NBA

Paul leads Suns to drought-breaking playoffs spot as 76ers also clinch and Westbrook stars

By Sports Desk April 29, 2021

Chris Paul scored 28 points as the Phoenix Suns ended their decade-long NBA playoff drought with a 109-101 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday.

Paul posted 25 points in the second half, finishing with three rebounds and 10 assists as the Suns (44-18) returned to the postseason for the first time since 2009-10.

Phoenix's playoff drought was the second longest active in the NBA, with only the Sacramento Kings waiting longer.

All-Star Paul, who joined Western Conference hopefuls the Suns from the Oklahoma City Thunder last year, said: "It means a lot. It's a special team. To be reconnected with a coach [Monty Williams] who coached me 10 years ago.

"He trusted me as a 35-year-old who a couple of years ago they said was done."

The Philadelphia 76ers – second to the Brooklyn Nets in the Eastern Conference – also secured their playoff berth courtesy of a 127-83 rout of the Atlanta Hawks thanks to a team-high 20 points from Seth Curry.

The 76ers have now made the postseason for four consecutive seasons, which is their longest streak since they made five straight playoff appearances from 1999 to 2003.

 

Records fall as Jazz hit franchise best

NBA leaders the Utah Jazz scored a franchise-record 154 points as they humbled the Kings without All-Stars Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley. The Jazz won 154-105, blowing their opponents apart with a 46-17 second period, which tied as a franchise-record quarter differential.

Former MVP Russell Westbrook (18 points, 18 rebounds and 14 assists) led the Washington Wizards to their 11th triumph from their past 13 games, while condemning defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers to their fourth defeat from their past five in a 116-107 win. It was Westbrook's third season with 30-plus triple-doubles, no other player in NBA history has had more than one season with 30-plus triple-doubles.

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra reached a rare feat on Wednesday as last season's NBA Finals runners-up topped the San Antonio Spurs 116-111. Spoelstra recorded his 600th career win – the 27th coach in league history to reach that amount. Dejounte Murray also became the third player in Spurs history to record four-plus triple-doubles in a season, following in the footsteps of David Robinson and Johnny Moore.

Jaylen Brown (38 points) and Jayson Tatum (35 points) became the first Boston Celtics team-mates to each record 35-plus points in a game since 2006 as the franchise defeated the Charlotte Hornets 120-111.

 

Love struggles

Kevin Love was held scoreless until the fourth quarter. While he collected 10 rebounds and tallied six assists, 2016 NBA champion Love was just two-for-11 shooting in 35 minutes, making just two of 10 of his three-point attempts.

 

You be the judge?

Zion Williamson was denied a game-tying lay-up in the dying seconds of the New Orleans Pelicans' 114-112 loss to the Denver Nuggets, although the block from MVP candidate Nikola Jokic appeared to be a missed foul.

 

Wednesday's results

Orlando Magic 109-104 Cleveland Cavaliers
Philadelphia 76ers 127-83 Atlanta Hawks
New York Knicks 113-94 Chicago Bulls
Boston Celtics 120-111 Charlotte Hornets
Washington Wizards 116-107 Los Angeles Lakers
Miami Heat 116-111 San Antonio Spurs
Portland Trail Blazers 130-109 Memphis Grizzlies
Denver Nuggets 114-112 New Orleans Pelicans
Phoenix Suns 109-101 Los Angeles Clippers
Utah Jazz 154-105 Sacramento Kings

 

Nets at Pacers

The star-studded Nets (42-20) are getting their troops back and they make the trip to face the Indiana Pacers (29-32) on Thursday.

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  • Hodgson to step down as Crystal Palace manager amid Lampard speculation Hodgson to step down as Crystal Palace manager amid Lampard speculation

    Crystal Palace have confirmed Roy Hodgson will step down as manager at the end of the season, amid rumours Frank Lampard is in talks to replace him.

    The 73-year-old is nearing the end of his fourth season with Palace and has kept them clear of the relegation places in each of those campaigns.

    Hodgson will step away from Premier League management after his last two matches against Arsenal and Liverpool.

    With Hodgson's contract due to expire, former Chelsea boss Lampard has long been linked with taking over as his replacement having been sacked by the Blues in January.

    "After more than 45 years of coaching I have decided that the time is right for me to step away from the rigours of top-flight Premier League football, so our final two matches will be my last ones as manager of Crystal Palace," Hodgson confirmed in a statement to the Palace website.

    "It's been a particularly rewarding period of my football life and career to have been able to spend these last four seasons with Palace. 

    "I feel now that at the end of another successful season, in which we have secured our Premier League status, the moment is right for me to step down from my responsibilities of being a full-time manager.

    "I have had so much support from my wife and family throughout my career and I have been contemplating this decision for some time, and now I believe the time is right to consider them and to see what the future holds for me.  

    "I have really enjoyed my time at Palace, I have been privileged to work with an outstanding group of professional and dedicated players, most of whom have been with me throughout the four years."

    Palace have finished 11th, 12th and 14th under Hodgson. This season they sit 13th after a dramatic 3-2 win over Aston Villa last time out.

    Chairman Steve Parish said: "It has been an absolute privilege and pleasure to work alongside Roy, who is both a magnificent human and an outstanding football manager. 

    "I know how much it has meant to Roy managing the club he supported as a child, adding to his distinguished and unparalleled career in football management. 

    "His record with us simply cannot be overstated, he is the only Palace manager to secure four years in the Premier League and he has helped give us stability in the most turbulent of times."

    Assistant manager Ray Lewington will also leave with Hodgson.

    Palace have a host of players out of contract at the end of the season too, so there will be significant changes throughout the club in 2021-22.

    They face Arsenal on Wednesday and Gunners boss Mikel Arteta paid tribute to the veteran Hodgson.

    Arteta said: "He's an absolute legend. What he's done in football, for English football, what he transmits as a person and the work he has done at different clubs is remarkable. 

    "To keep doing it for so long with the way he has always conducted himself, it's a great example as a young coach of someone I admire.

    "We can count them [managers like Hodgson] with one hand. What he has done, in this league in particular, is incredible."

  • Jazz break through for maiden championship as Nets wait goes on – Stats Perform AI predicts NBA playoffs Jazz break through for maiden championship as Nets wait goes on – Stats Perform AI predicts NBA playoffs

    It is that time of year again – the NBA playoffs.

    Although this season has a different feel due to the new play-in tournament, it's crunch time as LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers eye back-to-back championships.

    The Utah Jazz claimed the best record in the league for the first time in their history, while Eastern Conference top seed the Philadelphia 76ers and the star-studded Brooklyn Nets loom large.

    With the play-in tournament due to get under way to determine the final eight teams from each conference set to feature in the playoffs, the Stats Perform AI team have been crunching the numbers to find a worthy winner of the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

    The Stats Perform model takes proprietary data and creates an offensive and defensive rating for each team.

    Those ratings are paired with the team's opponent and adjusted for each team's pace. In addition, the home team get a slight boost for home-court advantage.

    The model uses this information to calculate a projected score for both teams. The winners receive a victory in the race for the Larry O'Brien Trophy – this was done for every game in the playoffs.

    So, here are the AI-generated results in the event that the play-in winners are the Lakers, Golden State Warriors, Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards.

     

    Suns sizzle as Lakers crash out, Heat stun Bucks in sweep

    Much has been made about the Phoenix Suns this season. Led by All-Star Devin Booker and star veteran Chris Paul, the franchise returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2009-10. Second behind the Jazz in the Western Conference, the Suns ease past the Lakers 4-1. Winning the opening three games 120-93, 90-88 and 105-104, Phoenix never look back as they end the Lakers' quest to land consecutive championships for the first time since 2009-10.

    The Milwaukee Bucks loaded up heavily in the offseason, bringing in Jrue Holiday to aid two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo in his quest for a title and the franchise's first since 1971. But after trips to the Eastern Conference Finals and semi-finals, the third-seeded Bucks are sensationally swept 4-0 by last season's runners-up the Miami Heat.

    Eastern Conference top seed for the first time since 2001, the Joel Embiid-led 76ers flex their muscles 4-2 against the Wizards but it is not easy. Dropping consecutive games to Bradley Beal, Russell Westbrook and Washington, Doc Rivers' Philadelphia rally past the Wizards 112-109, 91-99 and 110-104 to bounce back from last season's first-round sweep at the hands of the Celtics.

    Boasting a three-headed monster in Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving, the second-seeded Nets dig deep against the Celtics 4-3 in the east. With all eyes on the star-studded Nets big three following an injury-interrupted regular season, Brooklyn lose two of the opening three matchups but reel off back-to-back victories to set the tone before progressing beyond the first round for the first time since 2013-14 thanks to a 110-91 Game 7 triumph.

    Looking to put last season's playoff capitulation behind them, having sensationally surrendered a 3-1 lead at the hands of the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semi-finals, Kawhi Leonard's Los Angeles Clippers make light work of Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks 4-1. A 128-106 rout in Game 1 ignites the Clippers, while the third-seeded Nuggets – spearheaded by MVP favourite Nikola Jokic – are upstaged by the Portland Trail Blazers 4-3. Following in the footsteps of the Clippers, Denver cough up a commanding 3-0 lead as Damian Lillard's Trail Blazers complete a stunning comeback.

    The New York Knicks and their fans have been waiting since 2013 to play postseason basketball. Their playoff return does not disappoint as the fourth seed – spearheaded by All-Star Julius Randle – make the most of their home-court advantage against the Atlanta Hawks to come out 4-3 winners. Trae Young's Hawks race out to a 3-1 lead but the Knicks are not to be denied.

     

    Trail Blazers continue giant-slaying run, Clippers bow out to Jazz as 76ers roll on

    Ranked sixth heading into the playoffs, the Trail Blazers defy their seeding by producing another shock performance, this time outlasting the highly fancied Suns in seven games. Western Conference finalists in 2018-19, Portland humble Phoenix 129-96, 117-86 and 126-92 in Games 1, 3 and 4 to seize the momentum and while the Suns storm back to force a series decider, Lillard, CJ McCollum and the Trail Blazers step up to the plate.

    Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert experienced consecutive first-round exits in 2018-19 and 2019-20, but featuring in their first Conference semi-final since 2018, the Jazz prove too hot for the fourth-ranked Clippers and take a 4-2 series win. Utah, who beat Los Angeles in two of the three regular-season contests, win the opening three games of the second-round series and never look back as pressure mounts on Leonard, Paul George and the championship-chasing Clippers.

    The standout teams in the east, the 76ers and Nets barely raise a sweat en route to the Conference Finals. In pursuit of a first championship since 1983, the 76ers sweep the Knicks 4-0, while the Nets end Miami's hopes with their own devastating 4-0 success.

     

    Nets conquer 76ers, Jazz rally past Blazers

    A matchup many predicted when the 76ers appointed head coach Rivers and the Nets landed former MVP Harden in a blockbuster trade with the Houston Rockets in January. Philadelphia's cast of Embiid, fellow All-Star Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, sharp-shooter Seth Curry and Danny Green come up against Durant, Harden, Irving and Blake Griffin, and it is Brooklyn who prevail in a thriller. The Nets and 76ers split the opening six games before a deciding seventh game. With a championship berth on the line, Steve Nash's Nets edge the 76ers 112-109 as question marks again emerge over whether the Philadelphia franchise can succeed with both Embiid and Simmons.

    Not since 1997-98 had the Jazz secured a spot in the Finals, having enjoyed back-to-back appearances in the midst of Karl Malone's greatness, but Utah end that drought against Portland. The Jazz overturn 1-0 and 3-2 deficits to finally end the Trail Blazers' fairytale run as Portland fall agonisingly short of their first Finals appearance since 1992.

     

    Jazz make history

    The last five head coaches to win a title in their first year were Nick Nurse (Toronto Raptors, 2019), Tyronn Lue (Cleveland Cavaliers, 2016), Steve Kerr (Warriors, 2015), Pat Riley (Lakers, 1982) and Paul Westhead (Lakers, 1980). Rookie and two-time MVP Nash has been looking to join that list with a Nets side eyeing their maiden championship – having faced a long wait since joining the league in 1976-77.

    Despite a frightening array of talent, the Nets go down 4-1 in the Finals as the Jazz make history, headlined by a resounding 121-102 win in Game 5.

    After consecutive Finals appearances in 1997 and 1998, the Jazz finally break through for their first NBA title thanks to coach Quin Snyder, Mitchell, Gobert, Mike Conley and Co.

  • White Sox enhance World Series potential with crushing win, Ohtani hits MLB-leading 13th homer White Sox enhance World Series potential with crushing win, Ohtani hits MLB-leading 13th homer

    The Chicago White Sox further enhanced their MLB World Series potential after pounding the Minnesota Twins 16-4.

    Having made no secret of their World Series aspirations at the start of the season, the White Sox continue to impress following Monday's crushing win over the Twins.

    American League (AL) Central leaders the White Sox – who have won nine of their past 11 games – posted season highs in hits (18) and runs.

    Nick Madrigal had three hits, including his maiden MLB homer and White Sox team-mate Danny Mendick launched his first career grand slam in Minneapolis.

    For the ninth time in White Sox history, a player hit their first career homer and first career grand slam, however, Monday was the first time it was achieved by two different players.

    Yasmani Grandal became the first player in White Sox history with three four-plus walk games in a season, while team-mate Yermin Mercedes is the first player in franchise history to homer off a position player pitcher since 1955.

    White Sox ace Dallas Keuchel pitched seven innings, allowing three runs on seven hits against the hapless Twins.

    Meanwhile, two-way star Shohei Ohtani was at it again as the Los Angeles Angels took down the Cleveland Indians 7-4.

    Ohtani hit his MLB-leading 13th home run of the season – a three-run homer in the second inning.

     

    Cole makes history

    The New York Yankees were beaten 5-2 by the Texas Rangers but it was a memorable outing for ace Gerrit Cole, who recorded the most strikeouts without a walk (61) in any stretch of a season since 1983, eclipsing the 58 tallied by Corbin Burnes earlier this season. The Rangers snapped a six-game skid in the victory.

    The San Francisco Giants trumped the Cincinnati Reds 6-3 behind six shut-out innings from Logan Webb, who gave up six hits, struck out four and walked a batter.

     

    Pillar left bloodied in scary incident

    The New York Mets topped the Atlanta Braves 3-1 but it came at a cost. Right fielder Kevin Pillar was hit in the nose by a pitch from Atlanta's Jacob Webb in the seventh inning. Pillar fell straight to the ground as blood poured from his nose. The incident left Mets and Braves players shaken in Atlanta.

    Angels star Mike Trout exited in the first inning of the team's victory. Trout walked and reached second base before sustaining a right calf strain.

     

    Pujols makes immediate impact

    Future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols signed a one-year contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday, following his exit from city rivals the Angels. The 41-year-old slugger – a two-time World Series champion, three-time MVP and 10-time All-Star – made his first appearance for the Dodgers that day, his first hit an RBI single. It brought in star Mookie Betts to score in the World Series champions' 3-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

     

    Monday's results

    San Francisco Giants 6-3 Cincinnati Reds
    New York Mets 3-1 Atlanta Braves
    Chicago White Sox 16-4 Minnesota Twins
    Chicago Cubs 7-3 Washington Nationals
    Texas Rangers 5-2 New York Yankees
    Los Angeles Angels 7-4 Cleveland Indians
    Los Angeles Dodgers 3-1 Arizona Diamondbacks
    San Diego Padres 7-0 Colorado Rockies
    Detroit Tigers 4-1 Seattle Mariners

     

    Red Sox at Blue Jays

    AL East leaders the Boston Red Sox (25-17) will travel to Dunedin for their series opener against division rivals the Toronto Blue Jays (22-17) on Tuesday. Blue Jays ace Ryu Hyun-jin takes to the mound, while the Red Sox counter with Eduardo Rodriguez.

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