Stephen Curry is embracing underdog status ahead of the Golden State Warriors' play-in game against defending NBA champions the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Warriors finished eighth in the Western Conference and will have to work through the league's new play-in tournament to reach the NBA playoffs.

Led by two-time MVP Curry, Golden State won 18 of their final 25 games to surge into the postseason picture ahead of Wednesday's showdown against LeBron James and the seventh-seeded Lakers.

The winner between the Lakers and Warriors head into the playoffs as the seventh seed. The loser will meet the winner of the Memphis Grizzlies-San Antonio Spurs clash.

"I hope everybody hears the chatter," Curry said after Tuesday's practice. "Even at this point how we match up with LA or potentially with Phoenix or Utah if we get through this play-in tournament and all that.

"Nobody thought we were even going to be in this position. A lot of people had us way, way, way down the standings coming in after Klay [Thompson] got hurt, so there's a lot of things that we already flipped on its head to this point, so we might as well keep going."

Curry has played a crucial role in lifting the Warriors into contention down the stretch, earning his second NBA scoring title after ending the regular season averaging 32.0 points per game following his 46-point outburst against the Grizzlies on Sunday.

The three-time NBA champion became the first player 33 years or older to lead the league in scoring since Hall of Famer Michael Jordan in 1997-98 (35 years at end of season and averaged 28.7ppg).

Curry also joined Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players with multiple scoring titles, MVPs and championships.

The Warriors guard has played 63 games this season, averaging 5.8 assists per game, a career-best 5.5 rebounds per game and 1.2 steals per game.

Earlier this season, Curry claimed top spots on the Warriors' all-time scoring and assists lists, while surpassing Reggie Miller for second position on the NBA's three-pointers made standings.

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic is the hot favourite to win this season's MVP but Curry was endorsed by upcoming opponent James for candidacy too.

"Obviously, I'm appreciative," Curry said. "He knows when he says something people pay attention so for him to speak on my MVP candidacy is definitely, I respect him for it, I appreciate it.

"We all know as competitors though, when the lights are on, I can talk about how great he is till I'm blue in the face and he can do the same, it doesn't change how we approach that competition when we're out there.

"I won't be giving him a pass because he likes the way I played this year and vice versa."

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel declared LeBron James will be fit and available for Wednesday's NBA play-in game against the Golden State Warriors.

James played 27 minutes but exited Sunday's 110-98 win over the New Orleans Pelicans early with soreness in the right ankle which has kept him sidelined for most of the past two months.

The four-time MVP played back-to-back games on Saturday and Sunday upon his return from injury but is available for the midweek showdown with Stephen Curry's eighth-seeded Warriors.

"He had some minor soreness but he's good to go," Vogel said following practice on Tuesday.

"He was a full participant in practice today and is good to go."

Anthony Davis also confirmed his full fitness to face the Warriors after being listed as questionable with left adductor strain tightness on Sunday.

The star forward played 30 minutes against the Pelicans in the team's regular-season finale.

"I'm fine," Davis said. "The adductor feels good, the shoulder feels good."

Defending champions the Lakers – seeded seventh in the Western Conference – may finally have a full clean bill of health, having been without James, Davis or Dennis Schroder for most of the run into the postseason.

Schroder played the final two games of the regular season along with James and Davis after being subject to the league's health and safety protocols.

The German guard subsequently missed seven games in May, impacting his conditioning.

"I'm still not, conditioning-wise, all the way back," Schroder said. "I've been out 10 days. I didn't do nothing, I was at home.

"At the end of the day, I'm going to work my way into it, but it's not going to hurt my team-mates. I'm going to give everything I have, go out there and do the same things that I do during the season and truly to get a W."

Energised by the return of spectators, Rory McIlroy is confident he can end his major drought at this week's US PGA Championship.

McIlroy arrives in South Carolina buoyed by his drought-snapping victory at the Wells Fargo Championship earlier this month.

Not since November 2019 had McIlroy reigned supreme on the PGA or European Tour but the former world number one ended his wait at Quail Hollow.

McIlroy has not won a major since 2014, however the 2012 and 2014 PGA Championship winner feels good heading into Thursday's opening round.

"I'm happy with where my game is, so I guess if I go out and play my game and do what I know that I can do, then I can see myself shooting good scores on this golf course," four-time major champion McIlroy told reporters.

"So that's sort of where I'm at. Whether that means I win or not, that's partly up to me, but that's partly on how the other 155 guys in the field play, as well.

"I've just got to go out there, play my game, and if I play my game somewhat close to the best of my ability, I'm sure I'll have a good chance."

Fans returned for the Wells Fargo Championship amid the coronavirus pandemic as McIlroy thrived en route to glory and there will be fans at Kiawah Island this week.

"It's funny, ever since I was 16 years old I've had thousands of people watch me play golf pretty much every time I teed it up. Even going back to amateur golf and. So then not having that, playing in that environment for 14, 15 years and then sort of going the complete opposite, it's just different," he said.

"I said at the time it was like playing practice rounds. It's easy to lose concentration. Everyone is used to a certain environment, whether you work or whatever you do, and it's a bit. I watched the Champions League semi-finals a couple weeks ago and those guys play in that for the first time in their careers and they're playing in an empty stadium. That just must be terrible. That's not at all how you dream of being in a squad like that and playing in a massive game.

"You want to play in front of people and you want to feel that atmosphere. It's unfortunate that in these times a lot of people don't have that experience, but I am glad that we're getting back to some sort of normalcy, and when you hit good shots and hole putts there is claps and rewards and encouragement.

"I feel like that's all a part of tournament golf and competitive sports at the highest level, and just happy that I'm starting to come back."

Another former world number one, Jordan Spieth, is eyeing a milestone at the PGA Championship.

Spieth, who ended his fourth-year title drought in Texas last week, can become the sixth player in history to complete the career Grand Slam and the first to do so by winning a PGA Championship.

The three-time major winner, though, played down his career Grand Slam quest.

"I think as we get into the weekend, if I'm able to work my way into contention, I think it's something that'll obviously be asked and come up, and it's something that I certainly want," Spieth said.

"You go to a major, and for me at this point, I want to win the Masters as badly as I ever have this year. Didn't happen.

"I want to win this one as badly as I ever have. Once you move on to the U.S. Open, the same. Majors, that's what we're trying to peak for those.

"I feel like I'll have a lot of chances at this tournament, and if I just focus on trying to take advantage of this golf course, play it the best I can and kind of stay in the same form tree to green I've been in, all I can ask for is a chance."

Brooks Koepka said he can play through the pain in his bid for a third US PGA Championship but a full recovery from a knee injury remains months away.

Koepka has been plagued by injuries since winning back-to-back PGA Championships in 2019 and a fourth major title in three years.

The American star underwent knee surgery in March, having won the Phoenix Open, and he has missed the cut in his past two events, including last month's Masters.

As Koepka gears up for Thursday's opening round at Kiawah Island Golf Resort in South Carolina, the 31-year-old acknowledged his knee is still problematic but he is ready to play.

"I feel like I can hit every shot. It's not like Augusta where I'm trying to figure out what's the best line to walk instead of figuring out. Now I can actually hit golf shots and understand what's going on," Koepka, who has been paired alongside Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy told reporters on Tuesday.

"For a while it was just I neglected putting just to see if I could hit shots, because if I can't hit shots I can't play. No point in that. No, I got everything under control and know what I'm doing. Last week was a good test just to see where I'm at for two days.

"I thought if I got four, it would be nice, but two days of rest didn't hurt me."

Asked for a timeline for him to be fully healthy, Koepka replied: "We're talking probably another six months."

"If I beat that, I'm doing something good," he continued. "I mean, I can play. You're never 100 per cent, that's the thing. For two straight years it's been left knee, right knee, herniated a disc in my neck, played in Tampa or wherever we were, played through that. I dealt with that all the way through Palm Springs.

"I can deal with the pain. That's not an issue. It's just a matter of being able to hit shots that I want to hit and do things I want to do, and I'm starting to be able to do that. Even though I'm not 100 per cent, I can still hit the shots."

Koepka added: "Every day has been a long day. Starting from just the training to the rehab, everything seems to take an hour, hour and a half longer, more attention to detail of what I'm doing off the golf course, make sure I'm doing -- I seem to get hurt in a bunch of freaky instances.

"It's just one of those things where you've just got to move past it and take it one day at a time."

Los Angeles Angels star Mike Trout could miss up to eight weeks after landing on the injured list with a right calf strain.

Trout was injured during the Angels' 7-4 win over the Cleveland Indians in MLB action on Monday.

The three-time American League (AL) MVP was running the bases in the opening inning but needed to stop after reaching third before eventually returning to the dugout.

It is a blow for the Angels (18-22), who have lost 10 of their past 15 games to languish fourth in the five-team AL West.

Trout – an eight-time All-Star and eight-time Silver Slugger – has hit eight homers this season, with 23 runs, 39 hits and 18 RBI.

The 29-year-old has been hitting .333, with an MLB-best on-base percentage (OBP) of .466, while he boasts an AL-best .624 slugging percentage (SLG).

The NBA's play-in tournament will stage a must-see heavyweight clash when the Los Angeles Lakers host the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday.

While there are no concerns of suffering a season-ending knockout, the one-off contest at Staples Center will dictate the next step for two teams who know all about making title runs.

Few would have expected this scenario back at the start of a season played out amid the backdrop of an ongoing health pandemic.

As the defending champions, LeBron James and the Lakers were viewed as a front runner in the stacked Western Conference. Coming up against a Golden State roster so heavily reliant on Stephen Curry was always a possibility in the playoffs, just not necessarily in this type of scenario.

The winner will be slotted in as the seventh seed, meaning a best-of-seven series against the Phoenix Suns. The loser, however, will have to get past either the San Antonio Spurs or the Memphis Grizzlies – they meet on Thursday – just to get the eighth and final spot available.

If the play-in games were set up to add an extra layer of drama, a match-up that pits two of the sport's biggest superstars against each other is an early gift to start the playoff stretch.

TOP PERFORMERS

LeBron James – Los Angeles Lakers

James was firmly in the MVP conversation until an ankle injury on March 20. His first attempt to return to action led to a setback, but the four-time NBA champion featured in the final two outings of the regular season, scoring a combined 49 points.

His fitness will be key to the Lakers' prospects of retaining their crown. They finished the regular season with a 42-30 record yet were 30-15 in games when their star turn featured. That kind of winning percentage across a full campaign would have made sure they did not have to worry about appearing in any play-in contests.

Stephen Curry – Golden State Warriors

Having missed the majority of the previous season through injury, Curry certainly made up for lost time with a dazzling regular season.

He finished as the scoring champion, his 2,015 points coming in 63 games as he averaged 32.0 an outing. No one made (337) or attempted more three-pointers (801), while the point guard also shot 91.6 per cent from the free-throw line. MVP, perhaps?

KEY BATTLE – STOP CURRY GETTING HOT

The Warriors will sink or swim based on Curry, but he will need some assistance if they are to prosper in the playoffs. To that extent, as the Lakers focus on shutting down a player capable of catching fire in a hurry, Andrew Wiggins (18.6 points per game in the regular season) will need to step up, particularly as Golden State are still without the injured Kelly Oubre Jr.

Draymond Green can help, too, albeit his average of 7.0 points was his lowest mark since the 2013-14 season, his second in the league when he started in just 12 games. It may well be his primary focus is on defense, though, considering both James and Anthony Davis – confirmed fit to play on Tuesday – will demand plenty of attention.

HEAD TO HEAD

The Lakers are a long way clear in the overall record (257 wins to 169), while they have also dominated in the playoffs – the Warriors have won just one series in seven attempts, with that success coming way back in 1967 when they were still playing under the San Francisco name.

In the 2020-21 regular season, the team from Los Angeles won two of the three meetings. They were dominant in the most recent clash as well, coming out 128-97 winners in March despite several key absences.

Serena Williams saw her hopes of an extended run at the Emilia-Romagna Open come to an early end on Tuesday, the top seed succumbing to Katerina Siniakova in straight sets.

Williams had taken up a wildcard to play in the tournament following an early exit in Rome, where she was beaten by Nadia Podoroska in her opening contest in the clay-court swing.

Her campaign in Parma got off to a better start on Monday, a 6-3 6-2 result against WTA Tour debutant Lisa Pigato bringing a first triumph since losing in the semi-finals of the Australian Open in February.

However, the 23-time grand slam champion was unable to repel a determined Siniakova as she slipped out at the last-16 stage.

"It was a fantastic match and I played so well, I'm so happy that I could finish like that," Siniakova said after recording a 7-6 (7-4) 6-2 result.

"It was a pleasure to share the court with her.

"Now I will have the pressure because I defeated a great player, but I will enjoy it. I'm happy that I can continue and I will try to play my best in the next match."

Having failed to convert a set point opportunity, Williams hit back after losing serve with a break of her own to force a tie-break in the opener.

But Siniakova forced her way into a 5-3 lead before sealing it with a service winner, then quickly seized control of proceedings in a second set which was far less competitive.

Third seed Coco Gauff came through two tie-breaks to see off Kaia Kanepi, the American teenager having let slip a 5-1 lead in the second set before eventually sealing a 7-6 (8-6) 7-6 (9-7) win.

Petra Martic had no such issues in her opening contest against Varvara Gracheva, the second seed easing through 6-4 6-2 after one hour and 21 minutes on court.

Roger Federer's extra work on the practice courts could not see him past Pablo Andujar as he lost at the Geneva Open in just his third match of the year.

ATP Tour great Federer did not feature after the Australian Open in 2020, instead recovering from knee surgery.

His comeback came in Doha in March, but defeat to Dan Evans after an opening victory over Nikoloz Basilashvili prompted the 20-time grand slam champion to withdraw from subsequent tournaments.

Federer instead refocused on practice yet was still cautious to forecast a return to his best standard ahead of playing this week's event in Switzerland.

"There are question marks around my level," he explained, and Tuesday's answers were underwhelming in front of a small home crowd.

Federer went down 6-4 4-6 6-4 to Andujar, despite leading by a break in the decider.

Andujar reeled off the final four games of the match to claim his first top-10 win since 2015 against David Ferrer in Barcelona.

For Federer, this was a rare failure on Swiss soil, a 32-match winning run ended by Andujar.

Juan Martin del Potro, way back in 2013 at the Swiss Indoors Basel, had been the most recent victor against Federer in his home country.

Andujar could now face Dominic Stephan Stricker in the last eight after the 18-year-old wildcard stunned Marin Cilic on his ATP Tour debut.

A 7-6 (7-5) 6-1 victory for Federer's young countryman set up a meeting with Marton Fucsovics, who beat qualifier Henri Laaksonen in straight sets, for the right to play Andujar.

Besides Federer, Fabio Fognini was the only seed involved on Tuesday but eased past Guido Pella 6-2 6-2.

Elsewhere, at the Lyon Open, French stars continued to fall, although fifth seed Gael Monfils at least came past lucky loser Thiago Seyboth Wild.

After all four Frenchman involved on Monday lost, Richard Gasquet was the only other home hopeful to advance 24 hours later – and he was playing compatriot Gregoire Barrere.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga fell at the hand of Tommy Paul, while wildcard Benjamin Bonzi went down to Karen Khachanov.

There was an upset, meanwhile, as seventh seed Felix Auger-Aliassime was toppled in three sets by Lorenzo Musetti.

Eddie Hearn is preparing to push on with finding an alternative opponent for Anthony Joshua if Tyson Fury's team are unable to "get their act together" by the end of the week.

Heavyweight rivals Joshua and Fury had appeared set for a huge showdown in Saudi Arabia on August 14, only for an arbitration ruling involving Deontay Wilder to potentially scupper that plan.

While Joshua holds the IBF, WBA and WBO belts, Fury claimed the WBC title from the previously unbeaten Wilder in their February 2020 rematch following a draw in their initial bout.

On Monday, a judge in the United States ruled that the dethroned champion had the right to face the Briton for a third time before September 15, casting huge doubt over the unification clash scheduled for a month earlier.

With the possibility of Fury no longer being available, Hearn is ready to look elsewhere for his fighter. Oleksandr Usyk – the mandatory challenger for Joshua's WBO strap – is a possibility, though the promoter plans to make sure he has more than one option on the table.

"I've been focused on plan A. The only fight we had in mind was Tyson Fury," Hearn said in an in-depth interview aired on the Matchroom Boxing YouTube channel on Tuesday.

"We hope that fight can still take place on August 14, but the game changed last night. We have to have a plan B in place – and possibly a plan C as well.

"We have a couple of different options. Of course, the one that springs to mind is the WBO mandatory of Oleksandr Usyk. They have been quite patient and, really, we're in a situation now where if team Fury don't get their act together by the end of this week, we will have no option but to look for an alternative fight.

"AJ wants to fight this summer, Oleksandr Usyk is the mandatory and we have two or three other options as well."

Hearn revealed how fellow promoter Bob Arum, who is part of Fury's team, had been "very bullish" over the hearing not being a potential roadblock in the way of the lucrative summer fight with Joshua.

"I think he was in complete and utter shock – and I don't think I've ever really heard him speechless," Hearn said of his conversation with Arum.

"He's been very bullish throughout this whole process that – and I know it's their business and we don't know too much about the contracts or the case – this wouldn't be a problem, this wouldn't stand in the way of an Anthony Joshua-Tyson Fury fight.

"That's quite frustrating. We've been working tirelessly to get this over the line. He was almost shell-shocked, I think. Once he'd calmed down and done what he had to do, I think the move was then to speak to the other side and see if there's a resolution.

"We can't be involved in that, we can't control that process, but as far as I understand it, Tyson Fury wants to fight Anthony Joshua and we had the deal to do so on August 14 in Saudi Arabia. I spoke to our partners in Saudi Arabia and they were not best pleased either.

"I think the conversations are ongoing, but from our point of view we have to get our own side in order and make our plans. Hopefully, they can resolve the issue and we can move forward with the August 14 fight. It's over to them."

Asked if he still remained hopeful over that August bout going ahead, Hearn replied: "I hope it does, because we've grafted away for four or five months to make this happen, and we've got a fantastic deal in place for a legacy fight for a huge amount of money.

"I hope, hope [it goes ahead], but hopeful? I don't know. Everything we were told from the get-go was that this arbitration issue wouldn't be a problem. It obviously is a problem now and we have to think on our feet, act accordingly.

"We still hope that the fight can go ahead, but that's completely out of our hands.

"We know what we want to do: we want to win the undisputed world championship and fight Tyson Fury. But, really, if his hands are tied, we have to look elsewhere."

Albert Pujols described his Los Angeles Dodgers debut as "pretty awesome" after the two-time World Series champion made his bow in a win over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The 41-year-old joined from city rivals the Angels, where he had entered the final season of his 10-year, $240million contract.

Pujols, a three-time MVP and 10-time All-Star, grabbed an RBI single from his first hit on Monday. That brought in fellow superstar Mookie Betts to score in the 3-1 victory against the Diamondbacks.

He has signed a one-year deal with the Dodgers and savoured his first outing for the team, saying: "It was pretty awesome. Really high-pumped energy by the fans. I was really excited to take that field and to contribute tonight."

Now that he has a new home, Pujols will be looking to significantly add to the 667 home runs that put him fifth on the all-time list.

New team-mate Walker Buehler stole the show for the reigning World Series champions on Monday, however, throwing seven scoreless innings to help the Dodgers to a fifth win in their past six games.

Pujols could not help but be impressed.

"It's pretty amazing," said Pujols, quoted on the team's website. "I never had the opportunity to face him in the past, but just to see him and the electric stuff that he has is just unbelievable.

"He owned that mound when he was out there and it's pretty amazing."

It is that time of year again – the NBA playoffs.

Although this season has a different feel due to the new play-in tournament, it's crunch time as LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers eye back-to-back championships.

The Utah Jazz claimed the best record in the league for the first time in their history, while Eastern Conference top seed the Philadelphia 76ers and the star-studded Brooklyn Nets loom large.

With the play-in tournament due to get under way to determine the final eight teams from each conference set to feature in the playoffs, the Stats Perform AI team have been crunching the numbers to find a worthy winner of the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

The Stats Perform model takes proprietary data and creates an offensive and defensive rating for each team.

Those ratings are paired with the team's opponent and adjusted for each team's pace. In addition, the home team get a slight boost for home-court advantage.

The model uses this information to calculate a projected score for both teams. The winners receive a victory in the race for the Larry O'Brien Trophy – this was done for every game in the playoffs.

So, here are the AI-generated results in the event that the play-in winners are the Lakers, Golden State Warriors, Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards.

 

Suns sizzle as Lakers crash out, Heat stun Bucks in sweep

Much has been made about the Phoenix Suns this season. Led by All-Star Devin Booker and star veteran Chris Paul, the franchise returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2009-10. Second behind the Jazz in the Western Conference, the Suns ease past the Lakers 4-1. Winning the opening three games 120-93, 90-88 and 105-104, Phoenix never look back as they end the Lakers' quest to land consecutive championships for the first time since 2009-10.

The Milwaukee Bucks loaded up heavily in the offseason, bringing in Jrue Holiday to aid two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo in his quest for a title and the franchise's first since 1971. But after trips to the Eastern Conference Finals and semi-finals, the third-seeded Bucks are sensationally swept 4-0 by last season's runners-up the Miami Heat.

Eastern Conference top seed for the first time since 2001, the Joel Embiid-led 76ers flex their muscles 4-2 against the Wizards but it is not easy. Dropping consecutive games to Bradley Beal, Russell Westbrook and Washington, Doc Rivers' Philadelphia rally past the Wizards 112-109, 91-99 and 110-104 to bounce back from last season's first-round sweep at the hands of the Celtics.

Boasting a three-headed monster in Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving, the second-seeded Nets dig deep against the Celtics 4-3 in the east. With all eyes on the star-studded Nets big three following an injury-interrupted regular season, Brooklyn lose two of the opening three matchups but reel off back-to-back victories to set the tone before progressing beyond the first round for the first time since 2013-14 thanks to a 110-91 Game 7 triumph.

Looking to put last season's playoff capitulation behind them, having sensationally surrendered a 3-1 lead at the hands of the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semi-finals, Kawhi Leonard's Los Angeles Clippers make light work of Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks 4-1. A 128-106 rout in Game 1 ignites the Clippers, while the third-seeded Nuggets – spearheaded by MVP favourite Nikola Jokic – are upstaged by the Portland Trail Blazers 4-3. Following in the footsteps of the Clippers, Denver cough up a commanding 3-0 lead as Damian Lillard's Trail Blazers complete a stunning comeback.

The New York Knicks and their fans have been waiting since 2013 to play postseason basketball. Their playoff return does not disappoint as the fourth seed – spearheaded by All-Star Julius Randle – make the most of their home-court advantage against the Atlanta Hawks to come out 4-3 winners. Trae Young's Hawks race out to a 3-1 lead but the Knicks are not to be denied.

 

Trail Blazers continue giant-slaying run, Clippers bow out to Jazz as 76ers roll on

Ranked sixth heading into the playoffs, the Trail Blazers defy their seeding by producing another shock performance, this time outlasting the highly fancied Suns in seven games. Western Conference finalists in 2018-19, Portland humble Phoenix 129-96, 117-86 and 126-92 in Games 1, 3 and 4 to seize the momentum and while the Suns storm back to force a series decider, Lillard, CJ McCollum and the Trail Blazers step up to the plate.

Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert experienced consecutive first-round exits in 2018-19 and 2019-20, but featuring in their first Conference semi-final since 2018, the Jazz prove too hot for the fourth-ranked Clippers and take a 4-2 series win. Utah, who beat Los Angeles in two of the three regular-season contests, win the opening three games of the second-round series and never look back as pressure mounts on Leonard, Paul George and the championship-chasing Clippers.

The standout teams in the east, the 76ers and Nets barely raise a sweat en route to the Conference Finals. In pursuit of a first championship since 1983, the 76ers sweep the Knicks 4-0, while the Nets end Miami's hopes with their own devastating 4-0 success.

 

Nets conquer 76ers, Jazz rally past Blazers

A matchup many predicted when the 76ers appointed head coach Rivers and the Nets landed former MVP Harden in a blockbuster trade with the Houston Rockets in January. Philadelphia's cast of Embiid, fellow All-Star Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, sharp-shooter Seth Curry and Danny Green come up against Durant, Harden, Irving and Blake Griffin, and it is Brooklyn who prevail in a thriller. The Nets and 76ers split the opening six games before a deciding seventh game. With a championship berth on the line, Steve Nash's Nets edge the 76ers 112-109 as question marks again emerge over whether the Philadelphia franchise can succeed with both Embiid and Simmons.

Not since 1997-98 had the Jazz secured a spot in the Finals, having enjoyed back-to-back appearances in the midst of Karl Malone's greatness, but Utah end that drought against Portland. The Jazz overturn 1-0 and 3-2 deficits to finally end the Trail Blazers' fairytale run as Portland fall agonisingly short of their first Finals appearance since 1992.

 

Jazz make history

The last five head coaches to win a title in their first year were Nick Nurse (Toronto Raptors, 2019), Tyronn Lue (Cleveland Cavaliers, 2016), Steve Kerr (Warriors, 2015), Pat Riley (Lakers, 1982) and Paul Westhead (Lakers, 1980). Rookie and two-time MVP Nash has been looking to join that list with a Nets side eyeing their maiden championship – having faced a long wait since joining the league in 1976-77.

Despite a frightening array of talent, the Nets go down 4-1 in the Finals as the Jazz make history, headlined by a resounding 121-102 win in Game 5.

After consecutive Finals appearances in 1997 and 1998, the Jazz finally break through for their first NBA title thanks to coach Quin Snyder, Mitchell, Gobert, Mike Conley and Co.

The Chicago White Sox further enhanced their MLB World Series potential after pounding the Minnesota Twins 16-4.

Having made no secret of their World Series aspirations at the start of the season, the White Sox continue to impress following Monday's crushing win over the Twins.

American League (AL) Central leaders the White Sox – who have won nine of their past 11 games – posted season highs in hits (18) and runs.

Nick Madrigal had three hits, including his maiden MLB homer and White Sox team-mate Danny Mendick launched his first career grand slam in Minneapolis.

For the ninth time in White Sox history, a player hit their first career homer and first career grand slam, however, Monday was the first time it was achieved by two different players.

Yasmani Grandal became the first player in White Sox history with three four-plus walk games in a season, while team-mate Yermin Mercedes is the first player in franchise history to homer off a position player pitcher since 1955.

White Sox ace Dallas Keuchel pitched seven innings, allowing three runs on seven hits against the hapless Twins.

Meanwhile, two-way star Shohei Ohtani was at it again as the Los Angeles Angels took down the Cleveland Indians 7-4.

Ohtani hit his MLB-leading 13th home run of the season – a three-run homer in the second inning.

 

Cole makes history

The New York Yankees were beaten 5-2 by the Texas Rangers but it was a memorable outing for ace Gerrit Cole, who recorded the most strikeouts without a walk (61) in any stretch of a season since 1983, eclipsing the 58 tallied by Corbin Burnes earlier this season. The Rangers snapped a six-game skid in the victory.

The San Francisco Giants trumped the Cincinnati Reds 6-3 behind six shut-out innings from Logan Webb, who gave up six hits, struck out four and walked a batter.

 

Pillar left bloodied in scary incident

The New York Mets topped the Atlanta Braves 3-1 but it came at a cost. Right fielder Kevin Pillar was hit in the nose by a pitch from Atlanta's Jacob Webb in the seventh inning. Pillar fell straight to the ground as blood poured from his nose. The incident left Mets and Braves players shaken in Atlanta.

Angels star Mike Trout exited in the first inning of the team's victory. Trout walked and reached second base before sustaining a right calf strain.

 

Pujols makes immediate impact

Future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols signed a one-year contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday, following his exit from city rivals the Angels. The 41-year-old slugger – a two-time World Series champion, three-time MVP and 10-time All-Star – made his first appearance for the Dodgers that day, his first hit an RBI single. It brought in star Mookie Betts to score in the World Series champions' 3-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

 

Monday's results

San Francisco Giants 6-3 Cincinnati Reds
New York Mets 3-1 Atlanta Braves
Chicago White Sox 16-4 Minnesota Twins
Chicago Cubs 7-3 Washington Nationals
Texas Rangers 5-2 New York Yankees
Los Angeles Angels 7-4 Cleveland Indians
Los Angeles Dodgers 3-1 Arizona Diamondbacks
San Diego Padres 7-0 Colorado Rockies
Detroit Tigers 4-1 Seattle Mariners

 

Red Sox at Blue Jays

AL East leaders the Boston Red Sox (25-17) will travel to Dunedin for their series opener against division rivals the Toronto Blue Jays (22-17) on Tuesday. Blue Jays ace Ryu Hyun-jin takes to the mound, while the Red Sox counter with Eduardo Rodriguez.

Washington Wizards star Bradley Beal conceded he will not be "100 per cent" for the NBA play-in tournament showdown against the Boston Celtics.

Beal returned from a hamstring injury for Sunday's regular-season finale against the Charlotte Hornets, scoring 25 points as the Wizards secured eighth position in the Eastern Conference with a 115-110 win.

The three-time All-Star, who missed three of the team's final four games, is gearing up for a clash with the seventh-seeded Celtics in pursuit of the playoffs.

"There's no setbacks which is good," Beal said on Monday. "I didn't injure it any worse than what it was.

"Obviously it still probably won't be 100 percent. It is just a matter of managing it as best I can."

Beal was pipped to the NBA scoring title by Golden State Warriors superstar Stephen Curry on Sunday.

The Wizards star has been averaging a career-high 31.3 points per game this season, just adrift of Curry (32.0).

Beal, who has also been averaging 4.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists, boasts career highs in field-goal percentage (48.5) and free-throw percentage (88.9).

The play-in tournament will include teams with the seventh through 10th-highest winning percentages in each conference, starting on Tuesday with the playoffs due to begin on May 22.

Albert Pujols will continue his remarkable MLB career with World Series champions the Los Angeles Dodgers after leaving city rivals the Los Angeles Angels.

Pujols' future was in limbo after the Angels designated the future Hall of Famer for assignment earlier this month, less than two months into the last season of the slugger's 10-year, $240million contract.

Following speculation over his next move, 10-time All-Star and two-time World Series champion Pujols signed a one-year deal with the Dodgers on Monday.

The stacked Dodgers now boast four former MVPs in Pujols, Clayton Kershaw, Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger.

"I feel like I've still got some gasoline left in my tank," the 41-year-old told reporters during his introductory news conference.

The oldest active player in the majors and one of the greatest sluggers in baseball history, Pujols' 667 home runs rank fifth while his 669 doubles are also fifth-most of all time, but he has been batting mere .198 this season, though has homered five times and is fourth on the Angels with 12 RBIs.

Only Hank Aaron has more RBIs than Pujols' 2,112 since it became an official statistic in 1920, and Pujols is 13th on the all-time hits list with 3,253.

"They were really excited to have me here, and that's what led me to make this decision to come here," Pujols said. "I'm really excited to help this organisation this year to get another ring."

Pujols enjoyed great success with the St Louis Cardinals, where he led the franchise to two World Series championships, one other National League (NL) pennant and six division crowns.

A unanimous NL Rookie of the Year Award winner in 2001 when he hit .329 with 37 home runs and 130 RBIs, Pujols made his first of nine All-Star selections with the Cardinals.

In his 11 seasons in St Louis, Pujols won three NL MVP Awards and finished in the top five in voting seven other times. 

He left St Louis after helping the Cardinals win the 2011 World Series to sign a lucrative deal with the Angels.

After slugging 445 home runs with 455 doubles while slashing .328/.420/.617 for a 1.037 OPS in 1,705 games over 11 seasons with the Cardinals, Pujols never lived up to expectations over 10 seasons with the Angels, hitting 222 homers with 214 doubles with a .256/.311/.447 slash line for a .758 OPS in 1,181 games.

His production dropped off significantly in the past four seasons, with 53 homers and a .239/.290/.414 slash line for a .704 OPS in 311 games.

He only earned one trip to the All-Star game since joining the Angels and the franchise made just one postseason appearance, getting swept by the Kansas City Royals in the 2014 American League Division Series (ALDS).

"I told them I'm here to do whatever -- pinch-hit, first base, whatever they want," Pujols said regarding his role with the Dodgers. "I think at the end of the day, I'm just excited to have this opportunity to wear this uniform.

"I've been playing against this organisation long enough on the other side. I can see how they go about it. That's something that I wanted to be part of."

Pujols added: "I don't have to show the Angels or anybody. I'm just going to go be myself out there and play the game. I love this game. I enjoy this game."

Tyson Fury continued to talk up his plan to beat Anthony Joshua in a heavyweight unification bout on Monday, although a report suggested the fight was under threat.

Fury announced on his Twitter page at the weekend that the showdown with Joshua is "100 per cent on" for August 14 in Saudi Arabia.

Joshua's IBF, WBA and WBO titles and Fury's WBC belt are all set to be on the line in the long-awaited clash.

Mocking himself up as "Tyson of Arabia", in reference to the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia, Fury posted on Monday: "Time to take back what I never lost.

"Every belt there [sic] all mine chump!"

However, the Daily Star reported a potential complication as it claimed Deontay Wilder, beaten by Fury last February following a controversial initial draw, had won his claim for a trilogy fight.

Rather than pay a sum to the American for him to step aside as Fury instead fought Joshua, the WBC champion would have to defend his title against Wilder by September 15.

Fury is undefeated after 31 career fights, with that draw with Wilder the only minor blemish on his 30-0-1 record.

It proved to be a tough day for home players at the Lyon Open as Roger Federer found out who he will face first in the main draw in Geneva.

All four Frenchmen in action on Monday were knocked out in Lyon, including 2018 finalist Gilles Simon.

Aljaz Bedene knocked out the world number 68 in straight sets, two breaks of serve in each enough to secure a 6-2 6-3 triumph after one hour and 13 minutes on court.

Sebastian Korda overcame both Pierre-Hugues Herbert and the rain to progress to the second round, a 7-6 (7-5) 6-4 triumph wrapped up quickly following a delay.

Having been 5-4 ahead in the second set when play was halted, Korda clinched victory on his first match point upon the resumption, in the process snapping a run of four successive defeats on the ATP Tour.

Cameron Norrie will take on top seed Dominic Thiem next after his 7-5 6-3 win against Corentin Moutet, while Ugo Humbert let slip a one-set lead as he was beaten by Yoshihito Nishioka.

Meanwhile, at the Geneva Open, there was a maiden victory for French teenager Arthur Cazaux as he came out on top against compatriot Adrian Mannarino.

The 18-year-old held his nerve in a decider despite this being his first tour-level contest; Reilly Opelka or Pablo Cuevas will be next up in the event.

As for Federer, he will begin his campaign on Tuesday, the 39-year-old having played just two matches so far this year after undergoing two knee operations in 2020.

The Swiss superstar now knows he will be up against Pablo Andujar, who overcame Australia's Jordan Thompson in straight sets.

Tennys Sandgren saw off Salvatore Caruso 6-3 6-4, while Dominik Koepfer came through a tight tussle with Benoit Paire that spanned two hours and 39 minutes.

The results will not be confirmed until later in the postseason, but the NBA's MVP race has been run and there appears to be a clear winner.

After a season in which Joel Embiid and LeBron James were each favourites at a time, and while a number of other contenders made impressive runs, Nikola Jokic is seemingly set to scoop the league's top individual award.

Jokic achieved what the others could not in remaining healthy, starting all 72 games for the Denver Nuggets as they finished third in the Western Conference.

But the 'Joker' was more than just the last man standing in a gruelling campaign, earning his recognition by averaging 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 8.3 assists per game – the combined total of 45.5 leading the NBA alongside triple-double king Russell Westbrook.

A worthy winner, the Nuggets center shot 56.6 per cent from the field, 38.8 per cent from beyond the arc and 86.8 per cent from the free-throw line. No player to attempt 30 or more field goals across a season in NBA history has topped Jokic in all three metrics.

Stats Perform reflects on how Jokic ultimately outperformed his opponents to establish himself as the league's main man in 2020-21.
 

Month one: LeBron leaps above Luka

Luka Doncic and Giannis Antetokounmpo were the preseason MVP favourites, while Los Angeles Lakers duo James and Anthony Davis appeared well set as both Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant returned from injuries.

Doncic's hopes quickly took a hit once the campaign got under way, however, as the Dallas Mavericks slumped to 7-7 over the first month, the same middle-of-the-road record that ensured Jokic was not immediately thrust to the forefront of the conversation on a .500 Nuggets team.

Yet the Serbian quietly built the foundations for his awards challenge in that spell. He had five triple-doubles, including three in his first four games, and averaged 25.1 points, 11.4 rebounds and 10.0 assists.

A 12-4 start for the Lakers meant the anticipated early James calls grew louder, the four-time winner an ever-present and averaging 24.4 points with an impressive 9.3 plus/minus rating.

Month two: Sixers star Embiid emerges

The PAR (points plus assists plus rebounds) chart Jokic topped in month one was led by Antetokounmpo in month two, with Jokic sliding to fourth behind Embiid and Doncic despite averaging 27.8 points over his next 16 games.

James was sixth, adding 27.0 points, 8.7 rebounds and 8.3 assists per game to his totals between January 22 and February 21, but Embiid emerged as a serious contender.

As their star center put up a league-leading 33.9 points over the period, the Philadelphia 76ers improved to 20-11 to lead the East.

Missed games would ultimately cost Embiid, but they added to his case at this stage. He featured in 25 of the Sixers' first 31 outings, sitting out five defeats and only a single win.

Month three: Injuries interrupt favourites

Events in mid-March blew the MVP race wide open.

In the 76ers' win at the Washington Wizards on March 12, Embiid suffered a knee injury. However, James was the clear favourite for just eight days before he sustained a high ankle sprain as the Lakers lost to the Atlanta Hawks.

Curry could not capitalise as a tailbone issue kept him on the sidelines over the same stretch, instead allowing James Harden to improbably enter the reckoning.

A high-profile yet polarising trade to the Brooklyn Nets should have removed Harden from awards consideration, many argued, but his performances and stat line made a compelling argument.

Between his Nets debut on January 16 and March 21 – the end of the third month of the season – Harden became the key man in his new team's 'big three' and led the league in playmaking with 11.3 assists as Brooklyn went 22-7 with the 2018 MVP on the court.

Month four: Nuggets make their move

Although Harden, Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard – who has long led the league in 'clutch' points this year – all made runs, Jokic was the favourite at the time of James' injury, then with an even more impressive stat line, including 41.6 per cent shooting from three. Month four consolidated that position.

As Harden and Antetokounmpo each sustained injuries in early April, Jokic was boosted by the arrival of Aaron Gordon at the trade deadline.

The Nuggets got only five games (four wins) out of a Jamal Murray-Will Barton-Michael Porter Jr-Gordon-Jokic line-up, yet no five-man group in the league this season which played over 100 minutes averaged more than their 55.6 points per game.

Another injury disrupted Denver, but it was Murray rather than Jokic who went down, the guard tearing the ACL in his left knee.

The Nuggets were on a four-game winning run regardless by April 21 to improve to 38-20, giving Jokic a clear edge over Curry on a Golden State Warriors team hovering below .500.

Month five: Still in the thick of the action

As the playoff picture took shape over the final weeks of the season, a number of stars racked up DNPs to protect themselves for the challenges ahead. Jokic, despite repeatedly insisting he had no interest in the MVP award, did not.

The apparent winner finished the year having played 2,488 minutes, trailing only New York Knicks pair Julius Randle and RJ Barrett.

Sunday's final-day defeat to the Portland Trail Blazers was the first time all year Jokic dipped below 26 minutes in a game, limiting the damage to his impressive numbers.

It meant he protected a healthy lead in the awards race, despite Curry's continued excellence in the final month. The scoring champion averaged an outstanding 35.6 points across his final 12 games to take the Warriors to eighth place.

Denver ended the year on a 13-5 run following Murray's injury, with Jokic putting up 26.9 points. Few can argue he is not a worthy MVP winner.

Serena Williams described Roger Federer as "a synopsis of greatness", but the 20-time grand slam champion urged caution ahead of his latest ATP Tour return.

Knee surgery kept Federer out of action for more than a year following the 2020 Australian Open, with the Swiss finally returning to the court in a competitive match in March.

A swift exit in Doha, in just his second match, prompted Federer to return to practice, not playing again until this week's Geneva Open.

His comeback will capture the attention of a fellow tennis legend, as Williams, herself ramping up French Open preparations in Parma, discussed her love for the ATP icon after a win on Monday.

"He's just a synopsis of greatness and class and amazing and really changed the game," Williams said.

"You see players playing like him, moving like him, doing his techniques. The guy is genius.

"I just feel like he is really the greatest player. Just look at him. You can't not like the guy, that's how I feel.

"His game is so fantastic. If I could only play like him!"

Federer is not entirely sure his game will be "so fantastic" when he steps out on the court against Pablo Andujar, though.

The lack of match practice means Federer has modest targets, rather than thinking about challenging great rivals Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.

"I need to do my thing, I need to play 10 matches to give you a better answer [on my level]," he said.

"Of course there are question marks around my level right now. We will find out a little bit more tomorrow [Tuesday].

"In practice, things have been going well, so I'm happy there, and when you come back from an injury, you are in a different place to everybody else.

"The players are there, I'm here at the moment.

"I'm excited about the comeback; that's what my focus needs to be on and not trying to be the same level as Rafa and Novak right now."

And Federer suggested he might have to be even better than before to again be competitive.

"The generation of [Stefanos] Tsitsipas, [Alexander] Zverev, [Andrey] Rublev and [Daniil] Medvedev have all again gotten better naturally, because they have more experience," the 39-year-old said.

"Dominic [Thiem] won a slam in the meantime, Rafa and Novak are still where they are.

"So, you would think that the game has improved again. For me, that's going to be an extra challenge, extra hard to find that level.

"But one I knew from the get-go that would never be simple, regardless if I was going to be out for three months or now almost a year and a half."

The New York Yankees have placed Giancarlo Stanton on the 10-day injured list with a quad strain.

Stanton's designation applies retroactively from May 14, dealing another blow to a Yankees team that has been beset by health issues.

Shortstop Gleyber Torres is still on the IL following a COVID outbreak that has also left them without three coaches and five staff members.

Center fielder Aaron Hicks' season may be over because of a wrist injury, while the Yankees hope second baseman Rougned Odor can return this week from a knee problem.

Relief pitcher Zack Britton is due to start a rehab assignment with the Double-A Somerset Patriots on Wednesday with a view towards a return in late May.

Meanwhile starting pitcher Luis Severino has begun throwing to hitters again following Tommy John surgery but is likely to still be at least six weeks away from a return.

Stanton is batting .282 with nine home runs and 24 RBI as the Yankees' designated hitter this season.

Despite their injury woes, the Yankees have won six of their last 10 and sit third in the American League East with a 22-18 record.

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