NBA

Irving leads Nets to summit as Harden sits out, Jazz players feared 'the end' during flight

By Sports Desk April 01, 2021

Kyrie Irving was the hero for the Brooklyn Nets after James Harden exited due to hamstring tightness as he inspired a 120-108 win over the lowly Houston Rockets.

The Nets trailed by as many as 18 points, while NBA MVP hopeful Harden sat out the fourth quarter against his former team the Rockets with right hamstring tightness.

Harden finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and six assists in 27 minutes on Wednesday.

But star team-mate Irving picked up the slack, posting 31 points and a season-high 12 assists to guide the Nets to the top of the Eastern Conference.

The Nets, who have won 19 of their past 22 games, are a half-game clear of the Philadelphia 76ers.

Meanwhile, the NBA-leading Utah Jazz feared 'the end" before their 111-107 win over the Memphis Grizzlies.

Utah's charter flight was forced into an emergency landing after the plane collided with a flock of birds, causing an engine fire and failure.

After scoring 26 points to lift the Jazz, All-Star Mike Conley told reporters: "For a good 10 or 15 minutes, I think all of us on that flight were questioning if we were going to be here today.

"That's how serious it was for us. I can't speak for everybody, but I know that guys were trying to text family just in case, you know? It was that kind of situation."

"It got to that point where we were all on the plane like, 'This might be really the end'," Utah's Jordan Clarkson added in the absence of Donovan Mitchell. "I mean, it was a crazy situation. I understand fully why Don didn't come."

 

Giannis and Bucks take down Lakers, Booker has Suns sizzling

Giannis Antetokounmpo posted 25 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and three blocks as the Milwaukee Bucks beat the injury-hit Los Angeles Lakers 112-97. Jrue Holiday top-scored with 28 points for the Bucks, who snapped a three-game losing run.

Devin Booker put up a season-high 45 points in the Phoenix Sun's 121-116 victory against the Chicago Bulls. Chris Paul added 19 points and 14 assists.

Luka Doncic had a game-high 36 points as the Dallas Mavericks held on to defeat the Boston Celtics 113-108. Doncic is now tied with Nikola Jokic for the most NBA games with 30-plus points, five-plus rebounds and five-plus assists this season – 15.

The Portland Trail Blazers were 124-101 winners over the Detroit Pistons thanks to a double-double of 33 points and 10 assists from Damian Lillard.

 

Painful debut for Drummond

Andre Drummond's Lakers debut did not go according to plan. Acquired by the defending champions after clearing waivers on Sunday, the two-time All-Star hobbled off the court with a toe injury. Drummond was two-for-six shooting, while he missed both of his free throws prior to exiting after 14 minutes.

 

Family time

It was a special moment as the three Antetokounmpo brothers took to the court in Los Angeles. Two-time reigning MVP Giannis was joined by brother and team-mate Thanasis and Lakers forward Kostas post-game.

 

Wednesday's results:

Portland Trail Blazers 124-101 Detroit Pistons
Miami Heat 92-87 Indiana Pacers
Dallas Mavericks 113-108 Boston Celtics
Brooklyn Nets 120-108 Houston Rockets
Utah Jazz 111-107 Memphis Grizzlies
Minnesota Timberwolves 102-101 New York Knicks
Oklahoma City Thunder 113-103 Toronto Raptors
San Antonio Spurs 120-106 Sacramento Kings
Phoenix Suns 121-111 Chicago Bulls
Milwaukee Bucks 112-97 Los Angeles Lakers

 

76ers at Cavaliers

The 76ers (32-15) will look to snap a two-game losing streak and keep up with the Nets when they visit the Cleveland Cavaliers (17-30) on Thursday.

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  • Haaland unaffected by rumours ahead of City clash as Terzic confirms Sancho won't face former club Haaland unaffected by rumours ahead of City clash as Terzic confirms Sancho won't face former club

    Erling Haaland has not been impacted by the transfer rumours amid Borussia Dortmund's Champions League quarter-final with Manchester City, according to Edin Terzic, who also ruled Jadon Sancho out of Wednesday's second leg.

    Dortmund host City having lost 2-1 in Manchester last week and the omens are not bad for BVB, as in the Champions League the team that won the first leg 2-1 at home has been eliminated more often (15) than they have progressed (12).

    Terzic's side will also be confident that Haaland will not have such a quiet evening in front of goal again, as he only managed one shot in Manchester – it was a wonderful opportunity as well with an xG value of 0.4, meaning the average player would be expected to take it 40 per cent of the time.

    By Haaland's standards – he has nine open-play Champions League goals from an xG value of just 5.7 in 2020-21 – it was a brilliant chance to hammer home why he has received so much praise and attention this season, although he did manage the assist for Marco Reus' goal at the Etihad Stadium.

    Some of that attention has developed into incessant transfer speculation, with his agent Mino Raiola spending part of the recent international break talking to potential suitors.

    City, whom his dad Alf-Inge played for, have been suggested as being among those keen and Terzic is convinced all the chatter has not impacted him, despite Haaland being without a goal for club or country since March 20.

    "I didn't notice anything and it wasn't even an issue for us," Terzic said of the rumours during the international break.

    "He was very happy to come back from the national team. He was happy to see all the faces and they were happy to see him.

    "He did very well last time [against City]. He is known for making good runs from deep, but he also gave us a few seconds of possession. He often secured the ball well; he is a very important part of our team."

    Terzic – who is only in charge until the end of the season when Marco Rose will take over – was not about to get drawn into the debate around Haaland's future by putting a valuation on him, however.

    "As a coach, I have to get the best out of him, that's my job. It's not my job to put a price tag on him," he said. "I have to get the best out of the team and want to advance to the next round."

    Just as he missed the first leg, Sancho will also be unavailable against his former team on Wednesday – and he could yet be joined by others in missing out.

    "We have a few ailing players where we have to wait and see," Terzic added. "Mats Hummels and Marco Reus had to be replaced last time. It won't be enough [time] for Jadon, otherwise we'll have to see."

  • Guardiola trusts players to take 'next step' in Champions League: 'If not, I'd be crazy' Guardiola trusts players to take 'next step' in Champions League: 'If not, I'd be crazy'

    Pep Guardiola insists he trusts Manchester City to take the next step in the Champions League, adamant he would be "crazy" not to have that belief ahead of Wednesday's quarter-final second leg.

    City go to Borussia Dortmund with a 2-1 lead from last week's home leg, meaning the Germans will be quietly confident of pulling off an upset given they managed an away goal.

    While City have progressed from 13 of their 15 knockout ties in European competition when winning the first leg, in the Champions League the side that won the first leg 2-1 at home has been eliminated more often (15) than they have progressed (12).

    The tie is in the balance and Guardiola knows too well to take anything for granted given City have been eliminated at this stage of the competition in each of the previous three seasons.

    In 2019-20 they were dumped out at the hands of Lyon, a defeat that led to serious questions being asked of Guardiola and his management of such games, with some suggesting he overcomplicates life for himself.

    Ahead of the second leg, the focus was more on the players rather than the Catalan's preparations, and Guardiola was unequivocal when asked about trusting the team.

    "After 27 victories in 29 games, if I don't trust the players we have a big problem – I would be crazy," he said in his pre-game news conference on Tuesday.

    "Tomorrow we can win or lose. What we have done so far, we deserve to be where we are now. We know if we win we go through or lose we are out. In the Premier League we need three wins and a draw to be champions because we expect United to win seven in a row.

    "If we go out, we will be disappointed but we have another chance. Life is like this. If you fight you get another opportunity. We are going to try.

    "We lose against Lyon, we were better, but we were out. We are fighting for four competitions, especially the Premier League. We are already qualified for the Champions League, 11 years in a row, which has never happened before [for City]. That is fantastic.

    "Now is the time for another step, the players want it. They were sad when we didn't get to the semi-finals [in 2019-20] but nobody will give it to us, we have to do it.

    "Nobody gives you the semi-finals, we have to do it in 90 minutes if we don't do mistakes like against Lyon when we give them three goals. I'm so excited to travel to Germany, to try to do it."

    City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan struck a similar chord when he addressed the media prior to Guardiola, as the former Dortmund star suggested they gifted Lyon the 3-1 win in August.

    "For me it's important to take the next step, not just the experiences we had in the last few years, but also I have expectations of myself and team-mates and I know we have a great team and are capable of going into the semi-finals," he said. "We should have been there earlier in the last few seasons but we were lacking something, individual mistakes which led to goals - and it's tough.

    "I feel we are much more stable at the moment this season, especially defensively, the more you proceed in this competition the more important it gets. It gives you a safe feeling when you know your defence and goalkeeper are working very well. Combined with the feeling we know we're always able to score it's a great potential."

    While he accepts there has been progress, Gundogan feels they have to show that improvement extends to their character, having appeared emotionally fragile at times over the past few years.

    "I feel sometimes this is the case, we need to learn it's normal to struggle," he continued. "On that stage, playing against the best teams in Europe, it's normal, everyone has quality.

    "It's normal to concede a goal, we're not used to running behind a goal. Conceding or struggling, we're used to dominating games and having possession, but it's normal in Champions League and Premier League there are games it might not be that easy. Mistakes are normal.

    "Learning to deal with it is the only thing that was missing when we speak of those Tottenham games [in 2018-19]. Just dealing with those situations is something we might need to learn still, these stages will show it now. It's something we need to accept."

  • Klopp accepts empty Anfield is a 'problem' but challenges Liverpool to believe Klopp accepts empty Anfield is a 'problem' but challenges Liverpool to believe

    Liverpool's hopes of producing another famous European comeback at Anfield will be reduced due to the lack of fans, manager Jurgen Klopp has conceded.

    The Reds lost 3-1 to Real Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie in the Spanish capital, leaving them with an arduous task to reach the last four.

    Liverpool have only progressed twice in the previous 13 European knockout ties in which they lost the first leg by at least two goals, the most recent example coming two years ago when they stunned Barcelona with a 4-0 win at Anfield after losing the first game 3-0.

    Anfield has become much less of a fortress this season while games have been played behind closed doors, with last weekend's 2-1 win over Aston Villa ending a six-game losing streak at home in the Premier League for the English champions.

    Klopp accepts it is a blow to play without the backing of the crowd but he hopes his players still believe in their chances.

    "When you're 3-1 down, it looks like you're already out," he said on Tuesday. "That means you have not a lot to lose, so we will give it a try. It's exactly how we'll go for it.

    "It's a result of the performances of the night: they were better than us and we were not as good as we could have been, or should have been. But it's the first leg.

    "It's just one extra problem: no supporters in the stadium. The result is a problem, the quality of the opponent is a problem, and obviously that the stadium is empty is a problem as well.

    "It's always about winning football games and that is the target. If that will end up in a comeback, I have no idea.

    "We have to be in a mood to start believing again and, if that happens and we can see that it's possible, then we have a chance, but it's still incredibly difficult."

    Real Madrid have scored in each of their previous 23 Champions League knockout matches and an away goal would put them in a commanding position to progress.

    While Klopp would love to keep a clean sheet, he is not certain any side can keep Madrid at bay if they are at their best.

    "The clean sheet is very important but that's not too different to other games – you never want to concede goals," he said.

    "I have no idea [if there is] anyone in the world who can deny Real Madrid having any chances.

    "They beat us and then they beat Barcelona in a very important game so they are obviously in a good moment. We have to be 100 per cent on our top level if we want to make it.

    "With the quality that Real Madrid has you have to defend on your absolutely highest level and that is what we didn't do in the first leg."

    Vinicius Junior produced arguably his best performance for Madrid in the first leg, scoring either side of Marco Asensio's goal to give Zinedine Zidane's side men the advantage.

    Klopp, who was not surprised by the Brazilian's display, wants his team to control the passing threat of Toni Kroos better in order to prevent a repeat.

    "He is an outstanding talent, everybody knew it before Real Madrid signed him [from Flamengo in 2018]," he said.

    "The one goal we could have defended but the other was just a great long ball and then a great first touch and finish.

    "We have to try to avoid the passes in his direction, which is a big task. [I was] impressed yes, surprised no."

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