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.

Serena Williams had no problems in her opening match at the Emilia-Romagna Open, but sister Venus was unable to join her in the last 16.

Top seed Serena eased to a 6-3 6-2 triumph over teenage qualifier Lisa Pigato in the highlight of Monday's action in the clay-court tournament, wrapping up the result in 68 minutes.

Pigato, 17, was making her debut in the main draw of a professional event having come through qualifying in Parma.

She enjoyed early success against the legendary Williams, too, claiming a break of serve in the opening game, but the 23-time grand slam champion soon got to grips with the task at hand.

"The first game, she played really good and I needed to adjust to get back," Serena said afterwards. "It was a bit of both, figuring out her game as well."

Next up for the American, who accepted a wildcard into the event after an early exit at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome last week, will be Katerina Siniakova, a 6-1 6-3 winner over Clara Tauson.

Venus, however, failed to make it beyond her opening outing, losing out to Anna Karolina Schmiedlova despite taking the opening set.

The Slovakian made it four wins in five meetings against the seven-time major champion, eventually prevailing 5-7 6-2 6-2 after two hours and 39 minutes on court.

Elsewhere, Sloane Stephens defeated fellow American Caty McNally in two sets, while seventh seed Sara Sorribes Tormo overcame Bernarda Pera 6-4 6-2.

There was also a win in straight sets for eighth seed Caroline Garcia, who got the better of Paula Ormaechea in a contest that saw both players serve impressively.

The regular season is over. All teams have made it through 72 games in a campaign played out amid the backdrop of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

For some, the focus now switches quickly to the playoffs. Those who missed out, however, get an early start to their offseason, a time for rest, reflection and perhaps a reset ahead of the NBA Draft in late July.

The contrasting situations for teams at this time in a campaign offers opportunities to those perhaps not used to being in the spotlight. It may be the final act in the show, but it allows some players to step in and take centre stage.

Powered by Stats Perform data, here is a look at some of those who have seized the moment in the latest edition of Heat Check.

RUNNING HOT...

Jordan Clarkson

Clarkson has excelled this season with the Utah Jazz and is the overwhelming favourite to be named Sixth Man of the Year in the NBA Awards. He has averaged 18.4 points across 68 games, of which he has started in just one. His final act in the regular season was a 33-point haul in a win over the Sacramento Kings, including landing half of his 12 attempts from beyond the arc.

Despite being without Mike Conley Jr and Donovan Mitchell down the stretch, the Jazz still finished strongly to end up as the top seeds in the Western Conference. Now they wait to find out who they will face first up in the playoffs, aiming to avoid an opening-round exit for a third successive campaign.

Kelan Martin

Martin is a prime case of a player capitalising on extended game time. Having gone undrafted, he had a spell in Germany before getting an NBA debut with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2019. However, he has looked right at home of late with the Indiana Pacers, including recording a career-high 25 points on May 10. During the past week, the 25-year-old has averaged 14.2 points per game and 2.6 successful three-point attempts.

Indiana have a play-in game to come against the Charlotte Hornets as they aim to keep their campaign alive – do not be surprised to see Martin remain involved in the rotation.

Malachi Flynn

Few teams have had it as tough as the Toronto Raptors. For starters, the Canadian franchise was relocated to Tampa due to travel restrictions in place during the global pandemic. Health and safety protocols have also taken a toll on player (and coach) availability and, with no hope of a top-10 finish in the Eastern Conference, several of their starters have been absent from duty.

That has offered further minutes for Malachi Flynn, though. The rookie guard rounded out his debut year with 26 and 27 points respectively in losses to the Dallas Mavericks and the Pacers. Across the past week, he averaged out at 3.25 successful attempts from three-point range, demonstrating his scoring touch from deep.

GOING COLD...

Elfrid Payton

To say Payton’s numbers are a concern is an understatement. The starting point guard for the playoff-bound New York Knicks has not reached double figures for points in his previous seven outings.

Indeed, across the past week, the former first-round pick by the Philadelphia 76ers has averaged 1.0ppg. One. Point. He made just two of 14 field goal attempts across four games. Considering the Knicks also have Frank Ntilikina and Derrick Rose on the roster, a change to the line-up would not be at all surprising.

Nikola Vucevic

Vucevic did not play on Sunday as the Chicago Bulls wrapped up their campaign with a win over the shorthanded Milwaukee Bucks. The center averaged 12.67 points in the three appearances across May 10-16, comfortably down on his mark of 23.9 entering the week. He struggled against the Brooklyn Nets in particular, landing just four of his 18 shots, including none of the eight attempts launched from three-point range.

Here is an example of how sometimes good intentions do not quite pan out as planned. Vucevic's arrival prior to the trade deadline was a show of intent by the Bulls to make the playoffs. Instead, they are left on the outside in the East, finishing up in 11th place in the standings for a second season in a row.

Peter Sagan claimed only his second Giro d'Italia stage win as he sprinted to victory in Foligno on Monday.

Sagan's Bora-Hansgrohe team worked superbly throughout a predominantly flat stage 10 from L'Aquila to Foligno to set Sagan up to triumph.

A seven-time winner of the points classification on the Tour de France, Sagan made sure their efforts did not go to waste.

He got the better of Fernando Gaviria in a bunch sprint, having won his first Giro stage in an individual effort last year.

Sagan now has 18 Grand Tour stage wins to his name, putting him in a three-way tie with Rudi Altig and Nino Defilippis for 21st on the all-time list among those with at least one triumph at each event.

It looked as if Gaviria may be in prime position to claim the stage as UAE Team Emirates led out the sprint with 500 metres to go.

But it was Sagan who had more left in his legs at the finish and said afterwards: "I have to say thanks to all my team-mates, they did an impressive job. I'm very happy to win a stage like this, it was a great job from all the team."

Egan Bernal stays in the maglia rosa going into the first rest day of this year's Giro, which will resume on Wednesday with a 162km ride from Perugia to Montalcino back on gravel roads.
 

STAGE RESULT  

1. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) 3:10:56
2. Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) same time
3. Davide Cimolai (Israel Start-Up Nation) "
4. Stefano Oldani (Lotto Soudal) "
5. Gianni Vermeersch (Alpecin-Fenix) "

CLASSIFICATION STANDINGS

General Classification

1. Egan Bernal (INEOS Grenadiers) 38:30:17
2. Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-Quick Step) +0.14
3. Alexandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech) +0.22

Points Classification

1. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) 108
2. Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) 91
3. Davide Cimolai (Israel Start-Up Nation) 91

King of the Mountains
 
1. Geoffrey Bouchard (AG2R Citroen Team) 51
2. Egan Bernal (INEOS Grenadiers) 48
3. Gino Mader (Bahrain Victorious) 44

The Philadelphia Eagles have bolstered their defense with the signing of Ryan Kerrigan.

Defensive end Kerrigan has spent 10 seasons with the Washington Football Team after being picked in the first round of the 2011 draft.

A four-time Pro Bowler, Kerrigan holds the Washington franchise record for sacks with 95.5, which are the fifth-most in the NFL since 2011.

"I'll never be able to sum up what these past 10 years have meant to me in an Instagram post, but what I can say is that they have been some of the best of my life," Kerrigan wrote in a farewell message to Washington on Instagram. 

"I hope you had as much fun watching me as I did playing for you. Thank you, Washington, for everything."

In a subsequent post announcing his signing with Washington's NFC East rivals the Eagles, he wrote: "I know I probably wasn't your favourite player over the past decade, but @philadelphiaeagles fans I'm fired up to be playing for you guys now!"

He joins a Philadelphia defense that was seventh in the NFL in forcing negative passing plays in 2020 with 53 for minus 349 yards.

The Eagles are not short on talented pass rushers. Brandon Graham was fifth in the league among edge rushers last season with a pressure rate of 23.5 per cent, while Josh Sweat's adjusted sack rate of 4.4 per cent was marginally better than that of Kerrigan (4.3) in 2020.

Interior defensive lineman Fletcher Cox had 6.5 sacks and has at least 5.5 sacks in five of his past six seasons.

The Eagles will hope the addition of Kerrigan to an already talented defensive front will help them bounce back from a 4-11-1 season under new head coach Nick Sirianni.

Kevin Durant led the tributes for Kyrie Irving after the Brooklyn Nets guard helped his side to victory against the Cleveland Cavaliers to join an elite list of shooters.

Irving shot 8-of-10 from the field in Sunday's 123-109 win, was 1-of-2 from three-point range and a perfect 6-of-6 at the free throw line as the Nets secured the second seed in the Eastern Conference.

In doing so, the 29-year-old finished the regular season with a 50.6 field-goal percentage, 40.2 three-point percentage and 92.2 free-throw percentage, making him the ninth member of the 50/40/90 club.

He also joined Larry Bird, Stephen Curry and Durant as the only players to average at least 25 points per game during a 50/40/90 season.

Durant put up 23 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds against the Cavaliers, but he was more impressed by the achievement of Irving - one that he can see his team-mate repeating in the future.

"It's been a phenomenal season from Ky," Durant said in his post-game interview. "He's a guy who can get it from anywhere on the floor at any time at that size is remarkable. 

"Point guards that get 50/40/90 is just so much more impressive to me. I'm very happy for Kyrie, and I'm sure this won't be his last time."

Irving's coach Steven Nash, himself a four-time member of the 50-40-90 club, echoed the views of Durant.

"Kyrie has been incredible this year," he said. "So efficient, such a talented player who just makes incredible shots every night. 

"So, to be able to make those shots to create the space to take those shots, to convert at such an efficient rate, is incredible. He's a remarkable player and it's a remarkable accomplishment. I'm really proud that I can see it first hand."

The Nets were again without James Harden due to injury management, while Joe Harris missed a third straight game with a left gluteal strain. 

Nash is unsure if Harris will be available for his side's first-round playoff series against either the Boston Celtics or Washington Wizards, but Harden is expected to be available.

"I think James will be fine, but Joe might need a few days - I'm not really sure," Nash said. "I think it's about monitoring the situation. But there's a case where he may not practice the whole week - that's OK.

"He's played a lot of minutes this year and we want him to heal up as best he possibly can and kind of not have to chase this thing through the playoffs and have it linger. 

"So, if we can resolve it I'd rather he resolves it than practice this week. He can follow along and rehab and that would make me happy. But if he's able to practice I'm sure he will."

Shohei Ohtani has been hailed as the "most physically gifted baseball player ever" by Boston Red Sox pitcher Matt Barnes after inspiring the Los Angeles Angels to a dramatic victory at Fenway Park.

Two-way star Ohtani hit a two-out, two-run drive in the ninth inning of Sunday's MLB showdown as the Angels beat the Red Sox 6-5 in the series finale to snap a four-game losing run.

Ohtani entered the frame in the final inning along with Mike Trout and, after the latter hit a bloop single to keep the game alive, Ohtani smashed a home run off Barnes for his second homer of the series.

In doing so, Ohtani denied Barnes his 10th save of the season - only four others currently have more than nine - and the Red Sox closer was impressed by what he saw.

"I personally think he's the most physically gifted baseball player that we've ever seen," Barnes said in his post-game interview. "I don't know that you're ever going to see someone who can throw 100-101 (mph) and hit the ball 600 feet. 

"He's a special player and incredibly talented. Hopefully, he stays healthy and has a long career."

Ohtani now has 12 homers this season, which is the joint-most in MLB alongside Mitch Haniger, Aaron Judge and Ronald Acuna Jr.

After his inspired display against the Red Sox, the 26-year-old's RBI count stands at 29 - the joint-12th best in the division - and his batting average .262.

"Coming off a losing streak and the first two games of the series, the way we lost, it wasn't a good way to lose," Ohtani said through a translator.

"So, it was huge for us and the team to come up with this. We showed that we can beat any team."

Australian Open chief Craig Tiley is confident tennis' season-opening grand slam will take place in Melbourne next year despite suggestions the tournament may be played overseas.

The federal government in Australia is sticking to predictions that international borders will be closed until at least the middle of 2022, leaving the feasibility of hosting the Australian Open shrouded in doubt.

It has even been suggested in a recent ABC report that alternative destinations are being explored, with Dubai and Doha said to be being considered as potential venues.

But Tiley, speaking to RSN, believes the timeline on opening up borders will be altered in time for the tournament, which traditionally takes place in January.

"We're talking about two weeks of quarantine and the borders remaining closed until the middle of next year, but I'm an optimist," Tiley said.

"I think that's going to be too long. I think it's going to be brought forward because we're going to get on top of it with the vaccines and how we manage the virus.

"If we don't, we're going to be extremely challenged."

This year's tournament was blighted by logistical issues, with several players forced into quarantine after being exposed to coronavirus on chartered flights into Australia, while just days before the event was due to begin more than 500 players and officials were made to isolate after a worker at an Australian Open quarantine hotel tested positive for COVID-19.

Novak Djokovic, the men's singles champion in Melbourne, was chief among those critical of the conditions players had to endure.

"The players have been travelling around the world in a bubble so there's no place in the world anymore where there's quarantine requirements for them and so they're used to certain conditions," Tiley added.

"We [in Australia] still have this 14-day requirement but of course the positive is we don't have any community transmission of the virus."

LeBron James insists he will be fit for the Los Angeles Lakers' play-in tournament showdown with the Golden State Warriors and believes Stephen Curry should be named the NBA's MVP.

The Lakers rounded out an injury-hit regular-season campaign with a 110-98 triumph over the New Orleans Pelicans, with James nailing 25 points at Smoothie King Center.

Despite a fifth straight win, the Portland Trail Blazers' 132-116 victory over the Denver Nuggets consigned the Lakers to seventh position in the Western Conference and having to go through the new play-in route involving the teams from seventh to 10th.

It means the Lakers have to win one of up to two games to make the playoffs, with their first opportunity to do so coming against the Warriors on Wednesday.

James' fitness for the fixture was shrouded in doubt when he appeared to aggravate the ankle injury that saw him miss 26 of the Lakers' final 30 regular-season games.

However, he insists it was just a "tweak" and fully expects to feature, saying: "I'll be fine.

"I'll be in the line-up on Wednesday. The time is now and I'm ready for it."

Having to go through the play-in may not be the ideal situation for the defending champions, who have been decimated by injury this term with both James and Anthony Davis missing significant periods of time.

But James says the team are feeling confident having begun to hit their stride at the end of the regular season.

"I don't look at our seeding. It doesn't matter," he added. "Obviously we know we wanted to play a lot better this season, but injuries took a toll on our team. 

"We're finally starting to get whole, starting to feel a little bit better about our situation."

In Golden State, James and the Lakers come up against a red-hot Curry, who scored 46 points in the Warriors' 113-101 win over the Memphis Grizzlies to secure the NBA's scoring title.

Curry finished the regular season with a scoring average of 32.0 and 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).

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

James has no doubt that Curry should be awarded with another individual honour.

"I mean, just look at what he's done this year. I don't know anything else if you're looking for an MVP. If Steph is not on Golden State's team, what are we looking at?" James asked.

"We get caught up in the records sometimes. We get caught up in the, okay, who has the best record instead of just saying who had the best season that year. And Steph has had, in my opinion, the best season all year."

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