San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich described LaMarcus Aldridge as a "consummate professional" after the veteran retired due to a health issue.

Aldridge played while dealing with an irregular heartbeat in the Brooklyn Nets' 126-101 defeat to the Los Angeles Lakers last Saturday, a problem that became worse after the game.

The seven-time All-Star was listed as out with a non-COVID related illness for the Nets' next two games against the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Philadelphia 76ers.

On Thursday, the 35-year-old announced he was putting his health and family first and calling it a day.

Aldridge had only joined the Nets as a free agent in March and averaged 12.8 points in five games after agreeing a contract buyout with the Spurs.

He was signed by the Spurs ahead of the 2015-16 season, helping San Antonio reach the Western Conference Finals in 2017 where they were swept by the Golden State Warriors.

"LaMarcus Aldridge enjoyed a wonderful NBA career. He was a consummate professional with a unique skill set and a deep respect for the game," Popovich said in a Spurs statement.

"We're grateful for his contributions, both on and off the court, during his time here in San Antonio.

"I'm proud of him for making this difficult decision and we wish him and his family all of the best in the future."

Selected second overall by the Chicago Bulls in the 2006 draft, Aldridge spent the majority of his career with the Portland Trail Blazers, scoring 12,562 points to sit third on the franchise's all-time list.

Aldridge played in 1,029 NBA games and finishes up averaging 19.4 points and 8.2 rebounds.

Steph Curry aims to bring "joy and a competitive fire" to a developing Golden State Warriors unit, after he netted 30 points for a career-best ninth straight game.

Curry was instrumental as the Warriors beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 119-101 on Thursday to make it four wins from four – the team's strongest streak this season.

The 33-year-old scored 33 points, registered five assists and four rebounds, completing four of 13 attempted three-pointers, while Curry is the first Warrior since Rick Barry in 1966-67 to score 30-plus points in nine consecutive games.

Golden State's run has taken them onto the verge of the playoff positions in the Western Conference, and Curry is delighted with how the team is coming together.

"I just try to bring the team joy and a competitive fire," Curry said, as reported by ESPN.

"We've got a way to go, but developing different ways to win games is a good thing."

"He's been incredible lately, even by Steph standards," Warriors coach Steve Kerr added of Curry's superb individual display. 

"It's the result of a lifetime of training and hard work, but he just does it night after night. We're in a very good place right now. The guys feel good about themselves."

Curry was ably supported by Andrew Wiggins (23 points), Juan Toscano-Anderson (20) and Draymond Green, whose tally of five points was boosted by 10 rebounds and eight assists.

Indeed, Green's partnership with Curry received particular praise from Cleveland coach J.B. Bickerstaff, who said:  "Steph and Draymond are so good and with their experience, they're just deadly, and the other guys play their role to a T."

One negative for Golden State is the news of a season-ending knee injury for rookie James Wiseman, the number two overall draft pick.

"It's tough because he was headed in the right direction, but I told him he needs to think big picture," Curry said.

"He can use this to try and turn a negative into a positive."

When FIFA last year announced they were set to introduce limits on the number of players teams could send out on loan, unsurprisingly many people's first thoughts turned to Chelsea.

At the time, the Blues remarkably had 28 players at other clubs, though this was by no means a recent trend: in 2018-19 that figure was 41.

The 'hoarding' of talent might be a solid ploy when looking to stunt the growth of a rival team or generate long-term revenue on Football Manager, but in the real world it was a practice that had long attracted criticism.

While by no means the only club in the world to have lots of young players out on loan, Chelsea have – rightly or wrongly – arguably been the most synonymous with it.

Some feel this has directly contributed to the club's struggles in developing homegrown talent because they have so many players, whereas others believe it offers a greater number of individuals the chance to play first-team football at a higher level than the Under-23s.

Putting aside some of the moral issues, Mason Mount falls into the latter category and proves there is a route to the first team through the fog of war for Chelsea's loan army.

By his own admission Mount needed an extra kick when he was in Chelsea's Under-23s as an 18-year-old, and that led to his temporary switch to the Eredivisie with Vitesse Arnhem, where he won the club's Player of the Year award.

But it's unlikely even he realised how important his next move would be as he linked up with Chelsea great Frank Lampard.

In at the deep end

Mount made 44 appearances across all competitions for Derby County in 2018-19 as they missed out on promotion in the play-off final, but regardless of that ultimate disappointment it proved a massive year for both he and Lampard.

With Maurizio Sarri departing Stamford Bridge to join Juventus despite Europa League success, Lampard was brought back to the club as head coach. Given his status and the trust he placed in young players – and, more pertinently, young players owned by Chelsea – at Derby, Lampard was seen as the ideal candidate to guide the team through a transfer embargo by bringing through homegrown talent.

Whether or not Lampard was a success as Chelsea coach is a discussion for another time, but his faith in Mount was unquestionable, chucking him straight into the team on the first day of the 2019-20 season.

 

The Blues suffered a rather harsh 4-0 defeat at Manchester United, but Mount didn't look out of his depth in the Premier League, playing four key passes over the course of the match.

He never enjoyed a more productive Premier League game in terms of chances created in 2019-20, while he finished the season with 12 goal involvements (seven scored, five set up), a figure bettered by only Tammy Abraham (18), Willian (16) and Christian Pulisic (13) in the Chelsea squad.

Similarly, Willian (76) was the only Chelsea player to lay on more key passes over 2019-20 than Mount's 52 and he appeared in more league games than any of his team-mates (37).

But those points don't quite tell the whole story. To say he was consistent throughout the season would be a lie, as after the turn of the year there was a growing sense of frustration regarding his form. Between the start of November and the final day of the season, his three assists amounted to a couple of corner deliveries for Antonio Rudiger to head home, and a free-kick against Arsenal that Bernd Leno made a mess of. Mount's one open-play assist of 2019-20 came on the final day of the season against Wolves.

 

Some felt Mount was being over-worked by Lampard, others put his issues down to being used in a variety of roles – one week he'd occupy a central midfield position, the next he could be deployed as a winger and then he might play as a No.10.

The "teacher's pet" tag began to raise its head, with Lampard's almost incessant use of Mount leading to suggestions of preferential treatment. 

A star of his own merit

When Thomas Tuchel was hired as Lampard's replacement in January, there wouldn't have been too many particularly worried for Mount's future given he had been a fixture in the team.

But when Mount was dropped for the German's first game in charge, Tuchel's decision certainly made people sit up and take note.

While he explained it away as opting to go with experience, dropping Mount suggested for arguably the first time since his return from Derby that he had a fight on his hands.

But it would be fair to say he's risen to the challenge.

"I understood and wanted to get back into the team, so that motivation and that fire that I have inside me came out," Mount said at a news conference last month. "I really tried to push to get back into the team. It's been brilliant."

Since then, he's become more productive almost across the board in the final third under Tuchel than he had been for Lampard in 2020-21.

 

Seemingly one of the main contributing factors is his role. While Lampard used Mount in numerous positions, Tuchel has largely deployed him further up the pitch in an attempt to get him closer to the opposition's penalty area – activity maps show a significant change between the two coaches' usage of the 21-year-old.

Not only is he involved in passing moves more often as a result, he's contributing to sequences that end in a shot with greater frequency as well. His 72 (7.8 per 90 minutes) during Tuchel's 12 Premier League matches is the second highest in the division since the German's appointment, while his 96 (5.6 per 90 minutes) involvements in Lampard's 18 top-flight games this term was the eighth most.

The expected goals value from these sequences has increased too, going from 0.43 to 0.65 per 90 minutes, meaning Chelsea are creating greater quality chances with Mount further up the pitch.

Furthermore, there's been a considerable improvement in his own productivity. While his chance creation record in the past may have been skewed by set-pieces, he's moved up the rankings in terms of open-play key passes per 90 minutes. With 1.5 each game, only 12 others have done better than Mount since Tuchel's arrival – beforehand, his 1.2 per 90 minutes had him 43rd in those rankings.

 

While he may still be without a single open-play assist in 2020-21, it's clear to see that Mount's strong associative talents and ability to play tidily in busier areas of the pitch make him a real asset to Tuchel, who has acted quickly to shift the England international into a position that seemingly suits him better.

Scoring has been an issue for them, with the likes of Timo Werner and Kai Havertz continuing to struggle, and this has undoubtedly impacted Mount as his expected assists from open play is 3.5 - with more clinical finishing he wouldn't still be sat on zero.

 

Mount's form lately seems to suggest that once Chelsea begin to click in front of goal, he'll be key to much of their build-up.

A homegrown beacon of hope

Throughout Roman Abramovich's time as Chelsea owner, the club has often found itself in a sort of purgatory – while they've undoubtedly wanted success and a first-team full of homegrown talents, it's difficult to say they've truly struck a balance between the two.

After all, since the start of the century, Chelsea products reaching 100 Premier League appearances for the club have been a rarity.

John Terry, of course, leads the way, but beyond him it becomes a bit murky. John Obi Mikel and Nemanja Matic perhaps come closest to fitting the bill, though both did play senior football elsewhere before joining the club as teenagers.

Granted, Mount remains a little way off yet as well having played 67 times in the top-flight for Chelsea, but he's quickly making up ground.

Not too far behind him are Tammy Abraham (56), Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek (both on 54), while Andreas Christensen – at Chelsea since 2013 – has featured 70 times.

What's in store for their long-term futures at Chelsea remains to be seen – they are far less certain than Mount.

But Mount especially shows that where there wasn't much hope for young talent coming through at Chelsea in the past, now there is for arguably the first time in the Abramovich era.

Harry Kane continues to be linked with a move away from Tottenham and, after last week's defeat to Manchester United, his Spurs future looks little brighter.

Still, the England star has rarely allowed off-field rumours to influence his form, and he happens to be preparing to face one of his favourite opponents in Everton.

Liverpool forward Diogo Jota is another forward we are encouraging Fantasy Football players to select for this week, as the champions get ready for a tricky test at Leeds United.

Is there anyone else who offers good value for this week, we hear you ask? Read on for a handful of suggested picks, as powered by Opta data...

 

RUI PATRICIO

Wolves goalkeeper Rui Patricio has kept five clean sheets in his most recent 13 Premier League games. That might not sound like a lot, but he went 12 matches before there without keeping the ball out of the net.

Those shut-outs have come against some strong opposition, too: Chelsea, Leicester City, Leeds United, Aston Villa and Fulham have all failed to find a way past the Portugal international.

Given Sheffield United have failed to score in 17 league matches this term, the highest number in the division, Patricio is an ideal man for the number-one spot.

PABLO MARI

Backing Arsenal defensively is rarely the safest of bets, but they do have a strong record against promoted teams in the top flight, having kept four clean sheets in their most recent six meetings with such opposition.

Of their four main centre-backs, Pablo Mari has the best rate for minutes per goal conceded: one every 103.

Having helped the Gunners ease past Sheffield United last week, he could be in line for another outing against struggling Fulham.

 

ANTONIO RUDIGER

Antonio Rudiger has only started 14 games in the league this season, but Chelsea have kept clean sheets in nine of those matches, including in five of the most recent seven.

In the most recent game in which the Germany defender did not start, the Blues shipped five goals at home to a West Brom side who were made to look like peak Barcelona.

After their FA Cup semi-final with Manchester City, Chelsea resume league duties against Brighton and Hove Albion – a team with a frustrating habit of failing to turn promising play into goals.

 

DIOGO JOTA

Liverpool might have fallen from the lofty heights of last season, but few could blame their decline on close-season signing Diogo Jota.

The Portugal forward has averaged a goal every 103 minutes in the league this term, the best rate of any Liverpool player. He has also netted in each of his past three away games.

With Leeds United boasting an expected goals against figure of 48.94, the fourth-worst in the division, Jota will fancy his chances at Elland Road.

ALLAN SAINT-MAXIMIN

With a goal and an assist off the bench against Burnley last week, Allan Saint-Maximin proved just how valuable he could be to Newcastle United's survival hopes.

The winger has been involved in five goals (two scored, three assisted) in his previous six league matches, as many as he managed in 19 before then.

The Magpies face tough opponents in West Ham, but David Moyes' men have conceded nine goals in three league games - and each time after going 3-0 up.

 

HARRY KANE

Harry Kane cut a disconsolate figure after Spurs' loss to Manchester United, but this weekend could offer the chance for a pick-me-up.

Kane has scored nine goals in his past seven games against Everton in all competitions, including five in just three appearances at Goodison Park.

He also just one short of reaching 20 in the top flight in a single season for the fifth time.

KELECHI IHEANACHO

His two goals at West Ham were not quite enough to mount a comeback, but they did underline the red-hot form of Kelechi Iheanacho.

The striker has hit seven goals in five league games, as many as he managed in 63 previous appearances in the competition.

With eight league goals to his name in 2020-21, Iheanacho is just one short of his best ever return for a Premier League season. Next up for Leicester after their FA Cup final? Relegation-threatened West Brom.

Stephen Curry posted more than 30 points for a career-best ninth consecutive game as the Golden State Warriors beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 119-101.

Curry starred for the Warriors on Thursday, scoring 33 points to lead the visitors past the Cavaliers in Cleveland and to their fourth successive win.

The two-time MVP – who is averaging 38.2 points amid his streak – became the first Warriors player to have at least 30 points in nine straight games since Rick Barry in 1966-67.

Andrew Wiggins added 23 points for the Warriors, while Juan Toscano-Anderson had his first career 20-point game with 20 points, seven rebounds and three assists.

The Cavaliers were led by Collin Sexton's 30 points and Jarrett Allen's double-double of 17 points and 14 rebounds.

 

Brown goes off against Lakers

The Boston Celtics took down injury-hit defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers 121-113 at Staples Center. Without LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers were punished by Jaylen Brown, who fuelled the Celtics with 40 points on 17-for-20 shooting, making three of his five three-point attempts to go with nine rebounds and three assists. He became the first player in franchise history to score 40-plus points with a field-goal percentage of 85 per cent or better.

Deandre Ayton (26 points and 11 rebounds), Devin Booker (23 points) and Chris Paul (13 points and 11 assists) combined as the red-hot Phoenix Suns topped the Sacramento Kings 122-114. Phoenix won their 10th consecutive home game as they reached 40 victories for the first time since 2014.

Brook Lopez was efficient with 19 points and 12 rebounds on seven-for-10 shooting, while he was three-of-six from three-point range as two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo returned from a six-game injury lay-off in the Milwaukee Bucks' 120-109 success against the Atlanta Hawks.

 

Matthews and Caldwell-Pope struggle

It was not a memorable outing for Lakers pair Wesley Matthews (three points) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (two points), who were both one-for-seven shooting in 23 minutes as starters. Matthews made one of his six attempts from beyond the arc, while Caldwell-Pope missed all three of his efforts.

Kevin Love – an NBA champion with the Cavaliers – finished two-for-10 shooting against the Warriors. The veteran (five points) only nailed one of his seven three-point attempts on a rough day.

 

Tricky Tatum

Jayson Tatum had five assists against the Lakers, including a behind-the-back dime to tee up Celtics team-mate Tristan Thompson.

 

Thursday's results

Milwaukee Bucks 120-109 Atlanta Hawks
Golden State Warriors 119-101 Cleveland Cavaliers
Phoenix Suns 122-114 Sacramento Kings
Boston Celtics 121-113 Los Angeles Lakers

 

Clippers at 76ers

A blockbuster clash will see the in-form Los Angeles Clippers (39-18) visit the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers (38-17) on Friday. The Clippers have won seven straight, while the 76ers are in the midst of a three-game winning run.

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes winning the Europa League title can be a catalyst for his team after they reached another semi-final.

United set up a semi-final showdown with Roma after Thursday's 2-0 victory over Granada at Old Trafford sealed a 4-0 aggregate triumph.

Solskjaer's United have reached four semi-finals and lost them all – the Red Devils beaten in last season's Europa League semi, having also missed out on trips to the FA Cup and EFL Cup deciders in 2019-20.

United – second in the Premier League standings – also fell to Manchester City in this season's EFL Cup semi-final, leaving Solskjaer hungry for that last elusive step.

Not since the 2016-17 season, when they claimed the Europa League, EFL Cup and Community Shield under former boss Jose Mourinho, have United won silverware.

"You know, when you get to a semi, that's the nature of the game," Solskjaer said during his post-match news conference after United advanced to their 18th semi-final in all European competition – only Liverpool (19) have appeared in more among English sides.

"You are playing against good teams. We've played against good teams but we relish the chance again to go to a final.

"I've seen the determination, the attitude in every player that we want to go one further because the disappointment of the defeats that we've had, they give us the motivation to go one step further and hopefully end the season on a high."

The first leg of the semi-final against Serie A side Roma will be played at Old Trafford on April 19, followed by a May 6 date at Stadio Olimpico in the Italian capital.

Since losing their first two home games in the Europa League in 2011-12, United have not lost any of their last 17 games at Old Trafford in the competition (W13 D4).

United – who have won three consecutive knockout-stage games without conceding in major European competition for the first time since 2008 – have kept five clean sheets in six Europa League games since the turn of the year, more than any other side in 2021.

"This season has been difficult with no pre-season. It's not been possible for us to practice anything really, since the pre-season of 19-20. That's one thing," Solskjaer added.

"I think the next step for the team, of course, is to get to a final, to win a trophy. I think that would give this group of players something extra.

"The motivation is there. I see it. The determination is there to improve all the time. I've seen before a catalyst for a team is often to win a trophy, to get over the line. That's what we're aiming to do at the end of the season."

Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis has been cleared to resume full on-court activities and could return for the upcoming series against the NBA-leading Utah Jazz.

Davis has been sidelined since exiting the NBA champions' game against the Denver Nuggets on February 14 as he recovers from tendinosis and a calf strain in his right leg.

The Lakers have also been without superstar LeBron James due to an ankle injury, but head coach Frank Vogel said the team are close to welcoming back Davis.

Davis missed Thursday's clash with the Boston Celtics, but Vogel did not rule out the eight-time All-Star from potentially returning in the Utah series across April 17 and April 19.

The Lakers are more hopeful Davis will be ready to face the Dallas Mavericks on April 22.

"Good news. He was evaluated again upon the return of this trip," Vogel told reporters on Thursday.

"He has been cleared for full on-court activity. Full practice, anything we want to do with him to begin his real ramp-up to begin his return to play.

"All the court work he's been doing until this point has been to get him to be fully cleared to participate in full practice.

"Obviously he's not playing tonight [Thursday]. It's unlikely he plays in the two Utah games, but not out of the question. Hopefully he is available after that."

Davis, who will return on a minutes restriction, was averaging 22.5 points per game this season before the injury – his lowest since his second year in the league with the New Orleans Pelicans (20.8).

The 28-year-old's average of 8.4 rebounds in 2020-21 is the lowest since his rookie season (8.2) in 2012-13.

Vogel's Lakers (34-21) are fifth in the Western Conference, seven games adrift of the high-flying Jazz (41-14).

James Wiseman's rookie season in the NBA has come to a premature end after the Golden State Warriors center underwent knee surgery on Thursday. 

Wiseman had a procedure in Los Angeles to repair a right meniscal tear, the NBA team announced. 

The 20-year-old is expected to be healthy for the start of the 2021-22 season.

Wiseman was the second overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft but had trouble staying in the line-up in his first season with Golden State, starting 27 of his 39 games and averaging 21.4 minutes along with 11.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. 

He ranks third among rookies in rebounding, fifth in scoring, fourth in field-goal percentage and fifth in blocks (0.92 per game).

Golden State's Wiseman missed much of February with a wrist injury before returning in a bench role for several weeks. 

Wiseman re-joined the starting line-up on March 23 and his play was inconsistent before a strong showing in what turned out to be his final full game of the season. 

He made nine of 11 field goals and scored 18 points against the Washington Wizards on April 9, but left the following day's game against the Houston Rockets in the second quarter after landing awkwardly on a dunk attempt. 

Warriors head coach Steve Kerr told reporters earlier in the week that Wiseman was taking the injury news as well as he could. 

"He's just been through an awful lot this season," Kerr said. "And he has a really good way about him and he's at minimum putting up a good front, but I know he's really crushed, but he's hanging in there."

The San Diego Padres are "optimistic" star Fernando Tatis Jr. will return for Friday's showdown with MLB World Series champions the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Tatis – who signed an eye-popping 14-year, $340million contract extension with the Padres before the start of the season – has been on the injured list since suffering a subluxation of his left shoulder on April 5.

But the 22-year-old shortstop is poised to make his comeback, according to Padres manager Jayce Tingler.

"He took a live [batting practice] today," Tinger told reporters on Thursday. "Probably had his best day today as far as the at-bats.

"We have to go over a couple of things with the medical team.

"We're optimistic that he has a good chance to be ready to play tomorrow."

Tatis won a Silver Slugger award last season, having hit .277 with 17 home runs and 45 RBIs in the coronavirus-shortened 2020 campaign.

He is the first player in MLB history to have at least 35 home runs and 25 stolen bases within the first 150 games of his career.

Tatis packs a punch with the bat – he led the majors in average exit velocity (95.9 mph), hard hit percentage (62.2), and balls hit 95-plus MPH (102) last season.

 

Cameron Smith carded a nine-under-par 62 to set the early pace by one stroke after the first round of the RBC Heritage.

Australian golfer Smith turned in a bogey-free round at Harbour Town on Thursday for the lowest score of his PGA Tour career.

The 2020 Masters runner-up birdied three of the last four holes, just missing an eagle at the last when his approach shot missed the hole by inches. 

Smith finished with nine birdies in the opening round, tying his career record for most birdies in a single round on Tour.

"Everything just came together," Smith told reporters. "It was a great day on the green. I was hitting my irons really good. I had lots of good looks, and I just took advantage of them."

Smith's score matched the lowest opening round in tournament history, joining Davis Love III in 2002 and Peter Lonard three years later. 

The 27-year-old has two career PGA Tour titles, the most recent in January 2020 at the Sony Open in Hawaii. 

"I just feel really comfortable," Smith said. "Mentally I feel very free out there. I feel like I can hit the shot that I need to hit and going ahead and trying to execute it. I just feel like every shot I'm hitting, I'm putting 100 per cent into it, and on a day like today, it's really rewarding."

Two-time champion Stewart Cink started early and was the clubhouse leader with a 63 before Smith's torrid closing stretch left him second on the leaderboard. 

Cink's score on Thursday was the American veteran's best in 75 career rounds at Harbour Town. 

"A round like this doesn't show you there is more out there," Cink said. "A round like this shows you what you're doing is already dead on, and why change anything?"

Matt Wallace and Collin Morikawa are three shots back at six under, followed by Charles Howell III, Billy Horschel and Harold Varner III – who are a stroke further adrift.

Masters runner-up Will Zalatoris shot a three-under-par 68, while world number one Dustin Johnson ended the day eight shots off the pace.

Defending champion Webb Simpson opened his bid for back-to-back titles with a first-round 71, leaving him tied for 67th. 

Perhaps no team in the NBA is on as interesting and open-ended of a course as the New Orleans Pelicans.

In a league where most teams fear the purgatory of mediocrity, New Orleans have seemingly set up a permanent home there.

The Pelicans are 279-340 since establishing their new nickname in 2013-14, including a 25-30 mark this season that would leave them out of the playoff picture if they remained the Western Conference's number 11 team.

Less than two years ago, the Crescent City had a franchise cornerstone and consensus top-10 player in Anthony Davis, who would soon force the Pelicans into trading him to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Last offseason, New Orleans shipped two-way guard Jrue Holiday to the Milwaukee Bucks in a four-team deal.

Along the way, New Orleans also let Christian Wood and Julius Randle slip through their fingers.

Despite the exodus of top-level talent in exchange for draft selections and pick swaps, the Pelicans' situation is far from a full rebuild. The Davis trade netted them Brandon Ingram, who made his first All-Star team last season and continues to improve.

Winning the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery despite having just a six per cent chance has been a franchise-altering moment that resulted in the addition of Zion Williamson.

While most teams in their position would prioritise the future over all else, building around Williamson, Ingram and whatever young talent comes from a sizeable pile of future draft picks, the Pelicans have given significant playing time to veterans Steven Adams, Eric Bledsoe and JJ Redick, before the latter was traded at last month's deadline.

But can the Pelicans defy the odds by attempting to win both now and in the future? Perhaps more importantly, are Williamson and Ingram the right cornerstones around which to build a team?

Williamson appears to be the unquestioned future of the Pelicans, utilising a unique combination of physique, athleticism and skillset to dominate inside despite being only as tall as many guards in the league.

The former one-and-done star at Duke is shooting 61.8 per cent from the floor this season, on pace to set an NBA record for a player listed at six-foot-six or shorter. Charles Barkley currently holds the record, shooting 60.0 per cent in the 1989-90 season for the Philadelphia 76ers.

While Williamson's shooting has improved from last season to this term, he has shown even greater growth in other areas. His free-throw shooting has jumped from 64.0 per cent to 70.1 per cent, and his assist-to-turnover ratio has improved from 0.85 to 1.45 season.

Williamson's performance has proven that his abbreviated, 24-game rookie season was no fluke and has only missed five games in his sophomore campaign to relieve concerns that he is an injury-prone player.

But as good as he has been, Williamson's size allows him to only match up against opposing power forwards, standing too short to defend most centers and unable to move his 285-pound frame quickly enough to stay with most wings. This would be a limitation that is easily managed if Ingram were not also best suited to play power forward, placing the pair's long-term compatibility into question.

The Pelicans have typically started Adams at center, with Williamson and Ingram starting at the forward spots, and Adams and Williamson have a tough time switching onto other players while playing defense. While talent has led to New Orleans having the league's ninth most efficient offense this season at 112.1 points per 100 possessions, this rigid alignment has resulted in the NBA's third worst defense, allowing 113.0 points per 100 possessions.

Williamson appears to be more valuable than Ingram, although the Pelicans are far from being forced to choose between their 20- and 23-year-old stars. New Orlean's net rating is plus-0.5 this season with Williamson on the court and minus-3.2 with him on the bench. The team have a minus-0.8 net rating with Ingram playing and a minus-1.1 net rating with Ingram sitting.

Perhaps more concerning is that fact that the Pelicans apparently have yet to realise that Williamson has surpassed Ingram as the team's best player. Ingram shoots 18.1 times per game, compared to Williamson's 16.6. Ingram also has 65 field-goal attempts in the last three minutes of fourth quarters, compared to Williamson's 50.

With that being said, the Pelicans are 21-13 when Ingram scores 22 points or more and are 4-17 when he scores fewer than 22 points or does not play.

Offense appears to come easily to both Williamson and Ingram, but can the pair evolve enough to ever play even league-average defense?

The problem is the reverse of another pair publicly deemed incompatible – the 76ers' Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons – two elite defensive players who do not mesh perfectly on offense.

Despite their warts, Embiid and Simmons are in their fourth season together and have Philadelphia sitting atop the Eastern Conference at 38-17, with the former averaging nearly 30 points per game and the latter making a bid for Defensive Player of the Year.

Perhaps in two or three years – and with a better supporting cast – Ingram and Williamson can help the Pelicans grow into contenders in the west.

But when the Pelicans' stars are at their peaks, players like Adams, Bledsoe and James Johnson will have moved on. New Orleans better hope they have enough assets and supporting players in place after investing in a seemingly short-sighted run at the 2021 playoffs.

Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is "feeling good" after returning home from two days in hospital with malaria, manager Mikel Arteta has confirmed.

The Gabon striker has been left out of the squad for Arsenal's last two matches and revealed on social media on Thursday that he contracted the virus during the recent international break. 

Aubameyang posted a picture of himself in a hospital bed and wearing a gown, but he has now been discharged and his health is improving.

Speaking at a news conference after Arsenal's 4-0 win over Slavia Prague on Thursday evening, which saw his side through to the Europa League semi-finals 5-1 on aggregate, Arteta said: "We just spoke with him. He's at home, he's fine.

"He had two days in hospital to get the right treatment, but he's feeling good now.

"Everybody has been in contact with him. He's been really supportive with every team-mate through messages and calls.

"He was watching the game like everybody else at Colney. David [Luiz], Martin [Odegaard], Kieran [Tierney]. Everybody who has not been able to be involved.

"It is what it is, these things happen. He travelled to his country and he picked it up and you know that these risks always exist."

Aubameyang has sat out Arsenal's wins over Sheffield United and Slavia, but he started the 3-0 loss to Liverpool on April 3 and was a second-half substitute in last week's first-leg against the Czech champions.

"When he wasn't involved against Sheffield United, two days before he wasn't feeling good, but nobody could expect that was the case," Arteta added.

"They did some more tests and that's when it came up and straight away the doctor realised very quickly what had to be done and they did a great job. He's safe and he's feeling good."

Aubameyang has not scored for Arsenal since the 1-1 draw with Burnley on March 6 in the Premier League - one of 14 goals he has managed in all competitions this season.

Arsenal host Fulham and Everton in their next two Premier League games, before the first leg of their Europa League semi-final with Villarreal on April 29.

Arteta is unsure when Aubameyang will be fit enough to return but is hopeful of having his captain back involved sooner rather than later.

"We'll see how he recovers," Arteta said. "I think he will need a few days to recover from that. He wants to back as soon as possible, that's what he said to me.

"But I don't know. If the treatment is efficient it shouldn't take too long."

Arsenal have won eight, drawn five and lost nine of the 22 Premier League games Aubameyang has started this term, compared to five wins, one draw and three losses in the nine games he has not started.

The Gunners also average more goals per game without Aubameyang in their line-up - 1.8 compared to 1.2 - while their average goals against figure rises from 1.0 to 1.2 when he is not included in the XI.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was listed as available for the Milwaukee Bucks' matchup with the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday after missing the previous six games.

The two-time NBA MVP has not played since matching his season high with 47 points against the Portland Trail Blazers on April 2.

Antetokounmpo's absence due to knee soreness appears to have ended his hopes of claiming the MVP award for a third straight year, with Nikola Jokic meanwhile continuing to impress and Joel Embiid returning from injury.

But the Bucks will be delighted to have their talisman back out on the floor when they face the in-form Hawks.

The 'Greek Freak', who had never previously missed more than two consecutive games in his NBA career, leads Milwaukee with 28.8 points, 11.4 rebounds and 6.2 assists this season.

While Antetokounmpo was out, the Bucks went 3-3, although they remain third in the Eastern Conference with a 34-20 record.

Thursday's opponents Atlanta are now fourth after a run of seven wins in eight games.

Roma are ready to step up to the challenge of taking on Manchester United in the semi-finals of the Europa League despite an unconvincing display against Ajax.

Serie A side Roma reached just their second Europa League/UEFA Cup semi-final with a 1-1 draw at home to Ajax on Thursday.

That result was enough to advance 3-2 on aggregate following an away win in the first leg, but Roma were made to work by the Eredivisie giants, who dominated 71.7 per cent of the possession.

Roma trailed to Brian Brobbey's second-half strike, although Edin Dzeko eased nerves slightly in the Stadio Olimpico with his equaliser 18 minutes from time.

Roma captain Lorenzo Pellegrini told Sky Sport: "We showed tonight that we're growing. We're happy but we can't get too euphoric; this is only the semi-final.

"We want to play three more games in this competition - we'll have to improve in order to do so.

"Now we face Manchester United. We realise that if we want to do something great, we have to beat those who are great."

Pellegrini has the Roma armband after Dzeko's row with head coach Paulo Fonseca saw him stripped of the captaincy.

Dzeko at least has his place back, though, and he became the fourth player to score 30 European goals for the same Italian club, following in the footsteps of Alessandro Del Piero (at Juventus) and Filippo Inzaghi and Andriy Shevchenko (both at Milan).

The Bosnian striker netted with his only shot on target and created a further chance for Pellegrini, who led Roma in attempts (three) and key passes (two).

"There have been many ups and downs," Dzeko said. "This season wasn't my best on a personal level for many reasons.

"I don't like looking at the past; what happened has happened, we have to look to the future.

"There are many players here playing their first semi-final and we've got to enjoy it, because playing at Old Trafford doesn't happen every day."

Dzeko at least has some experience of the Old Trafford arena, having won on two of his three Premier League trips as a Manchester City player.

Indeed, the 35-year-old scored four league goals away to United, as well as providing two assists.

Now, Dzeko will return to Manchester with Roma, believing his current side have nothing to fear against the tournament favourites.

"If we're in the semi-final, then of course we can [be at the same level]," he said. "It certainly hasn't been an easy path, as Braga, Shakhtar Donetsk and Ajax were basically the toughest draws we could get.

"Now we are facing another big name, but Roma are a big name, too, and we must give everything to reach the final."

Mikel Arteta was delighted with Arsenal's clinical victory over Slavia Prague but has warned his side face a tough test against former boss Unai Emery's Villarreal in the Europa League semi-finals.

The Gunners entered Thursday's quarter-final second leg with the tie delicately poised at 1-1, but they produced one of their best displays under Arteta to win 4-0 at Sinobo Stadium and advance 5-1 on aggregate.

Nicolas Pepe added to his first-leg strike by opening the scoring in the Czech capital, setting Arsenal on their way to a straightforward win as an Alexandre Lacazette penalty and long-range Bukayo Saka strike followed inside the first 24 minutes.

Lacazette rounded off the scoring in the second half to confirm a semi-final tie with Villarreal - 3-1 aggregate winners over Dinamo Zagreb - and a reunion with Emery, who was sacked by Arsenal in November 2019 and replaced by Arteta.

Emery has previously won the Europa League three times with Sevilla, while also losing the 2018-19 final against Chelsea during his time at Arsenal, and Arteta is aware of the size of the task now facing his side over two legs.

"It will be really tough and Unai Emery is probably the most successful manager in this competition," he told BT Sport. "There is still a lot to do and things we can improve on, but we have a real desire to improve and be better every day."

Arsenal are effectively relying on the Europa League to salvage their campaign and secure a place in Europe next season, the Gunners sitting ninth in the Premier League with seven games to play.

Arteta was particularly pleased with the way his side responded to having an Emile Smith Rowe goal chalked off at 0-0 on the day as his side held on for back-to-back clean sheets, and a first shutout in eight European games

"We started really well in a convincing way, aggressive in our high press," he said. "We looked a threat all the time. 

"I really like the reaction of the team to the goal being disallowed. We scored some great goals. The clean sheet is important as well, the second one in two games.

"It helped the way we played against Sheffield United. The players were in high confidence, when performances are so high the collective improves. The boys were really at it from the start.

"It is a really important win in a crucial moment. We won in a convincing way, so credit to the players."

Smith Rowe may have been denied a goal by VAR, but he set up Pepe for the opener - his seventh assist in all competitions this season, which is the joint-most of any Arsenal player alongside Willian.

With his strike later in the first half, meanwhile, Saka became Arsenal's joint-top teenage scorer in major European competition, matching the four goals scored by Charlie George and Ray Kennedy.

"For me it's a joy to watch them play to watch them every day in training," Arteta said at his post-match news conference when asked about the young pair's performance. "The passion and the commitment they have for the club is special.

"I'm really happy with all of the players. We came to a tough place to face a team that hasn't lost at home in almost two years.

"I think when we demanded efficiency from them and today is a good example of the efficiency you need in Europe to win matches."

Saka, who now has seven goals to his name in all competitions this season, added to BT Sport: "It shows everyone how exciting we can be. When we play like this it is so amazing to be involved in. 

"We have a chance of going to the final and winning this competition - now it is up to us. We look forward to the next opponent."

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