NBA

Nets eclipse Suns as Durant returns, Wizards enjoying best run since 2001

By Sports Desk April 25, 2021

Kevin Durant returned from injury and the Eastern Conference-leading Brooklyn Nets beat the Phoenix Suns 128-119.

Durant made his comeback on Sunday following a three-game absence due to a thigh contusion, the former NBA MVP posting 33 points off the bench.

Nets superstar Durant was 12-for-21 shooting, including two-for-three from three-point range, while tallying six rebounds, four assists and two steals in 28 minutes.

Kyrie Irving had 34 points (10-of-19 shooting) and 12 assists as the star-studded Nets – still without James Harden (hamstring) – improved to 41-20.

Devin Booker's 36 points and a Deandre Ayton double-double of 20 points and 13 rebounds were not enough for the high-flying Suns (42-18) in Brooklyn.

 

Wizards extend streak

The Washington Wizards claimed their eighth successive victory after topping the Cleveland Cavaliers 119-110. Bradley Beal scored 33 points, while Russell Westbrook added 14 points, 11 assists and five rebounds as the former MVP's triple-double run ended at four games. Washington are in the midst of their longest streak since December 2001, during Hall of Famer Michael Jordan's time with the franchise.

Two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 31 points and 14 rebounds, but the Milwaukee Bucks still lost 111-104 to the Atlanta Hawks. Bogdan Bogdanovic led the Hawks with 32 points, however, Lou Williams fuelled Atlanta down the stretch by scoring four three-pointers in the final seven minutes.

Double-doubles from Terry Rozier (21 points and 11 assists), P.J. Washington (22 points and 12 rebounds) and Cody Martin (13 points and 10 rebounds) inspired the Charlotte Hornets to a 125-104 victory at home to the Boston Celtics.

Stephen Curry's 37 points, seven rebounds and four assists helped the Golden State Warriors hold off the Sacramento Kings 117-113. Curry has scored at least 30 points for the 13th time in 14 games, his 30th 30-point display of the season.

 

Magic's season goes from bad to worse

Rookie Devin Cannady suffered a gruesome ankle injury as the short-handed and struggling Orlando Magic tasted a fifth consecutive defeat – beaten 131-112 by the Indiana Pacers. Cannady sustained an open fracture of his right ankle in the opening quarter after landing awkwardly.

Robert Covington was far from his best in the Portland Trail Blazers' 120-113 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. In 38 minutes, Covington missed all seven of his field goals, including 0-for-four from three-point range, as he finished with two points.

 

Curry goes deep

Another game, another long-range three. Curry nailed a three-point from just inside half court against the Kings in the opening quarter.

 

Sunday's results

Charlotte Hornets 125-104 Boston Celtics
Brooklyn Nets 128-119 Phoenix Suns
Memphis Grizzlies 120-113 Portland Trail Blazers
Washington Wizards 119-110 Cleveland Cavaliers
Atlanta Hawks 111-104 Milwaukee Bucks
Indiana Pacers 131-112 Orlando Magic
Golden State Warriors 117-113 Sacramento Kings

 

Thunder at 76ers

The Philadelphia 76ers (39-21) – second in the east – will look to arrest a four-game slump when they host the lowly Oklahoma City Thunder (20-40) on Monday.

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  • NBA draft has plenty of intrigue with no clear-cut No. 1 NBA draft has plenty of intrigue with no clear-cut No. 1

    One year after one of the most predictable No. 1 picks in the history of the NBA, this year’s draft has plenty of intrigue at the top – and throughout the first round, for that matter.

    And one year after Victor Wembanyama was the clear-cut top pick by the San Antonio Spurs, another Frenchman could go first overall with two of Wemby’s fellow countrymen routinely slotted into the top spot by many prognosticators.

    But while Alex Sarr and Zaccharie Risacher have both been projected to be drafted at No. 1, it’s uncertain who will hear their name called first by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on Wednesday.

    Or if it will even be one of those French prospects with a number of Americans expected to be selected early.

    One thing is for certain, though, and that's the most well-known American in this draft class – Bronny James – will not be the top pick.

    The Atlanta Hawks will be picking first after surprisingly winning the draft lottery on May 12, despite having just a three per cent chance of securing the top pick after going 36-46 this past season and finishing in 10th place in the Eastern Conference.

    Picking first for the first time since 1975, their decision at No. 1 will set in motion how the rest of the evening will transpire.

    That is, if they keep the pick.

    Atlanta general manager Landry Fields said last week that he isn’t planning on trading the top pick, but he’s listening to offers.

    Risacher has recently been linked to the Hawks after excelling for his team in France’s top league and also in the EuroCup. The 6-foot-8 wing appears to have a high ceiling as both a catch-and-shoot 3-point specialist and is an exceptional defender. An excellent dribbler and ball-handler for someone of his size, the 19-year-old plays as a point forward, as he reads the floor well and is able to deliver crisp passes.

    Atlanta could also choose to follow in the footsteps as San Antonio from a year ago and go with the elite rim protector in Sarr. With a 7-foot-4 wingspan, the versatile19-year-old brings not only length, but also athleticism, and has displayed marked improvements with his mid-range and 3-point shooting. He has the size of a centre at 6-foot-11, but shows the agility and ball-handling of a wing and can pull up from deep just as easily as he can drive to the hoop.

    If the Hawks pass on Sarr, he would seemingly be a good fit for the owners of the second pick, the Washington Wizards.

    Washington allowed a league-worst 123 points per game last season, and Sarr would provide an immediate upgrade on defense.

    While either Risacher or Sarr are the overwhelming favourite to go first by most pundits, an American from the college ranks could end up being the second pick.

    Reed Sheppard from Kentucky, Donovan Clingan and teammate Stephon Castle from national champion Connecticut all potentially could go to the Wizards at No. 2.

    The 20-year-old Sheppard is a deadly shooter from 3-point range, and should make an easy transition to the NBA as he possess a high basketball IQ. Not only did the Big East freshman of the year lead all Division I American college players in 3-point shooting at 52.1 per cent, but he also displayed his athleticism at the NBA draft combine with a 42-inch vertical jump – the best among all participants. He’s only 6-foot-1, but he’s hard-nosed and tough and plays with an edge defensively, as he averaged 2.48 steals in 2023-24.

    Castle will never be confused with Sheppard for his 3-point shooting – as he shot a mere 26.7 per cent from outside the perimeter on 75 attempts – but he is terrific at creating a shot off the dribble inside the arc – as he shot 54.4 per cent on all 2-point attempts as a freshman with the Huskies last season. Explosive with the ball in his hands, he also brings size and tenacity to the defensive end, and has the capability to guard just about anyone.

    Clingan, however, may be the best defensive prospect in this draft class. The linchpin of the defense for the back-to-back national champions, the 7-foot-2, 280-pounder averaged 13 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.46 blocks per game and is an ultimate rim protector with his nearly 7-foot-7 wingspan. He’s physical near the basket, but is also quite agile for someone of his size.

    Two of the more recognizable American collegiate players – notable for vastly different reasons – are nowhere to be found near the top of the draft boards.

    The back-to-back American collegiate AP national player of the year, Zach Edey, dominated against the young men in college but is viewed as being a tad slow to do the same against grown men in the NBA. With a nearly 8-foot wingspan, the 7-foot-3 Canadian will likely still be tough to defend near the basket and if he can develop a long-range shot, he could one day become a serviceable player in the pros.

    Possibly the biggest name in the draft class – and easily the biggest question mark – is the son of the one and only LeBron James.

    Rarely do 6-foot-1 guards who averaged 4.8 points in 25 games in their one collegiate season as a freshman garner this much attention, but never before has the son of the NBA’s all-time leading scorer been in this position. The younger James performed well at the NBA’s draft combine – his 40 ½-inch vertical jump was the third best among all guards – and obviously has strong basketball bloodlines, but his game is a work-in-progress.

    The elder James had previously said it would be a dream to play with his son, so do the Los Angeles Lakers pull the trigger at 17 to select the 19-year-old?

    Well before the younger James joins his dad in the NBA, prospects Matas Buzelis, Dalton Knecht, Cody Williams and Devin Carter are all expected to be drafted.

    Buzelis is a Lithuanian-American who opted to play for the G League Ignite in 2023-24 instead of continuing his career at the college level. Once considered the early favourite to go first overall in this draft, the 19-year-old is an excellent two-way player with good length and a strong motor. So why is he no longer the projected No. 1? He somehow forgot how to shoot from long range. After connecting on better than 40 per cent of his 3-pointers as a senior in high school, he made just 27.3 per cent of his 3-point attempts in his one season in the G League. The hope is he’ll be able to regain his shooting touch.

    Knecht didn’t have the same issue as Buzelis last season. Knecht lit it up from deep in 2023-24, shooting 39.7 per cent from 3-point range as a transfer at Tennessee. With good size and the ability to create shots from just about anywhere on the court, the 6-foot-5 wing may have the highest upside as anyone in this draft class. His one drawback? His defense leaves something to be desired. If teams are willing to overlook his defensive shortcomings, he should excel in the NBA as an offensive playmaker.

    Williams, meanwhile, brings it on the defensive end and can also shoot. Though he’s most dangerous with the ball in his hand by driving to the rim, he also proved last season as a freshman at Colorado that he can’t be given too much space on the outside, as he connected on 41.5 per cent of his 41 3-point attempts. The brother of 2022 lottery pick Jalen Williams by the Oklahoma City Thunder, the 6-foot-6 Williams is also an excellent ball-handler and adept passer.

    Carter is another projected lottery pick after earning Big East Player of the Year honours in 2023-24 at Providence. He averaged 19.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.6 assists and is able to score in a variety of ways. His defence may be his best attribute, however, as he is able to defend just about anyone on an opposing team.

    It’s been suggested that this particular draft is one of the least compelling in several years, with no “can’t-miss superstar” and lacks overall talent depth.

    Yet those factors also make this draft a bit more interesting, with so many unknowns and a plethora of potential selection scenarios

    Despite all the uncertainties, however, one thing can't be argued, and that is it’s anyone’s guess how this draft will unfold.

  • Cavaliers to hire Atkinson as head coach Cavaliers to hire Atkinson as head coach

    The Cleveland Cavaliers are set to hire Kenny Atkinson as their next head coach.

    Atkinson will take over for J.B. Bickerstaff, who was fired after Cleveland was eliminated by the eventual NBA champion Boston Celtics in five games in the second round of the post-season.

    Atkinson, 57, will be an NBA head coach for the second time after going 118-190 and making one play-off appearance with the Brooklyn Nets from 2016-20.

    After stepping down as head coach of the Nets in March 2020, Atkinson was an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Clippers (2020-21) and Golden State Warriors (2021-24).

    Bickerstaff went 170-159 with Cleveland after taking over for John Beilein in 2020 and led the franchise to the play-offs in each of the last two seasons following a four-year post-season drought.

    In early May, the Cavaliers beat the Orlando Magic in seven games to win their first play-off series since reaching the 2018 NBA Finals.

    It also marked Cleveland's first trip to the Eastern Conference semi-finals without LeBron James on the roster since 1992-93.

  • United States 2-0 Bolivia: Pulisic powers hosts to convincing win in Copa America opener United States 2-0 Bolivia: Pulisic powers hosts to convincing win in Copa America opener

    Christian Pulisic stole the show with an eye-catching strike and another assist as the United States opened their Copa America campaign with a 2-0 triumph over Bolivia on Sunday.

    Gregg Berhalter's side never appeared troubled in a routine victory at AT&T Stadium in Texas, thanks to the solo endeavours of captain Pulisic in their Group C opener.

    The Milan forward needed just three minutes to curl in a sublime opener before teeing up Folarin Balogun – who another strike ruled out after the interval – just moments before the break in a one-sided first half.

    Bolivia rarely seemed likely to forge a comeback as the USA managed a winning start to a Copa campaign for the first time since the 1995 edition when they defeated Chile 2-1 in Uruguay.

    Antonio Carlos Zago's side did not heed an early warning when goalkeeper Guillermo Viscarra was forced to rush out and clear in front of Balogun.

    Bolivia were caught napping just minutes later as Timothy Weah worked a short corner with Pulisic, who coasted inside before curling into the top-right corner from an acute angle on the left-hand side of the area.

    Weah – son of legendary forward George – was denied from point-blank range as the USA almost doubled their lead immediately.

    Yet Berhalter's host nation would soon add to their advantage in Arlington.

    Pulisic was afforded the freedom of midfield yet again, dropping into space before offloading for Balogun to cannon a left-footed drive into the bottom-right corner.

    That smart 44th-minute finish marked Balogun's first-ever goal at this tournament and the Monaco striker found the back of the net for a second time after the interval, only for his celebrations to be cut short.

    His routine tap-in from inside the six-yard area was ruled out for offside as Weah had rushed forward to capitalise on Weston McKennie's pass before sliding across for his attacking partner.

    Viscarra was equal to Pulisic's effort before the hour as the forward attempt to recreate his early heroics, while substitute Ricardo Pepi prodded wide from Antonee Robinson's pinpoint left-wing delivery.

    Pepi was denied by fine Viscarra reflexes late on as the USA coasted to an opening victory before their next meeting with Panama on Thursday, a day before Bolivia face Uruguay.

    Pulisic stars in rare USA win

    Pulisic was tipped by many as the USA player to keep an eye on at the Copa America, and the Milan man delivered in emphatic fashion in this opener.

    Fresh off the back of scoring 15 goals across all competitions for the Serie A giants, Pulisic's opening strike had an expected goals (xG) tally of just 0.037 – yet that was no problem for the USA captain.

    His headline-worthy effort halted a woeful run for the USA against CONMEBOL sides at this tournament as well given Berhalter's side had previously lost eight of 10 such games.

    Victory also marked the USA's first Copa triumph over Bolivia in just their second attempt, avenging for a 1-0 defeat way back in 1995 when Marco Etcheverry scored the winner.

    Bolivia wait goes on

    Bolivia were seeking a win against a CONCACAF opponent in Copa action for the first time since the 1997 edition.

    They defeated Mexico 3-1 in the semi-finals of the tournament they hosted 27 years ago, though a wait for another such victory must continue after a drab showing in Texas.

    Carlos Zago won this competition as a player with Brazil in 1999 but his side have a long way to go if they are to even escape their group in the USA.

    Bolivia have now lost their last four international outings by a concerning margin of 9-1, having suffered defeats against Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia and the USA.

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