Zion Williamson needs to "get in shape" if he is to fulfil his potential in the NBA, according to Hall of Famer Karl Malone.

New Orleans selected Williamson with the first overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft but a meniscus tear in preseason and a season shortened by the coronavirus pandemic meant he played just 24 games in his rookie campaign.

The Duke product is up to 36 games – still less than half the standard season – but former power forward Malone, a two-time MVP who had All-NBA First Team honours on 11 occasions, thinks he need to improve his physique if he is to maximise his abilities.

Williamson is listed at six foot, seven inches and 284 pounds, with Malone pointing to Glen 'Big Baby' Davis as an example of someone who did not live up to their billing due to their size – Davis was 6ft 9in and played at 289 pounds.

"I love Zion Williamson. Zion needs to get into shape. If he doesn't get in shape, we might not ever know his full potential," Malone said on The Players' Tribune's Knuckleheads podcast.

"There's a young man that played at LSU, 'Big Baby' Davis. Big Baby made a comment about eight months ago, he did an ESPN show … he came on that show and he said, 'Look guys, I'm about to get into trouble now with what I'm about to say. I know everybody loves Zion and I love him too. But Zion has the same body type that I had.'

"He was talking about himself. And he said if he doesn't get into shape, we'll never know his full potential. And he did get heat from that."

Williamson had 32 points with five rebounds and three assists as the Pelicans suffered a 118-102 defeat to the Utah Jazz on Tuesday, New Orleans losing for the sixth time in seven games to slip to 5-8 for the season.

This season the 20-year-old is averaging 23.4 points and 8.0 rebounds in 32.6 minutes per game. That ranks him 44th in minutes per game, with his usage percentage of 29.1 enough for 39th in the league.

However, he leads in the league in contested three-points shots per game at 5.9.

Malone added: "I'm still waiting on him to play the whole damn season… and he needs to be averaging 40 minutes per game. Look here, you're a 21, 22-year-old kid. Your a** shouldn't get tired."

The New York Mets fired general manager Jared Porter on Tuesday, a day after it was reported he sent unsolicited text messages and lewd images to a female reporter in 2016.

The Mets hired the 41-year-old Porter only last month, but new team owner Steven Cohen announced his firing on Twitter.

Cohen wrote: "We have terminated Jared Porter this morning. In my initial press conference I spoke about the importance of integrity and I meant it. There should be zero tolerance for this type of behavior."

In response to a question about the firing of Porter, Cohen added: "No action would of set a poor example to the culture I'm trying to build."

Shortly after Cohen’s tweet, the Mets issued a statement from team president Sandy Alderson.

It read: "The New York Mets have terminated general manager Jared Porter, effective immediately. Jared's actions, as reflected by events disclosed last night, failed to meet the Mets' standards for professionalism and personal conduct."

Porter was the Chicago Cubs' director of professional scouting in 2016 when ESPN said he began sending unsolicited and inappropriate text messages and images to the reporter after meeting her in June of that year.

He has yet to make a public comment on ESPN's allegations.

Porter spent the next four seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks as their senior vice president and assistant general manager.

Steve Bruce unleashed a furious assessment of his Newcastle United players, branding their performance at Sheffield United "absolutely s***" and declaring "the gloves are off now".

The Magpies were beaten 1-0 at Bramall Lane on Tuesday to become the first team to lose to the Blades in the Premier League this season.

They were also the first side to fail to score against Sheffield United in the top flight since July as they lost to a team starting the day bottom of the table for the first time since October 2015.

Bruce has come in for increasing criticism from fans for his team's performances during an eight-game winless run in which they have exited the EFL Cup and FA Cup, as well as suffering four league losses.

The Newcastle head coach accepts he got things wrong against Sheffield United but claims some critics have always felt he was "never the right choice".

After their latest setback, Bruce has made it clear he will not tolerate anything but a commitment to his methods at St James' Park.

"I've let them be comfortable," he said of his players. "But, like I say, the gloves are off now and we will do it my way. We've played a certain way to try to get the results we need.

"We were absolutely fr****** hopeless the other night; we were absolutely s****. Unfortunately, that's happened a little too often in my 18 months here; it was nowhere near good enough for the challenge ahead. Maybe it's a mentality thing.

"If you're a Premier League manager you can't accept what happened at Sheffield United. We were completely and utterly hopeless and I have to accept what's coming my way. If I was a supporter I'd be concerned."

While the loss to Sheffield United was the nadir of their season, the signs have been worrying for Newcastle for some weeks.

Much of the criticism of Bruce has centred on a perceived negative style of play, with Newcastle having averaged the lowest possession (37.8 per cent) and completed the second-fewest passes (4,430) in the Premier League this season.

Only Burnley and West Brom have attempted fewer shots than Newcastle's 150, which have yielded 18 goals, the fifth-lowest total in the division. Only five teams have conceded more than their 27 goals and just three have kept fewer than their three clean sheets.

"I wouldn't expect to be reassured after the other night," Bruce said of his position. "I pick the team, I got it wrong and I have to take responsibility. I don't want reassurances. I understand it's nowhere near good enough so let's get ready for the challenge ahead.

"If you look at my record over the years, I've got enough on my CV to make sure I can slowly take the club forward. Some would argue against that. I accept that. In some people's eyes, I was never the right choice. I understand that."

Tim Paine declared he fell short of the standards he sets for himself as Australia captain during the ill-tempered third Test draw against India.

Wicketkeeper Paine shelled three catches as Australia toiled on the final day, with India batting out to a draw in relative comfort as the teams shook hands with the score 334-5 in the fourth innings at the SCG on Monday.

Ravichandran Ashwin finished unbeaten on 39 and was involved in spiteful verbal battle with Paine, which concluded with the gloveman calling him a "d*******".

Australia's conduct as their victory hopes slipped away has come under scrutiny after footage appeared to show former skipper Steve Smith trying to scrub out Rishabh Pant's guard marks on the crease during a thrilling counter-attacking innings of 97 in Sydney.

Having acknowledged his failings after the match, along with being fined 15 per cent of his match fee for showing dissent to umpire Paul Wilson on day three, Smith's successor Paine felt the need to address the media again on Tuesday as his conduct remained a talking point.

"I want to apologise for the way I went about things. I'm someone who prides themselves on the way I lead this team and yesterday was a poor reflection of the team," Paine said.

"I let the pressure of the game get to me. It affected my mood and from there, it affected my performance.

"Initially I reflected purely on my wicketkeeping. Last night I reflected on the whole game.

"I've had a really poor game as a leader. I'm a captain who wants to enjoy the game and wants to play the game with a smile on their face. I fell short of my expectations and our team's standards.

"I'm human. I want to apologise for the mistakes I made. It's certainly not a reflection of the way I want to lead this team. We've set high standards over the last few months and yesterday was a blip on the radar and something that I felt that I needed to come out and address.

"I feel that my mood throughout probably the whole Test match was a bit off. The way I spoke to the umpires early on day two was also unacceptable.

"I've got to cop that on the chin. It's not the way I want to lead this Australian team. It's certainly not a reflection of how I want to do it going forward.

"I apologise to our fans and people who heard some of the things I said, it wasn't good enough and particularly from the leader of this team."

The series is level at 1-1 heading into this week's decider at the Gabba in Brisbane, starting Friday.

"I'm really looking forward to getting to Brisbane and bouncing back and playing the game more like Tim Paine plays the game," Paine added. "Yesterday was a poor reflection of that and not something I want to be known for."

India face a host of fitness issues ahead of the quick turnaround in Brisbane.

Ravindra Jadeja is out with a broken thumb, while Pant (arm), Ashwin (back), Cheteshwar Pujara (finger) and Hanuma Vihari (hamstring) must all be assessed, with the latter a major doubt.

Karim Benzema will stand trial for his alleged involvement in an attempted blackmail case targeting former France team-mate Mathieu Valbuena over a sex tape.

Prosecutors in Versailles confirmed the development regarding the Real Madrid striker and four others on Thursday, according to reports in France.

Benzema, who denies any wrongdoing, was charged in 2015 in relation to the incident. He previously appealed against the charge but is now set for trial.

"The decision to take this to trial is absurd and unfair," Sylvain Cormier, his lawyer, told EFE. "Benzema doesn't have anything to be blamed for."

Paul-Albert Iweins, Valbuena's counsel, told L'Equipe the decision was "the logical continuation of the instruction which perfectly established the participation of the various people".

The incident has since seen Benzema exiled from the France national team.

Bradley Beal insisted "I don't give a damn" after tying a franchise points record for the Washington Wizards in their defeat to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Beal's career-high 60 points on Wednesday could not prevent a 141-136 loss at Wells Fargo Center as the Wizards slipped to 2-6 for the season.

The 27-year-old was 20-of-35 on shooting, including seven-of-10 from three-point range, as he equalled Gilbert Arenas' franchise best against the Los Angeles Lakers back in 2006.

Still, the two-time All Star took little pride in recording a personal best in another loss.

"I'm p***** off," Beal said. "I'm mad. I don't count [them]. Any of my career highs, they've been in losses. So I don't give a damn. You can throw it right out the window with the other two or three I've had.

"I just want to win. Sometimes you might be able to score 40, 50, 60, whatever the case may be, but I just want to win, whatever that looks like. We came up a little bit short."

Beal's spectacular 57 points in the first 36 minutes proved futile as Philadelphia closed out a high-scoring contest, making 61.7 per cent from the field throughout.

Washington tied the scores at 119 each after having trailed by 10 at the start of the fourth quarter, but Joel Embiid led the 76ers to a strong finish, sinking a three-point jumper from 28 feet.

"I think they got stops and made more plays than we did down the stretch," Beal said when asked what made the difference late on. "I think Embiid hit a tough three... they were making a lot of shots. They hit a lot of tough shots.

"They shot 60 per cent from the field and 62 per cent from three. You can't win a game like that."

For Embiid, it was all part of the service.

"They pay me to take over the game," he said after making 38 points, eight rebounds and five assists. "They pay me to dominate. That's my job.

"I always give credit to my teammates. [But] I finished."

Stephen Curry called on a Michael Jordan meme to explain his attitude towards the criticism he received prior to scoring a career-high 62 points as the Golden State Warriors beat the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday.

Two-time NBA MVP Curry averaged 26.4 points and 6.6 assists through the first five games of the season, but with the Warriors 2-3 and his shooting percentages down, his ability to lead the team back to the playoffs without a supporting cast of fellow superstars was brought into question.

Of the Golden State team that reached the 2019 NBA Finals, Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins have left, Klay Thompson is expected to miss the entire season with a knee injury and Draymond Green only made his first appearances of 2020-21 in the double-header against the Trail Blazers.

Curry issued an emphatic response, scoring 62 points on 18-of-31 shooting (58.1 per cent) in a 137-122 victory for Golden State, making eight three-pointers in a single game for the 49th time in his career.

The 31-year-old posted career-highs in free throws made (18) and attempted (19) as he became the first Warrior since Thompson in 2016 to drop at least 60 points in a single game.

Speaking after the game, he referenced the mindset Jordan described possessing during the 1997-98 season with the Chicago Bulls on 'The Last Dance'.  

Curry said: "Cue the Jordan meme, right? 'I take all that personally.' I sensed the opportunity to kind of assert my will on the game early and try to create some energy and get off on the right foot.

"As crazy as it sounds after the game, all we really wanted to do was win the first quarter and take it from there. Obviously, that's what we did, and we continued the momentum.

"We have a winning spirit, we've just got to figure out how to do it consistently, and against the good teams in the league, it's gonna test us."

Warriors head coach Steve Kerr was surprised to hear that Curry had been coming under fire early in the season, claiming it is tougher for him to dominate games than the likes of LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis.

"I'm honestly not playing dumb. Does he really take criticism? I hope they're saying something good about him tonight," said Kerr.

"If you think about most of the guys who are considered the best in the league, they're physical freaks of nature: LeBron, Giannis, Anthony Davis. Steph is 6-3, 180 pounds, so he has to carry a game with skill, he can't carry a game with physicality and athleticism.

"That would be the only thing I could think of that would make people criticise him. It's much harder to carry a team single-handedly by making 35-footers all day – the same thing with Damian [Lillard] and CJ [McCollum], those guys are incredible shot-makers.

"But if you're not 6-8 and 250, you can't really dominate a game in other ways. That's probably my best guess as to the criticism."

Green added: "I think that was right up there with the best of them, just because of all the talk that's been going around.

"Steph has the tendency at times to f*** around with the basketball. There was no f****** around. He came out and everything was a shot or attack."

JJ Watt launched into a rant about his team-mates' poor work ethic after the Houston Texans' latest loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Texans are enduring a miserable season and moved to 4-11 with a 37-31 home defeat to the Bengals on Sunday.

It was a fourth consecutive reverse and Watt said Houston played "horrendously" after Brandon Allen, back-up to Cincy's injured rookie starting QB Joe Burrow, threw for 371 yards and two touchdowns.

Then asked how the Texans could regroup, Watt offered a lengthy response criticising the team as he outlined how sorry he feels the fans while "we stink".

"We're professional athletes getting paid a whole lot of money," Watt said.

"If you can't come in and put work in in the building, go out to the practice field and work hard, do your lifts and do what you're supposed to do, you should not be here.

"This is a job. We are getting paid a whole lot of money.

"There are a lot of people that watch us and invest their time and their money into buying our jerseys and buying a whole bunch of s***, and they care about it. They care every single week.

"We're in Week 16 and we're 4-11, and there's fans that watch this game, that show up to the stadium that put in time and energy and effort and care about this.

"So if you can't go out there and you can't work out, you can't show up on time, you can't practice, you can't want to go out there and win, you shouldn't be here.

"Because this is a privilege. It's the greatest job in the world. You get to go out and play a game.

"And if you can't care enough, even in Week 17, even when you're trash, when you're 4-11. If you can't care enough to go out there and give everything you've got and try your hardest, that's bull****.

"There are people every week that still tweet you, that still come up to you and say, 'Hey, we're still rooting for you, we're still behind you'.

"They have no reason whatsoever to. We stink. But they care and they still want to win and they still want you to be great.

"That's why. Those people aren't getting paid. We're getting paid handsomely. That's why.

"And that's who I feel the most bad for, our fans and the people who care so deeply and the city and the people who love it and who truly want it to be great.

"And it's not. And that sucks as a player to know that we're not giving them what they deserve."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has declared he is Santa Claus as he brings gifts to 27 children: his two in Sweden, and his 25 team-mates in Milan.

The veteran striker has helped to steer the Rossoneri back towards a Serie A title challenge since returning for a second spell at the club in January.

The only unbeaten team in Europe's top-five leagues in games played since the 2019-20 shutdown in March caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Milan sit top with 34 points from 14 matches, exactly double the tally they had at the same stage last season.

Ibrahimovic has scored 10 goals in just six league games in 2020-21 but, interestingly, Milan have had a better win rate without him in the team (72.7 per cent) than with him (62.5 per cent) since his first game back at the club on January 6.

Still, the 39-year-old's impact on and off the pitch has helped turn Stefano Pioli's side into genuine contenders at least for a top-four finish, the seven-time champions of Europe having not played in the Champions League since the 2013-14 season.

The former Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain star feels like a gift that keeps on giving at the club where he has always been happiest.

"I never ask for anything for myself [at Christmas]," he told SportWeek. "I am Santa Claus. I am the one who brings gifts to all my 27 children: two are in Sweden and the other 25 are at Milanello.

"This year, huge congratulations for what we have done and what we're doing. We've lost very few games. I don't know if that's thanks to me, but I did do something, I brought something in.

"I've played at many clubs and have respect for all my clubs, great memories, but Milan is the club where I feel at home.

"I go to Milanello every morning and I am in no hurry to go home because I am at home. I felt like this the first time I came to Milan, in 2010.

"With [former CEO Adriano] Galliani and [former president Silvio] Berlusconi, with the team, everyone who worked there, there was a different feeling, different atmosphere. They made you feel at home.

"I liked it because I could be myself and at the same time I was playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world. This is why Milan are top of the top for me."

Ibrahimovic has won 11 league titles across four different countries, not including Juventus' 2004-05 and 2005-06 Scudetti revoked due to the Calciopoli scandal, in a glittering career.

He has been acknowledged as Sweden's best footballer on 12 occasions, including this year, yet his highest finish in the Ballon d'Or standings was fourth back in 2013.

Still, Ibrahimovic claims he would not trade his 12 Guldbollen for France Football's prize as he considers his longevity to be a great achievement.

"I wouldn't swap my 12 Guldbollen for one from France Football because, for me, they mean continuity," he said.

"I have seen many who have won the World Cup, European Championship, Champions League, even the Ballon d'Or, had a wonderful year, fantastic, then later they disappeared.

"But I've been in the game for 25 years. Always at the top. It's a big difference."

Explaining how he can still compete at the highest level after more than 20 years in senior football, Ibrahimovic said: "Winning is my drug.

"It's hard to explain but, when I'm on the pitch, I have to win. I have a 95 per cent winning rate in training, in practice matches. It's not a lie.

"Maybe that's understood by the team, too, like with the draw with Parma [when Milan recovered from 2-0 down]. Maybe six months ago they would have been happy, but this time they were all still p***** off the next day."

Barcelona could not compete financially with Paris Saint-Germain if the French champions approach Lionel Messi, presidential candidate Agusti Benedito has conceded.

Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi failed in an attempt to engineer a move away from Camp Nou in the close season but is due to become a free agent at the end of this campaign, meaning he is able to open talks with other clubs from next month.

Manchester City and Inter have been strongly linked with the Argentina international, but reports from Spain last week suggested PSG are the frontrunners for Messi's signature, although his father and agent Jorge has since labelled that speculation "false".

Neymar recently hinted he would love PSG to bring his former team-mate to the Parc des Princes, and Benedito - in the running to succeed Josep Maria Bartomeu in January's presidential election - acknowledges Barca have a huge battle on their hands.

PSG have huge backing from their Qatari owners and are determined to build a team that can dominate in Europe.

"When I heard Neymar [say he wants to play with Messi], I said, 'Holy s***, watch out for these guys'," Benedito told Marca.

"If PSG wanted him, economically we would not be able to compete. I hope that the day will come when Messi will say that after 20 years at Barcelona, he wants to continue."

Benedito added: "We would all like him to continue at Barcelona. He is the best player in the world. I heard Messi say he wanted to leave [earlier this year] and a decision like that is not made because he got up on the wrong side of bed.

"The first thing will be to change his opinion, because if we have to compete with other teams in Europe with their eyes on Messi... if the issue is economic, we are not going to be able to."

Barca's finances have been badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic, with the Catalan giants recently announcing salary payments to their players had been delayed.

Fellow presidential candidate Emili Rousaud last week talked up Barca's chances of keeping hold of Messi on a reduced contract, but Benedito is concerned about the state of the club's finances.

"Barcelona are going through a very, very, very difficult economic and financial situation," he said.

Gennaro Gattuso complained that Italian referees were too "touchy" and should adopt the tolerance of Scottish officials after Napoli captain Lorenzo Insigne was sent off in the 1-0 defeat to Inter.

The Napoli boss was fuming that Davide Massa dismissed Insigne for his objections to the awarding of a penalty that Romelu Lukaku converted in Wednesday's Serie A clash.

David Ospina brought down Matteo Darmian, and Insigne was quick to express his dismay at the decision, with Massa equally wasting no time in brandishing the red card.

"Only in Italy do I see referees showing the red for these things," said Gattuso.

"You're not sent off in the same situation in England. I'm not making it up: I played in Scotland in the past and I still follow their football today. The captain of a team there can't be sent off for a 'f*** off' to the referee for a dubious penalty.

"This means that the referee is touchy, and if you are then you can't do this job."

The former Rangers midfielder added: "Anyone who has played football knows there is a lot at stake in a match like Inter-Napoli, and a word can slip out. Only in Italy it [red cards in these situations] happens and it is not right, because games are changed in this way.

"The players have to calm down, but you must also understand that a 'f*** off' after a penalty can happen. In my opinion, a referee must have the intelligence and the tact to understand that.

"If there's a red card for every word too many, then everyone should always be sent off."

Gattuso told Sky Sport Italia that he accepts referees have a "very difficult" job, saying he also had to face swearing from his players in training.

He added: "I'm just saying that, in such an important game, a European referee with experience cannot be touchy."

Zinedine Zidane believes his Real Madrid midfield stars have rediscovered their best form after an influential display in their 2-0 win over Atletico Madrid.

Casemiro, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos started together in LaLiga for just the third time this season on Saturday and Zidane's team selection proved effective.

Madrid led through Casemiro's header and then extended their advantage courtesy of a Jan Oblak own goal in the second half.

Zidane was particularly taken by the displays of Modric and Kroos, with the World Cup winner completing 87 of 90 passes, the most in a league Madrid derby since at least 2005-06.

"We used [Modric and Kroos] to find the way out, it's true," said Zidane, who is unbeaten in seven games against Atleti. "We had to do it.

"And then playing fast from one side to the other and with diagonals, we found gaps. They're f***ing great, they're exceptional.

"Karim [Benzema], too, and Lucas [Vazquez], he is phenomenal, and [Dani] Carvajal, and our captain [Sergio Ramos], [Raphael] Varane. They are all very good."

The coach was further asked about the trio in the centre of the pitch, who now have competition in the form of Federico Valverde and Martin Odegaard.

"They are at the level of the three Champions Leagues we won in a row," he said. "They are playing at a very high level."

Victory against Atleti brought to an end an extremely successful week, having also won 1-0 at Sevilla and 2-0 against Borussia Monchengladbach to reach the last 16 of the Champions League.

"We confirmed what we did in the two previous games," said the coach, whose side restricted Atleti to one shot on target across the 90 minutes and no efforts at all before half-time.

"We competed very well throughout the game.

"But we don't have anything to celebrate because we haven't won anything. It's a good week.

"I'm happy for the players because they always believe in what they do. And when they get things done I'm happy. Let's enjoy and think about Tuesday [against Athletic Bilbao]."

Dez Bryant was scratched from the Baltimore Ravens' showdown with the Dallas Cowboys after the wide receiver revealed he tested positive for coronavirus prior to kick-off.

Bryant was set to reunite with former team the Cowboys on Tuesday, but the three-time NFL Pro Bowler surprisingly announced he had contracted COVID-19 moments before the game started in Baltimore.

Bryant tweeted: "Tell me why they pull me from warming up so I can go get tested... my s*** come back positive... I tested positive for Covid WTF.

"The crazy thing is I have the same damn routine.... this s*** do not make sense to me."

The Ravens – welcoming back star quarterback Lamar Jackson following 10 days in self-isolation – then confirmed Bryant had been scratched due to an "illness".

Bryant, who spent eight seasons in Dallas before being released at the end of 2017, later added: "Yea I'm going to go ahead and call it a quit for the rest of the season... I can't deal with this.

"Since I tested positive for Covid before the game do the game stop or go on? @NFL."

The Ravens-Cowboys contest was originally scheduled for last Thursday, but it had to be pushed back due to a coronavirus outbreak within the Baltimore franchise.

The outbreak forced the Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers meeting to be rescheduled multiple times before taking place last Wednesday.

Bryant had not played a snap since the 2017 season after suffering a torn Achilles tendon in practice just two days on from signing with the New Orleans Saints in 2018.

But Bryant has made three appearances for the Ravens since joining the team's practice squad in October.

 

Tyronn Lue said star Kawhi Leonard is eager for the season to get underway after the Los Angeles Clippers' failures in 2019-20.

Lue will lead the Clippers in 2020-21 after replacing head coach Doc Rivers following the team's stunning Western Conference semi-final exit in the NBA playoffs.

The Clippers were one of the favourites to claim their maiden title following the arrivals of All-Stars Leonard and Paul George but squandered a 3-1 lead against the Denver Nuggets at Walt Disney World Resort amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Keen to make amends after last season's woes, Lue – who guided the Cleveland Cavaliers to their first championship in 2016 with a team headlined by LeBron James – hailed two-time NBA winner Leonard.

"Just as far as me talking to Kawhi, he is excited to get back on the court," Lue said during his virtual news conference on Wednesday.

"When you are dealing with great players, when you lose early on in the playoffs, you are always eager to get back. That is what great players do. We all failed at our goal last season and we all know that.

"Kawhi has done a great job of taking [initiative] to get guys on the phone, talking to guys, seeing guys more.

"He has done a great job of that. He is excited to get back on the floor just from talking to him and we are all excited as well."

Th 2019-20 campaign was the ninth consecutive season they finished with a winning record (49-23) but failed to reach the Conference finals – the longest streak of its kind in NBA history.

Former Clippers assistant Lue is no stranger to working with superstars, having enjoyed a successful partnership with James in Cleveland.

"Anytime you coach LeBron James, there is a lot of media scrutiny, a lot of pressure to win," Lue, whose Clippers will begin their season against defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers on December 22, said.

"And just being able to deal with that calibre of player, with Kawhi and PG being our two best players on the team, I think it translates over to just being the Clippers coach and being able to relate to those guys, understanding stars in this league, how they perform, what they like, what they want to do. Just being around guys like that, it's definitely helped me out a lot."

George – who averaged 21.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists in the regular season – struggled to produce when it mattered most and shot the ball much worse in 2019-20 when he shared the court with Leonard. The difference was even greater during the playoffs.

With Leonard on the court in the regular season, George's field-goal percentage was 41.1 compared to 48.2 without him. During the playoffs, George boasted a 53.8 shooting percentage while Leonard was sidelined, a significant improvement on the 36.8 per cent he managed together with the former Toronto Raptors favourite. 

Combined, George has a 48.8 percentage while Leonard is off the court, compared to 39.9 during the duo's time together.

"It was tough because we were confident," George said on the All The Smoke podcast when discussing the Clippers' collapse against the Nuggets. "We went up 3-1, we felt like, we're going to win the next one. We lost. We [were] like cool, we're up 3-2, we gonna win the next one.

"We lost. But during that whole process, we never worked on adjustments. We never worked on what to do differently. We just literally having the same s*** happen over and over again. It started to play a trick on you like man, what's going on?

"We are talking amongst each other like the conversation is, we are going to be all right. The conversation should have been like, nah, we need to change this, we need to switch this up. I don't think we deserved it. We wasn't prepared enough going into it. ... We didn't put the work into it. It was kind of just like, yo, we got PG, we got Kawhi, Lou [Williams], Trezz [Montrezl Harrell]. We going to be straight, we are going to figure it out."

There are some news faces for the Clippers after Montrezl Harrell joined city rivals the Lakers – Serge Ibaka arriving from the Raptors and Nicolas Batum landing in Los Angeles after clearing waivers, while Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris re-signed.

Napoli head coach Gennaro Gattuso believes Inter are favourites to win Serie A this season, ahead of current leaders Milan and defending champions Juventus.

Milan – without a Scudetto since 2010-11 – top the table by five points through nine matchdays after defeating Fiorentina 2-0 on Sunday to remain unbeaten.

City rivals Inter and Sassuolo are five points off the pace, while Andrea Pirlo's Juve are fourth and a point further back, along with Napoli and Roma.

Gattuso considers Antonio Conte's Inter title favourites following Napoli's 4-0 rout of Roma on Sunday, telling Sky Sport Italia: "In my view, Inter are the team to beat.

"They combine quality with physical strength, they have so many options available and they are the favourites.

"Then there's Juventus, who are accustomed to being up there."

Napoli played their first Serie A match since the death of club great Diego Maradona on Wednesday and it was an emotional occasion at the Stadio San Paolo, where captain Lorenzo Insigne, Fabian Ruiz, all-time leading scorer Dries Mertens and Matteo Politano were on target.

The Partenopei equalled their largest margin of victory against Roma in Serie A, having also routed the capital club 4-0 in 1980 and 1971.

Napoli – who moved up to fifth position in Serie A, six points adrift of Milan – earned their fourth win from five games across all competitions.

Gattuso earned his 50th career victory as a coach in the Italian top flight, while becoming the first Napoli boss to win his first two Serie A encounters against Roma.

"We have to play with this intensity in every single game, with this atmosphere on the team bus, in the dressing room, throughout the match. Take nothing for granted," Gattuso said.

"What I liked was the attitude today. When there was an error from a team-mate, they helped each other out, applauded rather than telling them to go f*** themselves, that's what I like to see.

"Perhaps it's my fault, because in order to not stress the players out, I let things go, I go easy. Now I realise I can never let anything go and I can't afford to go easy on them. Times have changed.

"We know that with the fixture list as packed as it is, we can't always be at 100 per cent in every single game. But that's why mentality is so important, because it can allow you to push through difficulties, to keep going and raise the bar. I see the mentality as the issue here, we need to find the balance of playing good football, but as a team."

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