Nearly three months after the NBA great's death, the largest collection of Kobe Bryant memorabilia ever assembled in one place has become available for auction online.

Some of the 86 items available for bidding include game-worn shoes from the NBA Finals, warm-ups, game-used jerseys, NBA championship rings and a 14-karat gold ring featuring eight diamonds that commemorates the United States' 8-0 record and gold medal at the 2012 Olympics.

Five per cent of the auction's sales will go to the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation, which Bryant's wife, Vanessa, created after her husband and daughter, Gianna, died in a helicopter crash along with seven other people in January.

Ken Goldin of Goldin Auctions told ESPN: "We expect the price points in here to go from as low as $500 to potentially over $100,000."

The item with the highest bid as of Thursday was a pair of autographed Adidas shoes that Bryant wore in an NBA Finals Game Five victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in 2001, selling at the time for $28,000.

The championship ring given to the Los Angeles Lakers star after the 1999-2000 season, which Bryant gave as a gift to his mother Pam, was carrying a price tag of $20,000 and features 40 diamonds placed in 14-karat gold.

Bryant had threatened to sue Goldin Auctions in 2013 when the auction house attempted to sell hundreds of items from his parents. The Bryants reached an agreement outside of court, and only six items were sold, including the 2000 NBA championship ring. That auction raised over $62,000 for The Bully Project – a charity Bryant supported.

Goldin Auctions had been collecting rare items for months in anticipation of selling them when Bryant’s induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame was announced.

Gonzaga forward Corey Kispert has applied for early entry into the 2020 NBA Draft but will not hire an agent, leaving open the possibility of returning to the Bulldogs for his senior season.

Kispert, a finalist for the 2019-20 Julius Erving Award honouring college basketball's top small forward, is considered a second-round prospect in most scouting circles.

"It's always been my dream to play in the NBA and going without an agent allows me to see where I stand," said Kispert in a statement. "If the evaluations tell me I need to elevate my game further, I would be thrilled to return to Gonzaga and play for Zag Nation."

The second-leading scorer on Gonzaga's 2019-20 squad that finished 31-2 and was ranked number two in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll, Kispert averaged a career-high 13.9 points and shot 43.8 per cent from three-point range while starting 33 games as a junior. The Edmonds, Washington native led the Bulldogs in three-point field goals made (78) and shot 81 per cent from the free throw line.

Off the court, Kispert carries a 3.43 grade point average as a business administration major and was named the 2019-20 DI-AAA ADA Men's Scholar Athlete of the Year.

Toronto Raptors star Fred VanVleet is sceptical about the coronavirus-hit NBA season restarting amid the COVID-19 crisis.

The NBA has been suspended since March 11 due to the COVID-19 crisis, which has killed at least 184,200 people worldwide.

It remains to be seen when, and if, the 2019-20 season will resume as the United States struggles to contain the outbreak following more than 848,900 confirmed cases and over 47,600 deaths in the country.

The NBA, which is committed to completing the campaign, is reportedly exploring the possibility of holding the entire playoffs in one location – Las Vegas. There has been talk the league could head straight into the playoffs if the season resumes.

VanVleet, who won the championship with the Raptors last term, is braced for the season not resuming.

"I think everybody is just preparing for the worst-case scenario, the season being cancelled," VanVleet said during a conference call on Wednesday. "We have to do what we have to do to try to shoulder the hit as best we can for us as players and owners and the league, while also working to try to resume as best we can."

"I could play anywhere," VanVleet continued. "Do I want to play in front of no people? No, but does it really matter? At this point, I don't think anybody is going to have a quarrel with what happens, as long as people's health is first and foremost, which we know it probably won't be."

"If our league is going to be a leader in terms of public health and public safety and player safety, you've got to follow the guidelines of what the virus is speaking to you, so the odds are probably against us in terms of that," VanVleet added. "But money, right? So, I think they'll find a way somehow, some way and try to make it happen. I could definitely see it going either way. I wouldn't be surprised if we didn't come back and I wouldn't be surprised if we do come back."

VanVleet was set to become a free agent at the end of the season and the 26-year-old guard added: "I think the league and the union will try to do a good job to make sure that the free agents this summer get a fair shake and there's fair negotiating. Obviously, we'll probably all take a hit at some point, and hopefully the hit is just kind of minimised to this year.

"I think people's health and wellbeing, and frame of mind, is a lot more important than a couple of million here or there, because we're filthy rich compared to what we came from in the first place. So I don't think anybody's crying over it."

Oklahoma City Thunder star Chris Paul said players need more than two weeks to prepare to play NBA games amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The NBA has been suspended since March 11 due to the COVID-19 crisis, which has killed at least 184,100 people worldwide.

It remains to be seen when, and if, the 2019-20 season will resume as the United States struggles to contain the outbreak following more than 848,700 confirmed cases and over 47,600 deaths in the country.

While the NBA remains committed to resuming the campaign, commissioner Adam Silver said there is still no timetable for a possible restart.

On the situation, 10-time All-Star Paul told reporters via a conference call on Wednesday: "I'm just letting you know – and I don't think the league would do it anyway – but if they were like, 'Hey, you got two weeks, and then we're going,' that's not going to happen.

"That's not going to happen. Whatever the amount of time is, just know that players will have the input, the say-so, because we're the ones playing. That comes first. We don't ever want to put guys in a situation where their injury risk is higher than ever before."

Paul, 34, added: "I get what we're dealing with right now, a lot of hypotheticals, but I don't know.

"This is the thing with having 450 players in the league and being in a situation like this, where some guys have access to weight rooms, some guys don't.

"Some guys have access to facilities where they can train or do this or can run. That's why, whatever happens – and I say this, and I mean this – we always go back to the players."

"We just want to play," Paul continued. "We're trying to figure out what that looks like. Right now, I'm just focused on playing, playing in some form or fashion.

"This is a situation where no one knows. The virus is actually in complete control. I seriously tried to answer things the best I could, but there are things where it's not like I've got the answers and I'm just not telling you."

When he was a child, Russell Westbrook passed up the chance to meet Michael Jordan because he was too busy playing basketball.

Jordan and the 1990s Chicago Bulls, with whom he won six NBA championships, are back in public focus due to the new 10-part documentary 'The Last Dance'.

Houston Rockets guard Westbrook attended one of Jordan's basketball camps in his formative years and detailed how he snubbed the five-time NBA MVP.

"The first time I had an opportunity to meet Michael Jordan… I probably was about 10 or 11. I went to a Michael Jordan camp. My parents sent me to his camp in Santa Barbara," Westbrook told NBC's The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.

"At the end of the camp, usually every kid on every team brings something for Michael Jordan to sign. You need to stand in line and be ready to go.

"When my team was up to get a basketball signed — my parents gave me a basketball to get signed — I don't know why, I don't know what I was thinking, but when it was my team and my time to go, I was in the middle of a game. I was playing pickup with other kids.

"My coach was like, 'Come on, come on, come on. You're going to miss the opportunity to get a picture with Michael Jordan and an autograph with him.' Myself, I said, 'Don't worry, I'm okay, I don't need it right now.'

"So I didn't get a picture with Michael Jordan, didn't get an autograph. I literally didn't get in line. I just kept playing basketball, kept hooping.

"When camp was over and I got home, my mum and dad were like, 'Did you get the ball signed?' I literally was like, 'No, I was playing a pickup game.' At the time, it didn't click to me."

Westbrook's decision seemingly did not have any impact on their relationship as the Rockets star signed with the Jordan brand in 2013.

Oscar da Silva is trying to remain upbeat despite electing not to register for the 2020 NBA Draft due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Da Silva, a college basketball star at Stanford, had been planning to register for this year's draft, but new protocols have reportedly been issued that prevent NBA teams from interviewing or working out prospects in person amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Subsequently, 21-year-old Da Silva - now back in his native Germany - elected to postpone his registration until next year, though he believes there is still plenty of scope for him to develop in college basketball.

"First of all, I have to say how lucky I feel to be in this position to be talking about the NBA Draft," Da Silva told Stats Perform.

"My coaches gave me a lot of freedom and trust. I am very thankful for that. I would have loved to test the draft out and get to know the process.

"It's become normal that young players look to see what the teams think of you and how high your chances are to get picked.

"I would have loved to do that. I only have one year left in school. So I wanted to register for the draft, knowing that I could still pull out if I didn't like the draft-range I would get picked.

"I was unfortunately robbed by the entire coronavirus situation of this possibility. But that has just as much good as it does bad.

"Of course I'm sad that I couldn't go through this process this year but at the same time I'm going back to one of the best schools in the entire world, a place that's become home for me over the last three years. I can get my degree and hopefully I'm in a similar situation next year."

The cancellation of the NCAA season also meant Da Silva and his Stanford team-meats were unable to compete in March Madness, despite having come off one of the best campaigns in the college's recent history.

"We played our conference tournament which is after our regular season. After the first game we heard that the NBA had postponed their season because of coronavirus and so we already thought that the NCAA would do the same," he explained.

"We got the news the next day that the conference tournaments had been cancelled. We flew back to campus and I was there for maybe another week. Our entire season was done because they had also cancelled the NCAA tournament, which would have been our highlight of the season.

"We were really looking forward to March Madness. We had the best record of the last 10, 15 years at Stanford. So we had really good chances."

Arsene Wenger began his long goodbye at Arsenal on this day in 2018, while April 20 is a day fondly remembered by Chicago Bulls icon Michael Jordan and racing driver Danica Patrick.

The end of a near 22-year love affair, which admittedly soured a little by the end, was announced by Wenger who revealed the 2017-18 season would be his last with the Gunners.

NBA great Jordan posted an astounding new playoff benchmark, while Patrick earned her own place in history.

Here's a reflective look at April 20 of yesteryears.

 

2018 – This is Gunner be tough. Wenger prepares for Arsenal goodbye

The news that Wenger was to leave Arsenal after almost 22 years had a certain inevitability about it.

'Le Professeur' oversaw one of the most successful periods in the club's history, winning three Premier League titles and seven FA Cups – including the double in 1998 and 2002, while he was the man in charge of Arsenal's 'Invincibles', who produced an unbeaten top-flight campaign in 2003-04.

But there was an increasingly growing "Wenger Out" brigade and, with Arsenal set to miss out on Champions League football, there was little surprise when he announced 2017-18 would be his last in charge.

"I am grateful for having had the privilege to serve the club for so many memorable years. I managed the club with full commitment and integrity. To all the Arsenal lovers, take care of the values of the club," Wenger said.

2008 – Patrick makes history in Japan

Three years previously, Patrick had made history by becoming the first female to ever lead the historic Indy500 race.

And on April 20, 2008, she etched her name further into the record books by winning the Indy Japan 300 in Montegi, Japan.

It was the first time a female driver had won a race in the IndyCar series.

Patrick was 5.8 seconds clear of pole-sitter Helio Castroneves, with leader Scott Dixon having pitted with five laps to go and Dan Wheldon and Tony Kanaan doing likewise a lap later.

"It's a long time coming. Finally. It was a fuel-strategy race, but my team called it perfectly for me. I knew I was on the same strategy as Helio and when I passed him for the lead, I couldn't believe it. This is fabulous," said Patrick.

1986 – Jordan's playoff heroics the best ever game?

The history books show a double-overtime 135-131 defeat for the Chicago Bulls and a 3-0 first-round defeat to the Boston Celtics.

But in one of the NBA's greatest arenas – the Boston Garden – Jordan, regarded by many as the greatest of all time, put on the performance of a lifetime.

Jordan scored 63 points – a record in a playoff game – to take it to the champions, and saw Larry Bird utter the famous "God disguised as Michael Jordan" assessment.

The Celtics went on to win the Championship that year, but Jordan would become a six-time NBA champion, winning the Finals MVP in each of those successful series with the Bulls.

Philadelphia 76ers All-Star duo Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons "can fit together", according to former team-mate JJ Redick.

76ers center Embiid and guard Simmons have been the subjects of endless questions about their chemistry, with repeated claims that the pair cannot play together for Philadelphia due to contrasting styles.

Reports have also claimed the 76ers could deal one of the players in pursuit of a title, with big man Embiid apparently seen as the most likely to be moved on should Philadelphia explore a trade.

Redick knows Embiid and Simmons better than most, having spent two seasons playing alongside the pair before joining the New Orleans Pelicans in 2019.

"They are both incredibly intelligent, and I'm always betting on guys that are smart enough to figure things out. And they will," Redick told The Athletic.

"The numbers kinda say that, when they're on the court together, they do pretty good: 2018, pretty good; 2019, pretty good; 2020, still pretty good, but not as good right?

"I don't think they're changing, so maybe the people around them are changing. That, to me, just goes back to the right fit and the right pieces.

"I think that they [Embiid and Simmons] can fit together, for sure."

Redick's time in Philadelphia was successful, his shooting – especially from three-point range – helping the 76ers reach the Eastern Conference semi-finals last season.

Since leaving Wells Fargo Center, Redick has seen 76ers head coach Brett Brown heavily criticised amid doubts over his future after Philadelphia struggled for consistency, particularly on the road, prior to the postponement of the NBA due to coronavirus.

While boasting an NBA-best 29-2 home record, the 76ers were 10-24 away from home to be sixth in the Eastern Conference.

The 35-year-old guard said: "I would love to play for Brett again. It's always easy to blame certain people. I don't think Brett is the problem, if there [even] is a problem.

"He is incredibly thorough, incredibly detailed. The thing that I always appreciated, maybe the most, about Brett is how thoughtful he is. There is a purpose to team meetings. There is a purpose to film sessions. There's a purpose to practice. There's a purpose to walk-through. There's a purpose to your daily schedule.

"Everything is so thought-out and meticulous. It's, I think, one of the main reasons that he's who he is as a coach and has gotten to this level."

Leandro Bolmaro, a 19-year-old guard from Argentina, has declared for the NBA Draft.

Considered to be an adept ballhander and playmaker as well as a solid defender, the 6-foot-7 Bolmaro is projected to be drafted late in the first round or early in the second.

He spent this past season playing for Barcelona, splitting time between the top club and the second-division team.

Scouts have been impressed with his high basketball IQ and his improved shooting over this past season.

His skills are viewed as being raw, but he has a high ceiling and since he will not turn 20 until September, an NBA team could draft him and send him to the G-League as he adds muscle and develops his game.

Boston Celtics swingman Jaylen Brown believes the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted rampant inequality in the United States but feels it offers an opportunity for society to come together.

The NBA has been placed on an indefinite hiatus since March 14 due to the proliferation of COVID-19, with 259 regular-season games still outstanding as the scheduled start date for the playoffs passed on Saturday.

According to the John Hopkins University, the USA has seen over 735,000 cases of coronavirus – almost four times as many as Spain, the second-most affected country – and more than 39,000 deaths.

Brown was critical of a lack of clarity in guidance from local media all the way to the top of government, stating "misinformation is at a peak".

And with unemployment in the USA at an all-time high, he called on those with the financial means to offer a helping hand to others in need.

Despite the implementation of social distancing policies, Brown believes the pandemic has highlighted significant flaws in the USA's society and hopes it can spark change for the future.

"As I write this more than 30,000 people have lost their lives in the US alone. Of those heart-wrenching numbers, the percentage of African Americans and people of colour is both alarming and disproportionate," Brown wrote in The Guardian.

"Our healthcare system could be potentially highlighting injustices this beautiful nation has composed and suppressed since its establishment.

"After being personally affected by this outbreak and its impact on the NBA, there is no way that I can look away after seeing how friends, family and team-mates have been affected by this virus.

"I am proud to be a member of the Boston Celtics and of the NBA for ceasing to continue the season at this time. Sports have an influential position in our society, and I'm grateful the NBA uses its platform considerately.

"My deepest condolences go out to Karl-Anthony Towns, and his family, for the recent loss of his beautiful mother Jackie from COVID-19; the entire NBA mourns with you. I also extend my condolences to anyone with a similar experience or shared communal pain.

"As we all suffer from being torn apart, from news of heartbreak and anguish, my greatest hope is that during this isolation we become more unified than ever.

"As I stare at the walls of my confinement, due to the implementation of social distancing, I hope that our nation not only consolidates over the next few weeks but also heals.

"Ponder the suffrage from other epidemics that have plagued this nation and our planet. Social inequality, gender inequality, inequality in education, poverty, lack of resources, cultural biases, and other various societal imbalances that have yet to be vaccinated.

"Let's use this time to look for solution-based answers and co-operative efforts for those problems.

"It's Game 7 and how we perform down the stretch is going to determine our outcome. Let's lean in and get this done together as a team."

For the Indian Premier League and NFL legend Peyton Manning, April 18 is when it all began.

Twelve years ago the world's premier Twenty20 franchise cricket tournament began with a bang as Brendon McCullum delivered a thrilling example of the format's appeal.

A decade earlier, the Indianapolis Colts made a decision that would alter the franchise's fortunes, for the better, when they selected quarterback Manning.

We take a look at the most notable sporting moments to have occurred on April 18 in years gone by.

 

1998 - Colts opt for Manning over Leaf

Heading into the 1998 NFL Draft there was little to separate Tennessee quarterback Manning and Washington State signal caller Ryan Leaf in many experts' eyes.

The Colts had the first overall pick and chose Manning, who would lead them to 11 playoff appearances and two Super Bowls - their victory over the Chicago Bears in the first resulting in the franchise's first Lombardi Trophy since they relocated from Baltimore.

Manning ended his career in Indianapolis with a glut of franchise records whereas Leaf, who was drafted directly behind him to the San Diego Chargers, proved to be one of the NFL Draft's biggest busts, playing in just 25 games.

 

1999 - 'The Great One' bows out

The crowd at Madison Square Garden said farewell to an NHL legend as 'The Great One' Wayne Gretzky played the 1,487th and final game of his decorated career.

He scored his 2,857th point - an assist - as his New York Rangers suffered a 2-1 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Gretzky remains the leading scorer in NHL history and at the time of his retirement he held 61 league records.

 

2008 - McCullum stars in IPL's curtain-raiser

The IPL need not have worried about fireworks for their opening ceremony as they duly came from the bat of a New Zealander once the action began.

McCullum smashed an incredible 158 not out off 73 balls as Kolkata Knight Riders obliterated Royal Challengers Bangalore by 140 runs in the first ever IPL match.

The only man to better that total in IPL history is Chris Gayle, who became the first to surpass 10,000 runs in T20 cricket on April 18, 2017.

2008 - SuperSonics relocation gets the NBA owners' seal of approval 

April 18 is a dark day for Seattle sports fans as it was when they learned NBA owners had voted in favour of moving the SuperSonics to Oklahoma City.

Just five days after the Sonics had played what proved to be their final game in Seattle, 28 of the 30 owners approved a move to OKC, where the team became the Thunder.

Professional basketball has not returned to Seattle since, while a Thunder team featuring Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden reached the 2012 NBA Finals, where they were beaten by the LeBron James-led Miami Heat.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said the league is not in a position to make any decisions as there is still too much uncertainty amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The NBA has been suspended since March 11 due to the COVID-19 crisis, which has killed at least 154,100 people worldwide.

It remains to be seen when, and if, the 2019-20 season will resume as the United States struggles to contain the outbreak following more than 709,000 confirmed cases and over 37,100 deaths in the country.

While the NBA remains committed to resuming the campaign, Silver told reporters there is still no timetable for a possible restart.

"Based on the reports that we got from varied outside officials, current public health officials ... we are not in a position to make any decisions," Silver said in a conference call on Friday. "And it's unclear when we will be."

Silver added: "There is a lot of data that all has to be melded together to help make these decisions. That is part of the uncertainty. We are not even at the point where we can say if only A, B and C were met, then there is a clear path.

"I think there is still too much uncertainty at this point to say precisely how we move forward.

"I'll add that the underlying principle remains the health and well-being of NBA players and everyone involved. We begin with that as paramount."

The NBA is reportedly exploring the possibility of holding the entire postseason in one location – Las Vegas. There has been talk the league could head straight into the playoffs if the campaign resumes.

"We are looking at all those things right now," Silver said. "I'd say that in terms of bubble-like concepts, many of them have been proposed to us and we've only listened.

"We are not seriously engaged yet in that type of environment because I can't answer what precisely would we need to see in order to feel that that environment provided the needed health and safety for our players and everyone involved.

"I know it's frustrating, it is for me and everyone involved that I am not in position to be able to answer the question. ... There is still enormous uncertainty around the virus as well. Now there is a lot that is changing quickly and we may be in a very different position some number of weeks from now.

"But it is why I initially announced at the beginning of April that I felt with confidence we would not be able to make any decisions in the month of April. I should clarify that I didn't mean to suggest that on May 1 I would be in a position."

The NBA and National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) came to an agreement on Friday to cut player salaries by 25 per cent from May 15.

The reduction will be the first faced by NBA players since the league shut down on March 11 due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Players will be paid in full on May 1 as the last payment under a 60-day promise by the NBA to delay reducing their compensation.  

The reduction is expected to save teams a total of $40million per pay period.  

"Through this agreement, and in order to provide players with a more gradual salary reduction schedule, partial reductions of 25 per cent will begin with the players' twice-a-month payment due on May 15," the NBA said in Friday's news release.

The statement appeared to indicate that more severe cuts could be coming down the line.  

A total of 259 regular season games remain on the schedule, and while the likelihood of them being played decreases by the day, none have officially been cancelled. The playoffs were originally scheduled to begin Saturday.  

The collective bargaining agreement includes a "force majeure" clause, which allows the league to cut salaries in the event of an extraordinary, unforeseen circumstance, like a natural disaster or pandemic. In such cases, the NBA is allowed to reduce a player's total yearly salary by 1.08 percent for every game cancelled.  

North Carolina point guard Cole Anthony announced on Friday he will enter the 2020 NBA draft and forego his remaining three seasons of college eligibility. 

Anthony, the son of former NBA guard Greg Anthony, leaves the Tar Heels after one season that produced its share of highs and lows. The prized recruit set an Atlantic Coast Conference record for debut points by a freshman when he scored 34 against Notre Dame on November 6, but missed 11 games after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in mid-December. 

The New York City native returned from the injury on February 1 and finished his freshman campaign with averages of 18.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.0 assists in 22 games for a Tar Heels team that endured its first losing season under coach Roy Williams. UNC finished 14-19 overall and tied for last in the ACC with a 6-14 record.  

"Throughout my time at UNC I was humbled, challenged and always proud to be a Tar Heel," Anthony said in a statement. "Thank you Tar Heel nation for embracing me with open arms from the moment I stepped on campus and sticking by us through a tough season. 

"I am excited to announce the next step in my journey and declare for the 2020 NBA Draft. While no one truly knows what the next few months will look like, I'm ready for whatever God has in store." 

Anthony's decision was entirely expected, as he entered North Carolina considered a candidate for the first overall pick in 2020. He delayed making an announcement, however, to focus his attention on the coronavirus pandemic that's been particularly problematic in his home city of New York. 

"I believe the platform I have been blessed to create because of the game I love so much should be used for a higher purpose at the moment," Anthony wrote in a Twitter post on March 24. "Living in New York City, the coronavirus hits hard. My family and I know many people directly affected by the coronavirus - many hospitalised, a few in critical condition and one person who has died. So, my biggest concern right now is trying to figure out how I can help during this crisis." 

Anthony's father, Greg, was a first-round pick of the New York Knicks in the 1991 NBA Draft and played in 757 games over 11 seasons in the league.

After a gruelling 82-game regular season, April is usually an exciting time for NBA players and fans.

This time of year is typically headlined by playoff basketball, but the coronavirus pandemic has brought the NBA and sport to a standstill globally.

The NBA has been suspended since March 11 – halting the regular season and putting the playoffs on ice amid COVID-19 as the high-flying Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers vie for supremacy.

 

As the NBA waits for the threat of COVID-19 to subside, and for normal life to return, the Stats Perform AI team have been crunching the numbers behind the scenes.

Having simulated the rest of the regular season to produce projected final standings, the goal was to see how the postseason would pan out too.

The Stats Perform model takes proprietary data and creates an offensive and defensive rating for each team.

Those ratings are paired with the team's opponent and adjusts it for each team's pace. In addition, the home team gets a slight boost for home-court advantage.

The model uses this information to calculate a projected score for both teams. The winners receive a victory in the race for the Larry O'Brien Trophy – this was done for every game in the playoffs. So, here are the results…

 

BUCKS, LAKERS CRUISE INTO SECOND ROUND

Like last season, the Bucks earned the best regular-season record heading into the postseason. Milwaukee swept the Detroit Pistons in the opening round of the Eastern Conference playoffs in 2019 and the Bucks match that feat this year, albeit against the Orlando Magic. After one-point wins in the first two games, Milwaukee cruise into the Conference semi-finals – winning 112-106 and 113-93.

Back in the playoffs for the first time since 2012-13, Western Conference pacesetters the Lakers blitz the Memphis Grizzlies 4-0 – highlighted by a 118-89 blowout in Game 2. The Los Angeles Clippers faded at the end of the regular season as they dropped down into the fourth seed, but the Lakers' neighbours prove too good for the Oklahoma City Thunder 4-2.

James Harden and Russell Westbrook had one foot in the second round but the Houston Rockets – who ended the regular season on a 15-3 run to claim the third seed – lose four straight games to the Utah Jazz in the west. Luka Doncic's Dallas Mavericks – back in the playoffs following a three-season absence – win three games in a row to take down the second-seeded Denver Nuggets 4-2.

For the second time in three years, the Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat meet in the east's first round and the latter prevail 4-2 as Jimmy Butler has the last laugh against his former team. The Boston Celtics also see off the Indiana Pacers by the same scoreline.

No Kawhi Leonard, no worries for defending champions the Toronto Raptors, who only drop one game in a comprehensive 4-1 victory over the Brooklyn Nets.

LEBRON MATCHES EARLIEST PLAYOFF EXIT

Hopes were high for LeBron James but the Lakers are upstaged by cross-town rivals the Clippers in six games. The Lakers level the series at 2-2 but the Clippers reel off back-to-back victories in a matchup where the margin does not drop below 10 points. It equals the earliest exit of James' playoff career, having reached the Finals in each of his past eight trips to the postseason.

Staying in the Western Conference and the Mavericks advance to the Conference Finals for the first time since 2011 – when they won the title – by rallying past the Utah Jazz. After dropping the first two games, Dallas win four on the bounce. The Mavericks' run, however, ends at the hands of the Clippers just shy of the NBA Finals, edged 4-3.

The Bucks fell short of a trip to the big dance last season, but Giannis Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee get the job done this time around by topping the Heat and Raptors in the east. A 130-96 Game 1 rout sets the tone for the Bucks, who beat Miami inside six games.

The Raptors are no match for the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals, losing 4-1. Toronto's exit snaps a streak of four straight seasons in which the defending champions returned to the Finals the following year. The last team to win the title and then not reach the showpiece series the following season were the San Antonio Spurs, who claimed the championship in 2014.

 

CLIPPERS MAKE HISTORY BUT FALL TO BUCKS

It is a landmark moment for the Clippers, who feature in the NBA Finals for the first time in their history. In the four major US sports – NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL – the Clippers are the oldest franchise that have never progressed to the championship round, having played their first NBA game in 1970.

However, the Bucks spoil the party as they end the longest title drought in the NBA courtesy of a 4-2 triumph on the biggest stage. The Golden State Warriors held the record for the longest gap between championships – 40 years – but Milwaukee reign supreme for the first time since 1971, ending their 49-year wait.

Milwaukee and Los Angeles split the opening two games before the Bucks win two on the bounce to eventually claim a second NBA crown. Milwaukee's success also continues a common theme in the league, with five of the past eight champions having boasted the best regular-season record and won the title in the same year.

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