Having clinched a Western Conference top seed in the National Basketball Association (NBA) playoffs, the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday began experimenting for the postseason and found they still have some work to do.
In their first game since taking the top spot, the Lakers were routed 105-86 by the Oklahoma City Thunder, never leading for the first time all season.
Chris Paul scored a game-high 21 points and Italian forward Danilo Gallinari added 19 as the Thunder, 42-25, stayed one game behind Utah for fourth in the West.
Three-time NBA champion LeBron James led the Lakers with 19 points and 11 rebounds in 30 minutes on the court, while Anthony Davis had nine points, eight rebounds and five assists.
“Some things we need to continue to work on,” James said. “We’ve been out 4 1/2 months.”
“When you put in the hours, put in the reps, you can’t worry too much. You’ve got to go get it,” he added.
Everyone on the Lakers’ roster played as the purple and gold looked to the playoffs by testing combinations and talent to see who might work well together when needed later in the Orlando bubble, where games resumed last week after a four-month COVID-19 hiatus.
“We have some guys who are new to the system,” James said. “We’re just trying to fit everybody in, do it on the fly, but at the same time get our legs back underneath us.”
In other games, the Orlando Magic and Brooklyn Nets each could have clinched an Eastern Conference playoff berth with a victory, but both were beaten by title contenders.
Fred VanVleet scored a game-high 21 points and matched Kyle Lowry’s game-high 10 assists to spark the defending NBA champion Toronto Raptors over Orlando 109-99.
The Magic fell to 32-37, leaving them a half-game behind the Brooklyn Nets, who, in seventh-place, fell to the Boston Celtics 149-115.
Jaylen Brown led the Celtics with 21 points and Jason Tatum added 19 as Boston had seven double-figure scorers and unleashed the team’s highest one-game point total of the season despite playing without rested star guard Kemba Walker.
Cameroonian star Joel Embiid had game highs of 30 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Philadelphia 76ers over the Washington Wizards 107-98, but the 76ers lost Australian star guard Ben Simmons to a left knee injury in the third quarter.
The Wizards, 24-44 and 0-4 in the bubble, are to be eliminated from playoff contention with one more loss or if Orlando and Brooklyn both win.
Australian guard Joe Ingles scored 25 points, hitting 6-of-11 from 3-point range, while Mike Conley added 23 and French center Rudy Gobert contributed 21 points and 16 rebounds to power the Utah Jazz over the Memphis Grizzlies 124-115.
Dillion Brooks scored 23 to lead the Grizzlies, who had 20 points from rookie star Ja Morant plus 21 points and 14 rebounds from Lithuanian big man Jonas Valanciunas.
Denver’s Michael Porter scored 30 points and grabbed 15 rebounds while Serbian 7-footer Nikola Jokic added 25 points and 11 assists to lead the Nuggets over the San Antonio Spurs 132-126.
Reserve forward Rudy Gay scored 24 points to pace the Spurs, who missed a chance to pull within a game of Memphis as well.
SWEEP THE LEG: Poirier, determined to best McGregor, after losing to him in 2014, used low calf kicks to throw ‘Notorious’ off his stand-up game, before dropping him American underdog Dustin Poirier yesterday shook up the world of mixed martial arts, beating up the legs of Irish superstar Conor McGregor before knocking him out at UFC 257 in Abu Dhabi. “I’m happy, but I’m not surprised. I put in the work,” Poirier said, after the referee stepped in after 2 minutes, 32 seconds of the second round to save McGregor from further damage, after he was dropped by a fierce combination of punches. The 32-year-old Poirier was ranked second in the flyweight division going into the fight, but still rated a heavy underdog by bookmakers to beat his fourth-ranked opponent,
World No. 1 Tai Tzu-ying yesterday eased past her Thai opponent to advance to the second round of the Toyota Thailand Open. The Taiwanese star toppled world No. 46 Supanida Katethong 21-16, 21-11 in 29 minutes at the Impact Arena in Bangkok. “I think I played OK today. I am feeling a little better than last week,” Tai said. Tomorrow, Tai faces Indonesia’s Gregoria Mariska Tunjung. The two have faced each other six times, with Tai beating the world No. 21 in all six matches. Tai on Sunday reached the final of the Yonex Thailand Open before losing decisively against Carolina Marin of Spain.
LOOKING TO REPEAT: World No. 7 Lee Yang and Wang Chi-lin advanced to the round-of-16 at the Toyota Thailand Open, after winning the Yonex Thailand Open on Sunday Taiwan’s world No. 7 duo yesterday eased past the US’ world No. 37 pairing at the Toyota Thailand Open to reach the round-of-16 in Bangkok. Lee Yang and Wang Chi-lin beat Phillip Chew and Ryan Chew 21-14, 21-11 in just 24 minutes. Lee and Wang, who won the men’s doubles title at the Yonex Thailand Open on Sunday, next face the world No. 34 pairing, Canada’s Jason Anthony Ho-Shue and Nyl Yakura. In men’s singles, Taiwan’s world No. 2 Chou Tien-chen again beat Thailand’s world No. 45 Suppanyu Avihingsanon, after edging past the Thai player in the opening round of the Yonex
Three new COVID-19 cases yesterday hit the Australian Open’s troubled buildup as a backlash grew against international tennis players flown in during a raging pandemic. Two of the new cases were players, state health officials said, taking the total infections to seven since more than 1,000 people arrived in largely COVID-19-free Australia on charter flights last week. The Victoria Department of Health and Human Services said that the two players and a third person associated with the tournament — a woman in her 20s, and two men in their 30s — had returned positive results. The year’s first Grand Slam, delayed three weeks,