NBA

Kawhi to the Clippers: Three teams now contending for Eastern Conference supremacy

By Sports Desk July 06, 2019

The balance of power continues to shift in the NBA, as Kawhi Leonard's decision to join the Los Angeles Clippers makes the league a lot more interesting.

At the beginning of 2018-19, many seemed to believe the road to the NBA Finals ran through the Boston Celtics. Then the Milwaukee Bucks posted the best record in the league just a year removed from finishing seventh in the Eastern Conference. 

But it was the Toronto Raptors who dethroned the
Golden State Warriors in the end, and now they will have a new look without their superstar. Plenty of other teams are hungry for glory and now is the perfect time to strike.

Here are three teams that could now take over the Eastern Conference:

 

Milwaukee Bucks

The Eastern Conference is now wide open, but the Bucks are ahead of the pack. After all, they retained two All-Stars — one being reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Milwaukee underwent a serious transformation under Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer last season. Antetokounmpo has put up historically strong numbers in the paint, but the Bucks were also among the league leaders in three-point attempts.

Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez will likely be constants, but it remains to be seen how the chemistry will be after losing Malcolm Brogdon.

Milwaukee simply have the centrepiece every other team wish they had in Antetokounmpo, so there is no reason to count them out just yet.

Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers may have lost an All-Star-calibre player in Jimmy Butler this offseason, but they will be just fine.

Philadelphia were one circus buzzer-beater away from reaching the Eastern Conference Finals last season and are bringing back plenty of talent in 2019-20. The 76ers flipped Butler to the Miami Heat in exchange for Josh Richardson and lured Al Horford away from the Celtics, giving them what might be the best defensive line-up in basketball.

Small Ball? Philadelphia have never heard of it, as the shortest wingspan on their current roster is 6-10. 

The 76ers' starting group will likely feature Richardson, Tobias Harris, Ben Simmons, Al Horford and Joel Embiid. And then there is second-year guard Zhaire Smith, who was voted the most athletic player in the 2018 NBA Draft by his peers but missed most of last season due to an unfortunate allergic reaction.

Philadelphia have size, playmaking, strong defense and four players that could get legitimate All-Star consideration in the coming season. Embiid's questionable health could be a facto but getting a versatile big like Horford that can fill in if he goes down will definitely keep the 76ers in contender conversations.

Brooklyn Nets

Even if Kevin Durant cannot play until 2020, the Nets should be better this season. They lost D'Angelo Russell to the Warriors, but Kyrie Irving can be a considerable upgrade if the pieces come together just right.

Both Russell and Irving are high-usage guards, but Irving is more efficient and poses the kind of threat that makes every player on the opposing team watch him when the ball is in his hands. 

Brooklyn added veterans in DeAndre Jordan and Garrett Temple that should pair nicely with returning pieces like Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen and Joe Harris, who was one of the most prolific three-point shooters in 2018-19 — converting 47.4 per cent from beyond the arc.

But the wild card is Caris LeVert, who arguably was the Nets' best player before a leg injury sidelined him last November. The 24-year-old guard was establishing himself as Brooklyn's go-to guy and now he has had a whole offseason to recover after showing flashes of his potential in the 2018-19 playoffs.

Adding Durant to a group like this could prove to be lethal and would certainly make the Nets a force to be reckoned with.

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  • The Open Daily Diary: Tiger's tipple and Koepka's unorthodox approach The Open Daily Diary: Tiger's tipple and Koepka's unorthodox approach

    It was another glorious day at Royal Portush as preparations for the Open Championship continued on Tuesday.

    Players aplenty faced the media - including a certain Tiger Woods - and there were a host of big names out on the course.

    And they weren't the only ones strolling the stunning links track, with Omnisport's reporters also on the prowl.

    Here's a sample of what they happened upon during their travels inside the media tent and beyond...

     

    NO PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT?

    Brooks Koepka's record is a peculiar thing.

    The world number one has won four of the past 10 majors and placed second at the Masters and U.S. Open either side of defending the US PGA Championship in the first three major tournaments of 2019.

    But he is only a twice a winner on the regular PGA Tour. So what's the difference?

    "I just practice before the majors. Regular tournaments I don't practice. If you've seen me on TV, that's when I play golf," he said to laughter from the press pack.

    Top marks for honesty there, Brooks.

    PINT OF GUINNESS, TIGER?

    Tiger Woods was in a jovial mood during his media conference, which as ever was the best attended of them all.

    When asked if he'd had chance to have a sip of Guinness, the three-time Open winner offered this assessment of one of the more popular Irish delicacies.

    "This week? No, not this week. In the past...hmm," he joked.

     

    LOST IN THE ROUGH

    One of the joys of covering an Open Championship is heading out on the course to take in the sights and catch a bit of golf.

    On practice days, with reduced crowds, it's an opportunity to follow some of the big names without having to contend with the masses that follow the action during the tournament.

    But the plans of one Omnisport reporter, who set out to watch Brooks Koepka, were thwarted by some poor navigation and, in fairness, a little bit of bad luck.

    If you take a wrong turn on this course and get stuck the wrong side of one of the boundary ropes that funnel spectators down certain pathways, you can end up a long way from where you want to be.

    And so it proved for this lost reporter, who never did track down Koepka and was left instead to watch Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who has won four fewer majors than the American.

  • The Open 2019: A decade since Watson, Cink and the greatest fairy tale never told The Open 2019: A decade since Watson, Cink and the greatest fairy tale never told

    Fairy tales have enthralled, entertained and educated us for centuries.

    Whether it be a lesson in morality, a magical escape or a triumph for good over evil, fairy tales have the exceptional ability to let us escape from reality.

    It is a formula that succeeds time and time again. The problem is when it comes to sport, however, the lines become blurred and there is no one formula to follow.

    Sport has no room for sentimentality, no time for history, no interest in assuaging our desires for the feel-good narrative. There is not always a lesson to be taught, nor always a battle between good and bad.

    Just ask Tom Watson and Stewart Cink, who were part of a real-life fable that will live forever in golfing folklore.

    Once upon a time, Watson was considered among the best players on the planet. At the peak of his powers in the 1970s and early 80s there was a magic and aura about the American great that resulted in eight major championships.

    But, as with any great sports star, time eventually caught up with the great champion, which is what made the story of the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry so special.

    By this point of his career, Watson was 59. His last major success was back in 1983, when he clinched a fifth Open at Royal Birkdale.

    And yet, despite pre-tournament odds of 1500-1 and hip replacement surgery just nine months prior, Watson was on the brink of the most remarkable of victories, one which would have made him the oldest major winner of all time.

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    By the end of Saturday - which yielded a one-over 71, enough to take the outright lead - the most far-fetched dream was becoming a scarcely believable reality.

    A couple of bogeys early on the Sunday hinted that the rigours of major golf on a 59-year-old's body had finally caught up. But even as Ross Fisher and then Mathew Goggin moved ahead, Watson refused to slip quietly into the background.

    As the day progressed, there was drama that even Martin Scorsese in his full, creative flow could not have scripted.

    While Lee Westwood played himself in and out of contention, Cink climbed the leaderboard and rolled in a 15-footer at the last to join Watson on two under and crank up the pressure. However, Watson replied to the situation with a gain of his own at 17, meaning he was just four strokes away from creating history.

    Yet the fairy-tale nature of the weekend was replaced by the cruel reality of professional sport. A crisp eight iron sailed over the green, while his third back onto the putting surface left a tricky 10-footer for victory. The putt, as would be the case for Watson's efforts over the weekend, came up just short.

    There was still the lottery of a play-off, yet the grind of the previous four days finally took their toll as Cink made a major breakthrough in a one-sided extra four holes.

    So near, yet so far. For Watson, there was little solace to take from a herculean effort that had warmed the hearts of those watching, both at the venue and on television.

    "It's a great disappointment. It [losing] tears at your gut, as it always has torn at my gut. It's not easy to take," he reflected after the final round.

    For Cink, too, the gravitas of what had transpired on that fateful final day was tough to comprehend.

    "I'm a little intimidated by this piece of hardware here," Cink admitted following his win. "There are a lot of emotions running through my mind and heart and I'm as proud as I can be to be here with this.

    "It was fun watching Tom all week and I'm sure I speak for all the rest of the people too."

    It's easy to feel for Cink. The 2009 Open was the crowning glory of his career but he he is somewhat the forgotten champion, such was the narrative that played out around him.

    Since lifting the Claret Jug, Cink has failed to win another trophy on the PGA or European Tour.

    But this is where those blurred fairy-tale lines come into play. This was never a story of good versus evil, never a tale of morality.

    More just an epic event encapsulating sporting theatre, with a dream ending never getting to see the light of day. Certainly from Watson's point of view, it was the greatest fairy tale never told.

    "It would have been a hell of a story, wouldn't it?" Watson said.

    It sure would have been, Tom, it sure would have been.

  • The Open 2019: How the world looked the last time the Claret Jug was lifted at Portrush in 1951 The Open 2019: How the world looked the last time the Claret Jug was lifted at Portrush in 1951

    Former prime minister Harold Wilson is the man said to have coined the famous phrase "a week is a long time in politics".

    Such a notion is also true in the world of sports, where an ever-changing landscape means opportunities to stand and reflect are scarce.

    But if the whole scene can alter in a week, imagine how contrasting things can be following a 68-year gap.

    That is how long it has been since The Open Championship was last hosted at Royal Portrush, the picturesque venue for the 148th edition of golf's oldest major.

    Indeed, it has been so long since the Claret Jug was last awarded at Portrush to Max Faulkner that Wilson's phrase had not been uttered at the time, with the former Labour politician credited with bringing it to life in 1964.

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    GOLF

    The great Ben Hogan swept up the first two major tournaments of the year, the Masters and U.S. Open, while fellow legend Sam Snead was the US PGA Championship winner.

    However, neither American great was in action at Portrush where Faulkner, nicknamed ‘The Peacock’ lifted the Claret Jug.

    Known for his flamboyant dress sense, Faulkner would win his one and only major title on a day in which he had greatly tempted fate by signing a ball for a young fan with the message "Max Faulkner - Open Champion 1951". 

    His approach out of the rough after a wayward tee shot at the 16th, which was left worryingly close to the out of bounds line, was described as "The greatest shot I've ever seen" by playing partner Frank Stranahan.

    Later that year, the United States would beat Britain 9.5 – 2.5 at the Ryder Cup.


    ELSEWHERE IN SPORTS

    The European Cup was still four years away from its inception in football. Domestically, Tottenham secured a first English top-flight title in their history, while Newcastle United were FA Cup winners - the first of three triumphs in a five-year span.

    Atletico Madrid defended their LaLiga title in Spain, while AC Milan dethroned Juventus in Italy and Kaiserslautern were champions in Germany.

    The NFL held its first Pro Bowl Game in Los Angeles in January 1951, the year the Los Angeles Rams were championship winners. It would be 15 years until the beginning of the Super Bowl era.

    A New York Yankees team consisting of future Hall of Famers Yogi Berra and Joe Di Maggio celebrated World Series success in MLB - the second of four in a row - and in the NBA the Rochester Royals defeated the New York Knicks 4-3 in the Finals.

    Dick Savitt claimed his two career tennis grand slams at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, with Jaroslav Drobny and Frank Sedgman winning in France and the United States respectively.

    Ireland clinched Five Nations glory in rugby union and Hugo Koblet of Switzerland took the yellow jersey at the Tour de France.


    POLITICS

    In Great Britain, the pendulum of power at Westminster swung the way of the Conservative party in 1951.

    Clement Attlee's Labour government was ousted from power as Winston Churchill was elected for his second term as prime minister.

    The Korean War had been waging for a year by the time The Open was at Portrush, as the tensions of the Cold War continued to run high.

    President Harry S. Truman was midway through his second term in the United States, having assumed the presidency after the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945.

    Joseph Stalin was still General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. It would be two years before Stalin's death.


    POP CULTURE

    The album charts in the United Kingdom would not start until a year later, but Bing Crosby and Doris Day were enjoying success on both sides of the Atlantic.

    Perry ComoNat King Cole and Tony Bennett were among the artists to have number one singles in the United States, as the world would have to wait a few years to be treated to the vocal talents of Elvis Presley and a decade for The Beatles.

    J.D. Salinger's literary classic 'The Catcher in the Rye' was published on July 16, just 10 days after the finish of The Open at Portrush.

    Jose Ferrer and Judy Holliday were recognised with the respective best actor and actress gongs at the Academy Awards, where All About Eve was named best motion picture for which Joseph L. Mankiewicz swept up best director.

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