LeBron sets Lakers on playoff run with limitless possibility

Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James grabs a rebound during the first half in Game 6 of the team's first-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday, April 28, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP)
Short Url
Updated 30 April 2023

LeBron sets Lakers on playoff run with limitless possibility

  • The Lakers are on a 14-4 roll after finishing off the 51-win Grizzlies in six games

LOS ANGELES: LeBron James didn’t respond at first after Dillon Brooks called him old and questioned his abilities early in the Lakers’ first-round playoff series with Memphis.
A day after James and the Lakers eliminated Brooks’ Grizzlies in dominant fashion, James let Jay-Z speak for him.
The top scorer in NBA history tweeted some particularly pointed lyrics Saturday from Hova’s 2006 track, “Trouble.” Among several more profane bars was the phrase: “It’s apparent you’re staring at a legend.”
Perhaps to everybody except Brooks, James’ legend has been fully secure for years. He is working on another chapter this season, and the league is starting to realize there’s no telling how far James and his Lakers can take the story of his 20th NBA season.
The Lakers are on a 14-4 roll after finishing off the 51-win Grizzlies in six games. After becoming the first No. 7 seed in the best-of-seven first-round playoff era to win a series, they’re on to the second round Tuesday night, where they’ll face the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between Golden State and Sacramento.
“It gets even harder when you move a level up,” James said. “We were able to conquer Level 1, and now we move up.”
After losing their first five games under rookie head coach Darvin Ham, after beginning the season 2-10, after sitting six games under .500 on Valentine’s Day, the Lakers have been surging ever since the trade deadline.
Although new additions D’Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt and Rui Hachimura have contributed impressively, the 38-year-old James has led the charge when healthy while becoming the top scorer in NBA history along the way.
Anthony Davis likely has been their most valuable player on the court in recent weeks, turning in a six-game defensive masterclass with 26 blocked shots against Memphis. But even Davis says the Lakers will go as far as James takes them.
“He just leaves it all out on the floor,” Davis said. “A lot of us are exhausted. He’s obviously has a little bit more miles on him than all of us probably combined, but we just try to do our part around him to make his job a lot easier (so) he doesn’t have to overexert himself the entire game.”
James scored at least 21 points in five of the six games against the Grizz, and he had the first 20-point, 20-rebound performance of his two-decade career in Game 4 — when he also made a difficult layup to force overtime in the final second of regulation.
After a rough Game 5, James brought his best in the clincher, highlighted by a reverse dunk in traffic that would be a stunner for any baller of any age.
“I’m telling you, man, it’s unreal,” said Ham, a Lakers assistant late in Kobe Bryant’s career before moving to Milwaukee’s staff. “Like, Kobe was nothing short of amazing. You know, Giannis (Antetokounmpo). I’ve been around some top-tier, elite top-five NBA talent. But Bron, man, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
While James isn’t one of the Lakers’ best defensive players, his overall focus and mentality have contributed to their evolution into a dominant defensive team. Los Angeles capably handled Ja Morant’s talent while largely shutting down his supporting cast, embodying the defense-first attitude preached by Ham since his arrival.
It’s also the mentality that the Lakers had under Frank Vogel during their 2020 championship run, but lost for long stretches of the ensuing two seasons. Defensive domination is much easier with a healthy Davis in the paint, and the oft-injured big man was in top form against Memphis.
“I think he was AD,” James said. “I think we all know it, the world knows it, the basketball guys know, the competition knows … how dominant AD is defensively. He was AD. He was spectacular.”
The Lakers’ clincher was a laugher thanks to Russell, who scored a career playoff-high 31 points with five 3-pointers.
Russell has a particularly strong bond with the Lakers’ home crowd, which cheered him through the difficult first two seasons of his NBA career. The high-scoring guard has been inconsistently effective since returning, but the Lakers are awfully difficult to stop when he’s scoring and distributing the ball at the peak of his skill.
“I think the energy since we made that trade, or made that decision to bring guys here, we’ve had an energy that was contagious with our group,” Russell said. “That was one thing we could control. We brought our energy to this team, and it trickled down and it was contagious.”

Beijing half marathon runners stripped of medals after controversial finish

Updated 19 min 53 sec ago

Beijing half marathon runners stripped of medals after controversial finish

  • Race’s bizarre finish saw China’s He Jie cross the line first after two runners from Kenya and one from Ethiopia seemed to deliberately allow him to win

BEIJING: The top three in Sunday’s Beijing half marathon have been stripped of their medals, organizers said, following an investigation into the finish that saw China’s He Jie controversially win.

The race’s bizarre finish saw He cross the line first after the Kenyans Robert Keter and Willy Mnangat, and Dejene Hailu from Ethiopia, seemed to deliberately allow him to win.

Footage of the conclusion to the race went viral.

“Today the 2024 Beijing Half Marathon Organizing Committee issued a decision on the investigation and handling of the men’s race results,” a state media report said on Friday.

It added: “The trophies, medals and bonuses will be recovered.”

The four runners had stuck together throughout the course of just over 13 miles (21 kilometers) around the streets of the Chinese capital.

But He, the 2023 Asian Games marathon gold medallist, won by one second after his supposed rivals appeared to slow down toward the finish and waved him out in front.

All four were “punished” and their results canceled, China’s state broadcaster CCTV reported.

Mnangat had told the BBC that the African trio were pacemakers, although their bibs did not say that.

The race investigation said that Mnangat, Keter and Hailu had not been properly registered as pacemakers for He, so their actions on the finish line breached competition rules.

The Chinese Athletics Association said earlier this week they had met, issuing a statement vowing to make improvements to the sport in the country.

Sunday’s incident received significant attention on Chinese social media site Weibo, with some users criticizing what they saw as an “embarrassing” result.

“This will certainly be the most embarrassing championship in He Jie’s career,” one wrote.

“With such a major organizer and such a well-known event, this really pushes sportsmanship to the ground in shame,” the post said.

Long-distance and marathon running has boomed in recent years among China’s middle class, but there have been numerous instances of cheating and poor organization.

In 2018, at a half marathon in the southern city of Shenzhen, 258 runners were found to have cheated, including many who took shortcuts.

Traffic cameras caught them darting through trees to join a different part of the race.

In 2019, a woman was filmed riding a green rental bike in the Xuzhou International Marathon in eastern China.

She was ordered by race officials to dismount the bike, only to get back on again afterwards.

Rohit says India-Pakistan Test cricket would be ‘awesome’

Updated 19 April 2024

Rohit says India-Pakistan Test cricket would be ‘awesome’

  • South Asian neighbors are bitter political adversaries, have not faced off in Test since 2007
  • They play only occasionally in shorter versions of game usually on neutral territory 

NEW DELHI: India captain Rohit Sharma has thrown his support behind any resumption of Test cricket against arch-rivals Pakistan, saying it would be “awesome.”
The South Asian neighbors are bitter political adversaries and have fought three wars against each other since they were partitioned at the end of British colonial rule in 1947.
Their cricket teams have not faced off in a Test since 2007. Instead they play only occasionally in the shorter versions of the game and usually on neutral territory in international tournaments.
Rohit appeared Thursday on a YouTube chat show hosted by former captains Adam Gilchrist of Australia and Michael Vaughan of England.
Asked by Vaughan if playing Pakistan in a Test series would be beneficial for the five-day game, Rohit said: “I totally believe that.”
“They are a good team, superb bowling line-up, good contest. Especially if you play in overseas conditions, that will be awesome,” added the 36-year-old.
“I would love to. It would be a great contest between two sides... so why not?“
Australia has said it would be prepared to host a series between the rivals.
India and Pakistan have not faced each other on either side’s soil in a bilateral series since 2012.
India last year refused to travel to Pakistan for the white-ball Asia Cup, prompting part of the tournament to be staged in Sri Lanka.
They last met at the 50-over World Cup in India in October.

Qatar beat Jordan to reach last eight of 2024 AFC U23 Asian Cup

Updated 19 April 2024

Qatar beat Jordan to reach last eight of 2024 AFC U23 Asian Cup

  • A last-gasp 2-1 win leaves the hosts on six points from two matches in Group A of the tournament

DOHA: A stoppage time winner saw hosts Qatar defeat Jordan 2-1 on Thursday night to advance to the quarterfinals of the 2024 AFC U23 Asian Cup.

Qatar took the lead through Abdulla Al-Yazidi on 40 minutes, but Jordan equalized seven minutes into the second half thanks to Aref Al-Haj’s spot kick.

The match looked to be heading for a draw when Mohamed Al-Manai scored 14 minutes into stoppage time to break Jordanian hearts. The win Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Al-Rayyan made Qatar the first team to secure a spot in the last eight.

Qatar now sit top of Group A with a maximum six points from two matches. Earlier in the day, Indonesia beat Australia 1-0 at Abdullah Bin Khalifa Stadium in Doha and are currently second in the table with three points. Jordan and Australia are third and fourth respectively with one point apiece.

Saudi Arabia return to action against Thailand on Friday before facing Iraq in their final Group C match on Monday (April 22).

The U23 Asian Cup, which runs until May 3, is also a route to this summer’s Olympic Games in Paris.

The competition sees 16 nations split into four groups of four teams, with the top two from each progressing to the quarterfinals. The winners of both semifinals automatically qualify for the Olympics, regardless who wins the final.

The two losing semifinalists will contest third place, with the winners also booking a spot in Paris. The fourth-place finishers have one final chance with a play-off against an African qualifier.

Chasing 5th straight win, Nelly Korda is 2 shots back at Chevron Championship after a first-round 68

Updated 19 April 2024

Chasing 5th straight win, Nelly Korda is 2 shots back at Chevron Championship after a first-round 68

  • She could join Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sorenstam (2004-05) as the only players to win five consecutive LPGA events
  • Defending champion and world No. 2 Lilia Vu withdrew because of a back injury

THE WOODLANDS, Texas: Nelly Korda, who is looking to tie an LPGA Tour record with her fifth straight win, shot a 4-under 68 on Thursday in the opening round of the Chevron Championship, leaving her two shots behind leader Lauren Coughlin in the year’s first major.

Coughlin shot a bogey-free 66 in windy conditions at Carlton Woods, which is hosting the event for the second time.

The top-ranked Korda is seeking her second major after winning the Women’s PGA Championship in 2021. She could join Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sorenstam (2004-05) as the only players to win five consecutive LPGA events.

Korda said she was battling fatigue from recent tournaments at the beginning of her round. She bogeyed her first hole, the par-4 10th.

“I (could) definitely still feel maybe a little bit of tiredness, so it took me a while to get going,” she said. “I felt the nerves definitely at the start of the round. Once I made the turn, I was just playing free golf.”

She made her first birdie on the par-4 14th hole, something she half-jokingly credited to a snack.

“I actually had an apple on 13, and that gave me actually a nice boost,” she said. “I felt a lot better after that. Maybe I should have apples more often.”

The 25-year-old finished with six birdies, including four in the final six holes.

“Two of them were par 5s, so I got to take advantage of that with my length,” she said. “Hit a really good tee shot, and then I was just on the front of the green on 17, and the other one I was just on the fringe, too. I two-putted pretty much for birdie on those. Then I had wedge shots in on the other two, too. Taking advantage of my length and hitting good tee shots.”

Marina Alex and Japan’s Minami Katsu also shot 68. Lydia Ko was one of five players at 69.

The 31-year-old Coughlin, who played in college at Virginia and has never won on the LPGA Tour, made three birdies in a four-hole span from Nos. 2-5. She believes her game has benefited from her recent decision to make husband John Pond her full-time caddie.

“He’s really good at talking through everything when I want to get really fast and make a decision really quickly,” Coughlin said. “He is really good at putting all the work in, all the extra work, all the extra walking ... making sure the strategy is really good and double checking everything. But ... he’s always been really good with how he talks to me and communicates what he thinks I need to do and how I need to do it.”

Defending champion and world No. 2 Lilia Vu withdrew because of a back injury. She issued a statement on Instagram saying she had “severe discomfort” in her back during warmups.

“I have been dealing with a back injury for a while now,” Vu said in the statement. “Some days are better than others, and today was unfortunately not a good day. During my normal warmup routine, I had severe discomfort in my back and I felt that I could not compete up to my standards and made the decision to withdraw from the tournament ahead of my tee time.”

She added that she was returning home to see her doctors and determine the next steps.

Later in the day, last year’s runner-up Angel Yin withdrew because of an injury after shooting 78.

A win by Ko would put her in the LPGA Hall of Fame. She won the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions in January for her 20th LPGA title.

The 26-year-old New Zealander admitted that she still gets nervous before tournaments despite all her experience and success.

“It doesn’t matter what event we’re playing or what circumstances, when you’re younger you want to get away from the nerves,” Ko said. “To some extent as long as you can control it the nerves are good for you and you’re able to excel and get the adrenaline to hit some shots that you may not be able to execute when you’re just practicing.”

Defending champion Swiatek sails into Stuttgart quarterfinals

Updated 19 April 2024

Defending champion Swiatek sails into Stuttgart quarterfinals

  • The top seed will face former US Open champion Emma Raducanu for a place in the semifinals
  • Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk saved five match points at 5-4 in the final set to defeat fifth seed Zheng Qinwen of China, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5

BERLIN: World No. 1 and defending champion Iga Swiatek progressed to the quarterfinals of the WTA Stuttgart clay court tournament by beating Elize Mertens in straight sets on Thursday, her ninth win in nine career matches at the French Open warm-up event.

Swiatek beat the unseeded Belgian 6-3, 6-4 to maintain her bid to capture a third successive title in the German city and be handed the keys to a third luxury car from the sponsors after also winning the tournament in 2022.

“There’s always space for a Porsche. If not, we’ll make it. I’ll build an underground garage,” said Swiatek after playing her first clay-court match since lifting the French Open title last June.

The Pole burst out of the blocks to set up a 5-1 lead in the first set, before going 0-30 down but recovering to serve out the set.

Swiatek was broken early in the second but served her way back into the set, winning with a forehand on her fourth match point after Mertens had saved the previous three.

“This is not an easy tournament. Everyone is really motivated to win that car,” Swiatek added.

The top seed will face former US Open champion Emma Raducanu for a place in the semifinals.

Raducanu, who helped Britain qualify for the Billie Jean King Cup finals last weekend, took down Czech teenager Linda Noskova 6-0, 7-5.

It will be a first quarterfinal appearance for Raducanu in 19 months. She has been plagued by a raft of injuries since her 2021 Grand Slam breakthrough and missed much of last season.

Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk saved five match points at 5-4 in the final set to defeat fifth seed Zheng Qinwen of China, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5.

World No. 27 Kostyuk will face US Open champion Coco Gauff on Friday for a place in the semifinals.

Elena Rybakina beat Veronika Kudermetova 7-6 (7/3), 1-6, 6-4, continuing her strong form in 2024.

The Kazakh world No. 4, who has already claimed titles at Brisbane and Abu Dhabi this year, beat the Russian in two hours 33 minutes.

“I know I have my weapon, my serve. I know I can always serve it out in tough moments. Not always, but this is a strength,” Rybakina said.

Rybakina will be playing in her seventh quarterfinal of the season on Friday where she will face Jasmine Paolini who put out Ons Jabeur 7-6 (10/8), 6-4.

Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova defeated Anastasia Potapova 7-6 (7/5), 6-1 in her last 16 clash.