NBA

NBA Heat Check: Luka alight again but Bam bumbling in Bucks win

By Sports Desk May 24, 2021

The NBA playoffs got off to a thoroughly entertaining start over the weekend, with road wins for the lower seed in four of the eight series.

Game 1 followed hot on the heels of the similarly dramatic play-in tournament, in which Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors agonisingly lost twice to miss out on qualifying for the postseason.

Curry is a proven performer in both the regular season and the playoffs, but the same does not apply to every elite player.

Some stars seem to go missing when the season is on the line, while others thrive under pressure, as we discover in our latest NBA Heat Check – now comparing the performances of the past week to the entirety of the 2020-21 regular season.

RUNNING HOT...

Luka Doncic

For the second straight season, the Dallas Mavericks are playing the Los Angeles Clippers in round one. And for the second straight season, the series is providing Doncic with a platform to show off his extraordinary talents.

Dallas are too often a one-man show, but the Clippers struggled to contain Doncic last year as he averaged 31.0 points across a debut series that his Game 4 overtime buzzer-beating three-pointer memorably levelled.

The Mavs were beaten in Game 5 and Game 6 in 2020 to depart the tournament, yet this time they have a lead after Doncic's 31-point, triple-double effort on Saturday. Only Michael Jordan has played seven or more playoff games and averaged greater than his 31.0 points per game (33.4).

And it was again the Slovenian's accuracy from beyond the arc that hurt the Clippers, as he made five threes for the first time in the playoffs – up on his season average of 2.9.

Goran Dragic

The Miami Heat made the NBA Finals last season but were hamstrung by an injury to Dragic in Game 1 of the loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.

That proved a telling blow, but Dragic is back at the fore in this year's playoffs despite a middling regular season in which he averaged 13.4 points per game.

An opening effort of 25 points helped keep Miami in contention against the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1. Duncan Robinson chipped in with 24, too, shooting 53.8 per cent from three.

Dragic ranked fourth in the league last week in terms of scoring improvement (up 11.6 points on the regular season), with Robinson fifth (up 10.9). Robinson topped the list when it came to an upturn in three-point shooting, while Dragic was just behind. The pair could not be blamed for the Bucks' win.

GOING COLD...

Bam Adebayo

Adebayo certainly could be held responsible for Miami's early deficit, contributing a measly nine points on four-for-15 shooting.

The fourth-year center contributed 17.8 points per game in last year's playoffs, including 17.2 in the Milwaukee series, but he never got going on Saturday.

The decrease from Adebayo's regular season 18.7 average was the sixth-worst in the NBA and, to make matters worse for the Heat, superstar team-mate Jimmy Butler also turned in a concerning performance.

Butler finished with 17 points, yet he made only four of 22 field goal attempts while using 30.0 per cent of Miami's plays.

Chris Paul

Paul's poor game this weekend was the most understandable but also the most concerning. The veteran point guard took a blow to his shoulder in the Phoenix Suns' win over the Lakers and clearly moved uneasily thereafter.

"I heard like a crack or whatever," said Paul, whose ball handling was uncharacteristically clumsy as he was limited to seven points, down from a season average of 16.4 per outing.

It did not cost the Suns, but they will surely need Paul back fit and firing to beat the defending champions over a seven-game series.

Julius Randle

The New York Knicks would not be back in the playoffs if not for Randle's outstanding season in which he played the most minutes in the entire league (2,667) and recorded 24.1 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.

But his belated playoff debut at Madison Square Garden saw a significant step back as Randle's six-for-23 shooting from the field – or 26.1 per cent – allowed the Atlanta Hawks to steal a road game.

The Knicks are built on hard graft rather than superstar talent, but they cannot afford for their All-Star to misfire so drastically.

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    Brazil head coach Tite is bullish that Philippe Coutinho can help replace the injured Neymar in his first appearance in national colours for more than 12 months.

    Coutinho, who earlier this month joined Aston Villa on loan from Barcelona, is set to line up for Selecao in place of the suspended Lucas Paqueta in Thursday's World Cup qualifier away to Ecuador.

    The 29-year-old has not played for Brazil since October 2020 having undergone knee surgery in January 2021.

    Coutinho's return coincides with the absence of Neymar who is out for the upcoming qualifiers with an ankle injury.

    "People always want Neymar, but at times things don't happen the way you want," Tite told reporters.

    "We feel sorry that Neymar can't be here, but we have other options. I'm talking about Coutinho. He is a player that can play in that role and I believe in his quality.

    "Coutinho is an important player and he's been recovering to his best level."

    He added: "From a social and human standpoint, I know how much time he has invested and the challenges he has faced to recover from injury."

    Ex-Liverpool forward Coutinho has started life at Villa brightly, netting the equalizing goal in the 2-2 draw with Manchester United on debut.

    Brazil have already clinched their spot at Qatar 2022, but Tite wanted to push his players in the qualifiers against Ecuador and also Paraguay on Tuesday.

    "I thought the emotions and feelings would be lighter but no, we have the same emotions and anxieties," Tite said.

    "I want to test players in the upcoming qualifiers. I still have the same pressure."

    Tite confirmed that he will field Real Madrid's Vinicius Junior against Ecuador along with Raphinha and Matheus Cunha.

  • Sensational Powell century seals win for West Indies against England Sensational Powell century seals win for West Indies against England

    A ruthless century from Rovman Powell gave the West Indies the perfect base to secure a 20-run win in the third T20I against England at the Kensington Oval in Barbados to go 2-1 up in the five-match series.

    Powell became only the third West Indian to score a T20I century after Evin Lewis and Chris Gayle as he hit an incredible 107 from 53 balls, including 10 sixes. His partnership of 122 with Nicholas Pooran (70) set the hosts on their way to a daunting total of 224-5 from their 20 overs, though England and in particular Tom Banton (73 from 39 balls) and debutant Phil Salt (57 from 24 balls) put up a spirited chase.

    Brandon King (10) fell to George Garton - also making his first appearance - in the second over as the Sussex bowler found the top of off stump, before Shai Hope went for just four after clipping a Liam Livingstone delivery against his own leg pad, which sent the ball into the air for a simple catch for wicketkeeper Banton.

    Pooran and Powell then set about hitting England's attack all over the park, before the partnership was finally broken in the 17th over when Pooran hit Adil Rashid straight to the waiting Livingstone. Powell reached his century before also hitting a shot to Livingstone, this time off the final ball of Reece Topley's spell.

    Jason Roy (19) tried to get England's chase going with a couple of big sixes but soon mishit a Romario Shepherd ball to the waiting hands of Jason Holder, though things looked promising for the tourists as they reached 61-1 at the end of the powerplay, seven runs ahead of the West Indies at the same stage.

    Banton and James Vince kept the required rate within reach early on until the latter fell at the end of the eighth over as he hit Akeal Hosein to Kieron Pollard for 16. Stand-in captain Moeen Ali fell for a second-ball duck, dangerman Livingstone could only manage 11, and after Banton was caught by Holder off the bowling of Pollard, Salt and another debutant Harry Brook (10) tried to get the innings back on track before Brook was sent packing by Holder.

    Salt's knock before he was bowled by Shepherd in the final over provided a hint of what he can bring to this England team in future, but on this night it was not a victory as the West Indies closed their opponent's innings at 204-9 to edge ahead again in the series.

    Ka-Powell

    Powell only averages 22.00 from his 26 T20I innings, but did a good impression of the legendary Gayle here as he hit England all over the Kensington Oval.

    As well as reaching comfortably his highest score in T20Is, he also did so with a strike rate of 201.88, significantly above his average of 130.81.

    England's bowling attack left battered and bruised

    Rashid (25-1) and Topley (30-1) might consider themselves to have performed pretty well considering what happened their their team-mates at the hands of Pooran and Powell in particular.

    Garton took an early wicket on debut but ended with figures of 57-1, while Livingstone came away with 42-1 from just three overs, and Tymal Mills took 52-1 from his four. Ali also bowled a single over for 14 runs and no wicket.

  • Dortmund superstar Haaland believes he can 'improve on everything' Dortmund superstar Haaland believes he can 'improve on everything'

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    The Borussia Dortmund man has been strongly linked with a move to the likes of Manchester City, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, with reports suggesting he has a release clause of €75million that becomes active at the end of the season.

    Speaking to Sky Sports, Haaland may have further tempted those teams and any others who have the money to do a deal by suggesting he is far from the finished article.

    "I think I can improve on everything," he said. "If you say I am good at finishing, I can improve my finishing a lot. I can become faster, so I can improve that. I can become stronger, so I can improve that.

    "But if I should improve one thing, it would be to not get injured, because if I am not injured, I will play a lot more games and I will deliver even better. If you were to ask what my goals are for 2022, it is to not be injured, and the goals for the rest of my career are to not be injured. That's the main thing."

    Haaland has scored 80 goals in 79 games in all competitions since moving to Signal Iduna Park from Salzburg just over two years ago.

    Of players in Europe's top five leagues, only Bayern's Robert Lewandowski (107) has scored more in that time, having played in 11 more games than Haaland.

    The 21-year-old was named as part of the FIFPro World 11 at The Best FIFA Football Awards, where Lewandowski took home the top men's prize ahead of Lionel Messi and Mohamed Salah. Haaland was asked who his top three would have been.

    "I think you would have to say Lewandowski number one," he said, "Then you have, for me, [Karim] Benzema has also been amazing, but Messi has also been outstanding – so Benzema and Messi in shared second and third place."

    The Norway forward was also asked about his recent comments that Dortmund were forcing him to make a decision on his future as soon as possible.

    Haaland said in a post-match interview following last week's 5-1 win against Freiburg that the club "press me to make a decision now about my future", though Dortmund chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke denied this.

    "I don't really want to say too much about it, but I felt it was time for me to say something," Haaland told Sky. "A lot of others were speaking – so that was it. Now, I don't want to say too much. I said what I said, and now we move on."

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