The Boston Celtics have made the Eastern Conference Finals in three of the past four years, but this time they are in danger of missing the playoffs entirely.

Boston (35-33) are seventh in the east heading into Tuesday's home clash against rivals the Miami Heat (37-31), and at this stage they are on track to feature in the NBA's inaugural play-in tournament next week.

If the Celtics, who lost 130-124 to the Heat on Sunday, go down to Miami again, it would all but seal Boston's fate.

Last season's NBA Finals participants Miami are currently sixth in the Eastern Conference – the top six advance directly to the playoffs.

The play-in tournament will include teams with the seventh through to the 10th-highest winning percentages in each conference, taking place between May 18-21.

There is a lot on the line with postseason berths up for grabs at TD Garden.

 

TOP PERFORMERS

Jimmy Butler – Miami Heat

If you needed more proof of Butler's importance to the Heat, look no further than Sunday's showdown. Miami's go-to guy put up 26 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds on the road in Boston, where he recorded his 17th double-double of the season.

Butler's character has often been questioned following stops in Minnesota and Philadelphia after making a splash with the Chicago Bulls, but he continues to impress in Miami, where he is averaging 21.6 points, a career-high 7.2 assists and a career-best 7.0 rebounds. The five-time All-Star also boasts a field-goal percentage of 49.6 – the best mark of his career so far.

Jayson Tatum – Boston Celtics

With Jaylen Brown suffering a season-ending wrist injury, the Celtics will rely heavily on another of their All-Stars – Tatum, who had 29 points in a losing effort against the Heat last time out.

Tatum is enjoying a career year, having elevated himself to an All-Star calibre forward with the Celtics last year. The third pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Tatum is averaging 26.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 4.4 assists – all career highs in 2020-21, while he is also averaging the highest number of minutes on the court (35.9) amid Boston's frustrating season.

KEY BATTLE – PRESSURE ON KEMBA

Kemba Walker arrived in Bostom amid much fanfare in 2019 but the four-time All-Star has only shown glimpses, albeit injuries have not helped.

Walker finished with 18 points in the previous game against the Heat, though he was five-for-12 shooting, making just one of his four three-point attempts.

As Tatum carries the load, Walker must provide the necessary support against a Heat roster stacked with shooters in Butler, Kendrick Nunn, Duncan Robinson, Goran Dragic and Tyler Herro.

HEAD TO HEAD

The Celtics and Heat have split their two games this season, and there is a theme.

After the Celtics beat the Heat 107-105 in January, Miami bounced back on Sunday. The margin of victory has not gone above six points, highlighting just how closely matched these two teams are.

Unsurprising, Tatum (27 points) and Butler (26 points) were the stars of the show in the January encounter.

The Cincinnati Reds showed no mercy in a 14-1 demolition of the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday, while Jared Walsh starred again in MLB.

Tyler Naquin homered and drove in four runs, while Tucker Barnhart's two-run double fuelled a six-run fourth inning against the Pirates.

Naquin celebrated a three-run homer in the seventh inning as the Reds moved 11-1 clear of the struggling Pirates.

Barnhart's double snapped a 1-1 tie in the fourth against the Pirates, who have dropped nine of 11 games, while losing eight straight to the Reds.

 

Walsh stays hot

The Los Angeles Angels edged the Houston Astros 5-4 after Walsh produced another big performance. Walsh had a home run and matched a career high with four hits as the Angels rallied past the Astros in Houston, where they had trailed by three.

Brandon Belt hit his eighth home run of the season for the San Francisco Giants, who were 3-1 winners over the Texas Rangers.

 

Keller crumbles

Mitch Keller headlined Pittsburgh's woes against Cincinnati. The Pirates pitcher gave up seven runs and seven hits in just 3.1 innings of work. Keller had two walks and two strikeouts.

 

Mancini moon shot

Trey Mancini clubbed a 440-foot home run to help the Baltimore Orioles defeat the Boston Red Sox 4-1. Mancini hit a go-ahead solo homer in the seventh inning as the Orioles avoided a four-game sweep against the team with the best record in baseball this season.

 

Monday's results

Cincinnati Reds 14-1 Pittsburgh Pirates
Baltimore Orioles 4-1 Boston Red Sox
Los Angeles Angels 5-4 Houston Astros
Arizona Diamondbacks 5-2 Miami Marlins
San Francisco Giants 3-1 Texas Rangers
San Diego Padres-Colorado Rockies (postponed)

 

Mariners at Dodgers

World Series champions the Los Angeles Dodgers (18-17) will try to build some momentum when they host the Seattle Mariners (18-17) in Tuesday's series opener. Walker Buehler takes to the mound for the Dodgers as the Mariners counter with Yusei Kikuchi.

Stephen Curry was the hero as the Golden State Warriors upstaged the NBA-leading Utah Jazz 119-116.

Curry hit the game-winning shot during the final 14 seconds to lift the Warriors past the Jazz in San Francisco on Monday.

Two-time MVP Curry – coming off a 49-point performance – posted 36 points to make it seven successive games with 30-plus points.

The Warriors kept hold of the Western Conference eighth seed in the playoff race, with the play-in tournament set to take place next week.

 

Westbrook makes history

Washington Wizards star Russell Westbrook broke the record for the most triple-doubles in NBA history after posting the 182nd of his career, surpassing Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson (181). Former MVP Westbrook finished with 28 points, 21 assists and 13 rebounds in a 125-124 loss to the Atlanta Hawks. With his second assist earlier in the game, Westbrook also joined LeBron James, Robertson and Gary Payton as the only players in NBA history with 20,000-plus points and 8,000-plus assists.

Trae Young had a game-high 36 points, while Clint Capela (10 points and 22 rebounds), Bogdan Bogdanovic (25 points) and John Collins (28 points) chipped in to fuel the Hawks.

It was a team effort from the San Antonio Spurs, who took down the Milwaukee Bucks 146-125. DeMar DeRozan (23), Dejounte Murray (21), Keldon Johnson (20), Patty Mills (20), Lonnie Walker IV (19) and Rudy Gay (19) all had double-digit points. In NBA history, only the Portland Trail Blazers on November 22 in 1983 had six team-mates with 19-plus points in a game.

Double-doubles from Domantas Sabonis (21 points and 20 rebounds) and Caris LeVert (20 points and 10 assists) inspired the Indiana Pacers' 111-102 victory at the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Damian Lillard (34 points), CJ McCollum (28 points), Norman Powell (28 points) and Jusuf Nurkic combined to lead the Trail Blazers to a fourth straight win – a 140-129 success over the lowly Houston Rockets.

 

Ingles has off night

Usually a reliable shooter, Joe Ingles struggled in Utah's defeat. The Australian was two-for-seven shooting, having made just one of his six three-pointers for only five points in 31 minutes.

The Hawks won but Kevin Huerter made only three of his 12 field-goal attempts in 37 minutes of action. Huerter was one-for-six shooting from beyond the arc in the seven-point display.

 

Clutch Curry!

With the Warriors trailing 116-114, Curry nailed a triple 13.4 seconds from the end to lift Golden State in trademark fashion.

 

Monday's results

Indiana Pacers 111-102 Cleveland Cavaliers
Atlanta Hawks 125-124 Washington Wizards
Memphis Grizzlies 115-110 New Orleans Pelicans
Golden State Warriors 119-116 Utah Jazz
Portland Trail Blazers 140-129 Houston Rockets
San Antonio Spurs 146-125 Milwaukee Bucks

 

76ers at Pacers

Eastern Conference leaders the Philadelphia 76ers (47-21) – the most in-form team in the league – will put their eight-game winning streak on the line against the Pacers (32-36) on Tuesday.

Boston Celtics All-Star guard Jaylen Brown will miss the remainder of the NBA season due to a wrist injury.

In a major blow for the playoff-chasing Celtics, Brown was diagnosed with a torn scapholunate ligament in his left wrist, the team announced on Monday.

Brown is expected to have surgery on the torn ligament later this week, while there is no timetable for a return.

The 24-year-old had already missed the past three games with a sprained left ankle.

Brown had been enjoying a career season for the Celtics, resulting in his first All-Star selection.

In 2020-21, Brown was averaging career highs for points (24.7), assists (3.4), field-goal percentage (48.4) and three-point percentage (39.7), while he also averaged 6.0 rebounds per game.

Brown's injury comes with Boston's season in the balance.

The Celtics (35-33) are seventh in the Eastern Conference – enough for a play-in tournament berth – though Boston are in danger of missing the postseason altogether.

Green Bay Packers star Davante Adams said he would "definitely have to do some extra thinking" if reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers did not suit up for the franchise next season.

Rodgers is reportedly unhappy and seeking a Packers exit, though Green Bay have made it clear they are unwilling to trade the three-time MVP and Super Bowl champion.

It remains to be seen what the future holds for Rodgers, 37, heading into the 2021 season after leading the Packers to the NFC Championship Game.

All-Pro team-mate Adams is into the final year of his contract and admitted his fate could potentially hinge on the superstar quarterback.

"Potentially, potentially; that's my guy," Packers wide receiver Adams told Fox Sports Radio. "That's the only guy that I've had -- other than that 2017 season, when he got hurt. That's the only guy that I've played with.

"We've built up a special connection over the years that has put us both in really good positions in our career. Not that he needed me to come along for it, because he was already in that spot, but we've established a lot together.

"So, it would change a lot. Doesn't mean potentially I'd be gone, but I'd definitely have to do some extra thinking if my guy wasn't here."

Adams caught 115 passes for 1,374 yards and 18 touchdowns last season, while Rodgers amassed 48 TDs, five interceptions and a completion rate of 70.7 per cent for the Packers – who lost to eventual Super Bowl champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Rodgers' quarterback rating of 121.5 puts him second on the all-time list among qualifiers, behind only his 2011 campaign (122.5).

In total, Rodgers completed 372 of 526 attempts for 4,299 yards as the Packers topped the NFC North with a 13-3 record to clinch home-field advantage and the top seed in the NFC playoffs for the first time since 2011.

Rodgers is level with Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, Favre, Johnny Unitas and Jim Brown with three MVP honours – only Peyton Manning (five) has more in NFL history.

"A lot is still being figured out on his end, so it's tough for me to get into the specifics and speak on it," Adams said. "Obviously, I would love to. Can't wait until I can tell you he's back and we're back doing our thing we've been doing. But for now, you've got to iron out a few things. Hopefully I'll be back on the show and we'll be celebrating taking shots and whatnot."

Adams – a four-time Pro Bowler – added: "We all know this is a pretty intense business, there's a lot that happens, a lot that goes on here. Just like any other job, you want to be happy, and once you've gained that respect, you want to be treated with that type of respect.

"There's certain things that I can't speak on specifics, but there are certain things that he wants, and maybe the club wasn't so excited about living up to right away.

"And that can affect a guy who's done so much for an organization. He's put his body and really laid his life on the line out there for that team, for his teammates. So I've been behind him 100 per cent throughout the whole thing.

"Obviously I'm praying everything works out and we get him back and we can continue to go out there and continue to do stuff like we did [last season] because it's a lot of fun doing that."

Washington Wizards star Russell Westbrook broke the record for the most triple-doubles in NBA history on Monday.

Westbrook surpassed Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson with his 182nd career triple-double during the Wizards' agonising 125-124 loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

Former MVP Westbrook collected the necessary rebound to eclipse Robertson in the fourth quarter away to the Hawks in Atlanta.

He finished with 28 points, 21 assists and 13 rebounds against the Hawks.

Westbrook now stands alone atop a list that also includes Magic Johnson (138), Jason Kidd (107), LeBron James (99), Wilt Chamberlain (78) and Larry Bird (59).

With his second assist earlier in the game, Westbrook also joined James, Robertson and Gary Payton as the only players in NBA history with 20,000-plus points and 8,000-plus assists.

Entering Monday's contest, Westbrook has been averaging 22.0 points, a career-high 11.6 rebounds and a career-best 11.5 assists.

Westbrook has also been leading the league in assists per game, total assists (700) and assist rate (48.0).

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James was a full participant in practice on Monday as he steps up his recovery from an ankle injury.

James returned from a six-week absence due to a right ankle sprain only to re-aggravate the injury after just two appearances for injury-hit NBA champions the Lakers.

The four-time MVP has since missed four straight games as the Lakers – seventh in the Western Conference – sit in the play-in positions in their playoff pursuit.

But James could reportedly return on Tuesday or Wednesday after Lakers head coach Frank Vogel provided an update following practice.

"He did participate in full practice. No update to his status tomorrow," Vogel told reporters on Monday. "General plan is to take it one day at a time. Nothing more than that."

Vogel added: "We did some drill work. We did some contrived scrimmages and we did a short, full scrimmage. And he did all of it."

James has been averaging 25.0 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game for the Lakers this season.

Through 43 games in 2020-21, James boasts a field-goal percentage of 51.3 – his best since 2017-18 and it is the same story regarding his three-point percentage of 36.6, which is his highest since that season with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

"What I've seen from LeBron today, he'll be fine. Trust me. He'll be fine," Lakers team-mate Anthony Davis said on Sunday, after inspiring a 123-110 win over the Phoenix Suns via 42 points and 12 rebounds.

"He's been in this game long enough. Obviously, he hasn't missed a ton of games, but he's been in this league long enough to be able to come back and lock in and do what he got to do to help the team.

"But I don't know what other teams are thinking. We know that we're confident against anybody we match up against, especially when we're fully healthy. That's our mindset.

"…We're going to come out and fight and I think teams know that just because we’re a lower seed we're not going to back down from anybody. We're going to come out and play Lakers basketball and I think teams know that and fear that as well."

Bradley Beal's hamstring injury will keep the Washington Wizards All-Star guard out for at least two matches.

Beal did the damage during a 133-132 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Saturday.

The 27-year-old left the court in the third quarter with a hurt ankle but was able to return and complete a game he finished with 50 points.

Coach Scott Brooks revealed after the victory that Beal had strained his left hamstring and the Wizards confirmed ahead of Monday's clash with the Atlanta Hawks that he will be sidelined for a minimum of a couple of games.

Washington tweeted: "Bradley Beal has been diagnosed with a left hamstring strain following MRI testing conducted yesterday.

"He will miss the team's next two games before being re-evaluated on Friday."

The Wizards, number nine seed in the NBA Eastern Conference, will hope for positive news on Beal's fitness later this week as they battle for a play-in place.

Only Stephen Curry (31.9) has a better average that Beal's 31.1 points per game this season. Beal averages 4.7 rebounds in each match and 4.5 assists.

He has racked up at least 25 points in 71 of his past 82 games and has scored 40 or more on eight occasions this season.

Two-time NL Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom will be placed on the injured list after leaving Sunday’s start with tightness in his right side.

The New York Mets announced their intention to put deGrom on the shelf on social media on Monday, but added that the results of the right-hander’s MRI were "clean of any issues."

The team will announce a corresponding move on Tuesday.

With no apparent structural damage revealed by the MRI, the Mets and their fans are hopeful the 32-year-old flamethrower will only miss one start in the rotation, returning during a weekend series against the Miami Marlins from May 21-23.

DeGrom made his sixth start of the season against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday, his first time on the mound in 11 days after skipping a turn in the rotation, also because of right side tightness.

After winning the NL Cy Young Award in 2018 and 2019, deGrom finished third in voting last year and is off to a torrid start this season.

DeGrom is 3-2 for the first-place Mets with an MLB-leading 0.68 ERA and has 65 strikeouts in 40 innings pitched.

Tim Tebow is set to get a second chance at an NFL career with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

According to multiple reports, the Jaguars plan to sign the former Denver Broncos quarterback, who will reportedly play tight end.

An ill-advised first-round pick of the Broncos, Tebow took his last NFL snap on December 30, 2012 for the New York Jets.

Since that game Tebow has spent the bulk of his time as a college football analyst and playing minor league baseball for the New York Mets organisation.

However, he retired from baseball in February and now has his sights set on an NFL return, which he is poised to make with the coach with whom he enjoyed a remarkably successful college career at Florida, Urban Meyer.

Meyer became the Jaguars' head coach in January. He won two of his three National Championships in college with Florida, with Tebow helping them to glory in 2006 and leading the Gators to the title in 2008 having won the coveted Heisman Trophy in 2007.

But Tebow's success in college did not translate to the NFL.

Picked 25th overall in the 2010 draft, his limited arm strength proved a significant hindrance to his hopes of becoming Denver's long-term starting quarterback.

He replaced Kyle Orton as the starter in 2011 and led Denver to a playoff victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, throwing for 316 yards and two touchdowns, including a game-winning 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play of overtime in a 29-23 Wild Card round triumph.

Yet he finished that season with a completion percentage of 46.5 that was the lowest of any quarterback to attempt at least 100 passes and was released by the Broncos in 2012 following their trade for Peyton Manning.

Fruitless spells with the Jets, New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles followed but, after failing to make the grade as a quarterback, Tebow will hope his athleticism can allow him to enjoy a prolonged second act as a tight end.

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal learned their round of 32 opponents after Monday's action at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome.

Taylor Fritz will be hoping for a first win over world number one Djokovic at the fourth attempt after recovering from 1-3 down in the first set to defeat Monte Carlo semi-finalist Dan Evans 6-3 6-2.

"We played twice on clay in 2018, in Monte-Carlo and Madrid," the American said, having bounced back from two down to take Djokovic to five sets in this year's Australian Open.

"I got beaten pretty bad those two times. I feel better prepared to play him now, after the match in Australia."

Italian teenager Jannik Sinner continued his superb form to set up a meeting with Nadal, a nine-time winner in the Italian capital.

Sinner dispatched Ugo Humbert 6-2 6-4 in 90 minutes for his 20th win of the season and will now look to improve upon a straight-sets loss to Nadal at Roland Garros last October.

World number 27 Aslan Karatsev matched Sinner's 2021 haul by overcoming Miomir Kecmanovic 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 and is up next for Daniil Medvedev.

Marin Cilic will take on fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas after battling to a 4-6 6-2 6-3 triumph over Alexander Bublik, while Andrey Rublev and Dominic Thiem – also the beneficiaries of byes – will face Jan-Lennard Struff and Marton Fucsovics respectively after their straight-sets wins over lucky losers Aljaz Bedene and Yoshihito Nishioka.

The most notable casualty in Monday's round one action was Hubert Hurkacz who, who retired at 6-4 2-0 down to Italian wildcard Lorenzo Musetti.

The Indianapolis Colts have taken a calculated gamble to fill a glaring hole on their offensive line.

According to multiple reports, the Colts have signed former number one overall pick Eric Fisher to a low-risk one-year deal.

The left tackle was released by the Kansas City Chiefs earlier in March as they remade their O-Line, Fisher having missed their Super Bowl LV blowout loss due to a torn Achilles.

Fisher may not be ready to make his return from that injury until early October, but the Colts are betting he can recapture the form that has seen him voted to the Pro Bowl twice in the past three seasons.

Can Fisher fill Castonzo void?

Fisher allowed a pressure rate of 10.9 per cent in 2020, above the league average of 8.9 per cent but a significant improvement on his 16 per cent pressure rate during a 2019 season in which he battled injuries while helping the Chiefs win Super Bowl LIV.

What helped him earn a Pro Bowl nod last season, however, was the lack of sacks he allowed. He gave up only three, though Stats Perform data credited him with four adjusted sacks, which measure pressures on sack plays, even if the pressuring defender did not bring down the quarterback.

His adjusted sack rate allowed of 0.9 per cent was bettered by just eight left tackles with at least 100 pass protection snaps.

It followed a 2019 campaign in which his adjusted sack rate allowed of 1.1 per cent put him in a five-way tie for seventh among left tackles.

The Colts will hope he can prove an effective replacement for mainstay Anthony Castonzo, who retired in the offseason.

Castonzo allowed a pressure rate of 8.4 per cent and an adjusted sack rate of 1.5 per cent in 2020.

The statistics suggest Fisher should be able to fill the void left by Castonzo, but the Colts will have to rely on Sam Tevi at left tackle if Fisher is not ready in time for the start of the season.

Tevi up to the task?

Tevi is coming off his best season in the NFL with the Chargers, allowing a pressure rate of 10.1 per cent, one sack and three adjusted sacks for an adjusted sack rate of 0.8 per cent.

He outperformed Fisher by those metrics but hasn't performed with the consistency for the Colts to be certain he can perform at that level for the long term.

Tevi allowed six sacks in 2018 and 5.5 in 2019 playing right tackle, the latter season seeing him give up a pressure rate of 15.5 per cent - tied for fifth-worst among right tackles with at least 200 snaps - and an adjusted sack rate of 2.3 per cent.

The Colts are banking on Fisher getting healthy and returning to top form if and when he does. Should he fail to do so, they will be hoping Tevi's underrated 2020 was not an anomaly.

Though the Colts are not tied to either Fisher or Tevi beyond the 2021 season, for a team with Super Bowl aspirations but starting a quarterback in Carson Wentz who was sacked a league-high 50 times for the Philadelphia Eagles last season, they need to be right about at least one of their potential Castonzo successors.

Petra Kvitova recovered from a poor start to beat Magda Linette in the first round of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia on Monday.

Linette took just 31 minutes to win the first set in Rome, but world number 10 Kvitova responded superbly to win 1-6 6-0 6-2.

Two-time grand slam champion Kvitova racked up 16 unforced errors in the first set, yet rallied like the great competitor she has proved to be for so long to ensure she will face Vera Zvonareva - conqueror of Christina McHale - in the second round.

The 11th seed from the Czech Republic said: "The first set I started very badly. I was missing almost everything. On the court... [the ball] was bouncing everywhere as well. A little bit windy. I just had to get used to probably everything.

"The beginning of the second set when finally I held my serve and broke her serve, I think since then it was much, much better."

French Open champion Iga Swiatek advanced when Alison Riske retired at 5-4 down in the first set due to a recurrence of a left foot injury.

Swiatek, who will take on Sloane Stephens or Madison Keys in the second round, made 18 unforced errors but had won four games in a row from 4-1 down when the American was unable to continue. 

Coco Gauff battled past Yulia Putintseva 7-5 4-6 6-4 to set up a meeting with 17th seed Maria Sakkari  - who fended off qualifier Polona Hercog 7-6 (8-6) 3-6 6-2.

Amanda Anisimova will do battle with Elina Svitolina, a winner of this tournament twice, after defeating Wang Qiang 7-5 6-3. Jessie Pegula, Jennifer Brady and Petra Martic were among the other winners on day one.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is the real deal. The question is, can he match or even surpass the career of his Hall of Fame father?

Vladimir Guerrero is a name synonymous with baseball. Guerrero Sr. was voted one of the most feared hitters following a stellar career spanning 16 seasons that included an American League (AL) MVP, nine All-Star selections and eight Silver Slugger Awards.

Powerful just like his dad, Guerrero Jr. is now flying the family flag in living up to the hype, spearheading the Toronto Blue Jays' exciting young core in a bid to end their World Series drought, which dates back to 1993.

 

From prospect to star

Guerrero Jr.'s success is no surprise. He had long been on the radar when the Blue Jays signed the top international free agent in 2015. Before making his major league debut in 2019, he worked his way through the minor leagues – initially with the Rookie Advanced Bluefield Blue Jays before opening the 2017 season with the Class-A Lansing Lugnuts. He then joined the Advanced-A Dunedin Blue Jays later that year.

John Schneider – part of Toronto Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo's coaching staff – was manager of the Dunedin Blue Jays that year, a roster which also boasted Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Danny Jansen, as Guerrero Jr. had 56 hits, 31 runs, six homers, 31 RBI and a .333 batting average.

"Everyone sees the talent and the name obviously because of his dad and all that kind of stuff. But just how intelligent he is… and him as a team-mate and person," Schneider told Stats Perform News. "His team-mates love him. He loves coming to the yard and playing every day, having fun.

"It's been cool to watch him transform himself from a young kid with a ton of talent and having fun to a really established, difference-making major league hitter right now."

Guerrero Jr. – born in Montreal – has 35 hits, 24 runs, seven homers and 23 RBI with a .310 average this season, while boasting a .447 OBP, .549 SLG and .995 OPS – all career highs through 33 games in his third season in the majors. His 456-foot moon shot against the Kansas City Royals has put him in esteemed company in terms of distance this season, while his max 116.1 exit velocity is a number not many in the sport can even dream of matching.

A popular player in the team with an infectious smile, Guerrero Jr. also celebrated an accomplishment beyond even his famous Dominican father achieved – a three-plus homer and seven-plus RBI game last month against Max Scherzer's Washington Nationals as the 22-year-old became the youngest player in MLB history to achieve that feat.

The matchup against the Nationals also featured his third career grand slam. Aged 22 years and 24 days, Guerrero Jr. became the youngest player since Alex Rodriguez (20 years and 345 days in 1996) at the time of his third slam.

"People are drawn to him – players, staff. It's fun to be around him. He comes to the field with a smile every day and he comes every day having fun. It rubs off on guys. It's cool to have him go through the minor-league system with Bo, Cavan, Gurriel and those guys," Schneider said. "They know each other very well, they're comfortable with each other and it's something they've always done. It's easier for them to be themselves now and Charlie does a good job allowing everyone to do that. He has an infectious personality."

In his first 33 games of his third MLB season in 1998, Guerrero Sr. tallied more hits (39), fewer runs (19) and the same number of homers (seven), while he was inferior to his son when it comes to batting average (.307), OBP (.350) and SLG (.535).

"You forget how young he is because of how good he is," Schneider said. "He is always working on things whether it's offensively, defensively or game-planning wise. It's an adjustment period between the minor leagues and the big leagues.

"We've always kind of seen him as a hitter, being this talented and hitting the ball hard. But being able to watch him and look at advanced reports, have a much better plan going into every game has been a big difference. Watching him evolve at first base and third base for that matter has been great. You get the exceptional offense and forget that he is 22 years old and there is always going to be continued development throughout the course of his career."

 

Hard work pays off

During the coronavirus-shortened 2020 season, Guerrero Jr. finished with 58 hits, 34 runs and nine homers with a .262 batting average as the Blue Jays returned to the postseason for the first time since 2016. He had one hit as Toronto bowed out in the Wild Card Round at the hands of eventual World Series runners-up the Tampa Bay Rays.

Guerrero Jr. is now reaping the rewards after an intense offseason – shedding the pounds between the playoffs in October and Spring Training in February. He is gliding around the bases and making a mockery of major league pitching.

His walk percentage has rocketed from 8.2 in 2020 to 17.7 this season – a differential of plus 9.5, the largest increase in 2021, ahead of the Houston Astros' Yuli Gurriel (+7.7), Los Angeles Dodgers infielder Max Muncy (+7.5), Detroit Tigers outfielder Robbie Grossman (+7.5) and Nationals outfielder Victor Robles (+6.7).

In terms of OPS, his increase from .791 in 2020 to .995 (+.205) is the fifth-largest this season, behind only the Boston Red Sox's J.D. Martinez (+.396), Gurriel of the Astros (+.301), Chicago Cubs star Javier Baez (+.208) and Los Angeles Angels superstar Mike Trout (+.208).

Guerrero Jr. has also reached base on 63 occasions through Toronto's first 33 games of the 2021 season. That number ranks eighth all time in franchise history – Jose Bautista (70 in 2014) is first.

"Throughout the course of his career, in the minors, he was always finding himself in good counts," Schneider said of Guerrero Jr's patience at the plate this year. "Part of it was people were very careful with him and I think it's a little bit different in the minors command wise. Now, the biggest thing is that he's doing the same thing – you look up and it's 1-0, 2-0, 2-1 and he is laying off of borderline pitches where I think in his first two years he was putting in play.

"He is laying off those pitches knowing he can put them in play but maybe can't do damage with them. He has the very rare ability to be looking for a heater and get the hanging breaking ball and hit it out. He has better command of his strike zone with the combination of understanding how a pitcher is going to attack him."

Guerrero Jr. is fast becoming one of the elite first basemen in MLB. He is also forming a formidable partnership with team-mate and shortstop Bichette in the field.

In 2021, Guerrero Jr. and Bichette rank eighth for most direct assist-putout combinations by duos with 58 – Texas Rangers pair Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Nate Low (86) top the list, which only counts direct throws from one player to the other.

Guerrero Jr. is also fifth for the most total fielding chances in the majors without committing an error (228) this year.

"He has worked tirelessly with Luis Rivera our infield coach at first base but he always been a very, very good athlete," added Schneider. "Getting himself into really good physical condition has really helped him on both sides of the ball. Last year was kind of a crash-course at first base in a shortened season with a long lay-off due to COVID but he has taken it head-on and learnt new things.

"Just little things like when to get a ball to his right and when to go to the bag. It's just coming at you in a different angle than what he was used to last year. He's been doing a ton of reps and has always had the physical ability."

With 216 career games to his name, Guerrero Jr.'s stat line reads – 219 hits, 110 runs, 31 homers, 125 RBI, a .274 batting average, .353 OBP, .457 SLG and .810 OPS. It is not far off his father at the same stage of his career – 258 hits, 129 runs, 39 homers, 125 RBI, .317 average, .361 OBP, .541 SLG and .903 OPS.

Guerrero Jr.'s numbers also stuck up well against some Hall of Fame first basemen, including Orlando Cepeda, Tony Perez, Eddie Murray, Jeff Bagwell and Jim Thome.

Cepeda: 279 hits, 136 runs, 40 homers, 153 RBI, .319 batting average, .350 OBP, .538 SLG and .888 OPS
Perez: 144 hits, 66 runs, 16 homers, 88 RBI, .254 batting average, .303 OBP, .412 SLG and .715 OPS
Murray: 232 hits, 108 runs, 36 homers, 119 RBI, .280 batting average, .332 OBP, .463 SLG and .795 OPS
Bagwell: 216 hits, 110 runs, 23 homers, 120 RBI, .277 batting average, .372 OBP, .426 SLG and .798 OPS
Thome: 180 hits, 104 runs, 30 homers, 98 RBI, .256 batting average, .346 OBP, .449 SLG and .794 OPS

In the grand scheme of things, Vladdy's career is still in its infancy and he has barely scratched the surface of his potential, but he is on track to follow in his dad's footsteps, and then some.

Taco van der Hoorn produced a stunning performance on his Grand Tour debut to take victory on stage three of the Giro d'Italia on Monday.

Van der Hoorn, riding for a Belgian team Intermarche–Wanty–Gobert Materiaux making their debut in the Giro, demonstrated remarkable endurance to upset the odds on the 190-kilometre ride from Biella to Canale.

The Dutchman was part of the initial breakaway in the opening kilometres of a route through the hills of Piedmont that included one category three and two category four climbs.

And he somehow stayed at the front throughout to hold off the peloton and cross the finish line in disbelief at this achievement.

With the breakaway eventually thinned to Van der Hoorn and Simon Pellaud (Androni Giocattoli–Sidermec), the former made an ambitious move to go it alone with under nine kilometres left.

It looked as if he may be caught in the final kilometre but the peloton could not close the gap in time, allowing Van der Hoorn to celebrate arms aloft after an incredible solo ride on only his second road stage in a Grand Tour.

"I can't believe it. I didn't believe actually when I had one minute with 25km to go," Van der Hoorn said. 

"Simon was pulling really hard on the climb, was actually full gas, but then afterwards I was a bit happier, my position was a bit better. He was tired and I drop him and then I heard on the radio that I still had 40 seconds or something and full gas to the line.

"I couldn't believe it, I was really thinking with 1km to go I was looking behind and I was thinking, 'oh f***, I'm going to make it, what the f***?' and the last part was incredible."

Filippo Ganna, winner of the time trial on stage one, remains in the maglia rosa.

STAGE RESULT 

1. Taco van der Hoorn (Intermarche–Wanty–Gobert Materiaux) 4:21:29
2. Davide Cimolai (Israel Start-Up Nation) +0.04
3. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) same time
4. Elia Viviani (Cofidis) same time
5. Patrick Bevin (Israel Start-Up Nation) same time

CLASSIFICATION STANDINGS

General Classification

1. Filippo Ganna (INEOS Grenadiers) 8:51:26
2. Tobias Foss (Jumbo-Visma) +00:16
3. Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck) +00:20

Points Classification

1. Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix) 50
2. Elia Viviani (Cofidis) 38
3. Giacomo Nizzolo (Team Qhubeka Assos) 35

King of the Mountains

1. Vincenzo Albanese (Eolo-Kometa Cycling Team) 16
2. Simon Pellaud (Androni Giocattoli–Sidermec) 6
3. Lars van den Berg (Groupama-FDJ) 6

The NBA is nearing the end of its regular season.

Soon the fight for playoff positioning will give way to the drama of the play-in round and the subsequent seven-game series that will decide the destination of the title.

In other words, it is time for the league's elite to find their best.

While several of those stars are hitting form at exactly the right time, there are others enduring worrying declines ahead of the postseason.

Here we examine the performances of those excelling going into the playoffs, and those who need to turn it around in this week's edition of Heat Check.

RUNNING HOT

Kyrie Irving - Brooklyn Nets

Irving went into last week having failed to score 30 points in three straight appearances, but he was back to his best over the past seven days.

Having previously averaged 26.7 points for the season, Irving put up 38 points per game across three outings last week, with a 45-point display against the Dallas Mavericks sandwiched by a 38-point effort in defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks and a 31-point showing versus the Denver Nuggets.

Only the game with the Nuggets ended in victory, but the Nets will be encouraged by Irving's form with the playoffs approaching. He was excellent from beyond the arc, hitting 5.67 threes per game having entered the week averaging 2.63.

Irving converted 17 of his 32 three-point attempts last week, a percentage of 53.1 that ranks 10th among players to have attempted at least 20 last week.

Russell Westbrook - Washington Wizards

Westbrook made history on Saturday as he tied Oscar Robertson's record for triple-doubles with the 181st of his career against the Indiana Pacers on Saturday.

The way in which his athleticism has translated to success on the boards has been key to Westbrook's successful pursuit of Hall of Famer Robertson.

And his rebounding was nothing short of incredible over the past seven days. Having entered the week averaging 11.16 rebounds, Westbrook racked up 17.25 per game across his last three games, culminating with 19 in his record-equalling display in an overtime win over Indiana.

He'll hope for more success on the glass against the Atlanta Hawks on Monday to take him past Robertson.

Stephen Curry - Golden State Warriors

The best shooter in the game had another stunning week from beyond the arc as he continues to fuel the Warriors' push towards the playoffs.

Curry's 5.2 made threes per game was already the gold standard in the NBA this season but he was even more devastating from deep in four games last week.

Indeed, Curry averaged 8.25 threes per game, with that jump fuelled largely by him hitting 11 on Saturday as he scored 49 points in 29 minutes against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

As long as he continues his excellent form, the Warriors should have a great chance of coming through the play-in round and making it to the postseason.

GOING COLD...

Andre Drummond - Los Angeles Lakers

It was a rough week for Lakers big Drummond, who endured the largest drop-off in the NBA in both points and rebounds per game.

Drummond entered last week putting up 15.89 points per game but saw his average over four games dip to 5.75.

He failed to score double-digit points in any of those outings and was similarly ineffective on the boards.

His rebounds per game dipped from 12.37 to 6.25, Drummond having started the week by failing to record a single rebound in a game for only the third time in his career in a win over the Nuggets.

Luka Doncic - Dallas Mavericks

It is pleasing for the Mavs that they can win without Doncic delivering his best every night, as they did not get it last week.

Doncic was far from terrible, as he topped 20 points in three of his four outings, but he saw his points per game average drop from 28.64 entering the week to 21.50 in those appearances.

The Mavs won each of those contests, with Doncic contributing double-doubles in two, though he had an underwhelming 15-point game to end the week against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

So, while he may be 'going cold' relative to his usual standard in scoring, Doncic is finding ways to help Dallas build momentum ahead of the playoffs.

Kawhi Leonard - Los Angeles Clippers

Leonard has been bothered by injury issues in recent weeks, with his best form eluding the two-time NBA Finals MVP.

For the season, Leonard was averaging 25.51 points per game going into the last week, but could only manage to put up 19 over the course of three games in the past seven days.

And that average was inflated by a 29-point effort in the Clippers' loss to the New York Knicks on Sunday.

Prior to that return to something like normal service, Leonard had failed to score 20 points in each of his last four games.

Even his effort against the Knicks came on an inefficient shooting performance where he went nine for 26, indicating Leonard is some way off the standard he will need for the Clippers to contend in the playoffs.

Tadhg Furlong has signed a new Irish Rugby Football Union contract until the end of the 2021-22 season.

The Ireland and Leinster prop had been linked with a move overseas but has decided to stay in his homeland.

Furlong has won 49 caps since making his Ireland debut in 2015 and was last week selected for the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa, having also played in three Tests against New Zealand four years ago.

The 28-year-old lifted the European Rugby Champions Cup with Leinster in 2018 and has won five PRO12/14 titles, but a defeat to La Rochelle ended Leo Cullen's side's bid for European glory this year.

Furlong said: "Happy to sign on for one more year. There has been some tough days of late but I believe the squads we have in both Leinster and Ireland are able to compete for trophies in the future.

"I look forward to hopefully playing at a packed out RDS or Aviva Stadium in the months ahead."

David Nucifora, IRFU performance director, said: "Tadhg was a long time out of the game but showed upon his return in January what a positive influence he can be for both Ireland and Leinster.

"He has grown as a senior voice in the Ireland squad and his recent performances reminded everyone why he is rated as one of the best tightheads in world rugby."

 

Anthony Davis joked he is feeling "20 per cent" his old self after posting a season-high points tally to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to victory over the high-flying Phoenix Suns.

Davis was playing his 10th game since recovering from a strained Achilles and calf injury that kept him out for more than two months.

He posted 42 points and 12 rebounds, as well as five assists, three steals and three blocks as the Lakers beat their Western Conference rivals 123-110 in Los Angeles on Sunday.

It is the seventh time in Davis' career that he has managed 40 points, three blocks and three steals in a game. The only player to have more such games over the past 35 years is the great Michael Jordan (14).

The Lakers are now within a game of the sixth seed in the west, which guarantees a postseason berth, and Davis feels he is slowly getting back to his best.

"I'm at 20 per cent my old self!" the 28-year-old said. "I'm kidding. I'm feeling good. I'm getting my legs and my rhythm back, getting my steps back on both ends of the floor.

"I feel good. I'm getting better each game, getting my wind back each game.

"My legs are not as heavy during games. All the shots I'm taking, I'm not using all of my legs. My legs are feeling good again – that's important."

The Lakers were without LeBron James against the Suns for a fourth straight game due to a troublesome ankle injury.

Head coach Frank Vogel will not rush the four-time NBA champion back for the remainder of the regular season, with a decision to be made ahead of each remaining game. 

"Our position doesn't affect LeBron's timeline," Vogel said. "Bron's going to try to get in there as much as he can to get a rhythm without agitating the ankle. 

"I don't think how Anthony's playing or how our seeding situation looks like is going to change LeBron's timeline."

However, Davis expects James to be fit and ready for the postseason whether he plays before then or not.

"What I've seen from LeBron today, he'll be fine," Davis said. "Trust me. He'll be fine."

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