Riyad Mahrez declared Erling Haaland is "on fire" and Pep Guardiola labelled the new Manchester City talisman "an incredible weapon" after the striker scored once more against Southampton.

Joao Cancelo, Phil Foden and Mahrez all struck past former City goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu on Saturday, before Haaland coolly converted in the 65th minute to cap a 4-0 victory.

That marked his 15th Premier League goal in just nine games this season, as many strikes as Kevin De Bruyne managed in the entire last campaign when he finished as City's top league scorer in a championship-winning team.

Mahrez hailed his Norwegian team-mate after Haaland became just the second City player to score in seven successive Premier League appearances, after Sergio Aguero.

"It was a difficult game, we made it easy by scoring early and then we controlled," the Algeria international told BBC Sport.

"We had a lot of chances to score more, but we didn't. We didn't concede much, it was a controlled game.

"Haaland is part of our team, he is our striker. Like any other striker, if we can find him it's perfect because he is on fire. If not, there are a lot of players and everyone can make a difference."

City have now won their last nine home league games, scoring at least three goals each time, and moved to the top-flight summit by overtaking Arsenal, who play Liverpool on Sunday.

Manager Guardiola echoed the sentiments of Mahrez as he credited the exploits of free-scoring Haaland, while he pinpointed the early stages of the title race as significant heading towards the World Cup break in November.

"Last season we suffered a lot against them, but today we were much better," Guardiola told BBC Sport, referring to two league draws last term against Southampton.

"Some players were not at their best, but we create a lot of chances. We were solid.

"For a long time Phil Foden is playing really good. The impact from him is great. Erling Haaland had the chances again. He scored a brilliant goal. It's an incredible weapon for us, a big threat.

"We will see the result from Arsenal and Liverpool, always in Premier League there are good games. Being close to the top of the league is important going into the World Cup."

By contrast, Southampton have failed to keep a clean sheet in their last 19 Premier League away games – the longest current league run and the worst such streak in Saints' history in the competition.

Southampton sit just a point above the relegation zone, leading to increasing speculation that Ralph Hasenhuttl will be dismissed.

"I will not be here next week, because next week we play at home," manager Hasenhuttl said when asked about his future. "It is not my decision to make.

"Since I've come here, and it's been nearly four years now, we have been fighting for results. The problem is not here today, it's from other weeks where we did not get enough points."

Novak Djokovic progressed to the Astana Open final after Daniil Medvedev retired from their last-four clash due to injury.

The two played out a thrilling first two sets, with Medvedev taking the lead before Djokovic fought back to level the match via a tie-break.

However, the Russian was unable to continue after sustaining a leg injury, keeping Djokovic in the hunt for back-to-back titles when he competes in the showpiece, where he will face Stefanos Tsitsipas.

"I really hope that his injury is nothing too serious,” said Djokovic. "I know Daniil, he's a great guy, he's a fighter, he's a big competitor.

"He wouldn't retire a match if he didn't feel that he [could] continue or [if it wouldn't] worsen his injury. He told me that he pulled an adductor muscle in his leg.

"It was such a close match, particularly in the second set. I would probably say he was a better player on the court in both sets. I was fighting and trying to find a way.

"I found a way to win the second, but I'm just sad for the tournament and for these people who were enjoying the battle, and for Daniil that it had to end this way."

Third seed Tsitsipas started slowly in the first set against Andrey Rublev but managed to triumph 4-6 6-4 6-3 in Saturday's other semi-final.

"My mentality kind of changed," said Tsitsipas, who will seek his first ATP 500 title at the ninth attempt. "I played with more of an aggressive game style and didn’t have anything by luck."

At the Japan Open, Taylor Fritz battled back from 3-1 down in the deciding set against Denis Shapovalov to claim a 6-3 6-7 (5-7) 6-3 semi-final victory and book his place in his third ATP Tour final this season.

Third seed Fritz faces an all-American clash in Sunday's final against Frances Tiafoe, who dropped his first set of the week as Soonwoo Kwon bageled him, but the US Open semi-finalist recorded a 6-2 0-6 6-4 win.

"It was a weird match, but I'm happy to get through," said Tiafoe, who progressed into his second final of the season and fifth overall.

"It's not always going to be pretty, it's not always going to be the best stuff, but a win is what matters."

Angel Correa scored twice as Atletico Madrid put a midweek Champions League defeat behind them with a 2-1 win over Girona.

Atleti were beaten 2-0 by surprise package Club Brugge on Tuesday, but they responded with a LaLiga victory at the Civitas Metropolitano four days later

Correa marked his second LaLiga start of the season with an early goal set up by Antoine Griezmann, who played from the off after Barcelona boss Xavi confirmed an agreement had been reached over a permanent move for the France international.

A Juan Carlos howler gifted Correa his second, and although loanee Rodrigo Riquelme pulled a goal back against his parent club, Diego Simeone's side held on for all three points, helped by Jan Oblak's fine goalkeeping.

Griezmann missed a penalty in the defeat at Brugge, but he set about making amends by delivering a pinpoint cross from the left that was converted by Correa at the back post in the fifth minute.

Girona showed a positive response to going behind, Oriol Romeu having a shot blocked by Axel Witsel before Yangel Herrera scooped over the crossbar from inside the penalty area.

Matheus Cunha was denied by Girona goalkeeper Carlos after Griezmann played him in with a clever pass, and Herrera headed just wide at the other end on the stroke of half-time.

Carlos then gifted Correa a second goal with a casual pass that the Argentina forward cut out before applying a simple finish.

Carlos got down well to keep out Nahuel Molina's effort at his near post after a brilliant Yannick Carrasco pass opened up the Girona defence.

Riquelme gave the promoted side a deserved lifeline with a long-range drive midway through the second half.

Girona continued to pose a threat and Oblak superbly tipped a rasping Aleix García drive against the post and denied the same player with another brilliant save, as Atleti held on under late pressure.

Simone Inzaghi believes Inter demonstrated "a great desire to win" after Edin Dzeko's double secured a 2-1 victory over Sassuolo.

Inter, who beat Barcelona in the Champions League on Tuesday, got back to winning ways in Serie A after suffering back-to-back defeats, while they also ended a run of three successive away losses.

At the age of 36 years and 205 days, Dzeko passed the 100-goal mark in the Italian top flight, becoming the third-oldest player to do so after Goran Pandev (37y 268d) and Sergio Pellissier (37y 243d).

Inzaghi hailed the character shown by his players, telling DAZN in his post-match interview: "We saw an Inter that had a lot of desire to win and this overcame physical and mental fatigue.

"The team had a great desire to win, like Tuesday [against Barcelona in the Champions League]. Towards the end, despite the tiredness, we grew technically and this allowed us to win the game."

Inzaghi also highlighted the impact of club captain Samir Handanovic who, despite dropping to the bench to facilitate a Serie A debut for Andre Onana, gave a rousing pre-match speech in the dressing room at the MAPEI Stadium.

"Samir is an added value on the pitch and also off," Inzaghi said. "Only in this way can we move forward. But not only Samir, [everyone] made an important contribution.

"[Andre] played as I expected. A goalkeeper of very important quality and, in two months, he has shown that he can play the place with a great champion like Handanovic."

The big games keep coming for the Nerazzurri, who travel to Camp Nou in midweek for their return fixture against Barca.

"Now, we will have Barcelona, it is a delicate and important moment, with a few rotations especially in attack and in midfield," Inzaghi added. "We have to recover our energy."

Simone Inzaghi believes Inter demonstrated "a great desire to win" after Edin Dzeko's double secured a 2-1 victory over Sassuolo.

Inter, who beat Barcelona in the Champions League on Tuesday, got back to winning ways in Serie A after suffering back-to-back defeats, while they also ended a run of three successive away losses.

At the age of 36 years and 205 days, Dzeko passed the 100-goal mark in the Italian top flight, becoming the third-oldest player to do so after Goran Pandev (37y 268d) and Sergio Pellissier (37y 243d).

Inzaghi hailed the character shown by his players, telling DAZN in his post-match interview: "We saw an Inter that had a lot of desire to win and this overcame physical and mental fatigue.

"The team had a great desire to win, like Tuesday [against Barcelona in the Champions League]. Towards the end, despite the tiredness, we grew technically and this allowed us to win the game."

Inzaghi also highlighted the impact of club captain Samir Handanovic who, despite dropping to the bench to facilitate a Serie A debut for Andre Onana, gave a rousing pre-match speech in the dressing room at the MAPEI Stadium.

"Samir is an added value on the pitch and also off," Inzaghi said. "Only in this way can we move forward. But not only Samir, [everyone] made an important contribution.

"[Andre] played as I expected. A goalkeeper of very important quality and, in two months, he has shown that he can play the place with a great champion like Handanovic."

The big games keep coming for the Nerazzurri, who travel to Camp Nou in midweek for their return fixture against Barca.

"Now, we will have Barcelona, it is a delicate and important moment, with a few rotations especially in attack and in midfield," Inzaghi added. "We have to recover our energy."

Barcelona chief Joan Laporta is not a fan of the original plans for a European Super League, even though his club have stood by the proposal.

Along with 11 other European heavyweights, Barca attempted to form a breakaway competition in April 2021.

However, nine of the 12 teams withdrew due to the unpopularity of the proposals, with UEFA's reaction particularly strong.

The sides nevertheless avoided any meaningful punishment and three clubs – Barca, Real Madrid and Juventus – remain committed to a Super League.

However, Laporta, who succeeded Josep Maria Bartomeu as Barca president in March of last year, does not believe a closed-shop Super League would be the correct way to go.

Indeed, Laporta believes keeping alive the chance of smaller teams winning major competitions is crucial.

"I think that playing between the big clubs would end up tiring," he said in an interview for the Sonora project. 

"Those of us who like football, [it] would end up tiring us. It's nice and healthy that a smaller team beats the big one. 

"You find that a European Championship is won by Greece and it is very nice. And when Leicester [City] won in England it was special. This is football.

"I entered the Super League as Barca's representative with everything already well advanced. My criteria was, leave a closed league, we have to make an open Super League, where there is a meritocracy.

"Another thing that we have to combine is the Super League with the leagues of each country. For me that is very important. I believe in the leagues of each country and for me it would be a mistake for the Super League to replace the leagues."

Laporta believes further tweaks to the Champions League, despite a new 36-team format having already been announced for the 2024-25 season onwards, are required, however.

He explained: "[We] need an improved Champions League, with a very good competition format, which will surely be the most attractive competition in the world.

"But at the same time you have to maintain the [domestic] leagues, this is essential." 

Erling Haaland continued his remarkable scoring run as Manchester City climbed above Arsenal at the Premier League summit after a commanding 4-0 victory over Southampton.

City soon eased into the ascendancy at Etihad Stadium as Joao Cancelo and Manchester derby hat-trick hero Phil Foden struck in a first half where a tepid Southampton offered little.

Riyad Mahrez stretched the advantage after the break before Haaland collected his 15th league goal, as many as Kevin De Bruyne managed when finishing as City's top scorer in the competition last term.

Pep Guardiola's team moved two points clear of Arsenal, who play Liverpool on Sunday, after their ninth straight home win in the league, scoring at least three goals in each of those games.


Former City goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu parried away a fizzing Mahrez half-volley, while Haaland struck the left post after a Foden throughball in a frantic start.

Cancelo broke the deadlock in the 20th minute as he twisted past James Ward-Prowse before drilling a left-footed strike past Bazunu, who then denied Foden on the half-hour mark.

However, there was no stopping Foden shortly after as the England international delicately chipped over the onrushing Bazunu following De Bruyne's pass.

Mahrez volleyed in a third goal from Rodri's lofted cross shortly after half-time, before City had a penalty appeal turned down for what they thought was a Mohammed Salisu pull on Haaland.

Southampton could not keep Haaland quiet for much longer, with their new talisman converting into the bottom-left corner in the 65th minute after Cancelo's cutback.

What does it mean? City dominant as Saints away woes continue

A 6-3 humbling of Manchester United and a 5-0 victory in Europe over Copenhagen were backed up in dominant fashion by City against Southampton, with Guardiola's side showing no signs of relenting.

While a tougher task will follow at Anfield against Liverpool next week, City continue to sweep aside opponents at will as they search for a fifth top-flight crown in the last six seasons.

Meanwhile, Southampton's away struggles persist, and boss Ralph Hasenhuttl is under serious pressure now. They are without a clean sheet in their last 19 Premier League away games – both the longest current run in the league and their worst such streak in the competition.

De Bruyne makes history

De Bruyne has been in incredible form throughout the start of this season and picked up yet another assist after teeing up Foden – the ninth goal the Belgium international has set up in as many Premier League games this season.

The simple throughball for Foden also marked De Bruyne's 94th assist in the Premier League for City, surpassing David Silva for the most goals created for the club in the competition.

Haaland is human

Haaland has taken to life in England with ridiculous ease, scoring 20 goals in 13 games across all competitions and breaking numerous records along the way.

After just nine Premier League games, the striker needs just one more goal to surpass City's top scorer last season, De Bruyne, which is frankly astonishing.

He missed a few chances here, though, and looked on in disbelief when his shot that rattled the left post did not bounce into the net off the upright.

What's next?

City head to Copenhagen to play in the Champions League on Tuesday, before the crunch clash at Liverpool arrives next Sunday, when Southampton host West Ham.

Goals from Kai Havertz, Christian Pulisic and Armando Broja gave Chelsea a 3-0 win over Wolves at Stamford Bridge in Graham Potter's first home league match in charge.

A much-changed Chelsea dominated the opening 45 minutes and took the lead in first-half injury time when Havertz nodded home Mason Mount's cross.

Mount then had a big hand in the second, playing in Pulisic to dink over Jose Sa, before substitute Broja raced through to add a late third as Chelsea beat Wolves for the first time in four attempts.

The Blues move up to fourth as Potter earns an important first home league victory after making seven changes.

The hosts started brightly with Conor Gallagher and Havertz both going close in the early minutes, though Daniel Podence headed just wide at the other end.

Jorginho saw a low drive parried away by Sa, while Mount dragged a shot left of the target as Chelsea pressed for an early goal.

Joao Moutinho tested Kepa Arrizabalaga with a powerful free-kick, before Sa made a brilliant save to tip a Pulisic curler wide at full stretch.

But Wolves' resistance was broken in first-half injury time as Havertz looped a sublime header into the far corner from Mount's driven cross from the right.

The visitors enjoyed a much better spell after the interval, but fell further behind when Pulisic and Mount combined before the former delicately finished to make it 2-0.

Havertz could have added a third shortly after, but his chip was pushed away by Sa before Hwang Hee-chan missed a golden opportunity to pull a goal back as he fired straight at Arrizabalaga.

Broja rounded off the scoring in the dying minutes, cutting onto his right foot before firing a delightful finish into the bottom corner to cap a brilliant Chelsea display.

Max Verstappen believes he needs a "perfect race" to secure victory at the Japanese Grand Prix and with it a second successive Formula One world title, despite qualifying on pole.

Verstappen holds a 96-point lead in the drivers' championship as what once looked like being a fascinating battle with Ferrari's Charles Leclerc has instead turned into a procession.

The Red Bull driver's retention of the title he wrested from Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton last season is now an inevitability.

It is matter of when and not if Verstappen wins the drivers' championship, and he put himself in the box seat to do it at Suzuka by claiming pole for a race being held for the first time since 2019, the coronavirus pandemic having seen the 2020 and 2021 races cancelled.

He set a time of one minute and 29.304 seconds and avoided a grid penalty following an investigation into a Q3 near-miss with McLaren's Lando Norris.

But Verstappen refuses to get complacent even with a second title in touching distance. A win and the fastest lap bonus point will seal the championship and Verstappen would also clinch it if he wins without the fastest lap and Leclerc finishes lower than second.

"I'm not thinking about it too much. What was most important was we had a competitive car," said Verstappen. 

"We had that in qualifying and I hope it will be the same in the race because we do need a perfect race to win it. But at least it is a good start."

The weather could dampen Verstappen's hopes of a title party on Sunday, with rain forecast at the end of a weekend that saw Friday's running in practice washed out.

"We're going a little bit into the unknown," said Leclerc as he looks to extend the one-sided title fight to the United States Grand Prix after finishing 0.010 seconds behind Verstappen.

"But it looks like the conditions are also a little bit unpredictable. We don't really know whether it is going to rain or not, or maybe both. We will see."

While the conditions may be tough to judge, it is fair to say Mercedes are unlikely to compete for the win unless inclement weather arrives.

Hamilton qualified sixth while George Russell was down in eighth, the latter over a second off Verstappen's pace.

"The Red Bull is still quicker on the straight with no DRS than we are with DRS," Hamilton said. 

"Rain opens up more opportunity. It could be not the most exciting race if it's dry, at least not for us."

The Green Bay Packers have been one of the most consistent teams in the NFL under the leadership of Matt LaFleur.

As a head coach, LaFleur has compiled a 42-11 regular-season record, winning three NFC North titles and guiding the Packers to the NFC Championship Game in two of his three campaigns in charges.

Yet the failure that has contributed to their inability to get to the Super Bowl during LaFleur's tenure has also been consistent.

In the NFC Championship Game at the end of the 2019 season, the Packers were gashed on the ground by Raheem Mostert and the San Francisco 49ers in a 37-20 blowout.

Mostert racked up 220 rushing yards and four touchdowns in a remarkable display, and a year later as the Packers hosted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lambeau Field at the same stage, they suffered a similar if less statistically dramatic downfall.

Leonard Fournette only had 55 yards rushing in the Buccaneers' 31-26 win, but he had a 20-yard score in the second quarter that gave Tampa Bay a lead they never relinquished, and he averaged four yards after contact, again illustrating the Packers' struggles to stop the run.

The offense and special teams were more at fault last season as the 49ers beat the Packers at Lambeau in the Divisional Round, but a nine-yard run from Deebo Samuel gave the Niners a key third-down conversion on their game-winning drive.

When the Packers have needed to stop the run in critical games, they have come up short, and the signs of that problem being fixed in 2022 are not good.

The Packers are allowing at least four yards on 57.8 per cent of carries by their opponents, the highest rate in the NFL, and giving up 4.91 yards per rush on first down. Green Bay's rush average allowed of 4.97 yards per carry is the 11th-worst in the NFL.

Three of the Packers' first four games have seen them surrender over 100 yards rushing, conceding 167 in allowing a poor New England Patriots team to take them to overtime.

Green Bay's issue is not getting into the backfield, as the Packers rank eighth in run disruption rate, according to Stats Perform data.

So why are the Packers still having issues stopping the run? The short answer is tackling.

Their tackle success rate of 73.6 per cent is tied for the fifth-worst in the NFL, with their problems coming chiefly on the left side of their defense. Left inside linebacker De'Vondre Campbell has missed four tackles and seen a further two broken, while edge rusher Preston Smith – listed as the starting outside backer on the left side – has also had a pair of tackles broken.

It is certainly not fair to pin all the Packers' run defense struggles on Campbell, but it is clear they are not doing enough as a collective to bring ball-carriers down if they evade the disruption Green Bay creates in the backfield.

This week the Packers face the New York Giants in London and meet a running back in Saquon Barkley who is doing an excellent job of racking up yardage on plays where the defense generates a run disruption.

Indeed, Barkley, the NFL's rushing leader through four weeks, is averaging 3.54 yards per carry when faced with a run disruption, above the average of 3.02.

However, his yards after contact per attempt average of 1.96 yards is below the average of 2.01. So while he might be able to evade defenders who get behind the line of scrimmage, tackle-breaking runs from the 2018 second overall pick should be at a premium.

In that sense, he is something of a test case for the Packers. Green Bay has poured plenty of resources into the problems stopping the run but, if Barkley enjoys significant success fighting through contact at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, it could be a sign that run defense and, more specifically, tackling is an issue that could doom a Super Bowl-ready team once more and require more targeted attention next offseason.

Barcelona coach Xavi believes the club and Atletico Madrid have reached an agreement for the permanent transfer of Antoine Griezmann to Los Colchoneros.

Reports emerged earlier this week suggesting the two LaLiga giants had struck a €19.9million deal for the Frenchman, who is on loan at Atletico from Barca.

Griezmann made his return to Atletico on an initial temporary deal last year, with the two-year agreement set to become a permanent move for a reported €40m in 2023 if a specific clause was met.

The clause required Griezmann to play at least 30 minutes – not including stoppage time – in a percentage of Atletico's matches, though the exact proportion is unclear as some media outlets claim it is over 80 per cent and others suggest it is around 50 per cent.

Nevertheless, Atletico coach Diego Simeone had been carefully managing Griezmann's minutes seemingly to avoid triggering the €40m clause – the Frenchman has completed two full LaLiga games this term, and in his other six appearances he featured for no more than 30 minutes each time.

Atletico's tactics appears to have succeeded in getting Griezmann's price reduced considerably, with Xavi revealing an agreement was in place.

"The club tells me that they have reached an agreement, but it is not official," he told reporters on Saturday.

"If there is an agreement, all parties are happy. I wish the player the best."

Griezmann controversially joined Barca from Atletico in 2019 when the Blaugrana triggered his €120m release clause.

But in two full LaLiga campaigns at Camp Nou, Griezmann struggled to rediscover the form that attracted Barca to him in the first place, scoring 22 goals in 71 league games – he netted as many times in a single season on two separate occasions for Atletico in the past.

Although he was even less productive in front of goal upon his return to Atletico, scoring just three in 26 league outings last term, Simeone remains a strong advocate for the 31-year-old.

Edin Dzeko took his tally of Serie A goals past 100 as Inter edged out Sassuolo 2-1 at the MAPEI Stadium on Saturday.

The 36-year-old became the third-oldest player to reach a century in the Italian top light when he broke the deadlock in the 44th minute with only his second strike of the season.

Davide Frattesi's 60th-minute volley brought the hosts level, but Dzeko grabbed the winner and his 101st in the division when he headed home Henrikh Mkhitaryan's cross 15 minutes from time.

Simone Inzaghi's side are back to winning ways in Serie A following back-to-back defeats, while also ending a three-game losing streak on the road.

Sassuolo went close to opening the scoring in the fourth minute when Frattesi was denied from tight angle while Armand Lauriente's follow-up was blocked by face of Nicolo Barella, who was subsequently cleared to continue.

A scorer in two of the last three meetings between the sides, Lautaro Martinez squandered a brilliant opportunity to break the deadlock 10 minutes later. Denzel Dumfries capitalised on sloppy possession by the hosts before crossing for the sliding Argentina international, who somehow steered wide from six yards out.

Inter broke through just before half-time as Dumfries flicked on a corner and Dzeko volleyed home from close range.

The hosts equalised on the hour mark when Rogerio's deep cross was met on the volley by Frattesi in the six-yard box.

However, the visitors regained the lead with a quarter of an hour remaining. Moments after Andrea Consigli had produced stunning reflexes to deny Martinez, the goalkeeper was powerless as Dzeko headed home Mkhitaryan's delivery to snatch all three points.

Most assumed after Kevin Durant left the Golden State Warriors in 2019 that their time atop the NBA mountain had come to an end.

There appeared to be significant evidence to support that school of thought when the Warriors spent the 2019-20 in the cellar as Stephen Curry joined Klay Thompson in being sidelined through injury, and an Achilles injury suffered by the latter helped leave Golden State ill-equipped to compete in 2020-21.

But after a season in which the Warriors meshed championship experience and difference-making youth, Golden State heads into the 2022-23 campaign back at the summit having seen off the Boston Celtics in six games in last term's NBA Finals.

Curry added the missing component of his Hall of Fame resume, winning Finals MVP for the first time in his illustrious career, and he and the Warriors are the bookmakers' favourites to lift the Larry O'Brien Trophy for the fifth time in nine seasons.

Yet their build-up to the new campaign is a reminder of the many obstacles, including internal ones, that can scupper hopes of sustained success, with Thompson held out of exhibition games in his first preseason since 2018-19 and an altercation between Draymond Green and Jordan Poole in which the former punched his young team-mate, overshadowing Golden State's preparations for a push for a second successive title.

It is an extremely difficult situation to navigate with both Green and Poole looking to receive lucrative contract extensions, and whether the Warriors can overcome the discord between two key players will play a huge role in their ability to successfully defend their crown, but what will be the other key factors, and who will be their primary competition? Stats Perform looks at the Warriors' odds of fending off their rivals and improving their standing among the best dynasties in NBA history.

Staying strong on defense

Though Curry was the obvious centrepiece of the Warriors' championship push, they would not have regained the title without the defensive strength displayed throughout the campaign.

Golden State allowed 105.5 points per game, the third-fewest in the NBA, with opponents shooting just 43.8 per cent against them from the field. Only the Celtics (43.4 per cent) fared better in that regard.

Though those numbers ballooned to 111.9 points per game and a field goal percentage of 48 in the postseason overall, the Warriors' Finals performance was in part defined by four stellar defensive performances.

Indeed, in each of their four Finals wins, the Warriors did not allow the Celtics to score 100 points. Boston's average points total across those games was 92.25. For context, the lowest points per game total in the regular season was the Oklahoma City Thunder's 103.7.

Though his standing is likely at an all-time low after the incident with Poole, Green is still the heartbeat of the defense. His defensive rating of 102.8 was the sixth-best among players to have featured in at least 50 regular-season games last season.

Green never lacks for motivation, but the fact he does not have an extension from Golden State and likely lost a lot of leverage after his fight with Poole may add even more fuel to his eternal fire. Andrew Wiggins (defensive rating - 105.4), whose defense on Jayson Tatum in the Finals drew effusive praise will also be key to the Warriors' success to containing opponents, while Kevon Looney (107.2) and returning veteran Andre Iguodala (97 in 31 games) will be tasked with providing crucial support on the defensive end.

Yet with Gary Payton II (102.2) and Otto Porter Jr. (103.2) departing for pastures new in free agency, the Warriors must replace the impact they had off the bench if they are to remain one of the NBA's premier defensive teams. While the Warriors made a free-agent addition with their defense in mind, there will be a significant onus on recent high-profile draft selections to have a consistent influence on that end of the floor.

The kids are (hopefully) alright

The Warriors did move to address the departures of Payton and Porter by signing Donte DiVincenzo, a member of the Milwaukee Bucks' championship-winning team whose defensive rating of 108.9 since entering the NBA in 2018 is tied for 43rd among players to have featured in at least 200 games in that span.

But the Warriors will also have been comfortable letting Payton and Porter walk because of the faith they have in recent draft picks to contribute on the defensive end.

Jonathan Kuminga finished his rookie year level with Payton for rebounds per 48 minutes with 9.5, and he was fourth on the team with 7.3 defensive boards every 48 minutes. The Warriors will look for him to use his exciting athleticism to harness that same efficiency over a higher number of minutes in 2022-23.

Moses Moody, the second of the Warriors' two 2021 first-rounders, had five defensive rebounds per 48 minutes and is seen as a player who could thrive as a three-and-d player at the highest level.

The three-ball provided significant joy for rookie Patrick Baldwin Jr. in the Warriors' second of two games with the Washington Wizards in Japan, in which he went four of five from deep. Any first-year success for Baldwin would be a luxury for Golden State. By contrast, they will likely view third-year strides from former second overall pick James Wiseman as a necessity.

Wiseman did not feature in the Warriors' championship campaign due to setbacks in his recovery from the torn meniscus that ended his rookie year. He has played only 39 games in the NBA having featured in just three in college, but the flashes he produced in his first year and in this year's Summer League provided evidence he can blossom into a dynamic center at both ends of the court for a team that has long since lacked a definitive answer at the 5 spot.

The Warriors do not lack answers in the frontcourt. The question they face this season is how they will divide the minutes of the three players who produced pivotal play at guard last campaign.

Stick with the Splash Brothers or go to the Poole party?

The Splash Brothers finally reunited last season as Thompson made his long awaited return from injury after over two years on the sideline.

By the time he made his comeback, the Warriors already had a 29-9 record, with their success in large part down to the combination Curry had formed with Poole, the Warriors' 2019 first-round pick who blossomed into a key part of their rotation.

Poole averaged 30 minutes a game in his third season and a career-high 18.5 points per game despite giving his starting role back to Thompson.

Across a much smaller sample size of 32 games compared to Poole's 76, Thompson averaged 20.4 points in his comeback season, though there is a case to be made the Warriors were more effective with Poole on the court.

Poole had a plus-minus per game of 4.3 to Thompson's 2.1 and had a marginally better field goal percentage. Thompson shot 42.9 per cent from the field while Poole converted on 44.8 per cent of field goal attempts. 

As Thompson went cold in the NBA Finals, shooting at a 35.6 per cent clip, Poole shot 43.5 per cent against the Celtics and rattled through half of his field goal attempts in the postseason overall.

It is too early, though, to make the judgement that Thompson's best days are behind him and head coach Steve Kerr should lean more towards the energetic Poole. The challenge for Kerr is to find balance between relying on the spot-up ability of arguably the best catch-and-shoot player of the modern era and the young spark-plug with a well-rounded offensive game who can produce dazzling finishes at the basket and confound defenses with deep shooting.


Even if Kerr, who has suggested Thompson could play power forward this season, initially struggles to find that balance, it is unlikely to stop the Warriors from thriving, so long as Curry is available to Golden State. Curry's plus-minus per game of 7.9 was the second-best in the NBA last campaign, one that ended with him silencing any critics questioning his resume by averaging 31.2 points per game in the six games with the Celtics to win his first Finals MVP award.

The need for the right mix of Curry, Thompson and Poole will come if the former endures a drop-off, but having three players of their talents allows Kerr to be more experimental in the regular season and better preserve the two-time MVP for the postseason, when those looking to dethrone the Warriors will face the substantial challenge of trying to stymie his enduring brilliance.

West rivals flawed, but Bucks could set up mouth-watering Finals

The Warriors aren't short of challengers blessed with star power in the Western Conference, but it's tough to pick out many who have an overall roster that looks as strong as the one Kerr has as its disposal.

While the Phoenix Suns have an established but still youthful core that could allow them to push the Warriors, they are coming off an extremely chaotic offseason and will again be relying on 38-year-old Chris Paul as creator-in-chief. Curry's history of success against the 'Point God' suggests that is a matchup stacked firmly in Golden State's favour.

By contrast, Kawhi Leonard has consistently been a thorn in the side of the Warriors and he and Paul George will hope to lead a success-starved Los Angeles Clippers franchise to glory. However, such hopes rely on Leonard returning to his best in the wake of a long lay-off with a partially torn ACL. Similarly, the Denver Nuggets have the back-to-back MVP in Nikola Jokic, but his support comes from players in Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. who are both returning from long spells on the sideline. Without that pair, the Warriors breezed to a 4-1 first-round win over the Nuggets last season.

That was also the margin in the Western Conference Finals as the Warriors beat Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks. Simply put, the Slovenian superstar did not have enough around him, especially on defense, for the Mavs to compete with Golden State, and the Memphis Grizzlies were ill-equipped to upset the Warriors once Ja Morant went out with a knee injury in the previous round.

The problem is the same for so many teams in the West, who do not have the depth to beat the Warriors over seven games. The Los Angeles Lakers possess a star-studded lineup with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook on the roster, but Darvin Ham has too many problems to fix surrounding their chemistry and even getting that trio on the court at the same time for the Lakers to be considered a legitimate threat to Golden State at this stage.

It is in the Eastern Conference where the teams that have the best shot of dethroning the Warriors reside. For all the drama in Brooklyn, the combination of Durant, Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons is still one that could deliver a title if their respective talents can be harnessed by Steve Nash, and former Net James Harden and Joel Embiid offer the Philadelphia 76ers a duo that could deliver a long-awaited championship.

Erik Spoelstra's coaching, Jimmy Butler's frequently tireless performances and the well-rounded nature of their roster makes the Miami Heat a tough team to rule out but, in terms of top-end talent and depth, it is the Celtics and the non-Miami team they beat in seven games last season, the Milwaukee Bucks, who stand as the Warriors' biggest threats.

The Celtics' offseason was overshadowed by the scandal surrounding suspended head coach Ime Udoka, but they are led by two stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown who are both 25 or under and should be better for the experience of losing in the Finals.

Yet the argument could be made the Celtics never would have got beyond the second round had the Bucks had Khris Middleton available for Game 7.

Giannis Antetokounmpo's athleticism, length and all-round skill set still makes him the most physically fearsome player in the NBA and, when both Middleton and Jrue Holiday are healthy, the Bucks have a big three to rival any team in scoring, facilitation and defense.

Milwaukee had eight players average at least nine points last year and seven are still on the team. Plenty can and will change over the course of a long season but, heading into a year in which everyone will be desperate to knock them off, the team most likely to prevent the Warriors from retaining the trophy is the team that lifted it before them.

Eugenio Lopez-Chacarra will take a five-stroke lead into the final round at LIV Golf Bangkok after ending a brilliant second day in Thailand at 16 under par.

Lopez-Chacarra was one of a leading trio on seven under after the first round, but Richard Bland was unable to keep up with the Spaniard and Branden Grace withdrew after just three holes on Saturday due to an acute muscle strain.

Bland is one of four five shots off the lead with Sihwan Kim, Patrick Reed and Harold Varner III – while they may not be completely out of the running yet, the chasing pack need Lopez-Chacarra to lose momentum.

If his form from the first two rounds is anything to go by, there is little hope of such a collapse, with no one in the field bettering his respective scores of 65 and 63.

Saturday's 63 was nine under par as the 22-year-old – who was a high-ranked amateur before joining LIV Golf in June – carded seven birdies and an eagle, which was holed from the sand on six, and avoided a single bogey.

Those trailing Lopez-Chacarra will be hoping the Madrid native's inexperience leads to a blip on Sunday.

Four-time major winner Brooks Koepka is one of those who will aim to propel himself into contention as he sits on 10 under for the tournament, though victory will require something special.

Few other big names retain much of a chance of glory, however, with Bryson DeChambeau at seven under and Phil Mickelson another shot back.

Sergio Garcia and Dustin Johnson are among a group on four under, while 2022 Open Championship winner Cameron Smith is way down near the bottom of the standings at two under.

If Lopez-Chacarra can hold his nerve on Sunday, he will have gone from amateur golfer to winner of a $4million purse within four months.

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