NBA

Morant overshadows LeBron as Grizzlies beat slumping Lakers, Booker shines for Suns

By Sports Desk December 30, 2021

Ja Morant's 41 points overshadowed LeBron James as the Memphis Grizzlies won 104-99 to inflict a sixth defeat in seven games for the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday.

Morant was excellent for the Grizzlies, draining six of seven three-pointers in his 41-point haul along with 10 rebounds and two assists.

James, who turns 38 on Friday, tried his best for the slumping Lakers with 37 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists, while Russell Westbrook had another triple-double with 16 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists.

But the four-time MVP came up short in the final 30 seconds, missing a three-point attempt to tie the game before an aimless pass turned the ball over.

Morant skilfully tipped in two to make it 102-97 with 1:15 to go and scored 25 of his 41 points in the second half.

Booker stars as Suns silence Thunder

Devin Booker landed six triples in his 38-point haul as the Phoenix Suns defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 115-97 to improve to a 27-7, putting them joint-top with the Golden State Warriors. Along with his 38 points, Booker also had seven rebounds and five assists.

The Chicago Bulls had a full team performance in their 131-117 victory over the Atlanta Hawks, with contributions from Zach LaVine (25 points), Coby White (17 points, 12 assists), Nikola Vucevic (16 points, 20 rebounds) and DeMar DeRozan (20 points, eight assists).

Rudy Gobert starred with 22 points and 14 rebounds as the Utah Jazz recorded their eighth straight road win, beating the depleted Portland Trail Blazers 120-105 despite Damian Lillard's 32 points.

Brown struggles from beyond the arc

Jaylen Brown has been in top form lately but hit one of 13 from beyond the arc as the Boston Celtics went down 91-82 to the Los Angeles Clippers.

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  • Leonard questionable for Game 1 versus Mavs as Clippers monitor 'unpredictable' situation Leonard questionable for Game 1 versus Mavs as Clippers monitor 'unpredictable' situation

    Kawhi Leonard is questionable for Game 1 of the Los Angeles Clippers' playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks as he continues to be troubled by inflammation in his right knee.

    Leonard has undergone surgeries to repair damage to the anterior cruciate ligament and the meniscus in his right knee in the last few years, having torn his ACL during a second-round playoff series against the Utah Jazz in 2021.

    The six-time All-Star has not featured for the Clippers – who clinched the Western Conference's fifth seed – since the end of March, missing their last eight games of the regular season. 

    Speaking ahead of Thursday's practice session, the Clippers' president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank said Leonard had work to do to make Sunday's matchup at Crypto.com Arena.

    "He's doing everything, our medical staff is doing everything to get the inflammation down so he can play," Frank said. 

    "Progress has been made, but the inflammation needs to continue to reduce so he can do functional basketball movements.

    "There is no gamesmanship here and we're very sensitive of the fact that questions are going to be asked and want to be as transparent as possible. It's okay to say what the truth is. It's unpredictable. 

    "We're hoping it's trending in the right direction. It's a very accurate statement. When it gets to a point where he's able to play, then that's when he'll be back on the court."

    The two-time NBA champion averaged 23.7 points and 6.1 rebounds through 68 regular-season appearances in 2023-24, the former figure falling just short of his 23.8 points per game last term.

    Despite Leonard's importance to the Clippers' chances of defeating Luka Doncic and company, Frank says no risks will be taken with his fitness. 

    "In terms of where we're heading, is it possible he could play? Sure, it's possible. It's Thursday. With each day we'll know more and more," Frank said. 

    "Obviously if he's not healthy to play at a certain moment then he won't be out there. When Kawhi is healthy, he plays. 

    "Some things you can't control, regardless of how meticulous he is with his body and everything that goes into playing. You can only control what you can control and you've got to surrender to the things you can't."

  • Wolves v Arsenal: ‘What we still have to play for is beautiful’ – Arteta Wolves v Arsenal: ‘What we still have to play for is beautiful’ – Arteta

    Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta set out to remind his team that they still have something “beautiful” to play for despite their Champions League exit.

    The Gunners slipped out of UEFA’s flagship club competition in midweek when they went down 1-0 to Bayern Munich, losing 3-2 on aggregate.

    That defeat followed on from a 2-0 loss to Aston Villa last Sunday – a reverse that significantly dented Arsenal’s title hopes, with the Gunners now two points behind Manchester City who, after this weekend, will have a game in hand.

    Arsenal face Wolves on Saturday and, with City in FA Cup action, a win would see them move back to the top of the table, at least temporarily, so Arteta offered a reminder that all is not lost.

    “I can guarantee you we are fully focused on Wolves and everybody's lifted,” he said following the loss in Munich.

    “What we still have to play is beautiful and I said before, it's time to be next to our players and in this moment, not when you win 10 in a row and a draw, that's easy to prize our players and to be behind them and to say really nice things. The moment is now to be next to them.”

    On Friday, in his pre-match press conference, Arteta added: “As an experience, [the Champions League was] the best one.

    “I am now fully focused on the times ahead of us. We are now behind Manchester City and will give it a good go. The context is clear. If we win we are top of the league.”

    Wolves sit 11th, though they could do with snapping a four-game winless streak in order to get their European hopes back on track.

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Wolves – Matheus Cunha

    Cunha has been involved in nine goals in his last nine Premier League games, scoring six and assisting three. His 11 goals overall this season is the fourth most by a Wolves player in a single Premier League campaign after Raul Jimenez (17 in 2019-20, 13 in 2018-19) and Steven Fletcher (12 in 2011-12).

    Arsenal – Bukayo Saka

    Saka has been involved in eight goals in his last seven Premier League away games, scoring seven and assisting one. His 13 away goal involvements overall this term (eight goals, five assists) is the most by an Arsenal player in a single Premier League campaign since Alexis Sanchez’s 20 in 2016-17.

    MATCH PREDICTION: ARSENAL WIN

    Arsenal lost a Premier League game for the first time in 2024 against Villa last time out. Since the start of last season, only twice have the Gunners suffered consecutive league defeats, doing so in May 2023 (v Brighton and Nottingham Forest) and December this season (v West Ham and Fulham).

    Wolves are winless in their last four Premier League games (D2 L2), though they have won their last two at Molineux against sides starting the day in the top two of the table, beating Man City 2-1 in September and Spurs by the same score in November.

    Arsenal have scored in their last 32 meetings with Wolves in all competitions.

    Wolves have now lost each of their last five against the Gunners, failing to score in both home defeats in that run.

    OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

    Wolves – 21.5%

    Arsenal – 51.2%

    Draw – 27.3%

  • Fulham v Liverpool: Klopp unconcerned by Salah's scoring form Fulham v Liverpool: Klopp unconcerned by Salah's scoring form

    Jurgen Klopp is not overly worried by Mohamed Salah’s slight dip in form, as the Liverpool manager turned full focus to the Reds’ Premier League title challenge.

    A bad week for Liverpool was capped off on Thursday when, despite a 1-0 win over Atalanta, they slumped out of the Europa League 3-1 on aggregate following a heavy defeat at Anfield in the first leg.

    That loss on April 11 came three days before a 1-0 home reverse to Crystal Palace, which saw Liverpool’s league title hopes take a dent – they are now two points behind Manchester City with six games remaining.

    What has not helped their course is that talisman Salah – who netted an early penalty against Atalanta but squandered a big chance later in the match – has scored just three times in the league since returning from a hamstring injury he sustained while playing for Egypt at the Africa Cup of Nations in January.

    Klopp, though, is confident Salah will soon be back at his best.

    “I am not particularly concerned,” he said ahead of facing Fulham.

    “That’s what strikers do, that’s what happens to strikers, that’s how it is. We have to go through this, he has to go through that. He is one of the most experienced players we have in the squad.

    “We will go through that but that’s pretty much all. It’s not that Mo didn’t miss chances before in his life, that’s a part of the game. I am not particularly concerned.”

    Reflecting on the task at hand now for his side, Klopp added: “Disappointed that we did not go through [in Europe] but not frustrated or angry.

    “Now we can focus on the league and that’s what we will do. We have a few days to recover, we will do that, and then will travel the day after tomorrow to London and will play Fulham, which will be tricky but we will give our absolute all.

    “That’s our competition now. I saw a good reaction from my side, we had not a great week last week obviously. This, if we want, was the start for the rest of the season with a good result and a good performance and that’s how we see it.”

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Fulham – Andreas Pereira

    Pereira has been involved in four goals in his last four Premier League appearances (two goals, two assists), with his brace against West Ham more than he had netted in his previous 34 games combined (one).

    Indeed, Pereira has more goal involvements than any other Fulham player since the start of last season (seven goals, 13 assists).

    Liverpool – Mohamed Salah

    Salah may not be firing on all cylinders from a goalscoring perspective, but he is proving to be Liverpool’s creative hub.

    Only Martin Odegaard (68) and Bruno Fernandes (59) have created more chances from open play in the Premier League this season than Salah (58). He has created at least four open-play chances in five different games this season, with Roberto Firmino the last Liverpool player to do so more times in one season (10 in 2016-17).

    MATCH PREDICTION: LIVERPOOL WIN

    The Reds might have had a bad week, but Opta’s model still fancies their chances of returning to winning ways.

    Liverpool have scored in each of their last 19 away Premier League matches, the longest current run of any side. That being said, since losing 3-0 to Brentford in their first home Premier League game this season, Fulham have conceded just 13 goals in their last 15 games at Craven Cottage (0.9 per game). With six clean sheets at home so far, the Cottagers last had more in a Premier League campaign in 2010-11 (nine).

    Marco Silva’s team have scored 49 Premier League goals this season, having netted 55 last season. The last time the Cottagers scored 50+ goals in consecutive Premier League seasons was in 2003-04 (52) and 2004-05 (52).

    However, Fulham have won just one of their last 11 Premier League meetings with Liverpool (D2 L8), winning 1-0 at Anfield in March 2021.

    OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

    Fulham – 20.85%

    Liverpool – 53.1%

    Draw – 26.1%

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