New signing Aaron Gordon says "there's no stopping" the Denver Nuggets as "we have all the pieces that we need" following his arrival.

Gordon, linked with a host of rival teams, was signed a via a trade with the Orlando Magic ahead of the deadline on Thursday.

The forward headed to Denver with Gary Clark in exchange for Gary Harris, R.J. Hampton and the Nuggets' protected 2025 first-round pick.

Gordon went straight into the starting five on Sunday, forming an exciting lineup alongside Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. and Will Barton in a dominant 126-102 win over the Atlanta Hawks.

Gordon scored 13 points, making six of nine field goal attempts, and had a positive plus/minus of 17 in an effective debut.

Victory moved Denver to 28-18 in fifth in the West, still 6.5 games back but, according to Gordon, seeing "no limits".

"I see no limits for this team," he said. "It looks like we have all the pieces that we need.

"We have the depth. It's like we are covered in a lot of different spots offensively, defensively.

"As long as we are all working together, there's no stopping us."

MVP candidate Jokic, who had 16 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, was impressed with the way Gordon adapted to his new team on both sides ends of the floor.

The 25-year-old's usage rate with Orlando this season had been 23.6 per cent but dipped to 18.9, while he showed his versatility as he switched on defense.

"The main thing and the best thing that he did is that he accepted the role," Jokic said.

"He knows why he came here, he knows what he can do and he knows how he can help and he is doing that. Defense or offense, it doesn't matter, he accepts it and is embracing it.

"I think he kind of saw how we played, and he didn't try to do too much. He saw that if he's open, the ball is going to find him. Really good debut for him."

Frank Vogel feels NBA champions the Los Angeles Lakers "got a lot better" with the signing of Andre Drummond, who will provide "a big lift" while LeBron James and Anthony Davis remain out.

The Lakers' title defence wobbled this month as James went down with a high ankle sprain, joining Davis (calf) on the sidelines at the start of a four-game losing run.

In a competitive Western Conference, a slump amid the continued absence of their All-Stars prompted concerns LA could slip into the play-in round.

But the Lakers have bounced back to win their past two games against the Cleveland Cavaliers and, on Sunday, the Orlando Magic to restore a 5.0 game gap to seventh place and the San Antonio Spurs.

They were also boosted shortly before tip-off in the Magic game as Drummond's arrival was confirmed after he cleared waivers, having agreed a buyout with the Cavs.

Drummond is one of 20 players in league history to record more than 9,000 career points, 8,500 rebounds, 850 steals and 950 blocks.

He is also the NBA's all-time leader in seasons with at least 1,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 100 steals and 100 blocks, having accomplished the feat four times.

Although Vogel was unsure when the center would be available, he expected a much-needed immediate impact.

"We're thrilled, we're all thrilled," the head coach said after the win over Orlando. "Andre Drummond, a player of his calibre coming to our team.

"He's one of the best centers in the league, someone that every defensive coordinator is going to have to account for, to figure out how to handle him while trying to slow down AD and Bron and our guards.

"He's going to give us a big lift in the immediate future and obviously when we get going.

"He's just one of those guys who can dominate the game on both sides of the ball. His physicality is something you have to account for."

The Lakers have only once scored above their seasonal average of 110.7 points since James went down, missing their leading two scorers (James 25.4 points per game, Davis 22.5).

But Drummond had 17.5 points up until February 12, when Cleveland agreed he would be shut down, which would put him third on that list.

"He's one of the most dominant rollers, lob catchers, post players, offensive rebounders in the game, screeners," Vogel said.

"The list is long for how he's going to contribute to our group. I do think he's going to have an impact on our group right away offensively."

Vogel revealed he had held positive discussions with Drummond, adding: "I have talked to him personally. He's really excited about this situation.

"I don't want to go too far into the nature of those conversations other than to say he's really excited, probably as excited as we are. I think our team got a lot better."

Pressed further on their talks, Vogel replied: "Private conversations. I sold him on what we are competing for, how he fits – I believe in the vision of him fitting alongside AD and LeBron.

"I'm not going to go into that [any further]. I apologise; I could be [Bill] Belichick up here and give you 'yes' and 'no'."

Drummond bolsters the five, a position where the Lakers already have Montrezl Harrell and Marc Gasol, two offseason recruits.

Harrell has played 25.3 minutes over 47 games, while Gasol has played 19.8 over 38.

It is not immediately clear how Drummond's 28.9 minutes will fit in, while Davis can also play the role, but Vogel believes he needs the depth.

"All I can say is we're going to need them all," he said. "There's no doubt in my mind we need all three of them for this playoff push we're about to endure with a really condensed second half of the season.

"Every playoff series is different. I think we saw the flexibility that we have as a coaching staff; from playoff series to playoff series, different guys' skillsets match different opponents.

"I really think we're going to need all three of those guys and I expect to use all three of them."

Devin Booker led the way as the high-flying Phoenix Suns took down the Charlotte Hornets 101-97 in overtime.

Booker posted 35 points to fuel the Suns, who outlasted the Hornets in Charlotte in Sunday's NBA action.

Chris Paul scored 16 points for the Suns and team-mate DeAndre Ayton added 14 points and 14 rebounds.

The Suns, who have won three of their last four games, are second in the Western Conference.

Charlotte had their three-game winning streak snapped, despite big performances from Devonte' Graham (30 points), Terry Rozier (22 points and 10 rebounds) and Miles Bridges (18 points and 12 rebounds).

 

Lakers build momentum

On the day the Lakers acquired Andre Drummond after he cleared waivers, the NBA champions topped the struggling Orlando Magic 96-93 in the absence of injured superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The Lakers have now won back-to-back games, having dropped four straight. Dennis Schroder put up 24 points, while Kyle Kuzma contributed 21 points and 11 rebounds. There were also double-doubles for Montrezl Harrell (18 points and 11 rebounds) and Markieff Morris (12 points and 11 rebounds).

 

Trent struggles in Raptors debut

After being traded by the Portland Trail Blazers to the Toronto Raptors on Thursday's deadline, Gary Trent Jr. made his debut against his former team. Trent, however, was just two-of-10 from the field and one-of-five from three-point range for six points in Toronto's 122-117 loss to Portland.

P.J. Washington endured a rough night for the Hornets. While he collected 12 rebounds in 44 minutes, the power forward was scoreless. Washington finished 0-of-seven from the field, while he missed all four of his efforts from beyond the arc.

 

Gordon slam!

Acquired from the Magic prior to the deadline, Aaron Gordon connected with Nikola Jokic for his first dunk for the Denver Nuggets in the opening quarter. Denver beat the Atlanta Hawks 126-102.

 

Sunday's results

Los Angeles Lakers 96-93 Orlando Magic
Phoenix Suns 101-97 Charlotte Hornets (OT)
Denver Nuggets 126-102 Atlanta Hawks
Portland Trail Blazers 122-117 Toronto Raptors

 

Bucks at Clippers

The slumping Milwaukee Bucks (29-16) will visit the in-form Los Angeles Clippers (31-16) on Monday. Milwaukee have dropped back-to-back games, while the Clippers have won five in a row.

Russian star Daniil Medvedev overcame painful cramps and Alexei Popyrin to battle his way into the Miami Open round of 16.

Medvedev looked in all sorts of trouble against the Australian, but the world number two and top seed survived at the ATP 1000 tournament on Sunday.

Canadian sensation Felix Auger-Aliassime was sent packing by former champion John Isner in Miami.

 

MEDVEDEV ADVANCES… SOMEHOW

Australian Open and US Open runner-up Medvedev could barely walk during his gruelling three-set win against Popyrin.

Medvedev let three match points slip away in the second set, having led 5-2, before cramp set in.

In humid conditions, Medvedev was forced to rely on his serve as he limped around the court.

"Winning a Grand Slam final in straight sets doesn't feel the way I felt after the match point today," he said. "A match to remember for sure."

"I felt like my legs were not following me anymore," Medvedev said. "The only thing I was thinking about is not to fall down, because if you fall down, I don't think I would be able to get up. There were a few moments I just wanted to lay down and say, 'OK, it's over.' That's the thing I couldn't accept myself to do."

Awaiting Medvedev is Frances Tiafoe after he outlasted 16th seed Dusan Lajovic 1-6 7-5 6-3.

 

AUGER-ALIASSIME TOPPLED

A new year, but same result for 11th seed Auger-Aliassime, who was beaten 7-6 (7-5) 7-6 (7-5) by Isner.

Isner defeated Auger-Aliassime en route to the championship match in Miami two years ago and the big-serving American repeated the feat.

The only former Miami champion in this year's field, Isner remains unbeaten in tie-breaks at Hard Rock Stadium, winning all 11 since the tournament relocated in 2019.

"It was a big test for me. There's probably not many places in the world where I like my chances against Felix," Isner said. "I'm kind of lucky to play him here in Miami, where I like it a lot. If I were to play him on clay somewhere in Europe, it'd probably be a different story."

Next up is seventh seed Roberto Bautista-Agut, who beat Jan-Lennard Struff 4-6 6-3 6-2.

Elsewhere, Jannik Sinner, Taylor Fritz, Emil Ruusuvuori and Alexander Bublik also advanced.

Naomi Osaka did not raise a sweat en route to the Miami Open last 16 as Garbine Muguruza moved through but Sofia Kenin and Karolina Pliskova bowed out.

Australian Open champion and second seed Osaka benefited from a walkover after qualifier Nina Stojanovic withdrew ahead of Sunday's clash due to a right thigh injury.

Elise Mertens will face Osaka following the 16th seed's 6-2 0-6 6-2 win against Anett Kontaveit.

Two-time grand slam winner Muguruza rallied past Russian wildcard Anna Kalinskaya at the WTA Premier event.

However, fourth seed Kenin was sent packing as sixth seed Pliskova was tamed by nemesis Jessica Pegula in Miami.

 

MUGURUZA STAYS HOT

Spanish star Muguruza dug deep to earn her tour-leading 20th win of the season.

Former world number one Muguruza – the 12th seed – prevailed 4-6 6-3 6-4 against Kalinskaya, having trailed 3-0 in the final set.

"I brought my fighting spirit and I could match the level of fighting against Anna, and very happy to go through these tough matches," Muguruza said following two hours, 41 minutes on court.

"Doesn't matter if you play pretty or you play ugly, but you stay strong and you go through these rounds. That gives me an opportunity to feel better and to have another chance."

Muguruza – who has the most final appearances this season with three, having won the Dubai Tennis Championships and finished runner-up at the Qatar Open and Yarra Valley Classic – will next face eighth seed Bianca Andreescu.

Former US Open champion Andreescu overcame fellow seed Amanda Anisimova 7-6 (7-4) 6-7 (2-7) 6-4.

 

KENIN'S WOES CONTINUE

It has been a rough 2021 for American star Kenin.

Stunned in the second round of the Australian Open – in her title defence – Kenin then crashed out of the Phillip Island Trophy at the first hurdle.

Kenin rallied to beat Andrea Petkovic first-up in Miami, but the 22-year-old was beaten 6-4 4-6 6-4 by 27th seed Ons Jabeur.

Jabeur and Sara Sorribes Tormo – who shocked 21st seed Elena Rybakina 6-1 3-6 6-2 – will meet for a spot in the quarter-finals.

 

PLISKOVA FALLS TO PEGULA… AGAIN

For the third time this past month, 2019 Miami Open runner-up Pliskova went down 6-1 4-6 6-4 to 29th seed Pegula.

Australian Open quarter-finalist Pegula conquered Pliskova in Doha and Dubai before repeating the feat in Miami on Sunday.

"I played her a lot the last three weeks, three tournaments," Pegula said. "I kind of expected her to play well there. Even when I was up I still felt like she could easily come back just because she plays so aggressive and she serves well."

After reeling off the final four games, Pegula set up a last-16 showdown with 23rd seed Maria Sakkari, who dismantled qualifier Liudmila Samsonova 6-0 6-1.

Andre Drummond has joined the Los Angeles Lakers, the NBA champions announced on Sunday.

Drummond was planning to team up with LeBron James and Anthony Davis in Los Angeles after clearing waivers.

Two-time All-Star Drummond agreed to a contract buyout on the remainder of his $27.9million deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday.

"Andre Drummond gives us powerful, anchor-point skills on both ends of the court," Lakers vice-president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka said.

"We feel extremely fortunate to add a player of his calibre and magnitude to our core group at this stage of our journey to defend the NBA title."

It is a boost for the Lakers (29-17), who are fourth in the Western Conference as superstar duo James (ankle) and Davis (calf) are sidelined.

Drummond has not played since February 12 after he and the Cavaliers agreed he would be shut down until a trade or buyout was completed, following the arrival of younger center Jarrett Allen.

The 27-year-old Drummond – who has led the league in rebounding four times – has averaged 17.5 points and 13.5 rebounds in 25 starts this season.

Drummond is one of 20 players in league history to record more than 9,000 career points, 8,500 rebounds, 850 steals and 950 blocks.

He is also the NBA's all-time leader in seasons with at least 1,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 100 steals and 100 blocks, having accomplished the feat four times.

Drummond spent eight seasons with the Detroit Pistons, earning two All-Star selections, before being traded to the Cavaliers last year.

 

Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry is listed as questionable for Monday's game against the Chicago Bulls after missing time due to a tailbone bruise.

Curry has not played since suffering a bruised tailbone in the Warriors' win over the lowly Houston Rockets in the NBA on March 17.

However, the two-time MVP is a chance to return when the Warriors face the Bulls, having practiced fully on Sunday.

"We scrimmaged some just now and he's getting some extra work in, so we want to see how he responds to that," Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said afterwards.

"And then it's a discussion with [Warriors director of sports medicine and performance] Rick [Celebrini] and the training staff. We'll see where it all goes."

Curry is averaging 29.0 points, 6.2 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game for the Warriors this season.

The Warriors (22-24) have lost four straight games to sit 10th in the Western Conference, adrift of the playoff positions.

"It's always great to have a guy like him around," Warriors forward Juan Toscano-Anderson said. "Just based on his presence. On the floor, off the floor, who he is, the energy he brings.

"Today there was a turnover in practice and he got upset and it was like, 'OK, our leader's back, our guy's back,' so it's exciting.

"Obviously we're a much better team with him on the floor. So super excited to have him back whenever that is. Hopefully, sooner the better."

The Brooklyn Nets announced the signing of LaMarcus Aldridge in a further boost to their star-studded roster on Sunday.

Aldridge's agent Jeff Schwartz on Saturday revealed the seven-time All-Star had agreed to join the Nets for the rest of the NBA season.

The 35-year-old Aldridge agreed to a contract buyout with the San Antonio Spurs earlier this month.

Aldridge will now join forces with James Harden, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Blake Griffin in Brooklyn as the Nets eye their first NBA championship.

Averaging 19.4 points and 8.3 rebounds in his 15 NBA seasons, including nine with the Portland Trail Blazers, Aldridge has not played since March 1.

Aldridge is averaging 13.7 points and 4.5 rebounds per game in 2020-21.

Among active NBA players, Aldridge currently ranks third in field goals made (8,034), fifth in rebounds (8,454), sixth in points (19,887), eighth in blocks (1,129) and ninth in games played (1,024).

Aldridge, who helped the Spurs to the 2017 Western Conference Finals, has a postseason average of 20.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.4 blocks in 37.1 minutes per game.

Steve Nash's Nets (31-15) are second in the Eastern Conference, one game behind the Philadelphia 76ers (32-14).

Billy Horschel held off Scottie Scheffler to win the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play for the first time in his career.

Horschel was the last man standing in Austin, where the American outlasted 2020 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Scheffler in Sunday's final 2 and 1.

It was a Horschel and Scheffler showdown after the former had beaten Victor Perez 3 and 2 in the semis, while the latter advanced 1up against 2013 champion Matt Kuchar.

Horschel – the 32nd seed – secured his sixth PGA Tour title at the 17th hole following almost four hours on the course, with the final only featuring two birdies between the pair.

Kuchar, meanwhile, clinched third place by beating Perez 2 and 1 in the play-off.

"I got lucky that I had two guys that were like me, that didn't have their A game today or even maybe their B game," Horschel said. "We didn't hit very good golf shots this morning or even this afternoon and that allowed me to just be smart and not have to be aggressive and try and make birdies.

"Now, if Scottie would have got hot with some iron shots and started making birdies that puts a little bit of pressure on me. But it was just a tough day with this wind, trying to get close to some of these pins and the greens firming up as we played.

"So I'm fortunate. I had two guys today that missed some putts from inside 10 feet that they probably would make the majority of the time and that's obviously why I'm standing here as a champion."

Scheffler – the 30th seed – added: "I'm proud of the way I fought all week. My game was trending in the right direction pretty much the entire time, and this afternoon was really the first time I didn't play my best.

"I think this afternoon was probably my worst round out of the last four. So I grinded it out. I fought really hard and I just wasn't able to make the putts this afternoon."

Andre Drummond plans to join reigning NBA champions the Los Angeles Lakers after clearing waivers.

Drummond agreed to a contract buyout on the remainder of his $27.9million deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday.

The two-time All-Star is now set to team up with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the injury-hit Lakers, his agent Jeff Schwartz told ESPN.

While the team are yet to announce the deal, Drummond posted a picture to Instagram with him in a Lakers jersey, captioned "Back to work" on Sunday.

Superstar duo James (ankle) and Davis (calf) are both sidelined through injury in Los Angeles, where the Lakers (29-17) are fourth in the Western Conference.

Drummond has not played since February 12 after he and the Cavaliers agreed he would be shut down until a trade or buyout was completed, following the arrival of younger center Jarrett Allen.

The 27-year-old Drummond has averaged 17.5 points and 13.5 rebounds in 25 starts this season.

Drummond spent eight seasons with the Detroit Pistons, earning two All-Star selections, before being traded to the Cavaliers last year.

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash said while Kevin Durant "looks great", the former MVP is likely to miss another week as he continues to recover from a hamstring injury.

Durant has been sidelined since February 13 due to a hamstring strain, which forced him to sit out the NBA All-Star Game this month.

As the star-studded Nets prepare to face the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday, Nash provided an update on Durant.

"There's still steps for him to take, although he looks great, is progressing and will definitely be back with us," Nash said.

"It's just, I don't think this week is likely."

Durant is averaging 29.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game for the Nets this season.

Nash added: "[He] still needs to be monitored and still needs to get a certain amount of markers under his belt."

The Nets, though, will welcome back star Kyrie Irving following a three-game absence due to a family issue.

Irving is averaging a career-high 28.1 points, 5.7 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game for the Nets in 2020-21.

The seven-time All-Star's field-goal percentage this season (52.0) is also a career-high.

Brooklyn (31-15) – who have recruited veteran All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge – are second in the Eastern Conference, one game behind the Philadelphia 76ers (32-14).

Joel Dahmen celebrated a breakthrough victory on the PGA Tour after winning the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship.

American Dahmen earned his first title with a one-stroke triumph in the Dominican Republic on Sunday.

The 33-year-old – who had missed six of his last seven cuts – carded a second-round 70 to finish 12 under overall at Corales Golf Club in Punta Cana.

"I was on cruise control today. It's really hard to win golf tournaments," said Dahmen. "I knew it was hard, but I can't believe how hard it actually is. I was in control, I felt like I was doing — my body was just doing other things. Thankfully I had a couple good up-and-downs there on 16 and 17, and I don't know how I tapped in that two- or three-footer there, but thankfully it went in."

Local hope Rafael Campos (71) agonisingly dropped down into a tie for second place, alongside surging American Sam Ryder (67).

Campos lipped out a birdie putt on the 18th green to miss a playoff by one stroke.

Graeme McDowell – the 2019 champion – posted a final-round 69 to earn a share of fourth position, two shots behind Dahmen.

Defending champion Hudson Swafford (70) and his bid for back-to-back crowns saw him finish three strokes off the pace in a tie for sixth.

It is safe to say LaMelo Ball has hit the ground running in the NBA.

The hype has long followed Ball and his rise in the basketball world, dating back to his high school days. His outspoken father tipped him to be a future number one draft pick – LaVar talking up his son at every turn.

While he was not the first name called on Draft night last year, LaMelo – the younger brother of New Orleans Pelicans guard Lonzo – has lived up to his billing since the Charlotte Hornets used the third pick on the 19-year-old sensation.

Prior to suffering a wrist fracture in March, Rookie of the Year favourite Ball ranked first in assists and steals among rookies, second in scoring and is tied for second in rebounds.

The face of an emerging and exciting franchise boasting Gordon Hayward, Terry Rozier, DeVonte Graham and Miles Bridges, Ball was the only player over the last 60 years to lead all rookies in total points, rebounds, assists and steals at the All-Star break.

Last month, Ball joined Stephen Curry (2010) and Jason Kidd (1995) as the only rookies with seven-plus threes and 10-plus assists in a game and was the youngest to do so. He also became the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double in January.

"I'm really pleased for LaMelo that, not only has he gone to a situation that allows him to showcase what he can do, but the people around him from top to bottom really care about his development as a player and a person," Matt Flinn, who coached Ball during his time with the Illawarra Hawks in Australia's NBL prior to the draft, told Stats Perform News.

"We keep forgetting he's only 19. Can you imagine in three years when he's 22? Doing what he's doing now is quite special. In three or four years' time, he's going to be a superstar of the NBA."

Ball's playmaking ability has been on show throughout the 2020-21 campaign, right up until he hurt his wrist against the Los Angeles Clippers and underwent surgery – the fracture was reported to be potentially season-ending, though the Hornets have not ruled out a return.

By March 25, he had featured in the top 20 for assist percentage (33.4), a list including experienced stars, champions and former MVPs like Russell Westbrook, Luka Doncic, James Harden, Trae Young, LeBron James, Nikola Jokic, Chris Paul, Jimmy Butler, Damian Lillard, Draymond Green, John Wall, DeMar DeRozan, Curry, Ben Simmons and Kyle Lowry.

His assists/turnover ratio stands at 2.18 – better than Los Angeles Lakers legend James.

"You just look at his numbers – possessions plus assists, if you look at the guys with more than 800 possessions, he's sitting in the top 25 in the NBA. When you go through the list, the guys on that list, it's quite incredible for a 19-year-old," Flinn said, having tipped Ball to flourish in the NBA during a pre-draft interview with Stats Perform News.

"When we recruit guys, we look at assist/turnover ratio. Again, that's testament he's hitting the positive column for his usage rate. The ride for LaMelo is just beginning."

Through 41 games, Ball is averaging 15.9 points, 5.9 rebounds and 6.1 assists this season in just 28.6 minutes per game. He would be the first player in NBA history to average 15/5/5 in less than 30 minutes per game in a season (minimum 40 games played), per Stats Perform.

When you compare his first 41 games to some of the past and current greats at the same stage, Ball ranks well.

His points-per-game average is better than five-time champion and Lakers great Kobe Bryant (7.0 in 1996-97), former MVP Harden (9.8 in 2009-10), Curry (13.4 in 2009-10), Steve Nash (4.5 in 1996-97) and Jason Kidd (9.4 in 1994-95).

When it comes to his assists numbers, Hall of Famer Michael Jordan (5.1 in 1984-85) – the owner of the Hornets – Nash (2.9), Dwyane Wade (4.3), Harden (2.1), Curry (4.6) and Kyrie Irving (5.7 in 2011-12) did not fare as good as Ball.

Highlighting his versatility, Ball's rebound average is better than Irving (3.8), Curry (3.8), Harden (3.2), Wade (4.4), Bryant (2.0), Nash (1.3), Kidd (5.7) and Allen Iversen (4.2 in 1996-97).

"It really doesn't surprise me," Flinn said when asked about some of the record-breaking numbers. "I'm not just saying it because the level of belief is probably the first thing that struck me about LaMelo.

"This kid was just born to play. You get a lot of players who are manufactured and they do an incredible amount of work, we put them in boxes in their roles they fulfill in teams. LaMelo really has no ceiling. You just have to look at him in transition and some of the passes he executes in the game.

"In transition, to be able to thread a needle and put the exact amount of spin on it so it holds up to hit a guy running at speed, you can't coach or teach that. Prior to him coming to me and going to Charlotte, he copped a lot of criticism, his family copped a lot of criticism for the show, whatever he did within his journey etc, but they've done an incredible job in the point leading up to me.

"Having allowed him to fail at times in some of the games he played. You look at the old mainstream coaching, 'Well we put accountability on our players and if you turn it over or don't stick to the system, we're dragging you'. That never happened with him during his pathway.

"They're certainly seeing the benefits of that now because when you strip it back now, he is a disciplined, great kid, who genuinely cares about his team-mates and makes people better around him. I'm so happy that he appears to have found his feet."

Flinn – who believes the Jordan-led Hornets have the potential to be a powerhouse in the next five years – added: "What I tried to do with him and what [Charlotte head coach] James [Borrego] is doing as well, even though you might be in a half-court situation, you try to get him downhill.

"When he gets downhill, he has so many escape routes when he commits. He will contest at the rim, he will leave his feet and have three escape routes. For me, that's the real special nature of his play.

"Always the question mark was his ability to shoot the ball [Ball is shooting at 45.1 per cent]. He will continue to get better shooting the ball no question. That will bring in a whole new dimension on how you defend him out of the pick and roll. He's still good enough to work in tight spaces.

"The first time I saw him throw a full-court baseball pass to hit a guy straight in the chest, I'll be honest, I thought 'what are you doing?'. But he rarely fails with those kinds of plays. He just has that unwavering belief. I said to him one time, 'if you weren't playing basketball, you'd probably be a quarterback given your arm and ability to read a player'. It's unique."

Ball was the favourite to be crowned the 2020-21 Rookie of the Year before he was struck down by injury. Does he still deserve the award?

"I might be biased but I really hope so. He is a once-in-a-generation player for the NBA," added Flinn, who said Ball would be devastated following the wrist injury as he "lives, eats and sleeps basketball".

"I believe he'd take winning over anything, but it would be something he'd deserve given the body of work he's been able to produce so far. I don't think you'd have too many arguments."

Maverick Vinales knows Monster Energy Yahama must improve despite a winning start to the MotoGP season at the Qatar Grand Prix.

Vinales shot from fifth with 15 laps to go to first with seven rounds of the track remaining in Doha on Sunday, nipping ahead of Francesco Bagnaia, who started on pole.

It ultimately proved a relatively comfortable triumph for the Spaniard, with the drama coming further back – defending champion Joan Mir losing out on a podium place with a mistake at the final corner.

However, after suffering a slow start from which he subsequently struck back, Vinales conceded there is work to do for his team.

"We are not there yet. We need to improve," he said during a news conference.

"We need to work really hard because it's just the first race. We stick with our feet on the ground, and we'll work hard for the next one, to be faster, especially from the start, we have to be better."

Vinales praised the work the team has done in pre-season, though, as well as the impact made by new Yamaha test driver Cal Crutchlow.

"I didn't have that feeling during other weekends to have that corner speed, but with Yamaha we work very hard to have that front part of the bike to make it better," he said.

"Also, Cal works very hard with the bike. The way Cal rides the bike is very similar to me, and it helps me with many things, especially because he came from a big factory and he has given us advice which was good for the race."

Despite demolishing the Losail circuit lap record in qualifying, Ducati debutant Bagnaia looked set to miss out on a place in the top three when Johann Zarco – of his former team Pramac Racing – and Mir overtook him.

However, Mir's slip-up with just one turn left to go allowed Bagnaia to take third place and the Italian conceded he needs to find a balance between starting strong, without giving up a lead.

"Maybe for the next one, I have to change the strategy a bit, push less in the first part of the race and follow someone, but in any case we have more data now to look at," he said.

"We will improve for sure, to be better in the last part of the race."

Lewis Hamilton was thrilled to come out on top in a dramatic Bahrain Grand Prix, which he labelled as one of the toughest Formula One races he has been involved in for some time.

Max Verstappen started on pole in Bahrain, but despite the Red Bull having had the edge over Hamilton's Mercedes in practice and qualifying, it was the seven-time world champion who triumphed.

It did not come easy for Hamilton, who had to see out a late attack from Verstappen to secure his first season-opening success in six years.

The victory only came courtesy of an error from the Red Bull driver, who was adjudged to have gone beyond track limits during a potentially decisive overtake with four laps left to go, and was instructed to immediately give the place back.

If Sunday's evidence is anything to go by, Verstappen and Red Bull are well placed to make more of a challenge this season.

Speaking in his post-race interview, an exhilarated Hamilton said: "Wow! What a difficult race that was.

"Stopping early we knew would be difficult but we had to cover Max, they have had an amazing performance all weekend.

"We suffered the last stint. Max was all over me at the end and I was just about able to hold him off. That was one of the hardest races I've had for a while."

Asked if he was at the peak of his powers, 36-year-old Hamilton replied: "I definitely am. Each year they are talking about when you hit your peak and timing is everything.

"I think I am at that and Max is doing really well at the moment. I love the challenge."

Verstappen, meanwhile, looked to take the positives after crossing the line just 0.745 seconds after Hamilton.

"It's a shame but you also have to see the positive. We are really taking the fight to them, and I think that's great to start the year like that," Verstappen said.

"I don't know what happened with the car early on. It don't think it was completely solved in the low-speed corners, so we'll have a look at that. Overall, we managed to finish the race and score good points."

It was a sentiment echoed by Red Bull chief Christian Horner, with the team's principal believing they are finally ready to mount a serious title push this year.

"A great race, a tough one to lose. It is the first of 23 so hopefully, we give Lewis a harder time this year," Horner told Sky Sports.

"Once you have that instruction [to give the place back] you have to move out of the way. It is tough racing, it is fair racing.

"The races come thick and fast once we get going. Mercedes have been so strong over the years. I think the biggest winner today was the fans. It sets up a great season and I hope we see more battles between Max and Lewis this season."

Maverick Vinales got his 2021 MotoGP campaign up and running with a season-opening victory as he charged up from fifth at the Qatar Grand Prix.

Pole-setter Francesco Bagnaia could not get away from the chasing pack, which included Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) and his Ducati team-mate Jack Miller.

With defending world champion Joan Mir – starting in 10th – and fellow Suzuki rider Alex Rins struggling to keep pace initially, it was Monster Yamaha's Vinales who made his move.

Finding himself in fifth with 15 laps remaining, Vinales closed the gap on Bagnaia by the time the final seven came around.

After threatening once but being held off, Vinales spotted a gap and dived through to take a lead he would not relinquish.

Bagnaia's race looked set to go from bad to worse when he dropped out of the top three altogether.

It left Zarco and Mir tussling for second, and last year's champion had the edge on the last lap yet, in a remarkable twist, he fell short on the final corner.

Mir appeared to run wide, with his exit speed dropping and allowing Zarco to clinch second – Bagnaia, who had blitzed the Losail lap record in qualifying, battling back to mark his first race for Ducati with a podium finish.

Fabio Quartararo completed the top five, with Mir's team-mate Rins finishing sixth.

There was misery for Takaaki Nakagami, who crashed out on turn nine midway through the race, with Danilo Petrucci's Tech3 KTM debut also coming to a premature end.

Lewis Hamilton clung on to survive a late attack from Max Verstappen to begin his Formula One title defence with a dramatic victory in the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Verstappen's Red Bull had the edge in speed over Hamilton's Mercedes for the entirety of the race weekend but, after a frenetic stop-start opening to the race gave way to a strategic battle between the teams expected to compete at the front of the grid this season, it was the Briton who found himself taking the chequered flag.

Having emerged from his final pit stop nearly nine seconds behind Hamilton, pole-sitter Verstappen looked to have made the crucial overtake with four laps remaining.

But he was forced to give the place back having gone beyond the track limits to get past Hamilton, and Verstappen could not find an opportunity with which to make the decisive move for a second time, Red Bull left frustrated as the seven-time champion claimed his first season-opening win since 2015.

Sebastian Vettel will start his first race for Aston Martin at the back of the grid after being hit with a penalty at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Vettel has been penalised for ignoring yellow flags in qualifying at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir on Saturday.

The four-time Formula One world champion breached the rules when Haas driver Nikita Mazepin spun at Turn 1 during Q1, resulting in double waving of yellow flags - which Vettel failed to respect.

Vettel qualified in 18th but was given a five-place penalty and hit with three penalty points after being summoned to the stewards ahead of Sunday's race.

The stewards said in their verdict: "[Valtteri] Bottas, Vettel, [Sergio] Perez and [George] Russell approached the scene and drove past Mazepin. Bottas, was immediately instructed by his team to abort his lap in accordance with the Race Director's Event Notes.

"Perez and Russell had received the chequered flag, and were instructed to slow, with Russell receiving the additional information that it had been a double yellow sector.

"Vettel did not abandon his lap. He explained to the stewards that he saw the smoke ahead of him, but was unsure if it was a lock-up or a stopped car until he was quite close to the car and the smoke was lifting.

"The stewards observed that he had already passed the signal panel when it illuminated as he approached the scene, and that the marshals in that turn had not yet reacted with a yellow flag. Nevertheless, Vettel was approaching a car that was stopped sideways on the track and by the rule this would necessitate a double yellow flag."

Vettel said: "We were already quite far back so it doesn't make a difference.

"Hopefully we will come up with something clever with strategy so we can move up and enjoy it along the way."

Zion Williamson is a "Shaquille O'Neal-type force" with skills like a point guard, according to Rick Carlisle, who saw his Dallas Mavericks struggle to contain the New Orleans Pelicans forward.

Having finished with a career-high 39 points in a loss to the Denver Nuggets in his previous outing, Williamson had 38 to help the Pelicans get back to winning ways on Saturday.

The 20-year-old contributed 10 points in a pivotal 18-8 run in the closing stages as he took over proceedings, helping New Orleans eventually prevail 112-103 as they claimed a third win in four outings.

Mavs coach Carlisle admitted his team found Williamson – who landed 12 free throws from 18 attempts, both season-high numbers – too much to handle with the game on the line.

"He's an unusual force and obviously a great player," Carlisle said.

"We'll have to figure something a little better out next time, but he's doing this to everybody. We did have some very good possessions guarding him, but he was a beast.

"It presents huge challenges for the defense and for officials. He is just creating collisions out there. This is a Shaquille O'Neal-type force of nature with a point guard skill set."

Williamson is averaging 26.3 points per game in his second season in the league, shooting 62.8 per cent from the field.

The first overall pick in the 2019 draft has had five games in this campaign with at least 15 field goals attempts and an 80 per cent success rate, the most by any NBA player since Charles Barkley had five in 1988-89 when playing for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Only two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo (412) and Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (389) have taken more free throws than Williamson (364) so far this term, while he is also averaging seven rebounds per game.

His improvement as a playmaker is also impressive. Having averaged 2.1 assists in a rookie season that was limited to just 24 games, he is up at 3.5 through 43 outings in 2020-21, including 16 across in the last three for a Pelicans team fighting hard to make the playoffs.

However, while flattered by links to the legendary O'Neal, as well as other NBA greats, Williamson wants to leave his own legacy.

"I am who I am. I'm Zion. I'm trying to be the first and only Zion, that's all there is to it," he said after dazzling against Dallas.

The Pelicans are now 20-25 for the season to sit 12th in the Western Conference, with 14 of their victories coming in home games.

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