't get in anyone's head," Rivers said with the 76ers due to meet the Detroit Pistons on Friday before opening their regular-season campaign against the New Orleans Pelicans on October 20.

Rivers added: "Whether we play him or not, that's going to depend on what we see this week.

"He's coming from behind, because he hasn't been in camp, obviously. Having said that, do you rush him and put him on the floor? That's a whole other subject.

"What we see this week is how we determine everything going forward."

Simmons averaged just 10.1 field-goal attempts in 2020-21 – a career low, which dropped to 7.9 in the playoffs. It was the same story with his scoring as it dropped to a career-worst 14.3 points per game and 11.9 in the postseason – both career lows.

Then there is Simmons and free throws. He was exposed by rival teams as they regularly sent him to the line, with the Melbourne-born guard making just 25 of 73 shots in the 2020-21 playoffs. His 34.2 free-throw percentage is the lowest ever in a single postseason.

Sixers team-mate Danny Green said: "We want him back. We want him with us. When he's in the building, we'll acclimate him appropriately. We just want everybody to come here, show up and do their part, do their jobs."

"I'll be able to see when he steps on the floor where his head's at. I don't feel like he needs to explain anything to me," added Seth Curry.

Week 6 of the NFL season sees the first byes of the campaign, meaning fantasy managers may need to start utilising their bench.

Though the starters picked in the early rounds of the draft often lay the foundations for a championship-winning season, the players selected to fill the void when they are not available can be the difference between claiming and missing out on the title.

With that in mind, this week's edition of fantasy picks features three players who can fill the void for fantasy managers with holes in their line-up.

A second-year wide receiver primed to play an even bigger part in an underperforming offense also features in Stats Perform's look at four players and a defense worthy of fantasy selection this week. 

Quarterback: Taylor Heinicke, Washington Football Team vs. Kansas City Chiefs

If you have a quarterback on a bye, or you are unfortunate to be in a position where the injured Russell Wilson is your starter, then you may be in scramble mode at quarterback.

Heinicke presents a solution to fantasy owners in such a bind. Yes, Washington will be underdogs against Kansas City, but Heinicke has thrown for multiple passing touchdowns in three of his last four games and should have little difficulty moving the ball against a defense allowing 7.08 yards per play, the most in the NFL.

With a high-scoring affair likely on the horizon, Heinicke is a leading option for fantasy owners in need of a quarterback fill-in.

Running Back: Myles Gaskin, Miami Dolphins @ Jacksonville Jaguars

There isn't much reason to get excited about the Dolphins but fantasy owners of Gaskin should be extremely intrigued by this matchup in the second and final London game of the year.

Gaskin had only five carries for 25 yards last week in the Dolphins' 45-17 loss to the Buccaneers but found the endzone twice as a receiver as he hauled all 10 of his targets for 74 yards.

Against a Jacksonville defense that has been stout against the run but is allowing a league-worst 8.79 yards per pass play, there is scope for another big day for Gaskin as the Dolphins seek their second win of an underwhelming campaign.

Wide Receiver: Chase Claypool, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Seattle Seahawks

Claypool has 296 receiving yards and a touchdown over his last three games playing for a Steelers offense that had struggled mightily prior to their Week 5 win over the Denver Broncos.

With Juju Smith-Schuster out for the season, Claypool should claim even more of a featured role in the offense and in Week 6 has the inviting prospect of a matchup with a Seahawks defense ranked 28th in the NFL in opposing pass yards per play (7.49). Claypool is well worthy of being in your starting lineup come Sunday.

Tight End: Mo Alie-Cox, Indianapolis Colts vs. Houston Texans

Alie-Cox was not able to find the endzone in Week 5 after catching two touchdown passes a week earlier, however, he is averaging 13.8 yards per reception, illustrating his big-play threat.

Facing a Texans defense allowing the most fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends, Alie-Cox should have an opportunity to make a significant impact in Week 6. Alie-Cox could prove an astute pickup for fantasy owners struggling for options at tight end.

Defense: Dallas Cowboys @ New England Patriots

The Cowboys' defense was not expected to be one of the top fantasy units in the league going into the season, however, through five games they have forced 12 takeaways, the second-most in the NFL.

Facing a quarterback in Mac Jones who has thrown a pickable pass on 4.89 per cent of his attempts, well above the average of 3.16, a meeting with the Patriots presents the Cowboys with the chance to add to that total and rack up fantasy points.

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash said the decision to keep Kyrie Irving away from the NBA championship hopefuls until he is cleared to play was a "difficult" but "sound" choice.

The Nets are set to be without seven-time All-Star Irving – who remains unvaccinated – for the start of their regular season unless his coronavirus vaccine status is resolved.

Irving is ineligible to play in home games or practice in Brooklyn due to New York City mandates, with people in New York requiring at least one coronavirus vaccine to enter indoor arenas such as the Nets' Barclays Center.

While Nash and former MVP James Harden are ready to move on without Irving, the duo insisted the title-chasing Nets would welcome back the 2016 NBA champion.

"Everyone had their say," Nash told reporters after Wednesday's practice. "It takes time to make decisions like that. This is a difficult decision. But I think it was a sound one and one that makes complete sense to everyone.

"We are just going to move on, and if things change, it would be incredible to have him back in the fold. It was a tenuous situation to have a player in and out like that. There's more clarity, and we can focus on the future and get going."

"For guys to be able to not have the uncertainty I think is important," Nash said. "It's not kind of hanging over us. A decision was made, and I think that can be beneficial to us starting to really build and have that understanding that this is what's happening instead of we were living in a world that was very uncertain.

"We weren't sure from one day to the next what was going to change or what was going to happen. That can be difficult, and that can put an extra strain on everybody."

In 2020-21, Irving averaged 26.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game as the Nets lost in the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

Irving enjoyed a career-high 50.6 field-goal percentage and joint-career best 92.2 free-throw percentage last season.

Harden added: "Sean [Marks], Steve [Nash], me, KD [Kevin Durant], Kyrie, we all had conversations. Kyrie believes in his beliefs, and he stands firm and strong on that. And for us, we respect it. We all love Ky. But as far as us, we have a job to do.

"Individually, myself, I am still wanting to set myself up for a championship. And I feel like the entire organisation is on the same path and we are all in this as a collective unit."

"I have no say so in that," Harden said of the Irving decision. "I can only state my opinion, and we got to continue to move forward. Obviously, we would love to have Kyrie here."

"We still have two pretty good leaders on the team," Harden continued. "Know what I mean? And obviously Ky is our leader as well. We still have myself and Kevin [Durant]. [We] have to lead, which we are pretty good at that, and go out there and be great every single night."

Rob Gronkowski will again be missing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' clash against the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday. 

Five-time Pro Bowler Gronkowski suffered a rib injury in the Week 3 defeat to the Los Angeles Rams, forcing him to miss games against the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins. 

The 32-year-old has not practiced all week and will play no part in Thursday's contest in Philadelphia, the team confirmed. 

The tight end had been a key offensive weapon for the Bucs prior to his injury, with 16 receptions for 184 yards and four touchdowns.

Defensive starters Lavonte David and Antoine Winfield Jr. have also been ruled out of the game at Lincoln Financial Field. 

Center Ryan Jensen (hip), edge rusher Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder/hand) and defensive end Patrick O'Connor (calf), meanwhile, were all listed as questionable in Wednesday's injury report. 

Quarterback Tom Brady has been dealing with a thumb injury but is set to lead the Tampa Bay offense as the Bucs look to move to 5-1.

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