Basketball: USA Tokyo Olympics

Basketball: USA the team to beat in Tokyo

Despite having a shaky build up to the Tokyo Olympics, the USA men’s basketball team are still favourites.

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Initially starting as $1.10 frontrunners, their odds have now dropped due to losing warm up games against Australia and Nigeria, as they now sit at $1.28.

Having beaten Argentina and Spain in their final lead up games will have given them a huge boost into the tournament proper, though, where they’ll face France, Iran and the Czech Republic in their group.

Boasting an amazing squad littered with talent and a masterful coach in Gregg Popovich, they’ll certainly be a formidable foe for any team to beat. Able to call on the likes of Kevin Durant, Khris Middleton, Devin Booker, Jrue Holiday, Damian Lillard, Zach LaVine, Draymond Green and Jayson Tatum, it’s understandable why they’re the favourites for gold.

Courtesy of Wiki Comms

With weapons all over the court and some quality depth, team USA should entertain and put on a real clinic for the watching world to enjoy.

They certainly won’t have it all their way, however, for the likes of Australia ($8.50), Spain ($9.00), France ($15) and Slovenia ($20) will represent a stern challenge in their quest for glory.

As always with international tournaments, with so little time to prepare and refine strategies, upsets are always possible, so team USA will be doing all they can to avoid any missteps. When speaking ahead of the tournament, Durant gave an intriguing insight into their build up, saying: “I feel like we’re understanding what coach wants for us on both ends of the floor. I feel like guys are getting more comfortable with each other and their roles on the team and that’s only going to go well for us when we start to play real games.

“It was good to get a punch in the mouth early on to remind us it isn’t going to be a cakewalk. So many people are used to Team USA coming in and blowing everyone out. It was good for us to see that and hopefully, those are the last losses.”

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Set to be an exciting tournament, the hunt for Olympic gold in basketball is sure to be a fascinating race from start to finish, with America rightfully starting as the team to beat.

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Bucks surge back to life in the NBA Playoffs

After going 2-0 down in the NBA Finals to the Phoenix Suns, the Milwaukee Bucks have responded impressively, following three tremendous victories making it now 2-3 in favor of Bucks.

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They did great in the first quarter of Game Five, the Bucks was down by 16 but they managed to catch up and beat the Suns in their home court.

The Suns also managed to comeback on the last minute of the 4th quarter cutting the lead to three points, but they fell short due to the clutch plays from Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Antetokounmpo scored 32 points, Middleton racked up 29 points, and Holiday scored 27, including the exclamation point alley-oop play from Holiday and Antetokounmpo. Making the final score 123-119 in favor of Bucks.

Game Six will definitely be worth to watch.

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Cleverly recalibrating his game plan, the determined and respected Bucks coach, Budenholzer, drew praise from forward Bobby Portis after the win, which serves as a testament to how highly he’s regarded. “Coach Bud has done a great job with me all season long in the film room. He just stays on me,” Portis said.

“We all need coaches like that to push us. He doesn’t want you to get comfortable. He wants the best out of his guys. Every possession matters and Coach Bud stays on us about it: taking care of the basketball, rotating on defense, low man being there and all being connected on the floor talking and communicating.

“All those things just help me be a better basketball player, and I credit him and his staff for that.”

Another key talking point from the game was Giannis’ spectacular block to deny Deandre Ayton, which then allowed the Bucks to regain possession and grab the lead at the other end.

Coming up big when it mattered, all the momentum has shifted to the Bucks heading into a crucial stage of the series.

With Middleton and Giannis in sterling form, they even became only the third set of teammates along with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson with the Los Angeles Lakers and LeBron James and Kyrie Irving with the Cleveland Cavaliers to each score 40 or more points in games in the same NBA Finals, as per ESPN research.

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Despite their upturn in fortunes, the bookies still have the Suns as favourites to be champions at $1.72, slightly ahead of the Bucks at $2.20, in a series that will be decided by fine margins.

Watching how the series pans out from here will be unmissable, for everything is at stake as the Playoffs near their completion.

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NBA Finals MVP race flipped on its head

Just a week ago, Chris Paul was the man to beat in the NBA Finals MVP race, but fast forward to now and Giannis Antetokounmpo is the man tipped to win the award.

Having starred in the last two games as the Milwaukee Bucks have remarkably levelled the series after going down 2-0, Giannis’ form has been a key reason behind them getting back into the series.

 

Courtesy of Wiki Comms

In absolutely electric form, Giannis’ last two games have seen him rack up a total of 67 points, 27 rebounds and 14 assists, as he’s powered the Bucks to two memorable wins. Upon factoring in his mammoth 42 point and 12 rebound effort in the Game Two loss, and this accentuates why he’s considered the favourite for Finals MVP glory.

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Looking fit and healthy after suffering a knee injury earlier in the playoffs, Giannis is now emphatically flexing his muscles and looking right on top of his game. Priced at $2.50 by the bookies ahead of Devin Booker ($2.75) and Chris Paul ($3.75), he’s understandably the favourite.

Although scoring machine Booker, who’s averaging an outstanding 27.5 points this series, will be a tough man to beat, it’s hard to look beyond the Greek Freak.

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Shortening in the odds from $3.40 before Game Four into the aforementioned $2.50, it’ll take a tremendous effort from the likes of Booker or Paul to win the Finals MVP.

Whatever happens from here, it’ll be fascinating viewing seeing how this race unfolds as the series edges nearer to its conclusion.

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Suns vs Bucks NBA Finals

Suns vs. Bucks an intriguing duel in the NBA Finals

This year’s NBA Finals series will be a hotly contested one, as the Phoenix Suns do battle with the Milwaukee Bucks.

With the Suns making their first finals appearance in nearly 20 years and the Bucks their first in around 50 years, both teams are desperate to become champions.

Heading into the seven game series, the bookies had the Suns as slight favourites ($1.59) ahead of the Bucks ($2.45). But after two games, the script has been flipped considerably following the Suns storming to an impressive two game lead. The odds have shifted significantly as a result, with the Bucks easing out to $4.75 and the Suns shortening to $1.20.

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Looking very impressive in the opening clashes, the Suns, who are led by their star veteran Chris Paul and young sharp shooter Devin Booker, will be hard to beat from here. Shooting exceptionally, Game Two offered a testament to their quality in this regard, for they made 20 from downtown from 40 attempted three pointers, giving them a 33 point edge over the Bucks in this department.

“We got shooters,” Paul said. “Like, real shooters. And I say this all the time, it’s nice when you kick it out to a guy and you expect him to make it.”

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With Booker their most damaging shooter, the fact he’s so well backed up by Paul, Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder adds to their threat and how challenging they are to defend. Being so elite with their shooting importantly masked some other aspects of their performance, thus further enhancing what an integral component of their game it is.

Even though the Bucks have made a disappointing start, it’s still too early to write them off, for they still have a team littered with class, which includes superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo.

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Indeed, The Greek Freak emphatically demonstrated what a formidable weapon he is in Game 2 by notching an incredible 40 points and 10 rebounds (the only player to hit those two marks in Bucks history in the playoffs). Unfortunately his spectacular efforts went unrewarded, which would have been a source of frustration for him.

If the Bucks are to produce a comeback, though, their other big names like Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday will need to step up and produce the goods to support Giannis too.

“I think defensively, I think there’s some progress and improvement,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We’ve just got to keep working that end, and same thing offensively. We’ve just got to get better, and we’ve got to go home and play good basketball.”

With everything still to play for, the Bucks will need to win Game 3 if they’re to have any chance of glory while the Suns will be hoping to extend their lead further.

In less than a week, all will be revealed in the race to be crowned NBA Champion.

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chris paul tipped nba finals mvp

Chris Paul tipped to be crowned NBA Finals MVP

Seeing as Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo entered the first game of the playoffs with an injury and Chris Paul starred in his absence, the Phoenix Suns veteran has emerged as favourite to win the NBA Finals MVP.

Putting in a superb performance in the finals opener, where he notched an eye-catching 32 points, nine assists and four rebounds, Paul was instrumental in steering the Suns to an outstanding 118-105 victory.

Starting his first NBA finals series in his tremendously successful 16 year career, Paul looks like a man on a mission to propel the Suns to NBA glory.

Averaging 18.1 points, 8.7 assists, 1.4 steals and shooting 47% from the field in the playoffs per game (as per Arizona Sports), it’s clear what good form he’s in both offensively and defensively. Indeed, the fact he finished fifth in the NBA MVP voting behind only winner Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, Stephen Curry and Giannis illustrates what a remarkable campaign he’s having.

Courtesy of Wiki Comms

Priced at $1.67, the intelligent and skillful point guard is comfortably the favourite among the bookies, for he’s well ahead of Giannis ($5.50), Devin Booker ($6.50) and Khris Middleton ($8.50). Starting the playoffs at $40 to win the finals MVP, it’s been incredible how he’s now at the top of the pile to win the coveted award.

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Such a fine orchestrator of play and leader out on the court, this, in combination with his scoring prowess, makes him an extremely challenging opponent to face off with. Capable of hurting opponents in so many ways, the Bucks will need to pay close attention to him if they’re to have any chance of success, which is definitely easier said than done.

Having enjoyed a sensational career so far and accomplished so much, winning an NBA championship would unquestionably be a perfect reward for the outrageously talented magician.

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Golden Boot race a fascinating one at the Euros

With some big players in the Golden Boot running exiting the tournament at the Round of 16 and in the quarters, it’ll be intriguing to see if any of the remaining players in contention can catch Cristiano Ronaldo.

Sitting on five goals alongside Patrik Shick, who, despite scoring against Denmark is also now eliminated, Ronaldo is interestingly still first. This is because of the fact he’s registered an assist, which is how the tie breaker works if players are level on goals.

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With a host of legitimate contenders departing from the tournament in the last week, such as Karim Benzema, Emil Forsberg, Romelu Lukaku and Haris Seferovic, it’ll take a huge effort for anyone to overcome Ronaldo now.

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One man, however, who’s put himself right in the mix is England’s star forward Harry Kane. Moving up to three goals following his super brace in England’s thumping 4-0 quarter final victory over Ukraine, he looks to have a real shot at Golden Boot glory. Now on a roll, he’ll be fired up to add this crown to his World Cup Golden Boot achievement.

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His teammate, Raheem Sterling, could also be in with a shout, as his three goals could be added to as England move into the semi finals against Denmark.

In terms of Denmark, Kasper Dolberg’s three goals in his last two games have seen him emerge as a smokey for the Golden Boot, as the big man has come into the side and impressed immensely.

Upon looking at the odds, the bookies still have Ronaldo as the favourite at $1.75 to win the award ahead of Kane ($8), Sterling ($12) and Dolberg ($33).

Set to be a shootout between Kane, Sterling and Dolberg to catch Ronaldo for the Golden Boot, watching how this race unfolds will be a fascinating subplot as the tournament enters its final stages.

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Djokovic gunning for Wimbledon glory

Having just won the French Open, Novak Djokovic has quickly turned his attention to winning Wimbledon.

Coming in as the favourite for the coveted title, the Serbian star has made a solid start to his quest for glory.

Getting past spirited British youngster Jack Draper ensured he opened the championships ideally. Despite losing the first set 4-6, the 34-year-old immediately got back on track, going on to cruise to victory, eventually winning the next three sets while losing only five games.

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Seeing as Wimbledon was cancelled last year due to the pandemic, Djokovic spoke of his delighted to be back winning at the famous event. “It feels great seeing everyone and being back on the most special, or sacred, tennis court in the world,” said Djokovic.

“It has been very difficult times for everyone but I’m very glad the sport is back, hopefully you guys enjoyed it and will enjoy the next couple of weeks.”

Moving into the second round, Djokovic, who’s aiming to equal Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer’s all-time men’s record of 20 major titles, then faced South African Kevin Anderson.

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Making short work of his opponent, the world number one breezed by Anderson, winning 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 to advance to the third round for the 15th time at Wimbledon. Interestingly, when speaking after the match, Djokovic noted he was very wary coming up against the experienced veteran Anderson, asserting: “Obviously I’m in a high level of confidence after winning [Roland Garros]. But I was nervous coming into this match because I was playing a very good player, experienced player, whom I faced in the final three years ago.

“He’s a big server. He’s a very dangerous opponent, especially in the early rounds. But I’ve done things on and off the court to make myself feel that I’m focused, yet at the same time calm and composed and clear with my game plan and what I want to do. Obviously I did my homework, talked with my coach, and worked well on the practice court.”

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Looking confident and on top of his game, he’ll be a tough man to beat for this year’s Wimbledon. Indeed, this is duly reflected in the odds, where the bookies have installed him as a clear favourite at $1.53. The fact the next best rated challenger is priced at $7 in Daniil Medvedev shows that he’s unquestionably the man to beat.

His chances of success have certainly been boosted by Stefanos Tsitsipas’ shock first round defeat, as the Greek sensation, who pushed Djokovic all the way at Roland Garros, came unstuck against American Frances Tiafoe.

While there’s still a long way to go and many elite players left in the tournament, it’s going to take a special effort to stop Djokovic claiming his 20th Grand Slam title.

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NFL Player in Blue Jersey

4 Possible NFL Trades this June 2021

Now that it is June, NFL teams can trade or release players, more so when they can spread the salary cap hit over two years instead of one. This month will bring many changes for the teams. For instance, the Packers couldn’t afford Aaron Rodgers from a financial standpoint until now. They won’t be considering any NFL trades for him. However, other players like Julio Jones and Zach Ertz may be moved.

In 2022, the salary cap is also expected to increase up to $208.2 million. This will give NFL teams more flexibility to make newsworthy moves. 

Here’s a look at some players who may be NFL trades or releases.

Russell WilsonCourtesy of The New York Times  

Russell Wilson

The 7-time Pro Bowl quarterback became a topic of NFL trades speculation because of the questions he raised against the Seattle Seahawks. Wilson raised questions that Seattle was not doing enough to put a winning product around him. However, Pete Carroll, the Seahawks coach, and John Schneider, the general manager, stopped those rumors. Accordingly, Seattle would have taken a #39 million cap hit if they traded Wilson already. The amount has now decreased to $13 million.

Julio Jones

Jones said last week that he is ready to leave the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons have been having salary cap issues. Moreover, the 32-year-old player counts $23 million against it for 2021. If Atlanta decides to trade him now, they can save $15 million. Also, last season, he had 51 receptions for 771 and 3 touchdowns in nine games. He is guaranteed $15.3 million this season. But, there might be another team looking to get him and will restructure his deal.

Zach ErtzCourtesy of Bleacher Report

Zach Ertz

Ertz has already said goodbye to the Philadelphia Eagles in a news conference after the season. However, Howie Roseman, the Eagles general manager, has not found an acceptable NFL trades offer. The three-time Pro Bowl tight end is coming off his worst season. He caught 36 passes for 335 yards and one TD in 11 games. Also, this season he is scheduled to earn $8.5 million. Additionally, he may count $4.2 million dead money in 2021 and $3.6 million in 2022.

Aaron Rodgers

Although the reigning NFL MVP player has expressed his frustration with the Green Bay Packers, the team insisted that he’s staying. Green Bay would have incurred a $33.8 million dead cap charge in 2021 by trading Rodgers before June. Furthermore, the Packers may also free up $22.8 million in salary-cap space in 2021 and another $25.5 million in 2022. Lastly, they can clear the contract off-book completely for 2023. But the club hasn’t reached a point where they want to part ways with Rodgers.

According to Packers coach Matt Lafluer, “We want him back in the worst way. I know he knows that, and we’ll continue to work at it each and every day.”

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NBA: Atlanta Hawks not to be underestimated in the playoffs

Having advanced to just their second NBA conference finals series in 50 seasons, the Atlanta Hawks have been a joy to watch in the playoffs.

Proving themselves to be a team not to be underestimated, they impressively overcame the fancied Philadelphia 76ers in a pulsating seven game series to make the conference finals against the Milwaukee Bucks.

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Led by the magnificent Trae Young, who’s been exceptional for them all season and in the playoffs, the Hawks have been a formidable foe. To focus on Young, and the fact he’s averaging 29 points per game and 11 assists pg in the playoffs serves as a testament to what a star he is.

The play of big man John Collins has been valuable too, for he has played a key role both offensively and defensively to make the Hawks an even stronger outfit. Averaging 15 points pg and around 10 rebounds pg, there’s no doubting how crucial his contributions are.

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Kevin Huerter’s influence warrants praise as well, as he’s stepped up in the absence of the injured De’Andre Hunter to stamp his mark. His mammoth effort in game seven against the 76ers underlined his worth, where he notched up a game changing 27 points to help the Hawks triumph.

With the likes of Clint Capela, Lou Williams, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Danilo Gallinari proving their class as well, the Hawks have emerged as legitimate title challengers.

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Possessing a wonderful team spirit, plenty of credit deserves to go to coach Nate McMillan, who’s done a masterful job galvanising this team since taking over earlier in the season. “Everyone wants to sacrifice and everyone wants to be a part of a team like that,” Bogdanovic explained.

“We just don’t give up, honestly. The whole year, we had so many crazy games. We’ve never given up. That’s what I can see on this team. Every single person here is the ultimate competitor, and I think that’s what drives us to that next level. If you have so many competitive guys, you’re going to push each other to play better, even if you think you’re good, you always need to play better. That’s what I see. It’s that competitiveness inside the locker room.”

Unquestionably a tough team to face off against, the Bucks found this out in game one, as the Hawks overcame them to start the series in style. Despite their remarkable run, the bookies only have them as third favourite to be NBA Champions at $7 (behind the Phoenix Suns $1.91 and the Milwaukee Bucks $2.40).

Continuing to prove their doubters wrong, it would take a brave man to write off the Hawks who are firing on all cylinders at just the right time.

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Spain kicking into gear at the Euros

After underwhelming in their opening two matches of the Euros, Spain finally clicked into gear in their final group game by trouncing Slovakia 5-0.

Having struggled to find a cutting edge against Sweden and Poland despite dominating possession heavily, Luis Enrique’s men produced the goods when it mattered to qualify for the Round of 16, where they’ll play Croatia.

Coming under heavy criticism ahead of the Slovakia game, the Spanish press was full of negativity in the build up to the do or die clash. Spain’s emphatic victory certainly went a long way towards silencing the doubters.

When Spain missed an early penalty, their fifth in a row, many thought the writing was on the wall. But La Roja responded brilliantly by keeping up the pressure on their adversaries.

Eventually they were rewarded, as Martin Dubravka’s error gifted them the lead. This proved just the catalyst they needed, as Aymeric Laporte’s excellent header ensured they went into the break 2-0 up.

Courtesy of Wiki

With Pedri and Pablo Sarabia hitting their stride in the second half, goals from the latter and Ferran Torres propelled Spain to a 4-0 lead, as Spain capitalised on their momentum. Another own goal, this time from Juraj Kucka, made it five, as Spain incredibly equalled the biggest winning margin in Euros history.

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Putting in an excellent collective performance, in a match where they completely outclassed their opponents, Enrique rightfully cut a delighted figure after the match. “Obviously the cork has popped out of the bottle,” he gleamed.

“We are delighted for the joy we gave to the fans and their families, the staff and their families. Now we have to get another bottle ready and see if we can pop the cork out again.”

Priced at $9 to win the summer showpiece behind France, England, Italy and Germany, Spain will be hoping this is the start of a special run.

Boasting so much quality all over the pitch, there’s every reason to suggest they can go far in the tournament. Their success or failure will ultimately depend on if they can translate their dominance into goals just like they did against Slovakia.

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