Major glory awaits for one man at Kiawah Island on Sunday, when the winner of the US PGA Championship will be confirmed.

With such a stacked field it is hard to pick out the most likely victor, but that has not stopped Stats Peform's team of expert writers from having a go.

Last year it was Collin Morikawa who prevailed, snapping American compatriot Brooks Koepka's run of consecutive wins.

Who will it be this time?

IT'S OFFICIAL, RORY IS BACK! – Peter Hanson

Okay, I'm officially calling it – Rory McIlroy is back! At the back end of 2019 and the start of 2020, the Northern Irishman was flying. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit. Then there were some questionable decisions to start trying to match the bombs Bryson DeChambeau can nail off the tee. Then there were some ugly results – including missed cuts at the Players Championship and the Masters. But forget all that, McIlroy – just six weeks on from starting work with renowned coach Pete Cowen – was back in the winners' circle at Quail Hollow last weekend, his first title since November 2019. A McIlroy in full swagger is a joy for any golf fan, and crucially he knows how to get it done at Kiawah Island having won the first of his two PGA Championship titles at the South Carolina course back in 2012 – doing so by eight strokes, a record for the tournament. It's time for Rory to finally get that fifth major.

SCHAUFFELE HAS GOT THIS ONE – Russell Greaves

If you have this notion that Xander Schauffele always seems to be in contention at the majors, it's because he is. His tie for third at the Masters this year represented an eighth top-10 finish at a major for Schauffele, with two of those coming at the US PGA. His record is one of remarkable consistency, with only one missed cut across 14 entries in the sport's four headline events. Schauffele is one of the most adaptable players out there, as evidenced by his PGA Tour-leading sand save percentage of 69.35. At just 27, it seems inevitable he will eventually clinch a title at one of those quartet of tournaments.

HIDEKI WILL DOUBLE UP – Ben Spratt

Hideki Matsuyama had been waiting a long time for his breakthrough triumph at Augusta last month, with seven top-10 finishes at majors without reaching the winner's circle before that Masters victory. "It was a relief, really," he said last week. But having got that monkey off his back and shown he is good enough in his approach play that a poor putting game need not be a hindrance, Matsuyama can no longer be written off so easily. The Japanese will be heading to Kiawah Island full of confidence and ready to win. A second straight success would really lay down a marker.

IT'S RAHM TIME – John Skilbeck 

Sooner or later, or so goes the theory, Jon Rahm will win a major. Let's tilt towards sooner then, because Rahm is top of the PGA Tour's ball-striking chart this season, fourth in terms of finding greens in regulation and top 20 in average driving distance and scoring average. On a course set to measure over 7,800 yards, those ingredients in his game look more than useful, but Rahm will need to putt well too and that is not a given. He is down in a share of 192nd for putts per round this season, so needs to get something going with the short stick. He is developing a reputation as a Masters specialist, with four successive top-10 finishes at Augusta, and the Kiawah Island conditions will be a world away from those in Georgia. But this breakthrough at a major is going to happen sooner or later, isn't it?

RAHM'S THE ONE FOR ME – Chris Myson 

Aside from a tie for fourth at the 2018 US PGA Championship, Rahm has not made a huge impact at this event. But he is rightly among the favourites for victory this week on the back of his tie for fifth place at the Masters and his continued consistency on the PGA Tour. With six top-10 finishes to his name at major championships, Rahm has proven he can get himself into contention at the biggest events. And he comes into the latest major in form. While the world number three is yet to win this year, he has missed the cut just once in 10 events. Rahm says the recent birth of his son Kepa has helped to take the pressure off his pursuit of a first major, an occasion which is surely not far away.

Egan Bernal extended his lead in the Giro d'Italia as Mauro Schmid claimed a stage victory on his race debut.

The gravel roads that highlighted stage 11, an arduous 162-kilometre ride from Perugia to Montalcino, always promised to provide a stern challenge.

But it was one that maglia rosa holder Bernal (INEOS Grenadiers) overcame in style, as his attack on the final climb saw him extend his lead from 14 seconds to 45.

Deceuninck–Quick-Step's Remco Evenepoel, who had been in second, lost over two minutes as his hopes of contending in the general classification were dealt a significant blow.

Further forward, it was Schmid (Qhubeka Assos) and Alessandro Covi (UAE Team Emirates) who were the last men standing from the breakaway.

And it was Schmid who had the most left in the tank of the two debutants over the final few metres after a dramatic and elongated sprint to the line.

However, his victory will be overshadowed by the exploits of the phenomenal Bernal who, along with Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), finished just over three minutes behind the stage winner.

The Colombian now has a firm grip on the pink jersey and, though there are still 10 stages to go, stands as the firm favourite to win the second Grand Tour of his career.

Lando Norris has signed a contract extension with McLaren that will keep him with the team for the 2022 Formula One season and beyond.

The British driver has been with McLaren since 2017, initially joining as a test and simulator driver before getting a seat on the grid two years ago.

Norris made his F1 debut at the 2019 Australian Grand Prix and went on to end his maiden season with 49 points.

He improved to 97 points in 2020 – aided by claiming his first podium finish in Austria - and already has 41 to his name this year after four races, including taking third place at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

"I'm really pleased to have extended my relationship with McLaren from 2022," Norris said.

"Having been with the team for almost five years, I feel very much part of the family here and I couldn’t imagine starting the next phase of my career anywhere else.

"McLaren has been a huge support since my days in junior series and I’ve really enjoyed learning and developing as a driver since."

Norris sits fourth in the championship standings having outperformed team-mate Daniel Ricciardo so far, though his ambitions stretch further than simply being the top performer for McLaren.

"My commitment to McLaren is clear: my goal is to win races and become Formula 1 world champion and I want to do that with this team," the 21-year-old added.

"Since joining in 2017 our progression has been consistent and we have clear ambitions together for the future."

McLaren CEO Zak Brown described Norris as "one of the brightest talents" in the sport, making it a major boost for the team to have him tied up on a multi-year deal.

"I'm delighted with the extension of our agreement with Lando for 2022 and beyond," Brown said.

"He's been instrumental in our return of form here at McLaren and we're proud of the growth he's shown since he first started with us back in 2017.

"Lando is one of the brightest talents on the Formula 1 grid and we look forward to seeing him continue to go from strength-to-strength both on and off track."

Five years ago, Stephen Curry made history by being named the first unanimous MVP in NBA history.

With his phenomenal shooting range and deadly accuracy from beyond the arc, Curry fuelled the greatest NBA regular season ever as the Golden State Warriors went 73-9 in the 2015-16 campaign.

Curry joined the select group of players in the 50-40-90 club and became the first person to do so while averaging over 30 points a game. 

It was a year that Curry seemed unlikely to ever top and certainly not in 2020-21, a season that followed a 2019-20 campaign essentially lost to a hand injury and one in which he did not have the benefit of playing with Kevin Durant or the injured Klay Thompson, with the core of the Warriors' dynasty that dominated the league largely gone.

Instead, this was supposed to be the year in which the rest of the NBA exacted a measure of revenge on Curry for torching them so devastatingly and so often.

Yet Curry, like all the greats, takes tremendous joy in subverting expectations, and he has done that to remarkable effect, surpassing his career-high average of 30.1 points per game from 2015-16 by racking up an incredible 32 per game to win the scoring title. The only other player to do so after turning 33 is Michael Jordan.

His consistently talismanic displays have pushed a Warriors team that would otherwise be watching the postseason from home into a mouth-watering play-in game with LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. Even if the Warriors lose, they will have another chance to reach the first round with victory over the Memphis Grizzlies or San Antonio Spurs.

Despite his remarkable efforts in extending the Warriors' season, Curry will almost certainly not win the MVP award for the third time, with Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic an apparent lock to claim the honour.

But, after a year in which Curry shattered record after record, there is no doubt he is deserving of receiving the Maurice Podoloff Trophy once again.

 

A history-making year

Curry's scoring title, which he held off Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards to claim, was the crowning achievement of a regular season that saw him write a host of new pages into an NBA record book in which he already dominates several chapters.

He set a league record with 5.3 three-pointers made per game in what was his third season averaging at least 5.0, no other player in NBA history has achieved that feat once.

Curry racked up seven games with 40 or more points and at least 10 threes in 2020-21, his status as the greatest shooter and one of the greatest scorers of all-time illustrated by the fact no other NBA player has more than three such games in their entire career.

Excluding rookies, he is the first player in NBA history to average 30 points per game having played fewer than 10 games in the previous season, with Curry breaking new ground at a time when many athletes begin to see signs of their bodies breaking down.

Indeed, Curry became the first player to have three 50-point games in a season at age 32 or older, while his points per game average was the highest in league history by a player of that age.

And, in a season where the late Kobe Bryant was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame, it was only fitting that Curry emulated The Black Mamba. His performance in the January 3 against the Portland Trail Blazers, in which he exploded for 62 points, saw Curry join Bryant in becoming only the second player to score 18-plus points on three-pointers, two-pointers and free throws, Kobe doing so in his 81-point display on January 22, 2006.

As Bryant did so often during his career, Curry continues to find ways to set new boundaries for what is possible on an NBA court and, in 2020-21, he has done so while clearly elevating the play of a supporting cast well below the standard he has gotten used to in the Bay Area.

The impact of Curry's 'gravity'

To say that Curry makes the Warriors better is taking stating the obvious to the extreme, but not since the pre-Durant era has his influence been more readily apparent than a season in which he battled a tailbone injury and missed nine games over the course of the campaign.

The Warriors averaged 112.8 points per 100 possessions with Curry on the court compared to 101.9 when he was off the floor. Their field goal percentage improved from 44.1 per cent to 48.4 with Curry in action while their three-point success jumped from 36.1 to 38.3.

Golden State's effective field goal percentage was 57.1 per cent when Curry played, up from 51.6 when he was absent, and he also improved the Warriors' ability to facilitate.

Their assists per 100 possessions jumped from 24.4 without Curry to 27.6, with the difference in point differential painting a clear picture of his overall impact.

The Warriors' point differential per 100 possessions without Curry was minus 4.5. When he did play, it was plus 4.3.

In other words, in the regular season, Curry was worth 8.8 points per 100 possessions to the Warriors, who benefited from several players raising their games with him on the court.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the player most positively affected by Curry's presence was Draymond Green. With Thompson suffering rotten injury luck, Curry and Green are the remaining pillars of the Warriors' original big three and their chemistry remains excellent.

This regular season, Green averaged 10.8 points, 10.2 rebounds, 13.2 assists and 2.5 steals per 100 possessions with Curry on the court. Without him, those numbers dipped to 5.5 points, 11.3 rebounds, 10.3 assists and 1.7 steals.

Andrew Wiggins averaged more points (30.4 to 23.6) per 100 possessions when Curry was out, a fact owing to the increased opportunities he gets when No. 30 is unavailable. However, Curry's presence made Wiggins a more efficient shooter.

Wiggins was good on 48.8 per cent of his attempts from the field with Curry compared to 45.9 without him. It was a similar tale with Kelly Oubre Jr, whom the Warriors hope to get back should they make it through the play-in tournament, as Oubre connected on 44.7 per cent of field goals when playing with Curry versus 42.4 the rest of the time.

That increased efficiency is likely a product of Curry's gravity - the extra attention he draws from defenders because of his threat from well beyond the three-point line that creates space for his team-mates.

Unfortunately, the biggest beneficiary of that gravity, center James Wiseman, won't be available in the postseason. A meniscus injury ended the second overall pick's season but the difference Curry made to his game was obvious.

Wiseman had 25.3 points per 100 possessions with Curry and 22.3 when he was missing. His field goal percentage (56.0 to 44.9) and three-point percentage (38.1 to 23.5) were also substantially better when Curry played.

The rookie experienced a similar jump in fast break points, which improved to 3.2 from 0.9 per 100, while he was significantly more effective near the rim with Curry commanding defenses' attention as Wiseman produced more points in the paint (17.9 to 13 per 100) and second-chance points (3.1 to 1.9.)

Curry has made a career out of making opposing big men look silly. Now, after seeing his evident influence on the Warriors' center curtailed, he will likely have to watch another of the game's giants take the top individual prize despite his own stupendous exploits.

Chef Curry vs. The Joker

Jokic has certainly done enough to merit being a frontrunner for MVP. The regular season saw him shoot 56.6 per cent from the field, 38.8 per cent from beyond the arc and 86.8 per cent from the free-throw line.

No player with at least 30 field goals in a season in NBA history can claim to have topped Jokic in all three of those measures.

Finishing the year with a minutes total of 2,488 that only New York Knicks duo Julius Randle and RJ Barrett topped, Jokic's points, assists and rebounds average of 45.5 per game was the joint-best mark in the NBA alongside Russell Westbrook.

Yet Curry was close behind in fifth with 43.2, with his success in making the disparity between him and Jokic relatively meagre an impressive feat given the advantage the seven-foot Serb has in terms of rebounding.

Curry played nine fewer games than Jokic and, while their minutes per game were comparable (Curry 34.2 and Jokic 34.6), there was a vast difference in points totals.

Jokic finished with 26.4 per game, well adrift of Curry's league-leading mark of 32, which was the most in a season in NBA history by a player averaging fewer than 35.0 minutes per game.

The edge in terms of all-round impact goes to Jokic, but Curry has arguably outstripped a season that ended with him taking every first-place MVP vote in a year where rust and a lack of weapons around him had led some to expect a year of comparative struggle.

This was a season in which Curry unexpectedly redefined what is possible and dragged the Warriors to the cusp of a first-round playoff berth. Jokic's role as chief architect for a Nuggets team much better placed to contend is worthy of the acclaim he has received but, after Curry's stunning show of endurance and consistency in producing the spectacular to keep the Warriors in the running, it should not be a one-horse race for MVP.

Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes have all the momentum heading into the iconic Monaco Grand Prix this week.

Despite Red Bull starting the 2021 Formula One season with the fastest car, Hamilton has produced a spectacular start and holds a 14-point lead over Max Verstappen in the drivers' standings.

The seven-time world champion has won three of the first four races and battled back to finish second at Imola in the only grand prix he did not win, making a fantastic recovery after crashing.

Verstappen has made him work hard for those successes, but more is needed from Valtteri Bottas as questions continue over his future with the team. He is yet to record a top-two finish and Hamilton already has double his points total.

Rivals to Hamilton will hope the unpredictability of Monaco will boost their hopes to challenge. Three different teams have won the last three races here, Ferrari in 2017, Red Bull in 2018 and Mercedes with Hamilton last time out in 2019.

Red Bull are expected to be strong here and the team are 18 points away from making this circuit the one where they have collected the most points in their F1 history.

Monaco is the shortest circuit (3.34km) on the calendar and therefore is the grand prix with the highest number of laps (78).

LAST TIME OUT

Hamilton continued his dominance of the Spanish Grand Prix with a record-equalling sixth victory at the Barcelona circuit as Mercedes' two-stop strategy worked a treat.

Verstappen passed Hamilton on Turn One in a dream start for Red Bull after the defending champion had been on pole for the 100th time.

But Hamilton was not to be denied a fifth consecutive win at the race, pitting first and later passing Verstappen on fresher tyres in lap 60 of 66 in another masterclass from the Briton.

Verstappen – who got the fastest lap - had been kept out at the front and was unable to hold out, having to settle for second place ahead of Bottas.

Charles Leclerc was fourth ahead of the Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull.
 

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR IN MONACO

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff believes Red Bull are the team to beat this week, even though Hamilton held off Verstappen in a thrilling 2019 duel in Monte Carlo.

He feels the high-downforce track plays to Red Bull's strengths and thinks data from the last sector of the race in Spain – which showed their rivals were strong – will prove an accurate indicator of Monaco pace.

Wolff also defended Bottas, insisting bad luck and slow starts were the only reason for his disappointing results.

Despite the season being four races old, he is regularly having to rebuff speculation about Mercedes moving on from the Finn.

Sergio Perez, meanwhile, is not under that level of scrutiny for Red Bull yet, but is still waiting for his first podium this season.

Charles Leclerc goes into his home race in impressive form. He has four consecutive top-six finishes and thinks Ferrari will be challenging for race wins again "very soon" after a strong start to 2021.

Lando Norris, who is fourth in the championship, goes into the race on a high after signing a new deal with McLaren.

TOP FIVE OPTA STATS

Pole pivotal – The driver starting first has led after the opening lap for each of the last 17 Monaco GPs since 2002 when McLaren driver David Coulthard passed Williams star Juan Pablo Montoya. Since 2004, 12 of the last 16 who started on pole have won the race (75 per cent).

Mercedes momentum – The Mercs are looking to equal Ferrari as the team to have recorded the most one-twos in a F1 qualifying ever (80). They are the only team ever to have won more than half of their races (118 wins in 231 GPs).

Familiar faces - Hamilton, Verstappen and Bottas have reached the podium together in 16 races, more than any other trio in F1 ever. That has also been the top three for four of the last five GPs.

Racy Red Bull – Christian Horner's outfit have taken five pole positions in Monaco, more than at any other GP for them in F1 alongside Japan. Only in Brazil and Malaysia (five at each), they have won more races than in the Principality. 

Fabulous Finns - Bottas could equal Kimi Raikkonen in a tie for second among Finnish drivers with the most pole positions in F1 (18), after Mika Hakkinen (26). 

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS 

Drivers

1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 94
2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 80
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) – 47
4. Lando Norris (McLaren) – 41
5. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) – 40

Constructors

1. Mercedes – 141
2. Red Bull – 112
3. McLaren – 65
4. Ferrari – 60
5. Alpine – 15

Sydney FC moved into second in the A-League as they eased to a 2-0 win over Melbourne Victory.

Bobo's 10th-minute strike, his ninth of the season, and an 83rd-minute effort from Kosta Barbarouses made sure of the points for Sydney.

They leapfrog Central Coast Mariners into second, though the Mariners have a game in hand.

Further good news for Sydney came in Wednesday's later game, as fellow semi-final berth contenders Adelaide United slipped up 2-1 at Perth Glory.

 

Kusini Yengi put Adelaide seemingly on course to join Sydney on 38 points when he converted at the far post in the 28th minute.

But Bruno Fornaroli scored for the fifth straight game against Adelaide, heading in a 78th-minute equaliser from Chris Ikonomidis' excellent right-wing cross.

And it was Ikonomidis who completed the turnaround in style, lashing home from Fornaroli's volleyed cross across the area after good work from Nicholas D'Agostino.

Having lost a game in which they dominated possession, Adelaide stay fourth, while Glory are now level on points with sixth-placed Brisbane Roar in the race for the last quarter-final spot.

Jamaica-born Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling has signed a multi-year boot deal with New Balance that includes support for disadvantaged children in the country of his birth and other communities in the United Kingdom.

Celtic CEO Peter Lawwell and his family are safe but "extremely shaken and shocked" after an explosion and fire at his home on Wednesday.

Lawwell, who will retire from his role at the club after 17 years next month, escaped unharmed after the incident in Glasgow, which Celtic described as "terrible".

But major damage was done to his property and cars in the immediate area, with eight fire engines required to respond as the blaze spread rapidly.

Police Scotland confirmed there had been an explosion and they are investigating the cause after reports a petrol bomb was involved.

A Celtic spokesperson said: "We can confirm that significant damage has been caused to Peter Lawwell's house and vehicles there, following an explosion and fire early this morning, forcing the family to leave the property.

"Clearly, Peter's family are extremely shaken and shocked by these terrible events, but thankfully all are safe.

"We understand that Police Scotland are currently undertaking a criminal investigation.

"Peter and his family will of course receive the full support and care of everyone at the club."

A widely reported statement from Police Scotland confirmed the investigation.

It read: "Around 1am on Wednesday 19 May, officers were called to a report of vehicles on fire outside a house on Peel Road, Thorntonhall.

"No one was injured and officers are currently working with the Scottish fire and rescue service to establish the cause of the fire."

Chelsea midfielder Billy Gilmour has been named in the Scotland squad for Euro 2020.

Gilmour is one of three uncapped players to feature in the 26-man selection, including the highly rated Celtic midfielder David Turnbull and Rangers youngster Nathan Patterson.

Celtic winger James Forrest gets the nod after recovering from a long injury absence, but his team-mate Leigh Griffiths was the most notable name to miss out.

Along with rising Chelsea star Gilmour, there was strong Premier League representation with 10 players from England's top-flight.

Liverpool defender and Scotland captain Andy Robertson is one of those along with Kieran Tierney, Stuart Armstrong, John McGinn, Scott McTominay, Liam Cooper, John Fleck, Ryan Fraser and Che Adams.

Scotland are in Group D for the competition and will come up against England, Croatia and Czech Republic, with matches with the latter two sides taking place on home soil at Hampden Park.

Scotland squad: Craig Gordon (Hearts), David Marshall (Derby County), Jon McLaughlin (Rangers); Liam Cooper (Leeds United), Declan Gallagher (Motherwell), Grant Hanley (Norwich City), Jack Hendry (Celtic), Scott McKenna (Nottingham Forrest), Stephen O'Donnell (Motherwell), Nathan Patterson (Rangers), Andy Robertson (Liverpool), Greg Taylor (Celtic), Kieran Tierney (Arsenal); Stuart Armstrong (Southampton), Ryan Christie (Celtic), John Fleck (Sheffield United), Billy Gilmour (Chelsea), John McGinn (Aston Villa), Callum McGregor (Celtic), Scott McTominay (Manchester United), David Turnbull (Celtic); Che Adams (Southampton), Lyndon Dykes (QPR), James Forrest (Celtic), Ryan Fraser (Newcastle United), Kevin Nisbet (Hibernian).

Thomas Muller and Mats Hummels have each received recalls to the Germany squad for Euro 2020.

Bayern Munich forward Muller and Borussia Dortmund defender Hummels have not featured for their country since November 2018.

They were among the experienced players removed from coach Joachim Low's thinking in March 2019 as he plotted a new path forward following Germany's group-stage exit at the 2018 World Cup.

But the pair have been trusted with helping Germany enjoy a successful tournament at the rescheduled Euros, which will be Joachim Low's final tournament in charge.

Die Mannschaft face an extremely difficult group, having been pitted alongside world champions France, defending European champions Portugal and Hungary.

They start their Group F campaign against France at the Allianz Arena on June 15.

 

River Plate will be forced to play without a recognised goalkeeper in their Copa Libertadores clash with Independiente Santa Fe after a coronavirus outbreak.

The Argentinian club have seen 20 players, including all of their eligible goalkeepers, test positive for COVID-19, leaving Marcelo Gallardo with just 10 fit members of his squad for the Group D game.

CONMEBOL ensured River will have to put an outfield player in goal after the governing body rejected a request from the club to add academy goalkeepers Alan Leonardo Diaz and Agustin Gomez to the squad.

Midfielder Enzo Perez, who has a hamstring injury, appears likely to play as River's stand-in goalkeeper following a decision that angered club president Rodolfo D'Onofrio.

"We would never have thought that they could make a decision of this type," D'Onofrio told ESPN. 

"We made a presentation where we perfectly clarified why we consider that the goalkeeper can be substituted at any time during the competition. 

"There is an article [in the competition's regulations] that talks about serious injury. We consider COVID as a serious injury. 

"We have 18 outfield players and three goalkeepers. We put the 32 players with four professional goalkeepers, who were infected. What we ask is to replace them."

Of River's available players, just six have started a top-flight game for the club, though the Colombians have their own coronavirus issues, with five Santa Fe players having tested positive ahead of the game.

River are second in Group D, level on six points with another Colombian club in Junior, who have played a game more. Santa Fe are bottom with two points from four games.

Argentina has the seventh most active cases of coronavirus in the world with over 307,000. Colombia is 19th with over 114,000 as the virus continues to ravage South America.

 

Bruno Fernandes is targeting more individual honours after being named Manchester United's Player of the Year for a second straight season but wants to supplement such accolades with team trophies.

Fernandes followed in the footsteps of United greats Cristiano Ronaldo and Ruud van Nistelrooy after the Portugal international became only the fifth player in United history to win the club's annual award in consecutive campaigns.

Roy Keane and David de Gea have also received the distinction in back-to-back years.

Fernandes claimed the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year gong on Tuesday after receiving an overwhelming 63 per cent of the votes cast by supporters; Luke Shaw came in second place on 21 per cent.

He edged out Anthony Martial to last year's award despite only signing for United in January 2020, having made a huge immediate impact.

Fernandes came out on top in another category, Goal of the Season, for his sublime chip against Everton in February, but it was the main prize that was the focus of an interview with the club's in-house TV station in the wake Tuesday's 1-1 draw with Fulham.

Asked when it meant to win the Player of the Year, he said: "A lot. I always said that individual trophies are really good for players. It lifts you up, I would never say I don't want individual trophies, but it's not more important than a team trophy for me. But it's always important.

"[It means] you're doing something well, you're doing something good, doing the right things means you can do a little bit more, improve a little bit more.

"But, at the same time it means that the people are liking you, like the way you play, the way you trying to help the team, the way you do things, so that's very important for me.

"But more important than that is winning a trophy at the end of the season and this is what it's about because football is a team sport and for me it's about winning trophies."

His double award win this season, added to his prize from 2019-20, mean Fernandes is creating a reasonable collection, not that he is concerned about running out of space.

"Don't worry, I'll get a bigger [trophy cabinet] if needed," he joked.

After all, Fernandes could yet add further honours as the season approaches its conclusion, though his compatriot Ruben Dias of Manchester City appears to be the favourite for many of the Premier League's end-of-campaign individual prizes.

Nevertheless, it has been a wonderful season for Fernandes, the aforementioned strike against Everton being one of 28 goals he has scored in all competitions this term, while he has also added 18 assists in a fine individual campaign.

Eighteen of his goals and 12 of the assists have come in 37 Premier League appearances, having featured in every top-flight game for United – though the assist credited to him against Fulham was questionable with replays unable to conclusively show that he did actually flick the ball on for Edinson Cavani's remarkable effort.

Fernandes' influence runs deeper than often being on hand to tuck home or play the final pass: he is a key cog in United's overall build-up play, as highlighted by sequence data.

He has been involved in more open-play passing sequences that end in a shot (239) than any other Premier League player in 2020-21, while only Harry Kane (34) has had a hand in more moves that have ended in a goal (33 for Fernandes).

But the metrics that best underline Fernandes' importance are 'multi involvements', which relate to a player featuring in the build-up to a shot-ending sequence as well as either creating the chance at the end of the move or taking the eventual shot.

On 21 occasions he has been the one taking the shot having previously played a part in the move, while his chances created at the end of such sequences stand at 25 – both are highs for the Premier League this season.

It means Fernandes holds incredible influence over how United attack, but also how they craft opportunities.

While they will finish second in the Premier League this term, fans will dread to think where they would be without him.

Los Angeles Clippers coach Ty Lue is paying no attention to those who have accused his team of tanking their final regular-season games to avoid facing the Los Angeles Lakers in the playoffs, adamant he is prioritising health.

The Clippers have been beaten by the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder recently having rested star players such as Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

Those losses saw the Clippers drop from third to fourth in Western Conference seeding for the playoffs, leading to critics suggesting they were purposely trying to engineer a scenario whereby they did not face defending champions the Lakers in the first round.

As it happened, the Lakers ultimately finished seventh in the West to set up a play-in game against the Golden State Warriors, while the Clippers are due to meet the Dallas Mavericks first up for the second year in succession.

But Lue was defiant in his response when questioned about his selection choices on Tuesday.

"I don't give a damn what anybody else thinks on the outside," he said. "We decided to go health over anything else.

"We finally got our team healthy, and that is what we focused on. Whatever people say on the outside, I don't care.

"I don't read Twitter, have Twitter and Insta-twit, all that. I don't care about all that. I am my own man and I do what I want to do, that's how I live my life.

"If you look at our Cleveland [Cavaliers] days, none of our starters played the last two games of the season.

"We took health, and that is the most important thing to me."

Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens has labelled their upcoming playoffs opponents, the Brooklyn Nets, as "the most-talented team that's been assembled" in his time in the NBA.

The Celtics earned seventh seed and the right to face the second-seeded Nets in the NBA playoffs from Saturday with a 118-100 win over the Washington Wizards.

The Nets have endured injuries to stars players over the past few months but have reunited their big three, Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving, at the right time for the postseason.

"To have to play tonight to get into the playoffs to earn the right to play probably the most-talented team that's been assembled since I've been in the NBA, takes a lot of effort and togetherness," Stevens said.

"We'll get ready for Brooklyn starting on Thursday when we get back together.

"Those guys are the best of the best and, going into that, if I'm a fan and just a general fan of the NBA, I have a hard time seeing them lose.

"We're going to have to play great, we're going to have to play great together, and we're going to have to be really, really sound on both ends of the floor."

He added: "It'll be a fun challenge to go up against the best."

Jayson Tatum scored 50 points for the Celtics in Tuesday's win, prompting Wizards coach Scott Brooks to label him a "future MVP".

"He's a great player. He's not [just] a great young player, he's a great player," Brooks said. "He's going to be an MVP in this league soon."

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