The Los Angeles Lakers cruised past the Houston Rockets 119-96 to advance to the Western Conference Finals on Saturday.

LeBron James (29 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists) led the way at the Walt Disney World Resort as the Lakers reached the conference finals for the first time since winning the title in 2010 thanks to a 4-1 series win.

James joined Oscar Robertson as the only players in history to record 250-plus points, 100-plus rebounds and 80-plus assists in the first 10 games of a playoffs.

Anthony Davis posted a double-double of 13 points and 11 rebounds in a Game 5 during which the Lakers never trailed.

A 35-20 first quarter set up the Lakers' win as they moved through to face either the Los Angeles Clippers or Denver Nuggets.

Rockets star James Harden managed 30 points on 12-of-20 shooting, but Russell Westbrook struggled.

Westbrook was four-of-13 from the field for just 10 points in 36 minutes.

 

Clippers face Nuggets

Leading the semi-final series 3-2, the Clippers can seal a meeting with the Lakers with a win over the Nuggets on Sunday.

Michael Porter Jr was keen to block out the criticism he received for his Game 4 post-match comments after draining a crucial late shot in a huge win for the Denver Nuggets against the Los Angeles Clippers.

The rookie, who finished 1-of-3 from the floor, drilled a three-pointer from the wing with the Nuggets up by two and with just over a minute remaining in Orlando.

Denver went on to win Game 5 111-105 and now trail the fancied Clippers 3-2 in the Western Conference semi-finals.

Porter had attracted criticism following defeat in the previous game when he suggested his scoring troubles in the second half, when he failed to add 15 points in the first, were due to not receiving the ball enough.

Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard was among those to criticise Porter, who said he was not trying to be disrespectful to his team-mates.

"I kinda tried to block that out. Everything I said - I stand by what I say. And I didn't mean it in any type of disrespectful way or anything like that," Porter said. 

"Coaches and my team-mates, they all know that. We talked as a team. Everybody was on the same page coming into today. 

"But Dame and those guys, I respect all those guys - especially those superstars in the league talking to a young guy like me. You want to listen. You don't want to have an ego and think you're always right. 

"So, I took what those guys said and I listened to it. Everybody has their opinion, but that was blocked out before today and everybody was on the same page."

Nuggets coach Michael Malone said the comments had been discussed prior to Game 5 but paid tribute to Porter's confidence on the court.

"During the playoffs, the last thing you want is any kind of a distraction, and if those frustrations are there for Michael, or anybody, it's much better to keep those conversations internal, in the locker and amongst ourselves," Malone said.

"What you love about Michael is, whether it's his youthful inexperience or not really understanding the magnitude of the situation, he has supreme confidence.

"The guy is a tireless worker. He's a gym rat. And for every shot he makes in a game, he's had thousands upon thousands of reps in a practice gym. 

"So what it says is that he has confidence in himself, we have confidence in him, and maybe we didn't find him, he didn't make many shots before that, but every time that kid shoots the ball, I think it's going in."

The Clippers led by 13 points at one stage and Kawhi Leonard said the defeat was something to learn from.

"They are going to keep fighting. It's a lesson for us," Leonard said. "We had leads like this all year and teams have come back on us."

Clippers coach Doc Rivers added: "We definitely lost our discipline. There is no doubt about that. That would be the lesson."

Marcus Smart said "I bet on myself 110 per cent of the time" after making a crucial late block in the Boston Celtics' Game 7 triumph over the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

With a little under a minute remaining of the deciding rubber in Orlando, Smart made a critical intervention against Norman Powell that ended the Raptors' best chance of tying the game.

Just a few days ago it was Powell who nailed a one-on-one lay-up against the same opponent to level a thrilling series, which the Celtics finally saw out with their 92-87 victory on Friday.

"As soon as Norman caught the ball, instantly I remembered last game," Smart said.

"In my mind I was just telling myself, 'He has to dunk it. I'm not gonna give a foul. I'm just gonna meet him up top and see who wins that battle.'

"I bet on myself 110 per cent of the time. I'm first-team All-Defense for a reason and I believe in that wholeheartedly."

Smart often gets overlooked by the higher scorers in the Celtics' team and it was Jayson Tatum who led the way with 29 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists.

But team-mate Kemba Walker paid tribute to Smart's work, which he often feels goes under the radar.

"That block was so special," Walker said. "It was unreal. That's why he's first-team All-Defense. 

"He shows it night in and night out. He made so many huge plays tonight. A lot of the things he does just go unnoticed.

"But that kid, he's special, man. He's on a different level at that end of the basketball court."

The Celtics' reward is a showdown with the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, two sides who have a long-term history in the playoffs.

The rivalry stretches to the boardroom with Celtics president Danny Ainge and Heat counterpart Pat Riley having bad blood that spans four decades.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens believes their experience against the Raptors, whose hopes of retaining the NBA title are now over, should stand them in good stead for an altogether different task.

"We should definitely be hardened," he said. "We should definitely have a lot more in our toolbox to go back to. We have to get ready for a different, more unique team now in Miami."

Raptors star Kyle Lowry admitted it was a difficult defeat for the team to swallow, saying: "Man, it was a tough game to lose. But they won. Tip your hats to them. They have a chance to go on and play against Miami and get to the championship."

Raptors head coach Nick Nurse added: "They gave everything they had. Special team."

The Boston Celtics advanced to the Eastern Conference finals after ousting NBA champions the Toronto Raptors 92-87 in Game 7.

With the Eastern Conference semi-final playoff series deadlocked at 3-3, it was a winner-takes-all clash in Orlando, Florida on Friday.

Boston emerged triumphant against the second-seeded Raptors 4-3 to earn a showdown with the Miami Heat thanks to Jayson Tatum's double-double of 29 points and 12 rebounds.

The Denver Nuggets, meanwhile, stayed alive after topping the Los Angeles Clippers 111-105 in Game 5 of their Western Conference semi-final.

Denver were facing elimination but the Nuggets overturned a 15-point deficit to reduce the Clippers' lead to 3-2 at Walt Disney World Resort.

 

Jokic and Murray lift Nuggets

Denver's star duo produced when it mattered most. Nikola Jokic put up 22 points and 14 rebounds, while Jamal Murray had 26 points for the rallying Nuggets.

Kawhi Leonard posted a game-high 36 points and nine rebounds but it was not enough for second seeds the Clippers, while team-mate Paul George finished with 26 points.

Jaylen Brown recorded 21 points as the Celtics reached the Conference finals for the third time in four years.

 

Celtics struggled from free-throw line

While the Celtics progressed, they shot just 56.5 per cent from the free-throw line, making only 13 of their 23 attempts.

Lou Williams was far from his best for the Clippers. He was two of 10 from the field, while missing all five of his three-pointers. Williams ended the game with four points in 19 minutes.

 

Rockets face Lakers

Western Conference top seeds the Los Angeles Lakers can book their passage through to the next round if they beat the Houston Rockets on Saturday. LeBron James and the Lakers lead 3-1.

Antoine Griezmann has finally got the Barcelona number seven shirt he wanted from the first day of his Camp Nou career, describing it as "an honour".

The former Atletico Madrid forward was denied his regular number when he arrived at Barcelona in July 2019, as it was held by Philippe Coutinho, and he agreed to wear the 17 shirt instead.

But with Coutinho having since gone on loan to Bayern Munich for last season, and with question marks over whether the winger will stay at Barcelona for the new campaign, the Brazilian has ceded the number to Griezmann.

On Instagram, Griezmann wrote: "It is an honour to wear the 7 at Barca!"

He added: "I want to say thank you to @phil.coutinho, who as well as being a great player is a big friend."

The number switch was announced by Barcelona on their social media accounts, with a video featuring Brooklyn Nets NBA star Kevin Durant opening a box containing Barcelona number seven shirts bearing his name and that of Griezmann.

 

Griezmann scored 15 goals in 41 games for Barcelona last season but often faced criticism for his performances as he struggled to make the greater contribution that many expected of him.

He has previously worn the number seven with Real Sociedad, Atletico Madrid and France, donning the number during their run to World Cup glory two years ago in Russia.

The Los Angeles Lakers "elite" defense is the team's third superstar, according to head coach Frank Vogel.

Game 4 of the Western Conference semi-final series saw the Lakers seal a 110-100 victory over the Houston Rockets and move into a 3-1 lead.

They restricted the Rockets to 43.1 per cent shooting as a team, with All-Star guard James Harden 2-of-11 from the floor.

The Lakers missed out on free agent Kawhi Leonard to the Los Angeles Clippers last offseason, but Vogel feels their defense makes up for the absence of a third star alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Vogel said of his team's ability to get stops: "That's as powerful a weapon as there is in one of these playoff runs. It's as powerful as a superstar.

"If you have an elite defense, that can be your third star, so to speak.

"When you have the confidence that you can go four, five, six possessions where you're just squeezing the other team's offense, getting stops, and then with our ability to run the floor, with LeBron James being the quarterback of that action and being in attack mode, we have a strong belief in what we can accomplish as a group."

Harden still finished the game with 21 points by making 16 of his 20 free throw attempts, so Vogel acknowledged there is still room for improvement from the Lakers.

"We're happy with what we were doing on the defensive end," Vogel said. "It can always get better.

"Obviously, the fouls [can be cut down]. Plan A with guarding James Harden is don't put him on the free throw line and we gave him 20 free throw attempts. So, we've got to make sure we're doing a better job there, but overall, we're just trying to limit him and make him as uncomfortable as we can.

"He's seen every coverage there is in the world and he knows how to attack it. Like I said all along with this group and with him: We're not going to be comfortable because we know what he's capable of.

"So, we've just got to continue to watch film, get better, strengthen the plan each game that we play and hopefully get better in Game 5."

James contributed 16 points, 15 rebounds, nine assists and two steals for the Lakers and explained how difficult it is for the team to defend against Harden.

"James is probably one of the best offensive players that we've ever seen in this league," the Lakers star said.

"I mean, he had 20 free throw attempts and we're trying to not put him to the free throw line. One of our game plans is to not put him to the free throw line and we're trying to not put him to the free throw line, and the guy is just so clever that he was still able to get 20 free throw attempts.

"We're just trying to eliminate anything that we can from him, because he can score from [anywhere]. He gets into the paint with his runners, with his floaters. Obviously, he's got the step-back. He's got the threes in transition. He has his catch-and-shoot threes when he's off the ball. And, like I said, he's very tricky with his moves in the paint, where he gets to the free throw line.

"So we're just trying to take away some things. We can't take away everything, because that's how great he is offensively. We try to follow the game plan and see what happens from there."

Liverpool ended their 30-year wait for a top-flight title last season by comfortably finishing top of the Premier League.

After coming agonisingly close numerous times in the three decades since their most recent success, the Reds finished at the summit with an incredible 99 points.

The Merseyside club had hardly been starved of major trophies in that time, having won a couple of European Cups, three FA Cups and various other honours.

But for plenty of Liverpool supporters - many of whom would never have witnessed their side winning the title - last season's coronation was seen as a hoodoo being lifted.

Jurgen Klopp is now tasked with making it back-to-back triumphs, though, as history shows, it is not always so easy to push on from such a success.

Here, we look at some previous examples of what happened next after other sports teams ended their long-running title droughts.


Chicago Cubs (MLB) - 108-year wait

The Cubs ended MLB's longest-such drought by winning the World Series in 2016 with an 8-7 Game 7 victory over the Cleveland Indians in 10 innings.

The following season did not turn out to be quite so memorable as, after winning the division title, they lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the League Championship Series.


Chicago White Sox (MLB) - 88-year wait

Not quite as long a wait as their city rivals, but a painful one all the same. The White Sox swept the Houston Astros in four games for their third World Series championship in 2005.

They finished third in the American League Central a year later with a record of 90-72 and are still on the hunt for their fourth crown.


Boston Red Sox (MLB) - 86-year wait

After years of falling just short, the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 and vanquished the 'Curse of the Bambino' in the process.

Disappointment followed in 2005 as they finished second in the American League East before being swept by the White Sox in the American League Division Series.


Kansas City Chiefs (NFL) - 50-year wait

A more recent example of a team ending years of hurt, the Chiefs - led by the incredible Patrick Mahomes - recovered from 10 points behind to beat the San Francisco 49ers 31-20 in Super Bowl LIV earlier this year.

Seven months on from that famous win, they will enter the much-anticipated season as the favourites of many to match their recent success, much like Liverpool.


Chicago Blackhawks (NHL) - 49-year wait

Patrick Kane was the hero for the Blackhawks, scoring four minutes and six seconds into overtime of their decisive Game 6 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals.

The Blackhawks lost several players due to salary cap restrictions and succumbed to the Vancouver Canucks in seven games in the first round of the following season's play-offs.

 
Golden State Warriors (NBA) - 40-year wait

A first NBA title in four decades for the Warriors was secured thanks to a 4-2 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2015 Finals, Steve Kerr's team winning the last three games of the series.

Among other records, they set the best-ever regular season return of 73-9 the next campaign but went on to lose to the Cavs 4-3 in the Finals as their opponents gained revenge.


Indianapolis Colts (NFL) - 36-year wait

The Colts got their hands on the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the 2006 season with a 29-17 Super Bowl XLI victory over the Chicago Bears after ending the regular campaign with a record of 12-4.

Despite improving on their regular season record the folllowing year en route to winning a fifth straight AFC South divisional title, they lost to the San Diego Chargers in the divisional round of the playoffs.

Anthony Davis and LeBron James starred as the Los Angeles Lakers topped the Houston Rockets 110-100 for a commanding lead in the Western Conference semi-finals.

Davis posted a double-double and James finished one assist shy of a triple-double to help the top-seeded Lakers move 3-1 clear in the NBA playoffs.

All-Star Davis put up 29 points and 12 rebounds in Game 4 at Walt Disney World Resort on Thursday, while James recorded 16 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists.

The Lakers led by as many as 23 points midway through the fourth quarter and looked on track for a blowout victory before the Rockets rallied.

Houston – who overcame a 3-1 deficit in the second round of the 2015 playoffs – put together a 18-2 run to close within 103-96 but the Lakers managed to hold in in Orlando, Florida.

Russell Westbrook led the Rockets with 25 points, and All-Star team-mate James Harden contributed 21 of his own.

Game 5 between the Lakers and Rockets is on Saturday.

 

Celtics face Raptors

It is a winner-takes-all showdown on Friday as the Boston Celtics and defending champions Toronto Raptors meet in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference semi-final series.

Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant said he is excited to work with first-time head coach and Hall of Famer Steve Nash.

Nash has taken his first steps into senior coaching, appointed by the Nets to permanently replace Kenny Atkinson, despite the two-time NBA MVP's lack of experience.

Durant previously worked with former Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers guard Nash for three seasons at the Golden State Warriors, where the latter was a player consultant.

Two-time NBA champion and two-time Finals MVP Durant also went head-to-head with Nash when he entered the league as a rookie in 2007, and he is relishing the opportunity to be coached by the 46-year-old.

"His insight for the game, his communication, how he communicates the game of basketball is definitely going to help me as a player develop and it's going to help the rest of the team," Durant told JJ Redick's 'The Old Man and the Three' podcast.

Durant added: "Every time I'm in the gym with him, I was always like a sponge.

"I'm looking forward to this man. I always feel like I'm a student of the game. Somebody who has experienced so much and played in different eras, I'm looking forward to him teaching me some more things about it as well."

Durant is yet to play for the Nets due to an Achilles injury after his high-profile arrival from the Warriors in 2019 as he prepares for his long-awaited debut in Brooklyn.

Crowned MVP in 2014, Durant opted not to return to the court inside the Orlando bubble at Walt Disney World Resort, where the Nets were eliminated in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

"I've been playing since I was eight, like, really locked in. Every day was centred around the game," Durant said. "To finally get a year off, it was pretty cool. I started to focus a little bit more, understand what I like to do outside of the game a little bit more, as weird as that sounds at 30 years old. I really enjoyed that time to myself.

"I learned so much about the game of basketball, the business of basketball. I see it from a different lens. I was watching the game from a coaches' and a fans' perspective all at once. I felt a new level of appreciation for what I'm doing for being away from it.

"Going into [the season], I didn't think I would have that feeling. It definitely helps when the team signs you to a max deal even though you tore your Achilles. That definitely eased my mind a bit. I also just enjoyed having that free time to do my thing. I never got that time. I never got to enjoy that time. But at this point, I'm looking forward to going out there and playing again."

The Denver Nuggets cannot rely solely on Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray if they want to overcome the Los Angeles Clippers, says Michael Porter Jr.

Porter impressed for the Nuggets with 18 points in 23 minutes in Game 3 and looked set to build on that with 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting in the first half of Game 4 on Wednesday.

However, the rookie was unable to add to his tally and missed his only two shots after half-time as the Nuggets fell to a 96-85 defeat that left them 3-1 down in the Western Conference semi-final series.

Porter said his failure to score in the second half was down to a lack of touches and wants Denver to share the ball more in order to become less predictable.

"That is up to the play calling, the coaches and whose hands they want to put the ball in," Porter said of his involvement in the second half.

"We kept going to [Jokic] and [Murray] and they are two amazing players, you can never be mad at that, but I just think to beat them we need to get more players involved.

"We have to move the ball a little bit better. We can't be predictable against that team."

Asked if he felt confident voicing those concerns despite being in his first year in the NBA, he said: "I think if I am going to be out there on the floor playing a lot of minutes, I think I should voice that.

"I will probably talk to the coaches and tell them what I see being out there on the floor just letting them know, look, they know what we are doing.

"We have to swing the ball. We have a lot of players that can play basketball and score, so we have to get some more guys involved."

The Nuggets came back to progress from 3-1 down against the Utah Jazz in the first round and coach Michael Malone believes his team have plenty of fight left in them.

"The same message will be what it was against Utah," said Malone.

"It wasn't that we have to come back and win three games. It was, let's win Game 5. And then after that, let's win one at a time. Let's win 6 and then win 7.

"We have done it. It is a different opponent. Very talented, deep team, but I think we do have confidence in being a resilient group and being a team that when everyone else has written us off, we have found a way."

Norman Powell rescued the Toronto Raptors' season with his performance in the double overtime win over the Boston Celtics, according to Fred VanVleet.

The reigning champions forced a Game 7 with a 125-122 triumph on Wednesday, having been 2-0 and 3-2 down in the Eastern Conference semi-finals. 

While Kyle Lowry scored a game-high 33 points, it was Powell's display that Raptors guard VanVleet was most thankful for.

Powell put up 10 of his 23 points in the second overtime period and nailed a crucial three-pointer to level the scores late on, throwing in a key block on Daniel Theis for good measure.

"He saved us. He saved our season," VanVleet said.

"That is his trademark now. You never know when it is going to happen, but it always happens at some point in the playoffs. He was huge for us.

"Obviously, Kyle was steady the whole night, but Norm really gave us a boost there."

The series will now be decided on Friday, with momentum firmly on the side of the Raptors, who VanVleet concedes were slow to get off the mark.

"I think everyone came into this series expecting a long series," he said.

"I don't think we lived up to that in the first couple of games. We were able to work ourselves back into position to give ourselves a chance. Game 7 to go to the Eastern Conference finals, all you can ask for is a chance.

"[It was a] pretty long game, longer than we all would have asked for, but time to get some rest and go back at it again."

Man of the hour Powell felt the contest underlined the Raptors' need to piece together a more complete display to make sure of their spot in the finals.

"I think the games that we've won [in this series] have shown we have to put together a full 48-minute effort," Powell said.

"Have no lulls, offensively or defensively. Whatever happens through mistakes and moments where we do mess up whatever the game plan is, we continue to fight through it and figure it out and help one another."

The Toronto Raptors forced a Game 7 against the Boston Celtics, while the Los Angeles Clippers pulled clear in the NBA playoffs.

The Raptors drew level in the Eastern Conference semi-finals but needed double overtime to edge the Celtics 125-122.

A game-high 33 points from Kyle Lowry lifted the defending champions in Game 6 at the Walt Disney World Resort on Wednesday.

The Raptors stayed alive thanks to the thrilling victory and despite Marcus Smart's triple-double of 23 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists for Boston.

Boston led by four early in the second period of OT and were up by three with one minute, 37 seconds remaining before Toronto fought back.

The Clippers moved into a 3-1 lead over the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semi-finals after a 96-85 victory.

Kawhi Leonard finished with 30 points and 11 rebounds in Game 4, in which the Clippers never trailed.

Powell produces, Jokic's big performance not enough

Norman Powell posted 23 points off the bench for the Raptors, shooting six-of-11 from the field.

OG Anunoby had a double-double of 13 points and 13 rebounds, while Fred VanVleet finished with 21 points.

Celtics duo Jayson Tatum (29 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists) and Jaylen Brown (31 points and 16 rebounds) almost saw Boston to a series win.

Brown, Tatum and Smart were the first trio of team-mates to have 20-plus points and 10-plus rebounds in the same playoff game since Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish achieved the feat for Boston in 1987, according to STATS.

Nuggets star Nikola Jokic had 26 points, 11 rebounds and six assists in Denver's loss.

 

Walker's woes

Kemba Walker went two-of-11 from the field to post just five points in more than 51 minutes for Boston.

 

Lakers face Rockets

Leading the Western Conference semi-final 2-1, the Los Angeles Lakers look to pull further clear of the Houston Rockets on Thursday.

Steve Nash described Kevin Durant as one of the NBA's greatest ever players and labelled Kyrie Irving one of his all-time favourites as the Brooklyn Nets head coach expressed his excitement at being able to work with the All-Star duo.

Nash has taken his first steps into senior coaching, appointed by the Nets, despite the Basketball Hall of Famer's lack of experience.

After filling the void left by Kenny Atkinson in Brooklyn, first-time coach and two-time NBA MVP Nash will have the opportunity to lead Durant and Irving.

Nash previously worked with two-time NBA champion and two-time Finals MVP Durant for three seasons at the Golden State Warriors, where he was a player development consultant.

Durant is yet to play for the Nets due to an Achilles injury after his high-profile arrival from the Warriors in 2019.

"It's a privilege to work with one of the greatest players to ever play the game," Nash said on Wednesday. "Someone who is incredibly coachable, inquisitive, and that lends itself to the question of searching.

"I think what I meant was that Kevin's always searching, he's always curious, inquisitive, developing as a human being. So he's a deep person who has a lot of goals and a lot about him, not just in basketball terms. I think my comment is more about Kevin as a human being, the type of person he is, about how he's always trying to grow, always trying to learn and always asking how he can get better.

"A big part of that is that Kevin is somebody that is never afraid to say, 'help me with this', 'what do you think about that', so that's the type of confidence and security it takes to be able to ask for help or know what they don't know. And he has that along with an incredible drive, work ethic, toughness and historic talent."

Nash is also relishing the chance to coach 2016 NBA champion and six-time All-Star Irving, who also joined the Nets in 2019 after opting to leave the Boston Celtics.

Irving was limited to just 20 games because of a shoulder injury as the Nets went on to lose in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs in 2019-20.

"First of all, Kyrie's one of my favourite players of all time," said Nash. "He's brilliant; skill level historically off the charts. Creative. Guts. Competitiveness.

"For me to get to coach him is really a pleasure. We have a relationship going back to when he was a rookie, playing against him. Got a chance to train with him for a couple days in New York City after I retired. Must have been five, six years ago. And I got a chance to speak to him since taking the job.

"I'm excited to develop that relationship, watching him continue to show greatness on the floor and to continue to get to know him in a really meaningful way, because he's an incredible person.

"The gestures and the things he's done around the WNBA or social justice, these are the things I really admire. For him to put himself in that position with his platform, to help people, shows there's a really deep person there that I've gotten to know but look forward to getting to really know and understand and learn from."

Steve Nash is not avoiding his Brooklyn Nets hiring controversy after acknowledging he did "skip the line" for his first head coaching role but the Hall of Famer highlighted his successful playing career.

The Nets – eliminated in the first round of the playoffs – raised eyebrows when they appointed two-time NBA MVP Nash to permanently replace Kenny Atkinson, despite his lack of coaching experience.

There has been criticism of Nash's appointment in Brooklyn and the 46-year-old – inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018 – is not shying away from the debate as he embarks on his first senior gig.

"Well, I did skip the line, frankly," Nash said during his virtual introductory news conference on Wednesday.

"But at the same time, I think leading an NBA team for almost two decades is pretty unique. So while I haven't necessarily learned some of the skills that I'll definitely seek to understand and learn as far as the technical aspects of coaching, I was never far from that.

"So to lead a team in such a unique position, to be the head of the team on the floor, to think on the fly, to manage personalities and people, skill sets, and bring people together, collaborating with a coach and a coaching staff for almost two decades, it's not like I was in a vacuum. I learned a tremendous amount during my career."

Nash is not the only former player to land a head coaching role without experience, following in the footsteps of Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, Doc Rivers of the Los Angeles Clippers and Isiah Thomas.

"I haven't grinded it out as an assistant coach, like many people's path, but there's a precedent for players who have strong careers, who are leaders, anchors," Nash said.

"I think to get this opportunity, as Steve Kerr and many other people have had great success, it's a unique situation, I think. But I definitely realise that I need support. I'm going to hopefully bring a lot of qualities and skills to the table that are unique and strong, but I'm going to need support and a collaborative staff that has a lot of experience and is willing to build this with me."

Nash's arrival in Brooklyn has been described by some as "white privilege" amid the Black Lives Matter movement but the eight-time All-Star added: "I have benefited from white privilege. Our society has a lot of ground to make up.

"I'm not saying this position was a factor, as far as white privilege ... I think, as white people, we have to understand we have a certain privilege and a benefit by the colour of our skin in our communities. We have a long way to go to find equality and social and racial justice. I hope that I'm a great ally in that cause.

"I'm very sensitive to the cause and the goal. I'm not sure that this is an example that purely fits that conversation, but I own it, and I understand why it's talked about. We do need more diversity and more opportunities for African American coaches on staff in all capacities. The league was built through African American players and stars that have made this one of the greatest entertainment industries and businesses in sports in the world. It's really important that we continue to come together and fight at the league level.

"It's interesting, being such a supporter and ally of that need for equality, to be put in the middle of it, in a sense, because it's something that's near and dear to my heart. But I accept it. I want to be part of the conversation. And, frankly, I want to be a part of change moving forward."

Jimmy Butler is adamant the best is still to come from the Miami Heat after they reached the NBA Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 2014 by eliminating the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Heat came into the playoffs ranked fifth, making them the lowest seed to reach the Eastern Conference finals in 21 years.

The Bucks came into the playoffs as the conference's top seeds, but a 103-94 Heat victory in Tuesday's Game 5 secured a 4-1 triumph for Erik Spoelstra's team.

Butler certainly played his part in the series-clinching win, registering a double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds after a shaky first quarter, and he was in a confident mood after the game.

When asked if the Heat had shown their best in the five meetings with the Bucks, Butler said: "No, I don't think so. I don't think we've played a full 48-minute game yet, and that what's promising.

"When we do lock in and decide to play from start to finish, I think the game would be a lot easier. I don't think it's happened yet, but we have to next round."

With regards to leading the team to the conference finals, Butler added: "It means a lot, but like you said, that's not my goal. That's not my guys' goal. It's not the organisation's goal.

"We want to win it, win a championship, and I think that's what we're focused on. These next eight are going to be much harder than the previous eight. We know that, but we're ready."

The Heat were boosted by Giannis Antetokounmpo missing out for the Bucks as he failed to shake off an ankle injury.

But Spoelstra was no less proud of his side, applauding them for their "journey".

"I want our guys to just step back at least for a night, if not two nights, and just reflect," Spoelstra said.

"It's not easy to get to the conference finals, and our organisation knows that. We've been trying desperately to get back to the conference finals. It's not our ultimate goal, we get it, but you can still acknowledge the journey, how hard it is to this point.

"That is why we brought Jimmy Butler here. That is why we put this team together with the veterans, adding Andre [Iguodala] and Jae [Crowder], building around Goran [Dragic] and Bam [Adebayo], having a young core.

"It was to try and do something in the playoffs. It's not easy to get to the conference finals. Otherwise, every team would be doing it."

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