Pelicans close in on sixth seed as Knicks stun Celtics

Pelicans close in on sixth seed as Knicks stun Celtics
New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson shoots the ball against Sacramento Kings forward Harrison Barnes (40) during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game at Golden 1 Center Thursday. (USA TODAY Sports)
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Updated 12 April 2024
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Pelicans close in on sixth seed as Knicks stun Celtics

Pelicans close in on sixth seed as Knicks stun Celtics
  • The result means New Orleans will clinch sixth place in the West — and avoid the play-in tournament — if they win their final two games
  • Sacramento’s defeat left them in eighth place in the West on 45-35 — an identical record to ninth-placed Golden State and the 10th-placed Lakers

LOS ANGELES: The New Orleans Pelicans boosted their hopes of securing an automatic playoff berth on Thursday with a 135-123 road victory over the Sacramento Kings.

In a crucial Western Conference battle in northern California, Zion Williamson and C.J. McCollum both finished with 31 points as the Pelicans completed an impressive wire-to-wire win.

The result means New Orleans will clinch sixth place in the West — and avoid the play-in tournament — if they win their final two games, at Golden State on Friday and against the Los Angeles Lakers at home on Sunday.

The Pelicans were always in control after a devastating first-quarter performance where they raced into a 34-11 lead at one stage after an 18-0 run.

“Throw the first punch to the last punch, and go out on our shield,” McCollum said of New Orleans’ aggressive first-quarter approach.

“Understand the work, understand the preparation, have fun with it and just enjoy the blessing of being able to play this game at a high level,” McCollum added.

Sacramento’s defeat left them in eighth place in the West on 45-35 — an identical record to ninth-placed Golden State and the 10th-placed Lakers, meaning the final standings are likely to go down to the wire.

Golden State improved to 45-35 after laboring past the eliminated Portland Trail Blazers 100-92 in Oregon.

Stephen Curry led the Warriors scoring with 22 points with Jonathan Kuminga adding 19.

Eastern Conference top seeds Boston slumped to their second straight loss with a 118-109 home defeat to the New York Knicks at the TD Garden.

Knicks star Jalen Brunson finished with 39 points to continue his dazzling run of recent form. The Knicks guard has now scored 35 points or more in his last five outings.

Brunson’s latest virtuoso effort included six three-pointers in a 15-of-23 shooting performance from the field.

The Knicks are third in the Eastern Conference with a 48-32 record, one game behind second-placed Milwaukee (49-31) with two games of the regular season remaining.

Boston (62-18) were subjected to a smattering of boos from their home fans at the final buzzer, and Celtics center Kristaps Porzingis had no complaints with the crowd’s response.

“We got booed at the end for a reason,” Porzingis said. “This was not the team that our fans love. But best believe we’re going to show up when we need to.

“We’ve got a week of work now ahead of us, a couple of games to bounce back and time to get going on all cylinders.”

Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla shrugged off his team’s second straight loss, saying that a drop-off in intensity was inevitable once Boston had secured the top seeding in the postseason.

“I actually don’t mind the result of the last two games,” Mazzulla said. “Going into the postseason with a bunch of wins and feeling good about yourself isn’t necessarily any better than going in with a bloody lip.”

In other games, the Chicago Bulls romped past the Detroit Pistons 127-105 after 39 points from DeMar DeRozan and 27 points from Nikola Vucevic, ensuring they will now face the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the play-in tournament next week.

In the day’s other fixture, between two already eliminated teams, the Utah Jazz defeated the Houston Rockets 124-121.


Rodriguez steers Colombia past Paraguay at Copa America

Rodriguez steers Colombia past Paraguay at Copa America
Updated 25 June 2024
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Rodriguez steers Colombia past Paraguay at Copa America

Rodriguez steers Colombia past Paraguay at Copa America
  • Colombia play Costa Rica in their second group game of the tournament on Friday, before wrapping up their first round campaign against Brazil on July 2

HOUSTON: James Rodriguez rolled back the years with a vintage performance to help Colombia open their Copa America campaign with a 2-1 victory over Paraguay in Houston on Monday.
Rodriguez, whose club career has languished in the decade since he rose to prominence with a dazzling performance at the 2014 World Cup, created both of his team’s goals in a deserved Group D victory at the NRG Stadium.
The 32-year-old midfielder, who has played just a handful of minutes for Brazilian club Sao Paulo in the two months leading into the Copa America, set up the opening goal for Colombia in the 32nd minute.
After finding space on the left flank, Rodriguez flighted a pinpoint cross to the far post to pick out Daniel Munoz, who beat Paraguay goalkeeper Rodrigo Morinigo with a firm downward header to make it 1-0.
Ten minutes later Colombia doubled their lead and again it was a goal engineered by the trusty left boot of Rodriguez.
This time the goal arrived from the opposite flank, with Rodriguez swinging in a wicked free-kick that was glanced in by Crystal Palace midfielder Jefferson Lerma.
That made it 2-0 at half-time to leave Colombia firmly on course to extend their unbeaten streak to 24 games.
Colombia continued to carve out the better chances in the second half, but Paraguay set up a nervy finish after Brighton and Hove Albion’s Julio Enciso pulled one back in the 69th minute.
Ramon Sosa crossed from the left and Enciso punished slack marking in the Colombia area to hook an angled first-time volley into the bottom corner past Camilo Vargas.
Colombia, however, controlled play after the Paraguay goal and looked the more threatening team.
The Colombians thought they had earned a penalty in the 84th minute when another teasing Rodriguez cross into the box ended with defender Yerry Mina appearing to be hauled down by Gustavo Velazquez.
Argentinian referee Dario Herrera pointed to the spot but subsequently overturned the decision after a VAR review.
Colombia play Costa Rica in their second group game of the tournament on Friday, before wrapping up their first round campaign against Brazil on July 2.
Brazil open their Copa America campaign against the Costa Ricans in Inglewood, California, later on Monday.


Zaccagni rescues Italy leaving Croatia in Euro 2024 limbo

Zaccagni rescues Italy leaving Croatia in Euro 2024 limbo
Updated 25 June 2024
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Zaccagni rescues Italy leaving Croatia in Euro 2024 limbo

Zaccagni rescues Italy leaving Croatia in Euro 2024 limbo

LEIPZIG, Germany: Mattia Zaccagni’s superb last-gasp strike fired Italy into the Euro 2024 knock-outs with a 1-1 draw against Croatia in a fraught Group B clash on Monday.

Italy progress in second place behind winners Spain and will face Switzerland in the last 16, while Croatia are on the verge of elimination but could still progress depending on other results later in the week.

With only two points it is unlikely Zlatko Dalic’s side will qualify as one of the four best third-place teams but it is still possible.

Croatia midfielder Luka Modric became the oldest goalscorer in the competition’s history with his strike after 55 minutes, just 33 seconds after Gianluigi Donnarumma saved the 38-year-old’s penalty.

It seemed enough for his team but Zaccagni whipped a brilliant strike into the top corner on the break in the 98th minute to send Italy through from what was dubbed a “group of death.”

After shipping five goals in the first two games, Dalic opted to shore up the midfield by bringing in Mario Pasalic and Luka Sucic amid four changes.

The coach also kept established trio of Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic despite their struggles in the 3-0 defeat by Spain and 2-2 draw against minnows Albania.

Luciano Spalletti’s Italy beat Albania 2-1 but were dominated by Spain in a 1-0 defeat and the coach shifted to a 3-5-2 formation, dropping Juventus’ Federico Chiesa.

Croatia dominated the opening exchanges against a defensive Italy side knowing a draw would send them through in second place behind group winners Spain.

On his first start at the tournament 21-year-old RB Salzburg midfielder Sucic forced a fine early save from Italy’s Gianluigi Donnarumma with a vicious drive from range.

Azzurri forward Mateo Retegui’s header was deflected narrowly wide at the other end on a rare forray forward, with the two-time winners happy to slow the game down and waste time at corners and throw-ins as early as the 20th minute.

Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic made a stunning stop to thwart Alessandro Bastoni, found by Nicolo Barella’s tempting cross, as the holders gained control without taking risks.

Dalic, who steered Croatia to the 2018 and 2022 World Cup final and semis respectively, threw on powerful striker Ante Budimir for the second half.

It gave his team a focal point and they looked instantly more threatening and swiftly reaped their reward.

Italy substitute Davide Frattesi handled Andrej Kramaric’s effort and after a VAR review Croatia were given a penalty.

Donnarumma clawed out Real Madrid midfielder Modric’s effort but the veteran could not be denied 33 seconds later.

The Italian goalkeeper made another fine save in the aftermath from Budimir as Croatia kept the pressure up and Modric smashed home the rebound from close range.

He beat the previous record for oldest Euros goalscorer set in 2008 by Austrian Ivica Vastic by 32 days.

Modric was replaced with 10 minutes to go and even some Italy supporters afforded the playmaker an ovation, while they nervously eyed the ever-advancing clock.

Croatia thought they had progressed but Zaccagni broke their hearts in the eighth and final minute of stoppage time.


Spain complete perfect Euro 2024 group stage as Albania go out

Spain complete perfect Euro 2024 group stage as Albania go out
Updated 25 June 2024
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Spain complete perfect Euro 2024 group stage as Albania go out

Spain complete perfect Euro 2024 group stage as Albania go out
  • It is the first time since 2008 that Spain have won all three group games at either a World Cup or European Championship

DÜSSELDORF, Germany: An early Ferran Torres strike gave Spain’s second-string side a 1-0 win over Albania on Monday as the three-time champions finished the Euro 2024 group stage with a perfect record and the defeat eliminated their opponents.
Barcelona winger Torres finished off a fine move in the 13th minute in Duesseldorf to puncture the atmosphere in a stadium filled with a majority of noisy Albanian fans.
However, this game was not a cruise for a Spain team showing 10 changes to the side which started their 1-0 win over Italy four days earlier.
Spain had already secured top spot in Group B, but Albania knew they realistically needed a win to go through and that made for a frantic encounter at times, particularly as they pushed forward in the second half.
Despite their best efforts, Albania go home after picking up only one point and finishing bottom of a difficult section.
It is a regression for them from their debut European Championship appearance in 2016, when they also went out in the first round but did manage to win a game.
Beating a Spain side who have probably been the most impressive so far in Germany was always going to be a big ask for Albania, coached by former Barcelona left-back Sylvinho.
It is the first time since 2008 that Spain have won all three group games at either a World Cup or European Championship.
Coach Luis de la Fuente can now turn his full attentions to a last-16 tie in Cologne on Sunday against an as-yet unknown third-place finisher.
Center-half Aymeric Laporte was the only Spain player to keep his place following the Italy game, with key midfielder Rodri suspended and everyone else given a breather.
Goalkeeper David Raya, defender Dani Vivian, left-back Alejandro Grimaldo and midfielder Martin Zubimendi, all largely untested at international level, came in.
There was also a start for Jesus Navas, who was part of the Spain teams that won the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, and who is now 38.
Even Laporte was removed at half-time, replaced by Robin Le Normand, while Lamine Yamal and Alvaro Morata also appeared in the second half.
Albania, ranked 66th in the world, knew it would be a big ask to beat Spain having lost all of their eight previous meetings.
Spain first threatened in the 12th minute when Mikel Merino’s header was saved by goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha, and a minute later they were ahead.
Dani Olmo stepped into the space between the Albanian lines to receive a pass, and then fed a measured ball in behind for Torres to latch onto.
The former Manchester City player timed his run perfectly and finished with precision too, his first-time effort going in off the far post.
Torres has made a habit of scoring at these tournaments, having netted twice at the last Euros and twice at the 2022 World Cup.
It took Albania until the final minute of the half to test Raya, the Arsenal shot-stopper flying to his right to parry a powerful strike by Kristjan Asllani.
Joselu hooked a Grimaldo cross just wide moments after the restart for Spain, before the Albanian fans raised the noise levels as they became aware of events in the other match.
They were very close to equalising when substitute Armando Broja met an Asllani free-kick and tried to lob Raya, but the goalkeeper saved.
Asllani then fizzed an effort just wide, and Broja was again denied by Raya in stoppage time as Albania bowed out.


Rohit stars as India beat Australia to reach T20 World Cup semifinals

Rohit stars as India beat Australia to reach T20 World Cup semifinals
Updated 24 June 2024
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Rohit stars as India beat Australia to reach T20 World Cup semifinals

Rohit stars as India beat Australia to reach T20 World Cup semifinals
  • India captain’s dashing innings — he faced just 41 balls, including seven fours and eight sixes — was the cornerstone of a total of 205-5
  • Australia eventually finished their reply on 181-7, with left-arm quick Arshdeep Singh taking 3-37

GROS-ISLET, Saint Lucia: Rohit Sharma led from the front with a blistering 92 as India beat Australia by 24 runs in St. Lucia on Monday to seal their place in the semifinals of the T20 World Cup.
The India captain’s dashing innings — he faced just 41 balls, including seven fours and eight sixes — was the cornerstone of a total of 205-5 made after he lost the toss.
Australia eventually finished their reply on 181-7, with left-arm quick Arshdeep Singh taking 3-37.
India will now face defending champions England in Thursday’s semifinal in Guyana.
Defeat meant Australia’s fate was no longer in their own hands.
Afghanistan, who produced a stunning upset in beating Australia by 21 runs last time out, will qualify for the semifinals if they defeat Bangladesh later Monday in the concluding Group One game of the Super Eights.
Australia lost David Warner for just six when the veteran left-handed opener was undone by a full-length delivery from Arshdeep that he could only edge to Suryakumar Yadav at slip.
Travis Head, whose superb century crushed Indian dreams of a 50-over World Cup final win on home soil last year, kept Australia in the hunt with a well-made 76 off 43 balls.
His second-wicket stand of 81 with skipper Mitchell Marsh looked to be turning the tide.
But Marsh was brilliantly caught one-handed on the boundary by a leaping Axar Patel off Kuldeep Yadav for 37.
Left-arm wrist-spinner Kuldeep then bowled dangerman Glenn Maxwell for 20 with a superb ‘wrong-un’ on his way to fine figures of 2-24 in his maximum four overs.
And when Head holed out off a superbly-disguised slower ball from paceman Jasprit Bumrah, Australia were all but beaten at 150-5 in the 17th over.
Earlier, India star batsman Virat Kohli holed out for a five-ball duck off Josh Hazlewood, with Tim David taking a fine running catch over his shoulder.
But fellow opener Rohit then cut loose. He was particularly severe on Mitchell Starc, the only change to the Australia team following their upset defeat by Afghanistan.
He hit the left-arm fast bowler for 29 runs in a third over where he struck four sixes — two in successive balls over extra-cover, a monster hit over deep midwicket and a top-edged full toss over the wicketkeeper.
But with Rohit threatening the first hundred of this tournament, Starc bowled him with an excellent yorker.


India beat Australia by 24 runs to secure World Cup semifinal spot 

India beat Australia by 24 runs to secure World Cup semifinal spot 
Updated 24 June 2024
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India beat Australia by 24 runs to secure World Cup semifinal spot 

India beat Australia by 24 runs to secure World Cup semifinal spot 
  • Australia on brink of World Cup elimination, need Bangladesh to beat Afghanistan in upcoming fixture 
  • Indian skipper Rohit Sharma sinks Australia with blistering 92-run knock, Arshdeep Singh returns 3-37 figures 

Gros-Islet, Saint Lucia: India beat Australia by 24 runs in St. Lucia on Monday to reach the semifinals of the T20 World Cup.
India captain Rohit Sharma led from the front with a blistering 92 — from 41 balls, including seven fours and eight sixes — as his side posted a total of 205-5.
Australia were then held to 181-7, opener Travis Head top-scoring with 76 in an innings where left-arm paceman Arshdeep Singh took 3-37.
India will now play defending champions England in Thursday’s semifinal in Guyana.
Australia will fail to reach the last four if Afghanistan, who defeated them by 21 runs in a stunning upset last time out, beat Bangladesh in the concluding Group One game of the Super Eights stage later Monday.
South Africa, unbeaten in the tournament, have qualified alongside England for the semifinals out of Group One.