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NBA Christmas Day Games 2021: What to Know



The N.B.A. has long looked to Christmas Day as a highlight of the young season, a made-for-TV spectacle that brings together many of the best teams and best players for a daylong extravaganza of basketball fireworks.

This year? Not exactly.

Dozens of players have been cycling through the N.B.A.’s coronavirus health and safety protocols in recent days, forcing teams to improvise by signing scores of replacement players to 10-day contracts. So if you’re expecting to see Kevin Durant lead the Nets into their game against the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday, you’ll be disappointed: On Friday, Durant remained in the protocols. But fans should be able to catch the surprise return of Joe Johnson, whom the Boston Celtics signed on Wednesday to shore up their own battered roster — the same Joe Johnson who is now 40 and had last appeared on an N.B.A. court in 2018.

The pandemic has wrought havoc on the holiday season, and the N.B.A. has not been immune. The league even issued a memo this week to the teams scheduled to play on Saturday that their tip times could be tweaked if any of the prime-time games are postponed. (The Nets, for example, have already had three games scuttled over the past week because of low roster numbers.)

For now, and keep in mind that this is subject to change, here is a look at the five games penciled in for Saturday:

All times Eastern.

Surprising runs to the playoffs last season led to these teams meeting in the first round, spurring talk about the two franchises resurrecting. The Hawks easily dispatched the Knicks then, with the Hawks’ star player, Trae Young, delighting in quieting abrasive Knicks fans, while the Knicks’ top player, Julius Randle, had a terrible series.

The matchup looked like it would start a rivalry between two up-and-coming teams on their way to the Eastern Conference’s elite.

But this season, both teams, far from being resurrected, have been two of the more disappointing teams in the league. The Knicks’ new additions, Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker, have been mostly underwhelming, though Walker, after being benched for several games, has been on a tear in a recent return to the lineup. And while Atlanta had one of the N.B.A.’s worst defenses, its stellar offense hasn’t been enough to compensate for it. Young, already one of the league’s best offensive players, is having the best year of his career, while Randle has struggled.

The good news is that the same thing happened last season, and both teams had impressive second half turnarounds to make the playoffs.

The Christmas game will undoubtedly lose some of its luster with several key players likely to miss the game as a result of the N.B.A.’s health and protocols, including Young, Clint Capela and Danilo Gallinari from Atlanta, and Nerlens Noel from the Knicks. Derrick Rose, one of the Knicks’ lone bright spots against Atlanta in the playoffs, is slated to miss several weeks with an ankle injury.

Fresh off their first N.B.A. championship since 1971, the Bucks knew the early part of their schedule would pose some challenges. For starters, last season’s playoff run extended into late July. Then, two of the team’s best players, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday, helped the United States men’s basketball team win gold at the Tokyo Olympics in August. The Bucks subsequently reconvened for the start of their season and lost eight of their first 15 games.

Despite a shifting roster — Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo are among the players who have missed games after landing in the league’s health and safety protocols — the Bucks seem to be finding their footing as they eye another title. That’s no great stretch, thanks to the presence of Antetokounmpo, a two-time winner of the Most Valuable Player Award who still seems determined to expand his game. He is expected to play on Christmas after missing the past five games.

The Celtics, meanwhile, are enduring growing pains under Ime Udoka, their first-year coach. From the start of training camp, Udoka has stressed the need for his players to pass more willingly around the perimeter. But too often, the ball still sticks — frequently in the hands of Jayson Tatum, a talented young player who has struggled with his shooting this season. The Celtics have also been hindered by injuries to Jaylen Brown.

Boston needs to play a much more complete brand of basketball to have a shot of landing in the postseason, let alone to challenge the likes of the Bucks.

This game features the top two teams in the Western Conference. The Suns are hoping to improve upon their trip to the finals last year, while Golden State looks to continue its resurgence.

In November, the N.B.A. began investigating Robert Sarver, the Suns’ owner, after ESPN published accusations of racism and sexism against him from what ESPN said were current and former Suns employees. If the specter of that investigation has affected the team, it hasn’t shown on the court.

Phoenix has looked formidable in Coach Monty Williams’ third year with the franchise. After a 1-3 start to the season, the Suns went on an 18-game winning streak, which set a franchise record for consecutive wins. That included a win over Golden State and ended with a loss to Golden State. Aided by point guard Chris Paul’s steady veteran hand (he leads the league in assists per game), they’ve weathered injuries. Deandre Ayton missed eight games with a leg injury and illness, and Devin Booker missed seven games with a hamstring injury.

Golden State awaits the return of Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry’s sharpshooting counterpart, who has been absent for more than two years with two serious injuries. He could return soon, but not in time for this game. The team has rocketed to the top of the conference even without him.

Curry set the N.B.A. record for career 3s last week and has been playing well enough to merit consideration for his third M.V.P. Award. Role players, such as Jordan Poole and Gary Payton II, have made major contributions as well.

Ideally, this would be a matchup of the Nets’ Kevin Durant against his longtime elite contemporary, LeBron James of the Lakers. And in theory, there would be other stars, too, like Kyrie Irving for the Nets and Anthony Davis for the Lakers.

But it’s not to be. Davis is out for several weeks because of a knee injury. And the Nets are missing so many players as a result of the league’s health and safety protocols — including Durant and Irving — that their last three games have been postponed. On Thursday, Nets Coach Steve Nash announced that James Harden had left protocols, making him available against the Lakers.

For this matchup, the Nets, who are in first place in the Eastern Conference, are taking on a Lakers team fighting just to stay in the conversation to make the playoffs.

The Lakers’ supporting cast around James and Davis, thus far, has proved to be ill-fitting, and the roster has dealt with a scourge of injuries. Russell Westbrook, the Lakers’ most high-profile off-season addition, has struggled at times. James is putting up exceptional numbers for a 36-year-old, but appears to be finally slowing down: He’s more reliant on his jumper than ever before, averaging a career high in 3-point attempts per game, and a career low in free-throw attempts per game. James is still one of the best players in the league, but it’s not apparent that he can carry an offense by himself like he used to.

With the Nets slated to be without so many key players, this should have been marked as an easy win for a James-led team. But not this year. These Lakers, even at full strength, are mediocre and prone to coast through games. Right now, it’s a tossup.

What’s regular-season dominance without playoff success? The Utah Jazz found themselves confronting that question last season when they finished the regular season with the best record in the N.B.A., but only reached the second round of the playoffs.

That’s meant so far this season their game-to-game focus is on not just their early wins and losses, but on what lessons they can take into the postseason.

“If you’re perfect in November, no one’s going to care come playoff time,” Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell said.

Mitchell has led the Jazz offense with more than 25 points per game, while Bojan Bogdanovic and Jordan Clarkson, the league’s reigning sixth man of the year, have also been important pieces.

Defensively they are led by Rudy Gobert, who is the league’s best with 15.1 rebounds per game and also contributes more than 2 blocks per game.

They’ll face a Mavericks team that has dealt with injuries all season, including to guard Luka Doncic, their best player, who is expected to miss this game because of the league’s health protocols.

Although Doncic leads the team with 25.6 points per game, the Mavericks are not dramatically different statistically when he’s on the court. But they are more fun to watch. If Doncic misses the Christmas Day game, a Dallas team ravaged by the virus and injuries will have a tough time making a game against the Jazz interesting.

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Chelsea and Liverpool prove Premier League excitement, even if title is a foregone conclusion



LONDON — Manchester City have shown themselves to be in a league of their own, so the Premier League should be thankful that Chelsea and Liverpool are still able to keep us all entertained. Sunday’s 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge helped neither team and only consolidated City’s vice-like grip on the top spot, but football is about jeopardy, risk and overcoming flaws, and when it all comes together, you get an unforgettable game like this one.

Even before City moved 11 points clear at the top of table with a 2-1 win at Arsenal on Saturday, this second-versus-third clash was always a case of both sides needing to win to maintain faint hopes of catching Pep Guardiola’s winning machine. City’s win at the Emirates was their 11th successive Premier League victory and they have all been won with such monotonous ease, scoring 33 goals and conceding just seven, that every three points is now met with little more than a shrug of inevitability.

Barring an unlikely collapse in the second half of the season, City will win a fourth league title in five years and you will struggle to count on the fingers of one hand the times they have had to dig deep into their reserves to overcome adversity during that period. Guardiola has built one of the all-time great teams in English football history during his six years at the Etihad, but they may simply be too good to contribute to games like this one.

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Chelsea and Liverpool gave us such a pulsating encounter because they both have weaknesses that can be exploited by their opponents. And as a result, they both had to take risks in an attempt to secure a crucial victory.

And they also had to go into the game with unwanted distractions hovering over both clubs.

Chelsea, with three wins from their past eight in the league, were without £97.5 million striker Romelu Lukaku, dropped by coach Thomas Tuchel because of an outspoken interview about his failure to impress so far at Stamford Bridge since returning to the club from Internazionale in the summer. And Liverpool were without manager Jurgen Klopp, goalkeeper Alisson, defender Joel Matip and forward Roberto Firmino — all isolating because of COVID-19.

City, in contrast, have enjoyed a remarkably serene run of successes since losing to Crystal Palace in October, which is why they are free-rolling to another title. But the Premier League is regarded as the most exciting in world football because of games like this, and teams like Chelsea and Liverpool and the drama they create.

From the first minute, when Sadio Mane was fortunate to escape a red card for appearing to strike Cesar Azpilicueta in the face with an elbow after just 14 seconds, the game was incident-packed. Azpilicueta later said it was a “clear red card” when interviewed after the game.

Christian Pulisic, playing centrally in the absence of Lukaku, wasted a golden chance to open the scoring on seven minutes when, with only stand-in keeper Caoimhin Kelleher to beat, he was indecisive and allowed the youngster to smother the ball. It proved a costly miss when, two minutes later, Mane took advantage of his lucky escape from a sending off by pouncing on a mistake by Trevoh Chalobah to score.

Chelsea were in disarray and Liverpool looked like the team that won the title in 2019. When Mohamed Salah made it 2-0 on 26 minutes with a stunning near-post finish after gliding past Marcos Alonso, it seemed as though Liverpool were about to give Chelsea the kind of hammering they inflicted on Manchester United during a 5-0 rout at Old Trafford earlier this season.

Liverpool were unable to score a third, though, and two Chelsea goals in the space of three minutes at the end of the first half turned the game on its head.

When Kelleher punched Alonso’s in-swinging free kick clear on 42 minutes, the keeper looked to have done well to deny the Chelsea defender. But the ball dropped the Mateo Kovacic on the edge of the penalty area and, as he was backpedaling, the midfielder somehow guided a volley beyond Kelleher and into the net. It was a spectacular display of technique by the former Real Madrid player and it gave Chelsea a foothold back into the game.

And it took them just three minutes to score the equaliser when Pulisic atoned for his earlier miss by latching onto N’Golo Kante‘s pass before beating Kelleher with a precise left-foot shot past the Republic of Ireland international. As the chaos continued on the pitch, Mason Mount almost put Chelsea 3-2 up in first-half stoppage time with a scuffed volley that bounced just wide of the post.

When a game is so eventful in the first half, it rarely delivers a second half of the same quality because of coaches plugging the holes that had led to the earlier excitement. But while the goals stopped flowing, the entertainment didn’t.

Salah forced a crucial save from Edouard Mendy with a 25-yard lob on 57 minutes and Mane was also denied by the Chelsea keeper. Kelleher, not to be outdone, then produced a stunning save to prevent Pulisic from scoring his second of the game.

In total, there were 25 chances over the 90 minutes, with both sides registering six on target. Neither could find a winner, though.

“For the outside world it was quite a good game to watch, but we came here for three points and didn’t get them,” Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk said.

Even if one team had done enough to claim all three points, it’s difficult to imagine they would have been able to close the gap on City, who are destined for another title. And the challenge facing both chasing clubs only grows more daunting in the next month, with Salah (Egypt), Mendy and Mane (both Senegal) now heading off to the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon.

But the Premier League still knows how to excite, even if the title is already a foregone conclusion.

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Michael Scudamore has Do Your Job in mind for Doncaster | Racing News



Doncaster’s Lightning Novices’ Chase could be next on the agenda for Do Your Job following his creditable effort in defeat at Kempton over the festive period.

Runner-up to My Drogo and Belfast Banter in Grade Two and Grade One novice hurdles in the spring, Michael Scudamore’s stable star made a successful start to his chasing career at Warwick in November.

The eight-year-old fell at the eighth fence when stepped up in class for the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown, but bounced back to finish second to Edwardstone in the Wayward Lad last week.

With Scudamore keen to avoid a rematch with the winner, who is seemingly bound for the Kingmaker at Warwick, Do Your Job could instead bid for Grade Two honours at Doncaster on January 29.

Reflecting on his Kempton performance, the trainer said: “I was very pleased. He jumped well and travelled well and did everything right, he was just beaten by a better horse on the day.

“The main objective was a clear round really and maybe if we hadn’t fallen at Sandown we might have pressed on a bit more and made it more of a staying race.

“The most important thing was to get a clear round under his belt and get some more experience over fences for him.

“I think we’ll stick to novice races while we can and we might look to the race at Doncaster. That is what we have pencilled in at the moment, anyway.

“It would certainly be Plan A to try and avoid Edwardstone and I was very pleased to read he was going to go for the Kingmaker. Hopefully they stick to that plan!”

While Do Your Job looks set to remain in novice company on his next start, Scudamore admitted is considering a step into the handicap arena for the Grand Annual at Cheltenham – a race he won with Next Sensation in 2015.

He added: “I’m sure he’ll have an entry in that. He also ran very well at Aintree last year, so there’s that to consider as well.

“He looks like a horse that could have the right sort of profile for a Grand Annual and we’ll see nearer the time.

“In some ways it might make more sense to go for a handicap now, but as we saw at Kempton some of these novice events don’t have a lot of runners in them and there’s some decent prize-money on offer, so it seems silly to pass them over when you’ve only got one chance to run in them really.”

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Adiwang hopes to fight Saruta next



Lito Adiwang was booted out of ONE Championship strawweight rankings after coming up short against Jarred Brooks. ‘The Thunder Kid’ is already itching to step back inside the cage and hopes to fight a ranked fighter next.

Of the fighters in the ONE Championship strawweight division rankings, the 28-year-old Filipino seeks to score a date with No.2-ranked Yosuke Saruta.

“I want a big comeback. I still want a big name. I want to challenge Yosuke Saruta. Maybe if ONE allows it, and he wants it, then I’ll take it. Saruta is someone who I really want to test myself against,” said Adiwang in an interview with ONE Championship.

The 28-year-old admits it is a dangerous fight and a huge risk to take. The high-risk, high-reward scenario is something that Adiwang would like to take as he seeks to put his name back in the rankings again by beating a former champion.

“It’s a big risk for me because I’m coming off a loss, but I want a great comeback and a big name in my return so I don’t fall far off from the rankings.”

Lito Adiwang seeking for a better year in 2022 at ONE Championship

Adiwang now holds a professional record of 13-4 and has been competing in ONE Championship since October 2018. He won his first five fights before receiving his first loss against Koha Minowa via a split decision two years later.

The Benguet-based fighter had three fights in 2021. However, he also suffered his second loss in ONE Championship against Jarred Brooks.

Still in his prime, Adiwang goes back to the drawing board and seeks to polish his MMA skills in 2022.

“I have to check my mistakes inside the Circle, but I also have to check my mistakes outside the Circle. It has to be a balance. Sometimes, I forget other personal obligations and those are the things that I have to work on. I have to balance things out based on last year. I have to correct this in 2022.”

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