Aslan Karatsev captured the first ATP Tour title of his career as the late-blossoming Russian triumphed in the final of the Dubai Tennis Championships.

At the age of 27, and with little warning, Karatsev has hurtled from obscurity before tennis went into lockdown 12 months ago to real prominence.

A 6-3 6-2 victory over South African Lloyd Harris on Saturday gave him a trophy for his efforts and he will enter the top 30 on Monday, having never had a double-digit ranking before this season.

Karatsev reached the Australian Open semi-finals last month, having had to win three qualifying rounds to make the main draw, and it took Novak Djokovic to stop that charge in Melbourne.

Now Vladikavkaz-born Karatsev is back in another winning routine, with Andrey Rublev, Jannik Sinner and Dan Evans having figured among his victims en route to the Dubai final.

The first-time champion said on Amazon Prime: "I am super happy. It was a tight match. [I was] really nervous. I want to congratulate my opponent for the final [run]. He did a great week. Every final is different, so I am happy that I won."

Karatsev had some promising results at Challenger Tour level last year but had never shown form on the main circuit until the start of 2021, and suddenly he looks a major force to be reckoned with.

He said of the rush of success: "You never know when it is coming. I did a good job with my team, with my coach and it has happened now."

Daria Kasatkina and Margarita Gasparyan fended off two of the great stalwarts of Russian tennis to set up a final showdown at the St Petersburg Ladies Trophy.

Kasatkina recovered from a slow start to overcome fourth seed and two-time grand slam winner Svetlana Kuznetsova, after Gasparyan saw off former Wimbledon and US Open runner-up Vera Zvonareva.

Zvonareva, 36, and Gasparyan, whose promising career has been disrupted by injury, were both allocated wildcard entries to the tournament and seized advantage to reach the last four.

Gasparyan, a 26-year-old whose single-handed backhand is an unusual sight in modern tennis, came through the clash with Zvonareva a 6-3 7-6 (11-9) winner to reach her first final at WTA 500 level.

The world number 126 will tackle former top-10 star Kasatkina for the title, after the 23-year-old Barcelona resident scored a remarkable 1-6 6-0 6-2 win over Kuznetsova in the second semi-final.

It was a flat Kasatkina who surrendered the opening set, but she then dashed off eight games in a row, levelling the match and surging to a 2-0 lead in the decider, knocking the stuffing out of 35-year-old Kuznetsova's challenge.

Kasatkina, a 23-year-old with more variety than most, had also dropped the first set 6-1 in her quarter-final win over second seed Veronika Kudermetova on Friday before finding her best game.

She said on Amazon Prime: "Well, why not, if losing the first set will guarantee me victory, why not?"

Kasatkina, the eighth seed this week, won the Phillip Island Trophy in Melbourne last month so is chasing a second WTA title of the year.

She is relishing the clash with Gasparyan, saying: "It's cool to have players of different styles. Tomorrow's a final so you've just got to go out there and try to show your best tennis."

An all-Russian final was already guaranteed, given the host country locked down all four semi-final places, and it will be the 30th such WTA title match.

Real Madrid kept up the pressure on LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid as a brace from Karim Benzema helped seal a 3-1 win over Celta Vigo on Saturday.

Benzema produced two clinical finishes inside the opening 30 minutes to put Madrid 2-0 up at Balaidos, although Santi Mina pulled one back for the hosts against the run of play before half-time. 

Despite plenty of pressure from Eduardo Coudet's side in the second half, Madrid held firm and secured the victory late on through Marco Asensio to extend their unbeaten LaLiga away run to 10 games – the first time they have achieved this since May 2016 when they went 11 without defeat on the road. 

The result moved Zinedine Zidane's men above Barcelona into second, three points behind Atleti, but Diego Simeone's men can restore the six-point advantage over their neighbours if they overcome Deportivo Alaves on Sunday.

Madrid went ahead with their first shot on target in the 20th minute, Benzema superbly steering into Ivan Villar's bottom-left corner after a neat turn and pass from Toni Kroos.

Vinicius Junior then inexplicably chested over from four yards with the goal at his mercy, but his blushes were spared on the half-hour mark when Benzema grabbed his second.

Kroos was again the provider, the German picking Renato Tapia's pocket on the edge of the area and feeding Benzema, who slotted past Villar for his 17th LaLiga goal of the season.

Celta clawed their way back into the game five minutes before the interval when an unmarked Mina headed beyond Thibaut Courtois from Denis Suarez's free-kick.

Courtois had to be alert shortly after the hour mark to repel Iago Aspas' effort from distance as Celta pushed forward in search of a leveller. 

Aspas then struck the post with a deflected free-kick inside the final 10 minutes but it was Madrid who had the final say, substitute Asensio guiding Benzema's cross home deep into stoppage time.

 

 

Robert Lewandowski scored a second consecutive home hat-trick in the Bundesliga as 10-man Bayern Munich thrashed Stuttgart 4-0 to extend their lead at the summit to four points.

The Pole, who found the back of the net threes time against Borussia Dortmund on his last league outing at the Allianz Arena, took just 39 minutes to repeat the feat here.

Serge Gnabry also got on the scoresheet in a rampant first half as Hansi Flick's side brushed off the early loss of Alphonso Davies to a red card to claim a thumping victory.

Davies received his marching orders after VAR intervened to upgrade a yellow for his studs-up challenge on Wataru Endo.

After surviving an early storm, Bayern went ahead through Lewandowski, who claimed second place in the Bundesliga's all-time top scorer charts outright by powering in Gnabry's low cross to bring up his 269th goal in the competition.

Provider then turned goalscorer as Gnabry benefited from a slick exchange between Thomas Muller and Leroy Sane to finish a wonderful team goal.

A minute later, Lewandowski's powerful header from Muller's right-wing cross had Bayern three ahead with barely a quarter of the game gone.

And the prolific Pole had a hat-trick just before the break, pinching the ball inside the box and arrowing a left-footed finish into the bottom right-hand corner to make it three goals from three shots.

Bayern's number nine should have made it four just past the hour mark but miscued in uncharacteristic fashion after being picked out by Benjamin Pavard's low cross.

But that miss mattered little in the end as the champions saw out their win with little discomfort.

What does it mean? History beckons for Lewandowski

Having already scored more Bundesliga hat-tricks than any other player in history, Lewandowski added a 13th here to extend his lead over Mario Gomez (10) to three.

The Pole is now on 35 league goals for the season and will surely have his sights set on breaking Gerd Muller's record of 40 in a single campaign in the German top-flight in the eight remaining games.

In fact, 'Der Bomber's' outright scoring record of 365 does not look out of reach for a player who is now on 271 and, at the age of 32, still looks to have plenty of years at the top level left in him.

Lewa stars for Bayern

Bayern had been up against it even prior to losing Davies, but the complexion game changed entirely when Lewandowski took his first goal in brilliant fashion.

That the Poland international grabbed his hat-trick from just three shots says everything about his quality in front of goal.

Davies errs again

But for the brilliance of Lewandowski, Davies' rash early challenge could have put his teammates in for a difficult afternoon.

The Canadian had already given the ball away four times in just 12 touches across an uncertain start, and will now miss the crucial showdown with RB Leipzig next time out due to suspension.

What's next?

Bayern Munich could take a big step toward to retaining the Bundesliga title when they face nearest challengers Leipzig in two weeks. A win would take Flick's men seven points clear with as many games remaining, while defeat would close the gap to just a single point.

As for Stuttgart, they will hope to get their push for European football back on track when they host Werder Bremen.

Stefano Pioli is hopeful Zlatan Ibrahimovic can help get Milan's campaign back on track after confirming the striker will start Sunday's Serie A clash with Fiorentina. 

Ibrahimovic returned from a thigh injury with 25 minutes from the bench in Thursday's 1-0 loss to Manchester United in the Europa League. 

He was unable to mark his return to action with a goal against his former club but has 16 for the season overall, 14 of those coming in the same number of league appearances. 

Milan have struggled for goals in the 39-year-old's absence, scoring four times in their last five games in a run that includes back-to-back blanks in defeats to Napoli and United. 

Indeed, after scoring in 38 consecutive league games, Milan have failed to score in four of their last nine, losing each of the four matches in which they did not find the net. 

Pioli is therefore glad to have Ibrahimovic, who was this week recalled to the Sweden squad after a near-five-year absence, back available for Sunday's trip to Fiorentina.

"Zlatan took advantage of his minutes on Thursday to improve his condition and will start from the first minute tomorrow," Pioli said at a pre-match news conference on Saturday. 

"I still don't know if he has 90 minutes in his legs, but his presence is important for us and he will make a big difference." 

Milan went down 2-1 on aggregate to United - Paul Pogba's strike in the second leg at San Siro ultimately proving the difference - and are left battling in just one competition between now and the end of the season. 

The Rossoneri lost 1-0 to Napoli last time out in Serie A and have won just two of their last six league games, placing them nine points behind leaders Inter. 

Juventus are a point further back with a game in hand, meanwhile, but Pioli is not throwing in the title towel yet with 11 matches still to play. 

Asked if it bothers him that many have ruled Milan out of the Scudetto race, Pioli said: "Who has said that? Maybe I should hang up some newspaper headlines in the locker room? 

"Being eliminated by United is something we regret, but we come out of the game even more aware of our qualities and that little details can make all the difference." 

Sunday's opponents Fiorentina ended a three-game winless run with a 4-1 victory at Benevento last weekend to move up to 14th. 

Cesare Prandelli's side have drawn three of their last four home league games with Milan and Pioli is anticipating a tough test in Florence.

"We're aiming for the top and must try to win every match. But I think tomorrow might be the most complicated of them all," said Pioli, who both played for and previously managed La Viola. 

"Fiorentina are in good shape, and we are coming off a very tiring run of games. I am sure we'll step up a gear after the international break." 

He added: "I experienced a great deal in Florence as a player and then a coach, then of course the tragedy of what happened to Davide Astori leaves its mark.  

"It can never be a normal match. Florence and Fiorentina are more than opponents. Last year, the welcome I received when I returned there filled me with joy." 

Ibrahimovic's return is a big positive for Milan, but they remain without fellow attackers Mario Mandzukic and Rafael Leao, while Ante Rebic is serving a suspension. 

"We knew there could be difficulties with such a packed schedule and we've so far played more competitive games than anyone else," Pioli said of his side's recent injury woes. 

"I feel that the team has overcome the difficult moment, as recent performances have been strong and we only lost due to minor incidents.  

"There are some justifications for the number of injuries, whereas in some cases we missed something and that mustn't happen again."

Scotland crushed Six Nations whipping boys Italy with an eight-try demolition in Edinburgh as the ill-disciplined Azzurri suffered a 52-10 defeat.

Two tries from hooker David Cherry on his first start, plus a double from Duhan van der Merwe, helped the home side steam to an emphatic win, and Scotland should head to France in good spirits for the finale to their campaign on Friday.

After home defeats to Ireland and Wales earlier in the campaign, either side of a Calcutta Cup triumph at Twickenham, this was a match that coach Gregor Townsend and Scotland knew they must win.

The Italians' last victory in the championship came against the Scots at Murrayfield in 2015, and although a sketchy start from the home team may have had a Scottish crowd worried, in front of empty stands the home side were able to rapidly regroup and overwhelm their visitors.

In 2007, a hapless Scotland team trailed the Italians 21-0 after six minutes at Murrayfield following three tries, on their way to a 37-17 defeat. This time it was 7-0 to the Azzurri at that early stage after hooker Luca Bigi drove over in the left corner and Paolo Garbisi added a magnificent touchline kick.

Cherry burrowed over for a swift response, before Van der Merwe ran in a second Scots try, dashing down the left and taking his time before dotting down under the posts.

Italy lost Federico Mori to a yellow card for a dangerous dash at Sam Johnson, and the Scots took advantage, moving the ball well through hands to allow Darcy Graham and Huw Jones to plunder further tries.

Cherry powered through Italian blue shirts as the Scots drove a maul at the Italian line in the 45th minute, bagging his second try of the game. Stuart Hogg, having missed two of his four conversion attempts in the first half, nailed an excellent kick from just inside the right touchline to give Scotland a 31-10 cushion.

Sebastian Negri was the next Italian to be yellow-carded, and scrum-half Scott Steele boosted the Scotland lead from close range moments later. Monty Ioane followed Negri to the sin bin after picking up Hogg and dumping him to the ground.

Johnson dived in for a try and Van der Merwe streaked away for another to add to the misery of the disorientated Italians, who have now lost on 32 consecutive outings in the championship.

Andrea Pirlo wants Juventus to put the pressure on Inter as they aim to close the gap between themselves and the Serie A leaders this weekend.  

With a coronavirus outbreak at Inter forcing their game against Sassuolo to be postponed, Juve can move within seven points of the Nerazzurri with a home win over Benevento on Sunday - their final game before the international break.  

The reigning champions – who are looking to win the Scudetto for a 10th successive season – have won their last seven league games at the Allianz Stadium too, scoring at least two goals in each of those matches while conceding just three times.  

While they do have the Coppa Italia final against Atalanta to come later in the season, Juve's surprise Champions League exit to Porto in the last 16 leaves them with time to focus fully on league duties.  

"It's our duty to put pressure on Inter and we have to do it match after match, starting tomorrow," Pirlo told the media on Saturday.

"Our only goal now is to win as many points as possible, in order to put pressure on Inter and to make it all to play for in our game against them.

"I've spoken to the team, let's see where we are after each match, thinking towards the future. We must try to win as many games as we can.

"It will not only depend on us, but we must believe that we can always win. We are aware and convinced."

Ronald Koeman hopes Lionel Messi can stay out of disciplinary trouble for the rest of the season as the Barcelona superstar teeters on the brink of suspension.

Barcelona have strung together a 17-game unbeaten run in LaLiga to transform their prospects, closing the gap on wobbling leaders Atletico Madrid to four points.

Messi, however, is just one yellow card away from a one-game ban, having been booked four times already, and an April 10 Clasico against Real Madrid is looming large.

It would suit Koeman if Messi could avoid any further bookings, but the coach will not let his team selections be ruled by the possibility of the Argentinian missing a future game.

Frenkie de Jong is in the same precarious position, and Koeman said: "We know they are one card away from the sanction, but it is what it is.

"I will not keep anyone in reserve. I hope they do not see a card. If they get it, another will play."

Messi has gone beyond 20 goals in LaLiga for a 13th consecutive season, the only player to do so in the competition's history, and he looks sure to start against Real Sociedad on Sunday.

It would be his 768th appearance for Barcelona, making him the outright all-time leader after drawing level with Xavi's total when he scored twice in a 4-1 win over Huesca on Monday,

With Barcelona already through to a Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao, and on a charge in the league, talk has turned to the prospect of silverware.

Koeman's first season as head coach has been turbulent at times but could yet end in a domestic double.

The Dutchman is not interested in such discussions, though, saying on Saturday: "I don't like to talk about a double.

"This changes very quickly. Not long ago we were bad. We have to go game by game and we are four points behind and the calendar is very difficult.

"We have a final against a very difficult opponent. There is a long way to go to win things."

Koeman warned of the danger of any slip-up, saying that "each defeat can be expensive" as he complimented Real Sociedad and their "great coach" Imanol Alguacil.

One player Koeman has not been able to count on recently has been young forward Ansu Fati, who has been sidelined with a knee injury since November.

Barcelona hoped to have Fati back by around this stage of the season, but Koeman said of the 18-year-old Spain international: "He is taking longer than we expected.

"In a few weeks he will be training out on the field again, but he is young and strong. We are not in a hurry."

Southampton booked their place in the FA Cup semi-finals after a 3-0 win over second tier Bournemouth on Saturday thanks to a brace from Nathan Redmond.

The Premier League side saw off a brief spell of Bournemouth first-half pressure and took the lead when Moussa Djenepo finished coolly after being found by Redmond.

Redmond then struck either side of half-time as he first scored a fine individual goal and then calmly stroked in a rebound after the ball had bounced to him off the post.

Southampton's victory over the Championship outfit ensured they progressed to the semi-finals of the competition for the second time in 17 seasons, having last done so in 2017-18.

Saints thought they had taken the lead early on when Cameron Carter-Vickers put through his own net from a Kyle Walker-Peters cross, but VAR deemed the Saints man offside.

Arnaut Danjuma tested Fraser Forster at his near post and Rodrigo Riquelme fired wide after a free-kick routine for the Cherries, but Southampton then took control.

Djenepo struck a low, angled finish beyond Asmir Begovic after receiving Redmond's clever pass at the end of a slick counter-attack to put Saints ahead.

Provider then turned goalscorer in first-half injury time when Redmond burst forward at pace and curled a fine finish back across goal into the top-left corner.

Che Adams crisply arrowed the ball into the net from long range eight minutes in the second half only for it to be chalked off by VAR with Stuart Armstrong in an offside position.

Ralph Hasenhuttl's side effectively made the outcome certain with 31 minutes left when Armstrong's shot bounced into the path of Redmond who placed it low it the corner.

The impressive Redmond almost had a hat-trick when he curled wide from a good position after fine play by Armstrong. 

 

Ronald Koeman will head into important talks with new Barcelona president Joan Laporta during the international break.

Head coach Koeman declared that was the plan as he spoke on Saturday, a day ahead of the trip to face Real Sociedad in LaLiga.

The Dutchman's future was a major topic of discussion during the club elections, but there are a range of major issues that must be resolved between the dressing room and the boardroom.

Not least among those is the future of captain and record goalscorer Lionel Messi, whose contract expires in June, while the club's transfer budget and ambitions are also vital matters ahead of the close season.

Koeman was appointed last August on a two-year contract, and a failure to get past the last-16 stage in the Champions League was a major disappointment.

Barcelona remain in the hunt for domestic league and cup glory, though, and Koeman is keen to hear in the coming fortnight what Laporta is planning for the team's future.

Koeman said: "After tomorrow's game we have a break and we will have time to talk about the future of this team.

"We will take advantage of these two weeks to talk about players, signings and get to know each other. It is a time to be more together."

That was an answer given in response to the question of whether he was intending to meet with Laporta again, having already had brief talks.

Koeman said it was "important" to have an established figurehead at the club, after the reign of previous president Josep Maria Bartomeu dissolved amid considerable acrimony last October.

"It is reassuring to have someone who is the face of the club, but nothing changes for our work," Koeman said.

Laporta this week backed Koeman, saying: "Ronald, you have our confidence. We want to go back to that success story between Barca and the Champions League. This year we have to go for LaLiga and for the cup."

That simply confirmed what Koeman had already been told privately in the wake of the Champions League exit to Paris Saint-Germain.

"We must continue in this way so that the results reinforce it. Hopefully it will last for a long time."

The impending talks mean Sunday's clash at Anoeta is one that may take on extra significance for Koeman.

Should Barcelona win, that would ramp up pressure on leaders Atletico Madrid, who face Deportivo Alaves on Sunday. The closer they get to Atletico, the more impressive Koeman's leadership appears.

Barcelona are unbeaten in 17 games in LaLiga and have crept from mid-table to the point where they are just four points behind Atletico.

Koeman may privately ask Laporta about the prospects of signing Erling Haaland, Borussia Dortmund's free-scoring Norway international who has also been linked to Real Madrid.

But Haaland is not a player that Koeman is prepared to discuss in public, no matter how the question is put to him.

When asked on Saturday how he rated Haaland, and whether he was a player he would like to coach, Koeman pulled down the shutters, saying: "Out of respect I will not talk about a player who is not ours."

Peter Lorimer was remembered as "a legend" after Leeds United announced the death of their great midfielder.

Lorimer, who was 74, died after a long illness. It was recently announced the man who lit up Elland Road for many years had been moved to live in a hospice.

He made over 700 appearances across two spells at Leeds and scored 238 goals, a club record, with Lorimer famed for his powerful shooting.

His debut for the club came at the age of 15 years and 289 days in September 1962 and he won two First Division titles, in 1969 and 1974, and the FA Cup in 1972.

The Scotland international, who won 21 caps for his country, also helped Leeds reach the final of the 1973 European Cup Winners' Cup and the 1975 European Cup.

Leeds said news of Lorimer's death had been received "with great sadness".

"Peter's contribution to Leeds United will never be forgotten and his passing leaves another huge hole in the Leeds United family," Leeds said in a statement.

"He will always remain a club icon and his legacy at Elland Road will live on."

Lorimer's death follows that of his fellow Leeds great and former team-mate Jack Charlton last July. Charlton made a club-record 773 appearances for the club.

Tributes to Lorimer were paid from far and wide, with world governing body FIFA saying: "Everyone at FIFA is saddened by the news of Peter Lorimer's passing. Lorimer was a @LUFC legend with one of the most powerful shots in football."

Current Leeds captain Liam Cooper wrote on Twitter: "Fly High Peter. A legend that we all aspire to be like. Sending all our love to Peter's family."

Lorimer also had spells with Toronto Blizzard, Vancouver Whitecaps and York City, between his two spells at Leeds.

Another present-day Leeds star, Stuart Dallas, reflected on the sorry news coming in the wake of Friday's 2-1 Premier League victory at Fulham.

"After the high of last night, we learn of such sad news this morning," Dallas wrote. "My thoughts are with Peter's family and friends at this difficult time."

Tokyo 2020 organisers have announced spectators will not be allowed to travel from overseas to watch the Olympic Games this year.

The measure has been taken as part of an effort to reduce the risks of COVID-19 spreading at the delayed Games.

The Games will run from July 23 to August 8, having been set back by a year due to the global health crisis.

Also affected will be the Paralympics, which runs from August 24 to September 5, with travelling spectators also barred from attending.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and International Paralympic Committee (IPC) have been advised of Tokyo's decision and are said by Games chiefs to "respect and accept this conclusion".

In a statement issued on Twitter, Tokyo 2020 said: "Today, on March 20, we reported to the IOC and IPC that we would not accept overseas spectators to Japan in order to realise a safe and secure event.

"We will continue to do our utmost to make this summer's event a safe and secure event so that it will be a light of hope for people all over the world."

In a further statement, Tokyo 2020 organisers said tickets purchased by those planning to travel from abroad would be refunded.

They said the coronavirus situation within and beyond Japan "remains very challenging" and pointed to travel across borders being "severely restricted", meaning entry to Japan could not be guaranteed.

"In order to give clarity to ticket holders living overseas and to enable them to adjust their travel plans at this stage, the parties on the Japanese side have come to the conclusion that they will not be able to enter into Japan at the time of the Olympic and Paralympic Games," said the Tokyo 2020 statement.

"This conclusion will further contribute to ensure safe and secure Games for all participants and the Japanese public."

Slavia Prague president Jaroslav Tvrdik is "terribly ashamed" by ultras who unveiled a racist banner targeting Rangers player Glen Kamara.

Kamara claimed he was racially abused by Ondrej Kudela during Rangers' Europa League defeat to Slavia on Thursday.

Kudela, who covered his mouth with his hand, leaned into Kamara and said something that sparked fury from the Rangers man and a nearby team-mate.

The Czech club have strenuously denied the allegations and issued a statement on Friday defending Kudela, who they allege was subjected to an attack by Kamara after the match.

Slavia also revealed they had filed a criminal complaint against Kamara for the alleged attack.

UEFA has launched an investigation into the respective incidents, including the claimed post-match altercation, which Slavia claim was "prepared and thought out, including deliberately covering the cameras at the scene of the incident".

Images of a group purporting to be Slavia ultras began circulating the day after the game, with the unidentifiable people holding a banner that named Kamara and contained a racial slur.

Tvrdik condemned these actions on his official Twitter page, writing: "I am terribly ashamed of the content of the photo published by some radical fans.

"It's absolutely disgusting, pathetic and racist. NO TO RACISM!"

In Slavia's initial statement defending Kudela, they insisted he was a "football gentleman".

Kamara released a statement of his own via a solicitor on Friday in which he called out Kudela's defence of just swearing at him as "a complete utter lie which does not stand up to any form of scrutiny".

Kyrie Irving is "super excited" at the prospect of having Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin on the same team after the Brooklyn Nets saw a six-match winning streak snapped by the Orlando Magic.

The Nets had lost just once in 15 previous NBA outings before going down 121-113 at the Amway Center on Friday.

Irving scored 43 points and also posted six rebounds and four assists, while James Harden contributed 19 points in the losing effort.

Aaron Gordon had 38 points, six rebounds and four assists, while Evan Fournier drained 31 points and Nikola Vucevic 22 for a Magic side that responded to a loss to the New York Knicks last time out.

Irving said the loss can be a "great learning experience".

"They just got going early and we got down in a hole. And when you're trying to play out of a hole for the rest of the game, obviously when teams are shooting the three — or when a team is shooting the three like they were tonight — it makes it a lot more difficult and you have to be perfect down the stretch," Irving said. 

"But they came in off a back-to-back very desperate, and we didn't match their energy so it kind of happens like that, this is what it feels like to lose. 

"We don't want too many more feelings like this, so just learn from it and move forward, but great learning experience."

The Nets, second in the East, will soon be reinforced by the return of Kevin Durant, who is absent with a hamstring injury, and Griffin, who is yet to play since signing for Brooklyn on March 8.

Griffin has been contending with a left knee issue and Irving is excited by the impact both men can have on the team.

"I am super excited. You know, it's just high-level talent out there," he added.

"So, when you can just prepare for the game and go over the X's and O's, you can look to your left and right and know the guys next to you have your back and you're able to play at a high level offensively and defensively and make an impact, you've got to look forward to that. 

"I look forward to it for sure. And as a competitor wanting to be on the main stage, we want all our guys healthy. 

"Hopefully we can hit a stride at the right time and make a run, but this is great practice ground right now to just get as healthy as we can before stepping into the playoffs soon, very soon."

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