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Sabres acquire Eric Staal, send Marcus Johansson to Wild



Veteran forward, Buffalo GM Adams won 2006 Stanley Cup as Hurricanes teammates

The Buffalo Sabres acquired veteran centre Eric Staal in a trade that sent forward Marcus Johansson to the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday.

The trade was the first completed by newly hired Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams, who took over after Jason Botterill was fired in June. Adams is very familiar with Staal, as they were teammates in Carolina and members of the Hurricanes team that won 2006 Stanley Cup.

Both players are in the final year of their contracts, with the cost-conscious Sabres saving $1.25 million US in space under the salary cap. Buffalo, however, takes on a 35-year-old Staal, who is six years older than Johansson.

Staal most importantly addresses Buffalo’s need at centre. He’s a 17-year NHL veteran, who had 19 goals in 66 games, just missing out on his 12th career 20-goal season, which was shortened due to the coronavirus in March. He also had 28 assists.

Staal is sixth among active players with 436 goals and eighth with 1,021 points.

Johansson struggled finding a niche in his first season with Buffalo and finished with nine goals and 30 points in 60 games. He’s a 10-year veteran who was signed to a two-year, $9 million contract in July 2019.

In his daily recap, Rob Pizzo breaks down how the Islanders lived to see another day.  2:44



Nearly 1 year after season’s start, Tampa Bay Lightning return home with Stanley Cup




NHL champions arrive from Edmonton at airport to hundreds of friends and family

Defenceman Ryan McDonagh was preparing to answer one last question regarding the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Stanley Cup championship when teammates Nikita Kucherov and Alex Killorn crashed the room, putting an abrupt and celebratory end to the news conference.

“Who’s next? Next question,” Kucherov said, looking into the camera.

With McDonagh stopping in mid-sentence, Killorn stepped behind the podium and said, “We’re not staying here all night, man.”

The wait for the Lightning — and the NHL — was long enough after Tampa Bay clinched the Cup with a 2-0 win in Game 6 against Dallas on Monday night in Edmonton, Alberta.

The Lightning raised the Cup 363 days after the first puck was dropped on the 2019-20 season, and some 6 1/2 months after hockey was put on pause due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We knew what we were capable of with our whole roster, and we were pretty thankful to get the opportunity to come back and play,” McDonagh said.

The Tampa Bay Lightning took home the Stanley Cup, but the NHL is also celebrating. There wasn’t a single positive COVID-19 test within the league’s bubble, which is being heralded as a win and as a model for sports going forward in the pandemic. 1:59

The Lightning’s title, their second after winning in 2004, was historic.

In becoming the first team to win the Cup after the month of June, the Lightning also became the first to win 18 playoff games, including two in a preliminary round seeding series, as opposed to the standard 16. And they did so while spending 65 days in the NHL bubble, starting in Toronto before relocating to Edmonton for the conference finals.

“Obviously, we can go back and look at what’s going on in the world now,” said Maroon, who won the Cup last year with St. Louis. “I think a lot of us are going to sit back and talk about this one a lot, because this one was a special one, and a hard one to win.”

The Lightning returned home later Tuesday, greeted by family members and hundreds of fans on an airstrip near Tampa International Airport.

The crowd cheered team members exiting the plane. Defenceman Victor Hedman, holding his Conn Smythe Trophy, and team captain Steven Stamkos, hoisting the Stanley Cup, were the last to leave the airplane.

“To finally be here and enjoy it, it’s awesome,” Killorn said. “It’s kind of surreal right now to be honest.”

Steven Stamkos hoists the Stanley Cup as captain of the Tampa Bay Lightning who defeated the Dallas Stars in six games. 3:41

Once reunited with their families, the team members were taken to Amalie Arena for a private on-ice celebration that included their wives, girlfriends, children, arena staff workers and team sponsors.

Team owner Jeff Vinik said the Lightning have been one of the most successful teams in the NHL, but were missing one thing.

“Over the past six years we’ve been to four conference finals and played for the Stanley Cup,” Vinik said. “This time we won it.”

Stamkos thanked the families for their patience as the players spent more than 60 days in the NHL’s bubble in Toronto and Edmonton.

“This was probably the toughest Stanley Cup to win under the circumstances.,” Stamkos said. “It’s amazing the sacrifices the families went through just to allow us to chase our dreams.”

Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman speak with the media after Tampa Bay’s Stanley Cup victory. 2:27

A fan rally and boat parade along the Hillsborough River is set for Wednesday, followed by a public celebration at Raymond James Stadium where 16,000 fans are expected to attend.

While the Lightning celebrate, the NHL turns its attention to next week, when the two-day draft — to be conducted remotely — opens on Oct. 6, followed by the start of free agency three days later.

It remains unclear when the 2020-21 season will open, either in December or early January, though the plan is to squeeze in a full 82-game schedule.

The experienced and deep Lightning made Stars coach Rick Bowness’ pre-series comments prescient. Bowness, a former Tampa Bay assistant, noted how the Lightning “weren’t quite ready to win” in 2015 in losing the final to Chicago in six games.

This year’s team proved far more battle-tested, with much of the same core still in place, and all too familiar with playoff setbacks. The Lightning lost Eastern Conference final appearances — both in Game 7 — in 2016 and 2018. Then there was the unshakable memory of last year, when Tampa Bay ran away with the regular-season title only to be swept by Columbus in the first round.

Blake Coleman added the punctuation mark in a 2-0 game six win for the Tampa Bay Lightning who secure the franchise’s second Stanley Cup. 1:03

It was only fitting, McDonagh said, that Columbus was the Lightning’s first-round opponent this year. Tampa Bay not only won the series in five games, but showed perseverance in opening the series needing five overtimes to pull out a 3-2 win in the fourth-longest game in NHL history.

They did it with Stamkos limited to playing just two minutes and 47 seconds while missing the rest of the playoffs with a core muscle injury. And they overcame leading goal-scorer Brayden Point missing two games (both losses) with an undisclosed injury.

The Lightning never lost two straight, and enjoyed a few blowout victories, including 8-2 and 7-1 routs over Boston and the Islanders. More important, Tampa Bay was 12-3 in games decided by one goal.

General manager Julien BriseBois earned credit for adding grit and playoff experience. Maroon and defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk were among the team’s off-season free-agent additions. BriseBois didn’t stop there, trading first-round draft picks to acquire Barclay Goodrow from San Jose and Blake Coleman from New Jersey in February.

The Lightning, who finished second in the Atlantic Division with a 43-21-6 record, capped a season in which they enjoyed a franchise-record 11-0 run from Jan. 29 to Feb. 17 following a 14-11 start.

Shattenkirk credited coach Jon Cooper for not over-reacting to the early stumbles.

“I think his patience was probably the best characteristic,” Shattenkirk said earlier this month. “He showed throughout the whole way in believing in our team and believing in the guys we had in the locker room.”


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Aces outlast Sun in defensive battle to advance to WNBA Finals




League MVP posts 23 points, 11 rebounds to help Vegas eliminate Connecticut

A’ja Wilson had 23 points and 11 rebounds, Angel McCoughtry added 20 points and the top-seeded Las Vegas Aces held off the No. 7 seed Connecticut Sun 66-63 on Tuesday night to advance to the franchise’s second WNBA Finals.

Las Vegas will play on Friday against Seattle, which advanced to its second championship series in three seasons on Sunday after sweeping Minnesota. The Aces’ franchise hadn’t reached the finals since doing so as the San Antonio Silver Stars in 2008.

Carolyn Swords and Danielle Robinson each grabbed 10 rebounds for Las Vegas, which overcame 18 turnovers. The Aces were without Dearica Hamby, last season’s sixth woman of the year, because of a season-ending knee injury. She averaged 13 points and 7.1 rebounds during the regular season.

Las Vegas trailed 49-39 early in the third quarter but went on a 13-0 run, with McCoughtry, Wilson and Kayla McBride combining for 13 points, to take the lead.

McCoughtry missed a free-throw line jumper and Connecticut guard Jasmine Thomas called a timeout with 13.4 seconds left, down 66-63. Thomas received the inbounds pass and got it to DeWanna Bonner at the top of the arc, but her contested shot didn’t hit the rim as time expired.

Alyssa Thomas, dealing with a shoulder injury, had 22 points and 10 rebounds for Connecticut, which was going for its second straight trip to the finals. Bonner had 15 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Connecticut was held to 18 second-half points.


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Snell spins a gem as Rays sting Blue Jays in opener of wild-card series




Tampa Bay pitcher strikes out 9 Toronto batters through 5.2 scoreless innings

The Tampa Bay Rays struck first in their wild-card series against Toronto on Tuesday, riding a stellar performance from starter Blake Snell to a 3-1 victory over the Blue Jays.

Snell was dominant over 5 2/3 innings, allowing one hit and striking out nine. Manuel Margot hit a two-run homer in the seventh inning and Pete Fairbanks survived a nervous ninth for the save.

The Blue Jays scored their lone run in the eighth inning when Bo Bichette drove in Rowdy Tellez with a sacrifice fly. Lourdes Gurriel, Jr., doubled in the ninth before Fairbanks struck out Teoscar Hernandez and got Joe Panik on a weak pop-up to end it.

Toronto’s Matt Shoemaker, a surprise starter for the opener of the best-of-three series, threw three scoreless innings in his second start since missing a month due to right shoulder inflammation.

The move was a gamble for the Blue Jays, who felt comfortable taking the chance that their second-best starter, Taijuan Walker, wouldn’t pitch unless the series goes the distance. The decision also allowed ace Hyun-Jin Ryu to get an extra day of rest ahead of his Game 2 start on Wednesday.

Shoemaker gave up two hits and struck out a pair over a 35-pitch outing. With left-hander Robbie Ray on in the fourth inning, Randy Arozarena led off with a triple and scored the game’s first run on a wild pitch.

Blue Jays analyst Mike Wilner joins CBC News Network to discuss the Blue Jays first playoff appearance since 2016. 6:22

The Blue Jays threatened in the seventh after Diego Castillo hit Vladimir Guerrero Jr., with a pitch and gave up a one-out single to Gurriel. But Nick Anderson came on and retired Hernandez and Panik.

In the bottom half, A.J. Cole walked Joey Wendle before Margot went deep on a 1-1 pitch.

Snell, who won the AL Cy Young Award in 2018, was consistently ahead in counts and didn’t allow a hit until Alejandro Kirk led off the sixth inning with a single. He walked two batters and threw 48-of-82 pitches for strikes.

Ray settled in after his early hiccup, throwing three innings of one-hit ball while striking out five. Ryan Borucki and Thomas Hatch also pitched for the Blue Jays, who held Tampa Bay to four hits.

The Rays are the top seed in the American League after a 40-20 regular season. The Blue Jays took the eighth and final seed after a 32-28 campaign.

For the first time in four years, the Toronto Blue Jays will play in the MLB postseason. The team of young stars surprised many in the baseball world by clinching a playoff berth with a victory over the New York Yankees. 1:52

Toronto went 4-6 against the Rays in the regular season but outscored Tampa Bay 48-44 overall. Four of the Blue Jays’ six losses were by one run.

The Blue Jays finalized their 28-man series roster earlier in the day. Tellez, who missed three weeks with a knee strain, made the cut while injured reliever Jordan Romano (finger) of Markham, Ont., did not.

This is the first time that the Rays and Blue Jays have met in the playoffs. Tyler Glasnow is listed as Tampa Bay’s probable starter for Game 2 ahead of Charlie Morton in Game 3.

The Rays, who have yet to win a World Series since making their debut in 1998, lost in the American League Division Series last year.

The Blue Jays, who won championships in 1992 and ’93, are making their first playoff appearance since 2016.


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Cat Osterman crowned 1st individual Athletes Unlimited softball champion




37-year-old lefty compiled 2408 points with 95 Ks through 64 innings pitched

Team USA pitcher Cat Osterman is the first Athletes Unlimited softball champion.

The league crowned her its individual champion Monday based on points scored in games played during a five-week season played in a bubble at a sports complex in Rosemont, Illinois. The 37-year-old left-hander compiled 2,408 points, followed by Jessica Warren, Victoria Hayward and Erika Piancastelli.

Osterman retired in 2015 and returned in 2018 for a chance to play in the Olympics. She valued the chance to get high-level competition again, especially during a pandemic. And she appreciated the chance to re-connect with the players and fans; all 30 games were broadcast or streamed through various partners.

“I think this was an incredibly important opportunity for not only us athletes, but also giving the fans a sense of normal, being able to watch their favourite athletes play,” she said.

The league featured 57 of the top players in the world, including 19 Olympians from the United States, Canada, Mexico and Italy. Haylie McCleney was named Defensive Player of the Year. She was chosen by a vote that included the players.

Filling the void

With the Olympics being pushed back to 2021 because of the pandemic, the league provided an opportunity for players to keep their skills sharp. The league said Tuesday it will return next year.

“As soon as we got delayed, all of us were like, ‘OK, we have to figure out a way to be a part of Athletes Unlimited,” Osterman said. “`We have to figure how to do something to keep ourselves going.’ This filled a void in training and mentally as far as being able to get on the field and feel normal again.”

Osterman added to a long list of honours. She was an Olympic gold medallist in 2004 and a silver medallist in 2008. She was slated to be on the Olympic team this year before the COVID-19 pandemic caused the Games to be postponed. In college at Texas, she was a three-time USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year.


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1-eyed Mighty Heart closes in on Canadian Triple Crown with Prince of Wales Stakes win




Jockey Daisuke Fukumoto, horse earlier captured Queen’s Plate as 13-1 longshot

It’s two down, one more to go for jockey Daisuke Fukumoto and Mighty Heart.

Mighty Heart passed Clayton in deep stretch to capture the $400,000 Prince of Wales Stakes on Tuesday. It came 17 days after the one-eyed Mighty Heart went wire-to-wire as a 13/1 longshot to win the $1-million Queen’s Plate at Woodbine Racetrack.

Mighty Heart, who lost an eye in a paddock accident with his mother as a foal, can become the first horse since Wando in ’03 to capture the OLG Canadian Triple Crown with a win in the Breeders’ Stakes. The 1 1/2-mile turf race is scheduled to be run Oct. 24 at Woodbine Racetrack.

Mighty Heart, the 6/5 favourite, stood third coming off the final turn behind Clayton and Dotted Line. But Fukumoto moved his mount into second then was able to reel in — and pass — Clayton and jockey Rafael Hernandez seemingly with ease to win the 1 3/16-mile dirt race in 1:55.2 before no spectators at Fort Erie Racetrack.

“A lot of people expect him and I expect him to,” Fukumoto said. “He did it today, I’m so happy.”

Mighty Heart followed his Queen’s Plate victory with another strong race to capture the Prince of Wales Stakes and move just one win away from the Canadian Triple Crown. 1:05

Clayton, the 3/1 second choice, was second in the nine-horse field with Dotted Line third.

Hall of Fame trainer Josie Carroll claimed her second Prince of Wales Stakes victory — she won in 2016 with Amis Gizmo. And while Mighty Heart has the pedigree to run on grass and is a win short of the Triple Crown, Carroll said a decision will be made later regarding the bay colt’s status for the Breeders’ Stakes.

“As always, I always say we wait and see how the horse comes out,” she said. “That’s the key.

“This is a nice horse, I think he’ll take to the grass. Certainly he’s bred to so fingers crossed.”

The win was Mighty Heart’s third in four races. Overall, he has three victories and a third-place finish in six career starts, all coming this year, for $688,003 in earnings.

Mighty Heart was also a winner in just his second career appearance on dirt. He was fourth earlier this winter at The Fairgrounds in New Orleans.

“This is just a wonderful little horse,” said Carroll, who was inducted into the Canadian Horse racing Hall of Fame in 2019. “He gets better every time.”

Breeders’ Stakes up next

Breeder/owner Lawrence Cordes said Mighty Heart has captured the imagination of racing fans across Canada.

“So many people have fallen in love with this horse from the start of the Triple Crown,” he said. “It makes my heart feel so good that so many people are excited.

“I never dreamed that he’d do what he’s done but we always had faith in him, Josie in particular. She was right there saying to me, ‘This is a horse. This is a race horse, Larry. We just have to figure out the problem.”‘

Mighty Heart served notice in the Plate, going wire-to-wire for a dominant 7 1/2-length victory Sept. 12 before no spectators at Woodbine Racetrack, earning Carroll a third Plate win. Mighty Heart’s time of 2:01.98 was the second-fastest since 1957 when the race was first run at the new Woodbine over its current 1 1/4-mile distance.

That effort was second only to Izvestia (2:01 4/5 in 1990).

But instead of having to race on different surfaces just 17 days apart, Mighty Heart will now get 25 days to prepare for the Breeders’ Stakes. That’s the same time that existed last year between the Prince of Wales and Breeders’.

The 17-day gap between the opening two legs came the result of all three Triple Crown races having to be rescheduled due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.


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Twins establish pro sports record with 17th straight post-season loss




Minnesota drops Game 1 to Houston; Giolito leads White Sox past Athletics

Jose Altuve drew a bases-loaded walk to force in the go-ahead run in the ninth inning for Houston after a two-out error by shortstop Jorge Polanco, and the Astros beat Minnesota 4-1 Tuesday to open their AL playoff series and stretch the Twins’ all-time record postseason losing streak to 17 games.

Manager Dusty Baker’s Astros became the first team in major league history to win a game after reaching the postseason with a losing record.

Game 2 in the best-of-three wild-card matchup is Wednesday at Target Field.

Michael Brantley tacked on a two-run single in the ninth after Sergio Romo issued a full-count walk to the 5-foot-6 Altuve, the 2017 AL MVP who had a quiet season at the plate.

Framber Valdez, who made 10 regular-season starts for the Astros, pitched five scoreless innings in relief of Zack Greinke for the victory to keep the bullpen fresh for the rest of the series. Valdez allowed his only two hits with one out in the ninth, but Willians Astudillo grounded into a double play to end the game.

Twins manager Rocco Baldelli called for Romo, the fifth of six pitchers, to start the ninth. The Astros loaded the bases on two singles to start the inning and then the crippling two-out error, when Polanco’s throw to second base after a straight-at-him grounder was low to blow the forceout.

Minnesota and Houston tied for the fewest errors in the majors with 20 during the pandemic-shortened 60-game season.

Minnesota’s previous win in the playoffs was notched in New York on Oct. 5, 2004, in Game 1 of the AL division series. That was also the last scoreless postseason start for a Twins pitcher — seven shutout innings by AL Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana — until Kenta Maeda’s in this game.

The Twins lost 13 straight times to the Yankees after that, including a three-game sweep in the AL division series last year. The Twins have failed to advance in eight straight rounds, since beating Oakland in five games in the AL division series in 2002.

Minnesota broke the record for consecutive postseason losses in major North American sports — the Twins had been tied with NHL’s Chicago team, who dropped 16 straight in the NHL playoffs from 1975-79.

The Astros lost their previous postseason game — that was Game 7 of the World Series last year, at home to Houston.

Giolito nearly perfect, White Sox down A’s

Lucas Giolito dazzled in his post-season debut, stymieing the Oakland Athletics through six perfect innings and sending the Chicago White Sox to a 4-1 victory in the opener of their best-of-three wild-card series Tuesday.

Giolito (1-0) yelled in delight after striking out the side in the sixth, quickly walking back to the dugout with his arms to his side.

The right-hander, who pitched a no-hitter against Pittsburgh on Aug. 25, didn’t allow a baserunner to the AL West champions until Tommy La Stella’s single up the middle to start the seventh. Giolito gave up one run on two hits over seven innings, struck out eight and walked one before giving way to Evan Marshall after a stellar 100-pitch outing.

Giolito got plenty of support: Jose Abreu hit a two-run homer and Adam Engel also connected for Chicago. Yasmani Grandal homered in the eighth.

Alex Colome, Chicago’s third reliever, worked the ninth for a save in the 2-hour, 53-minute game.

Before the single by La Stella, Jake Lamb’s line drive to centre in the fifth was the hardest-hit ball against Giolito by the powerful A’s, whose offence struggled down the stretch.

Now, Oakland must win Game 2 on Wednesday at home to avoid another early playoff exit.

The A’s are in the post-season for a third straight year, having lost in the AL wild card game each of the past two seasons after 97 wins both times. They advanced just once during 11 previous playoff trips since 2000, reaching the 2006 AL Championship Series before being swept by Detroit.

Ramon Laureano’s groundout in the eighth scored Oakland’s lone run.

Engel crushed an 0-2 fastball for a 1-0 White Sox lead in the second before Abreu homered in the third against 22-year-old lefty Jesus Luzardo.

Chicago was eager for a fresh start in the playoffs after losing seven of eight to finish the regular season, two on walk-offs.

The White Sox snapped a string of seven consecutive losing seasons to reach the post-season for the first time since winning the AL Central in 2008.


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LeBron James leads Lakers back to NBA Finals, where underdog Heat await




L.A. superstar set to face off against team he won pair of titles with in 2012, 2013

LeBron James wants to beat the Miami Heat. The Miami Heat want to beat LeBron James.

These shouldn’t be surprising notions to anyone, not with a title at stake.

Those looking for more acrimony than that, well, they may be disappointed.

The NBA Finals start Wednesday night and the James vs. Miami story line is shaping up as little more than a meeting of the mutual admiration society, albeit with a championship at stake. James is looking to bring the Los Angeles Lakers back to basketball’s mountaintop for the first time since 2010 and the Heat are looking to cap a surprising season with their fourth crown.

“I’m here for one reason and one reason only, and that’s to compete for a championship,” James said on the eve of Game 1 of his 10th finals, where he’ll be seeking ring No. 4.

James was asked any number of different ways Tuesday about his time in Miami, his thoughts on coach Erik Spoelstra, his opinion of Heat president Pat Riley. He never took the bait, speaking only with fondness for the four years he spent in Miami and the two titles the Heat won during that stay.

“Being a part of that culture allowed me to grow, allowed me to see what it takes to not only compete for a championship but also to win a championship,” James said. “So, it definitely put me in a position where I knew what it took. I saw what it took. But also, I fit that culture as well because of how hard I worked. It was a perfect match for those four years.”

James left Miami and the Finals have been an almost-annual stop since; this is his fifth appearance in the title round in the six seasons that followed his Heat tenure. It’s the first time Miami has been back since he left. During that time, the Heat did some rebuilding a couple of times and used 60 different players in those six seasons. Miami also endured the departure, return and then retirement of Dwyane Wade and the premature end of Chris Bosh’s career for health reasons.

‘Testament to his greatness’

Spoelstra is designing a game plan with hopes of keeping James in some sort of check, of course. That doesn’t mean he didn’t speak with reverence when asked about the Lakers’ best player.

“I just think it is a true testament to his greatness to be able to sustain this type of success year in, year out,” Spoelstra said. “Different uniforms, new players and new teams going after him. It’s a real testament to that commitment. He’s seen everything. At this point in his career, it’s just about winning. And his ability to do what he does at his age is incredibly uncommon. But there’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes to be able to maintain that.”

The feeling is mutual.

James, on Spoelstra: “I’m not going to sit up here and act like I don’t know what Spo is all about, because he’s damned good, if not great.”

James, on Riley: “This league is not the same without Riles. He’s a great guy, great motivator, someone that just knows what it takes to win.”

LeBron James is on to the tenth NBA Finals of his career after dropping a game-high 38 points in Los Angeles’ 117-107 win over Denver. 2:37

No shade thrown there.

Both teams haven’t endured much trouble in the bubble: The Heat and Lakers have each gone 12-3 in the playoffs. The Heat are the first No. 5 seed to make the finals and weren’t exactly surprised to see that James is the one standing between them and the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

“It’s been like this for a very long time. If you want to win, you’re going to have to go through a LeBron James-led team,” said Heat forward Jimmy Butler, who’ll be going to his first finals in his first Miami season. “At the end of the day, that’s what it normally comes down to. … You’re going to get the same test over and over again until you pass, and that test is LeBron James.”

Intriguing individual matchups

Lakers star Anthony Davis is in the finals for the first time, so he’ll likely be dealing with a bit of nerves on Wednesday night. Butler acknowledged he’d be doing the same as well.

The Lakers are comfortably favoured. Davis isn’t expecting it to be easy.

“Miami is a special team,” Davis said. “They’re a team who a lot of people thought they shouldn’t be here, but they’re a team who fights. They’re a team who’s tough. They make big-time plays, got big-time players on their team, guys who are in their first year, second years who are playing huge for them right now with a lot of confidence.”

Tyler Herro’s 11 points in the fourth quarter helped propel Miami to a 125-113 win in Game 6. 1:03

Get past the James vs. Heat notions, and the series has more to offer.

Davis will butt heads with Miami’s rising star Bam Adebayo. There will be times when veteran point guards — Rajon Rondo for the Lakers, Goran Dragic for the Heat — match up as well. Miami has the young shooters in Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson; the Lakers have veterans like JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard ready to work down low.

Add it all up, and Heat captain Udonis Haslem said “it’s going to be a hell of a matchup.”

“I know the narrative that people will try to preach,” Haslem, the only player on all six of Miami’s finals teams, told The Associated Press. “But I want my guys to understand that it’s not about LeBron … it’s about the Heat vs. the Lakers. LeBron played here. This has nothing to do with that. None of these guys were here when that happened. It’s the Miami Heat vs. the Los Angeles Lakers. That’s it.”


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With DQ in rearview, Djokovic comfortably advances to 2nd round at French Open




Former women’s world No. 1 Karolina Plísková advances after defeating Mayar Sherif

Novak Djokovic’s backhand clipped the net and landed wide, so he shook his head. That was it.

Later, a too-soft drop shot found the white tape and bounced back on his own side, finally ceding a game in a dominant debut performance at the 2020 French Open. Djokovic simply bowed and walked to the sideline.

And when he flubbed yet another drop shot — he kept using them on the slow red clay during a 6-0, 6-3, 6-2 win over 80th-ranked Mikael Ymer — and got broken Wednesday, Djokovic pulled an extra tennis ball out of his pocket and merely gave it a gentle tap with his racket strings.

The ball landed right behind him, safely in the middle of the court.

Playing his first Grand Slam match since his U.S. Open disqualification for smacking a ball after dropping a game and accidentally striking a line judge in throat, Djokovic never really gave himself reason for histrionics or shouts of dismay or displays of anger. Sure, there was some eye-rolling and one sarcastic kiss directed at one of the few fans on hand under the roof at Court Philippe Chatrier.

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic defeats Mikael Ymer of Sweden 6-0, 6-2, 6-3. 1:11

But otherwise, what was there for Djokovic to be disturbed about?

“I just felt very suffocated out there. It’s just corner, corner; very, very rarely miss. His position is unreal in the court,” Ymer explained.

“You know how the snake kills its prey?” Ymer said, pantomiming a boa constrictor’s attack by bringing his arms around and putting his hands together. “That’s a little bit how I felt being out there.”

Ymer said he didn’t pay any attention to Djokovic’s mood or energy.

Djokovic ‘not thinking about’ U.S. Open DQ

And Djokovic, for his part, said that what happened in Flushing Meadows was of no concern to him, either, as he began his pursuit of a second title at Roland Garros and 18th Grand Slam trophy overall.

“I have not had any traces of New York in my mind. I’m over it. Honestly forgot about it. I’m not thinking about it,” the No. 1 seed said after improving to 32-1 in 2020, the only blemish being that fourth-round default this month.

“Winning a 6-love first set is the best possible way to start a Grand Slam,” he said. “This is exactly what my intentions will be — trying to get off the blocks very strong, with a good intensity, obviously, because players in the early rounds have nothing to lose.”

Novak Djokovic’s U.S. Open was cut short after he hit a line judge with a discarded tennis ball during his fourth-round match against Pablo Carreño Busta. 4:17

Maybe that’s why 17-year-old Clara Tauson of Denmark was able to earn her first tour-level win by knocking off U.S. Open semifinalist and No. 21 seed Jennifer Brady 6-4, 3-6, 9-7.

Or why No. 19 Alison Riske and No. 26 Donna Vekic also lost.

With Dominic Thiem, the U.S. Open champion and two-time French Open runner-up, watching from the stands in a black winter coat, Djokovic broke Ymer nine times and ended up with a 32-12 edge in total winners.

And when Djokovic did have a rare misstep, dropping a service game to make it 2-all in the second set, he responded in a constructive way: improving his play.


Sweden’s Mikael Ymer goes between his legs for an excellent winner while facing world No. 1 Novak Djokovic. 0:55

Eighteen minutes and four near-perfect games later, the set belonged to him.

“The way he’s playing,” observed Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin, “he’s unbeatable.”

She found herself in quite a tussle Wednesday but got through it, struggling a bit when a rain delay interrupting things after the first set, but emerging with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 victory against 125th-ranked Liudmila Samsonova.

“Just relieved,” the fourth-seded Kenin said.

Others feeling that way on Day 3 at the year’s last Grand Slam tournament included No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova, who came back to beat 172nd-ranked qualifier Mayar Sherif 6-7 (9), 6-2, 6-4; and the two men who were finalists at the Hamburg tuneup event that ended Monday, No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas and No. 13 Andrey Rublev.

Second seed Karolina Pliskova avoids an upset to qualifier Mayar Sherif with a 6(9)-7(11), 6-2, 6-4 in the 1st round of the French Open. 0:32

Both dropped the first two sets Wednesday before coming back to win. Tsitsipas trailed Jaume Munar before advancing 4-6, 2-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-4, while Rublev knelt on court and covered his face with his hands after turning things around to beat Sam Querrey 6-7 (5), 6-7 (4), 7-5, 6-4, 6-3.

Querrey led the third set 5-2 and served for the victory at 5-3 but let things get away from him.

“I went 0-4 in serving out sets. I would like to think that will never happen to me again. It’s probably never happened,” Querrey said. “Someone with my serve, I can’t let that happen.”

Another American who played a five-setter, Marcos Giron, did pick up a win, edging Quentin Halys 7-5, 3-6, 6-7 (5), 7-5, 8-6 to become the eighth U.S. man to reach the second round.

That’s the most in Paris since nine got that far in 1996.

Last year? One did.


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