Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers did little to disguise his irritation after Dwight Howard was ejected on his return to the Staples Center.

Howard and fellow former Los Angeles Laker Danny Green were presented with their 2020 championship rings before Thursday's encounter, which the Sixers won 109-101.

That was little thanks to Howard, who was dismissed by referee Jane Fitzgerald between the first and second quarters after intentionally walking into the Lakers' Montrezl Harrell.

Howard and Harrell had already been called for double technical fouls and the former's punishment as the altercation resumed meant an automatic disqualification

"Clowns. Guys just joking around. It's ridiculous on both parts. I didn't like, it, bottom line," Rivers said in an immediate reaction on the court and victory over the slumping Lakers did not soften his view too much.

"I just thought it was a very selfish play," he said, per ESPN.

"You got one tech, you can't get another one. We just have to have better discipline.

"I get it. I know there's a lot of emotion. But we had one center on our team, and he got thrown out.

"I was not very happy with that one. I know it's an emotional game. But he's a veteran. We got to have better discipline."

Harrell joined the Lakers in the immediate aftermath of Howard's surprise switch to Philadelphia.

Although the source of their bad blood remains unclear, Harrell was unrepentant afterwards, having theatrically waved Howard off the court as he remonstrated with Fitzgerald.

"I'm not backing down from nobody, man. I don't take that lightly. I don't take none of that disrespect," he said.

"You're not gonna push me all around the court and just feel like you're gonna big-boy me and just attack me or whatever.

"It's not in my blood, it will never be in my blood. I don't care what nobody feels about it, I don't care who don't like me. It is what it is."

Rajon Rondo has joined the Los Angeles Clippers from the Atlanta Hawks, with Lou Williams moving in the other direction.

Along with acquiring former Sixth Man of the Year Williams, the Hawks will also gain two future second-round draft picks.

The deal means the 35-year-old Rondo makes a swift return to Los Angeles, where he won his second NBA championship with the Lakers last season.

He joined the Hawks on a two-year, $15million deal, but the lure of a reunion with Clippers coach Tyronn Lue, who built a close relationship with Rondo as an assistant at the Boston Celtics between 2011 and 2013, proved significant.

"He's fiery, that's what we need," Lue said after the Clippers beat the San Antonio Spurs 98-85 on Thursday, as quoted by ESPN.

"He's tough. He understands the game. And he respects people as a straight shooter and will tell them the truth.

"That was my biggest thing in Boston, was being honest with him and telling him the truth and keeping it real with him."

Lue said he was "not sure right now" whether Rondo would start or come off the bench.

Williams, 34, is certainly a masterful exponent when cast in the latter role, having won three of the past six Sixth Man of the Year awards, which recognises the best performing substitute in the league.

"He's going to be missed for everything he brought and not just basketball," Lue said of the point guard, who passed 15,000 career points during the Clippers' game with the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday.

"I just think he was a great person. That's what I love the most.

"We all knew he was a great basketball player, but just him as a human being and what he stood for and how he always boosted the morale of the team with everyone around him. That's what we are going to miss the most.''

Toronto Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri said he is happy with the team's position after they opted to keep in-demand star Kyle Lowry.

Lowry was tipped to leave the Raptors for either the Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers or Los Angeles Lakers on the NBA's trade deadline but a move did not materialise.

Now, Lowry – a championship winner in Toronto and widely considered the greatest player in Raptors history – remains part of the franchise, who are outside of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference at 18-26.

Asked about the 35-year-old guard after the dust settled as Norman Powell was traded away, Ujiri told reporters: "Honestly, we didn't know which way it was going to go.

"Because we've really talked about looking at this team in every direction that it could go.

"We came to a point where we were comfortable with any direction that it went."

Six-time All-Star Lowry is on an expiring contract but will now see that deal out before heading for free agency, having been with the Raptors since a 2012 trade from the Houston Rockets.

Lowry has averaged 17.6 points, 7.1 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 1.5 steals in that time and started all 24 playoff games in 2018-19, scoring 15.0 points, as Toronto won their first NBA title.

"We'll talk about it then," Ujiri said. "I think we'll talk about them when the time comes at the end of the season. But I think we all know the respect and the sentiment about Kyle and this ball club, and what he's done not only for the city, the team, the country, the league.

"Honestly, our team can go in many different directions. I keep saying it. We are comfortable with whatever direction we go. Maybe we lost a chance here, but we also think we gained a chance in some other things going forward.

"This team, especially with what we've gone through this year, could pivot in many different directions. This is where we find ourselves now."

As for Powell, he left for the Portland Trail Blazers in the middle of his most prolific season in the NBA.

Powell is shooting 43.9 per cent from three-point range, ranking 10th in the NBA and third among those with 200 or more attempts from beyond the arc.

Gary Trent Jr, moving in the opposite direction, is also enjoying a career year in his third campaign, making the most of increased opportunities amid C.J. McCollum's injury woes for the Blazers to score 15.0 points in 30.8 minutes.

"Gary Trent is I think a 23-year-old player with lots of upside, shooter, defender, fits our core team," Ujiri said. "That's what we're excited about."

The Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers heaped further misery on the short-handed Los Angeles Lakers following a 109-101 win in the NBA on Thursday.

Defending champions the Lakers lost their fourth consecutive game in the absence of injured stars LeBron James (ankle) and Anthony Davis (calf) as the 76ers stayed hot.

Danny Green haunted his former team in Los Angeles to guide the in-form 76ers to their fourth successive victory.

Green and Dwight Howard – who tasted success with the Lakers last season before both joined the 76ers – received their championship rings pre-game at Staples Center.

Green hit eight of 12 three-pointers – more than any Lakers player has made this season – for a game-high 28 points, while Howard was ejected at the end of the opening quarter.

Kyle Kuzma (25 points) and Dennis Schroder (20 points and 11 assists) led the slumping the Lakers, who suffered their sixth straight home defeat to the 76ers.

 

Fox has night to remember

De'Aaron Fox posted a career-high 44 points to lead the Sacramento Kings to a crushing 141-119 win against the Golden State Warriors. He was 16-of-22 from the field, to go with seven assists and three steals against the Stephen Curry-less Warriors. Tyrese Haliburton added 21 points with a career-high six three-pointers as Richaun Holmes contributed a double-double of 25 points and 11 rebounds.

Paul George's double-double (24 points and 13 rebounds) helped the Los Angeles Clippers top the San Antonio Spurs 98-85 in the absence of injured star Kawhi Leonard (foot). Ivica Zubac (10 points and 13 rebounds) and Terance Mann (10 points and 12 rebounds) also had double-doubles, while Reggie Jackson top-scored with 28 points.

The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Miami Heat 125-122 behind C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard. McCollum put up 35 points, while Lillard had 22 of his own away to the Heat. Enes Kanter also finished with 18 points and 16 rebounds as veteran Carmelo Anthony scored 20 points off the bench.

 

Westbrook struggles from the field

Russell Westbrook might have finished just shy of a triple-double (13 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists) but he was far from his best shooting. The former MVP was just three-of-15 from the field. Westbrook also missed all five of his attempts from beyond the arc, while tallying eight turnovers as the New York Knicks stormed back to trump the Washington Wizards 106-102.

 

The windmill!

There was not much to celebrate for the Warriors on Thursday. But Juan Toscano-Anderson's slam after stealing the ball provided a highlight on the road in Sacramento.

 

Thursday's results

Philadelphia 76ers 109-101 Los Angeles Lakers
Portland Trail Blazers 125-122 Miami Heat
New York Knicks 106-102 Washington Wizards
Los Angeles Clippers 98-85 San Antonio Spurs
Sacramento Kings 141-119 Golden State Warriors

 

Nets at Pistons

The Brooklyn Nets (30-15) will look to keep pace with the 76ers in the east when they visit the lowly Detroit Pistons (12-31) on Friday.

Houston Astros star Carlos Correa said he is preparing to become a free agent as the two parties struggle to agree a new contract.

Correa reportedly turned down a lucrative six-year deal worth $120million to re-sign with the Astros earlier this month.

The 26-year-old shortstop – selected first overall in the 2012 MLB Draft – helped the Astros to World Series glory during his All-Star season in 2017.

Correa doubts he will reach an agreement with the Astros, telling reporters on Thursday: "I'm preparing like I'm going to be a free agent this year."

Earlier this year, Correa said he would become a free agent if he was not re-signed by Opening Day on April 1.

Asked if there was room to move on his deadline imposed ahead of the season opener against the Oakland Athletics, Correa replied: "Absolutely not.

"Once the season starts and I start playing, I'm playing my last season before I become a free agent.

"For me, it doesn't make any sense to be dealing while I'm trying to focus and trying to perform and trying to help my team win ballgames. So, yeah, absolutely not."

During the coronavirus-shortened 2020 season, Correa hit .264/.326/.383 with five home runs and 25 RBIs in 58 games for the Astros.

In the postseason, Correa batted .362/.455/.766 with six homers and 17 RBIs as the Astros reached the American League Championship Series (ALCS).

"I understand it's a business and I know how it goes," Correa said. "There's never emotions involved. I've given five, six years of my career to this organisation -- Rookie of the Year, All-Star Games, World Series champions, multiple great playoff performances.

"And if they don't see me here long-term, then another team will. It's never hard feelings. It's a business and how it works."

Throughout his career, Correa has hit .276/.353/.480 with 107 home runs and 397 RBIs in Houston.

Correa – Rookie of the Year in 2015 – added: "When I share my feelings towards the city and towards the team, obviously, I love what we built here. I've been a part of it since I got drafted in 2012, when the team was losing 111 games.

"I kind of feel like I'm one of the leaders of the team and I love everything about this organisation, but at the same time, I know what I'm worth. I understand the business. I'm educated on this matter. I would love to stay, but it's gotta be the right deal."

Lorenzo Musetti built on his good form with a first-round victory over Michael Mmoh at the Miami Open on Thursday.

Emerging star Musetti defeated American qualifier Mmoh 6-4 6-4 to set up a second-round meeting with 23rd seed Benoit Paire.

Former US Open champion Marin Cilic also progressed in a three-set victory over Federico Coria, while Thanasi Kokkinakis, Sebastian Korda, Tennys Sandgren and Jordan Thompson were other winners.

Former top-five player Kevin Anderson was among those to bow out in the first round of the ATP 1000 event.

 

STAR ON THE RISE

Italian teenager Musetti continued his rapid rise with a hard-fought victory over Mmoh.

The 19-year-old Musetti reached the semi-finals of last week's Mexican Open, where he beat both Diego Schwartzman and Grigor Dimitrov en route to the semi-finals.

This week, Musetti battled past wildcard Mmoh in one hour, 38 minutes.

"Last week was a fantastic run in Acapulco," Musetti said in his on-court interview. " I played a really good match, it was a tough match.

"I think my lethal weapon is the backhand down the line."

 

CILIC SLICE OF FORTUNE

Former world number three Cilic secured his place in the second round with a 6-3 2-6 6-4 victory against Federico Coria.

However, Cilic – the 2014 US Open winner – had a huge slice of luck to claim a break back in the first.

The Croatian got lucky down a break at 2-1 but up 30-40 in the first when he mishit his overhead attempt, striking his frame and bobbling over for a drop shot winner to level.

"It was important for me to keep my head down, keep the focus and just try to get the best level I could today," Cilic said.

 

FOND MEMORIES FOR THANASI

Australian qualifier Kokkinakis' fond memories in Miami returned with a 6-3 6-3 win over Shintaro Mochizuki as he continues his positive return from a shoulder injury.

Kokkinakis beat then-world number one Roger Federer in Miami in 2018.

Korda won his Miami Open debut match, triumphing 6-3 6-0 over Radu Albot to set up a meeting with 10th seed Fabio Fognini.

Jordan Thompson will face Milos Raonic after accounting for Federico Delbonis 7-6 (8-6) 6-4 in two hours, 12 minutes.

Sandgren – a two-time Australian Open quarter-finalist – got past Pedro Martinez 6-4 2-0, with the Spaniard retiring.

Wimbledon and US Open runner-up Anderson was a surprise casualty, going down 7-6 (8-6) 7-5 to lucky loser Damir Dzumhur.

"I know that my game can be much better than what I'm showing right now and my position in the ATP Rankings can be much better," Dzumhur said.

Ash Barty completed a great escape to stay alive at the Miami Open, where Simona Halep also progressed.

Barty faced a match point but the defending champion and world number one dug deep to prevail in three sets against Kristina Kucova on Thursday.

Romanian third seed Halep also needed three sets at the WTA Premier tournament in Miami.

 

BARTY PRODUCES COMEBACK

In her first match outside of Australia in more than 12 months, Barty survived to top qualifier Kucova in Miami.

Barty trailed 5-2 in the third set, with Kucova earning a match point at 5-3 but the Australian star saved it and won the final five games of the match to secure a spot in the round of 32.

Winner of the 2019 French Open, Barty sent down an equal career-high 15 aces in two-and-a-half hours.

"Today was really hard work, and I enjoyed every single minute of it," Barty said on court post-game. "There’s nothing like coming through a test like that, and now I get another opportunity in a couple days' time to play another tough match and test myself again."

Next up for Barty is 2017 Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko, who outlasted Kirsten Flipkens 6-2 5-7 6-3.

 

HALEP REACHES MILESTONE

Halep brought up her 400th WTA main-draw triumph with a 3-6 6-4 6-0 victory over France's Caroline Garcia.

After dropping the opening set, Halep won 11 of the final 12 games to move through to the next round.

Halep won in one hour, 48 minutes, drastically improving on her first serve after the opening set while coming to grips with Garcia's kick serve.

"I needed time to get used to it and to get the rhythm," Halep said about Garcia's serve having improved her head-to-head record to 7-1, with Anastasija Sevastova awaiting in the last 32 after eliminating American sensation Coco Gauff.

Halep received attention on her shoulder early in the second. "I struggled with my serve," Halep said. "I struggled with my shoulder a little bit, so the attention was a little bit on the pain. [After that] I started to relax myself."

 

KERBER'S DOUBLE BAGEL

Three-time grand slam winner Angelique Kerber has been up and down in recently, but she flexed her muscles with a 6-0 6-0 humiliation of Renata Zarazua.

Aryna Sabalenka – the seventh seed – was another one to fend off match points before rallying 0-6 6-3 7-6 (11-9) past Bulgarian qualifier Tsvetana Pironkova in a gutsy.

Last year's French Open champion Iga Swiatek knocked off Barbora Krejcikova 6-4 6-2, while ninth seed and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova got past Aliza Cornet 6-0 6-4.

Fifth seed Elina Svitolina survived to beat Shelby Rogers 3-6 7-5 6-3 and two-time major winner Victoria Azarenka benefited from a walkover.

Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey said he is feeling "very good" about the team's championship chances after the Eastern Conference leaders acquired George Hill.

The 76ers were active on Thursday's NBA trade deadline, dealing for veteran guard Hill from the Oklahoma City Thunder in a three-team deal.

Ignas Brazdeikis also arrived from the New York Knicks as the 76ers sent Tony Bradley and two second-round picks (2025 and 2026) to Oklahoma City and Terrance Ferguson, Vincent Poirier, the rights to Emir Preldzic, a 2021 second-round pick and the Miami Heat's 2024 second-round pick to New York.

The 76ers have not won the NBA Finals since 1983, but Doc Rivers' Philadelphia top the Eastern Conference this season in their pursuit of a drought-ending championship.

"I think we feel very good about the roster we have and about our chances to win the championship," Morey told the media after acquiring Hill.

"I think Doc had some comments recently about looking for a two-way guard and it was one of very few needs for us, and that’s what we got with George. A veteran two-way guard who can shoot at a very high level, who can defend at a high level."

Hill – in his 13th NBA season – has appeared in 14 games (all starts) with the Thunder in 2020-21, averaging 11.8 points, 2.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 26.3 minutes per game.

The 34-year-old has shot 50.8 per cent from the field, 38.6 per cent from three-point range since joining the Thunder from the Milwaukee Bucks at the start of the season.

Hill has a career average of 11.1 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 27.7 minutes per contest as he prepares to join forces with All-Stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons in Philadelphia.

However, Hill – who has also played for the San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers, Utah Jazz, Sacramento Kings and Cleveland Cavaliers – has been sidelined since January after undergoing a surgical procedure on his right thumb.

"I don't want to give a timeline, it's not long," Morey said. "He had an issue where he chose to have surgery on it so that it'll never be an issue again.

"Once he's back, it's something that will never bother him again. So we're very optimistic about him for the future."

The 76ers, meanwhile, were reportedly in the mix to deal for Toronto Raptors star Kyle Lowry on Thursday.

Lowry was linked with the 76ers, Heat and champions the Los Angeles Lakers before Toronto opted to retain the franchise favourite.

Asked about NBA champion Lowry, Morey told reporters: "I can't specifically address a player on another team. Obviously at the trade deadline you have lots of options that were out there.

"All I can say is we're very excited about the option we ended up with. I think we did the deal about two hours before the deadline and we took an option that we thought really upgraded our team this year on both ends and at the same time kept all our optionality in the future."

Rory McIlroy and Bryson DeChambeau stayed alive at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, where world number one Dustin Johnson showed why he is golf's top-ranked player.

McIlroy extended his campaign at the Austin Country Club with a confidence-boosting 4 and 3 win over Lanto Griffin on Thursday.

Four-time major champion McIlroy endured a forgettable opening day in Austin on Wednesday, playing a tee shot into a swimming pool during a shocking 6 and 5 humbling at the hands of Ian Poulter.

But McIlroy – who missed the cut at The Players Championship – bounced back on day two, though the Northern Irishman still has his work cut out in the round-robin group phase after Poulter defeated Cameron Smith.

In order for McIlroy to advance from Group 11, the former world number one must beat Smith in the final match while also requiring leader Poulter to lose to Griffin.

"That was big," said McIlroy. "Obviously winning the match today keeps me in the tournament and gives me hope for tomorrow. It looks like Lanto is going to have to do me a favour and beat Poults.

"I hit a couple of destructive shots yesterday, but overall both of us played well, and I didn't feel the scoreline matched up with how I felt like I played. And then the same thing today. I played solid. Lanto didn't have his best stuff, but I played solid and kept it in play and holed some good putts when it mattered."

U.S. Open champion DeChambeau also breathed life into his campaign as the American star narrowly avoided elimination.

After suffering an upset at the hands of unheralded Frenchman Antoine Rozner on day one, DeChambeau was forced to dig deep against Kim Si-woo.

Down one, fifth seed and Arnold Palmer Invitational winner DeChambeau prevailed 2 and 1 after Kim's tee shot on 17 found the penalty area.

DeChambeau needs to beat Group 5 leader Tommy Fleetwood to have a chance to qualify for the weekend.

Top seed Johnson flexed his muscles as he came from behind to deny rising star Robert MacIntyre.

MacIntyre was on the verge of a prized scalp before Johnson rallied to tie the Group 1 showdown, having been two down with two to play.

The pair have one and a half points from two matches heading into their final matches.

World number two and Players Championship winner Justin Thomas, meanwhile, crashed out following a 2 and 1 defeat to defending champion Kevin Kisner.

Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said he was doing cartwheels while on holiday when he heard star quarterback Dak Prescott had re-signed with the NFL franchise.

Prescott had a long-running contract saga which came to an end three weeks ago, signing a four-year deal reportedly worth $160million after he had been tagged last offseason.

Two-time Pro Bowler Prescott only managed five games in 2020 due to a serious ankle injury as the Cowboys finished outside the playoffs with a 6-10 record.

McCarthy, who enters his second season in charge of the Cowboys in 2021, was holidaying in Florida when he found out Prescott's contract saga had ended and was delighted to secure his future.

"It's a lot easier to do cartwheels on the sand, I'll say that," McCarthy said. "Obviously I was very excited."

He added: "Dak is the keystone of this team. I'm excited about year two on offense. In a lot of ways, we didn't feel like we got to have a year one."

Since taking the starting role as a rookie in 2016 from an injured Tony Romo, Prescott has thrown for 17,634 yards with 106 touchdowns and 40 interceptions.

He has also rushed for 1,314 yards and a further 24 touchdowns.

Though he missed most of last season, Prescott is 10th among qualifying quarterbacks in yards per attempt (7.69) and 12th in passing plays of 25 yards or more since 2016.

The quarterback said earlier this month that he was close to being fully healthy following ankle surgery, well ahead of the September start for the 2021 season.

McCarthy added: "His presence and natural leadership ability is something that will continue to grow. You'll see that in the locker room."

Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard will miss Thursday's clash against former team the San Antonio Spurs due to foot soreness.

Leonard starred in the Clippers' 134-101 win over the Spurs on Wednesday, scoring 25 points and seven rebounds.

But Leonard – who helped the Spurs to the NBA championship in 2014 – will sit out the second of the back-to-back games with a right foot issue.

"[It is] something that just came up. [We] want to be cautious," Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue said pre-game.

Leonard spent seven years in San Antonio, where he made his debut in 2011 before leaving the Spurs for the Toronto Raptors in 2018.

The five-time All-Star won NBA titles with both the Spurs and Raptors prior to joining the Clippers in 2019.

Leonard – a two-time Finals MVP – has been averaging 25.9 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game for the Clippers this season.

The Clippers (29-16) are third in the Western Conference, behind the NBA-leading Utah Jazz (32-11) and Phoenix Suns (29-14).

Perhaps the biggest development at the NBA's trade deadline on Thursday saw a big player staying put as Kyle Lowry remained with the Toronto Raptors.

Veteran point guard Lowry, on an expiring contract, was seen as a potentially key pick-up for either the Philadelphia 76ers, the Los Angeles Lakers or the Miami Heat as they chase the title.

But the Raptors did not get a deal that appealed to them and will allow their greatest ever player to reach free agency.

There were significant moves elsewhere, though, as teams seized the last opportunity to agree trades.
 

ONE OUT IN TORONTO

Toronto, playing the season in Tampa, may have held on to Lowry, but they do not appear in contention this year at 18-26 and did deal Norman Powell.

The Portland Trail Blazers brought in the wing, one of the league's best three-point shooters in 2020-21, as Gary Trent Jr and Rodney Hood moved in the opposite direction.

Rather than one of the Raptors' shooters, the Heat will rely on Victor Oladipo, recruited from the Houston Rockets, over the coming months.

Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk and a draft swap was enough to do a deal with the Rockets.

Nemanja Bjelica also went to Miami from the Sacramento Kings for Maurice Harkless and Chris Silva.

And the Heat are said to be favourites for LaMarcus Aldridge after he was bought out by the San Antonio Spurs. Andre Drummond, another potential buyout, was not traded by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

THREE GO IN ORLANDO

As Toronto resisted the urge to take whatever they could get, the Orlando Magic did the opposite and cashed in.

All-Star Nikola Vucevic was a surprising early exit on Thursday as he went to the Chicago Bulls, along with Al-Farouq Aminu, in return for Otto Porter Jr, Wendell Carter Jr and two first-round picks.

Chicago added Daniel Theis from the Boston Celtics, but Lonzo Ball stayed put at the New Orleans Pelicans, while it was far from Orlando's only outgoing.

Evan Fournier headed to the Celtics, and the Denver Nuggets won the race for Aaron Gordon. His signing, along with Gary Clark, cost the Nuggets a first-round pick as well as Gary Harris and RJ Hampton.

Denver also added JaVale McGee in a deal with the Cavs.

RONDO RETURNS TO LA

Rajon Rondo, a team-mate of McGee's on the title-winning Lakers last season, has moved back to LA to join the Los Angeles Clippers.

Rondo played a big role in the playoffs for the Lakers and his signing cost the Clippers three-time Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams, sent to the Atlanta Hawks.

Western Conference rivals the Dallas Mavericks got two shooters from the Pelicans in the form of JJ Redick and Nicolo Melli, parting with James Johnson, Wes Iwundu and a second-round pick.

The Sixers landed George Hill in a three-team trade involving the Oklahoma City Thunder and the New York Knicks, while the Charlotte Hornets brought in Brad Wanamaker.

A late trade for Toronto Raptors great Kyle Lowry did not materialise on Thursday for either the Los Angeles Lakers or the Miami Heat, who signed Victor Oladipo.

The trade deadline passed with Lowry, widely considered the greatest player in Toronto's history, still on the Raptors.

The point guard, who turned 35 on Thursday, said it felt "weird" walking off the court on Wednesday knowing it might be his last appearance for the team.

Lowry played a part in the Raptors snapping a nine-game losing run against the Denver Nuggets, but links to the Philadelphia 76ers, the Lakers and the Heat had persisted in the days leading up to the deadline.

Reports on Thursday continued to detail interest from defending champions LA, in need of reinforcements amid injuries to Anthony Davis and LeBron James, and their 2020 Finals opponents Miami.

But The Athletic's Shams Charania said Toronto were struggling to agree terms with either team as they demanded a young guard in return.

The Lakers reportedly offered Dennis Schroder and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope but withheld Talen Horton-Tucker, while the Heat included Duncan Robinson but not Tyler Herro.

It meant the deadline ticked by before ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Lowry would not be moving.

Six-time All-Star Lowry is on an expiring contract but will now see that deal out before heading for free agency, having been with the Raptors since a 2012 trade from the Houston Rockets.

He has averaged 17.6 points, 7.1 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 1.5 steals in that time and started all 24 playoff games in 2018-19, scoring 15.0 points, as Toronto won their first NBA title.

The failure to secure a trade for Lowry meant Toronto lost only one key man on Thursday as sixth-year wing Norman Powell left for the Portland Trail Blazers in the middle of his most prolific season in the NBA.

The 27-year-old, who has a career 9.9 points, has averaged 19.6 per game in 2020-21 despite the team's struggles, establishing himself as a regular starter for the first time.

Powell is shooting 43.9 per cent from three, ranking 10th in the NBA and third among those with 200 or more attempts from beyond the arc.

Gary Trent Jr, moving in the opposite direction, is also enjoying a career year in his third campaign, making the most of increased opportunities amid CJ McCollum's injury woes for the Blazers to score 15.0 points in 30.8 minutes.

Meanwhile, Miami focused their attention on Oladipo, who found a third team of the season.

The 28-year-old guard started the year with the Indiana Pacers before he was moved to the Rockets as they dealt James Harden to the Brooklyn Nets.

With Houston loading up on draft picks and setting themselves up for a lottery selection in a difficult year, though, Oladipo - scoring 21.2 points per game - was traded again.

The Heat secured support for Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo in another title push and in return offered Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk and a draft swap to the Rockets, The Athletic said.

For the first time in a long time, the new MotoGP season promises a wide-open title race.

Marc Marquez's standing at the top of the sport has long been undisputed, but injury robbed him of his 2020 campaign and allowed Joan Mir to profit.

A response from Marquez this year has to be expected, but he will not be fit in time for the Qatar double-header that begins the season.

The first of the two Losail International Circuit races comes on Sunday, when Marquez's rivals will be looking to send a message to the absent superstar ahead of another intriguing title tussle.
 

MIR A THREAT TO MARQUEZ?

The 2020 championship would typically make Mir the man to beat in 2021, but Marquez is the bookmakers' favourite, even as he prepares to sit out the start of the season.

Prior to last season, when he appeared in only the first grand prix, Marquez had six titles in seven years.

The Repsol Honda rider will be confident, too, that his delayed recovery will not negatively impact his challenge. This will be the 14th time the campaign has started in Qatar but only four of the previous 13 race winners – most recently Marquez in 2013 – have gone on to top the standings at the end of the year.

Indeed, it is not an event Marquez will mind missing too much, with just one win in seven appearances at the Qatar Grand Prix.

If he can return swiftly afterwards, however, his rivals will have reason to fear. Excluding four abandonments, Marquez has finished first (16 times) or second (eight) in his past 24 races.

Mir's sole previous appearance at Qatar does not suggest he will be able to forge an early lead either, having finished eighth in 2018.

But the defending champion made the podium in seven of his final 11 races in 2020 to clinch the title, Suzuki Ecstar's first riders' championship since 2000.
 

CHALLENGERS TO THE CHAMPIONS

Mir was the man who went away with the title as Marquez missed out, but he was not alone in pursuit of the six-time champion's crown.

Petronas Yamaha's Franco Morbidelli was second last year, just 13 points back, and finished the campaign with two wins in four races, as well as consecutive podiums to end the season.

Jack Miller, now of the factory Ducati team, joined Morbidelli on the podium on both occasions and is being counted among the contenders despite never finishing higher than seventh over the course of a season in this category.

Morbidelli's team-mate last year Fabio Quartararo has moved to the Yamaha factory team after a disappointing 2020, but he has shown just what a threat he can be early in the year, starting with back-to-back victories last time out.

And while Marquez and Mir at least do not have to worry about Andrea Dovizioso, taking a one-year sabbatical, the Honda man might find competition a little closer to home.

New team-mate Pol Espargaro earned his move with five podiums in his past 10 races after only one in the previous 109.
 

THE OLD AND THE NEW

Marquez could join Valentino Rossi on seven titles, behind only Giacomo Agostini (eight) in the 500cc class, with another championship – and the Italian is highly unlikely to play any part in stopping him.

With Marquez out of the picture, veteran Rossi slumped to a career-worst 15th place in the standings last season, with only a single podium – his lowest return since 2011.

That disappointing campaign brought an end to the 42-year-old's second stint with the Yamaha factory team.

Rossi will instead ride for Petronas Yamaha, where he needs just one more podium to become the first 500cc/MotoGP rider to the 500 mark.

At the other end of the spectrum, Luca Marini, Enea Bastianini and Jorge Martin are debutants.

There were three new men in 2020, too, although with Esponsorama Racing pair Marini and Bastianini, this is the first year since 2013 (Andrea Ianone and Claudio Corti) there will be two Italians making their bow in the same year.

Dillian Whyte plans to prove any doubters wrong as he looks to even the score against Alexander Povetkin in a heavyweight rematch taking place in the unlikely location of Gibraltar.

The first meeting between the pair, staged back in August 2020, was eventful to say the least – Povetkin getting knocked down twice in the fourth round before producing a sensational stoppage.

An uppercut in the fifth from the Russian turned the tables and emphatically burst Whyte's best-laid future plans inside the Matchroom bubble, having known a win would secure a shot at the WBC title.

It was just a second career loss for 'The Body Snatcher', who understands he cannot afford a repeat result on Saturday.

"This is the most important fight of my career," Whyte said at a news conference on Thursday.

"I've been through ups and downs throughout my life, I'm used to bouncing back, I'm used to coming back and proving people wrong, showing people what I can do when they've written me off.

"It's nothing. I'm constantly improving, he's a good fighter – top amateur, [Olympic] gold medal winner, world champion, all that.

"But I'm still improving and getting better every day. On Saturday, I'm coming to leave it all on the line once again."

With the ongoing restrictions regarding travel and fans attending events due to the coronavirus pandemic, promoter Eddie Hearn has opted to take the show on the road.

The Europa Point Sports Complex in Gibraltar will stage the second bout, so 500 spectators will be allowed inside the venue for what is being dubbed the 'Rumble on the Rock'.

"It will be good to have the fans," Whyte said. "This fight is as big as any world-title fight.

"This place will be jumping; it will be rocking."

Povetkin, who has also only lost twice in his career in the pros, is reading nothing into what happened in the previous meeting, knowing only too well the damage Whyte can do.

"I'm very happy to be in this unusual place. I'm relaxed and confident," he said.

"I think Dillian will be better in this second fight, but at the same time I will try to pay more attention to my defence. Forget the story of the first fight."

Olympian Alia Atkinson continued in her fantastic form at the 2021 Florida Gold Coast Senior Championships held from March 19-21 in Florida.

Competing for South Florida Aquatics, Atkinson was at her imperious best winning all three of her individual events to make it 13 victories from 14 starts in 2021.

Her compatriots, Morgan Cogle of Jupiter Dragons and Simone Vale of Pine Crest Swimming, also competed at the meet with creditable results

What was outstanding about Atkinson’s swims, was the manner in which she achieved victory.

In the 100-yard freestyle, she broke ground for herself and Jamaican swimming breaking the national record in the event.

After cruising to the final as the top seed by virtue of her 50.72 in the preliminary round, she unleashed in the final, taking the first 50 yards in 23.50. She eventually stopped the clock 48.81 winning by more than two seconds.

She also lowered her previous personal best of 49.64 while breaking the previous record of 49.08 that was set by compatriot, former club teammate and fellow Olympian and friend Natasha Moodie.

The time also made Atkinson the first Jamaican woman to swim under 49 seconds in the event.

As it turns out, Atkinson was only just warming up.

In the 100-yard butterfly, Atkinson lowered her own pool record and Jamaican best of 52.62 to win in 52.01 while showing the field a clean pair of heels winning by almost three seconds.

She would go on to win the 100-yard breaststroke final by more than three seconds stopping the clock in 58.92 (split time 27.26). The win represented the 10th fastest time of her career and the best she has registered since 2019.

There would be more trips to top of the podium after splitting 50 yards in 28.09 to propel South Florida Aquatics to victory in the 200-yard medley relay in 1:46.71.

Cogle swam the opening backstroke leg in 28.47 for her team to finish in 1:51.30.

In the 200 yard freestyle, the results would be golden for Cogle and her Jupiter Dragons. She split 24.09 to give her team the lead after her second leg.

Atkinson erased that lead with her third leg split of 23.04. However, the Dragons had too much firepower on the last leg and came back to win 1:37.41 to SFA’s 1:37.59.

Meanwhile, Cogle continued to achieve personal milestones, the best of which came in the 100-yard backstroke.

Heading to the senior championships, she held had a personal best time of 1:00.30 in the 100-yard backstroke. She blew that time out of the water clocking 58.89, bettering her previous best by more than a second.

In the 100-yard freestyle, she lowered her personal best from 53.87 to 52.97.

She also lowered her previous best in the 50-yard freestyle from 24.92 to 24.76.

She fell just short of a personal best in the 200-yard freestyle in which she clocked 1:56.69 just shy of her best time of 1:56.42.

Simone Vale opened her 2021 campaign at this meet and featured in two Championship finals.

In the 100-yard backstroke, she placed ninth with a time of 59.39. She would also contest the longest backstroke race, the 200-yard event, in which she placed 10th in 2:12.39.

The South Florida Aquatics Club won the women’s section won with 1013.50 points. Pine Crest was second with 492 points. The Jupiter Dragons were sixth with 273.50 points. The South Florida Aquatics also captured the men and overall titles.

It's been some time since the Phoenix Suns finished a season above .500, and even longer since they last appeared in the playoffs. While both droughts will end this season, the question remains whether they are a legitimate title contender in a stacked Western Conference. 

Ask around as to which teams are most likely to win a championship and the Lakers, Clippers, Nets and maybe the Jazz, Bucks and 76ers would garner the most responses. That is somewhat curious since only Utah and Philadelphia currently have better records than Phoenix, who are an NBA-best 21-6 since January 28. 

The Suns showed signs of what they could become when they went 8-0 in the seeding games in the NBA 'bubble' last season, though they still missed out on the play-in in the West. The biggest reason behind that success was the otherworldly play of Devin Booker, who averaged 30.5 points on 50.3 per cent from the field with 6.0 assists and 4.9 rebounds. 

Sensing the Suns were on the verge of reversing their recent fortunes, general manager James Jones made the offseason move to acquire Chris Paul from Oklahoma City in the hopes of building on that success. Paul, an 11-time All-Star who recently became the sixth player to reach 10,000 assists, has accumulated all kinds of accolades during his 16-year career but, most importantly, is still playing at a very high level.  

Paul has twice helped guide a team to their most wins in a season in franchise history, doing so with the Hornets/Pelicans in 2007 and the Rockets in 2017-18. Though they won't reach that lofty standard in this abbreviated season, the Suns' current .674 winning percentage (29-14) would be their best since 2006-07. 

Paul's acquisition instantly made Phoenix better both on and off court and gave the franchise a measure of respect that only players of his calibre can bring. His ability to run an offense combined with Booker's continued ascent to stardom has the Suns in unfamiliar territory. 

Phoenix haven't had a winning season since going 48-34 in 2013-14 and only Sacramento (14) and New York (seven) have longer active stretches without finishing over .500. The Suns last reached the postseason in 2009-10, when current Nets coach Steve Nash was manning the point. The 10-season drought is the league's second-longest, trailing only Sacramento (14).  

Where that improvement has come from is maybe the most surprising aspect of Phoenix's success.  

Long known as a free-wheeling, offensive-minded team, the Suns are winning mainly with defense this season. Phoenix have finished 20th or worse in scoring defense in each of the last 17 seasons and ranked dead-last as recently as 2017-18.  

That’s no longer the case as Phoenix are allowing 107.4 points per game, third-best in the NBA. It's been nearly 40 years since the Suns finished a season in the top five of that category (102.0 in 1982-83, ranking third).

That's quite a turnaround from last season, when the Suns ranked 20th in the league in scoring defence, an improvement of 6.0 points.

There's no denying that strong defensive teams are geared for postseason success, and the Suns' depth should also be an advantage in the playoffs. While Booker is Phoenix's undisputed star and focus of the offense, there are plenty of other pieces capable of driving the offense.  

The Suns have seven players averaging in double figures, which is tied for the league lead (minimum 20 games played). They also have four players with at least 100 assists, a total bettered only by the Hornets, Nuggets, Kings and Bucks. 

Phoenix also have proven to be a stellar road team with a league-best 14-6 mark. That bodes well if they need to win playoff games at Utah, Los Angeles or Denver.  

After Booker and Paul, Phoenix’s third-leading scorer is DeAndre Ayton. The third-year center hasn't put up monster offensive numbers (14.7 ppg) that often are expected of a number one overall pick, but he ranks among the league leaders in rebounding (11.0) and his defensive versatility is a huge reason for the Suns' success.  

Ayton has also shown a knack for raising his play in the second half, shooting 65.1 per cent from the field after half-time - the third-best such rate among players with 150 attempts. 

Mikal Bridges (13.5), Jae Crowder (10.3), Cameron Johnson (10.3) and Dario Saric (10.0) also are scoring in double figures for the Suns. Bridges has made a huge leap this season, going from 9.1 points and 3.1 rebounds last season to 13.5 and 4.8 this season. He's also shooting 52.6 per cent from the field and ranks second on the team with 79 three-pointers.  

After Paul (10 straight playoff appearances) and Crowder (eight straight), this group does not boast extensive playoff experience and that includes coach Monty Williams. But Paul is among the game's great leaders and will be counted on heavily to guide the Suns through the postseason. 

Unlike several other top contenders, Phoenix have been extremely fortunate with injuries. The team's top six rotation players (Booker, Paul, Ayton, Bridges, Crowder and Johnson) have combined to miss only 19 games and Phoenix have used just five different starting lineups. Only Utah have used fewer (three).  

The Suns have fared well against some of the league's best teams with a 5-2 mark against the Lakers, Clippers, Jazz, Nets, Bucks and 76ers, but some of those wins have come against clubs missing top players due to injuries.  

That makes it difficult to get a read on how the Suns might perform in the postseason but considering the franchise has never won a championship in its 53-year history or even been in the playoffs for over a decade, the time for accomplishment is certainly now. 

Two-time All-Star Nikola Vucevic is being traded from the Orlando Magic to the Chicago Bulls in Thursday's first big deal ahead of the deadline.

The Magic were expected to be involved in developments prior to the trade deadline – at 15:00 ET (19:00 GMT) – as numerous teams reportedly show an interest in Aaron Gordon.

But star five Vucevic will be the first to depart as Orlando appear to acknowledge they are now focusing on a rebuild, with Evan Fournier following to the Boston Celtics.

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski said the Magic were sending Vucevic and Al-Farouq Aminu to Chicago for Otto Porter Jr., Wendell Carter Jr. and first-round picks in 2021 and 2023.

The Celtics sent two second-round selections for Fournier, the report said.

Orlando are 14th in the East with a 15-26 record while the Bulls occupy 10th, the final play-in spot, at 19-24.

Vucevic was selected by the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the 2011 draft but was traded to the Magic after his first season in the NBA, having scored just 5.5 points per game in only 15.9 minutes.

The center has since turned into a reliable performer in the league, though, averaging 16.7 points and 10.3 rebounds across his career.

Vucevic was selected for the All-Star Game in 2019, when he passed 20 points per game for the first time over a season (20.8), and again this year.

The 30-year-old leads Orlando with 24.5 points and 11.8 rebounds, starting all 44 of their games.

He ranks 17th in the league for scoring, but none of the players above him in that list can match the Montenegrin for boards.

With wing Fournier also departing, having chipped in with 19.7 points, the Magic are losing their two leading scorers.

Forward Aminu had also been starting for the team, averaging 5.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.0 steals in 21.6 minutes in 2020-21.

Meanwhile, former Washington Wizards forward Porter leaves Chicago having played the same number of minutes per game this year, contributing 9.9 points and 5.5 boards.

Third-year center Carter had 25 starts in 32 appearances for the Bulls this season and was the team's leading rebounder (7.8) and fifth-highest scorer (10.9).

Chicago may not yet be done, with ESPN's report adding details of their continued interest in the New Orleans Pelicans' Lonzo Ball.

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