Kyle Lowry admitted it was "weird" to walk off the court for potentially the last time as a Toronto Raptor as the point guard waits to see if he will be on the move before the trade deadline.

Lowry scored only eight points but had nine assists and five rebounds in his 33 minutes on court, helping Toronto snap a nine-game losing streak by beating the Denver Nuggets 135-111 in Tampa.

Viewed by many as the greatest player in the Canadian franchise's history, the six-time All-Star is on an expiring contract, making him a leading candidate to be on the move on Thursday - which just so happens to be his 35th birthday.

Toronto has an 18-26 record in a season that has seen them forced to relocate away from their home due to travel restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In a post-game media conference that was briefly interrupted by a call from rapper Drake, a global ambassador for the team who offered his services to work as a translator, Lowry admitted there was a different feeling at the end of the game, potentially knowing it was his last for the Raptors.

"It was kind of weird tonight, not knowing what the next step will be, understanding that there are things that could be possibly be done, with me and other guys on the team," he said prior to Drake's cameo appearance.

"It was great to get a win, it felt good to be out there. It would have been crazier if it was in Toronto, I think, but it was different tonight, for sure.

"Who knows what's going to happen? No one knows, but it was definitely different." 

Lowry arrived at Toronto in July 2012 and is the franchise leader for assists, three-pointers made and steals. He also sits second on the list for games played and was a key part of the roster that won the NBA title in 2019.

"Whenever the time comes, I'll think about that stuff," Lowry replied when asked about his legacy with the team. "The story is not complete, put it that way. My career isn't complete and my time in Toronto isn't essentially over.

"No decisions have been made, nothing has been done. With that being said, I don't know. I've given a lot and I'll continue to give it all, no matter what."

Raptors coach Nick Nurse was full of praise for Lowry, who helped build a 24-point half-time lead as they emphatically put an end to the Nuggets' six-game winning run on the road.

"He plays harder than anybody I've ever seen, and I can't give him a higher compliment than that," Nurse said. 

"He'll go down as maybe the greatest Raptor ever to date."

Norman Powell – another member of Toronto's team who could be on the move before the 15:00 ET (19:00 GMT) deadline – had 22 points.

Donovan Mitchell was left a little disappointed at not being able to go up against the Brooklyn Nets' absent 'big three' but praised his Utah Jazz team-mates for not getting complacent in a 118-88 victory. 

Ordinarily Wednesday's contest in Salt Lake City would have captured the imagination of neutrals, given it pitted Eastern and Western Conference contenders against each other. 

But the game lost a lot of the attraction due to James Harden (neck), Kevin Durant (hamstring) and Kyrie Irving (personal reasons) all being absent. 

Such a situation might have led to some teams taking a more relaxed approach, but not the Jazz, and it was this professionalism that impressed Mitchell, who top-scored with 27 points. 

"We want to play against guys like KD, Kyrie, James Harden - that's what competitiveness is," he said in his post-game interview. 

"But we're not going to change how we play or our mindset because those guys aren't in the game. 

"The biggest thing was trying to be aggressive, get downhill, make plays, get on the rim and finish. That was just my mindset from the jump.

"We've had instances in my time here where we've played differently because guys have been out; tonight really showed the mental fortitude we had throughout the entire game to continue to keep our foot on the pedal." 

The Nets' half-time tally of 38 points was the fewest they have recorded all season, not one of their players reaching the halfway mark with double figures. 

The Jazz were a whopping 21 points clear at the start of the second quarter, with the Nets never looking capable of ensuring it was a competitive game. 

But Nets coach Steve Nash was realistic about the situation and even felt a hint of pride. 

"That's the team [the Jazz] with the best record in the league, we went out there severely undermanned and most importantly they stuck together, played hard, defensively were pretty good; maybe gave up too many threes, but otherwise did a lot of good things defensively," he said. 

"I just told them I was proud of them, and it was great to see some of those guys get some minutes, get some opportunity to make some buckets get some rebounds and stops and just kind of develop. 

"So, lots to be thankful for and we move on to Detroit." 

One of those who took full advantage of a rare opportunity was Alize Johnson, only signed to a 10-day contract earlier this week. He met Nash for the first time on Wednesday. 

Johnson most recently played for Raptors 905 in the NBA G-League, but he certainly made his mark with a career-best 23 points – bettered by only Mitchell in the game – and 15 rebounds. 

"[I wanted to] just prove to everybody that I belong here in the NBA. I've put in a lot of hard work," Johnson said. 

"I got here last night and they got me in here early before the game started and go over a couple things and they did a really good job with that. 

"It was pretty simple and I knew kind of the stuff they were running just from being in the league for a couple years and it just kind of showed that I have a feel for the game - I just applaud those guys for getting me ready for the game." 

Donovan Mitchell led the way with 27 points, six rebounds and seven assists as the Utah Jazz brushed aside the undermanned Brooklyn Nets 118-88 on Wednesday.

The Nets went into the match without star James Harden due to neck soreness, along with Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and new recruit Blake Griffin among others, and their absence told.

The Jazz led by 25 points at half-time in a fizzer of a contest, as the Nets suffered their biggest defeat of the season, while Utah recorded their 17th straight home win.

Utah improved to a 32-11 record while the Nets slipped to 30-15, with the Milwaukee Bucks moving ahead of them in the Eastern Conference after a thrilling win over the Boston Celtics.

Celtics center Daniel Theis could have snatched victory when he had a wide open look for a three-pointer on the buzzer but his shot missed as Milwaukee won 121-119.

Giannis Antetokounmpo's output was below his normal standards with only 13 points, although he had seven assists and eight rebounds.

Khris Middleton starred for the Bucks with 27 points, 13 rebounds and four assists, while Bobby Portis came off the bench to add 21 points for the Bucks.

The Sacramento Kings also edged a last-shot thriller over the in-form Atlanta Hawks, winning 110-108.

Danilo Gallinari could have sent the match to overtime but his effort rimmed out, handing the Kings victory aided by De'Aaron Fox's 37 points, including 24 in the first half.

Kawhi torments former franchise in Texas

Two-time NBA champion Kawhi Leonard returned to his former home as the Los Angeles Clippers easily accounted for the San Antonio Spurs 134-101.

Leonard has an imposing record against his former franchise and added to that with 25 points, seven rebounds and three assists.

Lou Williams (16 points) reached a career milestone of 15,000 NBA points, including 12,813 off the bench, making him arguably the best sixth man in competition history.

Amid reports of a trade before the NBA deadline, Kyle Lowry may have played his final game for the Toronto Raptors in a 135-111 win over the Denver Nuggets.

Lowry had eight points and nine assists, while Pascal Siakam top scored with 27 points, eight rebounds and six assists.

The Phoenix Suns, second in the West, went down 112-111 to the Orlando Magic as Devin Booker missed a late shot to win the match.

 

Blockbuster-turn-fizzer

Billed as a blockbuster between two of the title favourites, the Jazz-Nets clash ended up as a fizzer given Brooklyn's absentees, particularly after the pre-match withdrawal of Harden due to neck soreness. Seeing him watch from the sidelines was a low.

Clutch three from the logo

Trae Young kept the Hawks in the game late against the Kings, including a spectacular three-pointer from the logo to tie scores at 108-108. He finished with 29 points and nine assists.

 

Wednesday's results

Indiana Pacers 116-111 Detroit Pistons
Milwaukee Bucks 121-119 Boston Celtics
Toronto Raptors 135-111 Denver Nuggets
Orlando Magic 112-111 Phoenix Suns 
Cleveland Cavaliers 103-94 Chicago Bulls
Memphis Grizzlies 116-107 Oklahoma City Thunder
Dallas Mavericks 128-108 Minnesota Timberwolves
Charlotte Hornets 122-97 Houston Rockets
Los Angeles Clippers 134-101 San Antonio Spurs
Sacramento Kings 110-108 Atlanta Hawks
Utah Jazz 118-88 Brooklyn Nets

 

76ers at Lakers

The reigning champions Los Angeles Lakers (28-16), without LeBron James, take on the Eastern Conference leaders Philadelphia 76ers (31-13).

Vasek Pospisil launched a stunning tirade during his three-set defeat to American qualifier Mackenzie McDonald in the first round of the Miami Open on Wednesday.

The Canadian former world number 25 was docked a point for verbal abuse, subsequently conceding the first set, before a meltdown during the change of ends.

Pospisil used a profanity in reference to ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi when speaking to chair umpire Arnaud Gabas.

“[Gaudenzi was] screaming at me in a player meeting for trying to unite the players — for an hour and a half," Pospisil said to Gabas. "If you want to default me, I’ll gladly sue this whole organisation.”

He did fight back to win the second set but ultimately lost to McDonald 6-3 4-6 6-3.

Pospisil, who is nowadays ranked 67th, was joined among the first-round exits by last week's Mexican Open semi-finalist Dominik Koepfer, who went down 6-1 6-4 to wildcard Hugo Gaston as he claimed his first career Masters 1000 win.

Sam Querrey, ranked 63rd, also bowed out 6-3 6-4 to Lu Yen-hsun, who will meet world number two Daniil Medvedev in the second round.

YOUNGSTER BEATS VETERAN

Australian youngster Alexei Popyrin secured his maiden win at the Miami Open, knocking out the oldest player in the draw Feliciano Lopez 6-4 7-6 (7-4).

Popyrin, 21, claimed his first ATP Tour title last month in Singapore and backed that up with a strong display against the 39-year-old former top 20 Spaniard.

Recent Open 13 Marseille runner-up Pierre-Hugues Herbert got past Portugal's Pedro Sousa 6-1 6-3, while South Africa's Lloyd Harris defeated Emilio Nava 6-4 7-6 (9-7).

Frances Tiafoe won in the final match of Wednesday, coming from behind to beat Stefano Travaglia 5-7 6-4 6-2.

 

COMEBACK CAM

Brit Cameron Norrie produced a heroic final-set fightback to claim his spot in the second round, where he will face Grigor Dimitrov.

Norrie trailed 5-1 in the third set against Yoshihito Nishioka, before winning 6-1 3-6 7-5, winning the last six games to clinch victory.

The 56th-ranked Brit sent down eight aces in the victory, although he got the edge on return and converted seven of his 10 break points.

SECOND ROUND

Top seed Medvedev will face Lu on Thursday, while third seed Alexander Zverev will take on Finland's Emil Ruusuvuori.

Norrie will meet Dimitrov, while 11th seed Felix Auger-Aliassime faces Herbert and eighth seed David Goffin will take on James Duckworth.

Harris has a match-up against seventh seed Roberto Bautista Agut.

Sloane Stephens ended her losing run to start the year with a hard-fought three-set win over France's Oceane Dodin in the first round of the Miami Open on Wednesday.

Former US Open champion Stephens, ranked 49th in the world, defeated Dodin 6-7 (6-8) 6-4 6-2.

Stephens progresses to the second round where the top seeds, including top three Ash Barty, Naomi Osaka and Simona Halep, will be introduced and she will face 28th seed Amanda Anisimova.

Danielle Collins, Wang Qiang, Alize Cornet and Caroline Garcia were among the other winners on Wednesday, while Svetlana Kuznetsova bowed out.

 

SLOANE FIGHTBACK

Stephens had endured a dismal start to 2021, enduring an 0-4 win-loss record to begin the year.

The 28-year-old American was made to do it the hard way against Dodin on Wednesday, dropping the first set in a tie-break.

Stephens improved on her return in the second set, winning 73 per cent of points off Dodin's second serve before running away with the match in the last.

"It's been a rough one for me lately, so I'm really pleased to get through that, fight my way through it and make it happen somehow," Stephens said post-match.

FORMER MAJOR WINNER GONE

Two-time grand slam winner Kuznetsova was the major first-round casualty, going down 2-6 6-2 6-1 to France's Alize Cornet.

Kuznetsova, who is now ranked 35th in the world, bows out with Cornet to face ninth seed Petra Kvitova.

Collins got past France's Kristina Mladenovic 6-3 6-3 with the 40th-ranked American setting up a second-round clash with 32nd seed Veronika Kudermetova.

Wang, ranked 38th in the world, also progressed despite dropping a set in a 6-1 3-6 6-3 win over Spanish qualifier Aliona Bolsova.

SECOND-ROUND MATCH-UPS

The round of 64 will commence on Thursday, with third seed Halep to face Garcia who got past another Romanian, Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-1 6-2.

Top seed Barty will be in action against Slovakia's Kristina Kucova, while fourth seed Sofia Kenin will take on former top-10 player Andrea Petkovic.

Second seed Osaka has an assignment against 77th-ranked Australian Ajla Tomljanovic, while 14th seed Victoria Azarenka is already into the third round with opponent Laura Siegemund withdrawing after her win on Tuesday.

James Harden has been ruled out of the Brooklyn Nets' blockbuster match with the ladder leading Utah Jazz on Wednesday due to neck soreness.

Harden joins Blake Griffin (knee), Kyrie Irving (personal), Kevin Durant (hamstring), Landry Shamet (ankle) and Spencer Dinwiddie (ACL) on the sidelines for the match-up.

The Jazz heads into the match on top of the Western Conference with a 31-11 record, although they've only won five of their past 10 matches.

The Nets have surged into contention over the past two months aided by Harden's addition from the Houston Rockets, sitting second in the Eastern Conference with a 30-14 record. Brooklyn are 23-8 since Harden's arrival.

Harden admitted he almost sat out Tuesday's 116-112 win over the Portland Trail Blazers due to the complaint.

The former MVP appeared to hurt his neck during a collision with Garrison Mathews in Sunday's 113-106 win over the Washington Wizards.

It was another disappointing season for the New York Giants in 2020, despite the arrival of new head coach Joe Judge.

The Giants endured a fourth consecutive losing campaign and have not tasted victory in a playoff game since winning the Super Bowl to conclude the 2011 season.

However, after going 1-7 in the first half of the year, the Giants went 5-3 down the stretch to finish 6-10.

That decent finish, which was helped by a competitive defense, coupled with some high-profile moves in free agency, has at least given Giants fans some reasons for optimism going into 2021.

We have looked at the best Stats Perform data to get a good look at what they need to do to become competitive again.
 

Offense

The offense was a key weakness for Big Blue in 2020, with Judge and new offensive coordinator Jason Garrett struggling to find a solution.

But while it is fair to suggest Daniel Jones does not look like an elite quarterback, it is hard to place much of the blame on his shoulders.

The Giants' offensive line was among the worst in the NFL once more, with number four overall pick Andrew Thomas enduring a rough rookie season as veteran Nate Solder opted out amid the coronavirus pandemic.

While they had a varied group of skillsets at wider receiver, the unit lacked a true number one option.

A succession of injuries also meant the Giants rarely had all their key pass-catchers on the field at the same time. To make matters worse, star running back Saquon Barkley was lost for the season with a torn ACL in Week 2.

Jones played better than his headline statistics - 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions from 14 games, an 80.4 passer rating and 29th-ranked passing offense (189.1 net passing yards per game) - would suggest. 

The lack of a top supporting cast is highlighted by a total of 751 yards proving enough for Darius Slayton to be Jones' leading target, while with 423 yards on the ground, the QB was the team's second-highest rusher.

The Giants had just 36 passing plays of 20-plus yards, the second-lowest in the NFL.

But Jones thrived when they did open the offense up, providing hope for when he has better receivers to throw to and some more aggressive play-calling.

In passing attempts with 21-plus air yards, Jones had a passer rating of 135.4 – best in the NFL – completing 19 of 38 for five touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Despite his success in that category, there were 21 other QBs who threw more deep passes, with Tom Brady topping the list with 86 attempts, statistics that should give Garrett food for thought.

Without Barkley as the O-line often struggled, the Giants had 46 runs of 10-plus yards and averaged 110.5 YPG, both figures which were below the league average.

Defense

The Giants' defense, though, was a surprising positive for the season.

Despite going into the year with concerns over a lack of star power and talent, defensive coordinator Patrick Graham put together a competitive unit.

Cornerback James Bradberry was a Pro Bowl selection after signing in free agency, while Leonard Williams enjoyed a strong season on the defensive line.

The Giants were ninth in points allowed (357) over the whole season. Even more impressively, they allowed just 138 points over the final eight games, the best total in the NFL over that span.

They were 12th in yards allowed per game (349.3) while 5.34 yards allowed per play was ninth in the NFL.

New York allowed only 52 big plays of 20-plus yards (ranked 6th) and just six of those went for touchdowns (equal 3rd).

They were better than league average with 22 takeaways and 40 sacks too – 11.5 of which went to Williams, who was playing on the franchise tag and also had 30 QB hits and 14 TFL.

Offseason

All of that meant the Giants went into the offseason with improving on offense as a priority and plenty to build from on the defense.

That defense got even stronger with the addition of former first-round pick Adoree' Jackson after his release from the Tennessee Titans, giving the team what looks like a strong cornerback pairing with Bradberry.

With Jabrill Peppers and last year's highly rated second-round selection Xavier McKinney at safety, the secondary looks strong.

Linebacker is a weakness, though the Giants are still looking good up front after Williams was retained on a three-year, $63million deal.

While that looks like a huge overpay, it does at least ensure the defensive line is well placed despite the departure of Dalvin Tomlinson, with Dexter Lawrence, their first-round pick in 2019 still in place. 

An elite edge rusher would complement those big bodies well and may well be an area of focus in the draft.

Offensively, the big splash was Kenny Golladay, seen as the top wide receiver to hit the open market, on a four-year, $72m deal. 

A low-cost flier was taken on speedster John Ross after the release of Golden Tate, while veteran Kyle Rudolph joined Evan Engram in the tight end room.

The offensive line remains a concern, particularly with guard Kevin Zeitler released, though Solder is back for 2021 on a restructured deal and there will be hopes of an improved sophomore year from Thomas.

With the number 11 pick in the draft, and many of the other teams near the top of the order eyeing a QB, the Giants are in a good position to land a key contributor at a position of need. 

If the Giants go receiver and bring in either Ja'Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle to pair with Golladay and possession receiver Sterling Shephard, Jones will surely greet the move with delight.

Gregory Rousseau is among the options if the Giants look to fill their need at edge in the first round, while tackle Rashawn Slater could prove tempting if the Giants try to swing again for an offensive lineman.

Regardless of the route they go down, Jones' supporting cast has already been significantly improved. 

It is fair to say he has not had a great situation either during his college career at Duke or in his first two years as an NFL quarterback.

But going into his third season, Jones now has a platform to succeed and must show enough this year to prove he can be the man who is capable of bringing the Giants back to the top. 

If he cannot, both he and general manager Dave Gettleman will be facing an uncertain future.

Rory McIlroy played a tee shot into a swimming pool during a shocking start to his WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play campaign, where he was hammered 6 and 5 by Ian Poulter.

The Northern Irishman has had well documented issues with his swing in recent weeks and has linked up with renowned coach Pete Cowen for the tournament at the Austin Country Club.

But McIlroy struggled badly during his round-robin opener against fellow Europe Ryder Cup star Poulter and was already two down by the time he pulled his tee shot wildly left at the fifth tee, with his ball sinking into the pool at a nearby house.

He managed to claw within one by the eighth, but Poulter then won five holes in a row to condemn McIlroy to a heavily opening defeat in Group 11, where Cameron Smith beat Lanto Griffin in the pool's other opener.

Dustin Johnson had no such woe as he started with a 2 Up win over Adam Long in Group One, while Jon Rahm defeated Sebastian Munoz 1 Up (Group 3), and Bryson DeChambeau overcame Antoine Rozner 2 Up (Group 5).

Justin Thomas was beaten 3 and 2 by Matt Kuchar (Group 2), though, while Jordan Spieth outclassed Matthew Fitzpatrick 3 and 1 (Group 15) despite a comedy moment when he drove the 15th green…but from the 13th tee.

The Philadelphia 76ers' trip to the Los Angeles Lakers is not quite the blockbuster clash it might have been, but Thursday's game should prove no less intriguing.

Rather than seeing MVP candidates Joel Embiid and LeBron James battle it out at Staples Center, the Sixers and the Lakers will attempt to show how they can cope without their leading men.

Embiid has been on the sidelines since March 12, over which time Philly have gone 5-1, but they crucially have the benefit of Ben Simmons, their second All-Star now fit and firing.

LA do not have the same luxury, as Anthony Davis is also out, with the team beaten by the Atlanta Hawks as James went down and again in his absence in Tuesday's game with the New Orleans Pelicans.

This could still be an NBA Finals preview, though, and the matchup will undoubtedly draw plenty of interested eyes...
 

TOP PERFORMERS

Los Angeles Lakers - Dennis Schroder

Schroder was a Sixth Man of the Year contender last year - missing out to now team-mate Montrezl Harrell - but now finds himself as the most important player in the champions' team with both James and Davis out.

The point guard has started all but four of LA's games this season, his absence coinciding with a four-game losing streak.

Defeat on Thursday would mean another stretch of four straight defeats and it will be up to Schroder to ensure that does not happen.

Coach Frank Vogel talked up Schroder's importance after the Hawks game and his 15 points against the Pelicans maintained his seasonal average at the same mark, third-most for the Lakers behind their big two.

Philadelphia 76ers - Ben Simmons

As the only remaining All-Star in this clash between two of the league's top teams, Simmons will be expected to make the difference.

The former first overall pick has previously been tasked with guarding James but should be freed in the absence of superstar opponents, perhaps able to focus his efforts instead on scoring and creating shots for others.

In a strange quirk, Simmons' four best scoring games this season have come in defeats. Fifth on that list, however, is the win against the Golden State Warriors last time out when he put up 22.

One of his four triple-doubles this season came in the previous game against the Lakers.
 

KEY BATTLE - CAN LAKERS HALT HARRIS?

That sole other matchup between the teams this season was settled by Tobias Harris' 15-footer with three seconds remaining as he switched onto the more diminutive Alex Caruso.

Harris' 10-for-16 shooting in that game was vital and the Lakers, without their best defender in Davis, must more effectively guard the forward.

While Simmons is the star name in this encounter, Harris is second only to Embiid on the Sixers with a career-high 20.8 points per game this year.

The Lakers will at least know to pay attention to Harris in 'clutch' moments, his two points in February among 71 this season that have him 18th in the league in such situations.
 

HEAD TO HEAD

The Lakers have the slight edge in the teams' all-time regular season record with 146 wins to the Sixers' 138 going back to their respective beginnings in Minneapolis and Syracuse.

Philly's dramatic 107-106 success earlier this year was their fifth meeting with LA since James moved to the Western Conference outfit, in which time the Sixers are 4-1 - albeit the four-time MVP missed the first defeat.

Embiid has only faced the Lakers six times, with a 4-2 record. LA are 4-3 in the seven Philly's main man has missed in his time in the league.

Jamaica’s Minister of Sports Olivia Grange and the State Minister Alando Terrelonge, have expressed sadness at the death of veteran racehorse trainer Wayne DaCosta who died today after battling the Covid-19 virus for the past few weeks.

He was admitted to the hospital in intensive care in February.

A major player in Jamaica’s horseracing industry for more than four decades, DaCosta won 18 trainer’s titles at Caymanas Park, the most ever by any trainer in Jamaica.

His death cast a pall over the country’s sporting fraternity including Minister Grange.

"I join with the family, the racehorse industry, and wider national sports family in mourning the passing of trainer, Wayne DaCosta. We had been praying for his full recovery and I had heard through his son, Jason, that Wayne was regaining his strength; so I was shocked to receive this very sad news today,” Jamaica’s Sports Minister said.

“Wayne DaCosta served horseracing with distinction. His contribution has been mammoth and his impact will continue to be felt for a long time.  Wayne DaCosta is simply one of the greatest trainers that Jamaica has produced and he quite rightly won the trainers’ title a record 18 times. If horseracing is indeed the sport of kings, then Wayne wore his crown with distinction.

“I offer deepest condolences to his widow, his children, and other members of the family.  I ask that we keep them in our prayers at this time.”

Terrelonge, the Member of Parliament for the constituency where Caymanas Park is located in St Catherine, was equally moved by the news.

“The King is dead. But long shall his legacy live,” he said.

“I am deeply saddened by the passing of stalwart trainer and 18-time champion racehorse trainer, Wayne DaCosta. My heartfelt condolences to his family and the racing community.

“The sport of kings will never be the same without the majestic contribution of this giant of a man. He gifted us the likes of the unforgettable She’s A Man Eater and Stranger Danger who have decorated and electrified horse-racing in Jamaica.

“The track at Caymanas, located in my constituency of East Central St Catherine, is where I had the privilege of meeting and getting to know Mr DaCosta. The constituency will be forever in his debt for helping to provide jobs and a livelihood to many residents.”

He continued: “We mourn this tremendous loss to the racing community but are encouraged that his legacy will endure for generations to come. I join with the family, the racehorse industry, and wider national sports family in mourning the passing of trainer, Wayne DaCosta.”

Winning the NFC East in 2020 is unlikely to take pride of place on many CVs.

The Washington Football Team came through the worst division in football with a 7-9 record before falling at the first hurdle in the playoffs, battling hard before being beaten by eventual Super Bowl champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But as well as scraping together the most wins, a strange season provided Washington with greater cause for optimism than their divisional rivals.

Ron Rivera's team were particularly strong on defense, as a lack of top-level production at the quarterback position prevented them from being anything more than the best of a bad bunch.

That is evidenced by Stats Perform data, but Washington's offseason moves to date suggest they should get better in 2021.

Offense

Washington had three different starters at quarterback last year, rarely the sign of an effective offensive unit.

And none of Dwayne Haskins (six starts), Alex Smith (six) or Kyle Allen (four) are set to line up under center in the coming campaign following the recruitment of Ryan Fitzpatrick. The new QB ended 2020 as a backup on a non-playoff team in Miami but still undoubtedly offers an upgrade, having played some of the best football of his career in recent seasons.

 

Washington ranked 25th for net passing yards per game (216.6), albeit that still had them second in the division in that regard.

Haskins, a first-round pick in 2019, was released in December after he was pictured partying without a mask at a strip club following a defeat to the Seattle Seahawks and then completed just 50.0 per cent of 28 passes, with no touchdowns and two interceptions, against the Carolina Panthers, earning a wretched passer rating of 36.9.

Among qualifying QBs - 224 attempts for the season - only Nick Foles (5.94) trailed Haskins in yards per attempt (5.97), while his passer rating of 73.0 was third-worst behind Sam Darnold (72.7) and Carson Wentz (72.8).

Haskins was only playing against Seattle and Carolina because Smith, back from his awful, life-threatening leg injury, was out again. Smith won his final five starts of 2020 but finished the year close behind Haskins, with a seventh-worst 6.28 yards per attempt and fifth-worst 78.5 passer rating, and has since been cut.

For Fitzpatrick, this is a low bar to clear.

But the former Dolphins QB should also have the benefit of greater talent on the end of his passes, with wide receiver Teddy McLaurin carrying the load for Washington in 2020 with 87 catches on 134 targets for 1,118 yards and four touchdowns.

McLaurin ranked 14th in the league for receiving yards per game (74.5), with Logan Thomas the team's next best performer in 64th (41.9).

On the ground, Antonio Gibson found more help, effectively protected by his offensive line as he rushed for 170 carries, 795 yards and 11 TDs.

But Washington's total offense put up just 317.3 yards per game and 4.83 per play, ranking 30th and 31st. Improvement should come easy but is desperately required.

Defense

If those offensive yardage numbers effectively sum up Washington's woes on that side of the ball, the figures going the other way do a similar job.

Washington allowed a meagre 304.6 yards per game and 4.85 per play, totals only undercut by the Los Angeles Rams' outstanding defensive unit. Opponents scored just 329 points, the fourth-fewest in the NFL.

Blessed with the star performers that were absent elsewhere in the team, the defense made light work of the other similarly poor NFC East offenses.

Washington have found incredible value up front, where defensive ends Montez Sweat and Chase Young and defensive tackles Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen are all still on their rookie contracts.

Sweat led the team in sacks (9.5 for 83.0 yards), QB hits (20) and tackles for loss (12) and scored a defensive TD on his only pick, while Young was not far behind (7.5 sacks, 12 QB hits, 10 TFL, four forced fumbles and three recovered). Payne had 3.0 sacks, eight QB hits and seven TFL, as Allen had 2.0, 14 and three.

Sweat, Young and Payne also combined to stuff 16.0 runs, contributing to Washington's impressive record in forcing stoppages. Only Pittsburgh's defense (25.0) allowed a lower percentage of conversions on fourth down (37.5).

These players will have to be paid eventually if a talented quartet of the future is to stay together, but these are not worries for this year.

The big defensive offseason questions instead lay elsewhere, notably how would Washington replace cornerback Ronald Darby's production with 16 passes defensed? The signing of William Jackson III has already answered that query.

Offseason

Jackson's three-year, $40.5million signing has been Washington's biggest outlay in free agency, his 11 passes defensed ensuring they should again have a top performer at corner.

The team clearly recognised they could not afford to weaken the strongest area of their roster.

Another safety could yet be of use, although Kamren Curl (63 tackles, three interceptions and a defensive TD) and Landon Collins, recovering from a torn Achilles, are both on the books.

On the offense, Fitzpatrick's one-year, $10m deal showed exactly how Washington see his signing. The 39-year-old is neither a long-term solution nor a game-changer but should instead do enough to keep his new team at the top of the division.

To help the veteran - and McLaurin - the team made a big pick-up at receiver in the form of Curtis Samuel, a second-round draft pick during Rivera's time with the Panthers.

He arrives for three years and $34.5m, having posted a career-high 1,051 yards (851 receiving, 200 rushing) in 2020, along with five TDs.

But Washington still have not quite gone all in - not that they need to.

Even if they do not look a genuine contender at this stage, the team's defense will keep them in most games.

With $20.9m of cap space remaining and their first-round pick at 19, Washington are instead well positioned to seize on any unexpected opportunities that come their way.

It might only take a crazy trade from a team in turmoil or a lucky bounce in a big game to bring the NFC East champions to the fore.

Lewis Hamilton returns to Bahrain four months on from winning an 11th race of a dominant 2020 season knowing Mercedes have plenty of questions to answer from an exciting-looking Red Bull.

It was another season to remember for Hamilton in a campaign disrupted heavily by the coronavirus pandemic, the Briton himself contracting the virus late in the season and missing the second leg of a Sakhir double-header a week later.

By winning a seventh Formula One world title, Hamilton levelled Michael Schumacher's all-time record and also surpassed the legendary German for overall race wins (now 95), and he is now going in search of history.

But the evidence in pre-season suggests Mercedes are set for a titanic tussle with Red Bull, whose exciting line-up of Max Verstappen – the 23-year-old many are tipping to finally go toe-to-toe-with Hamilton – and Sergio Perez will be out to lay down a marker at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir.

Many have suggested that F1's technical 2021 changes have redressed the competitive balance and certainly there was evidence to suggest as such at pre-season testing where Mercedes posted the lowest lap count of any team and Red Bull set the pace on two out of the three days.

We have been here before with Mercedes, though, where some have questioned whether their period of dominance – the Silver Arrows winning the constructors' championship seven years running – is finally over, only for the German manufacturers to turn it on when it matters.

This weekend should give us a clearer indication as to the strength of both teams, but that is by no means the only talking point on the grid...

LAST TIME OUT

Red Bull can certainly take heart from a strong end to the 2020 campaign, which saw Verstappen coast to victory at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, a race in which Hamilton finished third after returning from his absence due to COVID-19.

In that race, Red Bull were not necessarily favourites but beat Mercedes in a straight-line fight for Verstappen's second triumph of the season – his first coming in round five at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix.

Perez can also take plenty of confidence from the fact he triumphed at this circuit for the Sakhir Grand Prix a week after Hamilton's last win of 2020, with a power issue in Abu Dhabi meaning his final outing with Racing Point ended in a whimper.

Valtteri Bottas finished second ahead of Hamilton on that occasion and the Finn knows he has a lot to prove against a strong-looking Red Bull line-up, while McLaren cars finished in fifth and sixth and are fancied for another strong campaign after finished third in the constructors' championship.

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR IN SAKHIR

There are plenty of sub-plots in play this weekend after a close-season of change in F1.

Most notable is the return of a legend and the arrival of a rookie aiming to emulate his great father.

Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso is back, racing for the rebranded Alpine Team – formerly Renault where the brilliant Spaniard won his two titles.

Mick Schumacher, son of Michael, has sizeable shoes to fill and will start his career on the biggest stage with Haas alongside fellow F1 rookie Nikita Mazepin.

Sebastian Vettel has a new home after ending his association with Ferrari and will race for Aston Martin, who are back in F1 for the first time since 1960, while the Scuderia signed Carlos Sainz Jr from McLaren to line-up alongside Charles Leclerc for 2021.

McLaren consequently turned to amiable Australian Daniel Ricciardo to partner Lando Norris, with the team starting 2021 12 podiums shy of 500.

TOP FIVE OPTA STATS

- Vettel and Hamilton are the drivers to have won the most races at the Bahrain GP (four), and have taken the most pole positions (three).

- In 2014, Mercedes recorded the first out of their 70 one-twos in hybrid-era qualifying in Bahrain (Nico Rosberg first, Hamilton second). The Germans have achieved 78 one-twos; they are two wins away from reaching Ferrari as the team to have secured one-twos in qualifying most often (80).

- Mick Schumacher will race his maiden grand prix in Bahrain eight years, four months and three days after father Michael's final appearance in Brazil 2012. Both will have started in F1 aged 22 years old, but the younger Schumacher will have done so seven months and 16 days earlier than his dad.

- Sainz will be the third Spanish driver to race for Ferrari. In his maiden race for the Scudería, Alfonso de Portago failed to finish in France (1956), but Alonso won in Bahrain (2010).

- Verstappen has retired three times at the Bahrain Grand Prix (four in Sakhir), more than any other race in his F1 career. The Dutchman has the chance to win back-to-back grands prix in F1 for the first time after 120 races.

Veteran Jamaican racehorse trainer Wayne DaCosta, who was hospitalized in February, has died.

France have named fly-half Romain Ntamack in the XV for their potential Six Nations-winning finale with Scotland on Friday.

The 21-year-old Stade Toulousain man replaces Matthieu Jalibert, who misses out with the head injury sustained during their thrilling 32-30 win over Wales last Saturday.

Ntamack was the 2020 Six Nations player of the Championship and would have been first choice in this campaign had he not suffered a jaw injury in December which gave Jailbert the chance to feature.

The match was originally scheduled for February 28 but a COVID-19 outbreak in the French camp saw the fixture postponed.

France must record a bonus-point victory, and win by at least 21 points, or claim a 20-point win and score at least six tries, to snatch the title away from Wales.

If France score precisely five tries and are victorious by 20 points the Championship will be shared for the first time since 1988.

In a twist of circumstance, it was Wales and France who shared the honours on that occasion, when the tournament was the Five Nations.

The return of Ntamack is one of two enforces changes, and five overall, made by France coach Fabien Galthie.

Paul Willemse is suspended after his red card against Wales so Galthie has decided to pair Swan Rebbadj and Bernard Le Roux at second row, with Romain Taofifenua named among the replacements.

Anthony Jelonch has been selected ahead of Dylan Cretin at blindside flanker, while centre Arthur Vincent comes in at inside centre as Gael Fickou moves to the wing with Teddy Thomas dropped to the bench.

"The Scots have the best defence in the tournament. They are very well organised and well disciplined," Galthie told France Rugby.

"We must not be wrong about what is at stake. You have to win the match, the rest will come later. We have to focus on performance and winning the match, we'll see what happens next."

Scotland coach Gregor Townsend makes four changes to his XV as outside centre Chris Harris, scrum-half Ali Price, hooker George Turner and fly-half Finn Russell return.

Russell is back from concussion which means captain Stuart Hogg returns to full-back while Sean Maitland stands aside.

Huw Jones, Scott Steele and Dave Cherry will be on the bench, where they are joined by Adam Hastings, who may feature for the first time in the tournament after injury and suspension absences.

"The match against France provides us with an opportunity to finish the Six Nations in our highest position in its history," Townsend told Scottish Rugby.

"This is a great opportunity for us to take on France, at home in Paris, as they also look to end the championship on a high."

France: Brice Dulin, Damian Penaud, Virimi Vakatawa, Arthur Vincent, Gael Fickou, Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont; Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand, Mohamed Haouas, Bernard Le Roux, Swan Rebbadj, Anthony Jelonch, Charles Ollivon, Gregory Alldritt.

Replacements: Camille Chat, Jean-Baptiste Gros, Uini Atonio, Romain Taofifenua, Dylan Cretin, Baptiste Serin, Anthony Bouthier, Teddy Thomas.

Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Darcy Graham, Chris Harris, Sam Johnson, Duhan van der Merwe, Finn Russell, Ali Price; Rory Sutherland, George Turner, Zander Fagerson, Sam Skinner, Grant Gilchrist, Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, Matt Fagerson.

Replacements: Dave Cherry, Oli Kebble, Simon Berghan, Alex Craig, Nick Haining, Scott Steele, Adam Hastings, Huw Jones.

James Harden believes Brooklyn Nets have found good chemistry on the court despite the absence of key men Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Brooklyn Nets coach Steve Nash said Durant will not be risked for road games against Utah Jazz and Detroit Pistons this week but is the final phase of rehabilitation.

Durant has been sidelined by a hamstring strain since mid-February and was absent from the team that topped the Portland Trail Blazers 116-112 on Tuesday.

The 32-year-old averages 29 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists from 19 games, but Nash said he will be absent again for the trips to Utah and Detroit on Wednesday and Friday respectively.

Harden led the way for the Nets against the Trail Blazers with a double-double as they go toe-to-toe with Philadelphia 76ers the Eastern Conference.

He posted 25 points and a career high-tying 17 assists to fuel the Nets in Portland as they won without Durant and fellow superstar Irving, who was absent for personal reasons.

Harden claimed the Nets have clicked into gear ahead of meeting with the Jazz on Wednesday.

"The team chemistry, it's there. It's right where we need it to be," the 31-year-old told NBA.com

"Obviously missing Kevin and Kyrie, I think everyone else has a sense of what their roles are, and they're doing it to the best of their ability every single night. 

"I'm really proud of the guys. In order to be a special team like we're more than capable of being, we've got to have a sense of urgency every possession.

"Our sense of urgency in the way we play and our effort and our intensity on the defensive end, has to be there no matter what."

On the Jazz's recent improvements Harden added: "I think they're healthy. They're healthy and they finally have clicked.

"I think that loss in the playoffs in the bubble last year got to them a little bit and so they have a fully healthy team that's well coached and everybody knows their role and they have a great system and it works for them."

The Nets (30-14) remain within a game of the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers (31-13) who held on to beat the Golden State Warriors 108-98 on Tuesday.

Behind Tobias Harris' 25 points and 13 rebounds and Ben Simmons' 22 points, the 76ers earned their fifth consecutive road victory – the team's longest winning streak away from home since winning seven straight in 2018.

76ers coach Doc Rivers was pleased with the natural rhythm to the way in which Harris performed as he turns his attention to Thursday's game with the LA Lakers.

Rivers said: ''What I liked about his game, he didn't force it, he kind of just let the game come to him. And he made plays, not just with his shot but with the pass.

''As a group, we've won nine out of 10 games, the guys are playing good basketball - no need to talk about it."

Mike Tyson has declared he will meet fellow former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield for a third time on May 29.

The two boxing icons, now aged 54 and 58 respectively, have frequently floated the prospect of a trilogy encounter since footage was published of Tyson training with impressive ferocity last year.

Tyson did indeed return to the ring in 2020, more than 15 years after his last professional outing, and boxed an exhibition against fellow great Roy Jones Jr.

Holyfield's representatives told The Athletic this week that Tyson's team had "rejected all offers" and they "ended up wasting our time" during negotiations.

But, during an Instagram Live interview with Haute Living, Tyson said the bout was "on" this Memorial Weekend.

"I just want everybody to know the fight is on with me and Holyfield," he said, with Hard Rock Stadium in Miami having been mooted as a potential venue.

"Holyfield is a humble man, I know that, and he's a man of God. But I'm God's man and I'm going to be successful, May 29."

Tyson and Holyfield's 1990s rivalry at the top of the heavyweight division has long gone down in sporting ignominy but remains a topic of grim fascination due to the abrupt and sudden ending to their second encounter in Las Vegas in 1997.

Having complained to referee Mills Lane about Holyfield using headbutts, Tyson bit a chunk out of the top of his opponent's right ear during a clinch in round three and spat it on to the canvas.

A delay ensued as Holyfield received medical treatment and Lane considered disqualifying Tyson before deciding against that course of action when ringside doctor said the reigning WBA champion was fit to continue, opting merely to deduct two points from the challenger.

However, Tyson then bit Holyfield's left ear when the action resumed and, when this became apparent at the end of round three, the fight was stopped.

That such a fiasco remains the defining event of their rivalry in the public imagination does Holyfield a disservice, such was the comprehensive and against-the-odds nature of his win in their initial meeting the previous November.

The former unified world cruiserweight champion had to bide his time for a shot at the self-styled 'Baddest Man on the Planet', with a planned meeting in 1990 thrown off course by Tyson's shock loss of his WBC, WBA and IBF belts to James 'Buster' Douglas.

Holyfield stopped Douglas inside three rounds of his first defence but losses to Michael Moorer and in two of his three thrilling bouts with Riddick Bowe, along with a brief retirement due to a heart complaint, gave the impression of boxing's only over four-time heavyweight champion being damaged goods by the time he got a crack at Tyson on the other side of the latter's prison sentence for rape.

But a then 34-year-old Holyfield came through some heavy weather early on to dominate Tyson and batter his compatriot to a stunning 11th-round defeat, setting the stage for a rematch that went down in history for all the wrong reasons.

Los Angeles Lakers coach Frank Vogel is prioritising offensive work after seeing his side suffer a third successive defeat in the absence of LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

James suffered an ankle sprain last week, the issue forcing him to join Davis on the injury list, with the latter struggling due to a calf strain and Achilles tendinosis.

While James is only a recent absentee, Davis has already missed a considerable chunk of the season, with the Lakers 7-10 without him.

Center Davis is not expected back for at least another three weeks and there is growing concern James may yet need a similar amount of rest to avoid aggravating the problem.

The Lakers' latest setback came at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans in a 128-111 loss, meaning they have dropped to fourth in the Western Conference, and Vogel knows where he will be focusing much of his attention.

"We have a lot of emphasis on offensive side in last few days with LeBron and AD [Davis] out," he said. "I thought we had some growth, some real growth, some real positives about what we're doing offensively.

"We had a stretch in the second quarter where we hit a big drop that really hurt us in this game, but with the emphasis on the offensive end we didn't play well enough.

"We're going to miss guys like that, LeBron and AD, on both sides of the ball. So getting us organised offensively is probably by top priority right now.

"I know we can tighten up defensively but we've got to be better on that end."

Nevertheless, Vogel is also adamant he has enough quality at his disposal without James and Davis to steer the defending NBA champions back on track.

"We are staying positive, we have great belief in this group," he continued. "Even with Lebron and AD out, we can win games in this stretch and there's going to be a silver lining at the end of it.

"The growth we exhibit while shorthanded will pay dividends down the stretch. We're going to remain positive, keep playing super hard like today.

"We've just got to execute better and collect as many wins along the way as we can."

The Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers continue to go toe-to-toe in the Eastern Conference after both championship hopefuls won in the NBA on Tuesday.

James Harden led the way with a double-double as the star-studded Nets topped the Portland Trail Blazers 116-112.

In the absence of fellow superstars Kyrie Irving (personal matter) and Kevin Durant (hamstring), Harden posted 25 points and a career high-tying 17 assists to fuel the short-handed Nets in Portland.

Jeff Green finished with 20 points – 15 in the first half – Nicolas Claxton put up 16 of his own, while Blake Griffin had eight points, five rebounds and two steals in his second Nets appearance.

Enes Kanter scored 19 points and collected 19 rebounds for the Trail Blazers, who also had 22 points from All-Star Damian Lillard.

The Nets (30-14) remain within a game of the Eastern Conference-leading 76ers (31-13) after they held on to beat the Golden State Warriors 108-98.

Behind Tobias Harris' 25 points and 13 rebounds and Ben Simmons' 22 points, the 76ers earned their fifth consecutive road victory – the team's longest winning streak away from home since winning seven straight in 2018.

The Warriors – without star Stephen Curry (back) – threatened to complete a stunning comeback, having been outscored 35-17 at the end of the opening quarter, while they trailed by more than 20 points before half-time.

 

Zion makes history

Zion Williamson helped the New Orleans Pelicans top the slumping Los Angeles Lakers 128-111. The 20-year-old's 27 points and nine rebounds saw him become the first NBA player younger than 21 to score at least 20 points in 21 consecutive games. Pelicans team-mate Brandon Ingram posted a season-high 36 points.

MVP candidate Nikola Jokic had his 12th triple-double of the season as the Denver Nuggets beat the Orlando Magic 110-99. Jokic posted 28 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists for a franchise-best 53rd career triple-double. Only Washington's Russell Westbrook (14) has more triple-doubles this season.

It is almost impossible to replace Joel Embiid, but Tony Bradley stepped up in a big way for the 76ers. The 23-year-old was flawless against the Warriors, going eight-of-eight for 18 points and 11 rebounds. Bradley became the first 76ers player not to miss a shot in a game on a minimum eight attempts since Dikembe Mutombo in 2002.

All-Star Julius Randle finished with 37 points to lead the New York Knicks past the lowly Washington Wizards 131-113.

 

Lakers feeling absence of star duo

The Lakers – who came out of the All-Star break on a 4-0 run – are now 0-3 since LeBron James suffered an ankle injury, with fellow star Anthony Davis (calf) also sidelined.

Tyler Herro headlined the Miami Heat's woes after last season's NBA Finals participants lost 110-100 at home to the Phoenix Suns. Herro was three-of-11 from the field, while he was just one-of-six from three-point range for seven points in 26 minutes.

 

Robinson throws it down!

New York's Mitchell Robinson got up high for a powerful dunk in the second quarter against the Wizards.

 

Tuesday's results

Denver Nuggets 110-99 Orlando Magic
New York Knicks 131-113 Washington Wizards
New Orleans Pelicans 128-111 Los Angeles Lakers
Phoenix Suns 110-100 Miami Heat
Brooklyn Nets 116-112 Portland Trail Blazers
Philadelphia 76ers 108-98 Golden State Warriors

 

Nets at Jazz

It is back-to-back outings for the high-flying Nets (30-14), who travel to the NBA-leading Utah Jazz (31-11) on Wednesday.

Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant remains sidelined until at least Friday as the former MVP is at a "critical" point in his recovery from a hamstring injury, according to Steve Nash.

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.

The star-studded Nets are second in the Eastern Conference and as they eye a run to the NBA Finals, first-year head coach Nash is not prepared to rush Durant back from injury.

"We just felt like it didn't benefit him to travel across the country while he is trying to get that critical last part of his rehab done," Nash said as Durant sat out Tuesday's 116-112 win over the Portland Trail Blazers – the first of a three-game road trip.

The Nets will face the NBA-leading Utah Jazz and Detroit Pistons before returning home to Brooklyn to host the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday.

"Just trying to make sure that functional strength is there and that he's — we're confident that he can re-enter playing safely. That is the thing, right? Kevin is doing very well," Nash said.

"If this was the playoffs, there's a chance he'd be back, you know, very soon. But there's no point in taking a big risk with him when the most important thing is to get him back for the remainder of the season."

Nash added: "He is working out on the court pretty much every day, he looks great."

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

 

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